Yomi arrived last night, and I’m extremely excited to try it. Chances are, you have no idea what Yomi is. Let’s change that.
Yomi is a competitive card games based in the Fantasy Strike universe, designed and created by David Sirlin. Sirlin, who you may know as a professional game balancer, pro gamer, or gameplay theorist, is also an independent board/card game designer. Yomi is his third independently created and printed game, following Puzzle Strike and Flash Duel. All three games take place in his “Fantasy Strike” universe, and all three games are physical, boxed games that simulate the atmosphere and style of a fighting game. Puzzle Strike, for example, simulates a gem fighting game, something Sirlin has much expertise with. (On a side note, every link above is an excellent read. Of particular interest is his ‘Playing To Win’ book, as well as the Street Fighter balancing posts. He goes into insane amounts of detail about the balancing decisions made for each character.)
What’s most interesting to me about his games is how accurately they recreate the feel of a fighting game. The first game I purchased from Sirlin was Flash Duel, and for a little while, it didn’t really *click* with me. Moving back and forth along a board, throwing out attacks that seemed random - something about it just didn’t really work for me. But after a few matches (he isn’t kidding when he calls if ‘Flash’ Duel; matches are obscenely quick), I realized something: I was trying to think about what my opponent had. And it clicked for me. Flash Duel was about spacing and pacing; preventing your opponent from getting too close to you, until you draw him just close enough for your huge attack. Suddenly I started to love it, and I ordered Puzzle Strike, which as already mentioned, is a surprisingly accurate simulation of gem fighter gameplay, and it’s a lot of fun. Puzzle Strike is all about building up a huge gem pile and then crashing that gem pile on your opponent. Just like in Puzzle Fighter, however, building a gem pile is dangerous, because once your gem pile gets too large, you lose. It’s a blast.
But Yomi is the one I’m most interested in. In short, Yomi shares the same gameplay conceit as most fighting games. Attacks can be blocked, blockers can be thrown, and attacks interrupt throws - rock, paper, scissors. Of course, this simulates a fighting game, so if someone lands an attack or throw, they can start a dangerous combo. But what makes Yomi so interesting are the mindgames. Each player has a hand of potential cards, and you have to try and tell what your foe is going to do to win. If you see him holding a huge hand, he might be preparing for a huge combo, so you might want to try blocking. On the other hand, he might be preparing for a combo and notice that you’re likely to block, so he might try and throw you. The entire point of Yomi is reading the other player (the word Yomi means “reading” in Japanese), and it sounds like a blast. The same idea of winning the mindgame applies to his other games, especially Flash Duel; the entire game is about spacing, and trying to predict what your enemy will do. Which is key to winning most competitive games. Figuring out what your enemy will do, and countering it.
It’s great that these board & card games simulate every single aspect of fighting games, save for technical button presses and complicated button combos. You get all the strategy, all of the mindgames (indeed, even more of them, since it’s much easier to look your opponent in the eyes when you’re sitting facing each other), all of the fun social aspects of playing games with each other, but it’s much more accessible. I love fighting games, but the difficult combinations don’t add much to the strategy of the fight and they make it much more difficult for new players to enjoy. If I want to introduce somebody to fighting games, I might consider introducing them to Yomi or Flash Duel as well to help them understand the core concepts of how the battle works before we start discussing the finer aspects of Focus Attack Dash Cancels.
Weirdly, a lot of gamers don’t ever play board games or even consider them. I’m guessing that’s because most people’s board game knowledge is limited to Monopoly and Scrabble, and most people associate card games with Magic the Gathering & expensive booster decks. Most people don’t actually know that most competitive card games aren’t actually like that; while collectible card games (CCGs) are big money, games like Yomi or Dominion have no booster packs, no randomized cards … in other words, no wasted money or time. While these games sometimes have expansions, this is more analogous to an old-school expansion pack or a major piece of DLC; the expansion packs significantly expand the game by adding more options, but the core decks are tournament worthy right away. This is actually a big selling point on Sirlin’s website.
The final thing I should note about his games are their fantastic production values. Yomi arrived in a gorgeous box, and each character’s deck is individually packaged in classy boxes, not only keeping them separated but also making them easy to transport if I was just bringing a deck or two for a game. In addition, it includes two gorgeous battle mats used for tracking your health. And not the cheap, paper-thin battlemats of other games. These are thicker than my mousepad, and the artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Puzzle Strike & Flash Duel both arrived in wooden boxes, the chips are made of wood … buying one of these games and displaying it on your shelf is much more satisfying then buying Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, with a one-page legal warning inside the box. They real feel like something you want to show off, you want to take out of the box and show people, and that segues really well into “let’s try it!”.
So, what’s the take home message of today’s post? Nothing insightful or massive, I suppose. I’m super excited to play Yomi, on the sole basis that Sirlin’s other games are fantastic, and if you’re at all a fan of great games, fighting games, board/card games, or games in general, I highly recommend you check out Flash Duel or Puzzle Strike (Yomi is currently sold out), or at least check out his website and read about them. I haven’t yet played Yomi, but you can be sure that when I do, there’ll be a follow-up post about it. In addition, my excitement about Yomi will potentially incite me to write a bit more about boardgames, so expect that later this week or next week.