We've already seen a host of card games released for the DSiWare service, but PictureBookGames: The Royal Bluff looks to add a little variety to the mix with its unique gameplay and entertaining royalty theme. But with a service already loaded with card games, can it beat a full house?

The Royal Bluff is basically a card game that's played with various-colored chips as game pieces. Each player is randomly assigned two different colored sets of chips and must then begin playing cards that increase and decrease various rows of chips on the game board itself. Your goal in the game is to rack up more points than your opponent by creating lines of chips on the game board. You can earn points a number of ways including correctly guessing what color your opponent's chip colors are, bluffing and causing your opponents to incorrectly guess your own chip colors, or by creating a large difference between your two chip colors. It's these various ways of scoring that end up making the game so strategic, forcing you to make wise choices in how and when you play certain cards and on which color of chips to do it. And once you begin adding in the various trick cards to the mix, things can get quite challenging.

There are several modes of play to choose from, with everything from tournaments to wireless free play mode where you can set up varying sets of rules to play with. There's a tutorial that will guide you through the basic steps of playing the game, useful for getting your feet wet before tackling the other game modes. Next up is the tournament mode, which will allow you to take on a number of animal opponents, each becoming increasingly more difficult to beat. There's also the Free Play mode where you and up to three other CPU players can all play a set number of rounds using your own trick card rules. And if you have some other DS owners around, you can take each other on using the wireless play, and the game will even allow you to download the game to the other player's DS systems in order to play. While the single player experience is enjoyable enough, you won't really appreciate the game until you get a multiplayer match going.

The touchscreen interface the game makes use of works perfectly in making your various card and chip plays throughout each game. Everything about the game play setup is intuitive and easy to use. While the game itself is quite simple and easy to pick up and play, there is still quite a bit of variety and strategy involved, especially once you start purchasing the many trick cards and making use of them in your games. Toss in the ability to play the game wirelessly with other players and you've got a fun little card game that just about anyone can enjoy. It would have been nice to have had a feature that allows multiple players to play on only one DSi system, but given the way the rules of the game work, it's understandable why this option was left out. Given how well the games are executed, it's difficult to fault the game too much.

Since this is a card game after all, you certainly don't expect a lot of flashy visuals popping up on your screen. While there are some very nice graphical moments, for the most part the visuals in the game consist of the basic wooden game board along with a host of different-colored chips. Sure it might have been nice to see a bit more detail in the game board itself, but it's hard to complain when you're only talking about a simple card game. The animal sketches are unique and add an interesting touch the game's visual presentation, but all-in-all the game is a fairly basic graphical package, especially considering some of the flashier card games available on the service.

While the music playing in the background is quite interesting, it's not the kind of music that's going to appeal to everyone. It also tends to get a bit repetitive rather quickly, so you're likely to be thankful that the game at least features an option to turn down the background music should the need arise. Much like the musical package, the sound effects are very basic, something not surprising given the simplicity of the card game. You will be treated to a few quirky pieces of voiced dialog from your animal opponents, but it seems to be more for laughs than anything else.


PictureBook Games: The Royal Bluff might not be one of the more well-known card games out there, but its simple rules and strategic gameplay should make it very appealing to card game fans looking for something a little different. Couple the game's playability with its well-designed play control interface and what you have is one of the more enjoyable card games to make an appearance on the DSiWare service to date, and a game that's easily worth the 500 Nintendo Points it will cost you.