WORLD POKER TOUR
Review dated 30th January, 2006.
In this second part of our in-depth review we'll look at the basic rules and game play of World Poker Tour.
We often give this warning when reviewing games but in this case it's especially important to note that the software for the game we're reviewing is far from complete. It's only a snapshot of the state of development at the time we got our hands on it combined with some extra information from Keith Johnson at Stern about how things have changed.
By the time you read this, the development will have continued and features could have been changed, added or deleted. We've highlighted those changes we expect to be made before the game goes into full production.
With that in mind, let's press the start button and pull back the plunger.
Shooter Lane Awards
The upper playfield is a very bouncy place with lots of rubber down the sides making control of the ball challenging. The mini-flippers don't move up far enough to trap the ball but you can slow it down significantly by trying a trap.
There are three things to shoot for on the upper playfield, all on the back wall. On the far left is the Light Mystery hole. This isn't the Mystery in the shooter lane but a different one called Cut The Cards at the left scoop. Shooting a ball in Light Mystery doesn't send it anywhere. It comes straight back out but registers a hit which is the main thing.
The three white standup targets advance a hits counter shown on the main display. When it reaches three a countdown is started at the Ace In The Hole between the standups. The countdown starts at 1,000,000 and is collected by getting the ball in the Ace In The Hole. Hitting the standups again boosts the countdown value.
Ace In The Hole Multiball
The Ace In The Hole function is described in the first part of this article but hitting the bars produces a display and vocal announcement of the number of further hits needed before the bars rise. Make those hits and the bars move up so the ball can be shot into the hole. If you lose the ball from the upper playfield the bars remain raised ready for you to get the ball back up there.
Once you get the Ace In The Hole, the ball is trapped and another is autolaunched to the upper playfield. Because it's autolaunched, you don't get a shooter lane award.
Your aim now is to hit the (now) captive ball. Again, you have to hit it a certain number of times as announced and shown on the display. When you complete this the captive ball is released and Ace In The Hole multiball begins.
The jackpot shots are all down on the main playfield but you can add more balls to the multiball by relocking a ball in the Ace In The Hole. This autolaunches a third ball and you can keep hitting the bars to get all three balls in play. You can repeat this again to get up to four balls.
Letting any ball get away from the upper playfield makes this harder to achieve but there's a generous ball saver that kicks in whenever a ball is autolaunched. So with judicious timing, it's sometimes a good tactic to let escaped balls drain, so the ball saver relaunches them straight back to the upper playfield. Do be careful doing this though as there is almost no grace period after the ball saver times out.
Another way to keep your eye on the upper playfield is by using the two stage flipper buttons. You can trap a ball or two on the lower flippers and continue to flip the upper flippers independently.
The locking of balls in the Ace In The Hole continues throughout multiball when you have fewer than four balls in play and it's possible to use it as a free ball saver if you get the timing right.
Down on the main playfield the left and right ramps score jackpots which start at around 400,000 but can be boosted by collecting a lit X3 in one of the inlanes first.
The left and right loop shots score sidepots which are much smaller values and appeared to boost the jackpot value but more importantly build towards a lit extra ball at 10 sidepots.
Ace In The Hole multiball ends when you're down to one ball.
While we're talking of multiballs, let's take a look at the regular multiball called No Limit multiball.
This one's very straightforward to start. You shoot the Light Lock standup and lock is lit at both the left and right scoops.
The standup is a tricky target to hit reliably and is usually scored by a kick off the right slingshot but it's not especially dangerous to shoot for from the right flipper because there's plenty of rubber in the area to prevent a left outlane drain.
Hitting the target once lights lock for one ball. You need three hits to lock three balls to begin the first multiball but you can stack the lit locks and collect them at your convenience. After the first No Limit Multiball, things get a bit trickier. For the second multiball you still only need one hit per locked ball but only the right scoop is lit for locks. For the third multiball you need to hit the Light Lock target twice per locked ball. Hit it once and it flashes, hit it the second time to activate the lock.
So the first multiball is fairly easy to start but it progressively gets harder which is just as it should be.
In the multiball, the left ramp is initially lit for the base jackpot value but you can boost the jackpot by shooting the drop targets which stay down. Once you've collected the jackpot, the drop targets reset and you need to re-light the jackpot by completing a bank of drop targets. Completing the middle bank first lights 1x jackpot, completing right bank first lights 2x jackpot, but if you complete the left bank of drops first you light 3x jackpot.
After re-lighting the jackpot, the drop targets reset again and return to adding to the jackpot. Don't forget, if you save your 3x scoring until you've got the left bank of targets down first, you can get a 9x jackpot and some seriously big points.
Throughout all this, the loop shots score sidepot values and increase the count towards the extra ball at 10 sidepots.
It's perfectly possible to combine these multiballs too, so if you're playing Ace In The Hole multiball and collect the lit locks you'll start No Limit multiball and get another ball autolaunched if that's possible along with its ball saver.
Above all else, this is a game about poker so we'll move on to the two types of poker taking place on the main playfield.
Two types? Yes, because although this is tagged as a Texas Hold 'Em game there's also another type of poker running alongside. We'll come to that in a moment but for now it time to play Hold 'Em.
Texas Hold 'Em
It's impossible to ignore the fourteen LED displays in the centre of the playfield and it's here that your Hold 'Em hand is dealt.
Initially you just have the two hole cards on the left. Like in a real game, you have no control over what these cards are but your aim is to get the remaining five cards dealt to complete the hand.
To do this you shoot either of the two ramps. The ball is held at the top of the ramp by a post while the next cards are dealt. If you've only got the two hole cards, the three flop cards are revealed and you get a comment by Mike or Vince about the possibilities for this hand. The ball is then released and play continues.
The next time you shoot a ramp, the turn card is dealt and the third time gets you the river. When the river is displayed, the hand is complete and your best five cards flash to highlight your final hand.
Now, there's something missing in this poker game and that is opponents. Without someone else's hand to beat, every hand you make is a winner and that's what happens here. No matter how bad your hand may seem, it's guaranteed to win.
So if you win every time, what do you win?
There's a points pot value that is reset at the beginning of each hand but you can build by shooting the spinners on the two loops. Repetitive loop shots really get the spinners flying and the pot build up nicely. But it's not that simple of course.
You don't just get the pot value when you win. Your award depends on the winning hand you have and the better it is, the more points you get. The worst hand is a high card and that's so bad you only get half the pot when you win with it. Two of a kind gets you the full points pot value. Two pairs wins you double the pot and so on. So before you go thrashing those spinners to build the pot you need to consider whether the hand you have, or think you will have, makes it worth the effort and risk.
You don't ever bet your existing points but you do bet your potential reward for completing the hand. On the whole, this approach makes more sense and keeps the game flowing while adding an element of gambling.
There's something else you get from winning a Hold 'Em hand.
Below the LED displays is a ladder of WPT locations. You start the game at one of the bottom six places and when you win your first hand you complete that location and move on to another. The second place requires two winning hands to complete, the third, three hands etc.
Completing the locations scores you 1,000,000 points for the first, 2,000,000 for the second and so on. Getting the second location also lights extra ball at the left scoop.
When you collect one of the locations you also light Victory Laps at all six big red arrows for 100K points each, while the upper playfield scoop relights them all. If you collect another location, 150K gets added to the Victory Laps value, then 200K for the next one and so on. They extinguish when you lose the ball.
When you have completed all six of the lower locations, you're ready to play at the WPT World Championship final.
The WPT World Championship is a 4-ball multiball where the hand value starts at 250K, while each drop target adds 10K to the value. Every lower playfield shot scores a flop, turn, or river. After the river, you collect the current hand value along with the same multiplier used in the regular Hold 'Em game (x0.5 for a high card, x1 for a pair, x2 for two pairs etc).
You need to score 10M points to win. The mode continues while you still have any balls in play, not when you're down to just one. If, however, you are still in multiball when you win, then all shots score 1M until you drain to one ball.
If you thrash those spinners to build up your pot there's another payoff here too.
Build the pot up to a certain level (750K the first time around) and All-In Multiball kicks off. This immediately finishes your current Hold 'Em hand and starts a three-ball multiball where the 100K jackpot builds by 1K per switch hit and can be collected at the inner four major shots (ramps and scoops). This multiball can also be stacked with other features and multipliers.
We said earlier that there were two types of poker game and the second one is referred to as five card stud but it's a bit different to that. Here's how it works.
So, say you need a four of a kind. The only card with all four suits on the table is the king (an Elvis reference perhaps?) so you can keep knocking down drop targets quite freely but the moment you knock down that fourth king you've completed the hand and the drops all reset.
Of course, in going for that 4 of a kind you're likely to make lots of other hands but provided you've already collected them it's no problem.
As you can see, it doesn't demand precision shooting but the point is, you'll save yourself a lot of time and risk if you can nail the right cards at the right time.
Poker Hand Multiball
What you're trying to achieve is to collect all the different hands and when you finally do, you start Poker Hand Multiball.
In poker hand multiball you need to complete banks of drop targets to score single, double, and triple jackpots (all of which can be tripled again with x3 scoring, of course). The catch is that the banks are on timers of about 20 seconds (the first time around) after which they reset.
Completing a bank immediately scores either a single jackpot for the centre bank, a double for the right bank and a triple jackpot for the left bank of targets.
Your aim is to collect a total of 9 jackpots during the multiball play. Your progress towards getting all 9 is shown on the poker hands inserts as well as the display and if you manage to collect 9, a roving super jackpot is lit on the big red arrows. The super jackpot value can be greatly boosted by getting more drop targets before collecting it.
Once you do collect it, the process starts all over again.
When you complete a hand of Hold 'Em - that is, you reveal the river card - apart from winning points and possibly advancing your location, you also light Poker Corner at the right scoop.
Poker Corner is a selection of six timed modes which are shown on inserts either side of the tournament locations on the playfield.
At the time this game was reviewed they were still in development. There was little information on the display and one of the modes even had a different name to that printed on the insert so these details are liable to change. In all cases, the modes continue until the timer (initially set to 30 seconds) expires or you lose the ball.
Steal The Blind - One of the big red arrows is lit. The remaining shots score small blinds while the lit arrow scores the big blind. You get some nice animations of a cartoon thief stealing stuff on the display.
Spin A Card - This is actually called Play The Button and will be corrected on the production games. One shot's big red arrow is lit and scores big points. This is the button (the white disc passed around the table to indicate where play begins). The adjacent shots score smaller values but the closer to the right of the button, the more points they score.
Know Your Outs - The "Out" is an undealt card that can improve your hand. Keep shooting the cards on the drop targets to collect points. Repeat this until the timer expires.
A Chip And A Chair - The name for this mode comes from the oft repeated phrase on WPT that the only things you need to become the World Champion are a chip and a chair. The mode involved shooting the drop targets as quickly and as often as possible for points. When you hit them they reset immediately.
Spot The Tell - The "Tell" is the reaction from other players to the cards they've been dealt and is thought to be a tell-tale sign of the cards they might be holding. This mode involves six faces of the other players on the display, corresponding to the six major shots. You have to study them, work out which is The Tell and shoot the corresponding shot. Get it wrong and you get a small "no tell" award. Get it right and you get the larger "tell spotted" bonus. The faces on the display may look rather familiar too.
Change Gears - A poker phrase indicating how a player can alternate between aggressive and conservative play, it's also used here as a reference to The Getaway. The display shows the ball shooter and suggests you can move it up and down to change gears. The first time we saw this we were trying to wiggle the shooter rod to see if it really did move up and down. Of course it doesn't and what you need to do is make the indicated shots on either the upper or lower playfield. The lit shots alternate between the two playfields every seven seconds or so. Upper playfield shots can be scored repeatedly and quickly due to their proximity to the flippers. Lower playfield shots take longer, so score double.
Each mode has a certain goal you need to achieve in order to "win" it. It obviously varies depending on the mode but will be shown on the display. When you reach the goal, you win the mode's trophy.
This helps you in two ways - the more trophies you have, the more jackpots are worth in Poker Wizard (the poker corner wizard mode) and when you play modes a second time, if you had previously won the trophy the mode will score double.
The Cut The Cards mystery feature is lit at the left scoop at the start of the game and relit by shooting the "Light Mystery" hole at the top left of the upper playfield.
Unlike the shooter lane mystery, this one doesn't just award points. Among the selections are: advance Hold' Em, add bonus multipliers, award poker hand, light lock as well as small, medium and big points.
The average scores seem to have crept up slightly on WPT compared to previous games. A decent effort will net you around 100M and we can compare the various feature scores to that, to get an idea of their relative worth.
Jackpots during multiball start around 400K but can be multiplied once relit up to x3 and then again by the 3x scoring from the inlanes if you make the shot quickly enough. That makes them very worthwhile, especially as their fairly easy to repeat a couple of times.
Starting No Limits multiball can be tricky because of the difficulty in shooting the light lock standup but some careful nudging when the ball is bouncing between the slingshots should push it high enough to hit the light lock target.
Completing a location is a Million Plus score while the individual hands vary depending on the cards dealt and the pot built, but in general they're certainly worth playing and collecting plus you get the victory laps afterwards to double the reward. Just think carefully about when you need to build that pot up and when you should let is slide.
Poker hands build in value as you move up the ladder topping out at around the 500K mark. In practice, you collect many of these automatically as you play the game so only need to concern yourself when there are just a couple left to get. They'll normally be the royal flush and straight flush as you'd expect.
It's attractive to keep the ball on the upper playfield as much as possible and keep shooting the Ace In The Hole. But you'll want to play your Hold 'Em games too so the right ramp is a good way to combine these two features as it deals the next cards and put the ball back up top.
As for the other awards, Chip Tricks are in the order of 100K-200K but collecting them all gives you Super Tricks of 400K+ which suddenly become quite lucrative as they're so easy to collect. Basically, roll through an inlane and shoot any of the three major shots on the opposite side of the playfield within a couple of seconds. Throw in 3x scoring and we're talking serious points. Don't choke though as you probably wont get a second chance before the 3x timer runs out.
The bonus though, never becomes a significant part of your overall game score. Even if you use the standups above the pop bumpers to build your bonus multiplier, it still usually comes in well under 500K points. The bonus consists of a regular targets-hit based score and a small Sharpshooter bonus although it's not clear how that is scored.
Because the code was very much still in development, many of the DMD sequences and frames were either not in there or were not the finished product. Even so, there was a consistency and smoothness to the animations we've not seen in a Stern game before. It actually looked like all the animations had been done by one person rather than the mix of styles we often get.
The ability to use twelve shades of orange with the new system instead of the previous three didn't jump out and grab your attention but was a more subtle effect. It will probably take time to get the most out of this, but the benefit of the extra memory was clear with little effect during the modes where previously you would only have got a static frame. Roll this out across the whole game and it means your getting a bigger all-round package for your money.
This was a real problem for this review of the game. If you've every been to an amusement trade show like ATEI you'll know just how loud the ambient noise is and that, couple with having five pinball games right next to each other made hearing anything much from the game almost impossible.
So sorry to say, Chris Granner's music was totally drowned out in this environment.
It was possible to hear some of the speech calls though and some of the sound effects.
At the start of a new game you get an introduction from the hosts of the show. If the game's been idle for a while it's the full length version, otherwise it's the "welcome back" variety. In both cases the sound was crisp and clean and cut through the surrounding noise. Comparing it to the distorted and disjointed Lord Of The Rings equivalent you immediately appreciate the capabilities of the new sound hardware.
The rest of the speech calls had equally clarity and at times it was tricky to tell which of the three games on the stand was speaking as you could easily hear them all.
There were some nice effects when you shoot the Ace In The Hole which, like the safe in The Sopranos, really reinforce the fact that you've slammed the ball into some solid object. You also get a nice jet plane sound when traveling to the next tournament location and some good effects when you win a hand.
I'm certain there are more sounds to be added to the game and some rebalancing to be done because when Courtney Friel gives some talk at the beginning of one of the modes, it's hard to hear what she's saying because she's too quiet in comparison.
We will shortly have the opportunity to get some updated audio and display recordings of the game which then be added to this review and at that time we will be able to give better comments on these aspects of the game.
Lighting is probably the area of the playfield that underperforms most at this stage of development. In the past, software upgrades have added more lighting effects so there's every reason to believe it will improve as we near the production release and indeed beyond.
There's nothing wrong with the light effects as such but there are no "wow" moments, no blinding flashers or show stopping light shows that make you want to don your peril-sensitive sunglasses. At least not yet.
The artwork package is more patchy though. The playfield elements are fine - a little predictable but nothing garish or visually offensive.
The cabinet is a little bland but again, nothing people are going to change their purchasing decisions over.
The playfield's actually pretty good. The lightning effects add some excitement to the fairly dry subject matter of playing cards and poker chips and the use of yellow to highlight anything Hold 'Em-related helps delineate the different elements of the game.
But the backglass. Well, can we just all agree that it's just poor and move on?
I've seen some of Brian Rood's work and think most of it is excellent but this just isn't. Someone could make a nice living from selling an alternative. Perhaps custom home translites where you send in a picture of you and all your poker buddies around the table and it gets blended into a WPT tournament setting with Mike, Courtney and Vince looking on?
In common with the last few Stern games, this is quite a bouncy playfield. In fact both playfields are quite lively and make ball control a little more tricky. In fact, the most surprising events in the game are when the bounce fails you and a ball heading for an outlane just sails straight down into the drain without any chance to use the expected bounce to save it.
The upper playfield is just right with a well judged gap between the flippers to give you long enough up there without it becoming tedious or repetitive. It might be annoying to lose the ball when you just need one more hit to open the Ace In The Hole but that's tempered by the fact that you have a safe return to the right flipper.
You might expect a great flowing game from Steve Ritchie but actually, out of the six lower playfield shots, four of them lead to ball traps. It's only the loops that allow you to get the speed up so it's much more like The Simpson Pinball Party than Terminator 3 in that regard. But I guess you could say that the drops are major shots too and they certainly don't trap the ball. These drops are much better than the old clunky style we've seen before on Stern games. They operate smoothly and most importantly for a game with so many, it's possible to roll the ball down the drops knocking several at once. Always a satisfying result.
The six real major shots themselves vary in difficulty. The loops seem easiest followed by the left scoop and then the ramps. The right scoop has quite a narrow entrance but that just makes nailing it all the more satisfying, especially when all four arrows are lit for lock, Spin-A-Card, Poker Corner and Chip Trick.
Failed shots to the two ramps can produce SDTM drains as can the long left scoop shot but there's plenty of time to do something about that one. The loops feed straight to the flippers provided you get any kind of force behind the shot otherwise the ball risks a kick from the slingshots as it passes. The right scoop lane has a kink at the end so any ball rolling back down shouldn't pass straight between the flippers.
This is something of a departure for Steve Ritchie. The long flowing loops combined with shorter intermediate circuits coupled with the fast sharp turns have evolved to become more of a stop-and-go game.
There's a reason for that, of course - you don't play speed poker.
There's a whole bunch of cards on the playfield - both the LED displays and the drop targets and you need to have some thinking time to see what's going on and decide what to do about it. It's not a whole lot of time and often you'll wish there was more, but it's a good compromise. In a sense, the short loop flow has moved to the upper playfield where the action can be fast and furious if you let it, so the spirit of flow lives on up there.
The whole upper playfield is much better implemented than in Elvis - there's more to do and an improved sense of ball control with two flippers. The Ace In The Hole works very nicely and being the only new mechanical toy in the game should prove to be reliable, as it senses the ball hits and lock with optos.
So, Steve's come up with another imaginative design without becoming quirky or outlandish. He's done this before of course, but this time he's working with Keith Johnson. With Keith doing the rules and software we've come to expect an outstanding level of depth and involvement and the initial signs are good. We're still only part way towards the finished game but the next level of thinking that has so often been missing in the rules in Steve's games is here in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts.
Read the rules and you've got to be happy with the complexity and possibilities of combining different features, plus they can all be advanced together. You can build the poker hands, the Hold 'Em hands and locations, the Poker Corner modes and the Ace In The Hole simultaneously towards their payoffs while No Limits and All-In multiballs can be kept up your sleeve and played at just the right moment.
If you're really into gambling you might possibly be a little disappointed at the apparent lack of risk when playing the cards but in fact the risk is in not winning points rather than in reducing your score. This game definitely rewards forward thinking and strategic planning. When you nail that 9x jackpot it all comes together, and we all love it when a plan comes together.
World Poker Tour is a game of broad appeal. Beginners can enjoy just playing Hold 'Em and No Limits multiball and getting the Ace In The Hole, non-poker players can quickly pick up everything they need to know while more advanced players benefit from the possibilities way beyond just collecting the first jackpot.
It's great fun to play, there's lots to do and even more ways to do them. And that's what makes you come back again and again.
Thanks for making this review possible go to Gary Stern and Joe Blackwell for bringing the games to the show and answering questions, Bob and John from Electrocoin for supporting pinball in the UK and Keith Johnson for filling in the missing detail and the new features.
© Pinball News 2006