Reel Deal Blackjack Review

Many of you helped me pick out a replacement to my cranky old RAZR – an iPhone.  Once I spent some time with the device, I knew that it was going to be a big hit.  Current estimates are that the phone is selling through roughly 95 devices per day, per store!  With that level of support, and the app store acting as a solid backbone, I knew we had to support this powerful platform. On deck for our first review we have the most obvious download choice for almost any gamer, casual or hardcore alike – Reel Deal Texas Hold ‘Em. 

Coming from Publisher X and War Drum Studios, the creator of quite a few video games used in casinos, Reel Deal Texas Hold ‘Em looks to give players access to the (current) most popular version of Poker, while leveraging the multitouch power of the system.  For $4.99, is this title worthy of your hard-earned iMoney?

Many applications on the iPhone are fairly basic.  The Tetris clone is pretty simple in its presentation, and most other applications follow a similar path.  The moment you boot this game you’ll be surprised at the level of detail present. The felt, the cards, and just a general level of polish are present here.  While you might expect that on the PC, you probably don’t expect it from your phone. 

The action on the felt is shown from a first person top-down perspective.  Each player has an avatar and they are gathered around the half-circle table with the dealer positioned up top. There are a total of 8 avatars that you can choose from, each with their own personality type. The gameplay unfolds as you might expect, with each player expressing their glee or disappointment with the results of their hand. Unlike the official Apple product, the characters are not digitized, instead made from well-rendered 3D models.  The animations are somewhat stilted, but it is the gameplay that matters. This is an example where it is likely that players will scoff at the $4.99 price tag when compared graphically to other competing products.

The flip of cards, the heavy clank of clay chips, and a gentle knock on the felt are unmistakable sounds in the card game world.  The only way to get them right is to sample the real thing, and it seems that War Drum Studios has done exactly that.  Each sound is properly represented – no real complaints in this area.  The music in the game is almost a mix of renaissance fiddle music and country – it’s an odd blend, but if it irritates you you can always turn it down.  I didn’t get a particularly ‘Blackjack’ feel from the music so I simply turned it off. Leveraging the controls of the iPhone is pretty simple, and yet so many games use only the most basic functionality.  Most Vegas games have specific hand motions, knocks, and various other gestures that take the place of saying “Hit” or “Hold” – a likely consequence of the ever-present casino racket.  The touch functionality of the iPhone gives players these motions literally at their fingertips.  You tap the cards for a hit, swipe for hold, or double tap your chips to raise or change your bet.  The controls are intuitive but occasionally unresponsive.  There have been several times that I’ve tried to stand but instead took another card.  Obviously that is a fool

If you are going to make a game based on rules that have been established since the flood, you need to really make sure you adhere to those rules.  Unfortunately, Reel Deal Blackjack doesn’t do a fine job in that regard. In Blackjack, when you pick up an ace and a face card it is a blackjack and pays 3:2 of the original bet.  When you do combine an ace and two fives, it is simple 21.  It is an unstoppable hand, but it does not pay at that ratio, but at a 1:2 ratio.  This is rather important as it truly changes the way you bet and what you are willing to risk.  The game simply seems to count any card combination that reaches a value of 21 as a Blackjack.  This sort of breach in the rules will have even a casual player scratching their heads.  How did this get past quality assurance?

If you are a more novice player, you can learn the basics of the game from your fellow players.  Since everyone plays against the dealer, you can trust their advice. Not only will they give you their advice, but they will also give you the reasoning behind it.  For instance, if the dealer is showing a five, there is a greater potential for a face card forcing them to take another card. If your hand is solid, you should likely stand and try to force the dealer to bust. It helps novice players learn some of the subtle intricacies of the game. As players become more familiar with the rules, there is also a stat engine to reference that gives players a rundown of the number of blackjacks, hands won, lost, or pushed, how many times you’ve asked for advice, taken insurance, etc. As you play through the game, you’ll complete various challenges.  These challenges allow you to unlock various rule changes that you can use to create a more ‘unique’ blackjack experience.  We’ll go over those in a minute.

This title retails for $4.99, half of what other comparable card games are asking.  That said, don’t think that it is in any way short on value.  The game supports four player multiplayer, more than a dozen customizable card backs, and a rules system that can be changed at its most core level. You can change the number of decks in the shoe, whether the dealer is bound by the normal rule of being forced to hit on a soft 17, whether you can take insurance, whether you can split and then double down, and many more that are unlocked through the completion of simple challenges.  The challenges can be as simple as winning a hand, winning three hands in a row, getting a blackjack, doubling your money in a single hand, and several cash accumulation challenges.  There are even a few rather insane challenges such as taking a hit on a 20 to win the hand. 

Reel Deal Blackjack does include four player multiplayer, but I didn’t find anyone else with an iPhone who had purchased the game in time to test it out.  Even without it, there are some nagging issues that may impact your decision to purchase this title at it’s current price point.  Perhaps taking a buck or two off the price until those changes are made would help?

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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