I started by sitting through a tournament. I played a limited number of hands to try and see how easy it would be to figure out the what level of AI I was up against in the Avatars at my table. It took me only about 40 hands to figure out exactly which of the personalities I was up against in the players in front of me. The conservative players played ultra conservative, and the aggressive players are ultra aggressive. The Poki AI bots in Stacked seemed to be pre-tuned, so while they appeared to be learning my tendencies, it didn’t really seem like it was making all that much of a difference in their decisions. It’s hard to tell when the appearance of the player would change each game, but over time I think I maybe noticed 10% of hands where the game seemed to be interacting with me as opposed to the personality reading its hand and playing to its programming.
Online play is another whole ball of wax. The relatively small number of players online made it difficult to find a game during the period in which I reviewed the game. Players can start tournaments of their own or search for tournaments that have been started by others. Finally, most of the online players seemed to be underage kids, which makes sense for a poker game that is not involving money. Their game play was rudimentary, and while most of them talked like they were major poker stars, most didn’t play like it.
The controls are simple and to the point. You can control your avatars apparent reaction to a hand, a bet, or any action at all. Choosing a chip amount is as simple as moving a thumbstick up and down. And the best feature of all is the Pro-Tips provided by Daniel Negreanu during the hand. Based on the strength of your hand, the number of players in the hand, and where you are in betting position, the game will tip you as to suggested actions, with Daniel providing the tip in recorded audio.
One thing I was disappointed about was the limited number of environments in which to play. There are only a couple of casino options and of those, only one is available to begin the game. While licensing the look and feel of real casino poker rooms was probably out of budget and scope for this game, giving the player a few more choices would have been nice.
For my opinion on the game play, I can sum it up best as follows: Any experienced poker player will tell you that playing for fun and playing for money are two totally different experiences. There’s some fun that can be had when you’re just playing the computer or against others online, but the tension and excitement is diminished without any real risk.
Online play in Stacked is a good bit slower than most online poker sites when it comes to game play. (In the single-player game, you can speed up AI play in a hand once you’ve left the hand.) In addition, because most skilled players are out playing for cash, the skill levels makes it difficult to judge how well you’re playing the game against others of commensurate skill.
Even with its issues, the game does have a saving grace: A poker tutorial by Daniel Negreanu. Daniel goes through the basics all the way up through advanced strategies, bluffing, etc. Each segment of the video is well written and succinct. Negreanu’s personality shines through in each segment and he does an excellent job of covering the topic at hand.
In short, I would recommend this game to anyone but the very experienced poker player. Between the custom avatars, multiple game play options, and the online play novices will feel like they’ve just entered the World Series of Poker. Those with only some experience will benefit from play against the AI, as well as online play and by watching the tutorial. But for experienced players, the game will feel like it has all the show of a Las Vegas casino, but with not enough of a risk/reward ratio to make you want to join the players club and head to a table.
Beginners and intermediate Texas Hold ‘Em players will love the custom avatars, multiple unique AI, and the chance to play against digital renditions of poker superstars. Experienced players will want to skip Stacked with Daniel Negreanu and head over to their favorite online poker site.
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