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Subject: Puzzle Strike Review rss

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Scott Douglass
United States
Minnesota
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I've played Puzzle Strike 141 times, mostly on Fantasy Strike. I've only ever played 3rd edition, so I don't know how it compares to 2nd edition.

Overview

Puzzle Strike is a head to head deck building game. It uses chips instead of cards, but there is no functional difference between drawing chips from a bag or cards from a deck. Each player starts with a Crash, 6 1-Gems (money), and 3 unique character chips. There are 10 characters in the base game and 10 in the Shadows expansion, and their different character chips lead to asymmetric starting positions.

On your turn you add a gem to your gem pile, play an action, buy at least one chip, and then do cleanup. Your gem pile is a zone that builds up gems over time, and if you ever have 10 or more total value of gems in your gem pile at the end of your turn, you lose. Normally you'll be adding a 1-Gem to your gem pile every turn, but if you get into panic time (deplete enough stacks in the bank) the gem you ante each turn will get bigger.

After adding a gem to your gem pile, you can choose to play an action. There are different colors of actions, and arrows can give you more actions. Black arrows are wild actions, but there are also blue, red, brown, and purple actions. Blue actions tend to protect you from red attacks, red chips tend to make attacks that disrupt your opponent, and brown chips tend to improve your deck quality, let you draw more chips, or play more actions. There are 3 purple chips that are always in the game, Crash, Combine, and Double Crash. Crash and Double Crash are the primary ways to move gems from your gem pile to your opponent's gem pile, and Combines let those actions be more efficient and scary. Combine takes two of the gems in your gem pile and combines them, for example turning a 1-Gem and a 2-Gem into a 3-Gem. When you crash, you choose a gem in your gem pile to crash, so Combining makes those actions more efficient. Combines also give a black arrow and reduce your buying power by one for the turn. Normally you can counter crash when your opponent crashes gems at you, which reduces the total number of gems in gem piles and can protect you from getting too many gems, but 4-Gem crashes are uncounter crashable. When you crash, the Gem splits into 1-Gems, so a 4-Gem becomes 4 1-Gems so that your opponent doesn't benefit from all of that work you put in Combining those Gems.

You must buy at least one chip. Even if you have negative buying power, you can always afford Wounds, which are basically blank chips.

Your hand size at the end of your turn is determined by your gem pile. If you have 0-2 gems in your gem pile, you get 5 chips. If your gem pile contains 3-5 gems you get 6 chips. If your gem pile contains 6-8 gems you get 7 chips, and if your gem pile contains 9 gems you get 8 chips. Normally you discard your hand before you draw, but you can use piggy banks to keep chips between rounds.

You can also play with more than 2 players, in which case the game ends when a player is eliminated, and whoever has the lowest gem pile wins.

Review

Puzzle Strike fixed all of my problems with Dominion. The victory conditions are more satisfying, the game is vastly more interactive, the game gets going faster, more of the bank matters, the strategy is more dynamic, and it's much, much deeper. I also appreciate the asymmetric gameplay, and being forced to buy at least one card is a much better restriction than only being able to buy one.

While buying useless cards that give you points, and adding them to your deck may lead to some tension as to when you transition into VP card acquisition, it isn't very satisfying. Games where you race for an engine work better when the variety of engines are significantly better, like in Race for the Galaxy. Puzzle Strike is incredibly skill based, and you're not trying to get VP cards faster than your opponent, you're trying to knock your opponent out of the game, and winning a match against a strong opponent is deeply satisfying.

Anteing a Gem into your gem pile every turn works well as a mechanism to force the game to progress.

Puzzle Strike is an incredibly deep game, with myriad opportunities for incremental advantage. Controlling deck cycling, keeping track of what's left in your deck, and keeping track of what your opponent may have in hand are all incredibly important considerations. Since you have to buy a chip every turn, there's a clear trade off between improving your economy so that you have a better long game and applying pressure now. The decreased buying power from using Combines exacerbates this. It takes a number of games to even have a sense for what the strategic considerations are, much less how to prioritize and manage them. I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the strategy in the game, and I've played more than 100 times. A good player will absolutely destroy a bad player.

Each character plays differently, and there is a great deal of variety and depth to playing any individual character. Play changes significantly with different banks and different matchups.

Puzzle Strike is one of the best dynamic strategy games I've ever played. You have to balance between aggression, defense, and economy, and every move you make will shift you on the strategic landscape. There is a deep tie between the strategy and the tactics of the game, and you must take your opponent constantly into account.

The benefit of having a large gem pile means that you don't want to blindly empty your gem pile constantly and as fast as possible. There's a trade off between setting up stronger, more consistent turns, and vulnerability.

Puzzle Strike is my third favorite game after Mage Wars and BattleCON. It manages a level of depth and confrontation that few card games can match. Puzzle Strike is hands down the best pure deck builder.

I've commented my plays, so you can read about my games and how my thinking has changed over time here: http://boardgamegeek.com/plays/thing/123607?userid=410832
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Isaac Milton
United States
Reading
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I love more positive attention towards PS. One of my favorite games.
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Claus Jensen
Denmark
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Pretty much how I feel about the game.
It's brilliant, and by leaps and bounds the best deck builder I've tried.
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Ian Collier
United Kingdom
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It IS fantastic, and I have to say the three and four player games are awesome too.
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Moe45673
Canada
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I just played a 3 player game last night against a semi-gaming couple (they've mostly played Catan and Dominion, but recently started with Agricola. Also, they play the hell out of all these games. Also, they have played every Dominion expansion)

The wife was skeptical that it could be better than Dominion. "Have you played Dominion with any of the expansions?" "Intrigue" "Well, you haven't really experienced Dominion"

By the end of the night (3 plays), I am pretty sure they aren't as enthralled with Dominion as they were prior
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