Puzzle Strike (Third Edition) Review


A few months ago, I stumbled upon a "little" game called Puzzle Strike.  I really enjoyed Puzzle Strike, and so I wrote very kind things about it.  Because of this, I had the opportunity to try out Puzzle Strike (3rd Edition).  Since, as I just mentioned, I've already written about the Second Edition of the game, I'm going to assume that you're familiar with the basics.  If not, I'd encourage you to read my original Puzzle Strike Review, since in this one I'll really only cover the major changes between the two editions.

First and foremost - the majority of the chips have changed.  There are a few reasons for this.  Some of them have minor tweaks to make their text more clear in some of the new game modes.  Some of the chips were overpowered and have been made slightly worse to balance the gameplay.  Others have been re-costed.  Some have had one of their abilities altered.  But, of these changes, there are two that are most noticeable: Combine and Argagarg/Rook character chips.  In the second edition of Puzzle Strike, Combine allowed you to combine two of your chips, take another action and gain a dollar!  This chip was awesome!  In the third edition, it allows you to combine two chips, take another action, but you lose a dollar.  This chip is still very strong (and, if you ignore it because of the -$1, your games might drag on a bit), but at least it's balanced enough that you have to think about whether it is worth playing, instead of being an automatic buy and automatic play.  On the character side of things, Argagarg and Rook were generally agreed to be the most powerful choices in the previous edition.  Which is unfortunate, as you really want the characters to be all different but equal.  So, because of this, their chips have been altered to give them the same feel and general abilities, but not give the person using them a major advantage.  As an example - Rook's "Stone Wall" chip previous reflected all gems back to the opponent that sent them (awesome), but now reflects them to the bank (useful, but less awesome).

Argagarg has a new makeover
The next major change is that when crashing gems, you don't have your own personal punching bag.  In the previous version of the game, every time you crashed gems, you targeted the person on your left.  And, unless you were playing two player, they couldn't really do anything about it (aside from counter-crashing you), except for glare at your or flip the table.  Now, however, the rules have changed so that you can target any other player when you crash.  This combines with another new rule, however to make a new dynamic to the game.  Also introduced in this edition is that the game is over once one person has 10 or more gems in their gem pile at the end of their turn (instead of a last man standing rule - this was to avoid player elimination).  These two rules work together to give an "always attack the leader" element to the game.  After all, unless you are the leader, there is no reason to attack someone who isn't winning.  What this actually causes is for the leadership to shift, and it also means that the person who has played the best doesn't necessarily win.  Specifically, if I make a very good bag of chips, and I'm winning for most of the game, but on the last turn I get attacked two or three times (since I am winning), then I might not be able to defend myself from all of the attacks, and thus wind up having a few more gems than another player.  Whereas, previously, any given player only had to worry about being attacked once per round.  Overall, though - if you don't like this rule, it's simple enough to play it the previous way.  I wish that the previous way of playing had been mentioned as a rule variant.

Speaking of rule variants, they are one of the other changes to third edition.  To me, these are really just nice bonuses to try out once you get tired of the basic game, but it is always nice for games to include new ways of playing that can keep the replayability fresh through extra gameplay.  The gameplay variants in third edition include: 2x2 team play, free for all, custom clockwork mode, and tournament rules.  Most of these modes are roughly what you would expect if you've played other Sirlin games (such as "custom clockwork" means create your own character), and it's also worth noting that the tournament recommends using the two-player game (to avoid what I mentioned in the previous paragraph about the person who plays the best not necessarily winning).  But, the one that I found most interesting was that in the free for all mode, anyone can counter-crash.  So, if someone is attacking the weakest player, and is about to knock them out of the game, then one of the other players can jump in and protect them!  A very interesting dynamic, though it would also slow the game down, as it is regularly pulling gems out of player piles, whereas you want to put more gems into player piles for a fast game.  (And, at this point, I feel that I should admit something.  I can't absolutely guarantee that we played the 3-4 player basic game correctly.  It was unclear to me in the rules whether the basic rules that I read were for 2-4 players, and that free for all mode was supposed to be an optional variant when you had 3-4 players, or if the basic rules were for 2 players, and free for all was the were the basic rules for 3-4 players.)

Rook is also a bit weaker
The final rule change (that I will mention) is put in place entirely to make the game go faster - Panic Time!  Once several piles of chips are empty (equal to the number of players), you start anteing a 2-gem.  Once another pile is empty, ante a 3-gem.  Another pile runs out, ante a 4-gem.  Another pile runs out - ok, at this point, how has nobody lost yet?  This rule is a nice safety net to keep the game from dragging on.  However, it didn't really come into play very much in the games that I played.  We ran into panic time very briefly in one of the games.  Ultimately, if you are building your bag of chips well, you should be able to knock each other out before these modes really affect much (unless you have certain chips that you really like, and you buy out the piles early on).  I like this rule change, and I'd encourage you to try it out, even if you're playing with one of the previous editions.

Overall, I give Puzzle Strike (Third Edition) a 9.0/10.  Why?  Well, because I gave Puzzle Strike (Second Edition) a 9.0, and I would recommend this game equally highly as the last one.  I feel that, though the game has undergone some minor surgeries, the skeleton is still the same.  If you are deciding between buying one of the previous editions and this one, then I would encourage you to go ahead and buy the latest.  However, if you are deciding whether you want to upgrade, I think the main reason to upgrade would be if you are bothered by the balance of your previous game.  And, as a note, both editions should be compatible with the Shadows expansion.

If you like Puzzle Strike, you might also check out Flash Duel, Thunderstone, and Yomi.

I would like to thank Sirlin Games for providing me with a review copy of Puzzle Strike: Third Edition.

2 comments:

  1. small nitpick: the old combine didn’t give you a dollar. but there was no downside to playing it, and so almost always no decision.

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