Developer: GAIA
Price: $1.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★★
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Even if you’ve never played poker before—even if you don’t like RPGs—you’ll like Sword & Poker. The game is a mash-up of battle poker and RPG elements, and success requires both strategy and luck. I loved the first installment in the quirky series. Sword & Poker 2 is more of the same excellent mechanics, but with some additions that make it a worthwhile purchase if you loved the first game. For newcomers, it’s even more of a no-brainer purchase.

If you want to know how this game differs from its predecessor, skip down to the “Changes” section.

Swords? Poker?? Madness!
Well, not quite madness.

Sword & Poker revolves around a nameless warrior and her quest to save the world (more or less). To do so, she travels through dungeon after dungeon, descending ever deep and slaying the monsters she encounters. She then strips them of their coins, which can later be used on upgrades. Of course, the comedic element comes from just how she slays the monsters. In this world, cards have power…so your souped-up battleaxe can only function if you play strong poker hands! You’ll need to proceed with caution. There are often multiple paths to the exit, and while pushing through difficult opponents can earn you better loot, death is always lurking right around the corner.

Fight ‘Til You Drop!
Battles are played out on a 5×5 grid, with nine cards initially placed in the center. You take turns with the enemy monster, completing poker hands by adding two cards to the grid at a time to form rows of five. Stronger hands usually deal more damage, so a flush is more powerful than a pair. Your opponent can see your hand at all times, and vice versa, so you have to plan ahead and consider defensive as well as offensive plays. If the board is filled, another round begins.

If the above battle system sounds simple, that’s because it would be. However, numerous additions and twists are added as you progress. The simplest of alterations is being able to buy weapons in the store, but even this isn’t a linear upgrade. You’ll often have to chose between weapons that are weighted to favor certain poker hands, or ones that inflict status abilities. During battle, this translates to interesting decisions—one attack might do more damage, but another will let you steal a card! You can also upgrade your health points (“coin purse”), buy shields, and cast magic.

If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry; all of this information is presented gradually with the aid of a handy tutorial system. You can read previously shown tutorials at any time. Overall, the battle system is what makes Sword & Poker 2 so fantastic…it’s pure genius. My only complaint is that it’s possible to easily plow through enemies with high-level weapons, but you can purposely handicap yourself if you need more of a challenge.

Miscellany
Graphics? Cartoony without being nauseating; this game has some real spunk. Sound? Good, not obnoxious, with options to mute it and/or play your own tunes. Multiple save slots? There are three.

Basically, what you need to know is that nothing in Sword & Poker 2′s interface stands in your way of enjoying the rich battle system. I should mention the multiplayer mode, though…thoughtfully, Sword & Poker includes a mode where you can battle a friend (or enemy) head-to-head using just one iPhone. Nifty!

Changes
If you’ve played the first Sword & Poker game, Sword & Poker 2 will feel extremely familiar. The artwork is mostly identical; the basic game is unchanged; and the additions are more tweaks than revolutionary changes.

However, the new content is still great. Boss monsters have persistent abilities— continuous healing, for example. New gold monsters present unique opportunities, refraining from attacking you but fleeing after a single round. Defeat them before they run, and you snag some awesome (and rare) loot. You now have three save slots, so if you want to replay the game (more! I need more!) you can do so without destroying your main file. Also, you can preview a monster’s stats and gear up appropriately before diving into battle.

Other changes are subtle—you can finally play your own music, the game tracks which monsters you’ve beaten, and some new enemy types are introduced. Poison joins the list of status effects, too. All the changes are much-appreciated.

Overall
Sword & Poker 2 is like the Pokemon sequels: it hasn’t changed much, but it’s still an incredibly addictive and satisfying game. The few changes that are introduced might seem minor, but they really do make the experience more enjoyable and the extra levels alone are well worth a few bucks. RPGs and poker…it might seem like a strange match, but the folks at GAIA clearly have some conspirators in game-designer heaven. Sword & Poker 2 is fantastic. Frankly, that’s all there is to it.

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