Other casino games Gaming

Lunar Eclipse

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.

With so many new gaming products hitting the market each year – all looking to gain their fair share of the market – it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Not so Lunar Poker, which combines widespread appeal with a uniquely interactive experience for players.

What is it that players look for in a casino table game? That’s not an easy question to answer. For some, it’s all about speed – you place your bet, you win or you lose, you move onto the next hand. For others it’s all about the opportunity to win big – while it’s nice to double your money on an even money bet, it’s even better to hit a bonus paying 30 to 1 or a progressive jackpot paying much higher than that. Some players want to feel like their decisions can influence the outcome of a hand; others prefer multiple betting options so that even if their first bet loses they can still win on their second or third.

Needless to say, developing something which appeals to everyone is no simple task, but the good people at Macau-based game development company Mara Enterprises Ltd believe they’ve come pretty close with their product Lunar Poker.

A variant on Five Card Draw Poker, Lunar Poker starts with an Ante bet being placed before the player and dealer each receive five cards, with the dealer’s fifth card being exposed exactly as in Caribbean Stud. Now is where Lunar Poker’s unique game play really starts to show. Unlike other table games of limited player interaction, players can now choose to improve their hand if they so desire by either buying a sixth card or by drawing anything from two to five cards before deciding whether to play against the dealer or fold.

Just like in Caribbean Stud, players win when their five card hand beats the dealers five card hand with A-K being the minimum hand required by the dealer for payouts to qualify. However, even if the dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify, players have the option to place an extra bet forcing the dealer to exchange their highest value card with the next card in the deck. This is a great option when players are dealt a high ranking hand.

“Lunar Poker is appealing to players for a number of reasons,” said Mara Enterprises Ltd CEO Dean Wilson. “The game is jam-packed full of non-stop action, fun and entertainment so players get a huge bang for their buck. Players have great options available to them and the fact that players can change between two and five cards to improve their hand against the dealer or even buy a sixth card and take on the dealer with six cards v five dealer cards, they see this as a great advantage over the dealer.

“The other great thing about Lunar Poker is that it is based on Five Card Draw so most people already know how to play the game. It’s very easy to learn.”

A big feature of Lunar Poker is the number of betting options available to players and these extend well beyond the original Ante bet and the option to buy extra cards. Before each hand, players can also place a “Super Side Bet” on their own hand, other player’s hands or even the dealer’s hand with the chance of a healthy payout should the hand bet on be dealt one of the eight “Super” combinations in its initial five cards.

Players will also be instantly paid out for a Royal Flush at a minimum of 600 to 1 – sometimes higher – or a Straight Flush at 200 to 1 on their original Ante bet irrespective of any other bets they have placed. You will even find a progressive jackpot for Lunar Poker at some casinos.

Super Bet Payouts
4 of a kind
5 picture cards
Full House
30/1 Straight
8/1 3 of a kind
5/1 Ace-King-Queen
2/1 5 cards of same colour

“The Multi Super Bet and Dealer Super Bet were added to guarantee nonstop excitement and action, giving players endless opportunities to place as many big money winning bets as they like,” explained Wilson. “Being able to bet on your friend’s hand allows people to share in the winning moments and brings a real sense of community, fun and entertainment to the table which is not found on any other poker game.

“Betting on the dealer’s hand is very exciting, especially when all of the other players have also bet on the dealer to have a Super combination in their hand. The anticipation as the dealer’s cards are being turned is amazing and you can imagine the reaction when the whole table wins at once because the dealer has a Super hand!

“Being able to bet on the dealer’s hand also keeps players in the game right through to the end of the round. Even if the player has folded a poor hand, they still have a chance of anything from 2 to 1 through to a 250 to 1 payout on their dealer Super Bet.”

The good news for players is that even with these multiple betting options, the developers have managed to keep the house edge down to a quite reasonable 2.38 percent. This places it behind the top value games for players like baccarat and blackjack but well ahead of other poker variants such as Caribbean Stud and Three Card Poker.

In fact, the hope is that Lunar Poker will specifically appeal to poker players who not only tend to have a bit of gamble in them but will appreciate the opportunity to put their knowledge of draw games to good use. As a highly interactive poker table game, it is a truly unique product in a market where so many games tend to blend into one another.

It’s also a hard game to miss – the bright purple felt and sharp digital displays certainly make it stand out from the crowd.

So where can you find Lunar Poker?

For the time being, Asian players will need to head to Manila where both Resorts World Manila and Solaire have tables operating but their spread is set to expand soon. In Macau, both Wynn and City of Dreams are looking to offer the game, while one property in Australia and two in New Zealand will launch tables between September and November this year.

Elsewhere, Lunar Poker has been going strong at South Africa’s Carnival City in Johannesburg for a number of years and at Vanuatu’s Grand Casino since December 2013. Most of Mara Enterprises’ efforts in 2014 have been focussed on the United States and it is anticipated that 35 casinos will boast live tables by the end of the year, when focus will inevitably switch back to Macau and Australasia.

The fact that Lunar Poker has already been so well received across a number of different gaming regions is impressive given how vastly player types can vary, but then this is a game that just might be able to appeal to almost everyone. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it when it finally comes to Macau. You might even see some of your friendly World Gaming staff playing a hand or two as we try to hit one of those attractive Super Bets!