I was reluctant to write a review of this as I didn’t see it as a ‘game’ so much as an app, but I have spent so much time with it that it feels churlish not to. I also didn’t want to stray into gambling territory, however it is worth setting out that, unless you choose to, you do not need to spend a single penny to enjoy all the features the app has to offer. It’s like playing monopoly; this is toy money we’re gambling with here.
Originally launched in 2007 across mobile devices and Facebook, the app replicates one specific style of poker, Texas Hold ’em. Whilst never a player, I developed something of a fascination with the game a few years ago. The wife and I would stumble across it on one of those grim, rarely viewed TV channels and got into the action. After a couple of failed attempts, I chanced across this on the Google Play store and developed something of an unhealthy obsession.
There are a decent variety of tables and formats to try. A standard game can be entered with a sliding scale of stake depending on your chip stack. Do you go big, hoping a tasty win offsets the high cost of entry? Or do you stay conservative, picking up smaller wins, incrementally increasing your pot? Plus all wins count towards progression up the league table, higher rankings offering you bigger rewards in the shape of tokens, in game currency to boost your pot.
Beyond the standard game there are shootout and sit-n-go tournaments. The former are winner takes all tournaments against a full table of players whilst the latter are tiered challenges, requiring you to beat successive tables with increasing blind amounts to claim the winners purse.
Games themselves are nicely laid out. You have a timer in which to make your decision to check, raise or fold and unless you find yourself distracted making dinner or trying to get the kids ready for bed, it is sufficient to make an informed choice. As a perpetually online game you are reliant on both the presence of other players and the quality of their conduct to ensure an enjoyable experience. Player counts are rarely a problem however player behaviour can be a pain. I like to feel my way into games, raising when I feel I have a strong hand, only very rarely relying on the desperate hope of a bluffers chance. Unfortunately some players come wading into a game with their size 12s, going all in on every hand and ruining the flow of the game. It is immensely satisfying to wipe these irritants off the table.
Gameplay on the whole feels genuine and fair but there are times when it seems the app is either on your side or determined to eat into your chips like an opportunistic seagull at the pier. Cards often seem to fall in sequences that seem too coincidental to feel organic, the number of royal flushes or straights often feeling unrealistic. And then there are the hands you get that seem unbeatable and so you increase the pot, goaded by tanother player who seems determined to match you, unaware of your pot winning hand, increasing to $2m, then $10m and finally you go all in, the final card turning, your smile of satisfaction wiped off as that ‘yeah, right’ ace drops and that fool across the table looks foolish no more as he takes home your hard earned cash. Bad luck or something more malignant? In these moments it can feel as though you’re being trolled harder than the three billy goats gruff.
Still these are minor grumbles in what otherwise feels a satisfying, well balanced game. I have reached the highs of a $200m+ stack, buoyed by a $133m pot win. I have seen the lows of total wipe out, my chip count squandered in chasing losses, falling on hard times that would make Dusty Rhodes proud. And hey, there is always the chance to top up your stack. Daily slot machine events give you free money whilst you always have the chance of being selected for a random cash windfall.
If the idea of playing poker with fake money seems silly, ask yourself how that Champions League medal you won in FIFA feels wrapped round your digital neck. A fun little app for those moments when you only have a few minutes to squeeze in your gaming fix.