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Rating the City of Spokane's newest budget videogame

Spokane's gaming, and late night wi-fi communities have been abuzz with chatter lately over the newest and hottest online video game -- the City of Spokane's Citizens Budget Calculator 2005. The CBC puts the power of political bean-counters into the palm of your hand, giving you complete strategic control over Spokane's 2005 budget process via Supreme Ultimate Priorities of Government (SUPOG) weaponry. It's just like the popular Sim City series, only with potholes and policemen.

The Goal

You've only got $116 million to run the city, so you have to slice and dice $10 million out of the budget to make ends meet. That means police, fire, parks, libraries, streets, neighborhood services, municipal court -- it's all on the chopping block. What's it going to be? Cops on the beat or bike lanes? Senior centers or fire trucks? You are in total control.

Strategy FIVE STARS

This is the real strong suit of the game. The SUPOG controls allow you quick and easy navigation between the city's seven priority service areas -- Growth & amp; Learning; Healthy Citizens and Environment; Leadership; Mobility; Reduced Vulnerability; Safety; and Strong Economy. Click on the first one and check out the insanely detailed bids for the library system, preschool outreach and the Chase Youth Commission. Choose between Full, Partial and No Funding for each. Click through to read even more details on who thinks what should be done and what they would do to accomplish it. Under Leadership, check out "City Hall Maintenance." You can cut their program and let 'em clean up after themselves. You are in complete control.

Graphics TWO STARS

Graphics leave something to be desired. There's a pretty killer calculator on the mainpage and a nice weather update in the corner, but that's about it.

Platform ONE STAR

Early tests show a sketchy platform interface. Trial runs at Inlander headquarters demonstrated some difficulties with Sputnik-era Mac systems. With a current Web browser program, you should be OK.

Gore FOUR STARS

The carnage is surprisingly low, despite the Great White Budget Axe. Though the Mayor Jim West character shows impressive agility, his overall bone-pulverizing ability is weak. Councilman Bob Apple's got some nice defensive kicks, though. Bonus: If you complete the first three levels successfully, you unlock a secret no-holds-barred, street-brawl level pitting unruly library advocates against ill-tempered seniors. Hit "up" and "down" at the same time and libraries guru Jan Sanders emits a sonic ninja scream. Totally sweet.

Overall FOUR STARS

Great strategy potential, informative without being dorky, pretty fly realism. It's just like being in council chambers without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

To play, go to www.spokanecity.org and hit the "Citizens' Budget Calculator" button.

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