Texas Hold ‘Em – Critical Play

Our game prototype, Chipped Out!, is a lighter variant of poker meant to an accessible social game. To figure out exactly which aspects of it stand out over the classic game Texas Hold ‘Em, I decided to engage in some critical play. I wanted to answer a few questions:

  • What aspects of Hold ‘Em seem like they would turn off casual players?
  • What about Hold ‘Em is the biggest flaw that could be improved?
  • What mechanics drive player engagement?

I played on 247freepoker.com against 4 computer-controlled players. I’ve played Hold ‘Em before, so I know about the social aspects of the game well.

The game is pretty fast-paced with a simple interface for players, so nobody is ever too bored. There is a lot of complexity to deciding how to bet and I found that without body language I could understand by knowing the players somewhat well, it felt somewhat overwhelming. This feeling is definitely one we’re seeking to avoid in Chipped Out!, so it was interesting to note.


Despite individual rounds of the game moving quickly, reaching the point where one player is eliminated takes a very long time. Player totals would fluctuate by $10 or $20 after most rounds, so I got the feeling that the game was in sort of a steady-state where nothing was important. This malaise is something we are really trying to avoid with the point system in Chipped Out!. I think one of the game’s engagement tools, the blind bets that encourage some players not to fold, were far too small ($1 when each player started with $1000? Seriously?) to drive progress. There is an important balance here between driving the game forward and forcing a player to stake way too much on a terrible hand, making them feel like they don’t have agency. We should explore this aspect of Chipped Out! in detail to avoid this pitfall.


Overall, I think Hold ‘Em is a fun social game that has a solid mechanical foundation but can leave too much of the game’s pace up to chance, resulting in sequences of plodding turns that don’t alter the game state in interesting ways. This would be anathema to many players and it’s something we should be careful to avoid.

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