Poker Blitz: Big on the "Blitz," not so much on the "Poker"
The first thing that strikes you about Zynga's new Poker Blitz is the bright ,clean interface. Compared to the small, dark, almost cigarette-stained boards of Zynga's popular Texas Hold'Em Poker, it's like a trip to Disney World. The second thing that strikes you about the game is its simplicity compared to other poker games. The quick, 60 second tutorial has a minimum of words, just a few big friendly arrows point at the games few easy-to-read buttons.
Like Texas Hold'em Poker, each player gets two cards face up and combines them with five face up community cards to make the best poker hand. Unlike Texas Hold'em, there are only two players: You and a computerized dealer who always matches you in each of two rounds of betting -- one before the community cards are dealt and one after (you can also fold at any point).
After each hand, your results against the computer are displayed in big friendly letters ("YOU WIN!" or "NICE FOLD!") along with some peppy sound effects. A bonus meter of extra chips increases if you've maintained a streak of good hands, and a variety of randomly assigned power ups can be used to improve bad hands, increase key pot sizes, or reveal information about the dealer's cards.
Another big difference between Poker Blitz and standard Texas Hold'em is the 60 second time limit for each round -- the part that that puts the "Blitz" in "Poker Blitz.. This means you don't have much time to think things through if you want to maximize the number of hands you get in each round. Luckily, the game displays a big "win percentage" statistic for each hand early on, so there's not much to think about until you earn enough experience point to access new areas to play in. Besides vibrant new backgrounds, these new areas keep things fresh by adding bigger pot limits and odd rule changes like reversed card values in Antarctica, or no cards below a ten in the Nile.
The time limit also means the game isn't really that much like traditional poker at all. Yes, the cards and the basic format are similar, but the skills that make a good poker player are barely used at all. There's no bluffing the computer-controlled dealer. There's no carefully considered bet levels -- in fact, you're limited to two buttons that bet 10% or 50% of your initial pot each round. The constantly ticking clock turns Poker Blitz into less of a card game and more of a twitchy game of quickly reading cards and calculating win percentages in your head.
That's fine for what it is. But it's not poker, and it's barely social. In fact, the only ostensibly social element to the game is a local high score list and the ability to store more "play tokens" if you invite more friends to play. These "play tokens" recharge slowly, limiting the number of times you can play the game to once an hour. This may seem like a drawback at first, but it's a good way to prevent players from gorging themselves on too much of what can quickly become an addictive experience. It also means that the high score tables aren't dominated by people who play for 22 hours a day, which is a nice touch.
Features like "Build Your Dream House," "Trophy Case" and "Power Up Inventory" are all still listed as "Coming Soon" in the current version of the game, meaning we haven't seen all it has to offer yet. As it stands now, Poker Blitz is a fun little time waster, but I don't think it will have the staying power of a truly social game like Zynga's Texas Hold 'Em.