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Sunday
Aug282011

Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack, Part 1

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."

Playmats

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.

Screens

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.

Reader Comments (22)

Screens are amazing! Really don't like playmat design though.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterst8ic

Really? I think they look pretty good!

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLofobal

"He wrote the awesome book Understanding Comics (which in my opinion is not even really about comics)."

That's an opinion shared by many. :)

By the way, on the store I noticed that Midori's "Rigorous Training" chip now has a brown banner with brown shields on it. That doesn't seem right.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlbeyAmakiir

I fear that these big things will make international shipping incredibly expensive. A few chips will probably just be 2-5$ in shipping to Europe, but this looks like it's going to be more like 40$ due to size. Which is really a bother.

Even more so, I do not need the screens, and find the playmats not quite so pretty (the borders align badly with the background, and the gem pile should not be bigger than discard). Lastly, I have a first edition game, which means the chips in this one will probably not be compatible, because you can feel them out in your bag.

I'll have to pass, sadly, and bother with proxies and errata. :(

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKdansky

I think the playamts look fantastic! I don't know what you think doesn't align, they carefully match a certain video game. They also match the functionality of fan-made mats that were playtested by several, and they liked seeing the gem pile chips all spread out so you can see each one to count them, while discard chips need only be a in a jumble.

And shipping to europe is $15, not $40. Shipping is $0 if you get it from your local game store. If they don't carry it, tell them to contact Salute@GameSalute.com, and they can get Puzzle Strike and Yomi in stock.

Albey: It's kind of not great how it was because it didn't react to attacks, so blue shield didn't make much sense. All reacts have shields (true of the old version and the new version) but the new one doesn't wrongly imply it reacts to attacks.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I'm assuming the playmats will come in four differnet colors to match the screens?

Love it

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCentimetro

All the playmats are the same, actually.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I never actually took the house painting job! Thanks for saying nice things about me though. I can't wait to show off my work to everyone, heh.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBT

Will there be a new puzzle strike set with the upgrade built in?
Or at least the rebalanced characters?

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

If the game sells well enough, a later version could have the rebalanced characters.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

"All the playmats are the same, actually."

I was hoping -- but at the same time, not counting on -- 4 different playmats representing 4 characters' individual stages. I understand there are art costs, though - glad the background on that one looks so snazzy! Love the 8-bit rule demos on the screens.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterclukes

In this case, it's the manufacturing costs that are the killer, more than the art cost. The playmats are not cheap to make, especially this kind, and when the upgrade pack is only $15 when bundled with the base game, it's kind of ridiculous economics. I just really wanted to get this into people's hands. 4 different kinds of playmats would make it cost even more. I think four copies of the one is cool and functional anyway.

On the screens, that's a different story, and having 4 different sets of art there wasn't a big deal manufacturing-wise, so I thought it was a good opportunity to slip in a 4-part tutorial on some of the rules. ;)

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Really flavorful stuff! I really like the rules illustrations on the screens in particular.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentericewolf

I really love the look of the new pieces (and have pre-ordered, so money is where my mouth is). Even at $40 considering the discount I bought the original game at it makes the total the same as the normal box alone.

I think the mats will make the game more attractive for dragging in new players or spectators. A big visible play area where people can easily tell what the piles of chips in front of you mean make it easy to explain to the casual viewer.

I like the screens as an area to sort the chips you drag out. As the chips come out they're either face up or down and I'm trying to hide this from my opponents while counting out how many I need. Being able to dump them behind a screen makes this process a little easier. The screens don't have any top cover; how close can you sit to someone to just peek over the top to see what is spread out? Would it have been possible to add an extra flap at the top of the card? If this was considered was it just dropped due to technical difficulties or expense?

I also think a few other bits for the game are needed (especially in the base box). "It's a trap" requires trap tokens, of which there are none. It is a bit of an oversight to add a token rule and not provide any tokens in the box. They could've just been added as small punch-outs to the spare space on the cardboard the chips were delivered in. I imagine this would've added minimal cost and just made the game a little more complete out of the box.

A set of randomiser cards (chips) would also have been nice. Cards are easier to shuffle and manage during an initial draw. I've tried a few times taking one of each chip out, putting into a bag and then drawing ten chips out. Then I have to find the original piles for all of the un-used chips as well as draw out the other 4 chips for each pile and find the drafted chip to add them too. This adds a lot of set up time. Eventually I just made a set of cards with chips names on it. In no time it is shuffled and 10 cards can be quickly drawn off the top (unlike fishing in the bad for 10 chips). I accept that the chips are more expensive than cards so you don't want to have to pay for something used once per game and that adding cards requires more manufacturing and art which again adds more expense. Most other deck-builders provide this functionality though.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGruffalo

The screens were always like that since day 1, since they seemed good in the game Revolution.

I'm semi-serious when I ask why it's a given that your CCG cards will mention putting counters on things and of course they don't give you physical counters (just use a penny, or anything) but it's somehow different here? Shrug.

Try this for a randomizer: http://noneedforaname.net/puzzlestrike/
Or the iOS app that I can never get anyone to make. Or if you really wanted to use chips, you'd actually have 25 blanks from base + upgrade pack. And yeah I think the challenge for a theoretical reprint of the game is actually to make the price a little less, as opposed to adding even more things.

August 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I haven't seen Revolution so I don't know how big the screens are in. I was just curious over whether it does prevent opponents peeking over the top or not. Not a big issue anyway for me as I'm a casual player so I know the person playing and trust them not to cheat.

Dominion gives you counters when they are going to be used on cards. Magic doesn't, but it is distributed in a different format to a big pink box of goodies. It was almost a dissapointment the first time we encountered It's a trap in a game and realised we had to go find some tokens. I just found some old small coloured stones to use for the tokens, but as I said there is plenty of space on the cardboard already delivered to include small punched out tokens. It would seem like a small thing to small thing to add but I don't know the cost structure involved in putting the box together and would agree if it added $'s to the cost it isn't worth it.

The problem with both the suggested randomisers is that you need some electronic thing floating around close to the game. I tend to play at work at lunch, and we have restrictions on what you can bring into the workplace. For 99% of the world this isn't a big problem. For me I solved it by using spare business cards. It does give something for the Dominion players to laugh at :(

Are there extra blank chips in the upgrade pack?

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGruffalo

Yes, there are blanks in the upgrade pack. I was saying in my last comment that you'd have 25 blanks from the base set + upgrade pack (10 + 15).

I'll think about randomizers if there's a reprint, but like I said, seems like we should try to find a way to lower costs rather than raise them, so I don't know.

August 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

"Or the iOS app that I can never get anyone to make."

Wouldn't an android app be both easier and cheaper to make? *looks at the Unity website* hell! there are even unity support for android and ios, so most of the work is already done! i didn't know it!

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDomon

Oh my, where to begin on that. I care about there being an iOS version a lot. I do not care about android at all. Once iOS is on track we can talk about android too maybe. Next, Unity working on iOS (true) is a *far cry* from the work being actually done on the app. I mean...someone still has to make it. 0% of that app exists now. And finally, I think using iOS's built-in UI would be a better way to develop a reference app that shows all the chips (and yomi cards) and has a randomizer than using Unity would be.

So in short, yes, a real iOS developer should make a native app that has familiar and standard iOS UI. It should be a randomizer for PS and general reference for all my games. It should be free to users. And making such a simple thing would be a first step toward making actual games on the platform, too. Several have volunteered over the years, but none have followed through yet. Maybe I'd pay for it if I found the right person.

August 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

ok, i understand your point better. still, i was wandering: both yomi and PS online virtual tables work under unity. how difficult /costly would it be to convert them to a ios or android (or even 360) app? what kind of obstacles i'm not thinking of?

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDomon
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