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Dead Man’s Draw Review
Review Score:

Dead Man’s Draw, a clever card game from Stardock Entertainment, is now available from the app store. Featuring a great mixture of dumb luck and strategic gameplay, Dead Man’s Draw is a compelling challenge hampered mainly by its IAP push and its lack of an online multiplayer option.

Dead Man’s Draw Pros:

  • Unique card game with lots of interesting rules to keep things fresh and fun
  • Tons of tournaments to play and cool traits to use
  • Polished graphics and intuitive controls
  • Swash-buckling soundtrack adds to the experience
  • GameCenter integration for more than a dozen achievements to earn

Dead Man’s Draw Cons:

  • No online multiplayer
  • In-game pricing is too expensive; pushes gamer toward IAP
  • Lost all progress at one point; unsure if this is indicative of a widespread issue

The ruleset may at first seem complicated, but Stardock does a fantastic job of introducing each new element at an easy pace that never makes the gamer feel overwhelmed. The learning curve is pretty low, as you’re able to pick up on all of the various nuances rather quickly. In fact, when we restarted from the beginning due to an unfortunate loss-of-progression issue, it was a bit jarring to play without all of the rules to which we’d become accustomed. The game pits you head-to-head with a series of AI avatars in Tournament settings. A specialized deck of 50 cards is used, with 10 nautical-themed suits containing a value range of 2-7 points each. Each player takes turns drawing as many cards as he chooses, with the ability to bank his cards and end his turn at any time. A player will lose all drawn cards if he draws two from the same suit. All unbanked cards go to the discard pile. Only the highest value card of each suit counts toward the value of a player’s hand. Once the final card has been dealt, the player with the greater hand value is declared the winner.

The strategic aspect involves how cleverly you can use the unique ability of each suit to your advantage. For instance, the Cannon suit allows you to discard one card from your opponent’s hand. At the beginning of the game, this is the only suit whose ability is activated. As you win hands and tournaments, you earn coins and level up, unlocking the rest of the abilities of each suit. Hooks allow you to play one of your banked cards in your current hand, Crystal Balls show you the next card to be drawn, and Swords allow you to steal a card from your opponent provided you don’t have one from the same suit. If you have a Key and Treasure Chest at the same time, you will collect double the cards when you bank them. Anchors ensure that any card(s) drawn before it are banked even if you bust. The value of Mermaid cards exceeds that of the other suits, and Tentacles force you to draw two additional cards. Maps allow you to draw a previously-discarded card from a selection of three. Wise use of these cards can cause dramatic shifts in the point value of each player’s hand, keeping you on edge right up until the last card is drawn in most cases. It’s thrilling to draw a Key, then a Sword, steal your opponent’s Map, select the Hook, play a Chest from your hand, draw a Cannon, discard your opponent’s 7-value Crystal Ball, then bank the cards, collecting double on your Key-Chest combo and suddenly turn his 14-point lead into a 17-point deficit.

In addition to obeying the rules dictated by each suit, there are traits that can be earned and used that alter the gameplay in subtle ways, too. Traits are of limited use, in the sense that you can only play them for a certain number of games before you run out and will have to spend some of your coins to purchase additional uses. Traits can cause changes like Cannon cards eliminating all cards of the opponent’s chosen suit instead of just the most valuable one or Crystal Balls allowing you to see the next three cards instead of just the next one. You can certainly play without them (and most of the time you’ll probably have to), but they can really make a difference in certain tournaments. Once you get past the first few tournaments, each subsequent tournament will also have some new rule that affects gameplay, usually in a more significant way than traits do. For instance, one tournament stipulates that all busted cards go to the drawing player’s opponent, while another uses all cards in a player’s hand to determine its value. Though it sounds complicated on paper, it’s quite simple when put into practice.

We’ve had a blast thus far, but we’ve not yet reached the impending paywall, either. While coins are earned at a fairly steady clip, the prices associated with early unlocks, replenishing traits, and accessing latter tournaments are quite high and will likely lead to frustrating grinding or abstaining from certain aspects of the game altogether. Of course, coin packs and doublers can be purchased via IAP, though it’s a shame that they are present at all in a paid game and one as enjoyable as Dead Man’s Draw. The graphics are very polished, and identifying card types and reading point values is easy on the eyes. There is even a handy running counter that indicates how many points the current unbanked cards would add to your hand so that you don’t have to do the mental math yourself. The soundtrack has a swashbuckling feel, providing a pleasing backdrop to the game. Controls require you to tap on the deck to deal a card and tap on the face-up cards to bank them. You’ll also need to drag cards from your deck or your opponent’s when required to select from either. The controls are easy to use and pretty intuitive. It’s clear that a lot of care has gone into the game’s interface.

Replay value is very good, as there are 50 tournaments, each with multiple avatars to play against in each. There is even a Pass-and-Play option that allows you to play against a friend, though the lack of an online multiplayer component is maddening. This game screams out to be played against others, and not everyone has a buddy nearby who is willing to play. Adding online multiplayer and adjusting in-game pricing would do wonders for the game. As it stands, it is a $1.99 universal app that rates a solid 4-Dimples in our book.

Dead Man's Draw Review, reviewed by Kevin on 2013-10-05T23:52:38+00:00 rating 4.0 out of 5

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