Board Game Review: Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack

Geek Culture

Puzzle Strike play matPuzzle Strike play mat

Puzzle Strike play mat helps you keep track of your chips. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Last year I reviewed a unique deck-building game, Puzzle Strike, which uses cardboard poker chips instead of cards. Instead of shuffling cards, you throw all your chips into a bag, shake ’em up, and pull several out at a time to form your hand. The other difference from other deck-builders is that it simulates a puzzle-type videogame like Puzzle Fighter, in which gems pile up on your screen and you have to keep them from overflowing. It’s kind of a bizarre concept, but fun to play and worth checking out if you like deck-builders.

Sirlin Games has since released an upgrade pack, which just throws a few more things into the mix. It’s not really a full expansion, more like an accessory set, but if you’ve got Puzzle Strike already you might want to consider picking it up.

Here’s what comes in it:

  • 3 new puzzle chips (5 copies each)
  • 30 character chips
  • 15 blank chips
  • 4 play mats
  • 4 player screens

The play mats, seen above, are like big mouse pads that just help you organize your chips. There’s a little turn order reminder in the bottom corner and a height bonus reminder on the bottom left. There’s a discard area and a spot for “ongoing” chips that have a lasting effect. The biggest aid, though, is the gem pile area — it helps you keep track of how high your gem pile is and, more importantly, helps you keep separate your gem pile from gems in your hand that you’re spending, which is one of the difficult concepts for newer players to grasp.

Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack chipsPuzzle Strike Upgrade Pack chips

The new puzzle chips: Combinatorics, Dashing Strike, and Custom Combo

Three new puzzle chips enter the mix. Combinatorics lets you draw chips from your bag each time your previous opponent plays or buys a combine, and helps you counteract players who are building up big gems to crash on you. Dashing Strike lets you trash a 1 gem from your pile, and your next opponent antes a 1: this makes an interesting attack that can’t be countered. Finally, there’s the Custom Combo chip, which just gives you a whopping extra 15 actions. (Chances are, you don’t have that many, so it just basically lets you play all your actions.) You’ll have to save up for it, but then every time it comes up you’ll have a huge turn.

Puzzle Strike screenPuzzle Strike screen

The player screens make it easier to plan out your moves without revealing your chips. Photo: Jonathan Liu

The player screens are simple fold-out cardboard, with the Puzzle Strike logo on the outside and four different gameplay concepts illustrated on the inside with funny 8-bit art. One of the things about playing with chips instead of cards is that it’s tough to look at all of your chips at once, particularly when you’re drawing extras. The screens let you spread out your chips and plan your move without revealing your hand to your opponents.

The blank chips are just that: blank chips. They have the logo on the back and are white on the front. You can use them to replace lost or damaged chips, or I guess you could make up your own. The original set had a few blanks with it as well.

The final component of the Upgrade Pack is the character chips. You get the three character chips for each of the 10 characters in the base game, so now you have an extra copy of each so you can do mirror matches, pitting a character against itself. Well, almost. These character chips are the updated, re-balanced version 1.1, so there are some differences between these and the originals. Game designer David Sirlin is serious about getting the balance right for his characters to allow for tournament-level play, and so the tweaks to the character chips weren’t done lightly. You can read about his design notes here, but I’ve already subbed in the new character chips for the old, and have the old ones as reserves for playing mirror matches.

My only complaint about the Upgrade Pack is trying to figure out how to make all the extra bits fit into my original Puzzle Strike box. The upgrade pack just comes in a shrink-wrapped bundle, so there’s no package. But if you recall from my review, the original game comes with a chip divider tray that is completely full. There’s no room for the new chips in it. I ended up bagging them up and putting everything under the divider — there’s just enough room if you do it right so you can still shut the box. Of course, I’m not sure what other solution there would have been; it doesn’t make sense to manufacture an entirely new tray just to accommodate a few new chips. But it’s a little bit of a hassle you should be aware of.

Overall, I think the Upgrade Pack is a nice addition to a great game. The Upgrade Pack is $25; if you don’t already own the base game you can get it bundled with the expansion and save ten bucks. The game, expansion, and bundle are all available from Sirlin Games.

Wired: New characters are more balanced; player screens and mats help streamline gameplay.

Tired: Where do you fit all this new stuff?

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this expansion.

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