Poker. Texas-style Hold'em to be specific. This is what Scenario Software brings to the Dashboard with its free Scenario Poker, and it does a good job of it, too.
Probably one of the best Widget games I have played, Scenario Poker is what I feel widgets are for, especially widget games: quick diversion from the "other side" of your desktop that can also double as a full game.
In Scenario Poker, you are up against nine computer players. In the newest version, 1.3, your opponents now have pictures beside their names, giving the game a nice touch of visuals. I don't know who the people are, but they definitely are the kind of people you would only find grouped together at a table in Vegas. At first, it seems a little silly and irksome, at least if you have been playing through all the previous versions without the pictures, but you get use to it.
Play follows a three-tier freeze-out tournament of Texas-style Hold'em Limit Poker. Blinds (the required bet of the first two players to the left of the dealer) increase every six hands and raises are limited to three per round. Basic stud poker follows; everyone gets two hole cards and must make a hand out of them with the five shared cards in the center. Play proceeds like standard poker with each player given the option to check or raise the current bet. This is a good program to learn the basics of poker and the help section offers the basics of play and the run-down on winning hands. Preferences allow you to customize the table style and card design.
The game is tough and hard to beat. It keeps running statistics on the "i" side of the widget on how many hands won/played, knockouts, number of table and tournament wins. This can be somewhat depressing, because this is a rough bunch of players it throws you up against. It is difficult to win a hand, let alone a table, and I have not come close to winning a tournament yet. It seems that nearly every time you have a winning hand, one of the other players has a better one. If you are playing three queens, and there is one king on the table, you can bet that your final opponent will have a pair of kings in the hole. At least that's the way it seems. Maybe that is part of the realism, but it can be a little frustrating.
Finally there is one other thing that bugs me about the game: there is no bluffing. You cannot keep raising and intimidate the final player into folding. He is in it for the long run, and I have never won a hand from everyone else folding.
So without bluffing, and with your lucky opponents, the game can take a long time to play through a single table. It is trying to play the percentages and being frustrated that everyone else seems to get pairs in the hole while you are playing on aces and eights. You have to play very cautiously and avoid risky plays. I find myself sitting out of a lot of hands because my hole cards are very weak, but after folding the computer players speed through play, so it is not like waiting for online poker games to get done.
The only other thing that bugs me is the mysterious "side pot." I have never heard of this until this game, but it is like a second chance game—a second chance game that doesn't seem to have any clear-cut rules. The game just tells you who wins it with no apparent reason behind it. Neither the help section nor Scenario Software's website give you any clues.
Despite these minor drawbacks, Scenario Poker is one of the few widgets I keep running. It is big and in the way, but dragging it so that it is mostly off the screen keeps it manageable.
Scenario Poker can be downloaded from the Apple widget page (located here) or at www.scenariopoker.com.
(Christopher Huff is a freelance writer and beach bum on the Grand Strand of South Carolina. He works as a Web manager, Mac technician/tutor and journalist. You can contact him at email@example.com.)