As more gamblers turn to Web-based casinos for slot play, it's easy to forget that we're in the middle of a Golden Age in slot machine design. We live in a "perfect storm" of improving technology, the discovery of new ideas in game design, and a general relaxation in anti-gaming regulations. Below are guides to four of my favorite new slot machines, as produced by the world's most exciting new designers of slot games.
Much like how their games have improved from fruit machine knockoffs to legitimate entertainment, Aristocrat has expanded beyond their Australian market. The company's latest trio of licensed games is currently only available to operators in Oceania. This release included Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle (based on a classic comic strip), Superman & Lex Luther (also based on an older property), and Batman & Robin. Of the three releases, only Batman & Robin is worth your attention.
But, oh boy, is this game ever worth it. It's based on the classic Batman TV series of the 1960s starring Adam West and Dick Grayson. Aristocrat's best new slot game in a year pits the caped crusader and his sidekick against classic versions of both The Joker and The Riddler. The game includes footage from the original series as well as audio clips of original cast members making new contributions to the story of the show.
One of my favorite things about this game is how affordable it is, compared to the number of features it offers. It's what I could call a high-value slot. It's a five reel and fifty pay line game that accepts wagers in two credit sizes: $0.01 or $0.02. Players can wager up to ten credits per pay line, for a maximum wager of either $5 or $10 per spin. I'm not a high roller by any means, but I can imagine playing a slot at $5 per spin for a few minutes without feeling too guilty, especially when that game is designed to reward lots of bonuses.
And Aristocrat has gone out of their way to stuff this game with bonuses. Five different bonus games are available, each triggered by a different symbol appearing on the first, third, and fifth reels:
You'll rarely find a licensed game based something as specific as a particular season of a TV show – but that's what IGT has done with one of two new House of Cards titles in their library. The popular Netflix-produced show puts Kevin Spacey in the role of a political up-and-comer who (SPOILER ALERT) eventually takes over the White House. House of Cards: Power & Money is based exclusively on season two of the show. I just think that's a little weird – but it's also a sign of a coming trend. We're going to see more and more games based on specific aspects of pop culture. So, for example, you may play fewer Star Wars games, and more games like Rogue One.
This House of Cards title is one of IGT's more complex slots, featuring a 1,200 Ways to Win arrangement that requires hefty wagers for a maximum bet. Depending on how the operator configures the game, bettors may wager between $2.50 and $125 per spin. That puts this release solidly in the medium-to-high roller category, as anything smaller than a maximum bet is sort of a waste of time. That's because the game's three biggest payouts all require max wagers, and happen during bonus rounds that pay out win multipliers.
WMS is really proud of the fact that their new Prime Reel Estate game is "the biggest single-player Monopoly game in history," and having seen the thing, I can attest to its sheer size. The WMS is using that new angled screen thing that we saw introduced a few years back at various conventions, and is now slowly taking over American casino floors from Las Vegas to Atlantic City. That means the screen can be absolutely huge, and it is. It takes up your entire visual field.
It's an engrossing game in other ways. The line arrangement is a bit odd – thirty-five lines, each of which you must wager ten credits on. The reason for the extra five lines? An available progressive side bet, which increases your wager-per-spin by just one dollars, but gives you access to a multi-area progressive that resets to $250,000. Your dollar activates those additional five lines.
Gameplay is pretty typical for WMS' board game series. The animations are lovely. The game itself will be familiar to fans of the classic board game. It's a charming homage to a game that's kind of been done to death by the slot design industry – and yet WMS manages to make it both beautiful and fun, which makes it seem altogether new.
It's no mistake that Aristocrat produced two of my favorite new slots this year. They aren't just dominant in Australia and New Zealand anymore – these days, Aristocrat in all four of the world's major gambling markets, including the Americas.
The US branch of Aristocrat launched Ted a few months ago. This is a licensed game, based on a cult-favorite comedy directed by, written by, and starring Seth McFarlane (of Family Guy fame.) The movie is a hilarious (if a little off-color) fantasy about a man childhood whose wish brings his teddy bear to life. Aristocrat does a great job of translating the film into a slot, choosing a long list of funny quotes that take a decent session to start getting really annoying, something that can't be said for all licensed slot games.
The game itself is pretty standard stuff for the company, though with a game based on the highest-grossing comedy of all time, it's probably safer not to mess with what works. This is a forty pay line slot with a 300-credit max bet, six bonus games, and a three-tiered progressive system with a top prize that resets to $25,000.
Obviously, licensed games are still huge. Every one of the four games I've been impressed by this year have been licensed, to varying degrees. Lucky Words represents the OTHER big trend in slot design this year – the inclusion of social and skill-based features. If you're a word person, or a fan of games that reward skill, or looking to cash in on the new social gaming craze, pay attention to Lucky Words. If you're interested in the latest and greatest technology, understand that Lucky Words is essentially a Web-capable online slot machine. It's the future of the industry.
In fact, you should pay attention to everything Gamblit is doing. One of a handful of successful social gaming designers (that also happens to run its own social gaming platform), Gamblit is creating the most exciting gambling games in the industry these days. They don't resemble the other slots on this list very much – and that may be why Lucky Words is my pick for Game of the Year. If its impact is as big as I think it's going to be, we may as well call it the Game of the Decade.
Here's how it works: you place letters on a board to form words, like you're playing Scrabble. Only in this version, your results are worth cash rather than points. You can also play for free. To keep things interesting, the game awards random power-ups and the familiar double- and triple- word and letter bonuses on the game's board. You can also choose to play against a computer opponent or a real person. The fact that this all takes place in a socially-focused platform gives it that Web 3.0 sheen that I love.
Think of Lucky Words as a combination of Words with Friends and a traditional single pay line slot machine. It's addictive, it's designed to attract the expendable cash of Web-savvy young folks, and it's probably already being played on a smart phone, tablet, or laptop near you.
I'll close with some bold predictions about changes in the slot machine market. Here are some things you can expect to start seeing at the slot banks over the next year or so:
The 5 games described above do a decent job of fulfilling all those predictions. The thing I'd really keep an eye on is the increasing amount of social involvement and the desire on the part of operators to connect games to new users by means of the Internet. That means fewer simple reel and pay line games, and more titles that mimic video games and mobile applications.