Dead Man’s Draw
Stardock is a developer that is known for their strategy games so I was quite curious what their first entry in the crowded casual market would play like. At first glance Dead Man’s Draw looks like a pretty straightforward card game but there is more to this pirate themed title than what meets the eye.
Instead of adding a twist to an existing card game like Solitaire, Dead Man’s Draw has a pretty unique set of rules. Each round starts with a deck of 50 cards from which you and your opponent take turns to draw. Cards belong to one of ten suits and have a numerical value between two and seven. To win the round you must have the highest total value of cards by the time the deck is depleted. Don’t worry if this sounds too simple as there are some extra layers of strategy involved as well.
You can draw as many cards as you want during your turn but if you draw a card from a suit you already drew in the round you go bust. Going bust means losing all the unbanked points for the round so there is a definite element of risk versus reward. It is quite tense, gambling all your unbanked cards on each new draw, but the rewards can be worth it. Only the highest point value of each card you bank adds to your score so if you have a red cannon card with a value of seven in your deck any other cannon cards you draw and bank won’t increase your score.
This doesn’t mean that lower value cards are useless, however, as the suit of each card actually plays a vital role in the game as well. Each suit has a special ability which activates when drawn from the deck. For example, cannon cards allow you to choose one card in your opponent’s deck that they have to then discard while hook cards allow you to steal a card from your adversary provided it is from a suit you don’t have in your own deck. Other abilities include fishing a card out of the discard pile, protecting previously drawn cards and even revealing which card is next from the draw pile. Using the card traits to your advantage while sabotaging your opponent’s game is a lot of fun and makes the gameplay a bit deeper than just relying on random luck.
If the card abilities weren’t enough, you eventually unlock eighteen traits as well. Selecting a trait gives your character a special ability associated with certain card suits. For example, the “Master Gunner” trait forces your opponent to discard every card in a suit stack when you use the cannon instead of just the top card while the “Mystic” trait causes your oracle cards to reveal the next three cards in the draw pile instead of just one. These traits, along with the card abilities allow you to set up major combos and can cause a constant tug-of-war between you and your opponent. No matter how far ahead you or your opponent are with points there is always the chance that a lucky streak can catapult you ahead. When you unlock the ability to use two traits per match things get even more interesting. Combining the “Master Gunner” with the “Scavenger” trait for example not only causes an opponent to lose an entire suit but adds the discarded cards to your own deck.
The basic principles of the game is very easy to grasp, but to keep things from becoming stale the tournaments constantly introduces new rules. You might be required to keep your points below a certain threshold while staying ahead of your opponent to win or play rounds where the amount of cards left in the draw pile is not shown. There are a lot of tournaments, but you have to win each one to unlock the next which can be annoying if you become stuck.
Dead Man’s Draw was originally an iOS title, but you can put your pitchforks away as this is actually a very decent port. For one thing the micro transactions and in-app purchases have been done away with so you don’t have to spend a penny more than the price of the game. A new suit ability for the mermaid cards have also been introduced as well as a new trait. Traits no longer cost cash to use either and you unlock new traits using experience points instead of coins. The higher resolution visuals look pretty great on a big screen and the user interface works well with a mouse. The pirate themed music is very fitting, although a few more tracks would not have gone amiss. There is no speech, but the sound effects sound crisp and clear. The developers have also thrown in Steam achievements and trading cards to sweeten the deal.
Dead Man’s Draw is a very polished title with a lot of replay value, but unfortunately it is a single player experience only. The lack of multi-player is about the only thing that I can criticize about the game as everything else is very entertaining. It is a game where the tables can be turned in an instant so if you are not a fan of games where luck plays a big role it might become frustrating. Personally I think the inclusion of traits and abilities offer sufficient opportunities for strategic play despite what the odds against you might be.
*Review originally published February 2014.
- OS: Windows 10 / 8 / 7 / Vista SP2
- Memory: 1 GB RAM
- Graphics: OpenGL 1.5 or Higher Compatible Video Card
- Hard Drive: 200 MB available space
- Additional Notes: 1024×768 and 16-bit or higher color depth required