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Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.3    Hard Disk: 40 MB

Poker Superstars II
November 21, 2006 | Ronald Toland

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Poker. The word conjures up images of the Old West, of men wearing Colt revolvers on their hips sitting around a table and glaring at each other, cards in hands. Or perhaps for you poker means Friday nights with your friends, sharing beers and jokes while secretly trying to figure out what cards everyone else is holding. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of playing against the pros, pitting your skills and luck against theirs for stakes thousands of dollars high.

Dream no more. Poker Superstars II lets you take a seat at the table with 15 of the world’s best poker players for a game of no-limit Texas Hold’em. You can play against just five of them in a single round, or go against all 15 in a multiple-round tournament. Think you have what it takes? Then read on.

The game’s graphics are adequate but not fancy. Each Superstar is represented by a photo that changes according to what the player is doing: looking their cards over, placing a bet, or winning a hand. The feature that allows you to import your own photo to represent you at the table is a nice touch. Other than that, the graphics give the game a casino feel without getting in the way.

Ditto for the music and sound effects. I ended up turning the music down so I could play my iTunes music in the background. I kept the sound effects volume turned up, though, so I could still hear the chips hit the table.

But it’s in actual gameplay that the game shines. Each of your 15 possible opponents is a simulated version of a Poker Superstar: you could end up facing Johnny Chan--who played the poker champion in the movie "Rounders"--or Mike "The Mad Genius" Caro. The subtle differences in play and the unique photos combine to make you feel like you’re playing against real people. You might even catch yourself thinking of certain players as “rivals.” I know I always cheered when I pulled one over on Antonio Esfandiari and his arrogant smirk.

The AI is good. Don’t be fooled by the play at "Amateur" level, where I won the second round I played. Crank it up to “Superstar” level and prepare to be humbled. The other players will bluff one hand, try to scare you off by overbidding in another, then suddenly play really tight and conservative. Just placing second or third in a single round feels like an accomplishment. When I managed to scratch my way to first place in a season tournament I felt like I’d just won a marathon: tired but proud.

Two nice features: control of play speed and game save. The default speed of the game--betting, dealing hands, etc.--is a little fast at first. You’ll want to slow things down until you get a feel for the game. For those who want to play through a season tournament, but not all at once, you can quit the game at any point and resume right where you left off later.

The "How to Play" help file is nice, but always came up as a separate window behind the main game window. I had to minimize the game window before I could read the Help file.

The game ran smoothly on both my 1.8 GHz iMac G5 and my wife’s 2.0 GHz MacBook.

For just twenty bucks, this game delivers. The AI is good but not impossible. I didn’t see any obvious “cheating” by the computer players, and the randomness of the draw means you’ll have a different game every time you play. You can get the thrill of playing poker against smart opponents without having to bet a single dollar of real money.

• Can import own photo to match Superstars
• AI superbly imitates real players
• All the thrills of gambling without the empty pockets

• Help file hides behind main game window

Poker Superstars II
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