The free demo for this awesome poker-based roguelike is closing in January, and I legit don’t know how I’ll cope

It’s a great feeling when you find a new nightly game—something you want to sit down and play for an hour or two every evening after a long day. A couple weeks ago I found my newest obsession: Balatro, a roguelike deckbuilder that uses poker rules (and then utterly shatters those rules). Since I found it, not a night has gone by that I haven’t played at least a few hands of Balatro, and when I’m not playing it I’m often watching videos of other people playing it. 

The amazing thing is Balatro isn’t even out yet: the game I’ve been sinking hours into is just a free demo on Steam at this point. The terrible thing is, that free demo is closing soon. No. No! Except: yes. Starting on January 1 the demo is going dark and my Steam Deck will become nothing more than an expensive paperweight.

Okay, the news isn’t quite that grim. A new Balatro demo is planned for Steam Next Fest in February, so I won’t have to wait all that long for it to return, and when it does it should be even better than it is now: according to developer LocalThunk, nearly 100,000 players have downloaded the demo and many have given feedback. “Your insights have provided us with a wealth of information, and we are eager to implement improvements based on your thoughtful contributions,” the developer posted on Steam.

I guess that softens the blow a bit. Also, y’know, I have other games I can play on my Steam Deck.

If you haven’t tried the Balatro demo yet, you should before it’s gone. Starting with a regular old deck of cards, you win rounds by forming poker hands to score enough points against a constantly-rising quota. Each round you win gives you a few bucks to spend in a shop, where you can buy enchanted joker cards that modify the scoring and rules. 

A couple examples: buying a four-fingered joker means I only need four cards to form straights and flushes instead of five. Another joker will give me a +4 multiplier for every club I play. A “blueprint joker” will copy another joker’s ability.

See where I’m going with this? With those three jokers working together, I can use four clubs to form a flush, get a +4 multiplier on each of those clubs, and then another +4 from the copycat joker. With a little magic those scores start piling up fast, which is good because the amount needed to win each round skyrockets quickly too.

There are also consumable cards to buy in the shop that can enchant your deck even more ridiculously. In one game my deck wound up with 11 identical copies of the King of Hearts—pretty darn useful for making four or five of a kind. New starting decks can be unlocked, too, including one with no face cards. That doesn’t seem like it’d be an advantage, but there’s a joker that rewards you for never using face cards, so if you can get them together you can run wild.

Every three rounds you face a boss who bends the rules, like not letting you discard, debuffing a certain suit, preventing you from playing straights, and other cruel tricks. That’s what makes Balatro so much fun, along with the excellent art, animations, and music, and that’s also why I’m so bummed it’s going away for a month. I’ll just have to play it twice as much until January.

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