Most everyone has a means of escape from the daily grind of work or other activities that keep our lives moving forward and productive. Some pick up a book to read, others an interactive story. And if you're a regular visitor here, it's probably safe to assume that your escape involves some form of casual gameplay.
But what if your daily chores include playing and reviewing games? Would you still wish to pick up a game to relax and unwind? The answer, at least for me, is a resounding, "yes!"
When I need to escape from the daily grind, the games I usually turn to are dominoes and poker, two quintessential casual games. For dominoes, I play Clubhouse Games on my Nintendo DS, an irresistibly good collection of 42 all-time classic card, board, and parlor games that I find myself coming back to time and time again. For poker, my latest addiction is TripleJack.
TripleJack Poker is similar to other browser-based, free-money poker sites with a few extras that set it apart from the rest. If you were a fan of last year's Last Call Poker, you will find that TripleJack contains a lot of the excitement that made Last Call so popular and addictive.
Registration is totally free and sets up an account that you can play with right away. A quick and painless email validation and then it's time to hit the tables.
Once inside you can choose to play a cash game or play tournament style at any of the tables already created. Or you can create your own. You are given $500 in chips to start with, but you can always get more if you lose it all. When you do lose everything, a "Rebuy" button will appear that will restock your account with $500. You can only rebuy once every 5-minutes, however.
Since money is free at TripleJack, what you're really playing for is score, or rank. The points you earn are based on your average rate of profit. So, it's not about how much money you have won, it's about how fast you are able to earn it. Your score is always displayed above your avatar while you're playing so you can watch your score change in real time with every hand. It's really quite remarkable. I've watched mine grow from 0-396 points in just two days of playing.
You can choose from a wide assortment of cute little avatars to be represented by, and even change the color of it at will. After winning a hand you earn a "bomb" that can be sent to any other player at the table. Pies, anvils, balloons, and tomatoes, are all sent as cute animations that bombard the target player's avatar for a brief period of time. It's a fun way to work off some frustration when someone just nudges you out of a sweet pot with a higher kicker. There are also medals to earn that will appear next to your avatar when certain conditions or achievements are met, such as a crown if you happen to get a royal flush in a Texas Hold'em game.
Analysis: If you enjoy Texas Hold'em poker, TripleJack is one of the finest free-money sites I have seen. The background graphics, animations, sound effects and avatars are all highly appealing and the Flash-based site runs quick and smooth, even on my pokey little PowerPC-based Mac laptop.
In terms of criticisms, the betting interface could stand a little tweaking as it may take some people a bit to get used to. For example, at first I found myself clicking "Fold" when I really wanted to call, and vice versa; and I still sometimes call a large raise not knowing that someone just increased the stakes significantly. Perhaps a higher constrasting sound effect would help when someone raises, but the current bet indicator is just too small for my liking; it gets lost amongst the various other clutter in the game. Thankfully there are buttons that allow you to make your choice ahead of your turn, and there is even an advanced auto-betting mode available in the options that will really help speed things along once you're familiar with the game.
All things considered, TripleJack is great multiplayer fun for most anyone that enjoys Texas Hold'em style poker. Add to that the potential to win prizes with a paid subscription to the game and what you have is a unique new offering that may be highly addictive, so be careful. =)
Cheers (and curses) go out to Patlents for introducing me to Triple Jack!