This is a preview of the card game Smoking Aces which is currently on Kickstarter. This preview is based on print and play components which are not the final components for the game. The components and rules may change before a final version of the game is produced. The Kickstarter campaign ends on July 11th, 2015. If you are interested in Smoking Aces check out its’ Kickstarter page.
The game of poker has been around since the early 1800’s. Over the years many different versions of poker have been created which tweak various rules in order to create unique varieties of the game. So what would happen if you mixed the traditional game of poker with some of the more modern card games of today? The Kickstarter game Smoking Aces tries to answer that question.
How to Play
Since Smoking Aces is a hybrid poker game, in order to understand the game you need to know the rules of poker. Check out the game’s Wikipedia page for an overview of the general rules of poker. At this point I am going to assume that you know how to play traditional poker so the rest of this section will deal with how Smoking Aces differs from traditional poker.
Before starting a round, the players need to decide which method they would like to use to setup each players’ starting hand. The game comes with three different ways to setup the game:
- Stud-Each player is dealt five cards.
- Draw-Each player is dealt five cards. Players are allowed to discard up to three of the cards from their hands and draw an equal amount of cards from the draw pile.
- Hold ‘Em-Each player is initially dealt two cards. Then starting with the first player each player looks through the deck of cards and picks one card to add to their hand. Then they pass the deck to the next player and they pick a card. This process continues until all players have five cards in their hand.
Each player will have two card areas. The cards in the player’s hand will be referred to as the player’s hand. Cards played in front of the player will be referred to as the player’s pocket.
During a player’s turn they will play one card from their hand to their pocket or to the discard pile if they decide to discard the card. If the player has no cards in their hand, this step is skipped. Each card in the game has a special effect which takes effect under certain circumstances.
- Continuous-Once played to the player’s pocket, the effect will stay in place as long as the card stays in the player’s pocket. The card’s effect takes place when noted in the card’s text.
- Played-The effect takes place when the card is played to the player’s pocket but has no other effect after initially being played.
- Discard-The effect takes place when the player discards the card. The player can either discard the card on their turn or they can discard the card in order to counter a card played by another player.
When effects refer to “any” the player who played the cards gets to pick the player who is effected. Also when a player plays an ace the player either has to pick a player to draw a card or a player that has to discard one from their hand at random.
Dead Man’s Hand
If at any time one player has between their hand and pocket all four of the following cards (wilds can replace any of these cards): 8 of spades, 8 of clubs, ace of spades, and the ace of clubs, that player automatically loses the hand and all of their cards are discarded.
Typically players will only draw/discard cards due to an effect from a card that was played. If a player ever has less than five cards between their hand and pocket, they get to draw another card. If a player has more than seven cards between their hand and pocket, they must discard enough cards from either their hand or their pocket to reach seven total cards.
End of Round
The round ends when every player has played all of the cards from their hand. A player can fold at any point to take themselves out of the round. When everyone has played their last card the winner is determined by who has the highest ranked hand. Hand ranks follow traditional poker rules with one small addition. Here are the poker ranks from highest to lowest:
- Five of a Kind
- Straight Flush
- Four of a Kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- Two of a Kind
- High Card
Card Special Abilities
As already mentioned each card in Smoking Aces has a unique special effect. Here is a summary of the special effects for each card in Smoking Aces.
- A-Continuous: At the start of your turn, pick the color red or black. If you guess correctly you get to add the card to your pocket and use the card’s effect. If you guess incorrectly the card is discarded.
- 2-Continuous: Wild
- 3-Played: Search the deck for any card and add it to your hand. Shuffle the deck afterwards.
- 4-Continuous: This card can also be used as a 6 or 8 of any suit.
- 5-Played: The player picks any player to discard their entire hand and draw the same number of cards from the draw pile.
- 6-Played: Search the draw deck and add one heart card to your hand. Shuffle the deck afterwards.
- 7-Continuous: This card can also act as the 3 or 9 of HEARTS.
- 8-Played: Pick any player who will draw and discard a card.
- 9-Continuous: This card can also be used as a queen of any suit.
- 10-Played: Look at the top 3 cards from the draw deck. The player gets to keep one of the cards and discards the other two cards (I think, the rules are a little vague on this one).
- J-Discard: Take a card at random from any hand.
- Q-Played: Search the draw deck and add one king, queen, or jack to your hand. Shuffle the deck afterwards.
- K-Played: Draw two cards.
- A-Continuous: Discard the top card from the draw deck. You may use the ability on the card for the rest of your turn.
- 2-Continuous: Wild
- 3-Played: The player may use the effect of any card in any player’s pocket until the end of their turn.
- 4-Continuous: All heart cards are wilds for every player.
- 5-Played: All players draw one card. The player who played the card gets to draw two cards.
- 6-Discard: The player who plays the card can take any card from any pocket and add it to any player’s hand.
- 7-Continuous: All effects from club cards are disabled.
- 8-Continuous: Until an eight of clubs is put into someone’s pocket, no one can win with a flush.
- 9-Played: The player can copy the effect of a diamond card in a player’s pocket for the rest of their turn.
- 10-Played: You can change your pocket with another player’s.
- J-Played: Discard the top card of the draw deck and then pick a card from the discard pile to add to your hand.
- Q-Discard: The cards in your pocket cannot be affected until the end of the turn.
- K-Continuous: This card cannot be affected by other cards.
- A-Continuous: At the start of your turn, you can exchange one of the cards from your pocket for a card in another player’s pocket.
- 2-Continuous: Wild
- 3-Played: The player destroys the highest numbered card in another player’s pocket.
- 4-Discard: You may discard a card at random from another player’s hand.
- 5-Played: All of the other players must choose a card from their pocket to destroy.
- 6-Played: You may swap this card with a card in any other pocket.
- 7-Discard: When discarded the player can negate any played effect from another player.
- 8-Played: Swap a pocket card from two different pockets.
- 9-Played: Destroy a card from any pocket.
- 10-Discard: Negate any card effect until the end of the turn.
- J-Discard: Destroy a card from any pocket.
- Q-Played: Your cards cannot be effected by other player’s card effects until your next turn.
- K-Played: Discard a card at random from any other hand.
- A-Continuous: At the start of your turn this card moves to the player to the right.
- 2-Continuous: Wild
- 3-Continuous: Lower numbered cards rank better than higher numbered cards.
- 4-Continuous: Any cards in your pocket cannot be destroyed.
- 5-Continuous: At the start of your turn you draw and discard a card.
- 6-Continuous: The other players cannot draw, discard or search from the deck based on a card effect. Players can still draw or discard if they have less than five cards or more than seven.
- 7-Continuous: Cards in your pocket cannot be taken or swapped
- 8-Continuous: No players can win with a straight.
- 9-Played: Discard a card at random from an opponent and then pick a card from the discard pile to add to your hand.
- 10-Played: You may swap your hand with an opponent’s hand.
- J-Played: Take a card from a pocket and add it to a player’s hand.
- Q-Played: Switch a card from your hand with a random card from an opponent.
- K-Played: Take a card at random from any hand.
A Unique Poker Experience
In general I would consider myself somewhat a fan of poker. I don’t play the game a lot and I have never actually gambled any money when I do play the game. What I like about poker is that the game has a decent amount of strategy for such a quick game. Poker has a lot of luck involved like most card games but the best player will usually win the game. Some people may wish that poker had a little more strategy to it though, and that is where Smoking Aces comes into play.
So what did I think about Smoking Aces? I found it to be an interesting poker experience. The game could use a couple tweaks but I had fun playing the game and I see quite a bit of potential. While the game does follow all of the rules of traditional poker, the game has its’ own distinct feel. I wouldn’t totally replace normal poker with Smoking Aces but it is a nice change of pace since it has a considerably different feel to it than normal poker.
Smoking Aces will not be for everyone though. If you don’t like poker, you obviously won’t like Smoking Aces. Also if you are confused by or don’t like card games where each card has a different power you probably also won’t like Smoking Aces. If you do like poker and like the idea of each card having a special power though, Smoking Aces could be an interesting experience and a nice change of pace.
Good Poker Hand or Strong Special Effects
With the addition of special abilities, Smoking Aces presents players with a dilemma. There are two different strategies that you can use to start building up your pocket cards. First you can play the game like normal poker where you focus on building scoring hands that rank well. You can also fully embrace the special effects of the cards and start building your pocket with cards that have beneficial special effects.
Using either strategy exclusively will make you lose the hand. If you focus just on your poker hand, you will be missing out on the special effects. Your opponents could then focus on special effects which could end up taking or destroying the cards you are using to build your hand. On the other hand you can’t play too many cards just for their effect since you need to think about your final poker hand. If you just play cards for their effects you will likely end up having a terrible poker at the end of the round.
In order to do well in Smoking Aces you need to find the perfect mix between both strategies. At first I thought it would be best to focus on just building a strong poker hand but I soon realized that the card effects have a much bigger impact on the game than I first thought. I think the best strategy is to first play a couple cards that will give you a beneficial special power. You can then use the rest of the cards in your pocket for developing a strong poker hand.
What makes the strategy elements even more interesting is that while you can have seven cards in your pocket, you can only use five of them at the end of the round for your poker hand. This means that you can use at least two cards purely for their special effects since they won’t count in you final hand anyway.
If you like poker but wish it had more strategy, I think you will like Smoking Aces quite a bit.
Easy to Learn, Hard to Master
Smoking Aces is the type of game that is easy to learn but will require quite a bit of time to fully comprehend. The game itself is quite easy and straightforward as long as you are already familiar with poker. You are pretty much just building a poker hand one card at a time with each card having a special effect on the game when it is played. The rules are written pretty well and are easy to follow. A couple areas of the rules could use a little more clarification before the final version is released but otherwise I didn’t have any issues understanding how to play the game.
While the basic rules can be grasped pretty quickly, getting a handle on all of the special effects will take some time to get used to. My preview is based off using the print and play components. Since the game has not gone into production yet, I played the game with a standard deck of playing cards with a chart explaining the special effect of every card. As you can probably expect, this lead to a lot of time regularly referencing the charts to see what every card does. This was frustrating but is quite typical of print and play games. This issue will be fixed with the final version of the game since the special effects will be printed on the cards themselves. This should speed up the game considerably which will help out the game quite a bit.
Even with the effects printed on the cards, I do worry that hands will still take quite a while to complete. At times the game can feel a little overwhelming with all of the different effects in play along with all of the effects of the cards in your hand. While players are getting used to the game, quite a bit of time will be spent reading the text on the cards and understanding what each special effect does. This is especially true when players need to search the draw or discard deck in order to pick a card. This is one reason that I would highly recommend against using the “Hold ‘Em” setup method until all of the players are very familiar with the cards. Until the players get familiar with the cards, the game will drag a little.
The more you play the game, the more familiar you will be with the cards which should speed things up. Familiarity with the cards should also open up new strategy options for players once they know what special effects are out there. No matter how familiar players are with the game, Smoking Aces will still take longer than normal poker. With the ever changing gameplay, you really can’t plan out that far ahead since the whole game could easily change before your next turn. A hand of Smoking Aces will probably take at least three to five times as long as a hand of normal poker.
In most card games balancing the cards is one of the most important factors in making a good game. A truly balanced game is usually better than a game that has overpowered cards. Games with overpowered cards can still be fun but they would probably be better if the cards were more balanced. Balancing all of the cards is a very hard job to actually accomplish though.
Based on the preview copy of Smoking Aces I would say that some of the cards seem overpowered. I wouldn’t say that the overpowered cards ruin the game, they just add more luck to the game since the players who get the overpowered cards will have a distinct advantage in the game.
One of the overpowered cards that my group ran into was the four of diamonds. The four of diamonds makes every heart card in everyone’s pocket into a wild card. This card is really powerful especially if one player has a lot of heart cards. The card loses some of its’ power since it helps all of the players but this card in particular can have a drastic impact on a hand. In the couple games that I played, this card let one player get five of a kind (the player had four heart cards) and another player also almost got five of a kind in another game.
Edit: After hearing from the designer it turns out that I did miss a small section of the rules which would limit quite a bit of the power from the four of diamonds. I missed the rule for the Dead Man’s Hand where wilds will take the place of cards needed for the Dead Man’s Hand. This means that you could never use this card to get more than three wild cards out of your hearts since the fourth wild would give you a Dead Man’s Hand and would eliminate you from the round.
The five and six of clubs are also really powerful. The five of clubs allows you to keep your hand fresh since on every turn you get to draw a card. Discarding a card is not that bad since if the card you just drew isn’t very good you can just immediately discard it. If it is better than one of the cards you already posses, you can just discard that card. The six of clubs is powerful in that it prevents any of the other players from making any changes to their hands/pockets since they can’t draw or discard cards based on card effects. This pretty much locks all of the other players into their current cards unless someone gets rid of the six of clubs.
All of the above cards are “continuous cards” which stay in effect as long as they are in a players’ pocket. I don’t have a problem with continuous cards but the problem comes from the fact that they also seem to have the strongest effects as well. This makes the continuous cards the most powerful in the game. For the final version of the game I might recommend that either the continuous cards are weakened a little or the played and discarded cards are strengthened a little.
Finally while some of cards have some interesting effects, I wish more of the effects helped the player who played the card instead of hurting the other players. I would say that a majority of the card effects are used to punish opponents or preventing opponents from punishing you. If you like cutthroat games you will probably like this quite a bit.
Overall Smoking Aces is an interesting take on the game of poker. Smoking Aces adds quite a bit of strategy to poker with the ever changing game play due to the effects on all of the different cards. Due to these special effects, it does take a while to adjust to the game though. To fully appreciate the game, players will need to play enough games in order to get a good grasp of the different abilities of every card.
Smoking Aces is not for everyone. Since the game is based on poker, if you don’t like poker you won’t like Smoking Aces. If you like poker but don’t like card games where every card does different things, you may not like Smoking Aces.
If you at least somewhat like poker and the idea of special effects intrigue you, I think you will like Smoking Aces. While the effects don’t change the underlining game of poker, they add a very unique feel to the game. Smoking Aces kind of plays like a blend between poker and more modern card games. If that sounds like an interesting game you should consider backing the Kickstarter since with a pledge of only $8 will get you a copy of the game if it is successfully Kickstarted.
For those of you interested in Smoking Aces, the Kickstarter campaign runs until July 11th, 2015. If you would like to find out more about Smoking Aces check out the Kickstarter page.