The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Puzzle Strike

Given that the majority of my offline games of Dominion are against the TaoLing, I figured I’d take a shot on Puzzle Strike and it’s now arrived. The rules clearly acknowledge Donald X., and while not a Dominion Clone, it’s so similar that the TaoLing was instantly referring to cards by their Dominion equivalents. (“I’ll buy a silver.”)

The obvious novelty is that you use chips instead of cards, and just dump them into your bag to reshuffle. As someone who can’t stand certain textures (velvet and corduroy in particular), the provided bags instantly rubbed me the wrong way. That’s why I stocked up on Crown Royale bags. But I will say that did make it easier for TaoLing to shuffle, and I like the aesthetic (the backs look like poker chips).

The true novelty is in how you win. Puzzle Strike is firmly in the “Player Elimination” mode … each turn you ante (get) a 1-value chip into your gem area. (Distinct from your hand, discards, bag). At the end of your turn you refill to 5 chips, but get a bonus chip for every 3rd point of gem you have … except that you lose if you end with 10 or more.  The main (‘available every game’) actions let you combine two gems into one larger one  (“Combine”) or send a single gem (of any value) to another player’s area (“Crash”). Crashing a gem breaks it back into 1-gems. So if you crash a 3, your opponent gets three 1-value gems. You can counter a crash with a crash, except that four value gems are unblockable.

The other big difference is that each player has a character, which have 3 unique chips. In the games I played, one character a big finisher (trash a chip from hand or discard to play it twice) and some cantrips, while the other had a crash-counter,  a versatile utility (money or draw or hold a chip until next turn), and a remodel.

So, unlike Dominion, each player differs from the get go. This means that (for a 2 player game), the base game has 45 different starting setups for each standard dominion setup (25 choose 10).

Many of the effects are straight out of Dominion, but there are some twists. You can automatically split up your purchase into as many buys (and you are forced to buy each turn, taking a wound chip for free if you have no money). Actions come in flavors (red for attack, blue for reaction, purple for combine and crash and biege for everything else) and many of the “+ X actions” will restrict them (such as “+ 1 Red action”). The “You may set aside one chip for your next hand” symbol (a piggy bank) is a clever addition, and interesting decision.

I haven’t tried four player, but the big news is that when you crash you crash the player next in line. So there may be multiplayer weirdness (“I could crash the next guy, but I think he can take out player C and my setup can’t…”).

Ignoring those potential issues (which are theoretical, as of now)Puzzle Strike produces a nice ebb and flow. Gems enter the play area (via Anteing) and tend to bounce around, although counter-crashing removes them You don’t mind (and may prefer) having a mid-range number of gems, and you might even want to end a turn at 9, for the 3 chip bonus, but it’s risky. In our second game,  I managed to set Aidan to 11 (you have until the end of your action phase to drop back below 10), but he had an 8 chip hand and could barely clear out, back to 9. I did a bunch of combining (so I could send several chips across) and ended at 6, only to discover that a) Aidan’s 8 chip hand had “+2 Actions” and a crash (and double crash) and b) I had no defense in my next hand.

Having played probably 750+ games of Dominion (mostly online, but nearly 200 FTF, mostly against Aidan), I’m still finding new things here and there in a Dominion setup, but having a new game to explore is a breath of fresh air, and I suspect Puzzle Strike’s base set will be much more difficult to master than Domnions. (A good thing, as I don’t expect an expansion).


Written by taogaming

August 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

7 Responses

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  1. Actually, there’s already a nearly-finalized expansion listed in the forums at Here’s the “card” list, suitable for print & play –
    This expansion simply adds new characters with new unique abilities, rather than changing the base draft set. There’s also a “rebalance” of the core characters, designed to address some issues that appeared over the last year on the online playtest service.

    I’m unsure when/if either of these will see printed release, but I believe they’re both currently playable at



    August 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm

  2. Apparently there’s a Puzzle Strike expansion in the works, but it might take a while.

    The b) part in your example rubs me the wrong way. I hate having a good bag of chips, with plenty of Crashes and to lose, because none of the Crashes felt like appearing in my hand on the turn somebody pushed me over 10.

    Also, I’d exchange the chips for cards, no doubt about it.

    Mikko Saari

    August 11, 2011 at 12:13 am

    • Well, certainly there is a fair amount of luck, but in our more recent games we’re buying a lot more purple than the first few. (My last game had each player with 2-3 double crashes and 2-3 crashes! And no villages, so at one terminal action a turn).

      And I see there’s an expansion. It’s a must-buy when it comes up, but I’m in no hurry. There’s an online tourney starting around labor day, I may do it.


      August 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

  3. I’ve been playing this game a ton lately, and it’s pretty much replaced Dominion as my go-to deck builder. I think it’s the only one that has been able to tap into the addictiveness of Dominion, while still building on the design.

    San Il Defanso

    August 11, 2011 at 8:16 am

    • Certainly I haven’t been enamored of the other deckbuilding games I’ve tried (Ascension, Thunderstone, Graxia all faded pretty fast).


      August 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  4. We’ve chalked up about 30 games of Puzzle Strike, mainly work games during lunch breaks. Certainly unforgiving – just diluting your bag a little bit means you get purple drought and you’re doomed. Really like the game much more than Dominion – it’s much more interactive and in your face. Chips and bag texture don’t bother me at all.


    August 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm

  5. Well, one issue (noted on BGG) is that often you only want maybe 1 or 2 non-purple chips. I don’t need everygame to have a village/smithy action chain, but it’s next to impossible to pull off in puzzle strike (Gem Essence helps a lot). So it’s a bit too much of “Big Money” and not enough of “Everything else” but I”m still enjoying it.


    August 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm

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