By John Grochowski
If you‚Äôre a slot player, you know the drill. A hot new game catches your eye. You give it a try --- and you like it. You like the game play, you like the bonus rounds, maybe you have a couple of pretty good wins. You seek out the game each time you go to the casino. You become old friends.
And then one day it‚Äôs gone, replaced by some flashy new slot with new bells and whistles.
That‚Äôs the way it goes on today‚Äôs slot floors, where casinos churn through dozens of titles a year trying to find just the right mix that will keep the customers coming back.
But some slot machines transcend that. They don‚Äôt disappear in a few months, or even a few years. There‚Äôs staying power in titles like Double Diamond, Jackpot Party, Blazing 7s, games that keep their loyal following year after year after year. Sometimes the games are freshened with new features, and sometimes they lead to sequel games that incorporate some of the best features of the originals.
These are the eternal slots, the games that never go out of style:
DOUBLE DIAMOND, IGT - With its classic, elegant look, its diamond symbols and its jackpot multiplier feature, the three-reel Double Diamond slot machine has been with us for nearly two decades since its late 1989 introduction.
The format seems simple now, but it‚Äôs led to a whole family of games. Most reel symbols are the traditional 7s, bars, double bars and triple bars that you find on many slot games. What gives this one its spice is the Double Diamond symbol that doubles winning combinations. Get a Double Diamond symbol and two single bars, for example, and you get twice the payoff of three single bars. Make it two Double Diamonds and a single bar, and you double the payoff twice --- you get four times the payoff for three bars. And three Double Diamonds, well, that‚Äôs good for the machine‚Äôs top jackpot.
Every time a Double Diamond lands on the payline, players start crossing their fingers. Take my brother Jay. Toward the end of a day on a Chicago-area riverboat several years ago, he put some money in a $1 Double Diamond machine. ‚ÄúThe first Double Diamond came up, then the second,‚ÄĚ he told me. ‚ÄúNow I‚Äôm thinking, just give me anything but a blank on that third payline, and I‚Äôm going home happy.‚ÄĚ
What he actually¬† got was the third Double Diamond, and the biggest payoff he‚Äôs ever had in a casino.
Double Diamond wasn‚Äôt the first game with a multiplier, but it has had remarkable popularity and staying power. It‚Äôs led to sequels such as Double Diamond Deluxe, a ‚Äúnudge‚ÄĚ game in which bar symbols with diamonds either drop down to the payline from above if the diamond points down, or nudge up if the diamond points up. Triple Diamond followed, as well as Triple Double Diamond, the video slots Double Diamond 2000 and Double Triple Diamond Deluxe with cheese, and recently a five-reel mechanical version of Double Diamond. Games such as Five Times Pay and Ten Times Pay use the same kind of multiplier format. And Double Diamond is frequently used as a base game on IGT progressive and bonus systems such as Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks.
BLAZING 7S, Bally - Talk about lasting popularity. Blazing 7s has been with us since the 1970s, when Bally Gaming (now Bally Technologies) was based in Chicago. It was developed as a rapid-hit jackpot game, with 7s symbols on fiery backgrounds and a volatility that has proved so appealing to players that Blazing 7s in various incarnations has remained a Bally staple through electro-mechanical games to reel-stepper slots with microprocessers to today‚Äôs video slots.
Jackpots come fast and furious on Blazing 7s, originally designed as a dollar progressive three-reel game. The top jackpot for three Blazing 7 symbols starts at $1,000, and the high frequency of payoffs means the jackpot usually hits before it reaches the $1,200 threshold that requires IRS paperwork. That‚Äôs intentional --- designers in Chicago thought about that very issue as they worked on the math for the game.
One feature of Blazing 7s that players must be aware of is that it is a ‚Äúbuy-a-pay‚ÄĚ game --- on a three-coin game, you must wager that third coin to unlock the 7s symbols and be eligible for the big jackpots.
Three-reel mechanical versions of Blazing 7s remain mainstays on casino floors, but you can also find seven-reel Blazing 7s games on Bally‚Äôs CineVision wide-screen video games, and the five-reel blazers on the popular Hot Shot Blazing 7s progressives.
JACKPOT PARTY, WMS -¬† Find a game platform WMS has used, and you‚Äôll find a version of Jackpot Party. There‚Äôs just something about the bonus round that says ‚Äúparty time!‚ÄĚ
The player picks gift boxes to tally up bonuses until a package containing a ‚Äúpooper‚ÄĚ ends the round. I‚Äôve rolled up thousands of credits, picking winner after winner. And I‚Äôve been crushed when the first box picked was some old party pooper, putting a rapid end to my fun with minimum credits.
It‚Äôs all part of the game, and it‚Äôs a game that goes on and on. Originally introduced as a three-reel mechanical slot, Jackpot Party played out its bonus round on the orange Dotmation screen that WMS put on many of its early mechanical games. I told an WMS exec I thought the game was fun, and she said, ‚ÄúWait till you see the video version. It‚Äôs even better.‚ÄĚ
The video Jackpot Party has been amazingly enduring, still strong after a decade in a field where video themes usually hold their peak for only two or three months. The sequel Super Jackpot Party added a mystery element: the ‚ÄúSurprise Party,‚ÄĚ where you go to the bonus round even without the three noisemaker symbols that usually launch the fun.
When WMS launched its 3RV --- three-reel video --- series, it used Jackpot Party as one of its introductory games. In its move into Community Gaming with shared bonus rounds, WMS used the Jackpot Party Progressive to start the good times rolling. Wherever there‚Äôs WMS, it seems, there‚Äôs a party going on.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE, IGT - If there‚Äôs a casino in the country where you can‚Äôt hear the cries of ‚ÄúWheel! Of! Fortune!‚ÄĚ I haven‚Äôt seen it. Year in and year out, Wheel watchers pack the games, making the TV game show spinoff the most popular slot game around.
Much of the credit has to go to Anchor Games, which since has been absorbed by IGT.¬† In the mid-1990s, Anchor came up with Wheel of Gold, became the first bonus game sensation. Wheel of Gold put a spinning bonus wheel atop regular slant-top reel-spinning games. Whenever the right symbol came up to give the player a spin of the bonus wheel, a tone would start --- and other players would stop in their tracks to watch.
IGT licensed the wheel, added a graphics and sound package from the TV game show, and the rest is history. The original Wheel of Fortune --- with a wide-area progressive jackpot in most markets, except where prohibited by law as in Illinois and Indiana --- has been going strong for a decade now. Popularity has grown through video versions, animation, images of TV hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White, and the big, multiplayer Wheel of Fortune Super Spin with its huge center wheel and shared bonus round. In one early video version, players collected letters as they spun to solve a word puzzle, though no actual skill at wordplay was involved.
The most popular, though, remains the original, with that unmistakable wheel atop three-reel mechanical games.
MONOPOLY, WMS - I remember the first time I ever played Monopoly. The series was introduced with two three-reel slots and two video slots, and I decided to check them out on a trip to Las Vegas. I tried a reel-spinner first, and quickly found myself in a bonus round with a trip around the famous game board in the top box. Lo and behold, I landed on Boardwalk, and my quarters turned into dollars.
Over to the video slots I moved, and within 10 spins found myself in another bonus round, again watching the dice roll to take me around the board. Guess where I landed? Yep, Boardwalk again, and my nickels turned into dollars, too.
I‚Äôve had a soft spot for Monopoly ever since, and obviously I‚Äôm not alone. WMS has been able to parlay different aspects of the Monopoly board game into fun bonus rounds that have kept the series ever lively. WMS has created bonus rounds based on Free Parking (park your animated car in the bonus space), a ride on the railroads, and building hotels. And when it came time to introduce its new line of Transmissive Reels games, with video images transmitted on the clear glass in front of spinning reels, WMS turned right to its biggest franchise with Monopoly Super Money Grab.
Monopoly, the board game, has been with us for 73 years. Can Monopoly slots last that long? You never know, but the track record for staying power is there.
RED WHITE AND BLUE, IGT - In the days that three-reel slots ruled casino floors, Red White and Blue perennially ranked near the top of the most-played games around. Now that video slots have been the big growth area for more than a decade --- well, Red White and Blue still holds its own.
The attraction is the payoff on 7s combinations. The big jackpot is for a red 7 on the first reel, a blue 7 on the second and a white 7 on the third, but any combination of three 7s will bring out a nice payoff, with red 7s bringing the most, followed by whites, blues and mixed. The bar symbols are color-coded, too, with single bars being red, doubles being white and triples being blue. Red, white and blue bars in order bring bigger payoffs than mixed bars out of order.
With colors as well as symbols making a difference, there are a larger-than-usual number of possible winners than on most slots of two decades ago. Red White and Blue was one of the first three-reel slots to draw players with a relatively high hit frequency --- not as high as video slots made possible, mind you, but high for three-reelers.
IGT has offered a variety of Red White and Blue-based games over the years, sometimes blending it with other product lines as in Five Times Pay Red White and Blue and Red White and Blue Double Stars. Early in the video revolution, when IGT was adding LCD panels to its top box for bonuses, it used Red White and Blue in the Racing 7s bonus --- first 7 to cross the finish line brought its bonus.
REEL‚ÄôEM IN, WMS - The game that turned Americans on to the possibilities of five-reel video slots with bonus rounds was the original Reel ‚ÄėEm In. The bonus round was simple ‚Äď the video screen changed to a scene of fishermen in boats, and the player touched the screen to select one to drop a line in the water. After a frenzy of splashing water, the angler would reel in the catch --- the bigger the fish, the bigger the bonus.
Simple enough, but enduring. WMS followed up with Reel ‚ÄėEm In Cast for Cash, which added another video screen to the top box. Now you could not only watch your fisherman drop the line in, you could watch the feeding frenzy among fish below. Not only that, it incorporated bonus rounds within the bonus. You might win a trip to a fishing derby for bigger bonuses, or a change of scenery to Lake Mead where you could go for the legendary Elvis fish, or to Loch Ness for a chance at a monster catch.
When WMS introduced its new Bluebird slot cabinets and CPU-NXT game platform, it brought back the original game as Reel ‚ÄėEm In Classic, and it remains in a niche on casino floors today.
And why not? For while some games are hits today and gone tomorrow, others have the right stuff to reel you in year after year.
John Grochowski writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column on gambling,
and is author of¬† the "Casino Answer Book" series from Bonus Books.