In the vein of the previously released Express titles, Clubhouse Games Express: Cards Classics offers a very slimmed-down, bite-sized version of its full-featured cartridge release. Whether this package offers enough to warrant a purchase is the question, and although this is a strong hand, ultimately there's no real trump card.
The games included are Blackjack, Five Card Draw, Last Card, Last Card Plus and President. The first two games work entirely around a betting mechanic; Blackjack, as you may well know, is a classic game of 21. Make your bets and try to beat the dealer, while exceeding 21 is an automatic loss; end up with the most points after a set amount of games and you win. Five Card Draw, one of many poker variations, also has you playing for most points, and you'll only have the opportunity to swap your cards from your original five-card hand once in each match. Victory can be achieved by the best poker hand or by out-bluffing your opponents and making them fold.
The other three games may appear to be quite similar, with the victory condition of clearing your entire hand, but they turn out to be entirely different games from one another. Last Card is a simple game of high cards: play the highest card within the given suit to win a hand and you'll be able to start off the next round. Without a matching suit card you're forced to pick up cards until you acquire one which can be played.
Last Card Plus, while only similar in name to the former, very much resembles a game of Uno but with a regular deck of cards. You can only play same-suit cards or cards with matching values. There are a number of special cards: 2s and 3s will have you draw the corresponding number of cards, but one can also add another 2 or 3 to force the next player to draw even more, and forfeiting your turn. 8s allow you to change play to a suit of your choice, while 9s reverse the order of play. Lastly, aces force-skips the next player's turn; if you don't have a playable card, you draw one and skip your turn.
President is a form of Choh Dai Di, also known as Big Two. The start player has the option to play a single card, a set of equal cards, or sequence cards, and the other players try to match the hand with a set of higher value cards. Once no other hand can be played (by choice or lack of cards), whoever played the last set may start the next round. Strategic thinking is key to winning this game. After each match all players exchange two of their cards, but only the winner of the last match may choose which of his cards to trade, while all other players have to forfeit their two highest value cards.
The games offered in Cards Classics are directly lifted from the original Clubhouse Games, sporting the exact same look as they did in the latter. It's all rather plain, but being functional and not bogged down by eye candy isn't necessarily a bad thing, though you'll quickly learn to turn off the elevator music. Thankfully, easily accessible and comprehensive in-game rules for each game are available should you ever become confused about the order of play. If you should so choose, several of the games also allow for slight tweaking of the rules to make them easier or more complex, and a simple records button allows you to view how many times you've played and/or won a particular game. As an incentive, winning set amount of games will earn you different graphical backdrops from which you can choose.
As you may already know, there is no online component to Cards Classics. You get the option to play up to seven opponents (four in Five Card Draw) which may consist of AI, friends via download play, or a mixture thereof. Frankly, we can't imagine anyone bothering with download play since you can play all of these games with a simple deck of cards, which may turn out to be cheaper and more fun, too. That said, the AI does offer quite a challenge in the harder difficulties. What should also be mentioned is that, as in Clubhouse Games, you can "gift" any of the games to other DS owners, who then can download the chosen game for free-play on easy mode until they power down their DS consoles.
If the five games aren't enough, and the missing online feature is a game-breaker to you, we advise that you might be better off getting the full game which is only $15 more brand new. That doesn't mean Card Classics is a bad deal: all the games included have merit of their own and can provide fun pick-up-and-play sessions for on-the-go. It really all depends on how much you like your card games, without having to scrounge around for cartridges.