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Poker Pals

For:   Also on: iPhoneiPad
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Friendships will be tested

Product: Poker Pals | Developer: Aspyr | Publisher: Chillingo | Format: iPhone | Genre: Card/ board game, Multiplayer | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network), on one device | File size: 14.3MB | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0
Poker Pals iPhone, thumbnail 1
Sometimes two things that really shouldn’t work together end up producing something amazing. Like Apple and mobile phones, peanut butter and jam, Marmite and- actually, not Marmite. Disgusting stuff.

Continuing the fine tradition of blending two genres of game into a cohesive whole (see Puzzle Quest, Sword and Poker) is Poker Pals, which despite the name isn’t Chillingo and Aspyr’s attempt to recreate the popular card game. In fact it's a mixture of Scrabble and poker.

Like combining two naturally sweet condiments, it shouldn’t work, and yet it ends up being a strangely compulsive multiplayer title.

Ma-ma-ma Poker Pal

At the start of the game both you and your opponent are dealt five cards, much as with five-card stud, and three cards are laid down across the middle of the 7x7 grid.

The idea is to lay down one to four cards horizontally or vertically to create poker hands. The better the hand(s), the more points you score.

In the corners of the board are joker cards, acting like the fabled triple-word score squares in Scrabble. Rather than automatically adding points to your hand, they act as the traditional wildcards, increasing the chance of scoring some sickeningly high scores.

Play takes place asynchronously, so you don’t need to be glued to the iPad/iPhone the entire time while playing and you can run multiple games at once (with a limit on the ad-supported version of the game).

The winner is whoever has the most points by the time the grid is filled up, or the one left after the opponent resigns out of rage (this is a multiplayer game, after all).

Feeling flushed

There's a single-player element to proceedings, but it’s more a practice mode, with three levels of AI opponents offering up a simple, tough, and practically impossible fight respectively.

Thankfully, getting friends involved is made extremely simple thanks to one-device play, integration with Game Center and Crystal that allows for random match-ups, and a handy invite/find option for all the leading social networks.

You'll get a lot more out of Poker Pals if your friends accept your invites. While the AI is fine, the game takes on a decidedly more competitive feel against another human player.

As the grid fills out, the title quickly becomes a sneaky game of blocking and disruption, helped by the fact that only one deck of cards is in play.

Because you can clearly see what cards have already been played (and how many are left in the deck), you’ll quickly find yourself weighing up the chances of your opponent holding that last ‘10’, or placing down a seemingly innocent pair in order to set up a much higher scoring hand.

Just a straight

Poker Pals excels in the base gameplay, especially against an equally skilled opponent, but it’s lacking in a few crucial areas that would have made it a must-buy.

The most glaring is the lack of a chat function, which sadly confines any bragging to your friend about a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat to iMessage or (in my case) Twitter.

On the other hand, for those without willing pals the lack of any form of persistent ELO ratings makes the random match-ups feel a little pointless in the long-run, while the opportunity to ‘grief’ a player by simply not playing after it becomes impossible to win will be a temptation for some.

But if you have a group of willing victi- sorry, ‘friends’ who can take defeat on the chin, then Poker Pals is an interesting and fun twist on two familiar games, and well worth paying for.
Poker Pals
Reviewer photo
Will Wilson | 4 November 2011
Poker Pals is an unusual, simple, and fun multiplayer title that hides a surprising amount of depth
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