The Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack is coming, probably in October. I haven't had much time to write about design stuff these days, so I figure at least I can write about the design of my own things, so you can get a sense of what goes into development, and how we decide things. And in this case, why the product was made at all.
I'll do this in three posts. First, in this post, I'll tell you about the non-gameplay parts of the upgrade pack. In the second post I'll go over the three new chips, and in the third post I'll tell you about some revisions to the character chips. Those revisions are actually the biggest reason there even is an Upgrade Pack, but we'll get to that later. Note that the Upgrade Pack is not a full expansion to Puzzle Strike. That is also in the works and should come out next year, but the point here is to enhance the experience of the base game. Ok, so first the non-gameplay stuff: playmats and "screens."
A lot of people asked for playmats, it was actually the #1 request from players. Playmats are fun and cool, and the Yomi playmats look amazing, so it's a no-brainer to make these. It's difficult on the manufacturing side because they are expensive to do at the quality of Yomi's mats, but it's worth it I think.
The reason people want them is to help mark where to put the chips for your "gem pile." That's your stack of chips that represents your side of the screen filling up in Puzzle Fighter or Tetris or whatever. This gets to the design question of what these mats should actually look like. The Yomi mats intentionally do not separate the game zones. They just have beautiful art with some life counters to one side. For Puzzle Strike though, I think people really want the mats to mark the various game zones to help keep track of what's going on. So here you go:
The mats mark your gem pile, your discard pile, and your "ongoing" zone, for chips like Midori's Dragon Form that stay out on the table. The mats also have a reminder of the turn phases (Ante, Action, Buy, Cleanup) and the very, very helpful section that tells you how many chips you draw each turn at each possible size of your gem pile. Having that right in front of you, especially for new players, is a blessing.
For the background image, I thought it helped the overall feel of the game if we show a mockup of what the video game screen would sort of look like. So you can see a character's stage back there, and the UI elements that separate the zones are styled like they would be in a video game. There's even a place for your "next piece" to fall from the top. (That's just for fun!) Special thanks to Boardgamegeek.com member evilgordo whose mockups laid the groundwork for the best way to present the different game zones on the playmats.
Puzzle Strike is a 4-player game, so there are 4 playmats in the upgrade pack.
Only a few people asked for this next thing, but I figured hey, why not! Sometimes in Puzzle Strike, you can draw kind of a lot of chips. Some people have asked for a way to hold chips other than in their hands. Usually this isn't even a big deal because you pretty much throw down your money chips and play most of your hand to the table, but maybe you have small hands, or maybe you drew a whole lot of chips this turn.
A few people suggested Scrabble racks as a way to hold chips. It turns out to be a better idea in your head than in practice though. Fiddling around with getting chips onto a rack, and just the right number of them is just too much trouble. It's a lot faster and easier if you can throw down your chips on the table behind a barricade of some sort that keeps them secret. You may have seen a similar "screen" as this in the game Revolution by Steve Jackson Games.
So the function of the screen is to let you put your chips on the table while still keeping them secret. But what about the look of it? It could really be anything, so I thought it was a great opportunity to inject some fun and flavor. There are four different screens, each one is a different color. The fronts have a nice texture and the Puzzle Strike logo, while the backs each illustrate a different game rule in a silly 8-bit way.(!)
I was sort of thinking about Scott McCloud when making these. He wrote the awesome book Understanding Comics (which in my opinion is not even really about comics). He also created this comic book for Google when they launched Google Chrome. Anyway, showing a diagram or pictoral situation is a helpful way to teach because it's more interesting than reading some dreary text. These screens illustrate the rule of blue shields being reactions to red fists, as well as three different situations involving crashing and counter-crashing. Those are the key concepts of the game, after all.
For the 8-bit art of these four scenes, I was able to get the amazing Conor "BT" Town. He's painted entire houses, so doing these little scenes was probably just a trifle for him, but his skill really comes through and they turned out great. Seriously though special thanks to BT, who is a member of the fighting game community and a talented 8-bit artist.
Next time we'll cover the new gameplay in the Upgrade Pack, and the time after that we'll cover the rebalanced characters. Whether to fix balance problems or not has a been a big topic lately, so stay tuned.