Jones in the Fast Lane
Jones in the Fast Lane is a computerized board game certain to draw fairly polarized reactions from gamers. Reminiscent of the old nonelectronic classic board game Life, players move around a "board" with various squares that represent different phases of life: finding an apartment; going to school; getting a job; and paying the various bills that accumulate as a result of those activities.
Turns are broken down by the week and during a several hour play session that simulates a period of months, players experience amazing changes in their wealth and status. The player who was dishing up hamburgers for the first few weeks at a fast food joint might become a bank president, while that character who was seemingly on the fast track to success may wind up stuck in a rat trap of an apartment with tattered clothes, unable to even go to work!
At the beginning of the game, players set their goals by moving a lever under each of the four categories: happiness, career, money and education. Let's say you want your character to be a happy-go-lucky type of person who makes enough money to get by, but that's all. Just set the happiness lever all the way to the top, set the money lever around the middle and lower the other two. However, it is a fact that happiness is a lot easier to come by when you've got a nice job, a nice pad and a good education.
The graphics are simple but extremely attractive, with plenty of pop-up windows for character interactions and lots of cute on-the-board animations.
Here's the rub: there are a lot of people who play electronic games to escape just the sort of pressures that are the essence of Jones in the Fast Lane. However the vast majority of people who played this during testing were totally captivated and became deeply involved with the lives of their surrogate characters. This is even more true in multiplayer games; Jones gets better as the number of players increase.
The game's only serious flaw is the lack of computer-generated competition. Jones, the title character, will play against a single human player only, despite the note on the back of the box that says the game can be played by "any combination of one to three human and computer players." There is only one computer character, and it isn't even possible to have two or three human players with Jones in the same contest. Jones plays strictly one-on-one, which means that gamers without available human opponents will never get optimal enjoyment from this game. The documentation is a little thin on details, but the four color-coded direction cards provide most of the required information in easy-to-digest form.
Overall, Jones in the Fast Lane is a great success, a game that's terrific for party play but is also satisfying, albeit to a lesser degree, as solitary entertainment. It's great to see Sierra continuing to experiment with different game genres, and despite a few quibbles, Jones is a great success.