Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition – A Written Review
Review #48 – Thanks For Visiting 2D6.org!
Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition By Designer David Sirlin – Art By Long Vo – Published By Sirlin Games
“Fantasy Strike is an Olympic-style tournament that takes place in a fantasy martial arts world fractured by political conflict. Stone golem Garus Rook founded the tournament series to bring together the many provinces of the authoritarian Flagstone Kingdom and plant the idea of a different way of life.
Meanwhile, Grave Stormborne has gained notoriety throughout the kingdom as the only fighter to defeat Rook in a tournament match. Though Grave has no interest in matters of state, his fighting skills have piqued the interests of several factions.” – Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition
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Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition, mechanically is a deck-building game for 2-4 players, played with poker style chips. Instead of players having to constantly shuffle a deck of cards, each player gets a cloth bag from which to randomly draw their chips from to form their “hand”. Each player takes control of one of ten very unique warriors from the fantasy strike universe, each with their own special abilities, in a head to head fight to the finish. The goal is simple, try to fill an opponent’s gem pile so that is has a total of 10 or more gems at the end of that player’s turn. The challenge is your opponents will be taking every opportunity to send those very gems right back at you.
Much like another venerable and well regarded “Deck-Builder”, Puzzle Strike uses very simple and elegant game-play mechanics. A player’s turn is made up of draw (Ante), play (Action), buy (Buy), and cleanup (Cleanup) phases for an easy to remember A, A, B, and C turn structure. The chips players will be playing allow a player to send gems in their own gem pile to another player’s gem pile, modify the rules, and basically make things more difficult for the other players leading to the game’s deeper strategies. In an interesting twist the game also has a built in timer that requires each player to add a gem from the gem bank to their own gem pile at the start of their turn. This creates a time pressure mechanic where a player cannot rest on their laurels and has to actively get rid of their own gems or suffer humiliating defeat!
If you are a child of the 80’s or played video games in the 90’s, you will remember a fun little game called Puzzle Fighter which crossed Tetris-like (or maybe more aptly Doctor Mario) gameplay with super deformed characters from Capcom’s Street Fighter universe to create an entertaining head to head game where players would match gems in an effort to send them over to your opponents “Gem Tower”. The victor was the first player to overload their opponents gem tower and cause it to come crashing down. The more gems you matched at one time the more you would overwhelm your opponent causing a fantastic back and forth game play feel.
Puzzle Strike matches that game play perfectly!
What’s In The Box
Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition comes in a 12”x12”x4” quality box that includes a fantastic durable plastic tray that holds all the puzzle chips extremely well. This plastic tray is very well designed using very thick (for a board game insert) plastic, built in dividers, and even labels making this game a breeze to set-up and put everything away. As an added touch for gamers who like to store their games on the sides the tray is actually oversized so the chips sit at just shy of flush with the lid meaning you can literally spin the box around and the chips will not scatter. I personally trimmed the plastic down though because I preferred not having to pull the plastic tray out to access the player boards each time I played…
… but if you have players who don’t know this it can become an issue… At least Sirlin Games gave us the option!
- 120 Puzzle Chips
- 30 Character Chips
- 20 Combines
- 16 Crash Gems
- 10 Double Crash Gems
- 64 1-gems
- 20 2-gems
- 16 3-gems
- 12 4-gems
- 24 Wounds
- 10 blank chips
4 player screens
4 game boards
All of this gaming goodness can be yours for $49.99. Of course if you are weary from all of your dojo training you can simply point your browser HERE to order a copy.
Puzzle Chips: The Puzzle Chips are the main component of the game and they are definitely very well designed. Let’s start with some visual comparisons…
… that is an American Quarter, a professional Las Vegas Casino Chip, and a Puzzle Strike Chip. As you can see the chips are large, thick, colorful, and include text that is extremely pleasing to the eye. No oddball fonts, background colors, or superfluous information is on the chips. While we all might love our artwork and bling I am glad they made the decision not to include excessive artwork on the chips in an effort to keep them less cluttered. These chips are made of very thick cardboard rivaling the thickness of game boards. The chips are all color coded and easy to differentiate, the Purple chips are always used in every game, the tan chips are the randomized chips, the gems have a large gem picture with a very large number in the center, the Hero Chips all have a small image of the hero on them, wounds have a brownish red background, making everything extremely easy to differentiate from across the gaming table. There was obviously a lot of foresight put into the production of these chips.
Cardboard Bits: The component quality continues with the player mats and the player shields. The player shields are made out of thick cardboard with bright colorful artwork reminiscent of classic 8-bit games from yesteryear. The shields are large enough to adequately block the field of view to your chips, they stand up very well, and, each shield has a small bit of text with some gameplay strategy hints. The player mats are also made of thick cardstock and contain some fantastic artwork. The player mats are broken down with white boxed play sections (discard area, gem pile, ongoing effects) to simplify game play and also have game play reminders on the bottom of the mats which is a nice touch. Any time a game actively lessens your reliance on the rulebook is a good thing.
Chip Bags: After a certain game that shall remain nameless I am always leery of any game that includes bags that are routinely drawn from, thankfully I can safely say normal sized hands need not be concerned here. Puzzle Strike comes with 4 large bags that are shaped like wine bottle bags, with a nice round flat bottom so they can stand up on their own. The cloth seems to be made of decent material, the draw strings while superfluous are nice, and yes you can easily stick your entire hand in the bag with ample room to spare so says the 6ft 03 inch tall 200 pounds large handed reviewer!
Rulebook: Last but definitely not least we come to the rulebook. The rulebook thankfully is well written with ample examples, colorful artwork, new player strategies (nice touch by the way), multiple suggested banks (more on this later), tournament rules, and finally sections that explain every single chip in detail. While I admit to having played numerous deck (and now chip) building games, I think even a neophyte to the genre could easily learn the game from these rules.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 9.75/10 – It is very difficult to find any fault with these components, there was obviously attention and foresight paid to even the most minute details. While I freely admit I miss seeing artwork that is common with most card games I understand it would be nearly impossible to get any kind of worthwhile artwork on these chips due to their size compared to playing cards. If I had one request though, I would love to see a collector’s edition made with real 11.5 gram casino chips, but I am sure that would cost well over $100.00.
How Does It Play?
Puzzle Strike plays like a traditional deck building game with a fantasy martial combatant theme that uses chips instead of cards. Players select one of the ten mighty warriors, each with their own unique abilities, in a head to head battle where players furiously try to empty their personal gem piles by crashing them onto an opponent’s board. The first player to end their turn with 10 or more gems in their gem pile loses and the winner is the player with the fewest number of gems left in their gem pile. Players will use Purple Chips to combine gems, Crash gems to send gems to an opponent’s Gem Pile, Puzzle Chips to modify the rules, and each combatants Character Chips to make things difficult for their opponents. Of course no game themed after classic arcade fighting games would be complete without a timer element and combos, thankfully both are cleanly integrated using the Ante, Height Bonus, and PANIC Time!
Gem Chips: Gem chips can either be in your Gem Pile or in your hand/discard pile. The most important thing to remember is that gems in your hand are used as money to buy chips from the bank and chips in your Gem Pile are NEVER used as money (barring a chip being played to break this rule of course). The total value of all the chips in your Gem Pile determines how many chips you draw to form your hand (the more chips in your Gem Pile the more chips you are allowed to have in your hand) and how close you are to losing the game. Remember if your turn ends and you have 10 or more gems in your Gem Pile (not hand, Gem Pile only) you lose the game.
Gems in your hand are used to buy chips from the bank during your buy phase the total value of the gems in your hand determines how much money you have to buy chips from the bank. The cost of gems is located at the top of the chip in a black square (on gem chips), a black puzzle symbol (on puzzle chips), or a black circle (on wound chips).
Character Chips: Each character has 3 unique chips with special abilities on them and a small caricature of the Character at the top where the cost would normally be. Since a player starts with all 3 character chips in their bag and it is not possible to trash them they do not have a cost listed. Each character tends to lean towards a certain play style so most players will select a character that fits that play style. Each Character Chip will have a colored banner and some gameplay text underneath it.
Player Board: The player board is broken down into three separate areas, the Gem Pile, the Discard Pile, and Ongoing Effects. The discard pile will only contain gems from player abilities/Puzzle Chips, Crash Gems played against you, or the Ante. Gems used from your hand to buy from the bank DO NOT GO INTO YOUR GEM PILE.
The discard pile is where you place all gems you play as Actions, gem chips played from your hand to buy from the bank, and chips you buy from the bank also go directly into your Discard Pile (as with all rules though some chips break these rules). The Ongoing section of the board is where you will place chips that stay in play until they are activated (Argagarg’s Bubble Shield for example). Finally the bottom of the player board contains a few game play reminders
Player Screens: The player screen gives each player a place to set their puzzle chips on the table without their opponents seeing them. Each screen also has a small game rule reminder such as the reminder on the peach colored shield that if a player uses a chip with a Red Fist symbol on it you can immediately react to it by using a chip with a Blue Shield symbol you have in your hand.
Purple Chips: Purple Chips are easy to identify by their purple background and purple banner. Each purple chip lists its cost to buy from the bank at the top and its game play effect under the purple banner. The Purple Chips are Combine (combine 2 gems in your own gem pile to create a larger gem), Crash Gem (send a gem in your gem pile at an opponents gem pile or block a gem sent to your gem pile), and Double Crash Gem (send 2 gems at an opponent or block with 2 of your own gems in your Gem Pile).
Puzzle Chips: Puzzle Chips have a tan or gold background and a black puzzle symbol at the top of the chip with the chips cost to purchase from the bank listed. Under the cost is a colored banner and game play text. Before the game starts, players select 10 from the 24 different Puzzle Chips to form The Bank. Players can either use the Introductory Setup, one of the Recommended Banks, or they are free to create their own banks.
Wound Chips: Finally comes the Wound Chips. Wound Chips have zero cost and do nothing. The chips even say on them “This chip does nothing” as a friendly reminder of their absolute uselessness. You have to make a purchase from the bank on your turn and if you do not have any money in your hand then you have to buy a Wound Chip from the bank. Unfortunately if you do not pay attention to the ratio of gems you are buying from the bank you can end up with zero money on your turn forcing you to buy these hand clogging chips. There are also Puzzle Chips and Character Chips that will cause players to add Wound Chips to their discard pile.
Setup is relatively quick and simple.
Choose the ten Puzzle Chips to add to the bank either using the suggested Banks or use some other method to decide which 10 chips to use.
Add the Purple Chips, Gem Chips, and Wound Chips to the Bank.
Each player gets a Chip Bag, Player Board, and Player Shield.
Each player selects a character and puts the chosen characters Character Chips into their Puzzle Bag.
Each player then adds 1 Purple Crash Gem and 6 of the 1 value gems to their Puzzle Bag for a total of 10 gems (7 plus the 3 Character Gems).
Draw 5 chips to form your starting hand.
Rulebook Turn Summary.
Before I break down the turn structure there are a few key terms to explain.
Trashing A Chip: To trash a chipmeans to return it to the bank.
Gaining A Chip: To gain a chip means to put it in your discard pile not your hand.
Crashing A Chip: To Crash a chip is to send it to an opponent’s Gem Pile. When a gem with a value greater than 1 is Crashed into an opponent’s Gem Pile it is broken down into an equal amount of 1 value chips (a 3 gem is broken down into 3 value 1 gems for example) this prevents an opponent from simply crashing the exact same gem right back at you.
Counter-Crashing A Chip: To Counter-Crash is to use a Crash ability to block a Crash and possibly send gems from your Gem Pile back at your opponent’s Gem Pile. Yes you can Counter-Counter-Crash which can be… you get the point. There is one exception to this rule a value 4 gem cannot be counter-crashed, which makes using Combine Gems to form value 4 gems in your Gem Pile a very valid tactic.
Panic Time: Panic Time is a mechanic to reduce stalemates and prevent players from playing too defensively. Simply put, as the bank shrinks, higher value gems are added to a player’s Gem Pile during the Ante Phase.
The Turn structure is broken down into the following 4 phases 1) Ante, 2) Action, 3) Buy, 4) Cleanup easily remembered as A, A, B, C.
Remember though, Puzzle Strike is an exception based rules system, meaning the rules can be modified or changed based on chips played by players.
Ante Phase – Place a gem from the Bank into your Gem Pile. Generally this will be a Value 1 gem but this will increase as you enter increasing levels of Panic Time.
Action Phase – Each turn you may play one Action chip (any chip with a banner). Some chips will allow players to take additional actions, crash chips, draw more chips, gain extra money, or save chips in your hand.
Buy Phase – During the buy phase, you buy chips from the bank. You must buy at least one chip per turn and bought chips go to your discard pile. If you have zero or less money you must buy a Wound Chip.
Cleanup Phase – Discard all played chips, spent gems, and any unused chips in your hand to the Discard Pile. Then draw a new hand of chips from your Gem Bag based on how many chips are in your Gem Pile. You must discard all chips and cannot keep any chips in your hand unless you play a chip that lets you keep a chip in your hand.
Winning the Game
Whenever a player ends his turn with his gem pile totaling 10 or more, they lose the game. In a 2 player game, that’s it! In a 3 or 4 player game, the player with the lowest gem pile total wins the game. If there is a tie for lowest total, the tied players each take one more turn, check for a lowest, and repeat until there is one winner.
A sample game might look something like this:
It is a 2 player game between Grave and Lum who only has 4 gems in his Gem Pile. Grave’s turn is beginning with 9 gems in his Gem Pile, 7 are value 1 and 1 is value 2. His hand contains 8 Chips including One-Two punch, Combine, Crash Gem, Martial Mastery, Mix Master, Sneak Attack, a value 3 Gem, and finally a value 1 gem.
Grave starts his turn with the Ante Phase and since Panic time has not started yet, so he adds a value 1 gem to his Gem Pile bringing him up to 10 gems. If he does not get rid of at least 1 gem before the end of his turn he will lose the match!
For his Action Phase, Grave plays his Purple Combine Chip to combine a value 2 and value 1 chip in his Gem Pile into a value 3 gem. The Combine Chip gives Grave -$1 to spend this turn and gives him another Action. Grave next plays Martial Mastery to Trash the value 1 gem in his hand and take a value 2 gem from the bank (don’t forget gained chips go to the Discard Pile, not your hand). Martial Mastery also grants another Action so Grave then plays One-Two punch to gain 2 more Actions. First he plays Sneak Attack which forces Lum to Ante a gem into his Gem Pile bringing him up to 5 gems. Sneak Attack grants a Red Action (play any red banner chip) allowing Grave to play Mix-Master. Mix Master doesn’t affect Lum too much since he doesn’t have any gems greater than 1 in his Gem Pile but it does let Grave combine a value 3 and value 1 gem in his Gem Pile to form a value 4 gem! With Graves’s final remaining Action from One-Two Punch he plays a Crash Gem to Crash an unblockable value 4 gem into Lum’s Gem Pile. The value 4 gem is broken into 4 level 1 gems and then added to Lum’s Gem Pile bringing him up to 9 gems and leaving only 6 gems in Grave’s Gem Pile.
For his Buy Phase Grave has -$1 from Combine Gem, +$1 for playing a Crash Gem, and a value 3 gem in his hand for a total of $3 to spend at the bank. Grave buys another Sneak Attack gem from the bank and then adds it and all the spent chips to his Discard Pile.
Grave only has 6 gems in his Gem Pile so he draws 7 chips from his chip bag. He only has 5 gems in his chip bag so he draws all of them into his hand and then puts all the gems in his Discard Pile into his Gem Bag. Grave’s player draws the remaining 2 gems he still needed to draw and his turn is now over.
Lum’s turn begins and he Antes a gem into his Gem Pile bringing him up to 10 gems…
Simplicity of the Rules: 8.75/10 – The basic rules are very simple and easy to follow. The challenge will come from the exceptions created by playing chips. Generally though anyone familiar with deck building games, Last In First Out rules, and is willing to take things one step at a time shouldn’t have any problems at all with the rules.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Puzzle Strike is a competitive strategy game for 2-4 players ages 10 and up. It requires players to learn Deck (chip) building, hand management, future planning, asymmetrical ability management, and requires extensive reading skills. The artwork is pretty sparse and the artwork that is present is very cartoonish with a “super deformed” art style. Visually the game is very family friendly and uses large easy to manipulate components which is very nice for younger children’s small hands. The gameplay mechanically is very elegant and simple but the depth and strategy in the game is very deep. Two different players given the exact same hand of chips could easily deploy two very different results. Additionally while the game uses very logical symbols to short hand for Actions (an arrow means take another Action, a black circle means to draw another Chip, a shield means it’s a defensive chip, etc) there is also a fair amount of text on these chips.
Considering all of this, I feel confidant recommending this game to anyone ages 7 and up. Obviously the older/more mature the player the better their strategies will be but honestly anyone able to read can easily play and enjoy the game. It also helps that the game plays quickly often taking less than 30 minutes and turns play out fairly quickly reducing the tendency for a child to get bored waiting for their turn to come back around.
Family Friendliness Verdict: 9.25/10 – Puzzle Strike makes a great family game. It easily scales from 2-4 players and plays fast enough that it can be pulled out after dinner for some fun family game time. Adults will have to “Go easy” on younger players though since this is definitely a game that rewards intelligent play and an aggressive parent will absolutely decimate a younger child.
Puzzle Strike is a very fast playing game. Once players are proficient with the rules, comfortable with the various chips, and understand their chosen characters strategies, the game is playable in about 25 minutes. Sometimes it feels like it takes longer to set up than it does to actually play! Like all games where players are building an engine of some kind though, it will bog down with new players as they will need to read every individual chip and try to figure out how to efficiently strategize. The game does play 2-4 players and even a 4 player game only seems to add 10-15 minutes max to the play time. The victory condition can occasionally cause a preying on the weak mentality though, if you have the smallest Gem Pile, then you will want to try and knock out the player with the largest Gem Pile to score a win. Fortunately Puzzle Strike mitigates this some by allowing a player to defend another player. For instance if Player A has a large Gem Pile, Player B has a medium Gem Pile, and player C has a small Gem Pile, Player B can play a defensive Puzzle Chip to protect Player A when Player C attacks him. Why would Player B do this? Simple if Player B doesn’t have the smallest Gem Pile they will still lose if Player A is knocked out of the game. This creates an interesting mechanic where the lead player can prey on the weakest but the weakest will be defended by the other players. Puzzle Strike feels balanced and really does play well anywhere from 2-4 players.
* Great quality components
* Fast playing
* Variable set-up leads to increased replay value
* Balanced asymmetrical gameplay
* Built in mechanics to help mitigate preying on the weakest player
* Fantastic box insert
* The game is simple to teach but offers deep gameplay and strategy
* Perfectly emulates the gameplay of arcade games like Puzzle Fighter
* Lots of direct player interaction
* Different Characters each with different play styles
* No need to waste money on card sleeves!!!
* A skilled player will absolutely trounce a new player
* Bad luck on draws can hinder your strategy
* Can feel unbalanced in a 3-4 player game where you have 1 new player mixed in with veteran players
* Players who do not like direct player interaction might not appreciate the game
But Is It Fun?
Puzzle Strike is a fantastic implementation of an arcade game I probably spent an unhealthy amount of time playing when I was younger… I can confidently say that this isn’t nostalgia talking when I say Puzzle Strike is a great game. I really enjoy asymmetrical games and Puzzle Strike brings well balanced asymmetrical gameplay to the table. Puzzle Strike includes 10 characters with their own unique feel and strategies. Argagarg feels defensive, Lum feels chaotic and risky, Grave feels aggressive, etc. Not only are there 10 different characters in the game, it also comes with 24 different chips to build the 10 chip bank making for an exponential amount of replay value and variety. The game feels different each time you play and while the obvious strategy is to gain a few purples in your hand, you can mix this in with some purchases from the bank preventing the game from feeling like it has one dominant strategy. I also like how the game has built in mechanics to stop the game from dragging on, players have to actively empty their Gem Pile or lose from the Ante. Panic Time is also a great addition (and from my understanding is actually new to 3rd edition?). Panic Time to me seems like a built in mechanic that stops players from cherry picking The Bank for “The best chips”. I didn’t get into Panic Time too much in the game play run down but that is mainly because I try to keep it brief and give an overview instead of a verbatim run down of the rules that can be freely downloaded. Basically and overly simplified the gems in the bank are finite and anytime a gem pile is fully depleted from the bank the value of the Ante is permanently raised. It is possible to have the Ante level raise to the point that each player will Ante a value 4 gem every single turn. Needless to say cherry picking the Bank will bring the end game about fairly swiftly. Do you take the last One-Two Punch knowing that if you do Panic Time will start? It all adds to the strategy and decisions this game will require you to consider.
There is a slight negative to this though new players can and will slow down the game quite a bit. Thankfully my experience has shown this to minimize greatly as players learn the game and the chips. I definitely would suggest sticking with the suggested new player Bank though to help ease new players into the game.
The quality of the components is also another plus for this game. For $50 you are getting thick quality cardboard, bags that are actually meant for hands larger than a 3 year old, and a fantastically organized insert with labels. The text on the chips is easy to read and the symbols are easy to pick up on. I will warn though that there is a dependence on the ability to differentiate colors required to play. A player must be able to visually distinguish between the following colors red, black, tan, grey, purple, and blue. While I do not think it would be impossible for a color blind player to play the game it will make it more challenging.
Puzzle Strike plays rather quickly making it a fun game where you can easily use it as a filler game or play multiple times in one game night. It has high replay value thanks to the variable Banks. The rulebook contains 6 suggestions for players to use as the Bank, but players can easily create a staggering number of different combinations with the included 24 different puzzle chips. It feels balanced, the game is easy to teach, and it is definitely not multi-player solitaire! The game does have a few detractors though, there is some luck involved. Granted most of the luck will be mitigated by a skilled player but it is hard to deny that a few successive bad draws can hamper your strategy. Luckily the game does have built in catch up mechanics which should keep the game tense and close till the very end. The game rewards skill and a skilled player will routinely trounce a new player. While this is a sign of a good game it can feel unfriendly to new players if the veteran doesn’t “take it easy on them”. Finally this game rewards aggressive play. Players who enjoy a less confrontational game might consider this a negative.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 9.0/10 – I really enjoy playing Puzzle Strike. It is fast playing, strategic, offers fantastic replayability, and is easy to teach. I am also a fan of asymmetrical game play and Puzzle Strike really shines here (especially if you buy the Shadows expansion look for it as review #50 or #51 depending on when Dreadball shows up at the door). I will gladly play Puzzle Strike any time as a filler game or as a main attraction on game night! One nice bonus I must mention, with the money you save on card sleeves you can spring for Puzzle Strike: Shadows!