Fresh Deck Poker is a cross-platform poker game that has been available on Facebook for a while, and more recently received an iOS version. Said iOS version was recently updated to be fully optimized for iPad, iPhone 5 and iPad mini play, and an Android version is reported to be in the works for release very soon. The game is the product of Idle Games, last seen with the visually-impressive but ultimately disappointing Facebook title Idle Worship, and makes use of the massively multiplayer platform developed for that game.
This review is based on the iOS version, tested on an iPhone 4S running iOS 6.0.
Players may begin playing Fresh Deck Poker either as a guest or by connecting to Facebook. If the latter option is chosen, this allows the player to sync their progress between play on the social network and play on the go. Players may not customize the name displayed for themselves, though since the game does not display their Facebook profile picture and only displays their first name and last initial, there is little chance of them being personally identified. They may, however, select an avatar to represent themselves in the game. A selection of these are unlocked from the outset of the game, with others becoming available either through the expenditure of hard currency or by gaining experience levels through normal play.
The player has several options to start a poker game. “Play Now” simply puts players into the first available virtual table with minimal stakes and a $100 bankroll taken from their larger balance. “Select Your Stakes” allows for buying in to higher-stake games, while “Sit N’ Go” requires that the table be filled before the game starts, and offers tournament-style prizes for the top three players. At designated times, “multi-table” tournaments also unfold, with huge prizes on offer for the victors.
Once into the game, Fresh Deck Poker is a fairly conventional poker simulation. Players have a time limit in which to complete their turn, with a default action being chosen if they do not respond in time. It’s possible to queue up an action ahead of time if desired by ticking a box at the bottom of the screen — this allows play to flow smoothly and continuously when skilled players are involved. The game is basic Texas Hold ‘Em and does not spend any time explaining how to play, assuming players already know how the game works. There is a four-page help text buried in the game’s options menu, but this is not made particularly obvious.
Idle Games is focusing strongly on the visual presentation of the game in its promotion, quoting various sites as saying how good it looks. The amount of praised heaped on the visual aesthetic is somewhat overexaggerated, because although the game looks pretty good — particularly on a Retina display — there is no animation, leaving the player avatars looking rather soulless and dull. The art style also renders relatively realistic-looking characters using exaggerated, deformed proportions, which looks a little strange, though this is a matter of taste. The game looks good when static, in short, but it’s hardly a showcase app for the graphics-pushing power of modern mobile devices.
One noteworthy issue with the game is its heavy reliance on a data connection, even to browse the menus. It seems no player data is stored locally on the device, so if the player loses their connection while attempting to browse the menus, the game will behave somewhat unpredictably. During testing, the game threw me back into a game I had left some minutes previously when I was attempting to view the avatar customization screen, and again when I quit the app via the iOS multitasking bar and restarted it. It was not immediately obvious why this had happened in the game, but checking outside the game revealed that I had temporarily lost connection to Wi-Fi.
This issue aside, Fresh Deck Poker on a stable connection is a decent poker game with some excellent ideas. There’s a good sense of progression as the player earns (or buys) their way to the higher-stakes tables, and the fact that avatars are unlocked at regular level intervals means that the rewards keep flowing and encouraging repeat play. Regular organized tournaments also give a good incentive for players to check back in on the game, and Idle Games claims that there are cash prizes on offer for some of these, but there was no evidence of any such tournaments in the game at the time of writing.
The number of Fresh Deck Poker players connecting to Facebook (which includes players both from the Web and the iOS app) currently stands at 210,000 monthly active users, 100,000 weekly active users and 40,000 daily active users — a modest success, but well behind the big-hitters of the genre. The iOS app does not currently appear to be listed in AppData. You can follow the game’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.