For a game that is ostensibly just about poker hands, Swords and Poker Adventures actually is rather complex. Here are some tips to help you get the upper hand.
The Three Tenets to Success
These are the three rules you should always follow while playing:
1) You want to take as little damage as possible, because you have multiple matches to play in a level, and healing gets expensive after the first health chip.
2) You want to surrender as few bonus rows as possible to your opponent.
3) You want to claim as many of the bonus rows as possible for yourself.
Each round consists of up to 10 turns, with 8 rows/columns/diagonals to be made, with 4 bonus hands to be earned from the top rows and side columns. Ideally, you want to play the board in such a way that either you get all 4 bonus hands, you can prevent your opponent from getting any (even if you only get 2), or you can force your opponent to split the bonus hands with you as a last resort.
How to Get Bonus Hands
The ideal sequence for getting all 4 bonus hands is this:
1) Each opponent only plays horizontal or vertical hands for the first 6 hands.
2) You let the opponent play the first diagonal hand on the 7th hand laid down.
3) You play the second diagonal hand, earning all 4 bonus hands.
You’ll usually go first, and this means that if both players avoid the diagonal hand, you’ll be thrust into the situation where you’ll be laying down the 7th hand and the first diagonal hand, giving them 4 bonus hands. Thus, if the game is going this way, I’d pass at one point. Of course, if your opponent is doing the same for themselves, skipping turns, then don’t worry. Remember, your goal should be ultimately to at least keep them from getting an advantage, not just to let them get all 4 bonus hands. Sometimes 2 and 2 is fine, or even forcing a 2 and 0.
Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em
So, when is the right time to skip if aiming for all 4 bonus hands? I think that when there’s 4 hands left if neither diagonal has been played. This allows you the opportunity to know which 4 new cards you’re getting before you have to make that key diagonal play. You don’t want to skip when only the two diagonals are left, because then you’re basically praying that you get the cards to make a match on the diagonal, and this can wind up surrendering the 4 bonus rows to your opponent.
Pre-existing Matches Count as Matches
If you have nothing to play and don’t want to pass, say in a situation where you can get bonus hands, remember that you don’t have to make a match with the cards you play, necessarily. If a pair or trio already exists on the board, then you can use that as your hand and just get rid of two junk cards.
Know When to Use the Wild Card
I usually save the wild card for when I’m going for the bonus rows – because if you use it, you’re guaranteeing that you get to play the bonus rows and your opponent does not – and you get to claim as many of the bonus rows as possible. 2 bonus rows for yourself and 0 for your opponent is always preferable to 2 and 2, even: remember tenet #1, to take as little damage as possible.
In general, I wouldn’t overestimate the AI – they are usually very aggressive, just playing the best hand possible for them. They get smarter as the game goes on, but they’ll sometimes walk straight into these sorts of traps, allowing you to deal out more damage than they can. Remember, a round is over when 10 turns have been played, not when all 8 hands are laid down. So if there are more than 2 skips, then the round will end early, which can be exploited in either direction, but the opponent rarely skips unless they have to.
If You’re Playing for Bonus Rows, Use the Turbo Bonus Spell
Get a 4-row bonus and you’ll do so much damage that you’ll defeat most basic enemies and severely harm most bosses from the combined damage with bonuses.
How to Deal with Out-of-Sequence Diagonal Hands
Now, not all matches will go this way where the CPU player will go for all the bonuses as you will: sometimes a diagonal hand will get played “out of sequence.” How you deal with this is important, whether you need to do it or your opponent does.
If you play the first diagonal hand, you are essentially conceding that you won’t be getting all 4 bonus hands that round. This means that if you play that first diagonal hand, it better be a deadly hand, like a 4 of a kind or a full house, never just a pair or anything like that, because this hand transforms the round irrevocably, and makes it very hard to get all 4.
If your opponent does so, you’re somewhat on the defensive because now you have to ensure that they don’t wind up locking you into a bad situation. Don’t be afraid to skip if it’s not too late in the round to force a situation where you can get at least 2 bonus rows or force them out of a highly-advantageous play. Remember, you can see their two cards showing and their spell status.
It’s generally worth playing that first diagonal if you prefer following the first tenet of “reducing damage” by trading off the opportunity to get all 4 bonus rows in exchange for the likelihood that you’ll never get more than 2.
Early on, you’ll likely be fighting easier foes, and it’s possible to develop some bad habits. Always try to follow the smart strategies I’ve outlined and you’ll dominate this fantasy world of poker.