As poker as poker gets.
Thanks to the first James Bond novel and the Hamburger Royale (not actually the Royale with Cheese, sorry Vincent), the word “Royale” has a nice pop culture tradition going for it. Developer Three of a Kind is trying to add to it with Poker Royale, a free iOS poker app designed to get you playing poker, preferably with friends, with as little hassle as possible. It does that admirably, but not a whole lot else.
If Royale was a feeling, the clean lobby screen would make you feel it. After logging in using either your Facebook or Game Center accounts, you’ll see a couple of things. On the right are leaderboards, with tabs to see the daily and all-time winners, plus one for just your friends who are playing. Available tables are listed in the center in order of their stakes. You can join a table with just a tap, or you can lean back and enjoy the jazzy music and ambient noise of a bustling casino.
But we’re here to talk playing poker, specifically Texas hold ’em. The most popular form of poker is all that is offered, and only in its no limit variety. The blind structure ranges from 1/2 at the Micro Fry table to a “that can’t be right” 25 million/50 million for the richest game. If you fancy yourself the dude from Monopoly and want to play for the biggest stakes, you’re going to need to purchase some chips with real money from the title screen. There are ways to earn free chips too by promoting the game on social media and inviting friends to play, and to its credit, Poker Royale doesn’t do the hard sell to try to get you to buy.
At the tables, the interface is very clean, and is optimized for use on any compatible iOS device. Every player has a circular portrait that is either their Facebook profile pic or a semi-customizable avatar if they went the Game Center route. A bar that runs around the portrait counts down the time to act when it’s your turn, and there’s an effective audible alert when you are down to your last few seconds.
The check, fold and raise buttons are nice and big at the bottom of the screen, and you can pre-set your selection if desired. A slider allows you to size the amounts of your raises or initial bets, but one thing you’ll notice is that it doesn’t automatically help create bets that are half or two-thirds of the current pot, and there are strange jumps in the scale as you head toward all-in at the top. It’s a strange and unfortunate design choice, especially since bets that are fractions of the pot are very common in no limit hold ’em.
Chat is incorporated nicely with a text bar in-between the action buttons, and players have little text bubbles that pop up whenever they chime in. It’s also easy to ignore chat with just one tap to turn it off, which is always a nice feature.
It’s clear that the social aspect of the game is very important to the developers, and they put in plenty of tools to help people connect. The title screen contains a “Sharing” pop-up menu with links to review the app, share on Facebook or Twitter, and even email or ext message friends. No problems there, and the game is on the right side of the promoting versus annoying question. But unless you have a bunch of buddies who just enjoy ring games, there isn’t a whole lot for them to do. Tournament play or some other forms of poker seem badly needed, and while the well thought out interface is nice, you wonder if it’s enough to stand out in an ever growing field of similar apps.
There’s a difference between simple and bare bones, and Poker Royale veers a little too much in the latter direction. It’s not a bad choice to get in a quick game of Texas hold ’em on your iPhone or iPad, but it needs some additional content to give itself a chance to sand alongside Ian Fleming and John Travolta in the “Royale” hall of fame.