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Puzzle Strike» Forums » Reviews

Subject: [Great Game Purge #2] - Puzzle Strike Second Edition - Still worth it? rss

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Jason Carr
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This is #2 in a series of reviews. See The Great Game Purge for more info.

Most of this review still applies to the Third Edition. If you are just trying to decide if a great deal on the Second Edition is a worthy purchase, skip to my Conclusion.

Overview:

Puzzle strike is a deck building game, played with chips instead of cards. The rulebook claims that it "simulates a puzzle game (that doesn't exist) that simulates a fighting game (that also doesn't exist)." The game was designed and balanced by David Sirlin, who balanced various video games (including Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix), and is a loose recreation of the 'Puzzle Fighter' video games, as a boardgame. It is set in the 'Fantasy Strike' universe, which is somewhat akin to the Street Fighter universe.

Gameplay:

Puzzle Strike begins with the basic deckbuilding concepts - 10 'puzzle chips' are randomly selected from a choice of 20, and these are placed aside for players to buy. In addition to these, players can buy any of three different purple chips that have special meaning in the game. Finally, players can buy 'gems' in denominations of 1-4 which also act as money. Gems have another use, however.

Each player has a 'gem pile' in addition to their bag of chips. These are separate things; your purchased gems go into your bag. The gem pile is where the interaction with your opponent happens. Each turn you ante a '1 gem' into your gem pile. As the game goes on you will accumulate gems; if you ever have 10 gems or more in your gem pile at the end of your turn, you lose!

So how do you get rid of gems? The purple chips, of course! There are three types of purple chips: Combine chips let you add two of the gems in your gem pile together - those two pesky '1' gems just became a '2'! Crash chips let you 'crash' a gem from your gem pile into '1' gems and send them to your opponent - so if you crashed the '2' gem you just combined, you would send two '1' gems to your opponent's gem pile. Finally there is a double crash chip which just lets you crash two gems and send them to your opponent.

So a basic turn flow is represented by 'AABC' - Ante 1 gem to your pile, Take your actions, Buy a chip (not optional), and Cleanup (discard remaining hand and draw 5 new chips).

If you haven't figured it out yet, here's something to consider about Puzzle Strike - while it is a deckbuilder, it's really a fighting game that uses deckbuilding as a way to make the game feel like the arcade. For example, combos are a big part of this game - even the example I gave of combine + crash, while rudimentary, conveys the essence of how you play Puzzle Strike. Combos, as you may know, are an essential part of arcade fighting games as well (see: Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat).

Theme:

I don't know anything about Sirlin's 'Fantasy Strike' universe, but it seems to fit the theme of this game just fine. It's weird, playing a game that is a reference to a (mostly popular in Asia) video game genre (puzzle 'fighter' games) that is a tie-in to a different video game genre (arcade fighter games). So for that purpose... this theme seems necessary. You have to have different fighters, with special moves and combos. It's what the whole game is about.

So while I have no love for the theme, it fits the game especially well.

Components:

This game is played with chips - cardboard chips unless you have one of the original wooden sets. The chips are a nice touch for a deck building game, but not without controversy. It's hard to hold a hand of 7 chips (which you will have to draw eventually). It's hard to keep chips secret when drawing them from the bag. But it's easier to shuffle them (toss into bag, riffle with your hand, done!). So while there are tradeoffs, the chips function wonderfully to actually play the game, and have a marvelous tactility to them that can't be matched by cards. The bags are a nice touch as well; they are top quality.

What do I think?

As usual, some biases to get out of the way:

- I do not like deckbuilding for deckbuilding's sake. I had Dominion at one point, but it was purged a long time ago.
- I don't like long deckbuilders. I had Thunderstone, I got rid of it. Too long, too hard to get good combos rolling.
- I'm a fan of being able to plan and execute strategies (more like in the preconstructed deckbuilding world like CCG and LCG).
- I got the Second Edition of Puzzle Strike on 75% off clearance at the FLGS. It was an impulse buy. That means I am way more inclined to look at the upgrade pack than the third edition.

The Good:

- Deckbuilding is secondary to the fighting in puzzle strike - you want to pile gems all over your opponents, and that's why you build the deck.
- Many characters, all feel different and have very different strategies.
- The core game engine is the Gems and purple chips; the puzzle chips are like icing on the cake. And the game engine is finely made.
- Plays quick (usually).
- Great with 2, good with more.

The Bad:

- The game is said to have balance issues. Now I haven't seen this but I believe Sirlin if he says so. However it looks like a casual player wouldn't run into these issues until they had played the game quite a bit. Mono-purple (only buying purple gems) is powerful but not unbalanced per-se, as long as players learn to counter. It's like the first time someone played 'only buy money' in Dominion against you - you have to think about it for a second, but the counters will become clear.
- Chips are not the best to hold in your hand, but you can rig some privacy screens to make this a moot point.
- The upgrade pack to get the game balance fixes doesn't include the fix to the underlying game engine (make Combines reduce your buying power by 1).
- Not compatible with the Shadows expansion... technically. Although you could probably still use it. If you didn't notice balance issues in the base Second Edition, you're likely not going to see balance issues combining it with the Shadows expansion.
- The characters heads are TOO BIG.

Conclusion:

I'm not enough of an egghead or deckbuilding fan to see the balance issues. I've read the strategy articles saying that there are broken characters and broken strategies; I am either not smart enough or not lucky enough to pull them off. For now, this game fills a nice hole in my collection and will be sticking around. In the future, I might ditch this for the Third Edition, but only time will tell.

Should you get it?

At full price: No, get the Third Edition.
As a trade or at deep discount: If you are a hardcore deckbuilder or want tournament balance, no. Get the Third Edition. Otherwise, yes! You might want to consider the Upgrade Pack for player mats, screens, rebalanced characters, and extra chips.
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Scott Everts
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Thanks for the review on the 2nd edition. I own this version and never bothered to upgrade. For my group we've had plenty of fun with it. Unless you are a super tournament player or play this heavily there's no reason to upgrade.
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Jason Carr
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ScottE wrote:
Thanks for the review on the 2nd edition. I own this version and never bothered to upgrade. For my group we've had plenty of fun with it. Unless you are a super tournament player or play this heavily there's no reason to upgrade.


This is basically how I feel. I don't think most players have the skill to know the trade offs that unbalance the game. For those people, the $50 to upgrade is probably not an unreasonable cost.
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Patrick K
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I picked the 2nd ed up at a store for $10. I'm happy with my purchase.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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I would not recommend getting 2nd edition as 3rd edition has more play modes and is compatible with the expansion. If you end up liking the game 2nd edition is a dead end. If you don't like it, the game will sit on your shelf like an albatross (trade value currently in the toilet).

I traded 2nd edition away with the upgrade pack and had to practically give it away.
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Jason Carr
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kaziam wrote:
I would not recommend getting 2nd edition as 3rd edition has more play modes and is compatible with the expansion. If you end up liking the game 2nd edition is a dead end. If you don't like it, the game will sit on your shelf like an albatross (trade value currently in the toilet).

I traded 2nd edition away with the upgrade pack and had to practically give it away.


I definitely see what you're saying. That said, I think I put the caveats pretty clearly in my review in order that people can make a clear choice. If they're interested in the Shadows expansion or the Tournament balances, third is definitely worth it.

I, on the other hand, have no interest in an expansion for this, so for $12, I was happy with the Second Ed.
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Scott Everts
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maudineormsby wrote:
kaziam wrote:
I would not recommend getting 2nd edition as 3rd edition has more play modes and is compatible with the expansion. If you end up liking the game 2nd edition is a dead end. If you don't like it, the game will sit on your shelf like an albatross (trade value currently in the toilet).

I traded 2nd edition away with the upgrade pack and had to practically give it away.


I definitely see what you're saying. That said, I think I put the caveats pretty clearly in my review in order that people can make a clear choice. If they're interested in the Shadows expansion or the Tournament balances, third is definitely worth it.

I, on the other hand, have no interest in an expansion for this, so for $12, I was happy with the Second Ed.

Our group only plays this maybe once every few months. So we've never developed any hardcore strategies that a group that plays it every week might do. We've certainly not seen any balance issues. And since this edition is going for pennies on the dollar, seems like a great deal to purchase if you are only going to play it every once in awhile.
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Rabid Schnauzer
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I agree with the general points here.

* 3rd edition is better than 2nd edition - but not by so much so that it's worth paying significantly more for most folks.

* Casual players probably won't notice the tournament level balance issues with 2nd edition.

But I have a few new ones to make:

* Casual players might be interested in the revisions to the multiplayer rules and alternate multiplayer modes added in 3rd edtion, and can download the updated rules for free to do so.

* The playmats and screens are included with 3rd edition, while they were sold separately for 2nd.

* 2md edition + Upgrade pack is not the same game as 3rd edition. The Upgrade pack was sort of a 2.5 edition. The major difference is that 3rd Edition (and the Shadows expansion) were designed with the -$1 Combine.
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Garcian Smith
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ScottE wrote:
Thanks for the review on the 2nd edition. I own this version and never bothered to upgrade. For my group we've had plenty of fun with it. Unless you are a super tournament player or play this heavily there's no reason to upgrade.


And this is my point exactly. If you only play the game once in a while, these "balance" changes won't even be noticed. Otherwise you are playing the same hack-at-each-other game that the 3rd edition is. The other big change besides the chip is the FFA mode is different. In the 2nd version, you attack the person on your left if I remember correctly. In the 3rd edition, it's a free-for-all, so you can choose who to hit. The chips have been reworded to reflect this.

A lot of people who are getting mad are mad because they insist on getting the latest and greatest - a stubbornness that's attached to their tendencies. But the thing is if you barely play the game, you won't notice the changes and if you do notice the changes, you probably played the older versions dozens of times, making the game well worth the money you paid for.
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