Card games have long been a favorite model for online play. They lack the twitch factor of other multiplayer games, which makes them easy on low-bandwidth networks, and they have a broad appeal that extends beyond the Halo and Splinter Cell crowd. With 5-Card Draw Multiplayer, Sorrent ups the ante on mobile gaming and delivers a game that has everything enjoyable about poker without the cigar smoke. It offers real-time interaction between players, allowing you to read an opponent's strategy, gain a feel for the ebb and flow of the table, and come as close to playing poker on a cellular phone as you can get.
At first glance, 5-Card Draw Multiplayer suffers several setbacks. Its graphics and sound are mediocre at best. The game presents a first-person perspective of a poker table. Your opponents are sprites with grainy, photographed heads. The combination of digital art with a scanned image presents the worst of both worlds. Graphics should normally evoke the game environment's feel. However, in this case, they merely remind you that a game like 5-Card Draw Multiplayer won't live or die by its presentation. The game's sound is similarly utilitarian. Aside from the opening music and a few different effects to mark victory or defeat, the game remains quiet.
While the current poker fad focuses on Texas Hold'em, 5-card draw has long been a popular poker format. In 5-card, each player receives a hand of five cards. After an initial round of betting, each player can discard up to five cards and receive new ones to fill his hand back up to five. After another round of betting, players reveal their hands and the best array of cards wins.
5-Card Draw Multiplayer has a simple interface that uses your phone's number buttons or D pad. You select one of three number options to fold your hand, meet an opponent's bet, or raise the current bet. Each card in your hand is marked with a number from one to five. You press the appropriate numbers to select cards to drop, then press 0 to indicate you are ready to part with them. The online version has a 10-second timer for each bet or draw to ensure that the game's pace never lags. Your phone vibrates as your turn begins--a helpful reminder to make sure you won't waste precious seconds.
The game offers online competition and a practice mode that allows you to play solo. The practice mode is a good way to familiarize yourself with the game's interface, but the computer is simply too random in its play to teach you the subtle aspects of poker. The key to poker is learning to read your opponents' actions while balancing your own risk against your hand of cards. Since the computer seems to employ random strategies for each player it controls, it is difficult to get a real sense of the ebb and flow of the game as filtered through an opponent's tendencies and strategy.
5-Card Draw's multiplayer game is its true strength. It lets you create a mobile persona--essentially a character with a set of running game stats and a pool of starting cash. As you play the games, you carry your pool of money over from one table to the next. This innovation is critical to the game's success, as it forces players to play the game just like a true game of poker. If you want to go crazy and push all your money onto the table, you had better be ready to drop your current mobile persona in favor of a new one. As an incentive to continuing with the same persona, Sorrent offers successful players access to VIP rooms and other benefits. After a few hands, you can see how your human opponents approach the game and then the battle of wits can begin. Since you face human opponents from across the world, you can count on bluffs, betting patterns, and play tendencies to play a major role in the game. The first time you figure out when an opponent tends to bluff and when he has a good hand will be the first time that you begin to feel the game sinking its addictive hooks into you.
If you enjoy poker, 5-Card Draw Multiplayer fits the bill for a mobile fix. The concept of the mobile persona is an important step forward in mobile gaming, as it rewards intelligent play and helps capture the essence of betting in poker. Sorrent has crafted an excellent game here--one that is likely to keep the growing legion of poker fanatics busy between tournaments.