I'm wiped out. No, not financially! I think I logged about 15 miles of walking the last three days at the Global Gaming Expo. Can't they put all the table games into one area for me? As is no surprise, the largest display of table games belonged to Scientific Games. I previewed some of their games last week and will continue that process this week, now that I had a chance to see the remaining games live. AGS also had a sizeable number of table games (about 6 or 8), including some new ones. After that, the pickings got a bit slimmer. Score Gaming had 3 games on display and a few others each had a couple. In the coming weeks, I'll review their entries as well. What I did not find much of, were the scrappy independents. I did see one or two who did not have booths working on making connections.
Last week, I promised the review of three additional Scientific Games new entries. These were HIC Hold'em Poker, Lunar Poker and High Point 99. As I sat down to play Lunar Poker, something felt eerily familiar to me. I realized that I had seen the game last year while it was being shown by its inventor. This year, Scientific Games struck some sort of deal and was showing the game. I don't believe there were any changes made in the interim. What makes this game relatively unique is the ability to exchange and draw cards as in Draw Poker. If you want to exchange only one card, then you actually 'buy' a card instead, allowing you to keep the five original cards plus the 6th one you bought. If you want to exchange two to four cards, then you pay for this and actually have to surrender the cards you want to exchange.
There area couple of challenges of creating a draw game. The first is the potential for running out of cards. If Players get 5 and can exchange even 3, then each Player can have 8 cards. With 6 Players, that is 48 cards and doesn't leave much for the Dealer. Obviously, you can reduce to 5 Players, but this effectively takes money out of the pockets of the casino. The second issue is handling the Dealer's hand. If the Dealer is allowed to Draw, you have to create rules to tell the Dealer how to act. Each Dealer can't make up their own Draw rules. This adds a good deal of complexity to the game. Lunar Poker took care of this latter problem by making the Dealer's hand a Stud hand. I was a bit surprised by this as this can be a huge advantage for the Player. But, the house takes this back in two ways. The first is that you are BUYING your additional cards. The money you pay is GONE, not wagered. The second is that when the Dealer doesn't qualify, your Play wager which is 2x your Ante pushes. This is where it resembles Caribbean Stud Poker.
One other feature that Lunar Poker offers is the ability to bet on any other Player's hand. So, if your hands have been so-so and it seems that some other Player is on a hot streak, you can get in on part of the action. Mathematically, it is all the same. How one Player has done over the past few hands has no relevance on his upcoming hand, but I recognize that this isn't how a Player always thinks. And since, it doesn't hurt you to bet on Player #3's hand instead of your own, if it makes you feel 'luckier', go for it.
Next up, we have HIC Hold'em Poker. I have to admit that before the show, I had no idea what HIC was. I spent the first 45 years of my life in the northeast, where there is little surfing. I've spent the last several here in Las Vegas, where the ocean is 300 miles away. I'm more of a throw and catch type of guy. HIC offers two unique features. The first is that to begin play, the Player gets three cards and must discard one before continuing. It's funny how the human mind works. If I give you three cards and tell you to discard one, you think this is a disadvantage relative to me just giving you two cards in the first place. Getting to choose which two out of three you want to keep works to your advantage. The house advantage comes from the fact that the Dealer gets to keep all three and use them to make his hand. The Player's advantage comes from the ability to Raise or Check after seeing part of his hand. The amount of the Raise (2x - 4x) is determined randomly by the shuffler. So, if you start with a strong hand, you can sock it to the house. If your hand is weaker, you can take a wait and see approach.
Last but not least, we have High Point Poker. This was by far the least intimidating of the new games on display. One sidebet requires some basic Poker knowledge, but otherwise, you just need to do some simple arithmetic (and if you can't, I assume the Dealer will assist). This game is a twist on Three Card Poker. It uses the same betting structure. To begin you make an Ante Wager and get three cards. The Dealer is dealt three as well, face down. The Player's score is the value of his cards. 2-9's count as their rank. 10's and Faces are all 10 and an Ace is 11. If the hand contains a Pair, the entire hand value doubles. If the hand is trips, the entire value triples. Hand with a Pair of Faces are very valuable. Ironically, Three of a Kind of Deuces is actually a marginal hand at best.
The Dealer must qualify with a 20 or the Play bet pushes and the Ante wins even money. If the Dealer qualifies, and the Player's score is higher than the Dealer's, the Player wins even money on both wagers. Like in Three Card Poker, there are Ante Bonuses that the Player can win even if his hand is beat by the Dealer's hand. These are based on the point total. I've always felt that Three Card Poker was a relatively simple table game and a good beginner game for new table game Players. I think High Point 99 goes even further in simplifying the game for beginners and if you are interested in playing table games, this would be a great game to get started on.
In the coming weeks, I'll take a look at some of the other table games I saw as well as some generic comments about some of the features of all the table games at the show. Also, in case anyone has any questions about the slot machines at the show, I'm sorry to report that I didn't see any ;)