Remember when slot machines had just three spinning wheels? And there were only three rows of symbols - cherries, plums, watermelons, etc.? All you had to do to win was line up three like symbols.
Welcome to 2012 where machines can have more than 100 lines and special features that allow you to determine how frequently you win, or even how much you want to win.
WMS has introduced Colossal Reels and Aristocrat now offers a Win Your Way feature on some of its machines.
Colossal Reels currently comes in four versions: Van Helsing, Spartacus, Li'l Red and Forbidden Dragons. All four will soon be offered at the Borgata, and Van Helsing and Spartacus are now available at Caesars and Harrah's in penny versions. Minimum bet is 50 cents, up to a maximum of $2.50 - in 50 cent increments. (Spartacus is better known, but Professor Abraham van Helsing is a vampire hunter and archenemy of Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel. Li'l Red is based on Little Red Riding Hood.)
On screen are two sets of reels. Each has five columns. The Main Reel Set has images in four rows; the adjacent Colossal Reel Set has slightly smaller images with 12 rows. "Stacked" symbols - meaning they cover more than one section of a reel (as few as two, but as many as six) - include hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds, along with themed images, wilds and scatters. Wins are based on specific patterns of like symbols, such as three, four or five across the top column, a "V" shape, etc.
For example, in addition to the title character, with Van Helsing, you get Dracula, a Succubus (a female vampire), a bottle of holy water and another character from the book, Lucy Westenra (the woman with fang marks on her throat). Dracula and Van Helsing can span up to eight sections of the Colossal Reel Set; all other symbols - except Dracula's castle (see below) - span just one section of both reels.
The Van Helsing logo is wild and Dracula's castle triggers the bonus round. Castles, which span two sections of the reel, appear only on reels one, three and five - both on the Main Reel and the Colossal Reel. The bonus is activated when three or more castles appear, either on the Main Reel, the Colossal Reel or a combination of both. Three castles earn eight free games, four castles earn 12 free games and five castles earn 20 free games - all at five times pay.
In addition, when four stacked wilds - the Van Helsing logo - appear on any reel in the Main Reel Set, that same reel (one, two, three, four or five) also becomes wild in the Colossal Reel Set.
During the bonus when there are full reels of wilds and large sections of Van Helsing and Dracula spanning across three or more reels, at five times pay, this can add up to some serious wins - especially if you're playing max bet.
Win Your Way penny slots - Big Sky and Captain Cutthroat at Caesars; Miss Kitty, Big Sky and Captain Cutthroat over at Bally's and the Borgata - take a slightly different approach. The 40-line video screens are more traditional in appearance with As, Ks, Qs, Js, 10s, 9s and themed symbols. There are five reels, each displaying four symbols at a time. Minimum bet is 40 cents, but increases - in 40 cent increments - to a maximum of $2.
What's unique is a feature that allows the player to select one of three playing styles:
•Green: In this setting, players win more frequently. There are more two-of-a-kind wins, but four- and five-of-a-kind wins pay less.
•Yellow: With fewer two-of-a-kind wins, four- and five-of-a-kind wins pay more.
•Red: Players get fewer wins, but the pays are much higher. There are no two-of-a-kind or three-of-a-kind wins, but four- and five-of-a-kind wins pay even more than in the Yellow and Green modes.
In Captain Cutthroat, for example, the symbols range from cannons and compasses to pirate hats, skulls and crossbones; a pirate ship symbol is wild.
And, unlike more traditional slot machines, wins are triggered not by patterns of like symbols, but by how many of each symbol appears in each reel - left to right. For example, one compass in reel one, two compasses in reel two and one compass in reel three would translate into two three-of-a-kind compass wins.
If Captain Cutthroat appears on any three, four or five reels, players receive 8, 15 or 20 bonus games, respectively. During the bonus games, the pirate ship symbol is not only wild, but multiplies wins by two or three times.
Big Sky is similar, but, as its name implies, has a wildlife theme. Also, wins are triggered by patterns of like symbols, such as five across the top row. In addition to the As, Ks, Qs, Js, 10s and 9s, symbols include raccoons, eagles, bucks (as in male deer), acorns and others.
The bonus is triggered with three moons (one each on reels one, two and three). There are 10 free games and the wild (a bear that transforms into the Ursa Major constellation, Latin for "Large Bear") is "sticky" - meaning that once one appears during any spin, it remains in place for the remaining bonus spins.
Miss Kitty plays similarly, but with cat-related symbols.
A significant number of wilds in place by the final three bonus rounds can add up to some major jackpots because nearly any symbol is likely to wind up as a three-, four- or five-of-a-kind win.
Where You Can Play These: At the Borgata, Captain Cutthroat, Big Sky and Miss Kitty are located in the area to the left of the buffet entrance; at Bally's they are located near the entrance to the main hotel tower. At Caesars, entering from the hotel registration lobby, Captain Cutthroat and Big Sky are located to the left of the second floor casino entrance. At Harrah's, Spartacus and Van Helsing are located to the left of the table games walking from the front of the casino toward the Main Cage. At Caesars, Spartacus and Van Helsing are located on the second floor to the left as you walk toward the Palladium Ballroom. At press time, the Borgata was just receiving delivery of Colossal Slots. (Note: Locations subject to change.)
Watch a video about Colossal Slots uploaded by the game's manufacturer, WMS, at http://now.wms.com/prod
"Recreational gambler" Darryl D. McEwen, a former professional journalist, is president of his own consulting firm that manages several small national and international trade associations, and provides public relations and fundraising services for a number of charitable organizations. He is based in Wilmington, Del. His column appears every other week.