Breaking Down the World’s Most Popular Poker Variants

Poker is one of the world’s favorite games. The basic rules of the game make it both easy to learn and infinitely customizable. Poker involves a lot of player skill – it’s gambling without relying as much on luck as you do with other casino games.

Poker is now considered a sport, accepted by mainstream audiences to the point that media coverage had to change to reflect renewed interest in the game. Broadcasters like ESPN and The Travel Channel started giving prime air space to poker tournaments and events in the early 2000s.

If you’re new to the game and confused about all the different variants, I have good news for you. It won’t take you long to get acquainted with the different games and rule variations.

A Note on Names

To understand the major variants of poker, start by learning the names of the three basic categories of poker variants:

In stud games, you are dealt a specific number of cards (normally five or seven) and the goal is to form the best possible hand out of those you’re dealt.

In draw games, you are dealt a specific number of cards (normally five or seven) and the goal is to trade some for new cards in order to build a better hand than the one you’re dealt.

In community games, each player gets “hole cards” dealt exclusively to them face down and the goal is to build the best hand they can from a select number of community cards common to all players.

Texas Holdem

Texas holdem was responsible for the explosion of interest in poker in the late 90s and early 2000s. It is still the game of choice for the World Series of Poker and most professional tournaments. Texas holdem is also the standard-bearer for poker in the online world, by far the most popular variant at the world’s biggest Web-based rooms.

This is a community game in which each player is dealt two hole cards and bid as each of five community cards is revealed.

The game involves four betting rounds: one after the hole cards are dealt, again after the first three community cards are revealed (this is called “the flop”), once more after the fourth community card is revealed, and finally after the fifth community card is shown. You can use any five-card combination of your hole cards plus the five community cards as your best-possible hand.

[Source: OnlineGamblingSites.org]

Omaha

Omaha was once a gambling mecca, similar to a frontier-era Las Vegas. Because of the town’s association with vice and gambling, it has been used in the names of a variety of different games of chance and skill over the years. Omaha holdem

This is another community game (like Texas holdem) in which the goal is to build the best five-card hand from two hole cards and three of the game’s community cards. The main differences between Omaha and Texas holdem is the fact that Omaha players are dealt four hole cards instead of two (and are forced to use exactly two of them). The five community cards are also revealed immediately, which leads to some major differences in strategy.

[Source: Pagat]

7 Card Stud

Stud poker has an interesting history in the United States. Apparently, the five-card versions was incredibly popular among soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. All modern stud games, including the popular seven-card variant, can trace their roots back to these simple pastimes among bored soldiers.

This is a stud game in which layers are dealt a total of seven cards but use only their best five to determine the winner. A big difference between this game and the community games above is that it’s usually played with a strict betting limit structure. That means players can only bet in strict increments.

I have an old copy of Hoyle’s Rules (the title page says it was printed in 1968) which says that seven card stud is “the most popular poker game in the world,” thanks to its use as the base game of thousands of home-rules games at that time. Though Texas holdem has overtaken seven-card stud even in home games, the variant is still played in casinos and tournaments to this day.

[Source: PokerListings]

5 Card Draw

Lots of people consider this the most traditional poker variant. It takes seconds to learn but still involves a good deal of strategy. This is also the first poker game many people learn as a kid, and it forms the basis for a ton of other popular poker variants, including all video poker titles.

This is a draw game in which each player is dealt five cards and has one opportunity to improve their hand by discarding and replacing up to three cards.

The game usually starts with an ante round. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player says how many cards they want to draw and makes the discard. Play moves clockwise. Another betting round occurs. Once all bets are settled, the last player to place a bet shows his hand. The best five-card hand wins the pot.

The most popular variant based on simple five-card draw is also the standard game used on video poker terminals – Jacks or Better. The only difference between Jacks or Better and five-card draw is that in Jacks or Better, only pairs better than a pair of tens (hence the name) can open betting.

[Source: PokerZone]

Gloom Game Review

If you want a lesson on perspective and how your day-to-day problems could always be worse, then enter the world of the Gloom card game, where you’re not trying to get ahead in the rat race so much as keep from falling too far behind with the rats chasing you down, except these rats are not rats, but mice – carnivorous mice with a taste for human flesh. With Gloom, the outlook is bleak or you’re not playing it right.

Gloom is a strategy game where you play one of four different families, who are not necessarily vying for power, but merely trying to make it through a troubled life. Your job is to stop them, to make matters worse, and visit all manner of poxes upon your own house.

Do not misunderstand me. This is not a game strictly for sadists (although it’s true they would probably get a kick out of it). These families deserve their misery. And if you’re feeling merciful, you can pour your blessings upon the other players’ families. The object of the game is for your family to have the most cataclysmic life before they all die horribly.

With these families, it’s not a hard sell to want disasters to fall upon them. Castle Slogar, for instance, is the home of a mad scientist/necromancer, her husband, a brain in a box, her only child, and that child’s “teddy bear,” animated from so many dead parts. An itinerant grave digger who finds regular work from the Slogars rounds out this family.

Another family features diabolic twin children, a devoted and amoral nanny, a less than savory butler, and a grief-stricken widower patriarch, who was cuckolded by a demon, the game suggests. A “wild-child” daughter who only wants to escape her family, for better reasons than most, completes the infernal clan at Hemlock Hall.

Darius Dark’s Den of Deformity is not a family in the most traditional sense of the word, but as a carnival of freaks, they only have each other, which is the quintessential definition of family. However, even as a freak show, they leave something to be desired. Rather than a bearded lady, this carnival has a bearded man, whose only true deformity is he’s not deformed enough for this line of work. The tattooed lady is consumed by modesty, so she keeps herself forever covered up, and the animated marionette is a wannabe fat lady opera singer in miniature. Mister Giggles, the creepy clown, makes certain the children that actually do get away, remember him ever after in their nightmares.

The Old Dam rules over her family at Blackwater Watch, with the help of a handyman for whom no job is too dirty. Her brood includes a young, up and coming serial killer, a redheaded stepchild, who is somehow also the result of inbreeding somewhere down the line. The ubiquitous dog, Bathalzar knows where all the bones of the family’s victims are buried.

This is the best part of Gloom, the suggestive nature of the cards. To call this game morbid is an understatement, and to call this a game of strategy is an oversimplification. The game takes strategy to win this game, but this isn’t even the game’s most attractive feature. Whenever a player plays a clear overlay card on one of their family to visit more calamities upon them, or a card upon their opponents’ cards to cheer that family along its way, each player accompanies this with a story based on the cues on the card.

For example, one player regaled us with the story of Elias E. Gorr, the travelling gravedigger who always can find work with the Slogar family. Gorr was experiencing a bout of dysentery from consuming too much embalming fluid. The card this player played indicated the dysentery issues, but drinking embalming fluid came entirely from this player’s imagination, and it led into his next play, another horrible card for Gorr, who, smelling of corpses, was shunned by society.

The game play is simple, leaving players time for intricate stories. This aspect of the game can make it go for a long time, so keep this in mind when planning an evening. The game ends when one player has successfully killed off each member of her or his family. At this point, whoever has the highest negative point total wins.

Each player takes turns playing two cards, which will have various results listed on them, telling the stories behind these cards, and ending the turn by drawing a card. Cards are transparent with symbols designed to overlap in places, so that the point total of one card placed on top of a character can change quickly when another card with different point totals covers up the first card’s points. As a result, the game can feature huge reversals requiring you to change your tactics on a dime.

One aspect of Gloom that emerges from the storytelling aspect of the game is that it becomes immensely entertaining and engaging regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Frequently, I found my own approach to the game changing in the middle of games. I may begin fully intending to win quickly, only to be stopped and nearly eliminated from winning at all. I may at this point change my focus to either stopping another player, or weaving a more fantastic story.

With Gloom, everyone gets to experience that ancient human social behavior of swapping stories, but in this case, the stories are not merely sad, but melancholy and macabre, and often hilarious. The game is perfect for Literature majors, story tellers, or anyone who enjoys being creative with horror movie tropes. Of course you may find out how twisted and dark your friends’ minds really are, so have an escape plan in mind.

The Resident Evil Deck Building Game Review

After trying the DC Comics Deck Building Game, I decided to buy some more deck building games to see what else is out there. I enjoy Dominion tremendously, and I even enjoyed the DC Comics game, even though I didn’t like it as well as I like Dominion. So I made a trip to a game store this weekend and bought three new games, one of which was the Resident Evil Deck Building Game.

I should mention that I am a big fan of the zombie movie genre, and I also loved the various video games in the Resident Evil franchise, so I might have been predisposed to like this game a little extra just because of my interests. On the other hand, I had no problem distinguishing between the greatness that is Dominion compared with the relative mediocrity of the DC game, and I’ve been into comic books, especially DC comic books, since I was 7 or 8 years old.

The production value of this game is excellent, but I have one quibble. I’m not young, and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Still, I don’t think anyone has such great eyesight that reading the rulebook for this game is going to be an easy or pleasant experience. For one thing, it’s a tiny book, but for another, it also uses and extremely tiny font. Some of the text is in a lower contrast color with the background, and I literally had to ask one of my nieces to read some of the rules to me because I just plain couldn’t make out the text for myself. The artwork on the cards is great, though.

Like the DC game, Resident Evil requires you to randomly select a character to play, and your character has a couple of special powers. The characters, like Ada Wong, will be familiar to anyone who has played through the video games. One aspect of this game that I enjoyed was the Health score for each character and the leveling up aspects. It added a touch of RPG-like fun to the game, and it was entirely welcome. Characters start at level 0 but once they defeat a couple of infected, the level up fairly quickly. Each character’s special abilities were interesting and fun to play, too.

The rules for the basic game have a “Story” mode and a “Mercenaries” mode. We only played the “Story” mode, but it was a lot of fun. The mechanics of the game are quite similar to the mechanics of other games of this genre, but the combat had a few nice wrinkles that distinguished it from other deck building games I’ve played. For example, you have ammunition cards as well as various firearm cards, and in order to use certain firearms, you must have enough ammo for that card. Generally speaking, the more damage a weapon does, the more ammo you need. Some weapons, like the combat knives, don’t need any ammo at all.

On each turn, a player gets a single action to take, a single buy action to take, and a single explore action to take. The player can take these actions in any order they like, and they can also use items. Using an item doesn’t cost an action. Certain action cards allow the players to gain additional actions, buys, and cards.

The winner of the game is the person who receives the most “decorations”, which is Resident Evil speak for victory points. Each infected that you fight and destroy becomes attached to your character’s card, and at the end of the game, you count up and compare your totals. The number of decorations you have also determines your level.

Combat takes place during your mansion exploration phase. You don’t have to explore the mansion if you don’t think you have enough firepower, but if you do choose to explore, you usually face a monster from the top of the mansion deck. Each monster has a health score and a damage score. If the total amount of damage your weapons deal are equal to or greater than the infected’s health, you defeat him. If not, then the creature lashes out at you before retreating back into the mansion. This requires a little bit of bookkeeping on the part of the players, because they have to track how many hit points they have.

If you run completely out of health, you lose a turn, then you get back into the game, but your maximum health is reduced by 20. If your maximum health ever reaches 0, you’re out of the game. This didn’t happen to any of our players either time we played.

The game ends when the boss monster is defeated. He’s shuffled randomly into the mansion deck.

The Resident Evil Deck Building Game does a fine job of emulating the video game it’s based on. If you hated the video games for whatever reason, then you probably won’t find much to like here, either. On the other hand, if you like this genre in general and that video game in particular, you’ll find a lot to enjoy about the Resident Evil Deck Building Game.

Also, this game requires less strategy than Dominion, but more strategy than the DC Comics Deck Building Game. At some point in the future, I might invest in the expansions, but there are still several scenarios in the rulebook that I haven’t tried yet. I’d say that this game has excellent replay value. It’s a good value for the money, but the audience for it is somewhat limited by its theme.

One last thing–the box says that the game is for ages 13+, but I played with my 11 year old niece, and she had no trouble with the rules at all. I think it’s possible that the age range is based more on the type of content the game represents than how difficult the game is to play.

Have you played the Resident Evil Deck Building Game? If so, what did you think?

DriveThruCards.com Grand Opening

I don’t just play card games. I’m also a fan of RPGs, especially old-school roleplaying games like Runequest and Dungeons and Dragons. So it’s probably not a surprise that I’ve spent a few dollars over the years buying products from DriveThruRPG.com. Today they sent me an email announcing the launch of their new site, DriveThruCards.com, which is a pretty nifty idea, and I thought I’d mention it here.

Basically, DriveThruCards.com offers a print-on-demand card game publishing service. This is great news for game designers, because one of the biggest expenses involved in self-publishing your own card game is the printing costs involved. With print-on-demand, indie card game publishers don’t have to pay for that, and they don’t have to maintain inventory or deal with shipping. DriveThruCards.com handles all of that for them.

This is also good news for card game aficionados like me. I love trying new card games, but the expense involved in most of them can be a bummer. They’re having a grand opening sale at the site today, and their prices looked really affordable. The prices on the 10 card games they were featuring ranged from $1.99 to $20.99, but most of the products hovered around the $10 mark.

The $1.99 game was called Mayhem Mines. I’ve never played it, so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the game, but how can you go wrong with a $2 game? According to the description on the site, players take the roles of Dwarf miners who are trying to collect treasures before the mine collapses on them. I was expecting something cheap-looking, but the pictures of the product were in color and seemed to have reasonably high production values. It’s hard to be sure just from looking at pictures, but I did like the artwork.

On the other end of the spectrum is a game called Directors Cut Survival Horror, which features over 250 cards. Players take the roles of characters in a horror movie. Only one of them will survive to the end of the game. The description indicates that each card includes gory photographs, but there were no example cards on display at the site. If you play with your kids, this probably isn’t the right choice, but I know a lot of horror film fanatics who would love something like this.

Of the publishers listed, I was only familiar with two: Cheapass Games and Looney Labs. I’ve been a fan of Cheapass games for a long time, and their games never fail to be a lot of fun. I’ve never played any Looney Labs games, although I’ve heard good things from some of the gamers in the Dallas area when I visited.

At any rate, I just thought this was the kind of thing readers of this blog might be interested in.

Horse Racing Card Game – The Drinking Game Horserace

I don’t generally cover traditional card games here. By “traditional”, I mean card games that are played with a standard 52 card deck. I leave that kind of coverage to bigger sites like Pagat.com.

I have a cousin who lives in Texas, though, and he’s always been fascinated by horse racing. In fact, he took me to Lone Star Park not long ago, and I found some interesting stuff about horse racing on the Web. For one thing, you can learn about the best horse racing betting sites, which is an endlessly fascinating subject. For another, there’s a drinking game played with cards called Horserace, and that’s what I’m going to write about here today.

Instead of betting money on horses and how they’ll place, players of Horserace bet on each of the four aces. One player is the announcer. She takes the ace of each suit out of the deck. These represent the horses. They’re laid face up at one end of the table, which represents the gates.

The rest of the cards are shuffled and placed face down along one of the edges of the table. These cards represent the links. If that’s hard to picture, just imagine an L shape, with the short end of the L being made up of the line of four aces.

The players make bets on their horse. For example, they might place a bet on the nine of spades. Some of these bets can mirror the bets that are made in an actual horse race, but it depends on who you’re playing with and how well they understand these kinds of bets.

Some players just pick a single horse. Depending on who’s playing, the winner might be awarded drinks, or the winners might be immune from having to take a drink, while all the other players have to drink.

The race happens after all the bets are placed. The announcer flips over the face down cards (the links). The suit of each card that is flipped over determines which ace moves forward on the track. Generally speaking, since this is a drinking game usually played by a lot of young and enthusiastic partiers, the people involved are cheering on their horses and getting excited by the action. A good announcer will really get into her role and ham it up.

You can read more about the Horserace drinking game at DrinkingGames.com. I should also point out that I’m not encouraging anyone to play drinking games or even to drink alcohol at all. If you do decide to enjoy alcohol, you should do so responsibly, and that means not driving.

I guess I just thought it was interesting to see what kinds of interesting and unusual card games are available out there that aren’t designed by professional card game designers like Donald X. Vaccarino or Reiner Knizia. You might consider these to be folk card games.