Balatro has consumed my life and I cannot put it down

If you’ve somehow never played a video game but absolutely adore cards, the treasure trove of riches available to you is frankly unimaginable.

You may never leave your house again, in fact. There’s just so many great games to pick and choose from – Hearthstone, Uno, Slay the Spire, Gwent, Marvel Snap. Just naming a few off the top of my head.

And now there’s Balatro which is, without question, one of the most compelling, addictive, enjoyable, but surprisingly simplistic in some ways, deep in others.

At first, if you’re a dab hand at Poker, you live and breathe the game, then you’re going to feel right at home with this one, scoring enough points in order to progress through rounds by scoring Two of a Kind, Full House, Royal Flush or other such card combinations.

You’re playing with a conventional deck with the four main suits and have just three turns in order to play your best hands and keep earning money as you take on each challenge.

But soon the game stops just being about Poker. You’ll soon be spending that money on Joker cards which play around with rules and increase your multipliers. You’ll be taking on different rounds with new rules that affect the cards you play and everything you think you know about the game just gets spun on its head.

I’ve seen some people describe it as Poker 2.0 in fact, and that sort of rings true. The game is a roguelite in that you choose and select different cards that affect the routes you take and how you progress through antes. These are basically clustered stages of three rounds and you need to complete eight of them to technically win a game.

Except, as with all roguelites, you only win so much as you unlock a bunch of other things to do in the game like different coloured decks with varying properties and new joker cards to use in action.

And to further add to that, there’s other cards you can gather such as planet cards which can transform cards into different types, or even allow you to go into a certain amount of debt while spending.

There’s a shop available to you after each round and this lets you purchase these Joker and Planet cards, but you also need to be mindful you can only hold a certain amount of feature cards at a time, so are essentially customising a loadout all the time as you can sell old cards to help pay for new ones.

Balatro just kept surprising me and just when I thought I might have been done, I picked it up for another round. And when I wasn’t playing, I was thinking about the game. It gets a grip and a hold on you very quickly and it refuses to let go.

I feel like there’s still so much for me to pick up and learn about Balatro, but at the same time I also feel I have a good enough grasp to really get into the grips of it.

That’s what is so special about the game, it offers so much to the player in such a small amount of time and space, regardless of whether cards and poker are your thing or not.

You barely notice its sinister esque music in the background and its psychadelic aesthetic just manages to warp and twist in front of you, sucking you more and more into its intriguing setup.

Balatro is just a genius piece of design in that it’s taken one of the oldest, most commonly played card games in the world and somehow, amazingly, given us something completely fresh, different, enjoyable, and made it practically un-putdown-able.


It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what it is you love about Balatro. At times it frustrates, more often it compels, but you still find yourself sticking with it ante after ante. Card games come and go in the space so often and there’s so much competition for places, but Balatro is that special one that pops up and you just cannot put down. It’s an incredible accomplishment in design, somehow taking one of the most commonly played card games in the world, modernising it, and making it interesting all over again. Balatro is a very special game, indeed.


+ The core loop is so engaging and enjoyable that you’ll want to keep playing
+ So much variety in cards and loadouts that your gameplay experience is ever-changing
+ Cool, funky art style that leaps off the screen
+ The game keeps surprising and shifting hours after play, you just won’t be able to put it down.


– If you really hate poker, you might struggle to get on with this

Balatro is out now on PC, Xbox, Switch, and PlayStation

Code Kindly Provided by PlayStack for review purposes

Played on Switch

About the author

Jay Jones

Jay is a massive football fan - Manchester Utd in case you were wondering - and lover of gaming. He'll play just about anything, but his vice is definitely Ultimate Team.
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