Non-Poker Games Which Use Poker Mechanics
Eric Ziegeweid
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I'm interested in cataloguing games which use the poker mechanic in games that are not poker. I've listed what I've been able to dig up with my initial cursory exploration; please add games that you feel fit the definition.

Keep in mind that we're not compiling a list of poker variants - that is, different ways to play poker, however zany. That said, if there are truly marginal cases, you can always post and open it up for discussion.

As I mention below, I don't think it makes sense to fill the list with every card game that has attempted to mix poker with a word game; I have a feeling there are a lot of these games, while only a precious few of them are distinctive.

I also need your help in defining the idea "Poker Mechanics". The definition can't result in only games that use poker hands, but neither can it result include all games that use bluffing/betting, IMHO. What do you all think?

You will note that I haven't played many of these games, so I am often summarizing based on what I've read here; let me know if there are egregious mistakes. I am also far from a poker expert, so (similarly) if I've made any errors in how I characterize poker and/or the correct way to play please instruct me.

I do like poker, but I think my interest comes out of a perverse desire to mix unlike things; I might do a list of non-word games which use word game mechanics next (if I can find any!)

This is my first list and I wanted to do something to thank the BGG community for being such a great resource; I didn't find a list that covered the same subject. I hope you find it useful!
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1. Board Game: Havoc: The Hundred Years War [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:2139]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Just purchased this OOP game from another Milwaukee geek (Milgeekeean? Milwaugeek?) This heads up the list as a very pure example of what I'm looking for - a game that uses beefed-up poker mechanics to drive a very light wargame. It's also an unusually complete example, because (unlike some on this list) it adopts not just the bluffing that is so crucial to poker and not only poker hands themselves, but both. It also adds an intriguing hand management aspect to poker - you need to decide WHEN you want to win a hand, and how many of your good cards to expend in doing so. There may be poker variants (even common ones!) that include this element, but I don't know of them.
 
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2. Board Game: Deadlands: Doomtown [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:1674]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Another superior example. While I haven't played (and like Havoc, this is also OOP), I understand that it is a bizarre CCG set in a Lovecraftian wild west which uses poker hands to decide combat. The combination of more traditional CCG card play with poker must lead to some tough decisions - whether a card is more useful for its special powers or its strength in a poker hand.

Any initiates care to elaborate on the dynamic tension between CCG and Poker play in Doomtown?
 
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3. Board Game: Cowpoker [Average Rating:5.45 Overall Rank:13015]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Forgive me Doomtown purists, but from descriptions this seems like Doomtown's younger, sunnier and fluffier cousin - Doomtown improbably reborn as a light filler. Keeps the hand management, the need to balance the special abilities of a card vs. its poker utility, and the poker mechanic for resolving battles, but takes out the grit and complexity, and of course the Mythos-inflected steampunkery.

(Or does it? For all I know Kid Cthulhu is the eldritchiest gunslinger this side of the Miskatonic.)

Cowpoker was co-created (with Mike Selinker) by Cheapass Games founder James Ernest, who also co-wrote Dealer's Choice: The Complete Handbook of Saturday Night Poker, a fun anthology of poker variants (also with Mike Selinker + Phil Foglio). He also invented Lamarckian Poker, a quick and fun filler which I judge to be solidly a poker variant (despite the clever genetic semi-theme).
 
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4. Board Game: Schotten Totten [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:370]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Probably the first thing many of you thought of when reading this list's title, this is one of only two games on this list that I've played so far. Schotten Totten (aka Battle Line) famously uses an adapted version of poker and has been described as playing nine hands of poker simultaneously. 3 cards are played to each stone, with the winner is determined using an adapted poker hierarchy (in descending order): straight flush, 3 of a kind, flush, straight and highest total. Arguably, this doesn't just use the poker mechanic, but is a poker variant. Battle Line's special cards may resuscitate the case for it's inclusion.
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5. Board Game: Chicago Poker [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:5284]
Eric Ziegeweid
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This new game from Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala wears its poker provenance on its sleeve. According to many of the geeks who have played it, this is "multiplayer Battle Line with bluffing". Tom Vasel described it this way "Chicago Poker isn't attempting to be a variant of Poker, or a successor; rather it's simply a card placement game that uses poker hands to determine area control victory."

Incidentally, as far as Euro designers go, Bruno Faidutti may be the only designer who loves poker more than Reiner Knizia - both men often use poker mechanics to drive their (frequently excellent) games, but Bruno is more personally invested. Perhaps it is that he is attempting to save the game of poker for himself and others from the recently accelerated professionalization of poker. I highly recommend those interested take a look at his thoughts about poker on his Ideal Game Library at http://www.faidutti.com/index.php?Module=ludotheque&id=517.

Another example from Mssr. Faidutti's repertoire is Corruption, which he avers is "somewhat related with stud poker"; I don't feel I know enough about it to add it to the list.
 
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6. Board Game: Parlay [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:7598]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Parlay is the other game on this list that I've played, a word game which uses cards that have both letters and traditional suits and employs poker mechanics as critical elements of its game play. After receiving cards and having the opportunity to exchange them, players make their best word. They then have the opportunity to fold and receive the points indicated on their cards, or to stay in and play for best poker hand. Winning the poker hand multiplies your points and gives you a bonus for word length.

Let Parlay also represent here all the card games throughout the years which have attempted to marry poker with a word game - Read'em and Scrabble Poker are two recent examples.
 
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7. Board Game: High Hand [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:12387]
Eric Ziegeweid
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One of the precursors of this list is Gargoyle's "New Tricks with Traditional Card Games" which can be found here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/17680. Gargoyle discusses Havoc: the Hundred Years War as a game which tricks up traditional poker, leading to this somewhat astringent comment from Richard Irving:

rri1 wrote:
Not really.

Poker is not really a card game, but a betting game. The soul of the game is in the betting and bluffing--there is very litle you do with your cards other than choose your best 5 in stud poker or draw 1-3 cards in 5 card draw.

You could easily play poker with each player secretly getting a randomly generated number and betting on who has the highest or the most of a digit.

Havoc is a set collecting game that USES similar hands as in Poker. Havoc is hardly the first: Whisky Poker, High Hand, Parlett's Concerto, Abbott's Babel, all use poker combinations in a non-poker game.


Aha! This led me to try to track down Mr. Irving's examples. You can find the rules to Whiskey Poker here: http://www.pagat.com/commerce/whisky_poker.html and Parlett's Concerto here: http://www.davidparlett.co.uk/oricards/concerto.html but neither are listed on BGG. Abbott's Babel can be found in his book Abbott's New Card Games but the rules aren't included on BGG or anywhere else I could find, save in the mysterious pages of the book itself.

However, High Hand is listed and appears to be the unholy spawn of Poker and Chess - intriguing enough to check out at some point, especially as it is quite cheap on Ebay.

 
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8. Board Game: Taj Mahal [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:306]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Shorewood
Wisconsin
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Now we start getting into some murkier territory, moving away from games that use actual poker hands to games that have elements that strongly feel like poker. Mr. Irving's comments above raise some good questions about what "Poker Mechanics" actually comprises. If it is true that bluffing and betting are at the heart of poker, and that the specifics of how poker works are irrelevant, then perhaps the following games better illustrate what true Poker Mechanics are. I am not sure how I feel about this. I don't think a game necessarily has to have straight flushes etc. to qualify, so long as the rhythms of poker are recognizably evident. But bluffing and betting are part of many games, and surely more is needed for "Poker Mechanics" to make sense as an idea.

Anyway, I look forward to your input about whether these games are poker-like in a meaningful way.

First up is Taj Mahal, the most highly-regarded game on this list by BGG rating. Scuttlebutt on the 'Geek is that it has strong affinities with the betting and bluffing side of poker, but doesn't use actual poker hands to determine the winner of a given 'hand', just highest amount. Poker mechanics are just part of the engine that drives Taj Mahal, which also includes auctions, route planning and area control.
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9. Board Game: Condottiere [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:789]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Shorewood
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Another game often said to "play like poker" - but there are divergent opinions, to wit:

Eric Smith (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/collection/items/boardgame/112?...) "It has [the] real aspect of poker combined with a geography element..."

Mike Bidwell (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/collection/items/boardgame/112/...): "Has my favorite parts of Poker combined with Taj Mahal..."

J. David Koch (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/collection/items/boardgame/112/...): "It is basically a card game where bluff and guile will serve you well. If you are at all a fan of poker, you will love this game too. There is a lot of strategy involved and you find a tension that is quite delightful when deciding to play just one more card or pass."

Peter Mal (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/302415): "This game has been compared to poker... While I love poker, I don't think that it is a fair or altogether accurate comparison... ...please know that the only way this game resembles poker is in that there are cards and there is bluffing. One could say that this game is like Risk because there is a map or like El Grande because there are colored cubes."
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10. Board Game: Shadows over Camelot [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:320]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Shorewood
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With Shadows Over Camelot, it seems clear that there is a poker mechanic at work. Game goals are accomplished by collecting and playing the equivalent of straights, flushes and three of a kind (players of the game please let me know if there are more examples). However, the bidding and bluffing element seems to be non-existent.

A bigger point of contention may center around how much the dependency on poker mechanics damages the thematic effectiveness of the game. Read Roland Wood's review and the responses at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/193764 to get an idea of the controversy the poker mechanic in SOC has engendered.
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11. Board Game: Beowulf: The Legend [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:1838]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Shorewood
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From Shannon Appelcline's review at http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/11/11592.phtml:

"The 'all pays' method of auctioning is pretty rare. What's used here is closest in style to a non-Knizia game, For Sale (1997), though Knizia approaches similar ideas in Ivanhoe (2000) and Taj Mahal (2000). I've seen other people call this 'Poker-style auctioning', because as in Poker anything you put in is lost, but I don't tend to use the term because it confuses people who think that you're bidding with royal flushes or something..."

We might be getting to the crux of the matter here - is 'Poker-style auctioning' a poker mechanic, or just a confusing term for a mechanic that is independent of poker?


 
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12. Board Game: Seii Taishogun [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:9284]
Eric Ziegeweid
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Shorewood
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Matt Drake's review (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/330970) seems to make a good case for inclusion:

"The idea of the game is that you try to take locations on the four islands by building the best 'hand' of samurai tokens. You draw a bunch of tokens from the bag, and then when fights break out, you assemble an army of tokens by placing them face down. Then you all flip the armies at once, and the best army (determined by the makeup of the army) wins the battle and gets to claim a location in Japan.

It can take a little bit to warm up to this chip-betting thing, but once you get it, it's really clever. It's like poker, but with wooden chips instead of cards. In fact, we took to calling it Samurai Poker because we were continually competing for the best hands of samurai. You can bluff by putting down total garbage and hoping the other guy folds, you can play hard with a winning hand, and you can back out if you're not feeling lucky."
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13. Board Game: Würfel Bingo [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:3048]
Mark Lockett
United Kingdom
Fishponds, Bristol
Bristol
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It uses Poker hands for scoring - if you get a pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house etc. Not a strong poker mechanic but definitely has part of its history there.
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14. Board Game: Felicity: The Cat in the Sack [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1087]
Simon Wood
United Kingdom
Manchester
Lancashire
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I never thought about Felix in terms of poker until my brother mentioned it! Silly, really.

A gradual reveal of cards that you are paying to see/take and also inside information pertaining to the card you know is out there (the one you played). There's the flop/turn/river and your hole cards right there.

Used to play poker a lot - now it's board games. I guess that's why I kind of like this little filler
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15. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:119]
Twinge
United States
Colorado
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The combinations you can play are basically poker hands: Single, Pair, Full House, Straight, Three of a Kind, Straight Flush, and Four of a Kind (the last 2 being especially powerful). There is no flush (would be way too easy to get in a full hand), and there are also 'consecutive pairs' not found in poker, e.g. 3-3-4-4 (this replaces Two Pair).

There is some light bluffing in that you may want to look like you can play on a combination that you can't (implying you have a bomb or high card), though it's not really a primary element.
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16. Board Game: High Stakes Drifter [Average Rating:5.51 Overall Rank:13089]
Mark Brown
United States
North Liberty
Iowa
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Another in the 'feels like poker' catagory. This WizKids CCG includes a clay poker chip in each booster. However, these are not used for betting but as character attribute 'booster chips' in showdowns between characters that play more like a game of war than poker.

Character attributes are indicated with card suit icons.

There are poker-like rounds of betting, but that is done with small cardboard chits.
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17. Board Game: Terrapin [Average Rating:6.20 Unranked]
P.D. Magnus
United States
Albany
New York
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Terrapin is a betting game for the Decktet. It has poker-like betting rounds plus a press-your-luck element. Some people have described it as Hold'em meets Blackjack.
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18. Board Game: Dice Town [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:718]
Brandon M
United States
Columbus
Ohio
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“Games give you a chance to excel, and if you're playing in good company you don't even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game.” ― Gary Gygax
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Poker dice are used instead of cards.

Poker hands help determine the winner of the property cards while having the most of one card type determines various other actions on the board.
 
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19. Board Game: Montana [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:10518]
Brandon M
United States
Columbus
Ohio
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More than just 4 suits w/ multiple copies of cards available (pair flush anyone?). You build your hand in front of you one card at a time. Lots of bluffing in this one. Hand strength helps determine who controls what areas of which boards (there are 3).
 
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20. Board Game: Hocus [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:2926]
Josh A
United States
California
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21. Board Game: Sly Dice [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:8019]
Josh A
United States
California
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22. Board Game: Tiny Epic Western [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:1101]
Josh A
United States
California
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23. Board Game: End of the Trail [Average Rating:8.36 Unranked]
Brent Dickman
United States
Champaign
Illinois
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The game is about the California Gold Rush and poker fits into the mix both in its mechanisms and for theme.

The game comes with a deck of 52 cards, each of which has multiple uses: money/buying power, actions, and the standard 52-card rank/suit. Players use the cards for their actions to search pieces of land (tiles), trying to uncover & claim rich sources of gold. Doing so introduces a bit of jostling for claims, bluffing, and a press-your-luck element that oftentimes makes the search a bit of a gamble.

After players claim a tile, they put 1 or 2 of the cards they used into a stud poker hand that they slowly build throughout the game. After 3 rounds, there's a poker showdown, and the highest poker hand wins an extra claim of gold. Throw in an auction every round and bidding, and its a neat little poker-ish package.
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