Developer: Gaia
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IMG_0362RPGs and card games? It’s an interesting combination to be sure, but Sword & Poker is a great bite-sized strategy game. The concept is simple enough to make it easy to pick up and the RPG elements aren’t overpowering, but the resulting game requires plenty of strategy. As you duel monsters and progress through the dungeon, it’s easy to forget how much time has passed. This quirky title is definitely a must-have strategy game.

In the world of Sword & Poker, the “Lord of Chaos” has captured the “Stone of Creation” and has formed a gigantic dungeon to protect himself. You, the hero, have to get the stone back—using the power of cards. The dungeon is divided into floors, and monsters block your path on each. It’s up to you to kill them…by playing poker. The premise is definitely frivolous and the plot is rarely touched upon, but the game itself is the centerpiece here.

IMG_0365You play Sword & Poker on a 5×5 grid, with an initial nine cards placed on the board. You and your opponent each have four cards, and two of your cards are always visible to your opponent. Each turn, you place two cards on the grid to form a five-card “poker hand.” Each hand deals a different amount of damage. (A flush is a lot better than a single pair!) Playing against the opponent means that you’ll need to use some extra strategy, however; you don’t want to leave a flush waiting for him! It’s a lot like Puzzle Quest in that respect.

As you progress through the game, you unlock more abilities and twists that pile on still more strategy. The most important is the ability to purchase different weapons. While your basic bronze sword deals damage in a logical succession, other weapons have strengths and weaknesses, favoring certain hands over others. Other will have effects that kick in if you play a certain hand—for example, equal points may be awarded for two-pair and three of a kind, but the latter will paralyze your opponent. Throw in shields and a magic system, and the game evolves even more. And that’s just the stuff inside the individual battles. Outside of battle, you’ll have to ration your “charge coins,” which can be used for healing or redeemed for extra points at the end of a level (you usually get only one or two) as well as chose which path to take: is the treasure worth facing this monster for? The result is a strategy game that’s insanely addicting and easy to learn while providing you with a good amount of challenge. There’s also a local multiplayer option, which is great—too few games have local multiplayer, and it works wonderfully in Sword & Poker.

IMG_0360As for the art and sound, Sword & Poker is solid in this area, too. The cartoonish graphics manage to be cute-ish without being nauseating, and the whole game has an air of humor to it. The background music is stereotypically epic and precisely what you’d expect from a title like this; while it can get repetitive, I still found it enjoyable.

Sword & Poker does have a few irritating quirks that need to be addressed. There’s no way to access multiplayer once you’re playing the normal game, unless you want to restart the app—hello, there, wonky menu system! Also, you can only have a single save file, with no obvious method of restarting your character. A few weird translation bugs are present in the help files, and it looks as though once the game ends your only option is to grind through until you earn the best sword & shield combo…at which point you can beat pretty much any monster. I’d like to see a “free-play” mode filled with random monsters that limits your strength, as well as more content.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in Sword & Poker. The gameplay is addicting and even with a clear end to the game, it’ll take you some hours to finish. Everything is well-balanced, and the evolution of the game as you progress just makes it better. The mash-up of two very disparate genres leads to a surprisingly entertaining game. If you like strategy games at all, Sword & Poker is a steal. Be sure to grab it before the price goes up!

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