I am a sucker for wasting time playing asynchronous games on my iPhone and iPad. Word games usually do the trick, and I have played Words With Friends, Hexalex and Wordfeud for months now. Needless to say I have been waiting for something fresh to come along that doesn’t require too much of the player in terms of raw processing power. Chillingo answered with a perfect game for the casual market: Poker Pals. A game that doesn’t demand that you know poker that well, but still retains some of the excitement of the real thing.
In Poker Pals you play either the AI or a friend locally or online. A random opponent can also be chosen, but most will probably challenge Game Center friends right through the in game interface. The local pass n’ play game is also ok for a game or two. The main attraction is playing multiple games asynchronous with people all over the world. The AI is there to help you learn the ropes.
It is an easy game to get into, and if you have played poker or even better Sword & Poker it is a breeze. Each round you get five cards to make new hands with together with the cards already played. The 7×7 card grid has jokers in the corners that automatically transforms to the best possible card for your play. In many ways the game resembles playing Scrabble, but with cards instead of letters. Testing out where a hand is best played can be done in peace and quiet. There is no time limit, and no sense to rush it. Once you are content you have played a good hand, or made a move that helps your next play you press the “play” button. Then your opponent takes a turn, and you get a notification that it is your turn. The game ends when the board is full.
The strength of the game is the casual take on poker where you can try before you make a play. This is also at the same time a flaw since the game fails to deliver in the long run. It can’t be mastered, as everyone can explore the optional plays in peace and quiet and the fact that cards are always random makes luck a big factor. Still as a distraction it works really well, and there is a sense of satisfaction when you make a royal flush or forces the opponent into poor hands.
I have had some crash issues with the game, and the occasional hang-up glitch. Still none of my games have been broken. One thing the game sorely lacks is a chat function. I am used to writing messages in for example Hexalex, and it surprised me that a social game as Poker Pals lacks that ingame option.
The presentation in Poker Pals is great for the purpose of the game. It has a nice sparkle to it, and it is enjoyable for a long time. There is some soft background music as well, but I turned it off right away. This is the kind of game I play for thirty seconds at a time in various locations, and I don’t want music to blare out at those times if I forget to mute my phone.
Poker Pals is a fresh entry in the asynchronous multiplayer genre that is immediately accessible to all. Easy rules, and easy to play it is a pleasurable way to play during shorter breaks. The lack of ingame chat, and crash issues lowers the overall rating. I still find it easy to recommend especially for the iPhone, as this is gameplay to be enjoyed on the go everywhere. It gets an Editor’s Choice award because this is a game that will keep me, and many others entertained for ages at a mere buck.