Sunday, September 30, 2012

Board Game Review - Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition

Oh my holy crap. I have been playing this game wrong since I got it two years ago. It worked so well that I just assumed that's what was intended, and now I feel kind of stupid because I finally read the rule correctly and thought it was a rule change. The rules haven't changed for counter-crashing, I just played wrong for two freaking years.

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:


CWheezy said...

What do you mean the new cancelling gem rule?

You could always counter crash and stuff, with 4 gems being immune to this

Anonymous said...

I thint your italics font went on a bit too long, it is hard to see where the old review ends and the new begins.

-Niels, who cannot be bothered to log in to anything to post this and hence is anonymous

Alan said...


This review has got me in a bit of a pickle. I was looking at getting Dominion for a long time till I happened across your review of Puzzle strike, and after researching decided its the deck builder I would rather add to my collection. But I am looking for a quick game (about an hour for 4p... ish).

Is it still possible to get the old rules and play PS 3rd ed. with the old (quicker game) rules, or would it perhaps be better for me to just buy the second edition game?

I am looking for a balanced game, but not willing to sacrifice on time. So just wondering if you could comment and help me out.


CWheezy said...

Hmmm, I am not sure where his comments about game speed come from. I know offline is much slower, but online games are pretty fast, like under 10 minutes fast.

Maybe it is slower because you have very different strategies now?

Alan said...

I haven't played the earlier versions, but I have recently started playing online (completed 2 games). The games seem fast, and as you say, it will be faster online. But I am also not sure if I like the game ending with 1 player being eliminated, as I said I haven't played the earlier versions, but in my mind I think I would prefer the you can only attack the player on your left (or right, I cant remember) and can only counter from your right (or left if above directions are wrong).

Too me it seemed less about attacking a specific player, and more about just trying to get the gems out your pile so its no longer your problem.

Basically, I am still more inclined to the previous style/rule, that is, unless the balancing is a major issue, and/or unless I could still use the old play style/rules with the new games, as a variant rule option... Hope you understand what i mean.

Alan said...

Hmmm, ok I am a bit confused now, I see the review has been edited, and I am not sure on exactly which rules were being referred to, and which way it is meant to be played and which way Matt used to play.

Were you referring to the way the counter attacks work, or does it refer to the ability to target players, because I have watched clips where they can target a specific player to crash with gems and this idea doesn't appeal to me as much.

If i do get this game, i plan on playing it with 3 or 4 players more than i do with just 2 players. So all this stuff is crucial to deciding if i will get this.

But on another note, Matt if you could give your opinion, does this game still play better than dominion, even as the 3rd edition plays?

Guess I will have to do a bit more research now to figure it all out.

Beikoku Taichou said...

Alan, don't let this review fool you. The new rules for 3rd Edition are much faster and more fun!

First of all, the counter-crash rule is important (and was never changed since the game released.) Note that crashing fours is super important in this game, as those cannot be counter-crashed.

The new free-for-all mode makes games go faster and also actively lets players crash to whomever they want. The game ends when *one* person is down (and the lowest pile wins) so there is no real incentive to gang up on people. You may end up trying to save your friend, or helping your enemy because it will benefit you more in the long run.

MrEnzyme said...

The game plays great with 3-4 people, the reason it ends when someone dies is to stop people from ganging up on someone else. You always want to have the lowest gem pile at the end, and everyone gets to play for the whole duration. Best FFA in any board game I've played (as well as 1v1).

Tensider said...

I'm always so torn on Sirlin's games. They are very cool - I bought almost the whole line when Yomi first came out. Yet there is so much hubbub surrounding him and his designs.

The way he initially only wanted people buying from his web store (and admitted to only wanting to sell to distributors and FLGS for shelf exposure), the preexisting design on BGG for a Dominion chip that shows up in Puzzle Strike (search thread 591747 on BGG), and David's general mean, petty attitude toward any detractors really sours my enjoyment of what are pretty solid games.

After a certain threshold of knowledge has been crossed, I have trouble separating the game from the designer. Sometimes I wish I didn't. I don't want to be the internet rage guy.

CWheezy said...

Well I think it is important to point out that the other online stores were literally undercutting him for 30 bucks, which he did not expect to happen. I think it is fair to want your games sold for one price!

Also, regarding the art, if you look carefully, puzzle strike actually has many differences with the fan based chip, the only things being the same is that they both use arrows, they both have banners, and they both use a round chip icon for plus draw

Alan said...

I am not sure where i had read, but i saw that it was played where you pass gems on to one side and receive and counter from the other.

was that in the old rules? and either way, could you play the game in such a way, and would it be balanced? It had just been an interesting play dynamic when i first read it.

And how long does a game usually take with 3-4 players? just out of curiosity.

Thanks again for all the info, i think it'll be the next game i get, after Lords of Waterdeep...

Beikoku Taichou said...

crash to one side and receive from the other are the old rules. The new ones let you crash to anyone.

I've never actually played the new rules offline, but I am certain they are faster. When I played the old rules offline, games would take 20ish minutes, but now only one person has to be eliminated rather than three.

I'm not sure if the old rules are publicly available anymore, but you might try poking around BGG or if you really wanna try them out.

Matt Drake said...

The part where I was wrong was where we were not negating counter-crashed gems, and instead sending them back to the other guy. This 'variant' made the game brutal and very fast. The actual rules are a lot slower.

But this is still a lot more fun than Dominion. There's mandatory interaction, attacks and defenses and playing out of turn. I would rather play Puzzle Strike than any other deck builder except Nightfall.