Monday, May 18, 2009

Durak. ($1.99, version 1.1)

iTunes Link.

We are giving away FIVE promo codes!! Please read more about the contest at the end of the review.

Durak is a very well-known Russian card game. You're not really trying to win, you're just trying not to lose. The last person left with one or more cards at the end loses, so there can be more than one winner but only one loser. Durak means fool in Russian and, if you're playing the game in a Russian bar and lose, you may end up having to squat down and walk around the bar clucking like a chicken.

The interface is extremely polished. From the main menu you can pick a single player game against the PC, a multiplayer game, go through a tutorial, adjust the settings, or get some information about the game. The game information screen includes the developer's website address and if you click where it shows ''E-mail Us,'' it opens up the iDevice's email app with the developer's email address already filled out for you, which is a nice touch. It's frustrating when developers don't include any contact information and their iTunes website and support links lead to nonexistent websites or websites with generic information and no way to get in touch with them. It's refreshing to see a developer go out of their way to make it easy for you to contact them and even ask for any feedback. It would be great that instead of just showing ''E-mail Us'' it would show ''E-mail us at'' while still being clickable.  

From that same screen you can click on Invite a Friend and it will open up the email app with the subject of "Durak game'' and a pre-written message that says ''Look at this cool game!'' and has a link to the game and a gameplay image and also has a link to the developer's website. All that's needed is to put in an email address and click send. On that same screen you can click on the developer's website address to go directly to their page. I think they want to be reached.

In the settings you can turn the music, sound effects, or turnovers on or off. Turnovers refers to the game rule that you can match an attack card with a card that has the same value (more on that later). You can also choose from three difficulty levels and card style. The default card style is red and white on the back and you can choose another card style from any of your pictures in the iDevice. This is a very nice touch. The changed card style even shows up in the menus, giving the whole game a real feel of interactivity. It's little touches like these that make a game stand out.

The tutorial is very comprehensive and walks you step-by-step through a staged game, teaching you the basic rules. Each player gets six cards, and your goal is to get rid of all cards. Cards go from 6 to Ace. At the beginning of the game a ''Trump card'' is chosen and placed beneath the rest of the deck (after each player's cards have been given out). Any card from that suite trumps any card from any other suite. So if the trump card is the ten of diamonds, a two of diamonds will trump the ace of spades.  

As you get rid of your cards, you will receive new cards from the deck until it runs out, always having six cards at the end of your turn. The game rotates clockwise. The first player places a card on the table and the next player can ''defend'' from the ''attack'' by placing a higher card of the same suite or a trump card. If an attack is defended, you can do one of two things. You can continue the attack or you can end your attack by double-tapping the table. This is where most of the game's strategy comes from: what to play and what to keep. You may not want to play higher cards early in the round, because as soon as your opponent cannot defend against your attack, they grab all the cards on the table. So if you played many high cards, they are now in the hands of your opponent.

If you want to continue your attack, you can play any card with the same value as any of the cards on the table (you can attack with anything when you first start your attack). So if the table has a 2, ace, and king, you can place any 2, ace, or kind, regardless of the suite. I think the game could make this clearer, as the tutorial says you can play any ''matching'' card but this doesn't apply to suite, so it would be better if it said something like you can play any card with the same ''value'' as any card already on the table.  

If you don't have anything else to attack with, you can double tap the table and the cards go into a "graveyard'' (instead of going to your opponent, which only happens if you attack and they cannot defend). Once the cards reach the graveyard, they stay there.  

Turn-swapping boils down to this: if your opponent can't defend against your attack, they take all the cards on the table and you attack again. If they can defend and you give up attacking, the cards go to the graveyard and it's your opponent's turn to attack.  

A special rule, called a turnover, is that if your opponent is attacking you can counter-attack by placing a card of the same value on the table. Your opponent then has to defend against both cards. But be careful, as your opponent may place yet a third card of the same value on the table and now you have to defend against all three cards. If you can't, you take all three cards. If your opponent attacks, you can actually throw in multiple cards of the same value and they have to defend against all of them. Once you are ready putting cards in, double-tap to allow your opponent to defend. If your opponent can't defend against your first attack, the game allows you to throw in additional cards of the same value before your opponent has to take the lot. This give-and-take of attacking and defending goes on until only one person is left with cards.

That's pretty much the game. Try to get rid of your cards, try to defend with as low cards as possible, and try to save all your high and trump cards until the end.

In single player mode you can choose one, two, or three opponents. Multiplayer is Wi-Fi only. The game looks very polished, and the table has a nice wooden finish. It would be great to also be able to change the way the table looks with our own backgrounds; that would just be icing on the cake. From the play table you can tap on the question mark on the bottom right and get tips about what to do next (not strategy tips, just gameplay tips). The game also lets you know if you should be attacking or defending.  

When you are playing more than one PC opponent, player one attacks first. If Player 1 (P1) decides to end their attack after P2 has successfully defended, P3 and P4 (in a 4-player game with you and 3 PC opponents) can continue your attack. If P2 defends successfully, you get to go yet one more time. If P2 successfully fends off all attacks, it's their turn to attack. If they can't defend the extended P1-P3-P4 attack, they grab the cards on the table and they don't get to attack next because they lost the attack. P3 would go next and would attack P4, and then P1 and P2 can join in the fun of attacking P4.  

Who goes first depends on what level you are playing. You will always start on Easy when playing the PC. If you're playing other people or the PC on Normal or Hard, the player with the lowest trump card goes first. If someone doesn't have a trump card but one or more of the other players do, the person without a trump card is automatically disqualified from going first. If only one player has a trump card, they go first. If none of the four players have a trump card, the app will pick the game starter at random.  

Something l didn't notice until right now (literally) is that in the menus you can actually grab the cards to the side and move them around (you can grab all four with different fingers). Another little touch that adds polish to this game.  

There's some nice relaxing music, reminiscent of playing cards at a jazz club. There's shuffling sounds and other assorted sound effects when you move the cards around.
For some reason I had a hard time learning the rules. But it's like riding a bike - once you learn, you never forget. You may want to prepare for a few frustrating hands while you learn the rules. But once you do learn the rules, it's a very enjoyable game. And if you ever go to Russia, you'll be sure to make lots of friends quickly.

The one major suggestion I would have is to save your current game. Each time you go to the main menu, you have to start over. It does save the current game if you exit out of the app and then re-start the app, but it goes straight into the game. So there's no way to go to the main menu (to adjust settings or change the card background, for example) while in the middle of a game without losing the game.

This is a nice change from all the solitaire games out there. It's different, it's well-explained, it's well done, and it just looks good. The cards are easy to read and handle. Highly recommended if you're looking for a nice relaxing different type of card game. It goes without saying that if you grew up playing and loving this game in real life, it should be part of your game library.

You can watch a gameplay video taken by the developer at

Contest: The first person to send the correct answer to will get the code and their desired name posted here. Your subject MUST say "Durak promo code" to be eligible, and must have the answer and the desired name/nickname to be posted here.

QUESTION 1: Who was the first person to walk in space?

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