If you’re the type of person that switches off at the mere suggestion of a deckbuilder – or even a roguelite, for that matter – then I implore you not to close this page. Partly because I could do with the views, but mainly because Balatro really is like no other deckbuilder out there.

So long as you have more than a passing interest in card games (particularly poker), then this could end up being your next new addiction. Believe me.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.

Balatro has a pretty simple premise at heart: take the multiplayer card game of poker and fiddle around with it to make it a single player roguelite. It’s a bit like the (recently reviewedShotgun King: The Final Checkmate to a certain extent, which does a similar thing with chess, but this game has no AI opponent – only an ever-increasing score for you to overcome.


The general gist is that you start with a handful of cards and need to choose and play up to five of them, which will then be scored. Each card is scored based on the value, which is then multiplied by how good your hand is. There’s a handy menu that gives you a run-down of what each hand is and how much it’s worth, so you don’t need to worry if you don’t know anything about poker.

There’s a limited number of hands that can be played, so if you don’t hit the required target before you run out then you’ll fail. You do have the ability to discard up to five cards (although you can only do this a handful of times each round) and redraw new ones in an attempt to improve your hand, thus making the game a balancing act between deciding what to keep and what to throw away. It’s very easy to pick up what to do, and the touchscreen support makes it functionally a doddle too.

In order to complete a run, you have to clear eight antes (basically stages), which are comprised of three different blinds (rounds) for you to complete in order to proceed: a small blind, a big blind, and a boss blind. The first two are pretty straightforward as they’re just a score for you to beat, but the boss also throws in a modifier to make things tougher. This could be something like negating scores for a certain suit, removing your ability to discard cards, or even only allowing you to play one specific hand. These can really shake up how you play and make hitting those higher scores pretty hard at times.

To make things easier, money earned can be used between rounds to purchase things that can help make your run easier. Joker cards can add help give you additional multipliers or bonuses to make things a little easier, but you’re limited to only a maximum of five at a time; Celestial cards can upgrade hands to make them worth more points; Tarot cards can buff a card from your deck to be worth more; and so on. They do a great job at help mixing up the gameplay to ensure it stays fresh, and their presentation as trading cards make them even more pleasing to acquire.


The game functions a bit like a deckbuilder to a certain extent, but you never need to worry about managing a limited number of cards. Whilst most games in the genre encourage you to keep your deck as small as possible to ensure you pull your best cards, Balatro starts you with a 52 card deck and you only really enhance or add to that number to help put the odds in your favor. Want to get flushes easier? Throw in some extra cards of the same suit. Do you have a Joker card that rewards face cards? Simply add some more face cards. It’s a very rewarding system that’s far less stressful to manage, and is likely to appeal to fans of poker that may find traditional deckbuilders hard to get into.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t without its challenge, and as you can imagine the difficulty will be largely dependent on your capacity to analyse and manage the hands that you have. Most players should be able to get their first win within an hour or two, but there’s a ton of extra cards, decks, jokers, modes, and so on to unlock to keep you invested. Perhaps some people may be annoyed that additional difficulties only unlock one at a time, but I found that it was a nice way to help pace my time with the game.

There’s really very little to fault with Balatro in all honesty, as the game has a very clear purpose and pulls it off with perfection. Everything from the presentation to the game’s balancing feels spot on, and it’s capped off with an affordable price point. Whilst it is definitely a game that is catered for a specific audience, I feel like that audience is going to lap it up with glee and never turn back. And really, what more could you ask for with the game?

Sure, Balatro probably isn’t going to win over anyone that has no interest at all in Poker, but it still successfully manages to transform the core principles into a fantastic and addictive roguelite that will see you playing for countless hours. With tons to unlock and a dirt cheap price point,  card game fanatics should snap this one up double fast. Just be warned that it’s probably even more addictive than real gambling!