by John Grochowski
One thing slot machine developers have learned in the video slot era is that they can never rest on their laurels.
As soon as players have experienced all the bonuses and all the bells and whistles a game can offer, they’re on their way to see what another game can do.
It’s been that way ever since 1997 when Reel ’Em In became the first megahit video slot and loosened the grip three-reel games had on slot floors. Game makers are always looking for ways to play that will hold your attention and keep you coming back for more.
What can you look for in 2021? We can look toward the games that were slowly rolled out in 2020 – more slowly than usual because of the coronavirus, temporary casino closings and reduced capacity upon reopening.
Here are some of the things to look for in the coming year:
FREE SPINS WITH A GOAL
Free spins come up many varieties. Some games just give a number of spins with the same symbols and pay table as the base game. Other games add wild symbols or multipliers. Some games eliminate low-paying symbols to increase big wins. While other games use entirely different reel sets than in non-bonus play.
Incredible Technologies and Ainsworth Technologies have introduced games in which you collect special symbols on most free spins, then have them released onto the reels on the last of the freebies.
**Happy 8’s, Incredible Technologies. “Scatter Blast” sets of eight spins can boost your bonus credits in Happy 8’s: The number 8 is lucky for players in an Asian themed game in which you can accumulate bonuses, progressives and wilds over an eight-spin cycle.
You build your extras by collecting wilds on the first seven spins, and on the eighth, all wilds are released to the 40-line reel set. That can bring some huge wins on the reels, and any progressive awards or bonus meters that have been filled with their scatter icons are also awarded.
The 40-line game with four progressive levels is available in 1, 2, 5 and 10-cent denominations, and you can bet 60, 120, 180, 240 or 300 credits.
**Super Lit and Captain’s Quest, Ainsworth: Free spin sets are called “Persistent State,” and they’re making their debut in the new games Super Lit Vegas and Captain’s Quest.
Super Lit Vegas is the latest in Ainsworth’s successful QuickSpin family and enables players to build toward wheel spins in quick, seven play Persistent State free spins.
While you play, you collect orb symbols. On the seventh spin, the orbs become wild, so a big orb collection can lead to big wins. If you collect eight or more orbs during the seven-spin set, you get a Wheel Spin for credits – usually in the hundreds, but with a 10,000-credit top.
Captain’s Quest is the first in Ainsworth’s “Ultimate Upgrade” line of games, in which Ultimate Upgrade symbols launch special features.
A 1-cent game with 30 paylines, Captain’s Quest includes a 10-spin Persistent Play cycle. Each time an Ultimate Upgrade symbol appears, you collect one of five features: Symbol Replaced, 1 Wild Reel, Wilds Added, Extra Lines, or Multipliers. On the 10th spin, all features are awarded into a final spin. Three or more scattered symbols launch free games in which the player can choose one off the five upgrades.
Along with the intrigue of building toward free-spin goals and one wild final spin, slot players returning to casinos will see the continuation of several trends:
ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY CROSSOVERS
**The Karate Kid, Everi: A five-reel, 30-line penny slot machine game that features the Karate Tournament Bonus. One large wheel spins to lock in a progressive jackpot tier available to the player. You can win the jackpot by with a reel spin during which the 3 x 5 reel set contains only fist symbols and blank spaces.
Another feature is the Wild Strike Bonus which is initiated randomly during any spin. During the bonus, the reels split up to six times and add wild reels, giving players extra chances to win progressive jackpots.
**The Mask, Everi: Movie thrills come through on this five-reel, 40-line penny slot. During the Free Games Bonus with Jackpot Wheel Spin, players can land full stack combinations to win instant credit prizes or the special combination to unlock a single spin of the jackpot wheel. The jackpot wheel guarantees a jackpot prize up to the progressive value.
In the Pick Bonus with Prize Jump, players who locate Milo, the Jack Russell terrier, advance up 10 possible levels to larger prizes with gold and silver keys instantly unlocking credit prizes. Steer clear of the cheese, because finding two cheesy symbols end the bonus.
**Jeopardy, IGT: High-denomination players get their chance for a credit explosion – or implosion – through Final Jeopardy in a new progressive slot.
Based on the long-popular TV game show, Jeopardy! includes three progressive jackpot levels. You can bet one, three, six, 10 or 20 credits per spin, but it takes at least a six-credit wager to be eligible for the Jeopardy bonus event. Those who bet 10 get four extra paylines and increased Daily Double chances, and if you bet 20, you get even more Daily Doubles and improved chances for a progressive jackpot.
When three bonus symbols appear on an active payline, they trigger the Jeopardy bonus. At the start, five free spins are awarded. During those spins, if a bonus symbol appears, you’re awarded a prize that can include a progressive jackpot, and the number of remaining spins is reset to five. If three bonus symbols appear on a payline during the event, you advance to Double Jeopardy with increased rewards. Anytime a Daily Double symbol appears in either Jeopardy or Double Jeopardy, credit awards are doubled.
At the end of the bonus spins, you can either keep the credits you’ve won or give them up to play Final Jeopardy. There, you select up to four spaces from the board. They reveal credit values that are added and offered to you. You can accept or decline and try again. If you decline, you pick again for a new offer. If you decline that, you can try once more, and the value of your final picks becomes your prize for the round.
**Dragon’s Law SeleXion, Konami Gaming: Two new linked jackpot games feature the iconic long-tailed dragon that captured players’ imaginations on the original Dragon’s Law game.
In Dragon’s Law Boosted, players have a choice. You can play either the original Dragon’s Law game with five video reels, each three symbols deep, or you can hit the “boosted” button to double the possibilities.
If you play the boosted version, you each reel is six symbols deep for extra chances to win. Dragon’s Law’s random wild feature returns. After a spin wild symbols can appear on top of symbols on the screen. With the boost, Dragon’s Law adds a random progressive that includes a Maxi jackpot that starts at $5,000.
The SeleXion companion title to Dragon’s Law Boosted is Dragon’s Law Rapid Fever, which showcases the popular Dragon’s Law mystery wild feature with high-reward potential.
Throughout primary play, an activated Strike Zone area is outlined in blue. Bigger bets can expand the Strike Zone from right to left. Randomly, the dragon flies down to the reels to scatter wild symbols packed with random bonus prizes.
Prizes include credit awards, jackpots, and wheel spins. All prizes that land within the Strike Zone are awarded, while those that land outside the Strike Zone serve as regular wild symbols.
**Ba Fang Jin Bao, Konami Gaming: Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, and in two new games under the Ba Fang Jin Bao umbrella, the lucky 8s go down all the way to your wagers. Penny players can make bets ranging from 88 cents to $8.80.
The Ba Fang Jin Bao, Fortune Totems, slot machine (courtesy konami.com)
Two themes, Abundant Fortune and Fortune Totems, feature a symbol-driven, four-level linked progressive system. At the top is the Grand jackpot, which starts building from a $10,000 base.
Both themes feature a chance at a progressive jackpot anytime a gold ingot symbol lands on the reels. When the progressive feature is triggered, 12 gold ingots appear across the screen, which players tap to reveal a corresponding progressive jackpot prize. When 3 matching jackpot symbols are uncovered, you are awarded the corresponding jackpot amount.
**Triple Wild Dragon, Everi: For high-denomination players, these three-reel, nine-line $1 games are new extensions of the Double Jackpot Gems game family.
Triple Wild Dragon features symbol-triggered progressives that hit when three jackpot symbols land on an active pay line. You win the top progressive when three jackpot symbols land on line 9.
With fixed multiplier symbols, three-times multiplying logos can combine for up to nine-times pay table wins. Those who love classic three-reel mechanical slots will appreciate the games’ clear pay tables, simple game play and familiar mechanics.
**Wicked Wheel Panda, Everi. An extension of Everi’s award-winning Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel game on the new Empire Flex cabinet, Wicked Wheel Panda is a penny 243-ways-to-win games that features progressive picks and wheel bonuses with random multipliers and nudges.
In a randomly triggered event, players pick to reveal either progressive symbols or the Panda. The Panda symbol removes the lowest progressive tier, leaving only bigger prizes available. Players matching three progressive symbols win the corresponding jackpot.
NEW GAMES IN SUCCESSFUL FAMILIES
**Ultra Hot Mega Link, Scientific Games: The new extension of Scientific Games’ Ultra Hot game family takes players to locales around the world. India and Amazon are the first two themes in a series of games under the Ultimate Fire Link family.
Ultra Hot Fireballs put extra sizzle in the Fire Link feature. Just as in Ultimate Fire Link games, the feature is triggered when at least four Fireball symbols appear on the video reels. The symbols, which include credit amounts or progressive jackpots, lock in place for at least three respins.
On the respins, every new Fireball also locks in place and resets the respin meter to three. When a set of Fireballs is completed, a new row is unlocked and added to the reels, opening the chance for bigger wins. When the respin meter hits zero, you win the amounts displayed on the Fireballs.
Those winnings grow dramatically if a respin brings you an Ultra Hot Fireball. It adds credits or a mini jackpot to up to five Fireballs surrounding it. Rewards you’ve already accumulated are stoked and blaze anew.
Also featured is a free games bonus launched when three scattered treasure chest symbols land on the second, third and fourth reels. That awards eight free spins, and you can get an extra spin any time a treasure chest lands on the fifth reel during the freebies.
Ultra Hot Mega Link is available to casino operators in several configurations. For 1-cent or 2-cent play, there are 50 paylines on the five video reels, with a 500-credot maximum bet. For 5-cent and 10-cent play, there are 20 lines and a 200-credit max bet, and for 25-cent, $1 and $1 denominations, there are 10 lines with a 50-credit max.
**Monopoly Electric Win$, Scientific Games: What would a year be without a new Monopoly game. Electric Win$ is a six-reel, 20-line game packed with bonus fun. It’s available in multiple coin denominations from 1 cent to 50 cents. In addition to your bets on the base game, there’s a 25-credit bonus bet that activates a special Electric Reel.
In the Board Bonus, played on a supersized version of the iconic Monopoly board, players roll dice to determine a number of multipliers to be added to the board. You have a chance at one of four progressive jackpots or one of six bonuses, all awarded randomly.
In both the Pick and Match Bonus and Community Chest Bonus, players pick for credit prizes. In the Railroad Bonus, a prize train awards credit prizes and a multiplier. In the Dice Bonus, players roll for credit prizes. Lastly, in the Free Spins Bonus, players are awarded 10 free spins, and if a MONOPOLY Electric Win$ symbol lands on the reels, an additional 10 free spins are awarded.
Away from the board, the base game includes an Electric Reel that’s activated by the bonus bet. The Electric Reel can add wild symbols to the reels for power-packed wins. Before a spin, a Hotel symbol may appear in positions on the first five reels. Then if the Light Bulb symbol appears on the sixth reel, it transforms the hotels to wilds.
**Hexbreaker 3, IGT: Hexbreaker slots have been steady hits for IGT, and no. Hexbreaker 3 challenges players to break the hex.
During the base game, when a horseshoe symbol lands on a reel, the reel expands by up to six positions. If a reel grows tall enough to reach a Luck Zone prize, players are awarded the corresponding bonus credits, free games, or progressive jackpot.
Available in multiple coin denominations, Hexbreaker 3 requires an 80-credit bet to cover all lines and features
OTHER NEW GAMES
**Zodiac Lion, IGT: A five-reel video slot on IGT’s Crystal Curve slot cabinet, Zodiac Lion has an unusual configuration on its five video reels. The first, third and fifth reels are four symbols deep, while the second and fourth are five symbols deep.
The result is a 50-line game with a 100-credit wager to cover all lines and bonuses. That’s a $1 wager on a 1-cent game. During the base game, when a lion symbol appears inside of a frame on the reel, it unlocks the frame and transforms it to a wild symbol.
The Lion Spin bonus is triggered during the base game when three or more lion spin symbols appear in locked frames, awarding one free spin for every triggering symbol. Once the bonus is triggered, a giant wheel spins behind the reels to award players up to 22 lion symbols per spin.
**All Aboard, Konami Gaming: The new symbol-driven All Aboard linked progressive series is making its debut on Konami’s new DIMENSION 49J cabinet with a 49-inch, 4K ultra high definition portrait screen.
The initial base games under the progressive system are Dynamite Dash, which increases availability of wild symbols during a free spins feature, and Piggy Pennies, where free games include gigantic symbols covering multiple spaces to increase chances of multi-line wins.
Both games feature a multi-level progressive. Six or more train symbols trigger a Stay & Spin feature. In a single bonus round, you’ll have the opportunity to redeem credit prizes and jackpot awards multiple times
**The Vault, Everi: You’re looking to empty the vault and fill your bankroll in a series of five-reel penny slots featuring three base games in 30- or 40-line configurations. All feature a bank-wide bonus feature and community-style play.
In an Empty the Vault respin bonus, gold from the vault can give a big boost to credit prizes that are locked on the screen. When triggered, reels will spin in a lock-and-respin fashion. For big rewards, you’ll want to see scatter symbols lock in place. When three scatter symbols are locked on the same column, treasure will fall from the top screen vault onto the locked reels.
In the bank-wide Diamond Rush bonus everyone tries to steal diamonds from other players. You’ll want your gems locked in lace to secure big wins during Diamond Heist time. The Heist is triggered during the Diamond Rush when a vault symbol reveals a diamond or a diamond plus credits.
AND IN VIDEO POKER …
**Stack ’Em High, IGT. IGT dominates the video poker market. The latest innovation gives you a stack of extra hands
Available in Triple Play or Five Play versions of standard video poker games, Stack ’Em High requires an extra five-credit per hand bet to activate the stack feature. That leaves a max bet of 30 coins on Triple Play and 50 on Five Play games.
On non-wild card games, the stack feature is activated any time you hold two or three Aces and no other cards. On Deuces Wild and deuces variations, the trigger is 2s – hold two or three 2s to launch the feature.
In the feature, you get extra hands for the draw. How many depends on the game and whether you’re playing Triple Play or Five Play.
In a free-play version available to members at videopoker.com, holding two Aces on Five Play Double Double Bonus Poker brings a stack of eight hands. You draw to your original five hands, plus get three extra chances to chase a big payer.
If you’re dealt three Aces, you get a stack of 11 hands – six extra chances to draw that fourth Ace and, if you’re really lucky, a low-card kicker for the 2,000-coin pay DDB players know and love.
Another sample: In Five Play Deuces Wild, holding two 2s brings a stack of eight hands, while holding three 2s brings a 13-hand stack as you keep you fingers crossed for one or more draws of the fourth deuce.
Whenever you play extra-bet games, be sure to stay within your bankroll. If you’d usually bet 15 quarters on Triple Play and betting 30 is outside your comfort zone, then either reduce your coin denomination or play a different game.
But as long as you don’t overbet, Stack ’Em High is a fun game with its extra chances at the big-paying hands that can make your session.
John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books
and his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.
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