If you had any doubt that EA Casual’s game Poker for Dummies is, in fact, for “dummies,” I’ll let the first step in the tutorial speak for itself. That step? “It’s a card game.” Poker. Card game. Got it.
Much like the Dummies book series and Travel Games for Dummies on the DS, Poker for Dummies is for one audience: people who have no idea what poker is. (Or, alternatively, the people who say “Poker? I poked yer mom last night!”) The game teaches players how to play the Big 3 of poker (these days): Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha and 7-Card Stud. Unfortunately, for $19.99 that’s all the poker you’ll get to learn. With dozens of variations available and a few more used in casinos, you would think more options would be offered, but alas it was not meant to be.
In terms of teaching, it’s hard to fault the game. Certainly watching the tutorials and putting them into action in the lessons is a much better way to learn poker than reading about it on Wikipedia or in a book. Man has always been better at learning by example than by reading, and this game highlights that well.
Unfortunately, once you’ve learned how to play the three variations of poker… there’s just not much to do. You can continue playing single player against AI opponents and progress from low wage tables to high roller tables, but the AI is so stupid (even at the high roller tables) that winning is extremely easy.
The computer just doesn’t play remotely like a human opponent would. No matter what they’re holding, the AI just continues to bluff and keep raising. Do they have a 2 of spades, a 4 of diamonds and a 10, J and 7 of hearts on the flop? They don’t care; they’re going to raise. This kind of opponent intelligence is found constantly, and it’s more than just raising far too many times on a bluff. The game is meant to teach players how to play poker, but past the basics, the lackluster AI makes it hard to get a real feel for the game in a real-table environment.
What would have helped would be online play with other Poker for Dummies players, but EA didn’t include this in the title. (Perhaps a smart move, since I can’t imagine a large playerbase on throughout the day on this one.) Still, an attempt at multiplayer of some sort would have made this game a much better learning experience, and given it much more purpose than teaching people poker and then tossing them to the online poker wolves when they want to play a game with some actual challenges.
One nice thing EA did include in this game is an odds calculator. If you’ve ever watched poker on television, I’m sure you’ve noticed the percentages by people’s cards depending on what’s shown and what’s known. When you’re learning to play poker in this game, you have the option of using the same calculator technology to figure out what your odds of winning in given situations are. It’s a great way to understand the nuances of poker and how often hands will work out, and that helps quite a bit.
In the end, this game is just a $20 poker teaching tool. When you can read tutorials for free and learn as you go via the dozens of free online poker games out there (or buy an actual Poker for Dummies book for less than half the price), do you really want to spend $20 for a lunch break lesson in basic poker? If you’re absolutely clueless on the game and got invited to poker night with buddies and need to learn how to play ASAP, give it a shot. If you’ve ever played poker, have some time to learn the game or have a solid reading comprehension level, you’re better off passing it up and spending the money on a better (or more useful) title.