Ever wanted to play a game like Zynga's Words with Friends without having to worry about your opponent having a superb vocabulary? What if the setup involved numbers, rather than letters? In Chillingo's newest iOS game Poker Pals, you have just that: a way to compete head to head with friends or complete strangers in a game that combines the tile racks and shared gameplay board of scrabble with five-card hands of poker.
Poker Pals is available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch (cross-platform play is available between users on different devices), and it comes in two forms: free and paid. In the game's free version, you have a fully-functional, unlimited play time game that will allow you to play just three different games simultaneously (allowing you to keep playing games if you happen to be waiting on your first friend to come back and make their next move), and contains ads throughout. If you choose to play without ads, or simply want the luxury of not having a limit on the number of games you can play at once, you can pay a one-time price of 99¢ for the full version of the game.
Regardless of your choice, gameplay handles the same. You and your opponent are given the same board, which starts with three cards. From there, you'll take turns creating the best poker hands, either vertically or horizontally that you can, using one or all of your five cards available on your rack. Each player's rack is private, just like letter tile racks in Scrabble, and you can play as many or as few of those five cards to make one or more scoring hands out on the board. Like in Scrabble, you can play off of existing hands to make them better, and earn more points for yourself. For example, if your friend has just played a two-pair hand of 5, 5, 9, 9, A then you could play a five or a nine on the opposite end of that hand to create a full house (the A in your opponent's hand would then be automatically ignored).
The best thing about Poker Pals is how much is done automatically for you. While there is, of course, an element of strategy in determining which of your cards to place in which existing hand on the board, you can freely swap out cards to see the game tally up your score on the fly. While you may have 50 points racked up by placing that K next to the Q for a two-pair hand, what would happen if you replaced it with another Q instead? You can swap these cards out as many times as you want, to ensure that you're earning the highest amount of points possible with each move you make.
Whenever the board is full of cards, the game ends with the winner being the player who has accumulated the most points. You can play multiple hands at once, once the board starts to fill (as seen below), and you can even use the four-corner spaces as jokers, which will automatically convert into the card that would give you the most points possible.
In terms of the game's social features, Poker Pals is all about them. While you are free to play against computer AI opponents, you can also invite your friends on your phone's contact list (email invites), participate in pass-and-play with the same device, search specifically for an in-game username or email, connect to Game Center to find existing friends, or use Twitter or Facebook Connect to send out invites as well. You can even play a game against a random opponent (that is, a stranger) if you're in the mood for instant action or simply don't want to bug your friends at the time.
In our time with the game (on both an iPhone 4 and iPad 2), we encountered a few crashing issues with the iPad version of the app, and the iPhone version sometimes takes a while to update with your friends' moves even after you've received the push notification that they've been made. Still, Chillingo isn't one to sit and let bugs take over, so we expect that the developer with push out bug patches / updates frequently to keep things running smoothly. Either way, there's a ton of fun to be found in this deceptively simple package, so make sure to keep an eye out for this one's free version on the App Store.
Have you tried Poker Pals on iOS? What do you think of this combination of Scrabble and Poker? Sound off in the comments.