Buried under all the discussion and headlines about online, mobile, and social gambling are the classic games we first fell in love with. I'm a fan of table games, games like craps and blackjack, in old-fashioned brick and mortar casinos.
Though the industry is trending away from these games, I'm happy to report that I found five examples of brand new table games released in the year 2016. Below are details on the five games I'm most excited to get my hands on this year.
Lumina attracted so much attention at G2E that I just had to try the game out. It's a weird-looking creature, with eight seats gathered in a circle around a central roulette wheel covered in a thick dome. All wagering is done electronically, so no casino employees are required or anything. Lumina is really just a different physical take on the classic electronic roulette games that are so popular in America.
Lumina adds a mystery progressive jackpot that pays out based on a player wager and is triggered randomly. This progressive is available for both local and wide-area progressive systems. The real story here has nothing to do with new rules or software. Instead, Lumina is just plain pretty to look at. Imagine if Apple designed an electronic game, and that's what this game's physical presence looks like. The materials are top-notch, the lighting and sound effects are enticing, and it's simply a gorgeous game.
New blackjack variants for land-based casinos are rare these days. Most of the table game market is focused on creating mobile and social games based on classic game rules. Double-Up Blackjack is based on the rules of standard Las Vegas blackjack, but with a unique side bet available. Double-Up Blackjack was Score Gaming's big product release at G2E 2015. In Double-Up Blackjack by Score Gaming, players have the option of doubling-up their wager on any two-card hand, up to the amount of the original ante.
The conventional wisdom on table games with side bets is that they're not worth your time. But that's not necessarily the case with Double-Up Blackjack. According to an analysis by a third-party auditor, the game's house edge is 0.84%. Without knowledge of basic strategy, a standard Vegas blackjack table with the same number of decks (six) gives the house an edge of about 0.5%. In other words, you're not paying that much for the side bet.
Based on the rules of Texas hold'em, Head Start Hold'em isn't exactly a table game. Then again, it's not a video poker machine, either. It's a game designed for multiple markets, from casino floors to racino and cardroom slot banks. Don't confuse this game with the clunky Texas hold'em video poker imports that have popped up over the past few years. Head Start Hold'em lets you bet as a spectator.
It works like this – five players around a Texas hold'em table start with the same pocket cards every hand. As the player, your goal is to wager on which hand will win, after seeing a unique flop. Each of the players around the virtual table pays out differently based on the strength of their starting hand. One player starts with AK off-suit, another starts with a pair of 5's, etc. You can wager on any or all of them to win.
Upstaged by Double-Up Blackjack at G2E 2015, Pai-Jack is a Pai Gow Poker-style five card game with a unique blackjack twist. The game substitutes the traditional poker hand hierarchy for blackjack-style hand rankings. It sounds complicated, but with a few plays, you'll catch on to the strategy.
Basically, your five card hand is broken into two hands – one made of two cards (low) and one made of three cards (high) using standard blackjack scoring rules. A new category of hand is added – the Pai-Jack, any hand made of two 10's and one Ace. This hand pays out 1:1, unless a special Bonus wager is placed at the beginning of the hand. If that happens, the hand is paid out according to a separate pay table.
Pai-Jack is noteworthy for the fact that it's a brick and mortar table game, for its beautiful table design, and for injecting some new life into Pai Gow Poker, which is getting a bit stale after all these years. Don't let the 3.5% house edge scare you away from an exciting new way to play casino-style poker.
Think of Three Card Prime as a classic Three Card Poker casino-style poker table game with lots of additional player features. Imagine it's the VIP version of Three Card Poker. That's what Galaxy Gaming wants you to do, and they've gone to great lengths to make that happen.
The game's Prime Beat and Play Wagers are traditional in-game bonuses based on making a side wager and putting together a specific hand to make that bonus bet pay off. But the Bad Beat bonus is what set this game apart from other casino-style poker table games that have premiered this year. If you lose with a straight or better, you win a wager multiplier, as much as 25x.
Three Card Prime is a continuation of Galaxy Gaming's "Prime" series of poker games – they released Four Card Prime last year, but this game is a big improvement. Though it isn't eligible for a progressive jackpot, like other games in the Prime series, it offers new bonus options that might attract some players back to casino-style poker. And that's a very good thing.
My conclusion here is simple – table games aren't dead. Okay, so I included a couple of electronic games here, but I'm just so excited to see some cool new table games to play that I'm willing to overlook that. I'm all for mobile gambling, and I know people really enjoy the social features being added to games right and left, but I'm old-school. Give me a good blackjack table, an adult beverage, and a few hours, and I'm a happy man. It's good to see game designers working hard to keep fans of traditional table games happy.