In recent years, Steam has become one of the most popular platforms to use for buying and playing games. In fact, last year the platform reported a record of 27 million people signing on at the same time, leaving competitors like Epic Games far behind. This isn’t surprising considering the platform has one of the most varied libraries of games, from triple-A open-world titles to indie JRPGs –– and these days even immersive VR experiences. Amidst the countless gamers enjoying all that Steam has to offer though, poker players have somewhat quietly enjoyed particular benefits.
This is not to say that poker players were necessarily hurting for options before Steam came along. Sites like Partypoker and 888 Poker are firmly established and still support countless players across skill levels. Similarly, a variety of popular poker apps such as Zynga Poker and GGPoker have made it easier than ever for people to play on the go. But for the most part, these experiences all feel quite like one another. Some are bit more serious than others; some support real-money gaming, and others just play tokens. But fundamentally most app and browser poker options are a great deal alike.
What Steam’s selection offers is essentially more of a video game experience. The poker titles are slightly more playful and more contained, providing high-quality modern gameplay without taking themselves too seriously. They feel in most instances like a call-back to 2000s-era PC games, and for a lot of poker players that’s quite refreshing.
With all of that said, let’s take a look at some of the best specific games on the platform.
Governor of Poker 3
The third installment of this popular franchise has managed to successfully <em>further</em> gamify an already engaging poker experience by placing the player inside an Old West town and allowing them to unlock different areas. The game also provides players with occasional slot machines to win chips at, and offers “sit & go” games (which let you quickly switch tables after losing a round, to continue playing more quickly). Finally, while the detailed western-themed graphics, quality poker play, and story-like progression all make this option very appealing, it’s the collecting that puts it over the top. The collection of virtual items is becoming a major component of modern gaming, and in this case it amounts to gathering all sorts of fun things to customize your in-game avatar with as you progress.
Lords of New York
On the surface, Lords of New York seems like a simple 1920s noir approach to the game of poker. But in reality, it offers one of the most innovative approaches to poker games you’ll find, in that it allows players to develop certain skills as they level up. This is unusual in that we typically think of skill trees in gaming as belonging to the RPG genre. In those games, players develop new abilities, the option of using new equipment, and so on –– usually for purposes of taking on more powerful enemies in battles. In Lords of New York though, players can climb “skill trees” to develop abilities like switching cards or affecting opponents’ bets. It makes for a fun, competitive twist on poker gaming.
If Lords of New York attracts gamers by using a skill tree, Prominence does the same by building an engaging setting and story around each game of poker. You play as a beginner player trying your luck in a hostile city full of dangerous characters. However, as you progress, you will gain the attention of a mysterious figure who will guide you in your quest to build your fortune and defeat multiple factions –– and eventually face off against the man that helped you get where you are. Not for nothing, the game also has exceptional, console-quality graphics that make it feel like more than a poker game.
Playing online tends to offer limited interaction with other players, with crude and voice chat pretty much comprising the social activity. That’s all well and good, but in a real-life game of poker body language and expressions actually play important roles. It’s for this reason that the PokerStars game accessible via Steam uses virtual reality to enhance player avatars. They’re still not perfect representations, but this game creates a real simulation of in-person poker in which it feels much more like you’re seated against live opponents.
Poker is a simple game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used as a base for more complex projects. Accordingly, developers behind Steam games have successfully added elements like unlockable areas, skill trees, and cosmetic features, making poker games more complex and enjoyable than ever.