Review: Pocket-Run Pool06 Jun 2018 2
Review: Pocket-Run Pool
Released 23 May 2018
I have never been good at pool, partly because I was never in reliable proximity of a pool table in my formative years. As I got older, it became easier to get a rack going as there seems to be one stuffed in the corner of every bar in America. These days, though, my pool agnosticism is a choice. Ultimately, I find easier ways to embarrass myself for the cost of any given game.
But Pocket-Run Pool has me rethinking my entire relationship with billiards. Since it graced my iPhone, I’ve YouTubed pool competitions. I’ve watched trick shot exhibitions. Zach Gage developed this game because he couldn’t find a pool app he liked. Unbeknownst to him, he introduced me to a new hobby.
I’m setting myself up for failure, because there’s something wholly unique about this pool experience. Gage has developed this knack for turning the puzzles in the back of your Sunday papers and those games that come pre-installed on your computer into this unbelievable concept that no one knew they needed.
Pocket-Run doesn’t dramatically change the concept of eight-ball, just as Flipflop Solitaire didn’t completely overhaul the classic procedures of Patience. You still rack up a triangle of balls and use a cue ball to knock them into pockets. Good players still think shots ahead, computing both how they will sink what’s in front of them, and where their cue will end up post shot to sink what’s left.
From there, the liberties start. Firstly, there are only ten balls with numbers spanning from 2 to 13, omitting 5 and 11. There’s no required order to sink these in, nor are there solid or stripe restrictions. Everything on the table, save for your cue ball, needs to find a pocket to call home. Maybe the biggest, most “a ha!” of changes, that make pool suddenly the most infatuating single player game ever, is that each pocket has a score multiplier.
When you sink a ball, it’ll get multiplied by the number the pocket shows, from a measly 1x to a mighty 10x. Every time you sink a ball, the pockets rotate clockwise. Now, not only are you trying to control the board based on ball contact, but also based on how you can anticipate the most valuable scores will be.
Every time you 'scratch' the cue ball, you’ll lose one of your three lives. Altogether, pool stops looking like an indoor sport, and takes more the form of a puzzle. It seems strange, considering his gameography, that he’d dabble in a parlour room game until you realize it’s just another way to sneak a brain-teaser into an unassuming entertainment staple.
The actual act of aiming and shooting is its own meta version of borrowing an established concept and tweaking it into something that makes too much sense. You rotate your cue by dragging your finger around the ball. An outline of your shot will project itself forward. When the ghostly ball makes contact with another ball, a smaller line will predict its path to a lesser degree. This secondary line gets bigger and smaller the most solid the impact with the cue ball, making your aim more or less accurate depending on the angle you choose to play it.
When it’s time to shoot, you tap one of the arrows and a cue pops in from the side. With a swipe of your finger, the cue thrusts, and the ball is let loose. How fast you swipe will determine how hard of a shot you produce. There’s no minute details like cue ball English to speak of here, which is a good and bad thing. You don’t have a great deal of control of how your cue ball moves after you shoot. You can’t reliably get it to stop on contact or manipulate it in different directions. Its absence does take the pressure off of you when shooting though. Not having to worry about all that stuff means you really just get to swipe and move on, letting the balls fall as they may.
The randomness doesn’t stop there. You have no control over the rack position during breaks. When your scratch, you have no control over where the ball goes. The latter can be devastating when you’re deep in a round of Standard Run, the game’s main mode. One scratch can put you out of position for a big score, and without the ability to try to influence your cue ball during your shot, any given exchange becomes a crap shoot. It’s possible to work around, if some of the outrageous scores on the leaderboard are to be trusted. A novice may have a hard time coping with that fact.
There are other, even more puzzle-y modes to try your hands at. The Break of the Week gives players a table of already arranged balls and tasks them with making the highest score possible with them. The static features and the endless re-playabilty make this one of the most engrossing parts of Pocket-Run. After a set a score, I’m always returning to try and find a new sequence to try and push it to the next level. Experimentation can lead to breakthroughs in your technique that can travel back to Standard Run.
Insta-Tournaments are like hyper versions of BotW. It begins with a pre-set break, but you only have one attempt to set your best score. Once you sink all balls, or run out of lives, that is your contribution to that rack. New Insta-Tournament racks spawn every few minutes, so you’ll always have a new chance to make a mark.
They spiciest mode in Pocket-Run is High Stakes, where you bet tokens that you’ll win your game. Your pay-out multiplier varies based on your score. Score less than 500 pts on the 1000 token table, and you'll actually lose money. The variation doesn’t end there. After your break, you take a spin on a wheel that will further modify your game with crazy variables. Adding a time limit or randomly changing the sizes of your balls even further creases the game of pool into some happy perversion of it that I’m all in for.
Ironically, Pocket-Run Pool’s greatest trick is that it makes me wish I could regurgitate this in the physical world. I want to run down to my local watering hole, take the cues out of patrons hands, and show them that there’s been a better way to play this game the whole time, and it was right under our noses.