App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Pine Tar Poker is a simple poker variant that injects some folksy charm by setting itself in a country tavern with a chatty barkeep. All seems fine, normal, and perhaps even a bit boring, and that's right when the game starts to pull the rug out from under you. It's an interesting idea that gets some help through some unique challenges and upgrades, though it does feel like Pine Tar Poker saunters along a bit slower than it needs to.
Come on down and play a hand or two
At its core, Pine Tar Poker is a modified version of poker where players try to make certain hands out of five face-up cards through the simple process of flipping cards off the top of the deck. Before each flip, you can choose any number of cards to hold onto, and after a preset number of flips you have to try and score. If no scoring options are available when you run out of actions, your point total is scored and you get a payout.
After the first hand or two, you sort of get it. There's a lot of luck involved and you just have to play a bunch if you want things to fall in your favor for a high score. Just as you start thinking that, though, your jovial barkeeper offers some items you can buy with your earnings. These things start to give you ways to control your luck to a certain degree, and also indicate that maybe there's more to Pine Tar Poker than meets the eye.
Making deals, but with who?
From here on out in the review, it's going to be kind of hard to talk about why Pine Tar Poker is compelling. Things certainly happen and they are easy to describe, but the reason they are compelling is because you don't expect them and don't know what the next one will be. Let's just say the game takes a turn in a somewhat supernatural direction and leave it at that.
All along the way, your barkeep keeps chatting you up to explain how certain things work as they get unveiled. He doesn't act surprised, nor is ever vexed by what is going on. The resulting effect transforms the way you might view him. The man who seemed like a welcoming, friendly, and unassuming host has been clearly hiding things from you, but to what end? And why? You must play on to find out.
Each layer you peel back of Pine Tar Poker's innocent facade creates a more intriguing mystery while also adding some mechanical depth to the card game. My only problem with this progression is that it feels a little too slow. There's no moment where things transform in an instant or you make some sudden realization. It's a very slow burn on a game that already feels like it sort of plods along.
Part of this could have to do with the fact that Pine Tar Poker is a landscape-only title. This could just be a "me" thing but games in that orientation I work through a bit slower because I can't necessarily dip in and out of them as easily as a portrait mode game. I also don't see why Pine Tar Poker can't be a portrait-mode title, which is slightly annoying. In any case, the pace doesn't ruin the game at all, but it can create times where you feel like you're just trying to string together enough points to get to the next reveal.
The bottom line
I never thought I'd say that a poker game's worldbuilding is a key part of what makes it successful, but that is absolutely the case with Pine Tar Poker. Things aren't what they seem, and it's fun to get surprised with sinister-feeling events for playing what is otherwise a competent and fairly unsurprising card game.