Published on October 16th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Street Fighter x Dominion = Puzzle Strike
Summary: Puzzle Strike is my Favorite Deck Building Game, and deck builders are my favorite genre of games.
Deck-building games are probably my favorite type of board game, despite their distinct lack of board. There is something about trying to make the most efficient deck out of the available cards that really excites that gamer instinct in me. Deck building games reward players for being efficient: not wasting extra actions, not wasting extra money, and not filling your deck full of things you don’t need. Efficiency doesn’t mean boring, though: if you enjoy fast paced, colorful card-type games with fun attacks and deep tactics, then fear not- Puzzle Strike is here!
Puzzle Strike actually has a pretty interesting history. The game’s creator, Sirlin, did game balancing for Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 and Super Puzzle Fighter’s HD re-releases for the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. As I understand it, he was really involved with the games and the characters and really wanted to use the setting for a competitive board game that he loosely based on the Super Puzzle Fighter franchise. Unfortunately there was a bit of back and forth and eventually Capcom decided to pull the rug out from under the game by denying the licensing. Not to be deterred, Sirlin recruited the help of well-known Udon artist Genzo to make art for original characters that would take the place of Street Fighter’s cast in the already finished game. Renaming the game Puzzle Strike, it was eventually released as the first competitive, tournament-focused deck building game.
Puzzle Strike’s components are all very sturdy, wear resistant, and clearly laid out. The graphic design is very clear, as are the color and symbol choices used to quickly convey information. I am disappointed that a game with such a bright box with such colorful characters doesn’t use that art more inside the game itself, though. Kickstarter versions have all seen upgrades with player screens and 8-bit renditions of the characters in a Mega Man style, which is cool. I guess I just feel as if there could be paper player mats with character art on it or something. As it is, I like the bags that you put your chips in and if you have access to the versions with player screens I feel they are worth a little extra money.
At its core, Puzzle Strike is a deck building game and with that comes all of the base mechanics that you would expect if you’ve ever played a game of that genre. Puzzle Strike does offer some twists though- it uses pog-like tokens instead of cards, you choose a character that starts with three special tokens that are unique to them, and instead of trying to get victory points you’re trying to force others to stack gems.
The victory condition is actually really unique, and should be familiar if you’ve ever played Tetris Versus or Super Puzzle Fighter, where the point is to make great combos and cause too many blocks to fall on your opponent’s side for them to handle. Unlike other deck builders where you are trying to buy cards that give you more victory points, in Puzzle Strike you get a “gem” every turn and if you ever get ten of these gems, you lose and the game ends for everyone. The good news is that there is a way to get rid of gems- giving them to the other players! You opponents can block, which destroys both the gem you’re sending and one they had cached, they can also counter-block and send gems back at you or with certain abilities they can also just send the gems along to the next person in line. This change in the base win condition of the game, as compared to all other deck building games, changes the way the game plays more than any other thing.
As some may know, I am a sucker for asymmetric starting points. Puzzle Strike does this very well, as out of your initial ten tokens in your deck, three are unique to your character and most of the rest is money. These unique character tokens are very different from each other and promote wildly different play styles if you choose to use that starting momentum as a suggestion on how to build your deck. You aren’t totally crippling yourself if you decide to go outside of that scope, but you will be more effective if you recognize the strength of your character and play to it. This asymmetry is one of the things that makes Puzzle Strike such an engaging and fresh addition to a saturated deck builder market.
My Puzzle Strike experience is always a great one. If you like back-and-forth gameplay: attacks, blocks and counter attacks then Puzzle Strike definitely delivers. It does a great job at simulating a puzzle game based on a fighting game: a large part of the strategy of play is learning how to chain combos together, and learning how the rock-paper-scissors style abilities interact with each other. Some members of our play group find Puzzle Strike too competitive for a deck building game, but those same people also play Caylus and Diplomacy, which are proven friendship-killers that I generally don’t touch, so your mileage may vary. I feel if you go into the game in the spirit of just having a good time then there is nothing to worry about.
(Puzzle Strike has two current versions to look for right now: Puzzle Strike Third Edition and Puzzle Strike Shadows– both of which use the Third Edition version of the rules. The Shadows game is an expand-alone, meaning you can buy and play it by itself or you can use it to expand your current Puzzle Strike game.)