What to play this weekend: Dead Man's Draw

Each Friday I highlight an iOS game that you should play over the weekend. This week's selection is Dead Man's Draw by Stardock.

Dead Man's Draw (universal, free with in-app purchases) is a push-your-luck card game with an enjoyable pirate theme. A lot of people are turned off by games that feature luck as a main mechanic. If that's you, move along. As for the rest of you, read on to learn more about this simple, fun game.


It's not easy to depict a card game on an iPhone. Trying to fit the cards, scoring and other necessary components on that small screen isn't easy. Blizzard's Hearthstone is a shining example of the genre done well. The developers and designers at Stardock have also done a great job with Dead Man's Draw. It can feel a little cramped, but not to the point of interfering with gameplay.

Each player's hand is displayed at the top and bottom of the screen, leaving a wide-open play area in the center. The pirate theme is consistent throughout, from the music to the art on the cards that look like woodcuts to the beautiful player avatars.

Game play

Dead Man's Draw is super simple to learn. There's a draw pile of cards and two players. The deck consists of 10 suits, numbered 2-7. To begin, the active player flips a card and observes its suit and value, or number. She then flips a second card, a third and so on, accumulating points. Each card's value will be added to your collection and, subsequently, your score.

Read: previous selections for "What you should play this weekend."

Scoring depends in part on what's in your collection. Only the highest card in your collection is scored. For example, if you draw a 4 Chest, but already have a 7 Chest in your collection, the 4 is not scored.

Keep drawing cards until your satisfied with the score you've accumulated by doing so, or until you "bust." A bust means you've drawn the same card twice in a single turn. If this happens -- and it will -- all of those cards are discarded and you score nothing. Good day, sir!

Ah, but not so fast! I mentioned the game's ten suits. Well, they have special powers:

  • Anchor: collect cards in front of the anchor, even if you bust.
  • Crystal ball: look at the next two cards in the deck without drawing them. Sword: Steal a card from your opponent's collection that's in a suit you don't already own.
  • Chest: Collect a key in the same turn, your cards score double.
  • Key: Collect the chest in your same turn, your cards score double.
  • Canon: Discard any card from your opponent's hand.
  • Sea creature: You just draw to additional cards after drawing the sea creature.
  • Mermaid: A boost in points; cards are now numbered 4-9 instead of 2-7.
  • Map: Look at three cards from among the discards, or "bust pile" and play one, activating its ability.

Lastly, the Hook lets you play a card from your collection onto the playing field (and activate its ability). Once all the cards have been drawn, the player with the most points wins. Simple!


Traits offer special abilities that are active for the duration of the game. For example, my favorite is The Oracle, which allows the Crystal ball card to peek at three cards from the deck instead of two. You earn traits by winning matches across the various tournaments you can play against the AI opponents (pass-and-play is available, too).

The thing with push-your-luck games is that luck is involved. There are many people who prefer thoughtful strategy. I get that. However, I have a lot of fun with Dead Man's Draw. There are enough moments to feel triumphant and despair that it's always fun to play. Give it a try this weekend and tell me what you think.