We rarely find time to delve into the fantasy world of computer games, but our readers came through with a number of suggestions for their favorite games. Two of them - The Sims and Tropico - even provide fantasy worlds that simulate the real world.
Although the game market itself moves forward at a frenetic pace, don't discount the games of yesteryear for those people who don't need the latest and greatest. Graphics and sound capabilities may have improved over time, but plenty of older games still provide great game play. Check out the suggestions from previous years for these blasts from the past and do some hunting around on eBay or discount software sites if the publisher no longer sells the game you want.
The Sims -- LuKreme suggested a hit game that appeared on this list back in 2000 as well. "I know The Sims has been perched on top of the best sellers list (both Mac and PC) for a long time now, but there is a reason for it. With the upcoming introduction of The Sims Online now is a great time to get someone hooked in to the simulated world of The Sims.
"The Sims appeals to all sorts of people, from pre-teens to seniors, and to women as much as men. It's mostly noncompetitive and is engrossing. The online version promises to make it even more so by putting you directly in the game (instead of making you a 'Hand of God') and by making all the other Sims you interact with be real people as well. It's the ultimate chat room, with just enough 'game' to make it that much more interesting.
"So far the Mac releases have been keeping fairly good time with the PC, but I don't know a release date for the new Sims Online product. Still, the older Sims game and its numerous expansion packs are a lot of fun, if a bit addictive."
Tropico -- Saint John chimed in to suggest another simulation. "It may be more than a year old, but my game pick of the year is the tropical island simulation Tropico, by PopTop Software. I remember the old Hammurabi games, but Tropico is as far beyond that as the Sims are from a Barbie Malibu Dream House. For one thing, your control isn't absolute; you can set pay scales in order to attract certain kinds of laborers in certain areas, but if it isn't worth it to them (read: if their happiness isn't high enough) your citizenry won't work where you want them to. And you can get an idea of your population's happiness by getting statistical reports on them - or by spying on their thoughts! If enough people want to go to church, well, it behooves you to build one. More food? Convert some of those tobacco farms into something less profitable but more edible. Your dictator must survive occasional elections, so it's worthwhile to keep the locals content.
"Like PopTop's previous hit, Railroad Tycoon II, Tropico is full of animated wonders. The people don't just exist as numbers, but as little graphical people that go from home to work, and perhaps to the cantina afterward. You can follow an individual around. (I seem to zoom in on showgirls more often than other professions...) Each has a name, and even a unique personality. Some may run against you, others may foment revolution, and yet others may visit your country if there are enough tourist attractions. (Even cows have their own particular philosophies - it's worth building a cattle ranch just to listen in on them!) As the years go by, the babies grow into teenagers, and then adults - and they may switch jobs if something suits them better. And you can watch it all from your palace.
"The music is worth mentioning, too. Sound has always been a PopTop specialty. As you scrolled about the landscape in Railroad Tycoon II, you heard sounds of nature or industry, fading as you scrolled away from the area in question. They commissioned lots of music for Tropico, and anyone who has even a slight appreciation for the Latin beat will really get into it! Since the music files are stored as MP3s, it would take only a little effort to put them on your iPod.
"Tropico even has a couple of expansion packs: Mucho Macho and Paradise Island. Maybe I'll find them in my stocking! The basic game, though, is definitely worth the price for any simulation or world-building gamer. Tropico II: Pirate Cove is due out for Windows real soon now, so if all goes well, next year I may recommend that for the Mac."
Bejeweled Deluxe -- Changing gears, Jack Daniyel Strong recommended a strategy game. "I highly recommend Bejeweled Deluxe from PopCap and the Omni Group. The idea is simple: rearrange shimmering gems to make patterns and rack up points. You can play against the clock or attempt to keep your sanity with a regular game.
"You can download Bejeweled Deluxe and try it for free; registering costs $20. However, .Mac members can save $5 by downloading the trial version from their iDisk's Software folder and registering through the Register link in the .Mac trial version."
After comparing Bejeweled Deluxe to the classic (and previously recommended, in 1998) Snood, now in beta for Mac OS X, Michael House seconded Jack's recommendation but warned that "Bejeweled Deluxe, and PopCap games in general, seem to be resource hogs, especially where CPU cycles are concerned. I get barely adequate performance on my 500 MHz iBook with 640 MB RAM in thousands of colors under Mac OS X 10.2.2. It runs acceptably on my new 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 768 MB RAM and Mac OS X 10.2.2 in millions of colors, but it can still hiccup if anything is running in the background."