"Power Up is more skill orientated" - Chris Straghalis

As real money Power Up returns to the PokerStars lobby, we discuss its conception, target audience and potential with one of its developers.

PokerStars Power Up

What was the genesis for PokerStars Power Up? Was it born from a MTG or Hearthstone fan that also played poker?

Chris Straghalis: Interestingly, it originated from a couple of different people in the company. From one side it was someone who was a casual poker player but an avid gamer – not specifically Hearthstone or MTG - but a gamer none-the-less. He loved poker but didn’t love some of the aspects of the game, in particular the fact that you don’t have as much control over the action as you might find in video games. Around the same time, the idea was also suggested by someone who was a more serious poker player, who wanted to address those situations that consistently frustrate poker players, such as “Why does an Ace always come on the flop when I have Kings” (Disintegrate is the answer to that) or “I wish I knew what my opponent has” (X-ray will get you at peek at one of your opponent’s cards).

Who did you have in mind as the early adopters of this game? Poker players looking for a new twist on the game, or Hearthstone players using it as a bridge to poker?

Chris Straghalis: Poker players are our initial target - particularly those who may have become disengaged and are looking for a new twist on a game they love.

Would you say this is a more skill orientated format than regular NLHE because of so many more moving parts, or because more cards are on the table they dictate the outcome more than player decisions?

Chris Straghalis: It’s more skill orientated. In addition to all of the normal poker strategic elements (and it’s important to note that we haven’t removed those elements) such as position, stack size, betting patterns, hand ranges and so on, we have added new areas for players to focus on. The powers themselves are certainly the biggest skill-testing element but players will also need to consider how they combine powers. On top of that, the ability to form and craft a hand of specific powers in order to set up a particular play; having more information than otherwise (such as knowing which cards have been discarded with Engineer and Scanner) and how to manage your energy effectively are just some of the new strategic areas to focus on with Power Up.

"More powers are in development"

PokerStars Power Up

While Hearthstone gamers who have never tried poker may love it, do you think it’s perhaps too complicated for other brand new players to get their head around?

Chris Straghalis: It might be true that initially, Power Up is more complex than traditional poker. However, as is famously said, poker can take minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. The base rules of Power Up are not really much more complex as in most cases we are modifying or adding on to existing poker rules, at least with the powers we are showcasing at launch. The success of games such as Hearthstone shows that there is an appetite for games that are strategically deeper and that’s the type of experience that we have tried to deliver. There will be a learning curve but we do not believe it will that difficult to overcome.

Are there plans to make this heads-up and/or cash game format at some point? I personally think it would be best suited to heads-up.

Chris Straghalis: There are certainly more areas we are looking at than the current Sit and Go format. Heads-up can have its own challenges to solve and is already quite a skilful game so it’s not certain that’s necessarily right or appropriate for the longer term health of Power Up. With regard to other variants, of course we are looking at them but first and foremost we want to ensure we have a robust experience that is balanced and resonates with our audience. Other formats may come in time as and when it makes sense to introduce them.

Will the deck evolve like in other similar card games, so new packs will be released in the future?

Chris Straghalis: We have already spoken about the fact that we have more powers already in development so it’s safe to say that we will be releasing further powers in the future. The number of powers that we add, when we add them and whether we remove or re-cost existing powers are all still possibilities that we are exploring. For now we are excited to see how the Power Up meta-game evolves and to show some of the different directions in which we can take the game going forward.

"We try to keep a level playing field"

PokerStars Power Up

Will the game evolve so that players can collect and collate their own personalised packs like in Hearthstone? Or will it always be a level playing field in that respect?

Chris Straghalis: In general, it will be a more level playing field. We do not expect that one player in the game will have a power that other players do not have access to. We did discuss deck building early on but as most strategy card gamers will tell you; this aspect of gameplay can add yet another element of skill-testing. This is something that would make balancing for real money gameplay even more difficult. It could also have brought about regulatory hurdles about fair play practices that it’s just not a good idea to introduce and that we wanted to steer clear from.

In Hearthstone there are a lot of cards that can completely reverse the fortune of a game and effectively win it, my observation is that by contrast there are few cards that dramatically change the game in Power Up. Do you agree, and was this a conscious choice to keep the poker itself still the core part of the game?

Chris Straghalis: Yes - it was a very specific rule early on when doing game balancing that we do not want to have powers that say “I win” on them. In fact, the first power ever designed unfortunately never made it into the final version of the game. One of the game designers created a power called “Zombie” which, when played, would bring a player who had folded back into the game. Their cards would be live again, overcoming that familiar complaint we all have about folding a hand like 92o and having the flop come 992. The problem was that in practice it was a power that almost always said “I win” because you would only use it when you had the nuts (or near nuts). That doesn’t mean we have given up on the power, but it will have to change before we ever let it see the light of day.

I have a theory that, if heads-up and deeper stacks, a pro would still have an edge over a recreational player if the pro was not allowed to use their power ups, what do you think of that potential prop bet idea?

Chris Straghalis: I think it depends on your definition of a recreational player and also, probably more importantly, the number and content of the powers that are in the game at that moment in time. If the recreational player was already into strategy gaming, and we had the right mix of powers out there, I’d take the recreational side of that prop. Considering that some of the powers can be devastating in combination, the fact that the Pro player couldn’t play powers at all is a pretty massive handicap. The other rules, such as the number of powers the recreational player would be allowed to have (current Power Up cap is 3), plus the energy cap and renewal rate (currently 15 and +2 per hand respectively), would also have a large impact on the prop.

What do you think of real money Power Up? Share your views in the comments:

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Comments (3)

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  • jmackenzie


    v nice interview. The only worry I have with this game is whether stars will give it a fair rake structure. Other than that it's pretty exciting
  • gormless


    Rake is 8%
  • Penculik


    ??????? Lol