Developing a game that mixes elements from a variety of genres is an attractive idea. Rather than having to squeeze innovation from within a specific genre, a developer can instead take tried-and-true mechanics from disparate games and mash them together into an experience that feels new and exciting. The developers of Sword and Poker managed to combine a poker-based puzzle game and a dungeon crawler with a sprinkling of RPG elements into a cohesive and fiercely addictive game that delivers more than the sum of its parts.
Sword and Poker is structured like an old-fashioned dungeon crawler. This means that you will move deeper and deeper into a dungeon filled with monsters, treasure, and equipment. Rather than jamming on an attack button to slay your enemies, you have to best them in a fun and surprisingly deep puzzle game built around making poker hands.
The starting board is a three by three grid of playing cards. Your turn consists of playing two cards from your hand across from each other, to make a line of five cards that makes up a pair or better. Generally, the more powerful the hand you make, the more damage you do to your enemy. This continues until one of you runs out of coins and loses the battle.
Now that’s a poker face.
If Sword and Poker consisted of just this relatively straightforward puzzle, it would not be sufficient to hold our attention for very long. The game thrives with the addition of spells and equipment that can grant you special abilities or bend the basic rules of the game.
Each weapon, for example, does proportionately more damage for different hands and may skew your strategy towards one hand over another. As you move through the dungeon you will also find spells which can grant a temporary ability, like re-arranging the starting cards or receiving protection from damage when your opponent makes a pair. Sword and Poker does a great job of gradually introducing you to your new abilities, and as a result, you never end up feeling overwhelmed by your options.
Most of the individual monsters are not that tough to beat. The challenge in Sword and Poker comes from the fact that you have to best an entire floor full of monsters without losing a single fight. You carry your remaining coins from fight to fight, so you need to not only beat a monster, but do so with a minimum loss of coins.
Fortunately, you are granted one or two coin refreshes that you can use between fights. Pressing your luck and seeing how far you can go before having to use these is an important part of the game, especially because any unused life refreshes you have at the end of the floor are converted into extra currency that you can use to buy new items.
Just like navigating a casino floor.
With all of its various permutations of equipment and abilities, Sword and Poker accommodates a very wide range of strategy. If you want to play the game quickly, as if you were sitting at a video poker machine and not paying much attention to what your opponent is doing, you can do that. It will take you longer to get through the game, and you will have to replay floors more often.
However, you can also focus on all the details available to you to maximize your performance. For example, you can tailor equipment and spell choices to counteract each monster’s special abilities. You can also pay close attention to what your opponent has in his hand and play not just to maximize the damage of your attacks, but to minimize the success of theirs by blocking their play.
Sword and Poker is a great fit for on-the-go playing. Individual fights usually take less that five minutes, and you don’t lose any ground if you have to click away to take a call or change you music. It also allows you to play your own tracks, which is a huge plus for all of us podcast listeners.
This card shark has teeth.
The only thing about the game that might turn off some people is that it can feel a bit repetitive if played for long periods of time. Once the game gets going, there is no story to punctuate the floors and there are occasional stretches where you won’t encounter a new enemy type or find exciting new equipment. This is a small price to pay for such a long game, though. It will take you many hours to beat Sword and Poker, and there is more incentive to keep playing after that. In addition, you can play multiplayer with someone else on the same device.
Sword and Poker seems to offer something for everybody. It drives you to keep playing with a strong sense of achievement. Not only are you constantly finding new items to use, but you also become better at understanding the game. At first you may think you are playing a shallow and luck-based card game, but as you get more experience under your belt you can begin to see better moves and equipment combos as you peel off layers Sword and Poker’s strategic onion.
You don’t need to be an expert at any of the individual genres within Sword and Poker in order to enjoy it. Each part of the game supports and improves the others, and this makes Sword and Poker easy to give our highest recommendation.