A while back I gave my first timer total newbie impressions of trying to pick up Yomi Online. It was definitely a struggle but I did manage to successfully self-teach myself the game, just by reading the rules and playing the tutorial and bots lots of times. This meant I was able to pick it up using just the main in-game resources available to me, with a bit of help from forum posts and guides once I felt I could understand what they were even talking about!
However Puzzle Strike Online has been an even bigger struggle for me. Whilst Yomi looked like (& was) a bit of a mountain to climb for a complete newbie, Puzzle Strike felt like an insurmountable wall! I tried to read the rules, and got lost completely very quickly. I’d tried to play the tutorial, and just got even more confused. It seemed to me to be completely impenetrable. The mass of terminology I didn’t understand at all was really overwhelming. Even basic stuff like exactly what are ‘Chips’ confused me slightly (are gems chips?), then there’s Crashing, Trashing, Ante, Bank, Deckbuilder etc – I was really lost!
My only point of reference to try to figure out all of this was knowing the game Puzzle Fighter, which Puzzle Strike is vaguely themed around. This helped me understand the overall concept of the game, and definitely helped me get the idea of the gem piles building up, Tetris-style, and how as you get closer to losing, you also get more ‘ammo’ to attack your opponent with. I also got the basic idea of gem piles bulding up and ‘crash gems’ & even ‘counter crashing’ from my previous knowledge of Puzzle Fighter. If you’ve never even played PF though, this is going to be even more confusing! However my Puzzle Fighter mental analogy failed me quickly as I thought that there must be different colour gems in Puzzle Strike corresponding to different crash gems – as I remembered reading in the past about “mono purple strategies” in Puzzle Strike. However I realised after a while of having the game explained to me (more on this later) that actually all the gems were green, but didn’t combine automatically, but needed other special ‘chips’ to combine them.
At least I knew a lot about the online interface from playing Yomi Online, as it’s very similar – including the idiosyncrasies like the chat log and game log actions being in the same place, and the fact there’s a fair few hidden things about the interface that aren’t yet clearly explained by a tutorial.
Whilst I felt my knowledge from Puzzle Fighter helped me get the raw basic idea down, Puzzle Strike very quickly moved completely away from what I understood, and towards something that I have no frame of reference to at all. This is why I struggled to even be able to read the rules!
- The basic concept of your “hand” was weird to me in PS. It’s not really a hand you maintain & manage at all as in a normal card game like Yomi or Magic or Poker, but a temporary single turn hand.
- The concept of a “bank” really confused me in PS, it’s not really a bank at all like in something like Monopoly, or a place you store your reserves in some way, but it’s actually a mutual potential deck pool that you buy from, so it’s a lot more like a shop!
- The concept of “ante” was (& still is) alien to me in PS – an even arguably misused, as it’s such confusing a word for what it means in PS. It’s nothing like a separate ante that you are trying to win, like in the original Magic rules, or Poker. It’s actually more like more gems slowly “dropping” into your gempile even when neither player is doing any crashing in Puzzle Fighter – calling it a ‘drop’ or something else would’ve been an easier concept to me & confused me far less.
- The concept of “wounds” lost me at first in PS – there’s no actual HP or health system.
- The concept of a “deck” was alien in PS to me, as it isn’t a normal deck like in a card game, and it’s not even obvious where you are drawing it from in the online client.
- The concept of “trashing” was confusing in PS as it doesn’t actually remove chips from the game, but instead is a change of zones of a chip back to the bank.
Puzzle Strike also makes a lot of use from a variety of icons to help convey a lot of information in a small space. Above are examples of a bunch of them. This was likely made necessary by the physical game itself to keep the chips of a reasonable size. However this leads to things being even more confusing for the new player as they now need to learn to reference what all the icons mean before they can parse the information on the chips themselves. Once you do understand them, the icons work great, but keywords would’ve been much easier to pick up for a new player, and the online client could do with some kind of handy in-game pop ups, or a reference chart, or, perhaps, mouse-over text for icons.
Even when I was beginning to understand things during my first assisted game of PS, I was still thrown by a new icon appearing (the !) that I didn’t understand as it didn’t relate to anything I’d seen before.
Money Money Money, not so sunny
Another thing that really confused me (& still does to an extent) was the inconsistent way that your money or ‘buying power’ is referred to. Depending on when and where, PS sometimes uses icons with dollar signs $, but at other times it is also referred to as “gem power” or “gem buying power”, and when it’s being displayed as a price of a chip, rather than your own spending ability, it is inconsistent again by listing it as just a black circled number. I am sure there are some reasons for this that I will come to understand as I gain more experience with PS over time. But for a first timer, what should be a simple concept seems to be very obfuscated for little gain. I felt that a simple “money if you ended your turn now” counter, shown in $, and a simple $ cost for each chip in the bank shown over the top of each chip would’ve really helped me get to grips with it almost instantly. I think there may also be some bugs with the incorrect money displaying at times even now, perhaps only in vs Bot matches though.
The other really confusing concept related to money in the game, is the “double duty” use of gems in your hand as “money” as well as being the actual gems in the gempile building. To a newbie this seemed to be very dis-jointed and added greatly to the confusion for me. It was explained to me why this was necessary for some characters and moves, but still, this is something that could be more clearly explained in some kind of simple mode or really emphasised more in the tutorial to avoid confusion.
Welcome to the Fantasy Zone
I’m used to this concept from playing Magic The Gathering, but Puzzle Strike also has many “zones of play” to understand – bank, hands, bags, discards, active turn stuff, and in particular the online client makes this even harder to grasp, because it relegates some of these things to tiny icons and not-too-clearly marked zones, especially when compared to the playmats for the actual boardgame version of Puzzle Strike which appear like they would make all of these concepts much simpler. It’s not so easy to confuse where your bag is, when it’s an actual physical bag you’re holding 😉
Community to the Rescue!
So how did I make my way through the mystical mist of confusion that Puzzle Strike was shrouded by? Well I used the advice I learnt from Burt Reynolds and “ASKED SOMEONE ELSE!!!”.
I put a plea into the general chatroom for fantasystrike.com and immediately got a lot of helpful responses, just highlighting what a wonderful community there is around these games 🙂
Firstly I was recommended this video, which is incredibly helpful & really should be linked in the “Guide” button for the game somewhere. I also discovered later, that the ‘guide’ overview page for the actual board game version of Puzzle Strike here does link this video & I wish I’d read this overview page first before reading the Guide for PS Online, as it is a great intro to the real basics. Even better would be a version of this video covering similar ground, but specifically for the online Puzzle Strike client- that would amazingly helpful.
Even the video struggles to explain Puzzle Strike a little bit though, as it compares it to “other deckbuilders”, which, as mentioned doesn’t help as a point of reference if you’ve not played any of them before, like me.
However the vast majority of my learning to grasp the game actually came from another player – Plum, who not only answered all of my questions but also took me through a whole 2 hours of a teaching game online! Plum, a massive thank you and shout outs etc to you…. PLUM IS AWESOME!!! 😀 I will pretty much have to dedicate the rest of my Puzzle Strike gaming time to Plum for taking this much of a timeout to teach a newbie the game.
The only ‘problem’ with this is that short of some kind of official mentor scheme being set up, having a dedicated teacher of the game is not so likely to happen for most new players who try it out online. Especially those not as motivated to learning it as I was, or people who would not to want to ask strangers in an online chatroom for help. I know from the forums that Puzzle Strike doesn’t get as much attention as it’s fans would like and it also doesn’t benefit from a great sticky thread filled with guides for how to learn it like Yomi has. And as I’ve pointed out here, it’s such a difficult game to grasp conceptually – it needs some more help for newbies like me – it currently, at least in it’s current online incarnation, seems to limit it’s audience to those who’re highly familiar with deckbuilder games, or those who’re pretty highly committed to learning it anyway (like me!). I suspect that as things stand right now, many new players would take a quick dip into it but get too confused and walk away without ever really ‘getting’ it.
I think this is a big shame, and I also feel that the current tutorial gets far too advanced too quickly, and there’s no where obvious to turn to once you get confused by it (short of asking for help, like I did!). Many features of the UI aren’t clearly explained still, and that’s a real must, and even some of the text in it is confusing (eg: “”Trashing” a chip means getting rid of it” – erm.. no it doesn’t, it means it goes back to the ‘bank’ zone!)… I’ve offered to try to help with making a revamped tutorial for Puzzle Strike too, however there’s a new Puzzle Strike UI on the way very soon (along with the new Yomi UI and iOS Yomi & Flash Duel Online and more!!), and so this will all need to be revisited when that comes out. Hopefully the new UI (& a potential new tutorial) will cover a lot of the issues I hit on when trying to figure out Puzzle Strike for more new players 🙂
One idea I had to help introduce Puzzle Strike, is similar to my idea of starting things off much more simply in Yomi. However whereas for Yomi it would need some dedicated new simplified decks with new cards to do it really well, for Puzzle Strike, it would be pretty easy to make some customised super-simple decks out of the existing chips. For example, both players could start out with a starting deck of something like six 1 gems, two combines, and two crashes, and the bank could start out with only gems and purples. I feel this kind of set up would be great to get the hang of the turn sequence, zones of play and basic concepts, before you start to even add things like character chips and other puzzle chips. This is actually quite likely how I’ll try to teach Puzzle Strike to friends using the board game version of it, and I feel it could work well online too as a part of a multi-stage tutorial.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with Puzzle Strike, both online and for real over the next few months, and I can’t wait for the UI updates which should make the online versions even better & hopefully can slowly add more new player appeal 🙂