"Play to win" and sneak on in for Next of Ken, where this week I'm talking Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins and both Puzzle Strike: 3rd Edition and Puzzle Strike: Shadows. Join us, won't you?
The Iniquities of the Selfish
The new Dungeon Command faction set is out--Tyranny of Goblins. (Damn you Goblins, with your constant Tyranny!) It's more pre-painted miniature skirmishing goodness that doesn't shake up the game in term of core mechanics, but looks to implement the "sneakiness" of Goblins inside the game's existing rules.
The biggest thing to me is the leader Snig, who can play minions outside of the normal sequence of play. This ability is pretty powerful, but it's balanced by the typically weaker goblin units overall, as well as his own fragility.
What the game needed was "more", and this set provides not only a third faction for those tired of Drow Spiders versus humans, but also new cards for customization of decks. It's the kind of game that really starts to shine when there are more options to choose from, so the additions are extremely welcome.
It's still diceless combat, and our assessment of it as being a "3d Magic: the Gathering Skirmish" still feels pretty accurate. It's not a dungeon crawl at all, definitely a miniatures skirmish game. Compared to their old random booster distribution of the same though, this is still a much more economical way of getting ready-to-go warbands for $40 MSRP (not even 4 of the smaller boosters from D&D minis, and good luck getting a thematic warband from that much.)
There's also the fact that you're getting cards for their Dungeons and Dragons adventure games (Legend of Drizzt, Wrath of Ashardalon, Castle Ravenloft), a trend that probably drives completists nuts but to me, the more options, the better. I haven't tried him yet, but that Hobgoblin Sorcerer in particular looks like a giant pain in the ass, attacking all heroes on an adjacent tile for *3* damage, and even dealing 1 each if it misses. The kicker? The little bastard RUNS AWAY, one of the few enemies in these games with a sense of self-preservation.
As an expansion to those games alone, $40 MSRP is outrageously expensive, but as a warband with a free expansion included, it's a pretty good deal.
I'm glad to see them continuing to support the line. I do feel that the game needs a little "oomph" to get it to the next level. From what I've seen of previews of their next set, it's one that was planned from the start and won't shake up the game much more than this one. The additional units and armies will be welcome, but it will likely come down to holiday sales to determine the game's future. If it sells well, I'm hopeful that we'll get another batch of expansions that challenges the game's structure more, further enhances the card vs. card gameplay, and keeps feeding us decent pre-painted minis to boot. So far, I'm still in, but I'm looking to the future to see where they take the line.
Kickin' Off My Coat Like The Chinese Connection
After what feels like a forever's worth of playtesting, Puzzle Strike 3rd edition and Shadows both are finally here. I've made no secret that Puzzle Strike has long been one of my two favorite deckbuilders (Nightfall being the other), and I think Sirlin has done an incredible job with the new set.
Let's get the controversial bits out of the way first--there's no way to gloss over the fact that this is the third edition of the base set in as many years. I get that, and I also understand some of the anger from earlier adopters. It would seemingly suck the most from those who bought into the 2nd Edition upgrade pack. Even if you have 2nd edition + that upgrade pack, there is still no "direct" upgrade to 3rd edition. If you wan 3rd edition, you've got to pony up the cash for it. Yes, I agree that this sucks, especially for those who only play the game casually yet want more chips to use.
I'll let you in on a little secret though. You don't need the third edition base set to play. For those who have second edition, there's only one thing you really need to know--Combines provide -$1 now when you play them. That's a mental note you can make as you play. The rest of the upgrade consists of tweaking some chips to strengthen them as well as new wording to support the updated Free-for-All multiplayer rules.
For chips that got made stronger, it's nice, but not strictly necessary, if you catch my drift. Secret Move was a chip that was kinda shitty in 2nd edition. It had its uses, sure, but overall it wasn't worth the $3 it cost to purchase it and the fact it was an "ender" (meaning it used up an action and provided no addtional ones in return) meant that players just rarely found any reason to use it.
Now, Secret Move costs only $1 to purchase and also provides an action when played. Otherwise it is functionally the same, but now it is cheap enough to be appealing as well as not hindering further action plays.
That's a lot of jargon and gibberish for the uninitiated, but straight up, a lot of the upgrades are of that sort. And if you're okay without those--and trust me, I'll wager casual fans will be--then you're perfectly okay to purchase Shadows and integrate it with your existing chips. Just remember the -$1 Combine thing.
The base game now includes the screens that are identical to those found in the 2nd edition upgrade kit, and also includes cardboard player mats. These are a nice touch, but as a solace to Upgrade Kit purchasers, they aren't nearly as nice as the mousepad-style player mats from said kit. So that's definitely a plus for those who own that already, and you'd better believe I'll be using those instead. Nothing wrong with the cardboard mats and I'm glad they're in
there as they keep the gameplay areas nice and clean, they're just not as nice.
But overall, if you liked Puzzle Strike but never took the plunge, 3rd Edition is the same great game made even better. If you're a die-hard fan, you're going to buy 3rd edition even if you own 2nd. I get that. But it's also important for people to understand that if you're willing to adopt the one major rules change, you can play just fine with 2nd edition + Shadows.
As for Shadows, what can I say? Ten new characters, most of which play with game elements in new ways. Persephone can, under the right circumstanes, force an opponent to take a chip from the bank and then play two chips from their hands...terrible news for them if there's a chip that lets you trash stuff from a player's hand as you can really damage a player's deck that way. Troq is a beast who willingly places more and more gems in his pile so he can smash your face all the faster, but with great risk comes great reward. (He's also my favorite character from the new set.) Master Menelker, essentially the "Akuma" of the Fantasy Strike Universe, has a crushing once-per-game chip that can literally crash all the 1-gems in his pile, sending half that much at his opponent. Super Puzzle Fighter fans may recognize that as being the Diamond, and in an early rev of the base game it was in fact a general chip by that same name. Now the raw power is saved just for him, a character that "Plays to Win" by any means necessary.
The set is all about the 'bad guys' and as such there is a much larger emphasis on the red attack chips. In the base game, red chips are often hindering, but are very rarely game-winning on their own. The attack chips in Shadows are much stronger and harder to deal with. They also have a new Ongoing chip that lets you crash a gem every time you play a red chip, letting you drop gems on your foe while forcing them to discard, or giving them wounds, or whatever else nasty stuff you feel like doing with these powerful new attacks. It definitely provides the game with multiple paths to victory, which is always welcome.
I know at this point you don't really need me to tell you I'm a big fan of the game. I won't lie--I would rather Sirlin have nailed it "the first time", but it's very telling that there is a dedicated enough online player base that keeps playing it, keeps testing it, keeps coming back to it. What that means to me is that the game has enough depth and nuance to provide it a longevity that is fairly rare in today's boardgame market.
It's funny because as each edition releases, it's like the old days of Street Fighter II, where with each release you'd proclaim, "Wow, this is the best Street Fighter ever!" That stopped for me when they released the original Super Street Fighter, but Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition is appropriately like Street Fighter II Turbo--a finely tuned, highly enjoyable game that I enjoy more every time I play it.
So if you're a 2nd edition guy and don't want to plop down money for 3rd just so you can play Shadows, then don't. I promise that for occasional play, you're not going to miss a beat. The Balance Police won't come to your house and steal all your chips. If you've never tried Puzzle Strike, you really ought to give it a try--it's what all deckbuilder should have been in the first place, variety, special characters, and directly interactive victory conditions.
Did I mention that Shadows is also a standalone set? Which also includes everything you need to play? Yep. It's a different flavor where you're going to see much more "red attacks" than with a mixed set or especially with just the base game, but it's definitely playable alone.
And if you're a die-hard fan, you Kickstarted this months ago and I'm preaching to the choir.
Puzzle Strike 3rd edition and Shadows are both highly polished games which include all the bells and whistles. If you're worried a 4th edition is lurking around the corner, I'll offer this...the playtesters worked on 3rd edition for a looooooong time, so long that it was almost surreal to have the finished product in my hands. The point of that? There is no playtesting for a new edition of Puzzle Strike going on right now. Nope, none. And no complaints on the forums of balance issues, either small or large. If you've been waiting for stability to take the plunge, it's arrived, so go out and give this excellent game a try.
And that's going to do it for this puzzly dungeon crawl edition of "Next of Ken". So until Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do a duet onstage, I'll see ya real soon.