An unlikely combination of RPG and poker, GAIA‘s Sword & Poker manages to blend two disparate concepts into a single compelling whole. Much in the same way that Puzzle Quest utilized the match-three puzzle as an RPG battle system, Sword & Poker’s combat is waged at the poker table.
Sword & Poker takes place in a world based on cards, where the evil Lord of Chaos has risen to power using an artifact known as the Stone of Creation. With the stone, the Lord of Chaos has fortified himself deep within a dungeon, protected by five loyal guardians and an army of monstrous denizens. Naturally, you plunge into that action; you are an adventurer, after all.
Each floor of the dungeon is divided into a series of rooms containing either a monster or a treasure, and sometimes both. The stairs to each lower level are typically guarded by a beast slightly stronger than the rest, and the five boss guardians are stronger still.
Combat is divided into rounds and turns, with one round being equal to ten turns. Each round, nine cards are dealt into a 3×3 grid. Players are dealt hands of four cards to start, with played cards being replenished every turn. On a turn, you or your opponent lay down two cards to create a poker hand using cards in the grid. Better hands inflict larger damage to your opponent. This being a poker game, damage is measured in coins. You can defeat your opponent by depleting their pool of coins.
As you progress deeper into the dungeon, you will upgrade your coin purse and unlock weapons, shields and spells to use during combat. Weapons increase the amount of damage inflicted by your poker hands, and some weapons grant special abilities to particular hands. With the scimitar equipped, for example, you will recover coins equal to half your inflicted damage when playing Two Pair. Other abilities include stealing opponents’ cards, piercing armor and more. Shields provide you a defense buffer that enemies much breach before they can inflict damage to you, and renew each round. Spells can be used to rearrange cards on the board, steal your opponents shield, heal damage and more.
Artwork: The hand drawn artwork in Sword & Poker is cartoon-like and adorable, and really works for the game. It’s a lot of fun to encounter new monsters, just to see them.
Combat: I never would have imagined that poker would make for an enjoyable combat mechanic, but it does. And while is sounds like an odd concept to add RPG elements like swords, shields and magical spells to a poker game, it really works. Battles are a lot of fun, and I often find myself getting caught up in the game. “Just one more match,” I say. Many matches and several dungeon floors later, I realize it’s way past my bedtime and have to force myself to stop playing so that I can get up in the morning and go to work.
Multiplayer: Sword & Poker includes a pass-and-play multiplayer mode allowing you to challenge your friends and siblings to deadly rounds of poker. Hurray!
Repetitive Music: Sword & Poker has only two songs; the music that plays outside of combat, and the music that plays inside of combat. The music isn’t bad, but it does get repetitive after a while. Would have been nice to have a few more tunes, or the ability to play your own. Luckily, there are separate sliders for music and effects, so you can mute the music if it begins to wear on you.
Bigtime game designer works for a brand-name publisher, walks into a planning session and says, “Hey guys, I’ve got this great game idea: Poker with swords. It’s an RPG wrapped around a poker game, and …” And he gets laughed out of the meeting. Sword & Poker is one of those zany games that makes you glad for iPhone gaming, glad for indie developers, and glad that the App Store is such an accessible venue for crazy ideas. As ridiculous an idea as it sounds, Sword & Poker is a really fun game, and one that I find easy to recommend as a purchase.
I warn you, though: I’ve been losing sleep since buying it. Just one more match … one more match … one more … OMG, it’s what time in the morning?! Yeah, I need to stop playing before bed. And if you doubt the truth of my words, there’s a free lite version to try.