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Publisher: Scenario Software    Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.2    Hard Disk: 60 MB    Graphics: 1024x768

May 12, 2005 | Mark Sabbatini

Click to enlarge

Playing a game of Six-Card Stud in iPoker
Normally it's misguided advice: 'Tis better to have gambled and lost than not to have gambled at all.

But a reasonable such argument -- of sorts -- comes from Scenario Software's Todd Ouzts, who says his iPoker program was playing with less than a full deck in a recent review of D.D. Tournament Poker, a Texas Hold 'Em simulator. The review compared Tournament Poker with two other Mac programs, including iPoker, but Ouzts notes that Texas Hold 'EM really isn't the strength of his title, which features 101 different poker games and the ability for players to program their own.

So this review looks at those 100 other things iPoker does. Also, a detailed look at the third program in the comparison, the $100 professional-level Poker Academy Pro, is reviewed seperately, as is an older consumer title, Masque's World Series Of Poker, which is now in retailer's bargain bins.

iPoker has been around for several years, is regularly updated and has a solid base of fans (and some detractors). Many gamers interested in poker have probably at least seen its free seven-card stud sample program, an excellent way of evaluating whether it's worth $30 to unlock the other variations.

Those familiar with my Tournament Poker review may recall I called iPoker entertaining, but with limitations making it potentially unacceptable for serious players. That's still the case, but entertainment and educational scores go up a notch when the full range of games are taken into account. An update from version 3.2.5 to 3.4.1 also addresses some issues noted in the earlier review.

Highlights of iPoker include:

An entertaining roster of players -- complete with vocabularies and facial animations that react to various situations -- whose abilities can be tweaked extensively.

A script system for defining rules, allowing extensive customization of options such as number of cards dealt, wild cards and betting. Most other elements can be customized as well, ranging from card and table graphics to creating players using personal images and movies.

Among its drawbacks:

Inadequate tutorial (or "cheat") options, such as looking at face-down cards of computer opponents as you play, plus artificial intelligence issues that limit its usefulness as a learning tool. This may not be a major issue for those buying iPoker as the entertainment title it's intended to be, but also must be noted for those looking for a professional tutorial.

A user interface that is less than intuitive at times, complicated by the fact that the only detailed help and/or manual exists at Scenario's Web site.

No online play, an option many users seem to want in this era of Internet casinos and high-profile poker tournaments exploding onto the popular scene.

iPoker is slightly on the pricier side of recreational card programs, but is significantly cheaper than "professional" poker tutorials. Such savings, however, are paltry compared to the amount at stake for serious players, who need the best tool regardless of whether it costs $3 or $300. Also, novices hoping any poker program will turn them into table pros may find themselves on the short end of a thin wallet, as real-life patterns tend to differ considerably from virtual ones.

The question isn't necessarily if the program is worth buying -- for casual poker fans the answer is a likely yes, especially since many of these games aren't available from other Mac programs -- but whether its features meet the needs and expectations players may have, given poker's current high profile.

Getting past first impressions
iPoker is a mostly entertaining experience once the action starts, but that takes a bit more doing than perhaps it should.

Launching the program brings up the main game window in the background, with a small pop-up window offering assorted tips. Nice, except there's no order to the hints, and beyond a basic overview in the help window, they're the only built-in instructions. Rules for the 101 poker games are built-in, but someone without Internet access trying to use advanced features of the program will likely be frustrated. Ouzts says, among other things, the online manual ensures instructions remain up to date.

Also frustrating is one aspect of the player profile system -- specifically, the inability to maintain more than one without difficulty.

There are 11 built-in characters -- featuring an amusing range of personalities and playing styles -- with the player selecting one and giving it an on-screen name ("Iceman" in my case). Bankroll and other settings carry over game to game. Some or all of the other characters play as computer opponents, so switching characters means inheriting their chips -- and perhaps having your previous character playing against you. Users can in theory "save" their profile by going to the Finder, duplicating the player folder and stashing the copy outside the iPoker folder, but it's hardly a user-friendly approach.

Next the user loads one of the 101 poker games using the Finder menu to access iPoker's folder of games. It works, although a menu option -- perhaps with closely related varieties such as stud and draw grouped into submenus -- would be simpler. There is a Finder submenu of the 10 most recently played games, which can make locating favorite varieties easier.


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