When someone thinks about poker, what usually comes to mind are casinos and tournaments – big, flashy events and venues with grim-faced players eyeing each other from across tables. Luck, skill, and daring are needed to make the best of the hand given you. Those experienced in the game, either amateurs or pros, know the thrill of cards turning, their value revealed, and promising combinations flashing in your mind. What if this excitement was doubled by inserting it into a video game?
The good news is that it has already been done. The bad news is that its modern reception is not entirely favourable. Swords and Poker Adventure, released in 2014, is the third instalment to an initially adored series of RPG hybrids. A change in many directions for this spinoff, though, has caused a dip in popularity, not just for these titles, but poker and casino hybrids in general. While many classic poker-themed games exist, involving avatars or animated characters sitting around a table playing, such as the highly appreciated Governor of Poker series, let us see how those that have deviated from this mould have been doing.
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(Swords and Poker Adventure Trailer)
The first title, Swords and Poker, was greeted very warmly by the Japanese in 2010, developed for iOS by Gaia, a start-up company owned by Cozy Okada. Simply defining it as a card-based strategy and adventure game is not quite enough. On a 5×5 grid, puzzle-like poker battles occur on your character’s journey that increase in difficulty as your opponents get harder. Winning earns coins that can later be spent on new weapons, items, and spells that make coming battles easier and more fun.
Getting familiar with the ins and outs of poker is easy enough. Something else online casinos are good for apart from poker promotions is getting to know the game, hands, rules and all. This mobile game may not have blinds and flops and Texas hold’em or Omaha hi-lo, but it takes some of that poker fun and makes something fresh of it. Mixing it with RPG, strategy, and puzzle-solving elements proved to be an ingenious idea.
International markets were no less pleased by the surprisingly effective concoction, TouchArcade reports, and with such a good response, Gaia produced Swords and Poker 2 in May of the same year. Based on reviews, this instalment mirrored the first with slightly improved graphics and just as high approval ratings. Then things went south.
Gaia went bankrupt and Konami stepped up a few years later to release a free version of the acclaimed games and, perhaps, continue the series’ climb to greatness. It did not turn out this way. While the core of the gameplay stayed the same, issues concerning the new energy meter and constant cost emerged, especially compared to the original titles’ one and only initial price. The irony is that these games are, in fact, still available, creating competition within the series itself.
But how does Swords and Poker explain the decline of poker hybrids? It may be a case of lost faith.
The Mobile Poker Boom
With smartphones flying off the shelves faster than companies can produce them and devices’ performance advancing to the point of serious competition with PCs and consoles, it is hardly surprising that 2017 saw mobile poker generate 48.7% of global revenues. The game itself is competitive and exciting, an experience made even better with every technological improvement incorporated in phones and tablets. Online casino games in the UK, for example, can attribute their 2018 increase in player activity from 61% to 68%, according to Statista’s figures, to the fact that poker tables, fast-paced and vivid, now fit in a pocket or bag. This boom in mobile activity, particularly in terms of gaming, would be a prime opportunity for poker and other casino game hybrids to grab the public’s attention and expand with new titles. Inspiration can be found in existing contenders.
Beyond Swords and Poker
The level of love for casino games can also be found for Solitaire. Whether in physical or digital form, this game has entertained generations. Now, a new version has been produced called Politaire, which keeps the idea of going through a deck of cards and replaces the goal of forming suit-piles of ascending order with that of creating winning poker hands. This mostly free title came to be in 2017 for iOS and Android, featuring a handcrafted design, quality graphics, and a score of 4.3 on the App Store. Topebox appears to have seen where the wind was blowing and made its brilliant hybrid contribution.
Another game closer to the design of Swords and Poker is 2011’s Runespell: Overture. The plot, engulfed in Norse mythology, involves your changeling character, the son of a monster god, fighting through enemies and finding treasures to collect silver for upgrades. All battles are done by combining cards into groups of five to form the best poker hand. Even the key to unlocking chests is hands that you must work out. You can also recruit defeated opponents or take them as pets. The atmospheric graphics and overall more serious feel to this poker hybrid makes it just as immersive as Swords and Poker, a worthy addition to the genre, courtesy of Mystic Box.
There are also titles that incorporate other casino games. Battlejack, for instance, developed in 2017 by Grand Cru Games, is bursting at the pixels with fun elements, all layered onto simple blackjack rules. Saving a mythical tree and the whole of Midgard is your mission as you journey through impressively designed areas, winning blackjack battles against Titans and collecting legendary heroes, who can be called on in later skirmishes, upgraded, and even combined to create powerful new beings. There are several more amusing features to keep the gameplay lively and interesting. Battlejack may not be poker themed, but it follows the same principle of mixing RPG adventuring with a casino card game. Their purpose is the same.
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The future of poker hybrid games looks promising, but it will need more effort on the part of developers. There is clearly a market for this genre – a willingness to give it a try, despite past disappointments. New titles are called for and publicity for the existing successful ones. If the public becomes better acquainted with them, it will know to keep an eye out for others of its kind. And with mobile gaming on the rise, now is the time for such a campaign.