Sponsored By: Eleima
Time Held: 52 minutes
Oh, so that’s how you play Texas Hold ‘Em.
In the list of Things Everybody Should Know, I have a number of gaps. I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, for example. I used to feel ashamed of that, until I realized that the overlap between people-who-will-shame-me-for-using-an-automatic-transmission and people-who-have-opinions-I-care-about is an empty set.
Another thing I never learned to do was play poker. This is something of a problem for someone who likes westerns as much as I do, because westerns usually only have three things in them; horses, guns and poker. Without this critical knowledge, I’m only getting two thirds of a bang for my buck.
Poker Night at the Inventory is a game for someone with precisely my deficits. It revolves around one particularly popular variant of the game: Texas Hold ‘Em, which to my surprise has nothing to do with subduing cattle for branding and just means that you get two cards that you may use to build a good hand with four communal cards that everyone shares. I’m sure you all know this already, but it was news to me, and I was happy just to have that particular gap in my knowledge filled. It will make watching westerns a lot easier.
The game’s explanations are still a little weak on some of the finer points. I’m not entirely clear on the difference between “calling” and “checking,” but it doesn’t seem to matter because from my perspective they just mean “don’t bet more than you already have” and the game keeps track of which one I should be using.
Of course there’s a lot more to poker than just the mechanics of play. At its core, poker is a friendly game of defrauding other people out of their money. You do this by lying about what cards you have, and trying to tell if other people are lying about the cards they have. A lot of poker games miss this point, and focus mostly on judging your hand of cards against the computer’s to see who wins. That’s a fine way to learn what makes a good hand, but a terrible way to learn to play the actual game.
Fortunately, this is Telltale we’re talking about, so the simple mechanics of Texas Hold ‘Em are bundled up in a wrapper of snappy dialogue and slightly-stiff character animations. The characters you’re playing against are The Heavy (from Team Fortress 2), Max (from Sam and Max), Strong Bad (from HomestarRunner.net, it’s dot com!) and Tycho Brahe (from some website or other). You might be familiar with some or all of them, and you will definitely get more out of the game if you know the characters well enough to get the in-jokes that they drop constantly. If you don’t know the characters, their personalities can be summed up as Smooth-Forehead Klingon, Deadpool in a bunny suit, That kid from 7th grade who drew the Megadeth logo on everything and Self-Hating English Major. Knowing the archetypes goes a long way to enjoying the humor if you don’t know the characters.
There are a lot of voice-acted lines of dialog to listen to, and most of them are funny. Maybe not in a “I’m going to soil myself” way, but certainly in that “this webcomic is vaguely amusing” way. The interesting part, though, is watching for the character tells. Telltale threw in some body-language animations and dialog to help you, the player, suss out whether that all-in bet was based on a strong hand or just the hope that everyone will think they have a strong hand. It’s a mechanic that I’ve found missing in every digital poker game I’ve ever played, and it makes me feel like I’m actually playing against a group of people without the hassle of actually getting a group of people together.
Now, there are some limitations. There’s only so much voice acting that can be recorded and put into a game like this, so I’m sure the dialog will get repetitive eventually. At just under an hour, and two tournaments in, I haven’t hit that point yet, and I can’t find the energy to complain that a TellTale game lacks replayability when their whole business model is to be the Kleenex of the video game industry (“Here, buy this box of several short, disposable experiences. When you’re done, we’ve got another fifty waiting for you.”)
In all, I’m just happy to finally understand poker a little better. The ability to play a game where Strong Bad shouts “What the crap?” at the Heavy is just icing.
Are you on a good run of bad luck?
I’ll keep playing this one for a bit, at least until the dialog starts to repeat itself. The mechanics are fun enough, and I’m enjoying most of the banter.
In other words, yeah, it’s a Telltale Game.
Is it the Dark Souls of card games?
I’m sorry, I thought you understood that it was a Telltale game from the repeated, subtle intimations I made about it being a Telltale game, such as when I said “It’s a Telltale game.”
No, this isn’t the Dark Souls of poker. You can turn the difficulty up to suit your tastes, which I can only assume means that the character tells change or get harder to read. I would certainly hope that it doesn’t mean you get worse cards, because that kind of bull crap might actually put it into Dark Souls territory.
But overall, I’d have to say that this game is about as much like Dark Souls as a three is like a Jack.