The poker fad has spawned numerous games trying to cash in on the trend. Stacked tries to separate itself from the field by focusing exclusively on Texas Hold’em and positioning itself as almost more of a poker training system than a poker game. And now for the obligatory poker analogy to segue into the game review itself: Is Stacked sitting on bullets or is it just bluffing?
Stacked relies on the expertise of professional player Daniel Negreanu to help teach you to be a better poker player. The game includes a series of short instructional videos featuring Negreanu that cover all aspects of the game from the basic rules to advanced strategies for betting. The videos are pretty informative and even people who consider themselves to be good poker players will probably learn a thing or two from them. Negreanu’s advice is also available while at the game’s poker tables. At any time during the game you can get his suggested play based on the cards you’re holding and the current game situation. This advice seems to be pretty consistent but on occasion it doesn’t seem to be the logical choice. It’s hard to tell if this is due to bugs in the system or to Negreanu’s particular brand of poker strategy as the tips are far too brief. When you’re told “you have to fold here” you’re not told if it’s because of your cards, the cards on the table, the number of players remaining, or the size of the bet. This is critical information if the game is supposed to be helping you to become a better poker player.
You can play Stacked as a straight game of Texas Hold’em poker or you can play the game in career mode. Career mode will track your bankroll over time and allow you to enter into both single and multi table tournaments, with your goal being to play your way to the top and get yourself invited to the exclusive VIP tournaments. In career mode you can create a custom avatar, but there are just a few basic character models with which you can mix and match clothing, hats, and accessories. There’s not quite enough variety to prevent encountering twins here and there, though. Personally I think that poker is such a personality-driven game that you really need a full character customization tool here, but perhaps it’s not that big a deal. It would have been nice, though.
Once you sit down at a poker table you’ll soon learn that each tournament that you enter will require a major investment in time. Even a single table tournament with high stakes and no betting limits will take you an hour and a half or so to beat. The problem here is twofold. First of all the play is just plain slow. During the pre-flop betting the camera moves around the table pausing at each player while he or she makes his or her decision. Some hesitate for a bit before coming to a decision while others will be a bit quicker about things. I think the game is trying to use the delays to simulate hesitation in your opponents and give each one a betting style or personality, but in practice your opponents are pretty much interchangeable and not all that hard to beat. The other issue is that in the vast majority of hands everyone except for the blinds folds their hands. Players sit on large bankrolls that at worst slowly drain an ante at a time, periodically replenished by an occasional winning hand. Luckily they often try to make up for it in a small way by going all in before the flop when their bankroll gets close to the vanishing point. At that point there’s no reason not to match their bets as your bankroll is usually pretty high by this point and you may as well take a chance at the kill as long as you’re not holding complete garbage.