Konami has resurrected Sword & Poker.  Now known as Swords & Poker Adventures, this is a free-to-play reimagining of Gaia Co.’s poker-meets-RPG original. And looking at its new Candy-Crush-ified level layout, replete with energy system and two-tiered currency, it can be easy to groan about what Konami has done to this game. But don’t – the core game is a ton of fun, even for those just diving in, and it does a lot to mitigate our pay-to-win fears, letting players buy their way out of the energy system completely.

Swords and Poker Adventures Guide When Use WildcardThe combat is a take on standard poker rules. Games take place on a 5×5 grid, with 9 cards laid out in a 3×3 grid on the center. Players are dealt 4 cards, with 2 always showing to the opponent, and must form hands by laying 2 cards down on each side of the cards on the center (and not, say, on the bottom row, even if there are 3 cards in the center). The better the poker hand, the more damage it does. This is further affected by the weapon that’s equipped, causing some hands to be worth more or less, or to cause special effects to the opponent. Armor can protect from some early damage, and players can equip magic spells that will make some hands stronger, let players steal cards, and offer up other effects.

The role-playing game elements of course come in with the weapon-buying, purchasing health upgrades and buying additional armor. That said, many items are locked until reaching a certain point in the game’s progression.

Thankfully you won’t mind grinding your way to new items, because the combat is a ton of fun. There’s that element of chaos that comes from not knowing what the next poker hand will bring, but also, there’s an element of strategy in trying to block off the opponent’s moves based on the two cards that they’re showing. As a round goes on, it’s possible to make multiple hands by playing the diagonals, so by being smart about when these are triggered, it’s possible to deal out massive damage at once.

Swords and Poker Adventures Guide Max ComboJust like real poker, it’s about who can manage their luck – and knowing that sometimes, passing is better than playing a bad hand.

As part of its transition to free-to-play, Swords & Poker Adventures has an energy system, with progressive enemies requiring increasing amounts of energy in order to fight them. Or if you’d rather, there’s the ability to just buy out of the system for $4.99.

I recommend buying it as soon as possible, as playing this game unencumbered is well worth it. Otherwise, it’s difficult to even beat an entire level without exhausting the energy supply. If the unlimited energy buy-in was more than $4.99, it might be a tough sell. But it feels like it’s in the sweet spot here. If the game had put up a paywall at a specific level and required a $4.99 buy-in to advance, it would feel just as fair.

Of course, if you’d rather play without paying at all, the option is there. It’s an extremely tedious option, but an option nonetheless.

And the game does make spending hard currency a persistent threat, offering boosts, healing, and other items exclusively through “gems.”  Still, the game makes it difficult to buy one’s way to success, as many items are locked behind level-walls. Buying multiple spells to use on a single match still means that only one can be used per round. This is a free-to-play game where it’s possible to buy small advantages, but not outright victory.

The only thing that really disappointed here was the omission of a multiplayer component. The game would be a fun fit for a back-and-forth turn-based multiplayer mode – great games like Poker Pals prove that handily.

Swords & Poker Adventures is well worth a download. Its combat is unique and extremely satisfying, its 52 levels offer plenty of challenge, and while long-term players will be putting down the $4.99 for unlimited energy, you can easily get a free taste of it is enough to know if it’s worth the money. Check this one out.