Balatro turns Poker into a roguelike deckbuilder, encouraging you to break the game

Balatro is a roguelike deckbuilder that takes poker rules and encourages you to break them, never mind whether you’re a novice or an expert.

Cheaters never prosper. An old saying I’m sure you’ve probably heard that teaches us that while you might enjoy some short-term success by working outside the rules, over time, you will pay for doing so. LocalThunk’s Balatro is looking to flip that idea on its head by encouraging you to break poker’s long-standing rules to reach the top.

The developers have taken the classic card game and given it a roguelike twist, turning it into a deckbuilder. That means that while you will start each run playing regular poker hands, that won’t last for long, depending on what changes you make to your deck between rounds.

Balatro encourages you to tactically cheat

Rather than playing against others in the traditional ’round-the-table, everyone sipping some alcoholic beverage’ way, the goal is to reach a set number of points by playing the best hands you can. Doing so in fewer hands or fulfilling specific criteria will net you more cash to spend. And then the fun, rule-breaking strategies begin.

Using that money, you can purchase additional joker, planet, and tarot cards. Each of these can significantly change your approach. Whether that’s making certain hands easier to obtain – you could achieve a straight without all consecutive numbers, for example – or increasing the number of points a pair is worth.

There are over 150 joker cards alone, each with a different ability. So, that alone lends itself to hundreds of different synergies for you to discover. And that’s before you throw in the tarot and planet cards, which enhance regular playing cards and the value of your hands, respectively. 

It’s looking to truly lean into what appeals most to fans of the genre. The Binding of Isaac has remained at the top of most people’s lists because you can, RNG permitting, get game-breaking runs where you have to work harder to lose. While the challenge is undoubtedly ripped away, discovering broken combos is an absolute joy and leaves you feeling deservedly smug as you coast through the rest of the run. 


Balatro appears to be putting this at the heart of the experience, meaning we could potentially enjoy that dopamine rush more often than other roguelikes.

Poker for everyone, including a novice

Don’t be discouraged if your poker knowledge is fairly limited, either. If, like me, you have only experienced the excitement it can bring through movies, then now is a good time to learn before promptly working to destroy those rules. In some runs, you could ignore traditional hands altogether. Poker is the base. Sure. But you don’t need to be an aficionado to excel. 

Regardless, knowing the rules does help, and Balatro is ready to assist the uninitiated. It allows you to check on the highest-ranking hands at all times in case you’re struggling to remember them. Don’t forget, it’s only a guide, though. Depending on what changes you’ve made to your deck, it might be more valuable to focus on playing cards from one suit rather than looking to create the best hand every time.

Stats keep the spirit of poker alive

Poker is often viewed as a statistical affair. All the best pros have a great understanding of that aspect and it’s often crucial to their success. LocalThunk is very aware of this, so you can expect data to prove useful here too. Balatro boasts an in-depth stats screen that allows you to study the jokers you’ve used the most alongside your best hands. All of which should help you improve your skills.


In that sense, it’s not too far from the spirit of poker. The gambling aspect is still there, although fortunately, you won’t have to put down any real cash beyond buying it in the first place. Anyway, the jokers, planets and tarot cards you buy might not mix well with one another, or you could double down on a particular strategy, and the right cards might not come up. It’s still a game of chance at the end of the day. 

Balatro will release on February 20th on nearly every platform imaginable, including PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

For more interesting articles on indie games, be sure to check out the links below!

This Article was written by: Stephen Gregson-Wood