50 Cent’s Blackjack is a new Facebook title, developed by Disruptor Beam and published by GSN. It’s something of a departure from the developer’s stated focus on role-playing games, but blackjack is a strong, reliable formula and the 50 Cent license will help to attract a strong user base.
The first thing players do in 50 Cent’s Blackjack is design their own custom avatar. This may be changed at any time, so players are not stuck with their initial style or even sex — though the name on their Facebook profile is always displayed. These avatars are not animated, but may be customized over the course of the player’s blackjack career with a variety of clothing and accessories, some of which is available for free while others cost hard currency.
Gameplay takes the form of a mostly conventional synchronous blackjack match following the standard rules of the game. Up to five players may sit at a single “table” at once, and they may communicate with one another using a simple text-based chat window. It’s also possible to purchase “gift” items in the form of (non-alcoholic) drinks and bar snacks — these may either be bought for the player, the player and a partner or the entire table at once, and cost a small amount of soft currency to acquire. They did not appear to have any gameplay effect and are seemingly more there as a form of “icebreaker” for communication, or simply a vanity item. Despite these communication facilities, other players were not very talkative at the time we tested the game, perhaps due to the fact each turn only provides a limited time period in which actions can be taken — or perhaps due to the fact that the game is new and is yet to acquire a substantial number of players.
50 Cent’s Blackjack differentiates itself from standard blackjack games through its purchasable “Boosts.” These items, unlocked by gaining experience levels and then purchased using hard currency, allow players to cheat and break the standard rules of Blackjack. There are six Boost abilities available in total: immediately draw an ace that is not in the standard deck; see if another “Hit” will bust the player; reveal the dealer’s hidden “hole” card to the table; surrender the hand but gain back the entire value of the original bet; perform a “Split” when it would normally be illegal to; and double the original wager. These are all consumable items — players receive a stock of three of each item when they initially unlock them, but further uses must be purchased from the in-game store using soft currency.
As well as the Boost items, which player may use at will, every table has a “heat” rating according to how well the players are performing collectively. The more wins the players achieve against the dealer, the more Boosts that are used and the more times Blackjack is scored, the higher the “heat” meter rises. When the gauge reaches its maximum, the table enjoys a temporary period of being “on fire,” at which point all drawn 2s become aces instead, making it easier to achieve Blackjack. This mechanic provides a feeling of cooperating with other players against the dealer — a good addition, since the basic rules of blackjack don’t encourage a lot of interaction between participants.
50 Cent’s Blackjack is a simple but effective idea. The basic Blackjack gameplay is as solid as it has ever been and the implementation here is good and intuitively-presented, but the addition of the Boost items, heat mechanic, avatar customization and real-time chat have the potential to elevate this game into being a genuinely social experience. The 50 Cent branding will also likely attract a healthily-sized community of players to the game — though the rapper’s presence is only really seen on the title and tutorial screens.
A good implementation of a casino classic — with a twist.