Balatro: Score Calculation

Details about calculating hand scores in Balatro.

Determining hand scores in Balatro can be quite complicated due to the multitude of mechanics in the game. This guide will explain the calculation process comprehensively.

Score Calculation in Balatro: Comprehensive Guide

The goal in Balatro is to build a deck which can produce hands with enough score to “beat” the final boss blind. As any other game in the Roguelike Deckbuilding genre, Balatro features a lot of mechanics for augmenting your score through jokers and card enhancements. However, how jokers and cards actually contribute to the score is explained only superficially in the game’s tutorial. This guide serves to help intermediate-level players understand better how scores are really calculated.

A very concise summary of how a hand’s score-calculation in Balatro is done, is through the obvious formula:

  • Hand Score = Chips x Multiplier

Now we come to the more intriguing question: How exactly are the chips and multiplier calculated?

As far as my experience goes, the chips and multiplier are calculated through several steps:

  1. Base hand chip/multiplier
  2. Played Cards’ Scoring
  3. Held-in-Hand Cards’ Effects
  4. Joker effects

I’ll explain each part more thoroughly in the upcoming sections. Note that Plasma Deck’s Chip/Mult balancing occurs after all 4 calculation phases are done, immediately before doing the Chip x Mult multiplication.

I’ll be using my own notation when describing cards. Each card will be written as

  • [Rank]-[Suit (S, H, C, D)](-[Enhancement]-[Edition]-[Seal])

Where enhancements, editions, and seals are omitted when not relevant. As an example, a 3 of hearts will be written as 3-H, while a Queen of spades will be written as Q-S.

Base Hand Chip/Multiplier

The first part of the score calculation is the simplest: The game checks what kind of hand you have, and adds its corresponding base chip and base multiplier to your chip and multiplier, respectively. The base chip and multiplier depends on the hand type and the hand type’s level (which is upgradable through planet cards).
For example, if our hand is a Straight, and our Straight is at level 1, then the game would add 30 base chips and 4 mult to our chip/mult count.
You can check the base chip/mult of each hand in Run Info -> Poker Hands.

Note that the ordering of the cards in your hand does not matter. For example, suppose your hand is

  • 3-S 5-H 4-C 2-C A-D

The game still considers this as a Straight, as the cards can be reordered to show the hands better.

The only way of increasing the amount of chip/mult you earn at this stage is through upgrading your hand levels, which is done via planet cards, the “Space Joker” joker, and the “Burnt Joker” joker. The base chip/mult for each hand increases linearly with the corresponding hand’s level, and thus some hands are more worth upgrading than the others. Of particular note, Flush only gains 15 chip/2 mult per level (which is worse than Three of a Kind).
You can check each upgrade’s value at Options -> Collection -> Planet Cards.

  • An important note is that if the hand’s level is modified, it is done before the base chip/mult is added.
  • This happens when you have the “Space Joker” joker or are going against “The Arm” blind.
  • As an example, if you play a lv. 5 flush against “The Arm”, the game will reduce your flush’s level to lv. 4 first, thus giving you only 80 chip/10 mult for the base instead of 95 chip/12 mult.
  • Note that as of the most recent update, “The Arm” cannot reduce your hand’s level below lv.1, and thus you can’t have a 0-mult hand anymore.
  • (As a trivia, there used to be lv. 0)

If you’re going against “The Flint” blind, this is where its boss ability comes into the score calculation. Both your base chips and your base mult are halved, meaning your base score is only about a quarter of what it would’ve been otherwise.

A bit of trivia: “The Flint” rounds up after halving, e.g. 7 base mult becomes 4 mult instead of 3 mult.

If you have the “Vampire” joker, the hand type is evaluated before removing enhancements.
For example, a hand of

  • 7-H 6-S-Wild 5-H 4-H 3-H

is still a Straight Flush, while a

  • 7-H 6-H-Stone 5-H 4-H 3-H

is just a high card.

If you have the “Four Fingers” joker, Straight Flush is attainable when you have both a 4-card Straight and 4-card Flush, even if they’re not the same 4 cards. This relaxes Straight Flush’s requirements significantly, and is why the joker is very valuable. As an example, with the “Four Fingers” joker, a hand of

  • 9-H 6-H 5-C 4-H 3-H

is a Straight Flush.

Other jokers affecting hand-type evaluation are the “Shortcut” joker (affecting Straights) and the “Smeared Joker” (reducing suits into only Spade/Club and Heart/Diamond).

Played Cards’ Scoring

The second part is scoring the cards in your scoring hand. Cards are scored from the leftmost to the rightmost, in the order they were in your hand, and only cards contributing to your hand are scored. This phase is also when certain joker’s effects take place.

  • As you may have noticed, the game has uses separate terms “played” and “scored” for cards.
  • “Played” cards are the cards you select before clicking “Play”, while “scored” cards are the ones that actually contribute to your hand type.
  • As an example, suppose you play
  • 7-H 7-D 3-S 2-H
  • The hand is a Pair thanks to 7-H and 7-D, and thus only those two are “scored”; 3-S and 2-H are only “played”.
  • Only “scored” cards give chips and trigger its effects.
  • The “Splash” joker eliminates the distinction between the two.
  • The “debuffed” effect also takes effect in this stage.
  • Debuffed cards do not give chips nor trigger its effects, but is identical to ordinary cards otherwise.
  • An important point is that if your deck does not depend on card effects, it’s fine to leave your cards debuffed when going against “The Verdant” blind.
  • I’ve won runs ignoring its passive.

As mentioned before, cards are evaluted from left to right in the order they are played. While in most cases this isn’t important, there are some cases where it is.
Specifically, it’s important when there are

  • Mult-on-score jokers and/or cards with the Mult enhancement, and
  • Glass cards and/or the “Bloodstone” joker.
  • As the simplest example, consider a lv.1 Pair hand consisting of a 10-S Mult Card and a 10-H Glass Card.
  • If you play it as
  • 10-S 10-H
  • Then the +4 mult given by the 10-S receives the 2x multiplier from the 10-H’s glass enhancement.
  • In contrast, if you play it as
  • 10-H 10-S
  • Then the 2x multiplier only applies to the base mult, with the +4 mult added afterwards.

TODO The author intends to make a complete list of on-score jokers.

Side notes:

  • “Hiker” joker’s effect triggers after the card gives its chip value. For example, an un-upgraded A would give 11 chips, and then be upgraded afterwards.
  • Each joker with “cards are played once more” stacks with red seal, and each give an extra trigger of the card’s effects and chips.
  • When having the “Vampire” joker while playing enhanced cards, the enhancements are removed before the cards are scored. Note that the “Vampire” removes enhancements from played cards; the cards don’t need to be scored for its enhancements to be removed.

Held-in-Hand Cards’ Effects

This is the third and perhaps the simplest calculation step, due to how few effects trigger in this phase. The game examines cards in your hand one-by-one, from left to right, and triggers its effects if any. Debuffed cards do not trigger held-in-hand effects.

The only effects that can take place are

  • x1.5 mult effect from “steel”-enhanced cards and Kings with the “Baron” joker.
  • +13 mult effect Queens with the “Shoot the Moon” joker
  • +$1 with 1/2 chance effect from face cards with the “Reserved Parking” joker.

I’m slightly unsure, but I reckon cards with Red Seal trigger their held-in-hand effects an extra time, stacking with the “Mime” joker if available.

When facing “The Hook” blind, cards are actually discarded before the played hand is evaluated (i.e. before the previous phase is done). This counts as a discard, triggering “Castle” joker’s, “Ramen” joker’s, and “Green Joker” joker’s passive, but does not consume discard uses. Cards discarded this way do not trigger held-in-hand effects.

Joker Effects

This final score calculation phase is pretty simple, yet it usually contributes the most (hence, in my opinion, why the “Jokerless” challenge is placed as the final challenge run).

The game examines jokers from left to right, giving +X chips or +Y mult depending on its written effects. All jokers with written requirements for giving +chips/+mult/xmult triggers in this phase. Foil’s +50 chips, holographics’s +10 mult, and polychrome’s x1.5 mult take effect after the joker’s effects trigger.

Joker ordering doesn’t always matter.
To be precise, joker ordering does not matter when neither of the two following conditions apply:

  • You have the “Blueprint” joker or the “Brainstorm” joker, and/or
  • You have both +mult (or holographic) and xmult (or polychrome) jokers.

The former case have obvious reasons, so I’ll just explain the latter. For a clear example, suppose we have a +100 mult joker and a x10.0 mult joker.
Ignoring the mult obtained in the previous stages, placing the +100 mult joker first gives +100 x 10.0 = +1000 mult, while placing the +100 mult after the x10.0 gives only about +100 mult.

TLDR of previous paragraph: put xmult jokers to the far right, put the joker you want to copy with “Blueprint” or “Brainstorm” in the right position, and don’t care about joker ordering otherwise.

If a upgradeable joker meets its upgrade requirements, it upgrades before giving its effect. (In fact, the upgrade animation plays before the played cards are scored)
For example, when playing 4 cards with a basic +16 chips “Square Joker” joker, it upgrades first, hence giving +20 chips to the played hand. The same goes for resets for the “Ride the Bus” joker and “Obelisk” joker: If the requirements are met, they reset before taking effect (hence giving +0 mult and x1.0 mult respectively).

In contrast, degrading jokers (mostly jokers with food-based names) trigger its effect before degrading. This point is relevant only to the “Ice Cream” joker, as all other degrading jokers degrade at the end of the round.

Side Notes

  • If you have the “Baseball” joker, the x1.5 mult effect triggers immediately after the uncommon joker’s effects take place (though the x1.5 mult animation happens on the “Baseball” joker)

A Note on Wild Cards

Cards with the “Wild Card” enhancement are considered to be of all four suits at the same time.

  • They are debuffed when facing any of “The Goad”, “The Club”, “The Window” and “The Head” blinds.
  • Having a Heart/Diamond Wild Card in hand does not prevent Blackboard’s effect.
  • They trigger all “played cards with X suit” effects
  • Discarding them always upgrades the “Castle” joker
    Verification is needed to confirm whether a single Wild Card is sufficient to trigger “Flower Pot” and “Seeing Double” jokers’ effects.

Afterword and Tips

After going through four lengthy phases, we end up with our grand chip/mult numbers. As mentioned in the overview, the score is then simply

Chip x Mult

No magic here, just simple maths.

  • Actually winning runs is a whole topic deserving a separate guide, but I’ll mention one score-related tip: A good deck needs a solid method for obtaining both chips and mult.
  • The game makes it much easier to attain 100 chips/100 mult than something imbalanced like 1000 chips/10 mult or 10 chips/1000 mult, all three of which attain the same final score.
  • If you do any maths, you’ll know that Plasma Deck’s balancing of Chips and Mult (i.e. X chips x Y mult becomes Z chips and Z mult, where X + Y = 2Z) never reduces the final score.

Knowing the order of evaluation of each mechanic also helps us identify combinations which do and don’t work. I’d like to make a particular comment on glass and steel cards: Since they take effect in phase 2 and 3 respectively, they are quite meaningless if you have a weak base hand multiplier (in phase 1) and no +mult card effect (in phase 2). They just don’t synergize well with jokers giving flat +mult, since such jokers take effect in phase 4.

Written by ~ Topology ~

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