I have a short confession to make. I used to think that games with luck cannot be deep.
Then I played Yomi, a glorified rock-paper-scissors game played with decks of cards. I played for fun at first. But then I kept playing, and kept playing, and I started to notice some patterns, opportunities to leave myself in better situations, ways to set up better bets.
So I started applying what I learned. I started winning, at one point beating an opponent seven straight times.
In Yomi, Punches beat Throws, Throws beat Blocks, and Blocks beat Punches. It really is, essentially, rock-paper-scissors. Theoretically, you could get very unlucky and never land a single punch on your opponent character.
Did I become a master mind reader? No, quite the opposite. I tried to take the Yomi out of Yomi. I started to play randomly at a specific ratio. For example, I would pick a ratio of Punch:Throw:Block of 1:1:3, and try to randomly play according to that ratio. So the first part of the strategy is picking a right lead ratio. The particular ratio depends on your character’s special abilities, your current hand, your opponent’s current hand, and maybe even your/your opponent’s remaining hitpoints.
For example, Valerie the Painter can string together a bunch of hits when she lands a Punch. At first I thought this meant I wanted to play Punch as Valerie, but then I realized I needed to play Punch the least. Valerie’s ability to combo Punches together makes her Punch cards more valuable, which makes it that more costly when she whiffs on her Punches (the card is discarded for nothing). So what I actually wanted to do is build up cards through Blocks, and then increase the odds of my Punches landing by playing them sparingly. Since I am Blocking a ton and Punching little, my opponent’s Throws will start to land more. This is okay, as I can afford to trade multiple of his Throws for one of my Punches, because my Punches go off for bigger damages. Assuming I am playing against a character with slower Punches, which is often the case with Valerie who is pretty fast with her paint brush, then I am not really scared of his Punches either. However, Blocks could be a problem if my opponent keeps playing them, so I need to mix in some Throws as well. I might use a Punch:Throw:Block ratio of 2:3:5 as Valerie, for example.
Now let’s look at Argagarg, whose passive ability deals 2 damage per turn to his opponent, provided Argagarg was not Thrown on the turn. This sounds like a defensive character, but he actually plays a high proportion of Punches! Unlike Valerie who hit for big combos, Argagarg's Punches are more like jabs for buying time. As long as he is Punching, the opponent will be wary of playing Throws, which lets Argagarg stay on his feet and deal 2 auto-damage. Argagarg’s combo points is very limited, so he does not gain great value from building up cards through Blocking. You need to mix in some Throws to discourage opponent Blocks, so that your jabs will at least land some of the time. I might use a Punch:Throw:Block ratio of 3:2:1 as Argagarg, for example.
In practice, the play ratio not only depends on each character’s special abilities, but also changes throughout the game due to other factors. For example, if you already have a ton of cards in your hand, then Block becomes less valuable. If you only need to land one more hit to finish off your opponent, then there is also less need for building up cards through Block.
The second part of the strategy is card usage: which cards to lead as Punches or Throws, which cards to save for combos and power-ups, etc. For example, oftentimes, I’d hold off on playing a Punch combo as Argagarg just so I can keep enough Punch cards as leads for more jabbing. In general, knowing which cards to play as leads, and which to save for follow-ups in combos, is very important.
And then we come to the third part of the strategy: yomi. Even though I try to play randomly as much as I can, humans can never be truly random variable generators. Moreover, if an opponent is playing a lot of Blocks, it might signal that his hand is short on Punches. So human tendencies, and limitations of a player’s hand, can make one predictable. If you can read this correctly, without being read yourself, then you can gain further advantage.
Yomi is very different from most games. There is so much tension, signaling, randomness, and strategy integrated together. It changed the way I thought about games of "pure" luck such as Poker. (Now I understand why there are professional Poker players.) Yomi even had a great effect on the way I designed Warriors of Jogu, another game with lots of deduction, bluffing, and luck.
It's very impressive how much skill is involved in this glorified version of rock-paper-scissors. If you like trying something different I definitely recommend Yomi.
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