Sunday, September 30, 2012
Board Game Review - Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition
So now I feel bad. Sort of. See, the way we played it worked so well that we could knock out four games in two hours, and we loved it. When we played it correctly, we didn't like it any more, because it took too long and was kind of slow. What used to be a slam-fest is now kind of long in the tooth.
So I apologize. The rule change was not a rule change. This is the same game as before, but a little more free-for-all than it used to be. I'm keeping my first review up here, so that everyone can see what a maroon I am. I take it back, and when I review Shadows, the expansion to Puzzle Strike, I'll make sure to play it right. Then I'll revert to playing it wrong, because the way we used to do it, we liked it a lot better.
Here's the original (wrong) review:
It must be so awesome to be Dave Sirlin. Not because his games are successful - they are, but that's not why I'm jealous. I wish I was Dave Sirlin because there must be a parade playing in his head every day, where little imaginary people carry him on imaginary shoulders and whistle 'Hail to the Chief' everywhere he goes. To read the rules he writes, he is this generation's greatest designer, a veritable virtuoso of cardboard, the Amadeus of gaming.
Though I have to wonder - if Sirlin is so magnificent, why does he need three tries to get it right? Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition is the same game as Puzzle Strike 2nd Edition and Puzzle Strike 1st Edition (the original, of course, was just called 'Puzzle Strike,' because it came out before Sirlin knew he was going to have to keep changing it). The difference between the two predecessors and this latest iteration is that a bunch of the chips changed and the rules of the game changed. Yeah, that's all.
The least obvious but most interesting changes that Sirlin has made to his magnum opus is that many of the character chips have changed. By way of refresher, you start each game with three character chips that are unique to you, and buy more as you play. These character chips are usually fairly powerful and can really alter how you play. The fire chick can take wounds to do some harsh attacks, then throw the wounds away to do other attacks. The fish dude has lots of defensive capabilities. The panda is pretty good at getting paid. The ninja girl is extraordinary at showing people her bikini underwear.
The changes in the character chips range from 'so what' to 'I can't believe he did that.' The panda, for instance, has changed almost completely. My original copy was lost in the fire, so I'm going off memory for some of these, but I do remember most of these being pretty much how they are now, with several being very different. The changes affect... well, almost nothing, really. They probably make the game more balanced, so that you can win with whoever you use, since that's kind of Sirlin's thing. He believes emphatically in balanced tournament play, and fun is a lot less important than balance.
For instance, he probably thought the 'combine' action was overpowered. That would explain why it costs you money to do it, which would make it a little more difficult to decide whether to combine your gems if it were not for the fact that you almost always want to combine your gems whenever you possibly can. This particular change has almost no effect on game play, at least from where I'm sitting, because I'm still going to combine every single time I can, and I don't care how much it costs.
The rules changes, on the other hand, definitely change how you play. For starters, it's not last-man-standing any more. The game ends when one player goes over 10 gems, and then the player with the smallest gem pile wins. I think this decision was made to balance out the other significant alteration, in which countering attacks actually removed gems from the game.
As opposed to nearly every other change, which I have to say are all improvements, this cancelling thing almost ruins Puzzle Strike, at least for me. The best thing about Puzzle Strike was always how fast it went, how it would be almost a frenzy of action for 20 minutes and then you would be watching the last two players battle it out. I liked that. Hell, I loved that. I liked the old Puzzle Strike more than nearly every other deckbuilder, exactly because it was this frenetic, mind-bending duel that would build towards an inevitable climax. It was tense and fast and fun.
Now, though, Puzzle Strike 3 is not fast or tense, and that has the basic result of making it less fun. It takes almost three times as long to finish a game, and it has removed the tension and sense of impending doom. It might balance better, and it might make for better two-player tournament play, but it has made these giant strides at the expense of making it not as much fun to play.
I know Dave Sirlin is a genius. I know this because it says so in the rules, where he says how fantastic the game is, and how it's hard to make a game this fantastic. But genius or not, I'm going to have to overrule him. When I play Puzzle Strike with my friends (as opposed to tournaments, because I would rather lick the shocky end of a 9-volt battery than play this game in a tournament), we will not use the amazing disappearing gem rule. We're overthrowing the establishment, breaking the rules, forging our own path and striking our own trail. We're true innovators. Mavericks, if you will. What's next? I don't know. Maybe we'll start ripping tags off mattresses or feeding our mogwais after midnight.
I'm poking a lot of fun at Dave Sirlin here, and it's not entirely fair because I have, by-and-large, enjoyed all his games. Yomi was a blast. Flash Duel is still a riot, and the new version is even better than the original. And Puzzle Strike is still awesome, but in this case, it's going to be awesome because I am throwing out some if his rules. They might work great for two-player tournament battles, but they suck when you're playing with your friends. And unlike Dave Sirlin, I don't give a flying rat's ass about game balance, as long as the game is fun.
2-4 players (but apparently, Sirlin thinks you should just play with 2)
Many of the changes are actually better, and make the game faster
Still a pretty damned fun game
All tweaked up for tournament play
At least one of the new rules makes it less fun than it was - not broken, just less fun
I don't play tournaments, so I could care less about balance issues
If you're thinking about playing Puzzle Strike in tournaments, you probably really need the 3rd edition. If not, just play what you already have. It's still fun. Either way, you can only get this online from Game Salute:
SO MUCH BALANCE