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Subject: All that and a Bag of Chips - A SuperRad Review rss

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Scott aka SuperRadScott aka
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The Only Serious Boardgame with a Pink Box


Beginning in January, Lady Rad and I have instituted Sunday Night Game Nights and I couldn't be happier. After a savory family dinner on Sunday night and we put the kids to bed, LR and I settle in for what is supposed to be a relaxing and light competition, but it always turns into a no-holds-barred, battle royale of epic proportions. It generally ends with me weeping in a corner.

By the way, I love, LOVE the fact that Lady Rad can kick my butt in games.

"Puzzle Strike" from Sirlin Games is our first foray into the very-quickly crowded genre of deck-building games, the grandaddy of which is the very respected Dominion. The Deck-Building style of gameplay generally involves all players starting with the same hand of cards and taking turns playing card or using cards as currency to buy from a communal bank of cards. After each turn, all cards in-hand are discarded and a new hand is drawn. With each successive turn, individual decks become larger and customized to each player's style and strategy.

I haven't played Dominion, despite it being the most popular "designer" game next to "Settlers of Catan" for two reasons: 1) the theme holds no interest for either Lady Rad or myself (medieval times, and not even the good kind of medieval times with dragons, more like the boring medieval times with the black plague); and 2) the lack of "take-that" player interaction/opponent screwage. When I hear that Dominion is a game that "anyone" can play and "it's like multiplayer solitaire," well that doesn't satisfy my or Lady Rad's bloodlust.

"Puzzle Strike's" take on deck-building, however, is nothing but "take-that." The entire goal of the game is to play a strategic series of actions against your opponent so that they are overwhelmed with attack and can't fight back. The theme is anime style, inspired by a niche 90's videogame...

So it's pretty much the antithesis of "Dominion."



You know, like this... but a boardgame.


Every review thus far begins by likening "Puzzle Strike" to the video game that inspired its theme and mechanic, "Super Puzzle Fighter;" in fact, even the designer/publisher describes "Puzzle Strike" as "a card game played with chips instead of cards that simulates a puzzle game (that doesn't exist) that simulates a fighting game (that also doesn't exist)."

Cute, but I believe that sells "Puzzle Strike" short because this game is much deeper and sophisticated than its digital inspiration; and describing your niche game as being like an even more niche game doesn't go very far to acquiring anything but a extremely niche audience. Case in point, when I brought it out to Lady Rad for the first time, she said "This is really Japanese, isn't it?" But it's not, it just looks that way. And "Puzzle Strike" shouldn't be relegated to only a niche audience, it's much too enjoyable of an experience to not find a wider appeal.

Without uttering the words "Puzzle Fighter" any more in this review, the concept behind "Puzzle Strike" is as follows:

Each opponent has chips in front of them with a particular numeric value that is not a part of their hand, on each turn an additional chip is ante'ed (the Ante phase); if, after playing his hand (the Action phase), the player has a pile of chips with a total value of 10 or more, the player loses. During their Action phase, Players have the ability to take chips out of their pile, and send them onto their opponent's pile; opponents can play defensive actions which either negate chips, eliminating them from any player's pile, or send chips back over to the original player's pile. After playing actions, the player then uses currency chips in their hand to purchase new chips from the communal chip bank (the Buy phase); this can mean purchasing new action chips or more currency chips. During the Cleanup phase, the player takes all chips played or in their hand and discards them, then draws new chips for the next turn. Play continues until all opponents ("Puzzle Strike" plays up to 4) are eliminated.

(and that may be the most succinct explanation of the rules of this game ever.)


Round, thick cards, or as I like to call them, "chips"


Where the game gains its sophistication is, initially, in it's "character selection." Players choose one of ten different characters, each with their own individual action chips. This automatically means that each players' nuanced strategy will be different from each other based on the strength of their characters' respective chips. From there, players will build and customize their individual draw pile to take advantage of their characters' strengths. The chips available to purchase from the communal bank, are fun to play with in an attempt to mess with your opponent's hand or chip pile.

Though players are ultimately trying to send as many chips over to their opponent's pile, how you do that is entirely up to your strategy and character's strength. Do you whittle away little by little drawing out your opponent's defensive capabilities or do you reflect back everything they send to you by being aggressively defensive? Do you constantly foul up their hand by causing them to draw useless chips or do you silently build up a killer string of combos and unleash holy hell on them, making it near-impossible to recover. If they do manage to recover, do you have the chops to survive another round?

It's this constant back and forth that makes for a quick, fun, and competitive game. But those who don't like competition would be wise to steer clear, "Puzzle Strike" really lives and dies by whether your opponent lives or dies.

The chip concept is an interesting choice. Rather than play with a deck of cards that constantly need to be reshuffled and drawn, Sirlin Games went with the idea of having 350 poker-chip styled chips to serve the game instead of cards. "Reshuffling" involves throwing the chips into a fancy, velvety bag and shaking them around, drawing out the correct number of chips. I suppose playing with cards would allow for larger text and even some artwork like all of the other deck-building games out there, it also would have brought the price of the game down, as the chips are printed on sturdy chipboard; but I rather enjoy playing with the chips, it gives a personality and a level of "fun" to the game that would be lost if printed on just regular cards. Managing the chips in-hand may not be as convenient as holding a hand of cards, but I enjoy the feel of the game much more with chips. Personal preference, I suppose, but I'm glad that Sirlin went with this option in the final production (and gave the nay-sayers the opportunity to pay for .pdfs and print 'n' play chips on cards if they wanted to). Kudos to Sirlin, as well, for making an insert that efficiently labels and separates where all the chips go to make it easy to set up a game, and for making the insert reach the top of the box so that no chips fall out when storing the game vertically.

My biggest criticism of the game is in the rules which can be confusing for an, otherwise, straight-forward title. I believe that Sirlin was so tied to trying to draw an analogy between his game and "Puzzle Fighter" that some terms and concepts were made needlessly confusing, or outright absent. The idea that a player can "crash," aka send, a set of gems to their opponent and the opponent can "counter-crash" and cancel or send chips back is simple once explained, the problem is that its a fairly abstract concept to begin with and not one that's explained very well in the rulebook.

I firmly believe the game could benefit from a player mat that designates a discard area, an area for chips that have an ongoing effect, and how many chips you have in your building-to-ten pile. There are good solutions made by fans already, but an officially-designed playmat should really be made available along-side of any expansions "Puzzle Strike" may see.

And expand, it should. "Puzzle Strike" is a highly enjoyable game for 2-4 players (though 2 players may be the max fun limit) who like to turn the screws to their opponents in a quick, and colorful style.
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Adam Ruzzo
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Great review Rad, and not just because you used my (poorly lit and fuzzy) image of the bank . I agree that player mats for this game would help out a lot. When I teach the game I often find new players trying to put the gems in their gem piles into their discards or use them for buys. At the begining of each game when your pile only has 1 or 2 gems it can sometimes be hard to create a mental line on the table that separates your "pile" from your "hand." Fortunately there are some really great player mats in the files section that I plan to print out and laminate.
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Steven Harris
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Discovering loss without the satisfaction of winning
Huggable Zombie wrote:
"Puzzle Strike" really lives and dies by whether your opponent lives or dies.

I enjoyed your review, and want to respond to this particular point. So far, I've played the game six times, and each play has been enjoyable enough to make me want to play another round. What feels odd, though, is how the games end.

It seems that each player is able to tell when he's "on the edge", vulnerable to losing, but given that a loser (and hence, eventually, a winner) is decided during the loser's turn, the endings feel anticlimactic. There's a disconnection between the big crash that I do and, a few sub-phases later during your turn, you realizing that you can't wiggle out of having more than ten gems in your pile. The utterance is always of the form, "Oh, well. It looks I lost. You won." Meanwhile, the winner was likely busy fiddling with his recently-drawn chips, planning the next offensive move, such that the victory occurred while he wasn't even paying attention. The cause and effect of victory are disconnected such that we notice loss more than victory, despite this being a zero-sum outcome.

Perhaps more experience will alleviate this feeling, when we're less distracted with making our own plans and have more spare attention to monitor the opponent's status, so that the possibility of a winning offensive move will allow us to follow the momentum through to either actual consequent victory or the surprise of a comeback.

None of this constitutes criticism of the game. Rather, it's just an observation of how the sequence of play interacts with players' focus of attention.
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Alejandro Magno
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Interesting point I agree with. Its kind of a game flaw, That you dont kill your opponent he kinds of Die by itself.
even in puzzle fighter if the opponent COULD die by itself it was more common you killed it.

I dont know what could have been done to improve that, I dont know if its worth the effort, but I agree its a flaw and its there.
 
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Scott aka SuperRadScott aka
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Waterd wrote:
Interesting point I agree with. Its kind of a game flaw, That you dont kill your opponent he kinds of Die by itself.
even in puzzle fighter if the opponent COULD die by itself it was more common you killed it.

I dont know what could have been done to improve that, I dont know if its worth the effort, but I agree its a flaw and its there.


Hmmm, I don't agree that this is a "flaw" in the game, though I can certainly see how it could be taken as anticlimactic by some. For my group, the game really ended for a player with the final crash that overwhelmed them. Generally, once you see a deluge of gems coming your way, everyone at the table has that knowing "oh man!" moment - he's down and out - written off. The fun is already had by that time because most of the table congratulates the aggressor, "good use of chips." but then the super-fun comes when the victim can rise from the ashes and strike out on his turn, getting out from the 10+ gems and send them to anyone else on the table - even better if its retribution on the guy who put him in that place to begin with.

That's when a great game turns into an amazing game.
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K
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Nice review!

and yea I feel the same way about the end-game. Although the loser technically losing on his own turn thing is a good point, the FEELING behind it in my games is that when I send a bunch of crash gems at them, I killed them. It's just that they have a chance to respond and not die, but it does not take away from the satisfaction of knowing I launched a devastating attack that killed them when they cant recover

As for some points that stood out to me that were raised in the original review... I like your point about all the focus on the "Puzzle Fighter theme" may be unfairly limiting interest in the game to those who are familiar with Puzzle Fighter, when in reality they're entirely different animals despite the source of inspiration

Chips VS Cards... shaking the bag is certainly a fun idea, and I don't think the game would feel as "good" when launching attacks if you did so with cards. There's something extremely satisfying about picking up some chips and putting them in your opponents gem pile. You can just feel the damage you're doing in your hand.

At the same time, organizing your hand as you draw your chips randomly without letting anyone see your hand is challenging. In my few playings I've accidentally gotten a glimpse of my opponents hand without trying to peek quite a few times

Loving this game so far
 
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George Leach
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I'd point out that you describe this game as the antithesis of Dominion. Similarly to Sirlin's Flash Duel in comparison to En Garde, Puzzle Strike is very very heavily based on Dominion, a better description would use the antithesis of "antithesis". The only significant differences are the character customisation and theming. There isn't a great deal of difference, mechanically, in the gem stack as a timing element.
I would say if you like Dominion you will certainly like Puzzle Strike and vice versa though you may find one appeals more than the other by having slightly more 'take that' involved and a cuter (though very weighty) production. If Sirlin continues in expanding the game he will find balance issues arise. I suspect that the game already has some balance issues depending on the initial layout for each game. I'd take a guess that, on average (i.e. across all possible initial layouts), the characters are reasonably balanced as that appears to be Sirlin's expertise.
A great game but I prefer Dominion.
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Scott aka SuperRadScott aka
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Jugular wrote:
Puzzle Strike is very very heavily based on Dominion, a better description would use the antithesis of "antithesis".


Well, again, one is set in Medieval age and involves becoming the dominant monarch through an optimal hand-management/solitaire system; the other is a brightly-colored, anime-inspired battle game where you try to defeat your opponent with a variety of fighting-inspired moves. I guess, you're right - it's basically the same!

I jest. Clearly "Puzzle Strike" is inspired by Dominion, of that there is no doubt. But I don't think you can say that all who like "Dominion" will like "Puzzle Strike" and vice-versa. They are distinct enough individually - both in their theme and goal, despite having a common mechanic, to have their own place and audience in the genre.

Again, "Dominion's" theme and playstyle don't hold much water for me, "Puzzle Strike," however, has the featured "take that" mechanic and playstyle that I really enjoy.
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George Leach
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Quote:
They are distinct enough individually - both in their theme and goal, despite having a common mechanic, to have their own place and audience in the genre.


I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this as, imo, neither has a strong theme (rued by many a reviewer for some reason) and the goal is similar enough that it has the same effect on deck building (two phases, build an effective deck / attempt to achieve goal). The downside to Puzzle Strike's goal is that it could cause the game to become interminable.

I agree that each will appeal more strongly to different people but there's no sensible reason that one will appeal strongly to someone while the other is disliked.
 
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One Armed Bandit
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Waterd wrote:
Interesting point I agree with. Its kind of a game flaw, That you dont kill your opponent he kinds of Die by itself.
even in puzzle fighter if the opponent COULD die by itself it was more common you killed it.


It's true to Puzzle Fighter in this respect. It doesn't matter how much gets dumped on you, you still don't lose until your last piece is unable to drop. If you have 50 gems dropped on you, but get JUST the right piece next, you CAN recover from it.

In both Fighter and Strike, it's not the attack that actually kills you, it's the inability to recover from it.
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Ståle Mellesdal
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How well does Puzzle Strike work with 3-4 players? From what I'm reading, it seems rather focused on 1v1?
 
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Adam Ruzzo
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Immanio wrote:
How well does Puzzle Strike work with 3-4 players? From what I'm reading, it seems rather focused on 1v1?


I think it works 100% well as 2 player, 85% at 3 player, and maybe 75-80% at 4 player.

The only time I find 4-player really falls down is when Really Annoying and Arg are in the game with a less-experienced player to the right of an experienced Arg. In that game arg has a very good chance of winning and there's nothing the other two players can do about it in some respects.
 
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S Marstiller
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Back on the game ending topic...I agree that it feels a little weird. This is pretty much how all of my games end (in person or online)...

Hold on, hold on...no, that won't work...but...wait, I think I can...no, nevermind, you win.

Has anyone tried playing to a certain number? If you ever have ten or more gems in your gem pile it's game over? Maybe the number should be higher than ten?

It would probably take a bunch of plays to see if it was any fun but might be worth it.

Thoughts?


I just played three more games tonight and totally changed my mind. The way this game ends is great. If both (all? I only play with 2) players are into it and paying attention then the tension at the end is there. I love this game.
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