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Subject: Puzzle Strike: Deck-building Combat! rss

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craig dias
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So what’s all this talk about Puzzle Strike? Is this game just another Dominion clone? Though it shares the deck-building aspect of Dominion, there are significant differences in the mechanics that give this game a very different feel. Puzzle Strike is advertised with the phrase, “asymmetrical balance”. What does this mean you ask? If I were to define it, it is the idea that players have different starting conditions but have a relatively equal chance at victory. Depending on the character you choose, different advantages and disadvantages are bestowed upon you. Then you're pitted against 1 of the 10 others in the lineup and fight it out until either you or your opponent meets a puzzling demise.


Before we get into the fun stuff about gameplay, I’d like to touch on the components of the game, keep in mind, I have the first printing of the Regular Edition. This game isn’t the cheapest game you’ll probably ever buy, and rightfully, you would expect to get a fully functioning game. When I opened up my box, I found the rulebook, a wooden divider to store the chips, the chips themselves, and the bags to hold these chips. The rulebook seems to be clear and concise, but I can’t comment on how well it actually teaches the game because I learned from an experienced player.

The wooden divider does a decent job at holding each chip in its place. But I find it hard to find a particular set of chips, it’s a bit cumbersome to pull out one chip and check to see what it is, only to find it’s not the set of chips you wanted to play with. This is important when you’re trying to make a specific bank to draw from.

As for the chips, a lot has been said about the poor quality of printing on the chips and I can confirm that these claims are true. The colors are muted and sometimes the text and art is blurred. I know there is an offer to receive adequate replacements, but I feel like I should not have to go through this hassle when I paid so much for a product. I can live with the chips, so I guess that’s a testament to their quality: they’re just good enough. The feel of the chips are quite sturdy (I have the regular edition) and they seem like they’ll last for many games to come.

Then we get to the bags. These bags are used to draw your chips from. They essentially get rid of the need to shuffle your cards (found in traditional deck-building games). This sounds great until you start playing. While drawing from the bags, my hand felt like it was reaching into a bag made of high grit sand paper, this annoyed me to the point where I really am considering getting replacements. Even worse than the abrasive bags is dealing with the chips! It feels very awkward trying to display your chips for yourself so you can plan out your turn. I find myself wishing these were cards so I could fan them out and see what the heck I’m playing with. And though I’ll have sturdy chips that will last for many games, I may not play many games because of how hard it is to actually manipulate them.


I’m not going to cover how to play the game, you can find the rules online yourself, but I will comment on the gameplay.

The characters are unique. Like I said before, the different characters start you off with 3 specialized chips unique to that character along with other standard chips. These 3 chips really affect how you might play a certain game as certain characters synergize well with certain chips more than others. This also keeps the game interesting as you play the different match-ups. As you play more, you will learn the nuances of these match-ups.

The game is balanced. With so many possible match-ups, how can this game be balanced? I’ve played what I would consider a substantial amount online and I would have to conclude that this game is indeed balanced. I find that each character has the tools they need to fight their way to a win. However, there is one character that seems to have a consistent advantage over anyone he challenges (though he definitely can be beaten). In general, the player who plays smart will win. And this is what you want in a competitive game.

Luck can be a factor. There are two things that add the element of luck into this game. First off, when playing random banks, your character may not be able to take advantage of a particular bank as well as your opponent. But this isn’t so much a problem as there are 10 chips in the bank in any given game that offer a wide variety to choose from. The other factor based on luck is when you draw your chips. There are times when you simply will not draw the chip(s) you need and other times when you’ll have outrageously good fortune. But this can be somewhat mitigated with careful planning and an awareness of the probability to draw certain chips.

Possibilities are endless. No two games are alike. The random chips in the bank and the different character match-ups makes for some serious replay value. It will be a long time until I’ve exhausted every possibility that resides in this game.

What do I think?

Games are both strategic and tactical. Before you even head into a game, with knowledge of a particular match-up, you can have an idea of the general gameplan you want to carry out. After the game begins, you can study each move your opponent takes and react accordingly. And so there is a nice balance between strategies and tactics.

You can express yourself. The variety of chips let you create all kinds of decks. There are decks that are focused on crashing gems at your opponent, other decks that disrupt your opponent’s hands, decks that let you draw endlessly, and everything in between. This game is much like art, you are the painter, and the game is your canvas.

Game-length feels right. I never find myself wishing the game would end already. Most games last around 10-15 minutes. This may seem very quick, but you can do a lot within such a short amount of time. You build your engine (deck), and let it run.

Game know-how is rewarded. Knowing how to work this game counts for a lot. As you gain more experience, you will learn the general pace of the game, and have an idea of what you want to accomplish in each phase of the game. The competitive gamer within me wants to inch out every advantage I can and win because of it. This game lets me do that.

Play this game! I strongly urge you to try this game; I cannot stop playing it (the online version is where I have racked up the majority of my game experience). Though I feel like I may never really utilize my board game version of this game, I am happy with my purchase as it supports the designer, his ideas, his innovations, and his work. Puzzle Strike is an experience you owe to yourself.
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