Sunday 1 September 2013

Review - Head-to-Head Poker

Head-to-Head Poker
Published by Parker Brothers
Designed by Reiner Knizia
For 2 players

Head-to-Head Poker
Looks exciting, right?

Knizia is a bit of a genius when it comes to game design. I really like a lot of what he does, and a "flagship" Knizia title from a big publisher is usually something you will want to keep an eye on. However, the good doctor also (in my opinion, at least), tends to phone in some designs for a quick pay cheque. This means that his name is by no means a guarantee of quality. If you get him on a good day, you end up with Lost Cities; but get him on a bad day, and you end up with Battleship Express,  or Head-to-Head Poker.

Actually, that's being a little unfair to this game; because it's not like this game is bad. It's just... not really much of anything.

Now, I should say up front that this game isn't really designed for people like me: I don't play a lot of poker, I prefer board games to card games, and I like a bit of theme (even if it is pasted on). But, bearing that in mind, here's the review...

The game ships in a decent box (it's the same size as Castle Panic and Red Dragon Inn) and comprises a completely pointless board, a deck of flimsy, undersized playing cards, a dice, and several bags of chunky (and rather nice) poker chips.

Head-to-Head Poker cards
Rubbish cards.

The game board is nothing more than a grid of spaces (five rows of nine spaces), and its only purpose is to show where you should lay a card. I suspect this is why the deck of cards is undersized: It keeps the board a reasonable size. Of course, a better idea would have been to sell the game without a board, with proper sized cards, and in an even smaller box. But hey, I'm not a publisher. What do I know?

The fifth (central) column on the board contains "common" spaces, and cards placed on these spaces can be used by both players. The four columns on either side of the common spaces are for the players (each player controls one half of the board).

Head-to-Head Poker board
The pointless board (note the shaded common spaces).

To begin the game (which lasts three rounds), you place three randomly drawn cards on the first three common spaces, and put some poker chips on each one.

The aim of the game is simple: Play cards (one at a time) to your half of the board to create winning poker hands. When a row on the board is full, you look at the four cards you played on that row, and compare it to what your opponent played for that row (remembering that the common card is added to each player's "hand"). The person with the best hand wins that row, and takes the poker chips that were placed on the common card. It's that simple.


You see, at the start of each round, you have to decide what kind of game you are playing. To do this, you roll a dice.

If you roll a one, you are playing "Draw One." In this game, on your turn you draw one card and then play it onto one of the spaces on your half of the board.

If you roll a two, you are playing "Split Two." In this game, you draw two cards, play one, and give the other one to your opponent to play. Then your opponent does the same.

If you roll a three, you are playing "Hold Three." In this game, each player is dealt three cards. On your turn, play one card, and then draw back up to three.

If you roll a four, you are playing "Play Four." In this game, you are dealt four cards, and you play one each turn until you have used them all. Then you are dealt four new cards.

If you roll a five, you are playing "Share Five." In this game, reveal five cards from the deck. On your turn, you pick one of the revealed cards to play. Once all the cards are gone, draw five new cards.

If you roll a six, you are playing "Crazy." This means you roll the dice again to get a different game, and then play a version of that game in which you can place cards on either side of the board.

Okay. I nearly dozed off writing that rules summary. I apologise for quite how dull it was, and I promise I'll never do it again.



Almost forgot, there's some stuff about gambling in the rules as well. Optional stuff.

Stuff that isn't in this review.

Anyway, after you have played the first round, you play the second round (seems obvious); but in the second round you use four rows on the board instead of three. In the third round, all five rows of the board are used.

Then, you add up all your poker chips to find out who won.

Head-to-Head Poker chips
Did I win?

As you can see, it isn't a particularly complicated game. It doesn't seem to be particularly clever or original either. In fact, it seems like a rush job. It feels a little bit like Knizia was playing around with a deck of cards and a dice while he was on the phone to someone from Parker Brothers, and thought up the game on the spot.

It certainly isn't a bad game. It's just exceptionally ordinary. In fact, it's a game that can be played with any deck of cards and a dice (and believe me, any deck of cards you have in your home is likely to be better quality than the cards this game ships with). You don't need the board, and poker chips could be swapped for pennies (or just left out, as the gambling rules are optional).

Head-to-Head Poker rules
The rules - probably the only thing worth keeping.

I am intending to photocopy the rule sheet, and then get rid of the game. That way I get the best of both worlds: I reclaim some space on my game shelf, but I still have the rules. It means I can play the game using a poker set I own that has proper, full-sized poker cards.

Although, having said that, if I went to the effort to get out my Poker set, I would probably just end up playing poker...

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