Codex Early Access

Codex is the customizable card game I've been working on for a very, very long time. It will still be many months before we mass produce it and make it publicly available. In September though, we'll open up just 200 slots for people to get physical copies of the game. These players will be seeing the game way ahead of everyone else, and they can join us in polishing up the last bits.

All the artwork is finished and the game feels finished. So even though these are "prototype" copies, the cards would already be considered done by most companies. We'd like a larger group of people hammer away on it before the full release though.

If you want to get one of these 200 slots, these are the steps:

1) Sign up at as a patron at the $25 level for at least one month on my Patreon.
2) In September, you'll get instructions and access through Patreon to be able to buy the Codex starter set + all 6 factions for $99.99 + shipping. ($165 value, so this is a limited time thing.)
3) After we fill these slots, the game will be shipped to you shortly after, within a few weeks.

As long as you remain a patron (at any level), over the coming months you'll have access to change-packs of any updates we do to the cards (offered at just the cost of printing + shipping). You're also invited to give feedback on Patreon about balance issues. That said, it won't make sense to make balance claims right off the bat. You'll need to get your head around the game and play against competent players before you'd even know if some strategy was truly hard to beat. Lots of players are using skype to play each other remotely, so we can give you instructions how to participate in that, or even just watch other players' games to see what they do.

By the way, being a Patron is also a general way to support my work. All the money goes to paying for artists on Codex and also for artists and programmers on the Fantasy Strike fighting game. You'll get to see all the behind the scenes versions of everything I work on if you're at the $25 level and you'll get my Raw Game Design podcast at the $10 level and above.

If you have no idea what Codex even is, stay tuned. I'll post more about the game this week.


A New Era of Fighting Games

Did you hear the news?

"Former Street Fighter designer / Evolution staff member / writer of competitive gaming guide is working on a new fighting game focusing on easy execution, great online play, and will be free to play."

Which game is it though: Fantasy Strike or Rising Thunder? You actually can't tell from that headline.

I was a designer on one version of Street Fighter while Seth Killian assisted with other Street Fighter games. I was an Evolution staff member a long time ago while Seth still is. I wrote the book on competitive games, Playing to Win, while Seth wrote the great Domination 101 series. I even quote a few paragraphs of Domination 101 in Playing to Win. It's clear that we're cut from the same cloth and have similar experiences with competitive fighting games. We've each even represented the US at the Super Battle Opera Tournament in Japan.

So it's not too surprising that we've each independently been working on different fighting games that have the same emphasis on making moves easy to do; me with Fantasy Strike and Seth with Rising Thunder. As Seth has recently said in various interviews, no one is excited about Daigo (one of the best players in the world) "not missing his fireball inputs over and over." They are excited that Daigo gets in your head, sets you up, and makes generally great decisions. Somehow he manages to make even better decisions in high pressure situations, and often expresses his creativity in those moments. That's exciting stuff. When you love something, you want to tell the world about it and I think both Seth and I love this stuff and want as many people to be able to experience it as possible. That means getting rid of execution barriers so that more people can get to the good stuff sooner.

Yomi Card Game

I took many of the concepts and dynamics that go on in fighting games and put them into a card game form Yomi (Steam / iOS / tabletop). I think Yomi really succeeded at that and let people with literally no dexterity abilities catch a glimpse of what fighting games are about. I'm really pleased with it and there are more Yomi tournaments now than ever. As great as it is, it isn't literally a fighting game though. As much as it captures, it doesn't capture the real-time element or the distancing or timing tricks you can do in a real fighting game. So I've been longing to do what Yomi did, but in the form of an actual fighting game. That is, take the great parts of fighting games but strip away as much as possible so that more people can experience it.


Fantasy Strike actually goes quite a bit further down that road than Rising Thunder does. The part about special moves being just one button is the same, but Fantasy Strike's control scheme is even simpler and has even fewer moves. All that really means is we're ending up on slightly different points on this spectrum:

I think my earlier self would say "fewer moves sounds like a bad idea!" And even my current self wouldn't say that the number of moves in a game like Rising Thunder is bad. It's fine! But the thing I've discovered in the last year is that you can do a whole lot with very little. Divekick is really the pioneer game here. It started as a joke game, but ended up proving that you can have a whole lot of gameplay in a game with no joystick at all and just two buttons: jump and attack. A really surprising amount of gameplay. (Shoutout to Keits: good job!) That really shifted my thinking around and I started thinking in terms of "if a game had EVEN MORE stuff than Divekick, just imagine how much there could be to it." By carefully crafting move design and making sure moves have several different uses, it turns out that radically simplifying the genre still preserves the core of what's good about it. It still FEELS like a fighting game with frame traps, combos, okizeme (pressure against a knocked down opponent), and so on. But it controls so amazingly simply that you can pick it up and play immediately.

I've been pleasantly surprised to see some players who are generally not that great at fighting games have been able to have pretty exciting matches with me. The setups, the tricks, and even the combos are basically immediately accessible to them, so they are playing the real game within minutes. Even though these same people might struggle with getting consistent special moves in Street Fighter, I now see that at least a couple of them always had the head for these types of games, just not the hands, ha. I'm glad to bring them into the fold.  

Mac / PC

It seems both Fantasy Strike and Rising Thunder will have a solid focus on the PC platform. That is, not an afterthought port. We've had Mac builds as well as PC builds from day 1 on Fantasy Strike, though I can't comment on other platforms right now. Anyway, one noteworthy thing about the Mac / PC platform is keyboard control. Fighting game tournaments are a sea of joysticks. Playing a fighting game on a keyboard is a generally awful thing...unless you redesign the control system to eliminate 360s, half circles, quarter circles, dragon punch motions, and so on. Then you're just pressing individual buttons, and it works a lot better. Fantasy Strike goes even further by demanding only two keys from your left hand: move left and move right. You don't even need to map up or down, as your right hand can press the jump, attack, and special buttons. (We could certainly add more to our controls scheme if we need to, but so far it's gone over fantastically in playtesting exactly how it is.)

What's neat is that these simplified control schemes work very well on a stick, very well on a pad, AND very well on keyboard. So it seems both Fantasy Strike and Rising Thunder have zeroed in on that concept, that making simpler controls doesn't JUST make the interesting parts of the game more accessible, it ALSO makes physical equipment you need to play the game more accessible. Everyone has a keyboard and it works great for these games!


Rising Thunder deserves very special mention here for having Tony Cannon behind it, the creator of the awesome GGPO networking system. I was actually one of the first players (the very first?) to test GGPO back in the day. I remember that my feedback on his first pass which had really no optimizations and no other testing at all was that it was noticeably better than any other fighting game networking I had ever used. Tony was very excited to hear that because he said there were all sorts of things he could do make online even less laggy feeling. He of course went on to do just that and, using the "rollback" technique, created hands-down the best online tech for fighting games. If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that Rising Thunder is going to have fantastic networking from a technical standpoint.

And of course Fantasy Strike will use rollback networking as well, hopefully with GGPO. There's just no other acceptable way to do it, and it's totally baffling that rollback networking wasn't already a standard 10 years ago, much less in 2015.

Even though the technical implementation of online play is SUPER important, I think there's a lot more room for improvement even beyond that when it comes to online play. The whole way it's presented in fighting games is really very confusing and junky. Any kind of design thing that is confusing and junky drives me nuts, but this subject really deserves special mention because the effects are much bigger than if, say, button config is confusing and junky (which would also be horrible!). Anyway when there's any friction to how you actually go about playing online, that reduces the pool of opponents, increases wait times, and the cycle can compound until there just isn't anyone online.

Other genres are really miles beyond fighting games when it comes to this stuff. It's time for us to step up and streamline not just special moves and control systems, but also the overall experience of playing online.


Even though Fantasy Strike and Rising Thunder come from such similar origins and have such similar principles to them, the actual feel of the games will be quite different. So while it's an interesting hook how on-the-same-page these two games are with each other in so many ways, it will be equally interesting to see where they diverge.

Unfortunately, I can't say much more about that right now, but I will say that Fantasy Strike has a different take on throw escapes than the rest of the genre and I've waited literally over 10 years now to put it into a game. I'll hold off on more gameplay details because Fantasy Strike is still very early in development. I'm just happy that there's going to be some new entries in the fighting game genre that will each do their part in spreading the love of what's so fun about the genre to a whole new set of people who have been left behind so far.

When the team over at Radiant (lead by Evolution founder Tom Cannon, by the way) and I are both working so hard toward the same kind of ends on separate projects, it really does feel like a new era of fighting games is on the horizon. An inclusive era that is going to expand the genre while keeping their wonderful strategic nature intact. If anything, the focus in these games is going to be on strategy more than ever, and less on 1p training mode. While some are going to call that dumbed down for casuals, it's actually the opposite of dumbing down to put more emphasis on player-decisions.


If you'd like to support my game development and podcasts, you can become a patron at The higher tier patrons are already playing my customizable card game Codex (tabletop version) and a 1-character prototype build of the Fantasy Strike fighting game showing the gameplay without real art. There will be a new build there next week with a second character. I stress to any potential patrons that we're letting you in on things way, way early and have focused entirely on gameplay and are only showing builds with extremely rough art for now which will all be updated with "real" art as we go. Come on board if you'd like to help support the development of the game all the way through.

I think it's a great time for the genre, and the times they are a-changin'.

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 11: Game Balancing Techniques

We discuss techniques I use to balance games. The point more about HOW we talk about such things and the general approach rather than any specific example, but we cover many specific examples to illustrate the points. Includes examples from Street Fighter and Codex as well as an amusing anecdote from the history of mathematics.

Hosts: David Sirlin and Matt "Aphotix" DeMasi

Become a Patron on Patreon?

I want to show you some of what I'm working (Codex, Flowchart, and a Fighting game) and tell you about Patreon. Patreon has been the biggest surprise-great-thing to me in the last year. It might remind you of kickstarter, but it's really not like that at all.'s fun. You can get to my Patreon here.


Kickstarter is a great and useful tool to raise money for a project. "Fun" is the last thing that comes to my mind when I hear it though. It's a place to do an enormous amount of work in a short time and mostly deal with hassles like shipping. Also, you shouldn't be "trying out a new idea" there. You should be showing something you thought every detail of through, completely visualized, and hopefully already made most of. Anything less than that, and it's going to be hard to get people interested because you don't have enough to show AND it's a bad idea anyway because you have to commit to a specific release date which you wouldn't be able to estimate unless you had things mostly figured out already. (Side note: I shipped 3 out of 3 kickstarters on time, with the 4th one on track to be on time too!)


On Patreon, you support a PERSON, rather than a specific project. That person might have many projects, some of them not really even appropriate for a kickstarter (such as doing podcasts). The part that has turned out the most FUN to me, and to my patrons I think, is that I can post every update of everything I'm working on there, big or small. During Pandante development, I posted dozens of versions of the game board, cards, rules, etc. Patrons helped playtest and also just point out errors or give suggestions how to improve things. What I didn't expect is that overall, patrons gave better feedback than any other medium I have used. So that encouraged me to post even more there, and so on. It's a supportive and friendly environment where I can actually get things done, and show people the steps along the way.

Right now, in addition to my podcasts, I have three main game development projects in the works. Codex, Flowchart, and now...the Fantasy Strike fighting game (yes, really!). At the $10 subscription level, patrons get my "Raw Game Design" podcast where I discuss actual design problems in the middle of solving for my games, as well as some sneak peeks at art. Everyone, even non-patrons, get my main podcast about game design for free. At the $25 subscription level, patrons get all that plus they can see all the latest gameplay materials for the tabletop games so they can make their own print-and-play version, and they will get builds of the digital games when those are ready. For example, they got keys for Steam Yomi weeks or months before it launched.


The tabletop version of Codex is now very far along in development. Its theme is inspired by RTS games like Warcraft and Starcraft, so you can think of it sort of like Warcraft 3 in card form. Heroes are really important to the game and you need them to cast spells. Tech buildings let you build more powerful units. Your opponent is always a step behind what you're planning, kind of like the fog of war in those games.

You can play 4 factions of Codex with the Patreon materials right now, which is hundreds of cards. It has all real and beautiful art, not placeholder, and the rest of the factions to follow very soon. Codex was a huge hit at Fantasy Strike Expo, and is what most attendees played and talked about the whole time.

Codex is a customizable card game that stands apart from others like Magic or Hearthstone in that it's competitively fair. You will never play with an underpowered deck that doesn't have enough rares or anything like that because there are no rares. You will never have intentional material advantage or disadvantage over opponents because it's simply not possible in the game system, for anyone.

Just as importantly, it's designed to not even need endless new cards. We can make lots of cards, sure, but there is just so much to the game that it's interesting to play for years as it is right now. This comes partly from the core mechanic being that you build your deck as you play (but not like in Puzzle Strike or Dominion), and partly that from there just being so many in-game decisions that matter. Likewise, out-of-game decisions are vastly less important in Codex because so much of the strategy happens WHILE you play. Think of it like in a fighting game: you want all characters to be roughly the same power level so that you can choose one that's FUN to you without being gimped and without having to start the game at 1-9 disadvantage or something. In Codex, there are over 1000 possible decks, each one of them differing from each other by more than 1/3rd, and ALL of them at least as strong as a weak fighting game character (such as ST Cammy, for example). It's really not like put together like any other card game in that respect.

Here are some cards:


This game is really simple to learn, but mind-bending to play. It was originally from designer Tim Fowers of Paperback and Wok Star fame, but I'm adapting it to the Fantasy Strike universe. In Flowchart, you play your cards double-blind with the opponent like in Yomi, but you must play your next card wherever the arrow points from your first card. If you get hit, you follow the red arrow, for example.

It's possible to loop back around and end up arriving on a card you already played. In that case, your combat option is already locked in! Your opponent can play anything they want against you...unless they arrived on an already locked-in card too! This creates interesting loops and can sometimes end the game instantly. The best description I've had of the game from player so far has been, "Wow this feels like playing a fighting game really badly!"

Fantasy Strike Fighting Game

Speaking of fighting games, let's make one. I talked about an idea for a simple fighting game in this podcast and now I'll start making it. Fighting games have gotten so full of difficult execution stuff that adds nothing to gameplay, that it can be really frustrating. Kara throws, option selects, plinking, etc just gets in the way of the actual decisions that are interesting. That said, there are some fighting games that have tons of interesting strategy even though they are very complex, such as Guilty Gear Xrd. But either way, the market of "very complex fighting game" is pretty saturated.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's Divekick. I think Divekick is a really notable game in that it's kind of out there all alone. It only uses two buttons and no joystick, and it's much, much simpler than any other fighting game. But there is surprisingly much to the game. It has much more strategy to it than I would have imagined ahead of time. Divekick shows us that we really can do a lot with just a little.

I'd like Fantasy Strike to be in the middle. More of a "real fighting game" than Divekick, but still much simpler than any other non-Divekick game to play. Simpler to play doesn't mean there's less skill needed though or fewer decisions, just less execution skill.

I'm already commissioning art and programming for the game, and Patreon patrons can help support the development of it. Here's a figure of Grave that is the basis of his model in the fighting game:

Patreon Again

Let's talk about costs for a moment. Keep this universal truth in mind, "people don't know what things cost." Things generally cost massively more than you probably realize. The tabletop version of Codex has been in development for 10+ years off and on, and if we ONLY count the art costs, it's six figures at this point. Here's the real killer though: that's before you even start making an online version (and before you do any manufacturing or shipping of the physical version). Hearthstone, a digital-only game, had about 15 employees working for years, which comes to over $2 million in development alone, let alone marketing. (From what I can tell, you can add in hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing from JUST their first appearance at PAX East at launch).

Ok, and what about a fighting game? Imagine a team of 15 people working on that. Now look up the credits for any other fighting game and see how far that gets you. If we had a team of 15 on the fighting game and another team of 15 on the online version of Codex, that's maybe...$180,000 month burn rate? That's assuming paying people industry standard salaries (or below), but it's not JUST salaries there. Software licenses, equipment, rent, accounting fees, legal fees, employment insurance, and a significant amount of taxes. I'm probably estimating low there.

That sort of money is not within my grasp, and while there's some long-shot a portion of it could be available through kickstarter, as I explained at the beginning, it's best to hold off on kickstarter until you really have things figured out. So my actual goal will be teams of just 2 or 3 to get things going for these online games to at least a playable state and THEN we can figure out whether do a kickstarter, or grow it organically or what. To get even that starting point off the ground, I can't really do it alone though. And Patreon has been so excellent so far, that I'll ask more of you to join it.

So if you want to be a "patron of the arts" in a real sense here, you could help the creation of a pretty great alternative to every CCG out there as well as a pretty great alternative to complex fighting games out there. (Not that those are inherently bad. I love Guilty Gear Xrd!)

Here's where you can sign up. Please help make these games happen.


Yomi on Steam, Release Date: May 8th

The wait is over! Yomi is scheduled to launch on Steam this Friday, May 8th. (It's already on iOS, the web, and in physical form.)

Yomi on Steam

The full price will be $14.99 but it will be on sale for only $9.99 the first week after launch, and the price includes 10 complete character decks. Read on for all the latest updates in this version of Yomi, or check out this post on Designing Yomi to learn more about the game itself or this post about Game Balance and Yomi to see what goes into balancing hundreds of matchups.

Yomi is a fighting game in card form and it's the competitive card game you should be playing. Just like in a fighting game, you have to learn your character's strengths and weaknesses, read your opponents' tendencies, and land combos when you can. Yomi is highly balanced at the expert level, and it expresses the values of a fair competitive game. You always have a full strength deck on an even playfield with your opponents.

Yomi has 20 characters, each with their own unique abilities and playstyles, leading to a whopping 210 different matchups.


Yomi on Steam

Yomi is packed with features.

  • Runs natively on Mac, PC, and Linux (new!)
  • Cross-platform play with players on iOS or the web
  • Cards have 4x the resolution as the web version!
  • Issue challenges to people on your Steam friend list
  • Play offline (vs bots) for the first time

Yomi on Steam has a bunch more features such as inscribed cards, gold cards, EX characters, and saving/viewing of replays. You can read more about the Steam version's features here.

Don't miss the launch on May 8th!

Huge Shipping Price Reduction and Yomi Valerie & Geiger decks now available

The shipping prices at to international customers are now massively cheaper. These shipping prices were calculated automatically through several carriers in order to give you the cheapest shipping price (and there was no markup, just the actual cost of shipping internationally). Something screwy happened over time though and these prices rose to prices much higher than the actual shipping costs. I don't know where where in the pipeline this problem occurred, but I've now replaced the entire backend calculation of shipping with another method.

Yesterday: shipping of 2 Yomi decks to Canada cost $36.56.
Today: that same shipping costs $5.86.

Valerie & Geiger Decks

The Valerie & Geiger decks are now available, both the physical and print-and-play version. You can get them here.

Valerie is Rook's artistic advisor at the Morningstar Sanctuary. She's a painter and while she has her ups and downs, that's all part of being creative. She has one blue eye and one green eye and she sees things differently. In gameplay, she's able to play chain combos out of order, which no other character can do. She can speed up her moves at times, and her super move lets her draw a card, which helps her keep the pressure up.

Geiger is Rook's scientific advisor at the Morningstar Sanctuary. He's a watchmaker and scientist who has a special interest in tinkering with time. Geiger may have made contact with an ancient race of beings "unstuck" in time, but we'll save that for the upcoming game, Codex. In Yomi, Geiger can use careful planning to set up huge combos with his Time Spirals.

You can also play these characters in the web version at and the iOS version too, which is now on both iPad and iPhone. And the Steam version is coming very soon! The physical versions ship worldwide from

Come to Fantasy Strike expo this June in San Francisco for a Yomi tournament, too! Registration prices go up tomorrow, so register now.

Yomi Coming to Steam

Yomi is coming to Steam in the next few weeks! (It's already on iOS, the web, and in physical form.)

Yomi is a fighting game in card form and it's the competitive card game you should be playing. Just like in a fighting game, you have to learn your character's strengths and weaknesses, read your opponents' tendencies, and land combos when you can. Yomi is highly balanced at the expert level, and it expresses the values of a fair competitive game. You always have a full strength deck on an even playfield with your opponents.

Yomi has 20 characters, each with their own unique abilities and playstyles, leading to a whopping 210 different matchups.

Tournament Stream on April 11th

To celebrate the upcoming Steam release of Yomi, we're having a tournament this weekend. If you’re new to Yomi & want to learn more, subscribe to SirlinGames on Twitch, and tune into our pre-release tournament stream this Saturday, April 11th! We’ll be doing live play-by-play of all the matches, so it’s a great chance to pick up on strategies and learn about the different characters. And if you’re a Yomi pro already, there are still spots open in the tournament so sign up now in this thread. (it’s open to web & iOS players too!)

Yomi on Steam

Yomi is packed with features.

  • Runs natively on Mac, PC, and Linux (new!)
  • Cross-platform play with players on iOS or the web
  • Cards have 4x the resolution as the web version!
  • Issue challenges to people on your Steam friend list
  • Play offline (vs bots) for the first time

Inscribed Cards

There's also a huge new feature called "inscribed cards." Every single Yomi card can be upgraded to an inscribed card that records your exploits! Whenever you use an inscribed card, it remembers a LOT of statistics about its fate. For example:

  • How often do you hit with Dragonheart?
  • Do your Stone Walls reflect a lot of damage?
  • How many cards do you get with Flagstone Tax?
  • How often do your Crash Bombs backfire?
  • And much, much more!

You can upgrade your cards even more with GOLD inscribed cards. These gold foils are sparkly and shiny. They have no gameplay advantage of course, because it wouldn't make sense to have a competitive game where some players had weaker cards, but wow are they stylish!

You get inscribed cards (and occasionally gold ones!) just from playing the game. You can also buy packs of them and even scrap unwanted cards into dust that you can use to craft any particular inscribed (or gold inscribed) card that you want.

Even More Features

The Steam version of Yomi has some more great features that we've had in the other versions for a while now.

  • Bots with two different difficulty settings
  • An endless Survival mode
  • A leaderboard system that lets you graduate through the student ranks, then compete in the master ranks. It gives the feeling of progression, but it's ultimately completely fair Elo behind the scenes.
  • Save and watch replays of your games.
  • Watch replays from any players, including the top players on the leaderboards!
  • Powerful EX versions of all characters

Every character has an overpowered EX version. The EX characters are not intended for competitive play, but they're really fun to mess around with. They all have new character cards with more powerful abilities, and a new rank of face cards called Destiny cards that give them a new special move of some sort. The destiny card are really flavorful too, letting each character do more of what they always wished they could. EX characters can also use the power up mechanic to get ANY cards from their deck, not just Aces.

You can play against AI that uses EX characters and you can unlock them to play in 1p modes. You can also directly buy them if you want them more quickly. We're also announcing the price of directly buying EX characters is now 80% off! They're just 99 cents rather than $5.

Stay Current

Sign up for the Sirlin Games newsletter to get all the latest news about our games, and to find out when the Yomi release date for Steam is announced!

Pandante Exhibition Stream Tonight

Tonight at 7pm (PDT) we'll stream an exhibition match of Pandante using the fan-made online version. Watch it and learn about the game and maybe we'll see some hype lying pandas!

Link to the stream:
Link to play the online version:

If you'd like to actually participate as a player in the exhibition, show up for our pre-stream tests at 5:30pm and also stop by this chat room to tell us.

There's also only 3 days left on the Pandante kickstarter, so get in while you can.