Wot I Think: Poker Night At The Inventory

By John Walker on November 24th, 2010 at 3:39 pm.

I probably shouldn't fart that loudly.

Telltale have released their all-star super-cheap poker game, Poker Night At The Inventory. Starring characters from a range of games, and including all their original voice actors, it’s a really fun idea. But is it also a fun game? I’ve been through an awful lot of its tournaments, and am ready to throw in my chips and tell you Wot I Think.

To communicate quite how weak Poker Night At The Inventory is, I’m afraid I’m going to have to occasionally use wanky poker language, which will annoy anyone who doesn’t care much about hold ‘em. But helpfully, Poker Night At The Inventory is also weak for anyone who doesn’t care much about hold ‘em. So for those who don’t know their hole cards from their double-gutshot straight draws, be assured that the fun of playing cards against Sam & Max’s Max, Homestar Runner’s Strong Bad, Team Fortress 2′s Red Heavy, and Penny Arcade’s Tycho, in a secret underground card game, lasts about as long as it takes for the dialogue to start repeating. About twenty minutes.

A lot of the lines are funny. Strong Bad and The Heavy frequently made me laugh the first time I heard their gags. Max is sadly poorly written for most of it, squawking rather than saying anything inventive, or making extremely laboured references to the Sam & Max episodes. And Tycho is just swearing in place of having anything witty to say. His character is an attempt at being sardonic, but mostly he seems to be appropriately criticising how un-fun the game is to play. Then swearing. (When he says “fuck this shit” it’s hard not to nod in agreement.)

But there are some good moments. The conversations between the characters can be surprising and funny, sometimes poking fun at the games they’re from, or the developers behind them. (Although I’ve not heard any reference to the failure of the Penny Arcade games, which is a tad elephantine.) But, of course, all this only counts for the first time you hear them. And they repeat very quickly. Often because there’s absolutely nothing in the game to tell it not to play the same conversation twice in a row. I am perhaps a little fed up of hearing Strong Bad and the Heavy discussing killing the King Of Town. You can turn down the amount of banter, but since it’s really the only thing the game’s got going for it, it seems self-defeating. It seems beyond insane that they didn’t have every actor record something like a hundred different ways for saying “fold”, “check”, “call” or “raise”. Each has so few that you hear them endlessly, quickly growing to loathe them.

Ultimately, as intriguing as it certainly is to have such iconic gaming characters all around one baize cloth, this is a poker game. When you’ve heard Max screech about chequer boards made of human bones for the fifth time, and listened to the Heavy and Strong Bad discuss boxing yet again, what you’re left with is the card game. And it’s beyond dreadful.

I just won a hand against the Heavy when he raised my all-in (um) with second-from-bottom pair, on a board covered in high cards. And this is on Difficult. They’ll bet absolutely any two cards, and will commit all their chips with any pair, no matter how weak.

Which makes it an awful lot like playing absolute beginners at poker. If you’re a reasonably experienced player, you’ll know the horror of a first-timer joining your game. Because, as strange as it seems, it makes the game so much harder to play, and equally to enjoy. So much of poker is based on playing the heads of the other players, rather than the cards in your hand, that there being someone who’s willing to hold onto a bottom pair of 2s on a board covered in paint cards (royals), seems so improbable you can’t take it into account. It becomes a lottery, and you may as well play any two cards yourself. (See pic below)

Heavy all in with, er, nothing as usual.

You can’t use any tactics. You can’t raise the other players off a weak hand, or intimidate them. They check-raise constantly, and almost always with nothing. The majority of times I’ve been beaten it’s because they’ve hit a 2-outer on the river, rather than because they’ve out-played me. It’s just pot luck, random, bingo, a waste of time. Bluffing is, therefore, rarely possible.

Switch it up to Difficult and things, oddly, get a little easier. Their behaviour is less completely insane in this mode, there’s ever-so slightly more pattern to it. But they’ll still bet nonsense, and hold onto a pair of 3s with a flop full of Aces and Kings. Here you can occasionally shake them off their hands, but despite playing in this mode for most of the time I’ve still been enormously infuriated by how dumb it is.

Same again.

The betting is also borked. Say the blinds are at 100 and 200, regular pre-flop bets will be around the 3000 mark. Just completely bonkers over-bets as standard. Then perhaps on the turn, with a 4000 pot, to call it’s 600 and you raise it to 2400; another character will say raise but only put in 600 more. I’m quite certain this is completely against the rules of hold ‘em (I’m sure a re-raise has to be equal to or more than the previous raise, not the round’s big blind), alongside making absolutely no sense whatsoever. Frequently characters will chuck in an enormous raise, then fold at almost nothing after the next card. And there’s outlandishly stupid betting like putting in all but 200 of their chips, and then folding when re-raised for the final few. Or, as mentioned before, raising after the only other opponent is all in, proving the programming just has no clue what’s going on.

Further lack of an understanding of poker is shown in showdowns. If everyone involved is all in or called, so the cards are face up, it will continue to attempt to build suspense on the river, even after the turn card has ensured one player will definitely win. It makes the game seem so feeble, so ignorant of the game it’s trying to portray. I can’t imagine any other poker game that would be released without hand percentages displayed during showdowns, let alone one that doesn’t even understand 100% even if it’s hidden.

Yeah, it's slighty trickier now.

There’s bugs too. A lot. I’ve had the pleasure of the game only showing me one of my cards on two occasions (see above). It makes it a little more challenging to play when one of your cards is hidden from you. Max will frequently announce he’s “checking too” after no one else has checked. When conversations characters are having are interrupted by events, they’re supposed to say, “As I was saying…” and carry on. But more frequently the conversation vanishes, or they say that line then don’t carry on, or start madly repeating the same lines. Characters mock you for checking, immediately before or after checking themselves. Despite switching off the bleeping for swearing, randomly it will still get bleeped out. Right clicking to skip dialogue very often just makes them say the same line again. And frighteningly often it will just fail to display who’s on what blinds.

It gets even stupider. One of the decks you can unlock, the Homestar deck, is so idiotically designed that you literally can’t see what the card value is on the screen. It’s bewildering. Take a look:

This has not been cut off in any way.

Talking of unlocks, along with different tables and decks, you can also unlock one special item per player, won if they bet it at the start of a tournament, and you’re the one to knock them out. The rarity of their appearances is deliberate, as these are unlocks for TF2. Strong Bad’s Dangeresque, Too? glasses, Max’s gun and badge, Tycho’s Spy watch, and the Heavy’s enormous weapon, The Iron Curtain. (Although naturally, in-game, it’s referred to as “Sasha”, which would make it a pretty redundant unlock.)

Sigh – I just played another hand at this point. I fold after Max raises the blinds by his usual 12 times. It’s just Max and the Heavy left in. The Heavy was only a few chips over that so went all in, and Max responded by, er, going all in too. What? When Max won with AQd, Tycho told him off for playing “rubbish cards”. No.

I wasn’t expecting a high quality poker game. Mostly because there just hasn’t been one, ever. No one has released a poker game that can convincing bluff or be bluffed, and it’s understandably tricky to program that sort of AI. But this is absolutely woeful. It doesn’t seem to know the rules of hold ‘em, it certainly doesn’t know how to play hold ‘em, and it’s unfortunately not funny enough, or funny for nearly long enough, for it to be worth playing the crapshoot just to hear the gags. That lasts maybe two mini-tournaments, and then you’re done.

It’s incredibly cheap, around £3, and that does make a really enormous difference. And it’s animated really nicely, each character maintaining their unique style. But sadly, as funny as a lot of the lines definitely are, it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t have a workable poker game underneath it to make it worthwhile.

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285 Comments »

  1. borrit says:

    there is a fucking difficulty settings for when it get to easy on normal …..

  2. Michael says:

    Tycho and Max were lagging I guess, review is so harsh.

    I wouldn’t call them bad characters, each had their moments; I personally loved Tycho’s interactions with the entire cast.

    Creeping Max out with talk of animal romance, Arguing with Strong Bad over web traffic and finding out more about the Heavy’s background.

    I honestly have no clue about Max, but he fit in great and contributed to the Eccentric atmosphere. I know alot of his lines were references but like Tycho’s supporting line “Oh, used game re-sellers? Yeah, we got those.” Or max’s own “Bet everytime my belly button itches”, he did fine

    I only wish they interacted with the player more. When it boiled down to 1v1 not much went on.

    Dialouge repeats early but it’s normally always amusing, and through playthroughs I still normally find a few new things.

    Me personally, I’ve never played poker. Very accessible for me. & For $5 you can’t really argue.

    In the end the flaws are still there but the review comes off as really, really harsh on the poor thing

  3. dick says:

    poopy faggot hole

  4. -Sir Pancakes- says:

    I’m just worried that everyone will start labeling people using the poker unlocks as “Fools” and what not, same as they use to with Mac users playing Tf2.

  5. Tekcor17 says:

    Boring.

  6. 40KEndgame says:

    I said this on steam, and I will say it again, I recommend this game for what it could turn into, not what it is. I’m sure more characters by both Telltale and the players will be added eventually, the celebrity poker engine is very flexible.

  7. Fata_Morgana says:

    Know what this review and many of the comments sound like to me? It sounds like the same sort of crap you hear from skilled fighting game players who deign to play a button mashing noob one day and then still manage to get beaten by them. Then they whine all over the Internet about how unfair it is that such a thing is possible, the game is broken, yadda yadda yadda. Except, you know, the poker in this game isn’t actually as bad as the article and many of the comments make it out to be. That’s “wot I think.”

  8. Forceps says:

    (Although I’ve not heard any reference to the failure of the Penny Arcade games, which is a tad elephantine.)

    Well, that would be because the Penny Arcade games were not developed by Telltale, and, as such, it would be rather unpolite to comment on its failure.

  9. ricklowdis says:

    Bashing a 5 dollar poker game is like bashing the dollar menu at mcdonalds. Seriously what were you expecting for 5 dollars? You’re part of the problem with gaming these days.

    First off its a poker game….
    It has characters that interact with each other
    It was 5 dollars. Take 5 dollars to an actual arcade and see how long you are entertained with 20 tokens or quarters.

    I don’t care for poker or mcdonalds for that matter but to have computerized opponents that interact with each other for only 5 bucks. You can’t buy a handheld hold em game like that from walmart at that price.

  10. Count Elmdor says:

    Wot I think:

    I don’t know how to play poker. These guys say funny things. I played it for about an hour. I wonder if I can win all those TF2 items. I’m not sure why I bought this, but it was only $4.50.

  11. Huh says:

    Sounds like they should have just made a kind of Machinima(?) episode about 20-30 minutes long instead.

    Not everything is worth being “interactive”.

  12. TF2Much says:

    I agree with most of your review but still felt it was worth the $4.49(pre ordered) simply for the TF2 unlocks. With that said I would have purchased it even without the unlocks just to hear the in game banter.

    I am an avid poker player and obviously this isn’t pokerstars but it could be better. I still enjoy playing it though.

    I am glad that Telltale is already working on an update to fix the side pots bug etc.

  13. MrDoomBringer100 says:

    I’m not sure…
    I mean this is a great game…..
    All I just want is a poker night……
    I’m not sure about the re-raise..
    I know how to play but…
    It said no limit Texas Hold ‘em…
    Which I have no idea with…
    But I was wondering to myself…
    What is the rules of the Texas Hold ‘em where there is a limit….
    Can somebody help me…

    • Headbone says:

      Poker with a limit means there is a limit per bet, or per raise. It just stops the rich guys from completely intimidating the poor guys simply with betting power. “I’ll bet $5000 because I can easily afford it because I have $20000 and you have only $6000.”

      Having no limit allows such intimidation. I do it myself in this game. If you bet such that a player as only $300 left if they call, they may as well go all in, and that will sometimes intimidate them into either folding, or going all in.

  14. Populus89 says:

    “I am an advanced poker player, let me throw jargon at you to show how much better I am.” – was the feeling I got from the review. It bored me more than hearing the same lines over and over again in the game itself. In fact hearing them over and over again is more enjoyable than reading someone bash a game just because it isn’t advanced enough.

  15. DaVince says:

    Thank you for doing such a thorough review, as I don’t have a very firm grasp of the rules of poker myself. It seems like the game makes a lot more mistakes than I expected it to, even though I’ve played a few rounds myself without seeing any obvious mistakes.

    It’s too bad this game wasn’t playtested and checked according to the real rules or real behaviour. That could have made so much more of a difference. All I can hope is that Telltale will release a 1.1 which will fix most of this (and hopefully add some more dialogue).

  16. Caleb Lesher says:

    Five dollars for a hat, two miscs., and two reskins? Sounds like I’m learning how to play poker

  17. Headbone says:

    Yes, they do bet stupid. Why would someone raise the bet when their only opponent is all in? Why would they raise, and then fold when you re-raise. You get to know their personalities and it becomes easier than real poker, where a human would realize that you’re on to them and playing that. They will sometimes go all in with a queen and a three, before the flop!… wtf? Yes, I have played poker with humans that do that, but they usually smarten up on the second or third game.

    Another point: playing poker with a newbie or completely insane person who’s entirely unpredictable is just a test of your skills. It’s poker. That’s poker. That IS what poker’s all about. People who whine about crazy players are just complaining that they don’t get to win consistently against rubes who are predictable and not as good as them. Makes me think of the old British style of armed combat: stand still at attention, then ready, aim, fire. They dropped that pretty fast when they realized that the other team wasn’t quite behaving in a dignified fashion. Being crazy isn’t against the rules; live with it. If you’re good, you’ll win! Enjoy the challenge.

    BUT! I have to say I easily got my money’s worth from this game. I enjoyed the characters very much. “You mean besides punching your groin face in the face groin?” Hahaha! I love Strongbad. Yes it repeats, but eventually moves on to new material. I wonder when I will have heard it all? Yes, the game has all of these criticisms, but yes, it is definitely worth the money in the same breath.

    I’m a happy customer.

  18. Toaster says:

    Extremely and unnecessarily harsh review. The problems you report with disappearing cards and regular huge pre-flop bets didn’t happen to me at all. The AI isn’t great, but as others have said, the way the characters play fits their personality pretty well. I was always happier to call a Max raise than one from Tycho. Tycho’s pretty tight. I’ve won ten tournaments now and don’t recall him raising with rubbish ever. The dialogue is fairly limited, but I was still getting new stuff after 20+ games. You can hardly expect them to record much more than that for the price.
    True, there are some minor errors with the conversations – Tycho often grins like he’s won when he hasn’t, and looks at the player when he appears to be addressing someone else. There are problems with the AI too, all the players make some strange folds, so regular min-raising is the way to go.
    But really, £3 is excellent value, despite the rough edges.
    John Walker (and hence RPS) –

  19. Ceronos says:

    Well I think of the AI like this. Max, Strong Bad, the Heavy, and Tyhco aren’t professionals. After all, they just do this on their free time.

  20. Martin says:

    I completely disagree with this, I enjoy lining up a load of beers and spending 3 or 4 hours playing poker with some real characters. The little intro adds so much ambience and credibility to the game. I’m looking forward to see what’s coming next for The Inventory.

  21. James Devitt says:

    I won’t bother justifying why this review is 100% correct but please know that it is.

    Good review John Walker.

  22. Swainy says:

    I couldn’t help but bust a rib laughing when i managed to win a game AND Tycho’s watch by doing absolutely nothing but going all-in ALL the time. I wasn’t expecting to win, figured i’d do it for shits and giggles. ‘Lo and behold, profit!

  23. xxHoneycomb says:

    I realize this is an old post, I just happened to read it, but yeh.
    I just wanted to point out that it is in fact quite buggy. Everyone in the game went All-In and the game crashed, couldn’t get a screenie :c
    But the dialogue is pretty funny… The first time you hear it
    Also, the dialogue settings, shit. I don’t even understand them. xD

    • tormos says:

      seriously, mate, you’re 3 years behind the last comment with something that just backs up what the article said(shit game is a shit game). Is this really the best use of your precious time on earth?