IMG_0325One of my favorite things about the App Store are all of these insane game concepts that likely would have never seen the light of day if it wasn't for the low barrier of entry in to iPhone development. Discussed during our most recent podcast, Sword & Poker [App Store] is a game we greatly enjoyed with an odd combination of gameplay elements that surprisingly enough work very well together.

At the core is a card-based strategy/adventure game where battles take place by making poker hands on a 5x5 grid. When each game starts, nine cards are dealt in to the center of the grid and you take turns with the AI opponent placing pairs of the four cards you're dealt on the perimeter of the game board to form hands down, across, or diagonally. Jokers are wild, and as you play more hands a gauge in the bottom left slowly fills which allows you to swap a card for a joker as well.

There is a surprising amount of strategy in placing cards, as you need to look at what you've been dealt to try to determine the best order to play them as your opponent could also have plans for the same squares you hope to utilize on your next turn. Furthermore, as the game board fills up, you can potentially form multiple hands. A well-planned hand placed on the diagonal could also form many other hands going down or across.

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The "Sword" portion of Sword & Poker comes from the roleplaying game layered on top of these poker battles, which could practically stand alone as its own game. Instead of just playing poker battles of increasing difficulty, the games are structured as floors in a dungeon and the challenge differs based on the type of monster you're fighting.

The various monsters have different amounts of coins, which is how your life is measured in game. Forming a hand like a flush subtracts far more coins from your opponent's coin purse than a simple pair, and when either you or the monster you're fighting runs out of coins the battle is over.

IMG_0334As you get farther in the game, the shop eventually unlocks where you can use the money you win from battles. Aside from upgrading your coin purse to increase your stamina in battles, you also can buy a number of different weapons. These weapons change your damage output, and some of the later ones you come across also have special abilities when you form particular poker hands.

Weapon selection adds yet another layer of strategy on top of Sword & Poker, as some weapons are bottom heavy, and do more damage when you form simple hands like one or two pairs. Other weapons are top-heavy, and while they do very little damage when you match pairs, they inflict devastating strikes upon laying down hands like straights or flushes.

In addition, certain weapons (along with some monsters) have special effects associated with certain hands. For instance, the thief's knife I'm using now steals a card from my opponent's hand when I form any kind of straight. Other special effects include shielding yourself from damage, causing your opponent to skip a turn, and more.

This is barely scratching the surface of Sword & Poker, a game which nearly defines the term "a hidden gem of the App Store." There are a few things that are strange about the game, such as there seems to be a huge benefit in passing your turn to make sure you are able to play the last two cards of each game board as you're often guaranteed more than one poker hand.

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Also, as you progress in the game, poker battles can drag on for quite a while especially when fighting harder "boss" monsters. These fights can be a lot of fun, but the battle music is a painfully short loop that quickly becomes very repetitive as it has a very clear start and finish. However, these are merely minor complaints for an otherwise fantastic game.

If you like poker, RPG's, or just strange games that actually turn out to be a lot of fun you owe it to yourself to at least try the five levels in Sword & Poker Lite [App Store]. We discussed the game on our last podcast, and there is a thread on the forums where several people have posted about how much they're enjoying it if you need any more reason to give the game a try.

App Store Link: Sword & Poker, 99¢ - Sword & Poker Lite, Free

TouchArcade Rating

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  • MrMuesli

    I like this game. It's pretty loosely based on poker. Reminds me more of games like Chop Sushi, which I loved.

    • Mates331

      Game won't download, says item no longer available. Any ideas?

  • MrMuesli

    I like this game. It's pretty loosely based on poker. Reminds me more of games like Chop Sushi, which I loved.

  • Ahiru

    the title itself had me sold....

    downloading as of right now (didn't even read the article o_O)

  • Ahiru

    the title itself had me sold....

    downloading as of right now (didn't even read the article o_O)

  • Colbertj

    Probably the longest shot ever, but how amazing would this be with an online multiplayer? I would even pay another buck ;)

  • Colbertj

    Probably the longest shot ever, but how amazing would this be with an online multiplayer? I would even pay another buck ;)

  • Marc

    Purchase = Joy - It's great!

  • Marc

    Purchase = Joy - It's great!

  • blackHorse

    Hey TA, it's far easier to make and distribute flash games than e.g., iPhone games. FYI.

    • Ahiru

      FYI, we don't care about flash games - that's why this website is for idevices gaming...

      by the way, game's awesome - now please add a social network to it (feint, plus, agon, whatever) and add some achievements!!

  • blackHorse

    Hey TA, it's far easier to make and distribute flash games than e.g., iPhone games. FYI.

    • Ahiru

      FYI, we don't care about flash games - that's why this website is for idevices gaming...

      by the way, game's awesome - now please add a social network to it (feint, plus, agon, whatever) and add some achievements!!

  • shumby

    purchased! what a cool idea!

  • shumby

    purchased! what a cool idea!

  • QuickWit

    I've been loving this game since the day it came out... Here's hoping they add more levels and other items in updates. I'd love to see them add more of a "free play" type feature against some random monsters.

    Also, the tutorial needs to explain some of the special skills a bit more. The icons are so small and often times you have to use trial and error to understand what each of them do...

    But even as is... It is a great game!

  • QuickWit

    I've been loving this game since the day it came out... Here's hoping they add more levels and other items in updates. I'd love to see them add more of a "free play" type feature against some random monsters.

    Also, the tutorial needs to explain some of the special skills a bit more. The icons are so small and often times you have to use trial and error to understand what each of them do...

    But even as is... It is a great game!

  • bleeps

    The presentation is awesome and the mechanics are entertaining without being too complicated. One thing I don't understand is what determines a valid placement and what isn't valid. I was presented with a play that would have given me two of a kind horizontally and vertically and yet it wouldn't let me play that move. Are there online rules somewhere? If the reason is in the manual, I haven't unlocked it yet. :(

    • VeganTnT

      Cards can't be placed anywhere. You start with nine cards already placed which leaves a "ring" of empty cells.

      You place two cards down at a time on opposite sides of the nine starting cards. So if you place a card in the top left corner then you MUST put the other card in the bottom right corner. When placing a card all cells should dim except the row you are allowed to place your other card.

      The other rule is that when placing your two cards to complete a row that row MUST make at least one pair, otherwise it's invalid (even if you end up completing additional line in the process)

      You can also hit the little gear in the top left when on the dungeon screen and check the playing manual.

      Hope that helps!

      • palapalooza

        That explanation helped me, I was just about to ask the same question.

        I'm loving this game! Hope they keep adding on to it.

      • bleeps

        Yes, that helped a lot. This game is great! I love how the game's features evolve and unlock as you play.

  • bleeps

    The presentation is awesome and the mechanics are entertaining without being too complicated. One thing I don't understand is what determines a valid placement and what isn't valid. I was presented with a play that would have given me two of a kind horizontally and vertically and yet it wouldn't let me play that move. Are there online rules somewhere? If the reason is in the manual, I haven't unlocked it yet. :(

    • VeganTnT

      Cards can't be placed anywhere. You start with nine cards already placed which leaves a "ring" of empty cells.

      You place two cards down at a time on opposite sides of the nine starting cards. So if you place a card in the top left corner then you MUST put the other card in the bottom right corner. When placing a card all cells should dim except the row you are allowed to place your other card.

      The other rule is that when placing your two cards to complete a row that row MUST make at least one pair, otherwise it's invalid (even if you end up completing additional line in the process)

      You can also hit the little gear in the top left when on the dungeon screen and check the playing manual.

      Hope that helps!

      • palapalooza

        That explanation helped me, I was just about to ask the same question.

        I'm loving this game! Hope they keep adding on to it.

      • bleeps

        Yes, that helped a lot. This game is great! I love how the game's features evolve and unlock as you play.

  • spiffyone

    Great concept!

    Oh, and put me down for a possible multiplayer option in a future update. That would just make a good thing even better.

    • shumby

      There already is a multiplayer option. Do you mean wifi or online?

      • palapalooza

        Online would be great! I have a large number of friends all around the world and we play various games online almost every day (it's a wonder I ever get anything done ;-)

        So far we haven't found a good turn-based online Touch game, and we would really enjoy that.

  • spiffyone

    Great concept!

    Oh, and put me down for a possible multiplayer option in a future update. That would just make a good thing even better.

    • shumby

      There already is a multiplayer option. Do you mean wifi or online?

      • palapalooza

        Online would be great! I have a large number of friends all around the world and we play various games online almost every day (it's a wonder I ever get anything done ;-)

        So far we haven't found a good turn-based online Touch game, and we would really enjoy that.

  • eev

    this game will be much more better if developer will add some kind of free play mode and also make option to speed up animation because sometimes it's a bit slow.

  • eev

    this game will be much more better if developer will add some kind of free play mode and also make option to speed up animation because sometimes it's a bit slow.

  • SteveJ

    This may well be the game of the year. OK, so it's early. :) In any case, this game is super fun. Try the lite and it's likely you'll buy it. Best of all, the further you get in the game the better the game gets! I can't recommend it enough.

  • SteveJ

    This may well be the game of the year. OK, so it's early. :) In any case, this game is super fun. Try the lite and it's likely you'll buy it. Best of all, the further you get in the game the better the game gets! I can't recommend it enough.

  • Shadowsfall

    This reminds me of Puzzle Pirates... Ahhh the good old days!

  • Shadowsfall

    This reminds me of Puzzle Pirates... Ahhh the good old days!

  • The Machine

    I picked this game up after seeing the title, but I probably wouldn't have seen it if it wasn't for Touch Arcade.
    Eli, your reviews are always accurate and always point towards awesome games.
    For $0.99 good god buy the damn game!

  • The Machine

    I picked this game up after seeing the title, but I probably wouldn't have seen it if it wasn't for Touch Arcade.
    Eli, your reviews are always accurate and always point towards awesome games.
    For $0.99 good god buy the damn game!

  • MinervaDreaming

    I have really been enjoying this game; started with the Lite then bought it.

    A couple of requests:
    -As others have mentioned, a "free mode" for random battles.
    -The ability to play your own music in the background, PLEASE :)

  • MinervaDreaming

    I have really been enjoying this game; started with the Lite then bought it.

    A couple of requests:
    -As others have mentioned, a "free mode" for random battles.
    -The ability to play your own music in the background, PLEASE :)

  • http://www.mrjackgames.co.uk/blog Mr Jack

    This game has seriously damaged my productivity.

    That said, it's not perfect. The difficulty curve is pretty poor; it seems to actually get easier as you go along - until you meet a boss. And, please, please, can we have some settings to speed up the tediously slow battle animations. Especially when you finish edge lines, it really drags.

  • http://www.mrjackgames.co.uk/blog Mr Jack

    This game has seriously damaged my productivity.

    That said, it's not perfect. The difficulty curve is pretty poor; it seems to actually get easier as you go along - until you meet a boss. And, please, please, can we have some settings to speed up the tediously slow battle animations. Especially when you finish edge lines, it really drags.

  • William

    Very fun game but extremely frustratingly difficult on the later boss fights, if you have problems losing (a LOT) in video games steer very very clear of this one.

  • William

    Very fun game but extremely frustratingly difficult on the later boss fights, if you have problems losing (a LOT) in video games steer very very clear of this one.

  • Dark Cloud

    All I can say about this game is that I have played it non-stop since I tried the lite version. For only $1, you couldn't possibly do better. Sooooo awesome! :D

  • Dark Cloud

    All I can say about this game is that I have played it non-stop since I tried the lite version. For only $1, you couldn't possibly do better. Sooooo awesome! :D

  • r00fus

    This is one of the best games for the iPhone I've played recently...
    1) Relatively unique
    2) Decent presentation and polish
    3) Incredible game balance and nuance... the swords/shields/spells are quite well done and provide a good deal of strategy and forethought... the "end of round" require some planning (to either score big or fail and get slammed).

    I would happily have paid $7-10 for this game. $0.99 is a no brainer.

    MinervaDreaming,
    In the latest version, if you put the in-game music to 0, it will seamlessly play your existing iPod music session... just start the iPod beforehand in the UI or double click your headphones to continue after starting the game.

  • r00fus

    This is one of the best games for the iPhone I've played recently...
    1) Relatively unique
    2) Decent presentation and polish
    3) Incredible game balance and nuance... the swords/shields/spells are quite well done and provide a good deal of strategy and forethought... the "end of round" require some planning (to either score big or fail and get slammed).

    I would happily have paid $7-10 for this game. $0.99 is a no brainer.

    MinervaDreaming,
    In the latest version, if you put the in-game music to 0, it will seamlessly play your existing iPod music session... just start the iPod beforehand in the UI or double click your headphones to continue after starting the game.

  • Billy

    I am really digging these mashup games that are gaining steam now.

    They bring a unique angle on the old and standard gameplay.

    My current favorite is http://www.KingdomOfGnester.com - Mario meets Bejewelled - site doesn't do the game justice - it is a great time and they are adding new levels and content all the time. Worth the $2 to check it out.

  • Billy

    I am really digging these mashup games that are gaining steam now.

    They bring a unique angle on the old and standard gameplay.

    My current favorite is http://www.KingdomOfGnester.com - Mario meets Bejewelled - site doesn't do the game justice - it is a great time and they are adding new levels and content all the time. Worth the $2 to check it out.

  • tart

    how lame! this game has gone from .99 to 1.99 to currently 3.99! i guess they realized they had a good thing. i wish i would've bought it in the beginning. guess i'm gonna pass now.

  • tart

    how lame! this game has gone from .99 to 1.99 to currently 3.99! i guess they realized they had a good thing. i wish i would've bought it in the beginning. guess i'm gonna pass now.

  • At God

    Now my favourite iphone game. It's seriously additive and fun. Reccomended to anybody!

  • At God

    Now my favourite iphone game. It's seriously additive and fun. Reccomended to anybody!

  • DanielG

    Pretty cool game, something perfect for the iphone platform. The single player is deep and very long. I played the two player mode with my girlfriend, very fun, anyways she is hopelessly addicted to the game now. Very unique game overall, but very easy to understand.

  • DanielG

    Pretty cool game, something perfect for the iphone platform. The single player is deep and very long. I played the two player mode with my girlfriend, very fun, anyways she is hopelessly addicted to the game now. Very unique game overall, but very easy to understand.

  • Stella

    Great game.....bust can someone explain to me why even after passing the whole thing and having MEGA bucks left over I cannot get access to the last few items in the shop???? This is a serious flaw as you should be able to purchase all the weapons shields and bags? Please explain!!!

  • Stella

    Great game.....bust can someone explain to me why even after passing the whole thing and having MEGA bucks left over I cannot get access to the last few items in the shop???? This is a serious flaw as you should be able to purchase all the weapons shields and bags? Please explain!!!

  • zyzzyx

    Poker sword? I barely even know 'er sword!

  • zyzzyx

    Poker sword? I barely even know 'er sword!

  • Dave

    The thing is once you get the chaos powerup it gets really easy if you use it with a weapon that paralyzes. It's not that hard to get a straight every time with Kotatsu, for example, while it's even easier to paralyze with Excalibur. You should be winning almost every game with ease and speed once you get the chaos powerup and one of those weapons.

  • Dave

    The thing is once you get the chaos powerup it gets really easy if you use it with a weapon that paralyzes. It's not that hard to get a straight every time with Kotatsu, for example, while it's even easier to paralyze with Excalibur. You should be winning almost every game with ease and speed once you get the chaos powerup and one of those weapons.

  • Redletters

    Does anyone else think that the combination of Excalibur and the Chaos ability is overpowered? I can complete most levels without any enemies even getting a turn (unless they are immune to paralysis).

    • Computercam

      Can't download game, unavailable. Where can I get it?

  • Redletters

    Does anyone else think that the combination of Excalibur and the Chaos ability is overpowered? I can complete most levels without any enemies even getting a turn (unless they are immune to paralysis).

  • Gabberhook

    Why on earth is this game gone from the app store? It was easily the best game out there!

  • Noemail

    Agreed... where'd it go.. I remember playing a flash game of 5 by 5 poker and being addicted to that! This seems like a souped up fun version of that.

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  • ilp2003

    gameis definitely missing, why