Deep in the bowels of the city there’s a secret speakeasy, The Inventory. It was established in 1919 in anticipation of the passing of American Prohibition. The owners of the establishment had also heard that the 18th Amendment was going to outlaw games and amusements, something they would not stand for– as proprietors of a games and amusement company. The Inventory served game enthusiasts and creators for years and began to cater to game characters as well. They remained hidden for 90 years and they’re still open for business, offering games, gambling, and liquor to those who find their establishment. You are a gambler of some renown who has come to The Inventory to make some scratch playing some high stakes Texas Hold ‘Em.
Poker Night at the Inventory was born of the desire to create a sequel to Telltale’s Texas Hold ‘Em, that game’s focus on banter, and a conversation between Telltale employees about “what videogame characters do when they’re not ‘on the clock int he games we play.” Telltale already had the license to Strong Bad and Sam and Max because of their work on the modern Sam and Max installments and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. They then focused on acquiring a Team Fortress 2 character as the designer’s themselves enjoyed the game immensely. It was these talks with Valve that created a healthy relationship between them later on.
Poker Night at the Inventory was released on November 22nd, 2010. It’s competition was Super Meat Boy (PC), Call of Duty Black Ops (PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii), and Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii).
Texas Hold ‘Em is one of the most popular and simple iterations of Poker. At the beginning of each round each player is dealt two cards face down. These cards belong to them and only they can use them to build a five card hand– the game automatically chooses the best hand your cards can make. There’s a round of betting. Three cards are dealt face up, these cards may be utilized by anyone to build a their hand. There’s a round of betting. A fourth card is dealt. Another round of betting. The final card is dealt followed by more betting. Then everyone reveals their cards and the most statistically unlikely hand is declared the most superior.
The real draw of the game is learning the tells of the other players. They don’t have perfect poker faces, they let go of little bits of information regarding the quality of their hands all the time. It’s up to the player to figure out what action correlates to what hand state. For example, if the Heavy slams his fist on the table he’s got bad cards. It’s most difficult to learn the tells of the cartoonish characters Max and Strong Bad but they do have them and I think they’re pretty funny.
The other gamblers at the table are Strong Bad from Homestarrunner.com, Max from the Sam and Max adventure game duo, The Heavy from TF2, and Tycho from Penny arcade and they act just like you’d imagine them to. Every so often one of the characters will offer collateral instead of money. Defeating them will earn the player an in game trophy and out of game loot– as in special items in other games, not a pile of jewels or something.
The enjoyment a player derives from this game is directly related to how much they trust the designers. I told someone that I was playing this game and they said that it didn’t matter, that the game was rigged, and that the AI could just count cards whenever they wanted. I think that’s an unjust estimation. The big difference between me and my friend here is that I trust the designers not to allow the game to work that way and that he didn’t.
If the designer loses the player’s trust then there’s no way for the player to have fun. That being said, I saw time and again how the characters were loyal to their character– The Heavy or Max plays just about exactly as you’d expect him to. The game earned my trust by sticking to its rules. None of the players ever present a tell in an attempt to deceive– sometimes a character might perform the tell for a bad opening hand but turn it around by the end.
The Banter is really where this game shines. I think it’s really funny and it doesn’t present the same conversations too often. Some of it’s way out there and really deep into the mythos of each of the characters but some of it’s based on something as simple as the character’s appearance.
All of the characters have character and I really like that. It comes through in the repeated attitudes. Strong Bad dislikes Tycho and will often insult him. The Heavy considers Strong Bad to be a little Heavy. I hadn’t even heard of Sam and Max before this game and it’s Max’s playing… style that got me interested in them.
A deck of playing cards goes for anything between 2 and 20 dollars. At 5 dollars, Poker Night at the Inventory measures up pretty well to the cost of a deck and it throws in the experience of hanging out with a bunch of silly characters to sweeten the pot.
Eventually every mine runs dry. It takes a long time but eventually you’ve heard everything they’ve had to say. I pick it up every once and awhile but I’m not sure if I’m hearing something new or if I forgot I had heard it.
The aesthetics can get a little dry after a long time. It’s always the same guys, table, and Inventory every game. There’s no way to change it up.
I’m fond of poker and I’m fond of videogames. This game is like the peanut butter cup of these two ideas, it’s goddam delicious. This isn’t a game that brings on long play sessions it’s more of touch and go and come back to experience. It’s definitely worth the 5 dollar value if you purchase it on Steam. I’d say you’d enjoy the game if you’re familiar with at least half of the characters and enjoy poker.
Next Week: The Bard’s Tale