EduTainment: Kids Inexpensive and Intriguing Software

by the Reviews Team


Most games and even the majority of educational software demand an advanced, resource rich system. These two programs do not make such demands and, unlike many games, do not rely on blood and violence for effects. Like any program that relies on graphics, you should insure that you have the latest driver for your video card and update your DirectX to version 9c from Microsoft’s web site – it is small program.

These are two distinctly different, but well known, “brands”. Both are less than $20. I selected them for both their quality and the relatively low level of demand on your computer system. But don’t be misled. Neither program is a slam dunk – you have to work and think to get to the end. One sitting won’t do it.


Charles W. Evans, Reviews Editor

Soil of the Earth: John Deere, American Farmer

by Matt & Tom McDonald

John DeereFor stressed-out city slickers who have fancied farm life without the steaming cow patties or pre-dawn rooster cockadoodles, the new John Deere American Farmer, by Bold Games, is an ideal virtual escape, complete with nearly every predicament faced by real sod-busters.

“Farmer” does a first class job of creating scores of virtual headaches, from getting a bank loan to deciding what to plant (and on how much land to plant it), from what equipment to buy to what buildings to build, from what livestock to raise to what feed, pesticide and fertilizers to use. Unpredictable, yet real-life, problems like weather and markets send your commodity prices sky high or down the drain in minutes. It is like the Milton Bradley classic “Monopoly”® in a pair of overalls.

You can play free-style, competing against yourself with a $300,000 nest egg and the goal to improve your farming efficiency, or you can perform specific tasks toward pre-set goals. After a simple loading and setting of the game’s initial parameters, the user will find that time passes just as would a typical planting season, with pop-up suggestions or problems coming at random intervals. A money tally is the means by which score is kept, with a running total of available funds on screen all the time and the amount in debt only a click away. For most of the play, the latter amount far exceeds the former.

The genuine realism of the game requires some complexity in its structure though. The user will find that many steps are not as intuitive as might be desired, but there is a very good help menu which is easy to use and can resolve most procedural queries quickly. A player need not have any actual agricultural experience either, as the program presents each problem to you. “Farmer” is a challenging test of a player’s business acumen set on the farm, and from what we could tell, the game can get as complicated as a player desires.

Giving it a fun personal touch, the game’s programmers have made one of the user’s first duties to select a couple to manage the farm from a host of pre-selected choices ranging from the standard straw-hat farmer to a spiked-hair punk-rock chick (not of the winged variety). Blue grass tunes accompany play to give it that down-home realism.

With so many computer games today loaded with free-flowing blood, decapitations, torture, and an occasional axe-wielding clown, it is refreshing to find a game that is literally down to earth without a hint of violence. We tried to see if we could run over the farmer’s wife with a tractor but she passed through the tiller-toting machine like Casper through a brick wall. Much to our disappointment, not one drop of blood spilled.

“American Farmer” is created by Gabriel Entertainment, is rated “E” (for Everyone), and is an officially licensed product of the nation’s leading farm equipment manufacturer, the John Deere Co. of Moline, Iowa, so it is no coincidence that all machinery product choices are actual models of the famous big green and yellow variety. Tech Specs: P3/866, ME/XP, 128 RAM (256 rec.), 16 MB/32 bit video card, sound, 8X CD player and DirectX 9c. For more info and updates go to

Matt McDonald is a freshman at Episcopal High School and his father, Tom, is a HAL-PC member and Houston firefighter.

Editor’s note: for more “farmer” assistance go to – ‘nuf said.

Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch

by the Pearson family

Nancy DrewHer Interactive has created a fun, interactive mystery and adventure game for kids over 10 years old. Kids get to pretend that they are the famous Nancy Drew solving one of her many mysteries. The Secret of Shadow Ranch is based on a 1931 book from the one of Nancy Drew series. In search of a vacation, Nancy finds herself at Shadow Ranch in Arizona, and in the middle of a mystery involving a phantom horse that is haunting the Ranch. Nancy needs to search out clues in a land of rattlesnakes, hidden mineshafts and ghost towns. It’s up to you, as Nancy Drew, to figure out who’s wearing the black hat before your investigation is ambushed!

The Ranch’s wild-west history is full of gunslingers, unrequited love, and rumors of buried treasure. Nancy encounters many suspicious characters on the Ranch as she tries to solve the mystery. The handsome but unfriendly ranch hand Dave Gregory always seems to disappear when the Phantom Horse appears. Ranch wrangler, Tex Britton, makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t want a snoopy teenage detective hanging around. While Shorty, the Ranch cook, seems to know a lot about the tragic tale of Dirk Valentine and his phantom horse. The mystery thickens as Nancy meets Land dealer Mary Yazzie and finds out about Jane Nash, an employee of the Ranch that was recently fired. Nancy has to reweave baskets, collect eggs, chop wood and prove her horsemanship to get any help from her fellow characters.

The first task Nancy performs is picking ripe vegetables to help Shorty, the cook. This is not as straightforward as it sounds - there is little margin for error (and, in fact, the game's Second Chance feature comes in handy when too many unripe vegetables are picked and Nancy is sent packing!).

The game boasts 20 hours of sleuthing fun. Our family of three kids, ages 7 to 13 spent many hours working on the adventure. Nancy has gone high tech in this game as she has a cell phone, a task manager (to help players know what to do next) notebook and access to the world wide web to help her solve the mystery. Nancy can use her cell phone to call the Rawley’s, who are the Ranch owners, or her friends Bess and George to help her figure out clues. There are two levels of play, Junior or Senior Detective. We played the game as a Junior Detective. When you first start up the game you should start by going through the Gameplay Overview, which explains the use of many of the tools you will be using. We found the program a little confusing at first, but were able to figure it out as it went along. We highly recommend using the booklet that comes with the game to help you find the clues and tools. Although the booklet doesn’t give you the answers, it does offer suggestions, explains who the characters are and points you in the right direction. We spend a lot of time looking for things before we found the booklet. If you are looking for a quick moving game, this isn’t for you. The game has a lot of information, and sometimes you have to do several things before you can uncover a clue. But, it does have suspicious characters, is suspenseful, and keeps you guessing. This is the 10 th game in the Nancy Drew series, many of which have been honored with the Parents’ Choice Award.

The game draws kids into a mystery that requires brains to solve and doesn’t rely on violence or other sensationalism to appeal to kids. The game was easily installed following the install wizard. It works with a Windows 98/ME/20000/XP on a Pentium 3 system. It is rated “E” (for Everyone) and recommended for ages 10 above. Turn off antivirus programs during installation and insure you have the latest DirectX file. For updates and more info go to

Special guest reviewers: Kelsey, age 13, Hannah, age 10 and Zachary, age 7.

Editor’s note: The author of the series is really a guy. He used Carolyn Keene as a pen name.