February 12, 2006

Parlay - First Impressions

by Susan Rozmiarek

I accepted a review copy of Parlay with a bit of hesitation. It describes itself as “all the fun of poker and word games rolled into one” which immediately set off the warning bells. Here is yet another game trying ride the wave of the current poker craze. The stores are full of them. And I don’t even really like poker. Despite my low expectations, I read the rules and brought it out as an opener with my game group. Guess what? It was actually pretty enjoyable and had a nice twist. In fact, if you like word games, you’ll probably find Parlay to be rather enjoyable.

The rulebook describes several ways to play the game, presumably based on a few of the common variations of poker, including the ever popular Texas Hold ‘Em. We tried the first version listed, Quick Draw.

The Parlay deck is a regular deck of high quality playing cards with the addition of a letter and its numerical value on each card. As in Scrabble, rarer letters have higher values. The object of the game is to score the most points based on the best word hand AND the best poker hand. The game is played to 500 points. In Quick Draw, players are dealt a hand of five cards with two community cards dealt face up on the table to form a hand of seven total cards. Players can then choose to discard and be re-dealt up to three cards. After having a chance to evaluate their hands, players now must secretly decide whether to “stay” or “fold.” Nice plastic chips are provided to indicate their decision. Before revealing their decision, each player announces their word and others can challenge it. Correctly calling a bluff earns bonus points. Now players reveal whether they are staying or folding. If a player folds, he adds up the letter points for his best word formed with the cards from his hand. This is his score for that hand. Players who decide to stay are eligible for some nice bonuses, including one for best poker hand, and one for a long word. Players add up their word score and any bonuses to get their total hand score. Here’s the twist – of the players who stayed, only the player with the highest total hand score gets his points; the others who stayed get zero points for the hand. This then, presents a dilemma for players each round. Do you fold for guaranteed points, or do you stay in for the chance for the bonuses but risk not getting anything at all?

Parlay felt more like a word game than a poker one to me. The Scrabble player in our group coasted to an easy victory. I do need to mention that there are a few people in my gaming group that do not enjoy word games and Parlay was no exception. Also, the bluffing and money gambling element of poker has been removed so it might not appeal as much to fans of real poker. However, this does make Parlay a good choice for families and the poker aspect does provide tension in the game. As with many card games, luck of the draw greatly influences your chances of victory, but there is a nice mix of skill and risk taking as well. Based on my one playing, I can easily recommend Parlay to fans of word games as a light filler. I look forward to trying some of the other variations.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at February 12, 2006 5:42 PM

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