Poker may be getting all the good press lately, but there's another game with its own semi-secret support society, a game of deceit, power, cunning and blatant tricks. You wouldn't know it to look at it, but the candy-colored Hardwood Hearts is a strategy monster.
A favorite for years, Hearts is a trump card game, meaning that all four players are racing to collect certain cards while avoiding others - namely, hearts. If you feel like a daredevil, you can intentionally try to take all the point cards in the game, which is called shooting the moon. Like a lot of classic card games, there's some funky terminology, and it's a little confusing at first. Luckily, there's an interactive tutorial to lead you through one step at a time.
You can basically ignore the ethereal music and goofy backgrounds (why are we playing cards on a Spanish galleon, let alone in outer space?), because the core of Hardwood Hearts is the satisfying strategy challenge that the game itself provides. The other key draw on Xbox Live is that you can play Hearts 24/7 with three other humans at any time, complete with voice chat. Yes, a deck of cards might be more portable, but the Xbox 360 is arguably more convenient.
Since the computer can fill in any empty player slots (or all of them, if you'd like to practice offline), Hardwood Hearts offers an embarrassment-free environment to learn the game or sharpen your skills. The high-def graphics feel like overkill, and the addition of Fooms - cutesy animations to "send" emotional outbursts to other players - don't make sense when you can chat freely with other players. At the end of the day, it's cards; no more, no less. Accept that and Hardwood Hearts is a solid purchase.