Sierra has done an admirable job of creating a sharp and faithful rendition of poker.
The idea that poker could be successfully translated as a computer game seems farfetched. What makes poker enjoyable are the strictly human elements: the smoky atmosphere, the camaraderie of close (or not-so-close) friends gathered under a glaring light, the bags of chips, the colorful language, the challenge of maintaining an expression that gives away nothing.
Sierra, having proven its card game mettle with previous Hoyle series entries like Blackjack and Casino, has done an admirable job of creating a sharp and faithful rendition of poker, one that can serve either as a temporary surrogate or as a replacement for the real thing, since getting a group of friends around a table can be a monumental task. An interesting cast of characters has been assembled around Sierra's table, a scrappy, playful bunch who toss out a steady stream of one-liners: "I'm not so happy when I get cards this crappy," declares recurring character James, for example, and "Sure I'll raise. I'd levitate if I could," says Elayne in her New Jersey accent.
Each character is nicely drawn and personalized. The James Bond-like Sterling is suave and debonair and the motherly Mrs. O'Shea proves as tough to beat as any of them. Diversity is also achieved among the pool of players, as there is the aforementioned James, an African-American male, and Anna, an Asian-American female, and the ratio of female to male characters is consistently held near 50-50. There is even a bulldog character named T-Bone to add variety.
More than a dozen variations of the card game are included, among them Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hold'em, 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo, and Cincinnati, allowing you to brush up on rules that you might have forgotten or to learn rules you might never have learned. The Help menu provides a succinct set of rules for each poker variation that can be read at any time during a game. Also included is a copy of Stewart Wolpin's The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle. Though The Rules is almost encyclopedic in its musings on the game and its rules, a book tailored specifically to the computer version would have been handier. The book included has more to do with preparing to enter a real game with seasoned players than in playing Sierra's version.
You begin playing with $1,000 and a total bankroll of $10,000. When the initial $1,000 runs out there is an ATM function to tap into the remaining $9,000. Between hands the rules can be switched from one variation to another - so if interest in 5 Card Draw lags, then the game can be switched to High Chicago or 7 Card Stud. Different playing backgrounds are also included to maintain visual interest, the best being the kitchen table with its pizza box and Chinese food.
The pacing of each hand is comfortably fast, so if you fold early the following hand comes around fairly quickly. This pacing, coupled with the comprehensive selection of rules and handsome graphics, allows Hoyle Poker to take its rightful place with Sierra's other entertaining and well-designed card games.