A '30s Game Goes Electronic

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It may be the greatest free market of all time, born in a Depression and giving millions and millions of entrepreneurs the chance to parlay a few hundred bucks into vast real estate fortunes.

And now, for the '90s, come Virgin Games' new computer versions of the Parker Brothers classic "Monopoly": "Monopoly Deluxe" and "Monopoly Deluxe for Windows." They faithfully re-create the original game and add singing, dancing and automatic dice rolling--not to mention a reliable banker (which, come to think of it, could be the most fantastical thing that the games have going for them).

Board games are popular candidates for software companies to convert to the computer screen, but it's hard to imagine an old-fashioned, rip-roaring game of bloodthirsty "Monopoly" when you and three or four friends are jammed together in front of one computer screen and passing the mouse around. Especially since there's probably no place to pass it. But if you're a true fanatic, it is comforting to always have a troop of computer buddies to play with, especially since you can pick the computer's level of playing expertise.

You can customize the computer opponents to one of three difficulty levels. The beginner level is fairly easy to beat when you play aggressively and provides a fair game lasting a couple of hours. The higher level computer opponents are much tougher and can quickly stomp you into bankruptcy.

The official "Monopoly" rules can be followed or you can take advantage of some of the traditional variations that have sprung up over the years. Trades are allowed between all players (computer and human), special "Free Parking" funds can be maintained and landing on "Go" can provide an additional $200 bonus.

But with computer "Monopoly," you can't re-create the camaraderie that inevitably comes the day after Christmas when a couple of cousins and an aunt or two get together for some serious dealing and heavy rent gouging.

No matter what the gamemakers try to tell you, these "Monopolys" are strictly for solos.

Monopoly

Rating: ***

IBM and compatibles; Windows version requires 2MB RAM; non-Windows version requires 640K RAM; hard drive and mouse required. List: $49.99.

Computer games are rated on a five-star system, from one star for poor to five for excellent.

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