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Saturday
Jul312010

Starcraft's Essence in Card Form?

A Puzzle Strike player named BT mentioned that he thought Puzzle Strike captures what Starcraft is about better / more elegantly than the Starcraft board game. I thought it was an interesting statement, so I'll explain what he meant.

First, I should say that I have not played the Starcraft board game, but a quick look at it shows that it comes with about a thousand pieces, and looks complicated and long to play. My guess is that it tries hard to capture literally what's going on in the computer game, but that is generally a dangerous approach. Computers are good at keeping track of all sorts of numbers and resources that would be tedious (and yeah, "inelegant") in a physical game. Sorry if my impression of the board game is unfair though, I stress again that I have not played it, but BT said this is part of what he meant.

Meanwhile in Puzzle Strike, you have choices that basically amount to "expand," "tech," and "army."

Expanding

In Starcraft, you ideally would like to invest as much as possible in your economy, as a way of being weaker now but very strong later. In Puzzle Strike, this means spending your money to buy more gem chips for your deck. Gem chips basically are money, so buying them will make your economy much stronger later, but at the expense of not building "tech" or "army" now. In both games, you have to keep an eye on how much the opponent is threatening you with his army to know how much you can safely invest in your own economy.

 

Tech

In Starcraft, investing in tech gives you the potential to do powerful things. For example, building a Templar Archives gives you the ability to build High Templars and researching Psionic Storm gives your Templars access to that powerful spell. In Puzzle Strike, the analog is buying what players call "engine chips." These are chips that all work together to produce powerful combinations. For example, chips that give you more actions and chips that let you spend those actions drawing more chips. Building an engine in your deck is sort of like teching up in Starcraft, as it gives you access to powerful turns, but it's not the "tech" itself that wins--that's what your army is for.

Army

In Starcraft, your army is your set of attack and support units. It's your army--not your economy and not your tech buildings--that actually apply force to the enemy and win the game for you. In Puzzle Strike, your "army" is your set of purple chips, the ones capable of combining gems in your gem pile and crashing them so they leave your pile and go to your enemy's. Filling up his gem pile to 10 is how you win, so these purple chips are what allow you to directly attack the enemy and to defend against his purple assaults.

Putting it all together

It would be nice if you could just sit back and build economy, but if you take too long to build any tech or army, you're going to lose before you get to use all that money. Having just a bit of army early can let you hold off incoming attacks long enough to let your economy kick in. How much tech and when to build it is also a hard question. It's possible to completely overwhelm other players if you build a solid tech engine, but you could very well be overwhelmed by an opponent's army while you're trying to get that together.

Asymmetry, Build Orders, and Maps

In addition to the expand vs. tech. vs army concept, Puzzle Strike also has asymmetric starts (3 races in Starcraft; 10 characters in Puzzle Strike) and it has the concept of build orders and maps. A build order in Starcraft is a combination of moves that results in a certain level of expansion / tech / army and a certain composition and timing of that army. Doing a Zealot / Stalker rush is a very different build than putting up some static defense and going for air units like Void Rays. Likewise, trying to clog up everyone's deck with useless wound chips while yours stays tight and efficient is a very different "build" than a draw engine or a mono-purple rush.

In Starcraft, your choice of builds depends partly on the map you're playing on. While any given map allows for many viable builds, some builds become stronger or weaker--or even possible / not possible--on certain maps. In Puzzle Strike, the "map" is set of bank chips you can buy for your deck in the current game. There are 24 types of these chips total, but each "map" consists of a set of 10 of these, so that there are millions of possible starting conditions. Your build depends a lot on which of the millions of possible maps you're playing on.

Conclusion

Puzzle Strike certainly isn't the same game as Starcraft, and I'm sure you can easily think of differences, but BT's point is that it's striking how many core similarities there are. None of it was even intentional except for the inspiration of using 4-gems to fill a similar role to Protoss Carriers that I mentioned in this article. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the game, it's got a lot of really interesting dynamics.

Reader Comments (7)

Dear sir:

is there already a fixed date for when Yomi goes into print?

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeonard McCoy

It's probably not going to be shipping until November. I'm working on a deal to lower the price quite a bit from my original plan.

August 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I have to point out that what you are saying is similar between these two games is common to many good games. Economy versus technology versus goal-achieving (whether that goal is attacking the other player or meeting some non-combat condition). I don't think there's any special connection between these two.

Though, yes, the Starcraft board game is too literal for its own good. A far better board game adaptation of a computer game was Age of Empires III.

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R. Keller

Hi, I'm thinking more and more of trying puzzle strike, and was wondering, does the game allows several players to choose the same character ?

Thanks

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWonder Tom

The game comes with only one copy of each character. It was just too expensive to include all the characters x 4. It is legal to play same character vs same character though, like if you had the extra chips from another set. Also, the game comes with 10 blank chips that you can use however you want, so you might replace any chips you lose or damage, or you could use them to represent extra copies of character chips.

August 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I haven't played the Starcraft board game either, so I might be talking out the wrong end here. But I do own it (and the expansion), have studied its rules extensively and set up a couple solo games to test out the mechanics, and I don't think the board game really tries to directly duplicate the computer game at all. It goes for the feel and the faction asymmetry, but mechanically it actually lines up pretty well with that Expand/Tech/Army scheme.

You have three possible order types each turn — Mobilize (attack and/or move), Research (draw combat cards and purchase technology) and Build (create units, workers and bases). Those three orders line up directly with Expand, Tech and Army. You can use up to four, and orders are stacked on each planet as players set them down, then executed in reverse order of placement. Lots of strategy there, it appears, and a much different kind than the build orders and rushes of the PC game.

Also, while it does have a great many pieces, they're mostly divided into sets for each player (up to six), so the number of pieces an individual player uses is limited to a deck of cards, some cardboard chits to represent workers and base buildings, and plastic figures for the unit types. The rest of the pieces include the planets you play on and a common deck of cards representing events. I'm not saying there aren't any superfluous bits, but the ones a player is likely to use are limited per game.

Also Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery is an excellent board game, but as an adaptation of the RTS it has almost no similarities outside of the broad theme. There's a good review on BGG by one of the PC game's designers about why that's not a bad thing at all.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarcasmorator

I am a player of Starcraft board game. I have played it a lot of times (really, I have a group of loyal players of this game), and after several years playing this game, magic the gathening, all sirlin games, runewars, dune board game, warriors knights, A game of thrones board game, Twilight Imperium, The legend of the five rings CCG, Iron Tide, Warhammer, Warmachine,........(the list is too long, Im also an assiduous player of Super Street Fighter 4AE, and Blaz Blue), and I only can say a thing: My favourite board and card games are 1ºYomi, 2ºPuzzle Strike and 3ºStarcraft The Board Game (And I hate MtG).
Why? beacuse I like the idea of winning for using my brain, instead of relying on luck (drawing cards of rolling dices) or the wizards of the coast you-have-to-spend-more-buying-cards-to-win concept. Yomi for example, has only a very liitle lucky component drawing cards(if you have bad cards, they are faster, or you can make chains or discard them for Aces...The game is 95% your valuating and yomi).

Starcraft TBG has assymetric design, has all the factions balanced, and has something very important to me: Always wins the best player, because you can control more or less the little random part of the game. With more than 2 players, its better to play 2vs2, or 3vs3, like the videogame.
The technologies in the game are similars in tactics to the videogame, and combat, although using less units, its close in strategy(without the neccessary mouse ability required in the videogame) to it. The rest of the game is a very tactical order's base game, different from the videogame.
Obviusly, it takes between 1'5 and 6 hours to finish a game, depending on the number of players.

( Written 2 years later of the last post, heheh. Sorry for my english, Im a spanish 33 years old computer sciences high school teacher with a rusty B2 english level ;) )

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDamaor
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