I failed to mention that I played Parlay recently at one of our lunchtime gaming sessions at work. I met Jennifer and Paul Sturgis, designers and owners of Real Deal Games, at Origins and picked up a couple of copies of the game. I only managed a quick demo with Paul at the show, but we had a great time chatting about the gaming business and came to learn that we have a lot in common - Parlay was conceived while Jennifer and Paul were living in Sunriver, OR.
Parlay combines a word-game mechanic (similar to Alpha Playing Cards) with a creative poker mechanic. We played the 7-card Texas hold 'em variant that plays like the game we all know and love, but instead of betting rounds players get the option to exchange hole cards. After all five common cards are turned up, players then decide to stay or fold. If you fold, you get to score the word value of the best word you can make with your hole and the common cards. If you stay, you are competing for the best hand point total, which will be a combination of your poker hand (you get a bonus if you have the best poker hand), word bonuses for length, and (maybe) bluff bonuses for calling others on their fictional words.
There was more tension in the stay/fold decision than I expected. It doesn't feel like you are betting ala poker - it is more of a press-your-luck, all-or-nothing mechanic. Do I take the safe points and score my word, or do I try and double up and pull far away from the others?
While you probably won't like this game if you don't enjoy word games (Scrabble, Boggle, etc.), if you do it is worth picking up and playing. Everyone in our group of five enjoyed the game and at least one player immediately went out and purchased his own copy.