Dead Man's Draw is from Stardock, the team responsible for Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire. The studio is known for creating very dense universes, filled to bursting with grand tactical depth.
Stardock is not known for card games, and nor is it known for mobile games, but Dead Man's Draw is both of those things.
It's also a finely constructed title that perfectly fits the mobile platform, and demonstrates the studio's strategy gaming experience.
Not arrrr'd to grasp the basics
The game is all about combining different sets of numbered cards so that you wind up with a higher score than your opponent.
A deck of 50 cards sits to the left on the screen, and you tap it to draw a card. You can then either add that card to your hand to end your turn or tap the deck again and receive another.
Should you draw a card of the same suit, you bust, forfeiting all the cards you've drawn during that turn to the discard pile, and your go is over.
Immediately you can see that there's a nice risk and reward feel to Dead Man's Draw. Do you continue picking up cards and adding to your overall score with the knowledge you might lose them all? Or do you play it safe for much smaller rewards?
There are ten different suits of cards, which are as follows: Anchor, Cannon, Key, Chest, Oracle, Map, Sword, Mermaid, Kraken, and Hook.
The differences aren't merely cosmetic. The Anchor suit, for example, allows you to keep all of the cards you've drawn if you bust. Nab an Oracle and you can see the next card in the deck. Draw a Sword and you can pick a card from your opponent from any suit you don't currently have in your own hand.
I found both the single and pass-and-play two player modes to be well-balanced for the most part, and only rarely did I question whether or not my AI opponent really would have continued to draw cards when any logical individual would have been happy to gather up their cards earlier.
There's a good deal of luck in Dead Man's Draw - about as much as there is in Poker or Blackjack. But, as with those two traditional card games, the gameplay is actually about managing risk and reading the deck, as you attempt to predict the chances of failure based on the cards that have come before.
There's a good deal of strategy involved in managing the abilities of the cards, too. For example, I learned that using the Hook to pick a card from my own hand was best combined with an Oracle card when I had lots of cards in play at one time.
When you start unlocking Traits as you progress through the campaign - which enhance these abilities further in exchange for a little currency - these card properties become even more important.
Stardock's experience designing excellent user interfaces is evident here. It's still just a game of cards, so it's not going to blow you away visually, but the art is detailed and the game flows smoothly. The epic sea shanty soundtrack and piratical sound effects add a nice atmosphere, and best of all the game loads quickly.
So while Dead Man's Draw may not be the mighty and impressive game some might have expected from Stardock as its first mobile effort, it doesn't really matter. If you're after a polished and fun card game, this should be your first port of call.