Puzzle Strike is a gem-smashing deckbuilder game featuring the characters of the Fantasy Strike universe. It draws its gameplay inspiration from the video game Puzzle Fighter; which is unsurprising as the lead developer was the lead designer on Puzzle Fighter HD Remix.
Puzzle Strike has recently been given a digital release on Steam and iOS after a successful run as a physical tabletop game. We love both digital card games and tabletop games, and are a little bit crazy over how fun deckbuilding games are — so this title is an irresistible combination for us!
How does the arcade game origin mix with traditional deckbuilding elements? Read on to find out…
Puzzle Strike is a far more interactive and strategic deckbuilding game than any of the traditional deckbuilders such as Dominion or Ascension. Instead of aiming to win the game by having the most victory points, you are trying to fill your opponent’s Gem Pile in a very similar way to that of Puzzle Fighter, overloading them like in Tetris. To do this, you send the Gems in your Gem Pile to your opponent as often as you can (called “crashing”) while trying to build a mini-engine that streamlines your play options each turn.
The gameplay is a lot faster than you would expect from a game of this nature. Players interact with one another on a regular basis through Gem Crashes and Defense Chips that are used to prevent or negate an attack. Many of the other actions you take are over relatively quickly thanks to the very short phases the game uses to keep the arcade-game-style pacing.
Puzzle Strike’s gameplay spreads over several phases that keep everything moving at a decent pace. You begin a turn by having one Gem drop into your Gem Pile, referred to as an Ante. Your one action per turn also refreshes at this stage and can be used to play a Chip from your hand. Chips, drawn from a “bag” (as per the physical version of the game) are essentially the cards of Puzzle Strike. They are the backbone of the gameplay and combo engines that you can create.
The starting Chips for each player are three character-specific Chips, six 1-Gem currency Chips, and a Crash Gem, which sends one of your Gem Pile’s Gems over to your opponent’s Gem Pile. They can defend against this with an appropriate defense card or by discarding their Gem Crash card to negate the attack and reduce their Gem Pile by one. The character Chips differ significantly from one another and alter the way you will approach each battle — often changing your entire strategy to fit that character’s base Chips.
Puzzle Strike uses many of the same mechanics seen in other deckbuilding games. You have a central buy area of currency and Chips that stays the same over the course of a match, called the Bank. The top set of Chips is the same no matter the setup, whereas you can customize the range of other Chips available in a game. Puzzle Strike battles can be fought using many different combinations and configurations of the Bank, which makes it extremely versatile.
After your action phase, you enter the buy phase in which you may buy as many Chips from the Bank that you can afford from your currency Gem Chips and any other currency-bestowing Chips you’ve played that turn. A final clean-up phase refreshes your hand of Chips as you wait for your next turn, which will happen very quickly.
There are some excellent additions to this traditional deckbuilding style of play that make Puzzle Strike even more enjoyable. Firstly, a player who has many Gems in their Gem Pile can draw an extra Chip for every three Gems. The additional draw power is a catch-up method that can be used to balance out the game and to give you an opportunity to empty out some of the Gems in your Gem Pile before they reach the 10 required to lose the game at the end of your turn. Another fantastic update to the genre is the banner colors that restrict the types of actions you can play if you don’t have any other generic action-enhancing Chips that turn, so you have to think about your combos carefully.
The colorful nature and characters of Puzzle Strike should be familiar to those that have read our review of Yomi. They are all part of the Fantasy Strike universe that includes many more games. Sadly, there is no animation from the characters when they attack. The only animations come from the playing of Chips and Gems merging or crashing onto the opponent.
Visually, Puzzle Strike is adequate for larger screens, but you can see the image quality degrade slightly if you opt for a full-screen mode in the PC version. I had to turn the in-game music off relatively quickly due to its repetitive nature, though it does suit the aesthetic of the game (being a bit Street Fighter-ish). The user interface is clean and bright. It appears to have been optimized mostly for smaller screens and then stretched to fit the PC — perhaps it should have been done the other way around, but, either way, the game is visually simple and easy to navigate around.
MODES AND FEATURES
You are expected to play many of your games in Puzzle Strike as PvP matches through the Quick Match, Custom Game, and Quest options. The single-player modes are few, but well worth investigating, such as the unique Challenges. However, I find nothing beats the thrill of defeating another online opponent through your skill alone.
Puzzle Strike has zero gated content. Your purchase will include all of the game’s Chips and base characters: Grave, Jaina, Midori, Setsuki, Rook, DeGrey, Valerie, Geiger, Lum, and Argagarg. The only purchasable content is the expansion pack that gives you even more characters and Chips to customize your game. The iOS version is a little different in that you start with fewer characters and can purchase the others as in-app purchases. This restriction is due to Puzzle Strike being vastly cheaper on iOS than it is on Steam.
For those of a competitive nature, there is a leaderboard where you can see how you fare against other players. You may view their profile to see which characters they play as, and win with the most, so you can get a rough idea of the stronger characters to play with. Something they’ve implemented which I think is a super cool feature is that you can also check out a player’s last replay. You might learn some extra tips and strategies to take into your next match.
Daily Quests and single-player Challenges give you the chance to earn Jewels, which can be used to unlock “Puzzle Smash”, a high-octane version of the game that bends a few of the rules to bring you an exciting new way to play the game. Think of it as the usually-hidden hard mode from arcade games of old and you’ll get a rough idea of what it entails!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Much of your strategy in Puzzle Strike will revolve around your chosen character and their base Chips. Some excel at crashing Gems onto the opponent quickly while others may take a defensive approach. Trying to build your engine can be difficult as you are working against the clock of your Gem Pile as well as an opponent at the same time. Having that one Gem drop each turn, as well as having to defend against Gem Crashes regularly, can change your buying habits from “wants” to “needs”!
A key strategy you learn from the outset is to try and combine your Gems to the maximum size of four so that you may crash these onto your opponent without them being able to respond. Do not be afraid to fill your own Gem Pile if you know that you can quickly offload these mega-Gems onto your opponent.
The Bank plays a pivotal role in each game you play. Its diversity can offer many different combos that you may not have seen before. Be sure to read every Chip carefully and in full, so that you understand what they do. Don’t expect many of the Quick Match battles to contain the basic Chips you see in the tutorial. Many of the players like to play with Chips that form aggressive engines that are full of attack Chips.
Trashing is a key mechanic to thin your Bag of Chips to the point where each turn, you have the opportunity to cycle through every Chip you own. Cycling your Chips in this way will be hard to do, but if you can pull it off, it will be mightily satisfying. Avoid Wounds as much as you can as these will clog your deck and make it far less efficient. If you cannot afford to purchase a card in a turn, you must take a wound.
Puzzle Strike looks and plays much like an arcade version of a deckbuilder. It is clearly designed to be played in short bursts many times over – unlike Dominion, which can take an hour or more. I like the added mechanics that offer an innovative take on the classic deckbuilder genre and deliver far more emphasis on the conflict between the players. It completely forgoes the solitaire feeling you get with many of the traditional deckbuilders by including much more interactive mechanics.
The graphics could have been amped up for the Steam version, and it would have been nice to see some battle animations shoot across the screen between the characters when they drop Gems on their opponent. However, if we take the game to be more of a digital port of a tabletop game, this lack of animations can be excused.
I am still finding new combos and play styles with this one each time I play. Games are shorter than most other deckbuilders as well, leading to an addictive, “just one more match” feeling that I just can’t seem to shake!
If you want a strategic deckbuilding experience that feels like it has taken several shots of coffee beforehand, then you should definitely check out Puzzle Strike.
For more screenshots, click here.
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