Thanks to everyone who pledged in the Puzzle Strike Kickstarter campaign so far! It's still going strong!
I recently wrote at great length how important it was to making Puzzle Strike the best game it can be for expert tournament players. While it's nice to know that the game holds up at that level of play, not everyone even cares about that. I mean, is it fun in the first place? How does it fare with more than two players?
Free-For-All Mode: 2nd Edition
In Puzzle Strike 2nd Edition, the 4-player mode has player elimination. If your gem pile fills up, you're out of the game and the other players continue. Also, you can't choose who you crash to; you must always crash to the player to your left. ("Crash" means break gems in your own gem pile and send them to another player's gem pile.)
There's a reason the 2nd Edition worked this way and a reason why the third edition doesn't. Regarding player elimination, while it's not a desirable feature really, it's better than a system with "lame duck" gameplay. That term refers to a player who has no possible way to win a game, but who is somehow still in the game. For example, in a deckbulding game where you collect victory points and where the game ends when the stack of victory point cards is empty, it's very possible for one player to be far enough behind that he cannot possibly get enough VP to win, even if he got all the remaining VP cards. Whenever you have a lame-duck player, you are inviting kingmaker. In other words, if you have a player who can't possibly win anymore, you are inviting the problem of that player making moves that will affect which *other* player will win. And beyond that, it's just a stupid feeling to be in a lame-duck situation.
Player elimination solves that problem. In Puzzle Strike 2nd Edition, if you're not out yet, you can still win. In order to reduce the downtime after you're out, the final crash that puts you over the top "overflows" and can possibly knock out other players at the same time. And besides that, the game is usually pretty fast anyway.
Then there's the other point: in Puzzle Strike 2nd Edition, you can only crash to the left, not to anyone you want. If you could crash to anyone you want, the optimal strategy is both obvious and stupid: you should form a pre-game alliance with someone, and agree to gang up on the other players to eliminate them one by one, then face off with your "partner." Any free-for-all game with targeted attacks faces this problem, and I think any thoughtful design has to do something to prevent or minimize it. Hence your inability to choose your target in the 2nd Edition.
Great, so what's the problem? The problem is that even though player elimination and forced target selection solve very real problems, a lot of people just don't like those things. Also, even though the game usually ends quickly after someone is eliminated, there are unfortunately times where it can drag on much too long.
Free-For-All Mode: 3rd Edition
With the 3rd Edition (and the Shadows expansion), I wanted to get rid of player elimination, but somehow not introduce the lame-duck problem and somehow avoid the problem of pre-game alliances too. This was actually a tough nut to crack, and I think it took over a year to really figure out.
Now, the game ends at the same time for everyone whenever *anyone's* gem pile fills up. At that point, the winner is the player with the lowest gem pile. (If there's a tie, there's a tie-breaking procedure where everyone takes another turn.) Also, you can crash gems to any player you want, and you can even counter-crash to "save" other players from losing. The dynamics that result from this are non-obvious, somewhat bizarre, and quite interesting.
First, you can't really even make a pre-game alliance with someone. If you both decide to double team another player, whichever player in this alliance has a higher gem pile total will realize he shouldn't allow that killing blow to happen, or he'll just lose. In fact, ANY time a player is about to have his or her gem pile filled to the top, that player ALWAYS has another "friend" in the game. Whichever other player doesn't have the lowest gem pile really wants to save the poor player who is about to cause the game to end. Who you're "friends" with necessarily shifts over the course of the game, depending on how poised you are to win when someone else causes the end-game condition.
I urge you to give it a try. I will say that the feedback from playtesters on this mode was pretty consistent. Most of them said, "This mode sounds terrible," then they played, then they said "This is great, I'm never playing the player elimination mode again." Ha! Perhaps it would have been better marketing-wise to have a mode that played terribly but *sounded* like it would be good. I will settle for the other way around though! Seriously though, not having to worry about downtime between games or about a pair of out-of-game friends crushing you every time is pretty awesome. Crashing to whoever you want and protecting whoever you want with counter-crashes opens up even more decisions, so it works out well.
2v2 Team Battle Mode
This mode is pretty self-explanatory. Have you played 2 Headed Giant in MTG? It's pretty much like that. You share a gem pile, and take your turn at the same time as your partner. 2v2 is fun in almost any game just from the social dynamics of it all; it's nice to have someone on your side when you're trying to have a good time.
Custom Clockwork Mode
In Flash Duel 2nd Edition, I put in a mode where you can draft your own character by mixing and matching chips from different characters. People really liked that, so it's in the new Puzzle Strike as well. Enjoy. ;)
You can never get 100% of the people to agree on anything, ever. That is, until this rule. It is the first time in human history that everyone agreed that a thing was good.
The Panic Time rule simulates in a puzzle game when time is running out and the pieces are falling faster. It exists to end games that are going too long. When stacks of chips in the bank run out, players have to ante 2-gems instead of 1-gems. If the game goes a bit longer, Panic Time turns to Danger Time where they must ante 3-gems. If it goes a bit longer than that, Deadly Time activates where they must ante 4-gems (which are *un-countercrashable* in Puzzle Strike!).
95% of the reason this rule exists is for new players, and 5% is for experts. Sometimes new players struggle to build a good enough deck to really finish each other off. (Often this is because they buy too many money chips, because that is a good strategy in other deckbuilding games, but not in Puzzle Strike.) To help address that, the rulebook gives some basic advice on how to play effectively now. But more than that, the Panic Time rule will kick in and help you end the game if your deck is getting too bloated to really do the job effectively.
When good players play, Panic Time rarely kicks in. Like I said, it's mostly for beginners. But when it does kick in during expert play, the experts are thankful. Once in a while, two experts have the opposite problem as the beginners. They each manage to build such a efficient and amazing decks, that they stay exactly equal with each other, and struggle to finish each other off. While this is rare, it's really stupid when it happens, and players will even skip playing the mega-powerful Master Puzzler chip in this situation, because all the good chips it could get them are already gone from the bank. When experts do manage to reach this kind of deadlock (and again, that's not often), an end-the-game force from Panic Time is welcome.
The Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack came with extra components: playmats and screens to hide your chips on the table. Even though these things aren't necessary, they sure help. And just as importantly, they look cool. It's just more fun when there's some extra visual appeal to a game.
The screens each teach a different game rule using amusing 8-bit character art, and if you don't like holding a bunch of chips in your hand, they offer an alternative:
The playmats are now boards in Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition and Puzzle Strike Shadows:
A lot of reviews said that after playing with those components, they couldn't imagine playing the game without them. Ok fine, they come right in the box now, thanks to our success on Kickstarter! And also, the box is bigger so there's even more space to hold the extra components.
Even if you don't care about Puzzle Strike as an intense competitive game, I hope you can appreciate the interesting new multiplayer modes, the Panic Time rule, and the extra components it comes with these days. Show your support in the Kickstarter campaign if you're interested. Thanks!