Chip Game Review - Puzzle Strike

At first, it was kind of tough to say what kind of game review I was writing. I mean, I know it was a game review, and those really only come in one flavor (at least when I'm writing them) - a flavor called 'off color.' But it's hard to categorize Puzzle Strike as a board game because there's no board, or a card game because there's no cards. It bills itself as a card game that uses chips instead of cards that simulates a puzzle game that doesn't exist that simulates a fighting game that also doesn't exist. Calling this a 'Card Game That Uses Chips Instead of Cards' game review seemed cumbersome, so I went with Chip Game.

The crazy thing is, Puzzle Strike could have been a card game. You have a bag where you throw your chips, instead of a deck where you put your cards. You draw chips from your bag, and you play the chips like cards. But where cards might have been cheaper to print or easier to categorize, chips just plain work better than cards would have. Plus they're more fun.

In fact, the chips in Puzzle Strike kind of make me want to make one of those Dominion sets where someone converted the whole game and put it on poker chips. It really would work pretty well, and get rid of all that shuffling (not that the shuffling ever really bothered me). But I'm not planning on doing that, because while I have loved Dominion for a long time now, and played it a whole bunch of times, I don't really care if I ever play it again. Puzzle Strike does just about everything Dominion does, but it's way better.

Dominion puts a bunch of cards in the center of the table, and then you go around the table buying them. Puzzle Strike does the same thing, but with chips. Dominion has you building your deck as you play, and so does Puzzle Strike. Dominion gives you some cards that are currency, and Puzzle Strike gives you some chips that are currency. Dominion will not give you a blowjob. Neither will Puzzle Strike. So you see, they're very similar.

But Puzzle Strike dispenses with Dominion's tired, overused, fake-middle-ages theme and replaces it with a quirky, Japanese-style puzzle game pretending to be a fighting game. That sounds insane, and it might be, but it's far more interesting. And where Dominion suffers from a desperate lack of interaction, Puzzle Strike throws a sleeper hold on Dominion, beats it into unconsciousness, and stuffs it into a steamer trunk that it ships to Taiwan, where Dominion spends the rest of its days scrubbing toilets in a factory that makes cheap plastic dinosaur toys.

The goal of Puzzle Strike is outlast your opponents. You lose and are eliminated if you end your turn with ten or more gems in your gem pile (yes, that sounds odd, but only if you never played a Japanese puzzle game that simulates a fighting game - which I have). You automatically gain one gem every turn, but if you have the right chips, you can 'crash' your gems, splinter them into smaller gems, and send them to an opponent.

To really exploit the wacky fighting-game concept, everybody gets a character. You might be the tough stone golem with great defense, or the goofy lucky panda with high risk moves, or the volatile flame-arrow chick who can beat the pants off everyone else but who gets hurt a lot doing it. Your character is defined by three unique chips that you're going to see a lot during the game, so it's a very good idea to tailor your overall strategy to your fighter. The fox ninja girl, for example, is going to want to buy lots of special actions. The half-naked schoolgirl isn't actually in the game, so you know it's not actually a Japanese game, but there's still a good bit of inferred T&A, so the influence is still there.

Often, your turn might be pretty obvious, based on the chips you have in your hand. If you've only got one action, it's not really that tough to decide what you're going to do. But more often than not, Puzzle Strike gives you the chance to make really cool moves that leave everyone at the table saying, 'ooooh, good move!' except the guy to your left, who is going to say, 'you son of a bitch.' You have to plan your purchases and form an overall strategy for the game, but you also have to be on your toes and be creative with the chips you have available at any given time. It's genius, is what it is. It's smarter than Dominion, and considering how much I've enjoyed Dominion, that's saying an awful lot.

The place where Puzzle Strike really shines in comparison to Dominion is how much you're forced to work around the horrible things other plays do to you. Hold on to those defense chips or lean heavily on brutal attacks. Save your crashes for just the right moment or hammer away constantly. The choices are yours, but you're not playing in a vacuum. If you were playing in a vacuum, you wouldn't be able to breathe, so that's probably for the best.

I can't even begin to describe how much I've enjoyed Dominion since I started playing it. It's innovative and original, smart and just plain fun. And so when I say that I don't care if I ever play it again, because Puzzle Strike is better, I want you to understand that I'm not saying that lightly. Puzzle Strike picks up where Dominion left off and improves on the absolute brilliance to create a game that is more exciting, more intelligent, and more damned fun.


2-4 players

Thematically clever
Neat art
Great components
Strategy and tactics in massive doses
A lot like Dominion, but better

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Noble Knight Games is sold out of Puzzle Strike right now, but you can still get it direct from the publisher right here: