The poker boom in the mid-2000s coincided with the birth of open-world video games and their endless possibilities. Naturally, video-game developers didn’t take long to cash in on that, with poker mini-games popping up in virtual worlds on every console.

While there are tons of poker video games out there, very few of them have actually managed to deliver truly memorable gameplay. Oddly enough, a lot of the games on our list provide more innovative and enjoyable poker gameplay than some of the titles actually focused on the game.

We’ve picked out six of our favourite games that feature poker as either part of the game’s narrative or as an optional mini-game.

Super Mario 64 DS

When you think of Mario and Luigi, chances are, poker isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. And if it is, I don’t know what to tell you. As it turns out, though, our two favorite Italian plumbers know their way around the felt. Super Mario 64 DS was a remake of the legendary and all-parts seminal N64 launch game, Super Mario 64, from the mind of VG GOAT Shigeru Miyamoto. The updated platformer comes with a selection of mini-games which, it’s fair to say, were quite mixed in quality.

One of the stand-out games was Picture Poker, a version of poker that saw you test your skills against Luigi. Outside of using a different deck of cards, the game plays very similarly to five-card draw.

After some deep reflection, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’ve realized that spending so much time on Mario 64 as a kid probably influenced some of my career choices (whether that’s right or wrong is for another article). As far as fun poker mini-games go, this one is right up there.

Super Mario 64 DS Cover

Grand Theft Auto V

You’d be hard-pressed to write ANY video game listicle and not include GTA–it’s the second-best-selling video game ever for a reason. Ready to have your mind blown? GTAV is actually the first game in the series to feature a poker mini-game. Given the themes and the overall vibe of the series, you’d think that poker would have been a regular mainstay.

In truth, it doesn’t even appear in the OG storyline; poker appears in the hugely popular GTA Online. In the online world of GTA, it’s all about building your empire, buying fast cars, purchasing mansions, and running your bizness. Essentially, the game actively encourages boosting your bank account at the casino

Players will find various casino games to try their luck at. The poker variant here is 3-Card Poker, which is a refreshing change as this is rarely featured in video games. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t allow you to compete against other players, but, given the constant expansions, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this make an appearance down the line.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Cover

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is another hugely popular open-world game from the team at Rockstar. In short, the game plays like GTA in the Wild West, with players shooting their way across the Great American plains.

Of all of the games on this list, the poker game in Red Dead 2 might be the simplest. And yet, it’s also the one offering that’s most likely to please poker purists.

While other games shove gimmicks into their poker games or offer different variations, Red Dead sticks with good ol’ fashioned Texas Hold Em.

Rockstar games always deliver memorable characters and moments, and you will see plenty of both when playing poker in RDD2.

While playing poker isn’t required to progress in the game’s story (we wish that is WAS), the felt offers up some valuable convos with NPCs while also providing a break from roaming the countryside on horseback.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Ok, so this isn’t technically a poker game, but it’s our list, so we can play as fast and loose with the rules as we want. And we do.

Gwent is a mini-game that you encounter early on in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. There are plenty of similarities between Gwent and poker. The game combines classic card-game elements, including bluffing and folding, and requires a certain level of skill and calculation from its players.

The Witcher 3 isn’t just a good game–it may just be the best open-world game of its generation. Hyperbole? Look it up. Fans of the series will also wax nostalgic about its predecessor’s dice game, where players rolled five dice to make the best combination.

Far Cry 3

Eagled-eyed gamers reading this list will have noticed that virtually all of the titles here are open-world games. This makes sense, as these are the games most likely to feature mini-games and the ability to freely interact with others.

Far Cry 3 is slightly different from the lot here because it’s a first-person game. This allows for a more immersive level feel to the gameplay experience. What’s more, Far Cry 3 also allows players to choose their difficulty level when they play. Like in real life, the more challenging the difficulty of the poker game, the higher the potential reward. This also allows you to travel and play poker in different locations across the game map, making it one of the most complete video game poker experiences.

Far Cry 3 Cover

Watch Dogs

One of the hottest takes on poker comes via Watch Dogs. Here, players can play traditional Texas Hold’Em in various locations across the game’s city. In addition, it’s possible to play at tables with lower-stakes tables and those with much higher buy-ins.

What makes the game different here is the hacking ability that is central to the game. Using an in-game, camera-based facial recognition feature, it’s possible to analyze players and discover their backgrounds while monitoring their stress levels during play on the felt. You can even cheat and find out what card your opponents have. A card shark’s wet dream, right? Technology, maaan.

To make things even spicier, it’s not always possible to see the hands of everyone at the table. Of course, those who prefer a more competitive game may not enjoy this explicit exploit. Still, the unique setup of the game has you delving into the Dark Side.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Let’s be clear:  If you have one takeaway from this list, it’s that video-game developers love a good poker mini-game. As open-world games continue to take over the gaming landscape, so, too, will you find more and more developers looking to push the envelope of online gaming. The result? More mini-games that actually challenge players. And thus? Poker, baby!

Poker isn’t just used as a way to draw us in, either. In many of these games, developers are putting innovative spins on the game and making changes that only video games can allow. So while you’re probably not going to improve your real-world poker skills by playing against a plumber or a cowboy, you might just get a new appreciation for the game. And, well, you love it already, right? Just don’t cry to us if you get stacked by, Luigi, alright?

Liam Hoofe

Liam Hoofe

Author
Liam began his writing career in the mid-2010s. After starting as a full-time sports journalist, he moved into the world of iGaming and poker. In 2020, Liam published his first book, "Stay Lucky: A Complete Guide to Online Sports Betting," and hopes to publish another in the coming years. He has worked with many top publications and companies, including Gambling.com, The Game Day, Casino Guru, and more.
Liam began his writing career in the mid-2010s. After starting as a full-time sports journalist, he moved into the world of iGaming and poker. In 2020, Liam published his first book, "Stay Lucky: A Complete Guide to Online Sports Betting," and hopes to publish another in the coming years. He has worked with many top publications and companies, including Gambling.com, The Game Day, Casino Guru, and more.