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A Pirate’s Life

AGS deals out swashbuckling bonuses with “Blackbeard’s Treasure”

by Frank Legato


Imagine every pirate movie you’ve ever seen, from Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood to all of Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. Now imagine cramming all the action from all those films into a video slot machine as reel symbols, wins, expanded wilds, bonus events, mystery wins and whatever else you can think of a slot machine doing.

That gives you an idea of the kind of action you can expect from the newest game by slot-maker American Gaming Systems, “Blackbeard’s Treasure.”

Sure, there have been a lot of pirate-themed slots from a lot of different manufacturers. But this one tops them all, with a collection of sights, sounds, bonuses and different ways to win money, all combining to create a vibe that is, well, swashbuckling.

“Other people have touched upon the pirate theme, but they have never mastered it,” comments Paul Lofgren, vice president of sales and business development at AGS. “This game is so feature-rich, there is so much going on in terms of bonuses, that players will never get tired of it.”

Blackbeard’s Treasure is a milestone for AGS. It is the first in a new breed of games from the slot-maker that will totally immerse players in a theme. According to Lofgren, the game incorporates just about all the features developed for the “Roadrunner” slot platform introduced more than a year ago. “It’s the culmination of three or four generations of Roadrunner games,” he says.

Pirate Slot

Olaf Vancura, the company’s vice president of game development, pulled out all the stops with this one, marshaling everything the Roadrunner platform has to offer to embrace the pirate theme as it has never been embraced in a slot. “This game really has a lot of thematic features,” Vancura says. “It’s what we call a ‘period piece’ game. Everything about the game is themed to Blackbeard—not only the sound effects and the reel strips, but all the base game features and bonus features. All are somehow related to the pirate theme.”

Vancura’s work is well-known to slot aficionados. With his former company, Mikohn, he was responsible for creating some of the most memorable slot machines in history, from “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” (a theme he will soon reprise with a new AGS version) to the original “Battleship” slot. At AGS, he has brought that creativity to bear with a new company mantra for slot design—“Honor the Player.”

This motto manifests itself with several unique aspects of the Blackbeard’s Treasure game. For instance, the primary game, a five-reel, 27-line slot with betting in increments of 45 credits and penny through nickel denominations, is what Vancura calls a “WYSIWYG game”—for “What You See Is What You Get.”

“Our reel strips are not weighted, so each symbol appearing on the strips is equally likely to appear,” Vancura explains. “This is equally true in the base game and the free-spin round. As another example, during the ‘Sink the Ship’ feature, each available symbol is likely to be shot at and converted into a wild symbol. When the player picks objects, the outcome is not forced—the player’s choices dictate the awards.”

In short, this is one of the most fair slot machines ever.

This fairness to the player extends to the physical bonus wheel on the game—a first for AGS, by the way—on which each outcome is equally weighted. “Each stopping segment is equally likely to appear,” he says. “It is a fair wheel, which is very important to players. It is frustrating to have your wheel slow down and ‘always’ miss the top award to land on a dud. We’ve all experienced this. In Blackbeard’s Treasure, you are specifically rooting to land on one of the six Blackbeard segments, which are worth the most. And each of the Blackbeard segments is equally likely to land as any other segment.

“So, the player actually has six times the chance of landing on the best wheel segment as any other segment.”

Arguably, this may be the most fair video slot ever produced.


Rapid-Fire Wins

That wheel tops an imposing video slot. At around 9 feet tall, you won’t miss it on the slot floor. To make sure of that, there are flashing lights and sounds that come out of it even when no one’s playing.

Bezel lighting around the top box, and that high-quality wheel, give the game a distinct carnival feel—at the same time deep blues combine with the dark Caribbean sky give the game an ominous appearance. Right in the middle, though, is a reminder that the game is, nevertheless, “jolly”—five progressive jackpots, marked “Captain,” “First Mate,” “Navigator,” “Deck Swabber” and “Plank Walker.”

The voice of the game’s star, the infamous 18th century buccaneer Blackbeard (the original “Pirate of the Caribbean”) is always there too—beckoning you to stop and play as you pass by, encouraging you during the base game, announcing bonuses and wins.

And those wins happen in more ways than you can count. In the base game, there are sequential wild symbols, mystery events and the AGS trademark “Lock & Bump” feature, which both adds wild symbols and increases the chance at triggering more of the bonus events. Here’s how it works: Three scattered map symbols trigger the free-spin round, but the number of spins depends on the number of triggering symbols. When they land, they lock in place and become wild symbols. After any additional win is paid, all the reels “bump” three positions downward (to the backdrop of very cool “boat-creaking” sounds). If at least one bonus trigger bumps to a payline, the whole process starts over again, accumulating up to five triggers for the maximum number of free spins—21.

The mystery features include “Firecracker Reels,” “Sinking the Ship” and the “Mermaid Feature.” Randomly at the start of a spin, thunder will roll, and from one to three lighting bolts will crash from the top monitor onto the reels. Any reels struck by lighting erupt in flames, and end up with wild symbols in all three positions.

Landing the ship symbol on the third reel initiates “Sink the Ship.” Blackbeard orders the ship to be fired upon, and cannons pop out of the bottom corners of the screen and blast away. They sink the ship alright, but as Vancura says, “pirates don’t aim very well,” so the cannons hit other reel symbols—and turn them into wilds. This feature also appears in the free spins, with ship symbols landing on all three of the middle reels.

When the mermaid appears on the third reel, it triggers either a “Big Bomb,” “Little Bomb” or the wheel feature. The mermaid splashes back into the water and leaves one of the three features behind.

The wheel feature is just the beginning of the bonuses. All but six of the wheel slices are multipliers of the total bet, up to 100X. If the spinning wheel stops on one of the six Blackbeard slices, it triggers the “Hyper Wild Super Spin.” The player chooses two from a field of 11 medallions, and  new set of red bonus reels appears, with one reel completely wild. Subsequent spins can lead to a huge win with five of a kind on each of the 27 reels.

Among the other bonuses, those potential 21 spins on the “Blackbeard’s Free Spins” are by no means all the free games you get. In fact, there is no limit. “After every set of free spins, you are shown four jewel boxes,” explains Vancura. “You pick one, but three of the four boxes always give you more free spins. There’s no set end to the number of free spins you can get.”

Within those free spins, all of the other bonus features are available. “The free-spin round in general has a lot of good things going on,” Vancura says. “It has the opportunities to sink ships, opportunities to increase your bonus multiplier for the rest of the free spins, bonus multipliers that convert to wilds on the reels.” There also is always the possibility of getting more spins of that wheel, more Blackbeards—and, oh yes, the progressives.

When symbols on any spot of each of the five reels including one of the five letters in the word “BONUS,” it moves to the top of the reels. When the entire word is completed abo e the reels, the  “Jackpot Treasure Bonus” is initiated. You then select from several hidden treasures, each relating to one of the progressive jackpots.

Beginning later this month, Blackbeard’s Treasure will begin to appear in Native American casinos, according to Lofgren, likely first in Connecticut, California and New Mexico. After that, expect a much wider rollout.

“We think this is a game the players will enjoy tremendously,” says Vancura. “The combination of a fair wheel, fair placement of extra wilds, and a true selection of objects wherein the outcome is not predetermined and/or forced, will give players a better and truer play experience. On top of that, it’s a feast for the eyes and the ears.”

As Depp said in the Pirates film, “It’s a pirate’s life for me.” •

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