Do not discard Sirlin’s discard piles

Sirlin Header

I’m no stranger to the expensive nature of collectable card games. I grew up during the Pokémon craze, transitioned to Yu-Gi-Oh! a few years later, and finally got around to playing Magic: The Gathering, the game that invented the concept. I’ve spent more money on this one game than any other, and while that’s a testament to its flexible and inventive design, it still upsets my wallet how pricey it is to keep up with the changes. They print and sell almost a thousand cards every year! David Sirlin, the man behind Sirlin Games, has a distinct abhorrence towards this business model and has created a few games that offer similarly deep gameplay without the expense. So why don’t I like them as much as Magic?

Let’s step back for a second. Sirlin has a strong appreciation for asymmetrical games – ones in which all participants use the same rules but choose different characters that affect playstyle – which isn’t surprising considering his background in balancing games such as Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix. His games take place in the Fantasy Strike universe, featuring a unique array of twenty different fighters, all of which are in his three games. What’s so cool about this is that their abilities carry over to each game. The abilities function differently within the other games’ rulesets, yet still feel true to the character.

I own all of his games. I love how all of the characters feel different. I love the artwork. I love the simplistic yet complex designs. There is a design quirk though found within all three of his three games – Flash Duel, Puzzle Strike, and Yomi – that irks the hell out of the competitive player in me. In order to become a better player you must must must play close attention to discard piles. And it makes me a sad Squinshee.

puzzle strike playing

My girlfriend Emily, my friend Conor, and me (invisible) playing Puzzle Strike. I’m moments away from pathetic defeat.

In Flash Duel, both players draw from the same 25 card deck, with each card displaying a number from one to five. Knowing what numbers have and haven’t been played is fundamental to your success.

In Yomi, both players have a unique deck of 56 un-customizable cards. Knowing what cards are in your opponents deck is beneficial, but watching what cards they’ve played helps you know what might not be in their hand. This information will undoubtedly lead to becoming a better player.

Purchasing stronger cards to add to your deck in Puzzle Strike is what makes it such an interesting and complex game. The side effect is that if you want an improved shot at winning, cross-referencing what cards are in the opponents discard pile to cards they have purchased throughout the entire game is a massive undertaking in sheer memorization.

Calculating risk based off probabilities and intense memorization are not components I find to be fun in games. Yeah, you don’t have to factor all of that in, but if you enjoy becoming better at games like I do by exploring the true depth of its design, it’s vital to your success to be constantly aware of these factors. Sirlin himself plays games like this too. He wrote a book entitled “Playing to Win,” that discusses just that. I’d rather pay more (a lot more) money to play Magic: The Gathering if it means I derive pleasure from playing to win.

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