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I've played a lot of Puzzle Strike, both offline and online. This quick review details my thoughts on 5 of the characters in the Shadows expansion based on their current online implementations, which are said to be final. These are the five characters and puzzle chips that have the biggest impact on the game to me.

Master Menelker: In the "backstory", Menelker is supposed to be the guy who is always "playing to win" -- he will stop at nothing to ensure peak performance, even if it means using frowned-upon or taboo fighting tactics.

It's very appropriate, then, that this is such a unique character who has some pretty crazy things compared to the rest of the cast.

The first of his moves is Bonecracker, which essentially slows your opponent's economy by forcing them to discard their largest gem. And that's as straightforward as his moves get...

He also has Into Oblivion, which actually lets him eliminate an entire stack of Puzzle Chips from the game, making it off limits to anyone who wants to buy it! Since many characters greatly favor, or even depend, on certain classes of chips, with even trivial knowledge of the matchups this move can be absolutely devastating...

But neither of those chips make Menelker the nasty beast that he is. That would be his iconic chip, Deathstrike Dragon which is basically the closest thing the game has to a "super move."

It's a one time use chip that clears Menelker's gem pile of EVERY 1-gem, and then sends half of those gems to his opponent. This makes it not only a game-changing defensive maneuver (if he makes clever use of Puzzle Chips, you often simply cannot kill Menelker while he still possesses this move) it's perhaps even more notable as a game-changing offensive move. You know how crashing your opponent's gem pile to ridiculous heights is normally a game winning move? Against Menelker, it can be a game-losing one if you're not careful, as he shrugs off those 20 1-gems and sends 10 of them back at you.

Appropriate to his lore, this character plays hardball, and you absolutely MUST adapt.

Quince: Dirty, lying politician guy. This guy really messes with your head a lot and gives many agonizing choices to make. I haven't played as him at all yet, but I've played against him a bit, and he's probably one of my top 1 or 2 most feared opponents.

His "Flagstone Tax" move is an Ongoing chip that massively limits your buys -- while it is in play, his opponent cannot buy any chips that cost more gem power than the size of their gem pile. Basically, against a good Quince player, don't expect to get many good buys the first part of the game, and for even longer than that if you don't find a way to force him to discard it or to keep your gem pile high.

His "Two Truths" chip lets him select two different chips in his discard pile, and forces you to choose which one returns to his hand -- and he gets to play that chip for free. Expect to be forced to decide between and choose the lesser of two evils here a lot...

His "Patriot Mirror" ongoing chip ensures that he almost always has a healthy dose of actions to use. Good players will ensure that it is almost always in play, or about to be because it's really the chip that oils his whole engine and lets him get away with a lot of action spam.

Fearsome character -- if you do not adjust your playstyle against this guy I promise you will lose!

Zane: The wacky anarchist character. He has absolutely crazy effects such as "Crash Potato" and "Maximum Anarchy" that obviously have sort of a humorous nature -- but when used properly, Zane will be the only one laughing. I won't bother going into detail for the un-initiated because his chips are probably more jaw-dropping and hilarious if they're left a surprise, but I just had to include him in my list.

Persephone: This is a cool character that changes the game and lets you feel really clever using her in the process. She's a wounding character who has lots of pigs. But that's not why this character rocks. She rocks because she has a MIND CONTROL move.

Mistress's Command can only target an opponent who has a gem pile totaling exactly 6 or 9 -- and upon use, it lets Persephone place a chip into the opponent's hand, and then lets her play up to two chips from their hand for them. There are many creative combinations that you can use to hinder or outright kill your opponent with this move, so it is appropriately feared.

And the fact that its activation calls for specific gem heights is a brilliant design -- what ends up happening is many Persephone games involve a mini-game, a game within the game, where players are playing tug-o-war over the gem pile heights, trying to manipulate them in their favor in a whole new way.

Vendetta: This character's a fairly simple one, but he's a lot of fun to play because of his flexibility. One of his chips, Acrobatics, lets him gain two arrows of any two different colors. That means that he can put pretty much anything into his deck and find a way to use it.

But his signature chip is definitely "Surgical Strike", which is a lot of fun to use. There are many chips that force an opponent to discard chips, but Surigcal Strike allows Vendetta to look at his opponent's hand and actually select which chip to discard.

It's appropriate, because he's supposed to be the silent Assassin who creeps into your bedroom at night. Hide your Crash Gems, they aren't safe!

New Puzzle Chips

Don't want to end this without giving the AMAZING new puzzle chips a shoutout.

First off, there are many very interesting Red and Blue chips now. In the base game, red and blue chips were not bad by any means, but they tended to be fairly inflexible. That changes with the Shadows Expansion -- reds like Color Panic and Pick Your Poison are often snatched up quickly, and there's a new delicious variety of blues as well.

Some of my favorite new puzzle chips off the top of my head:

Improvisation: Blue chip with a really cool main and reaction. The main lets you draw two chips from your bag, and forces you to play both.

The reaction (to red fist attacks) lets you play another chip from your hand out of turn. Really, REALLY cool effect that I welcome into any competitive 2 player game!

One True Style: You remember how Gem Essence in the base game was such a fun chip to use, because it gave you an arrow of each color letting you put many more cool things into your deck? Well, One True Style has the same deal going on. Not only does it give you a rainbow of red, blue, and brown arrows to use, but it combines two 1s in your gem pile for free as well! Having new ways to combine gems without using the actual Combine chip is a really interesting addition.

Hundred Fist Frenzy: Now this chip is AMAZING to anyone who likes using red attack chips. Hundred Fist Frenzy is an ongoing chip that lets you crash a gem after you use any red fist attack chip. Amazing synergy. Red decks often struggle with pile control. Hundred Fist Frenzy is there to help/ Its discard clause is absolutely ingenious, too -- the only way it gets discarded is if your opponent chooses to skip his action phase. If you time it properly, you can activate Hundred Fist Frenzy at a time where your opponent needs his actions the most, and let the fists fly!

Option Select: I actually suggested the creation of this chip on Sirlin's forum at a time when they were looking for one more puzzle chip to round out the expansion set, and I was so thrilled to see it actually included! This chip is basically a blank check -- when you play it, you can play it as if it were any chip in the bank with a cost of 5 or less. This helps make the choices for what you play it as less obvious because it can't target the ultra powerful chips. But its flexibility can create some REALLY dynamic play and clever tactical moves. Its only weakness is cost inefficiency (it costs 6, and is trashed after use). The chip seems perfectly balanced -- it's in that sweet spot of "any better, and it'd be too good" which makes a chip really fun.

That's all! I actually love every single character and puzzle chip in the Shadows expansion, but those are my favorites.
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Apollo Andy
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I actually think Vendetta is a bit underpowered. He seems like he should be a lot better than he is, but getting acrobatics to line up with two useful actions is actually a bit harder than it should be. I will say that with Training Day especially and sometimes with color panic, he can be a beast.

My favorite Shadows Character is Onimaru by far. Wartime Tactics is so flexible and so powerful (it's a lot like Setsuki's Double Take) but also requires a lot of insight into the bank and what it will work on that it's a demanding chip with a high payoff. Coupled with Double Strike to keep his pile under control, Oni has a really high end for players who are willing to learn him.
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I find Vendetta one of the weaker characters as well. I find him generally satisfying to play though because Surgical Strike is just really fun.

Onimaru just missed my cut. Wartime Tactics is fun, but kinda stupid good. And Onimaru is actually more "influential" than Vendetta, but he missed out due to my bias. Or maybe it was the visit Vendetta paid me. Undead Assassins can be pretty convincing
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