Balatro review

Balatro review

I might lose my job over this

It’s 3:45 PM. I’ve been muted on this conference call for a few minutes. I’m on an incredible run in Balatro, playing the Black Deck and filling up on Jokers and extra hands, planets and tarot cards. I’m going to take it down, for real this time. My hands are knocking hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m ready.

Suddenly a Teams ping.

“Dali, are you there?”

Fine, I look at the screen and reply. “Yes, what’s up?”

“Dali, are you still in the meeting?”

“Yeah, sorry, I muted for a second and forgot to unmute. What’s up?”

“The, uh, meeting ended at 10:45.”

Balatro has its hooks in me. It’s incredible. It’s the kind of stupidly simple, incredibly accessible, yet deceptively deep and addictive video game that comes along once in a generation. I CANNOT put it down. Hours go by. Days go by. Hand after hand, run after run after run.


Balatro is easy to describe: it’s poker. And it’s all on one screen! That’s it! Just poker! And it can be played just like poker, but it requires in-game enhancements to actually win more than a couple rounds. Those enhancements, which come in the form of Solitaire-like Jokers, or hand-modifying planet cards, or card-modifying Tarot cards, are all easy to understand for the typical poker player. But the deeper we get, these modifiers and how and where and when we play them can lead to mental math gymnastics for the hardcore card game enthusiast.

But that’s the absolute magic of this game. It’s simple, it’s understandable, and it can be mastered fairly quickly. But to EXPERIENCE it, to UNDERSTAND it, to LIVE it one needs to BECOME it. The levels of meta need to be planned well in advance, like settling on the idea that we may only want to focus on four of a kind or flushes or straights and then building all of the modifiers around that. In poker, however, we need to be ready for the quick turnaround. We MAY NOT GET anything close to the flush that we’ve been building up, and so we need to be nimble and flexible. And ready to accept addiction. The runs can last a few minutes or more than an hour, depending on how much effort we’re really putting in, but time goes buy. It burns up.

Meetings and work output would suffer around the world if (when?) Balatro ever hits mobile, and — Oh God! — save all of us if someone ever makes an actual real money gambling version of this game.

Balatro is a generational game. It’s going to be played forever, it’s going to have clubs built around it, it may even be studied in schools. It’s not a traditional video game: it’s a pure GAME. It’s something so familiar and yet so new that anyone can play it, long time gamer or first time grandma, and find the same level of joy.

We can all understand one thing: Balatro is here to stay.

This review is based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. It originally appeared on The SideQuest Live for February 20, 2024. All images and video courtesy Playstack and Local Thunk.