In wintery New England exists Candlepin bowling. The balls are smaller, the pins are cylinders, you get three shots to get them all down, and oh yes, you can use dead wood to your advantage. It’s an institution there. In fact, there are names like Dan Murphy, Hawk Halas, and other local legends that remain firmly in the memories of those who grew up watching Bowling for Dollars & Candlepin Challenge.
Plus, Candlepin Bowling is hands-down superior to ‘regular’ 10-pin bowling, rewarding strategy and accuracy in a way its big brother does not, encouraging youths and those with little upper body to participate while the heft and difficulty of wielding a regular-sized bowling ball might just turn off them off.
Alas, due to the regional specificity of the game (it’s only in New England and parts of Canada) the chances of seeing this wonderful variation of bowling brought to the masses have been low. Who exactly, is going to develop a video game version of niche version of a sport most people aren’t particularly excited to play in the game form of – and make it good?
Welp, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and when there’s an opportunity to gamble on it, you bet someone, somewhere will take a shot at it.
And low and behold, the shot has been…shot, and eSports Candlepin found its way onto phones, is free, and also a delight. The asynchronous multiplayer game has the player completing a full 10-string game against another player (who plays on their own time) and whoever has the best score at the end of the game wins points, ‘tickets’, and (potentially) cash – all of which can be used via the title’s store for tangible prizes.
Playing is as you’d expect. Flick the ball with your finger or thumb, and whatever direction your phalanges of choice is traveling will affect the spin and curve of the ball as it barrels toward its target. You knock pins down and then roll again.
But what’s different here is the pins you’ve knocked down stay on the lane. So if two pins rest behind a knocked-down pin (or deadwood) you can aim for said deadwood and use that to take out the other two pins. It is, in a word, sublime. There’s also adjustments you can make for angle and point of attack, but the only thing ‘regular’ bowling fans need to know is everything is the same except the deadwood, the number of balls, and the size of them.
To prevent this from getting stale, the developers also introduce ‘oil’ mechanics, which affect how much sliding around your ball will do on the lane after being thrown: Meaning the amount of oil affects how your spin, changing the game and how you roll the ball for a given game.
So what you have here is a solid game of candlepin bowling for the masses, finally. There are a couple of glitches – for example, if you roll a ball down the gutter and it hits a pin and stops, you’re stuck until you reset the game. Plus if you’re trying to put some real power on the ball and do a wind-up, you may accidentally trigger your phone’s control panel.
You’re also encouraged to gamble on this thing – hence the eSports moniker. Skillz’s business model is based on getting users to deposit cash, and play against each other for winnings. The ratio here is a little weak – you pay .60 cents to win .40 cents, for example. But if you’re the sort of gamer who likes a little online poker and a little cash-game Madden Football, you might find the low stakes quite a lot of fun. Plus thanks to the game’s relatively small player-base, you actually grow a little fond of your opponents and get a feel for their average score.
Plus the real-money component is all optional.
Regardless, if it sounds like I’m evangelizing, it’s only because I am. Folks in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, parts of New York State, and Connecticut have finally seen their home game realized in digital form. A game they keep close to their heart, finally, now, in their pocket too.