The New Pandante and Flash Duel Are Now Available

Pandante 2nd Edition and a new printing of Flash Duel are now generally available.

These games were part of my fourth Kickstarter and the rewards have now all been delivered to backers—a MONTH ahead of schedule. Four out of four kickstarters on time! Anyway, you can now get your hands on these games if you missed the kickstarter.


The joke about Pandante is that it's "for people who don't like poker and also people who do." There's actually something to that though.

For People Who Don't Like Poker

People who don't like poker might say that poker is not a very good family game and that it's way too psychologically intense to play with your children. They might say that they don't really find poker all that fun unless it's played for real money, which is pretty fair because even most poker players say that too.

Pandante is lighthearted enough in theme and mechanics that it's a great social game. The way it's set up ensures that probably about half the people are lying about their hand and everyone knows that they are surrounded by lies, which leads to lots of laughter at the table. The game is also gamey enough that it's interesting to play even without real money, like any well-crafted board game. There's fun abilities and tricks to pull off which give you more tools than poker, and the expansion is now included in the base set so you get a whole lot of content. The main mode has no player elimination, so it keeps everyone involved the whole time. For people who don't play poker, it's almost confusing to even think of this as a poker game rather than as a new card game.

For People Who Do Like Poker

But then there's people who LOVE poker. Poker lovers like that being more skilled at poker gives them an edge over weaker players. Stronger players get to crush weaker ones and take their money, which can be exhilarating. Poker has a lot of randomness, but having more skill really does pay off in the long-run.

Pandante has a higher skill ceiling than poker. This probably seems like some blasphemous claim, because poker is sacred, but just calm down and think about it for a minute. Pandante contains much of the skill elements that apply to poker, but it also makes more moves possible. There's a lot of nuance in how to use these extra moves, and so good players will be able to use them better than bad players.

One example is the "snacking" mechanic. You can pay for extra cards, but exactly how much a card is worth is a very difficult thing to know and depends on a lot of factors. Experts will be able to snack better than non-experts. Also, there are 6 abilities in Pandante and you can do up to two of them per gambit. It's easy to grasp what these abilities are (peek at another player's card, raise, add a new card to the table, etc), but of course there's quite a skill in knowing how to use these abilities. It's a whole new realm of opportunity to outplay your opponents. Thirdly, there's a lot of intentional information leak that goes on in Pandante. You bet on specific hands multiple times throughout the gambit. You snack or don't. You use abilities in a certain way, and sometimes that involves revealing a card. Even though players are lying very often, they are also dripping with information, and these tools allow someone who is good at reads to do even better in Pandante than in poker.

Pandante is quite hard to play WELL because its skill-ceiling is just so high. I think poker players will really appreciate this because they can get even more of an edge through careful play.

2nd Edition

In the 1st Edition of Pandante, we were very concerned with making it rock solid so that it held up to serious play for real money. The good news: it was solid. The less good news: we had to add several exceptions here and there and wrinkles that slowed down the game flow.

In the 2nd Edition, we were able to really vastly improve the game flow. I think we were able to get through a gambit in something like half the time and with fewer questions from players, too. If you want to know the exact rule changes, you can see a summary here.

Another ease of use thing is that there's now a central betting board rather than each player having their own. You often have to see who bet on the highest hand, and when all the bets are on one board, it's faster to see who bet on the highest hand.

Another big thing about the 2nd Edition is that it INCLUDES the entire expansion. You get Light and Dark abilities, casinos that change the rules each gambit, Panda Champions that give each player a unique ability, and the Diamond Dreams mode that makes the diamond chips into powerups. You can use any of that stuff in any combination you want, so you can choose how much craziness is right for your group. (Recommendation: start with Light abilities and nothing else. Then add Casino cards as soon as people understand the basic rules. The Dark abilities are cut-throat and take-that oriented, so only switch to those if your group wants that sort of thing. Throw in Panda Champions and/or Diamond Dreams mode if you want to up the mayhem level.)

Here's the standard version of the game. It now comes with plastic discs for betting:

And here's the deluxe version:

It has professional-grade clay poker chips and an awesome 2" diameter metal Panda Coin. The leatherette box with magnetic latch is really classy too, and has no product information on it: that's all on a sleeve that you can throw away.

There's also a few playmats leftover from the kickstarter. Playmats don't fit into the deluxe box, so it comes with a board instead, but I personally like playing on the mat. Get one while supplies last. ;)

Flash Duel

Flash Duel is a fast sparring match. Like Pandante, it also contains an expansion—actually two expansions—right in the box. It has a whopping 20 characters and whole bunch of modes that range from solo play, to 1v1, to 2v2, and even up to 4v1 in the Raid on Deathstrike Dragon mode (and another mode with a traitor!). Fast, simple, and a ton of variety.

The new version wasn't quite enough to call it a 3rd Edition, but it does have some nice upgrades. Component-wise, it now comes with 21 character standups instead of pawns:

Here's a list of the rest of the updates:

• A new rulebook (here) which makes the game less mathy and more about improv and bluffing. You don't know the exact contents of the deck anymore, so you can't compute things so completely. Also, you now draw more cards each round, so you have more chance to win before timeout.
• The "last hits" mechanic is removed, to simplify the rules and make the game more about trying to win before timeout happens.
• All game modes now use 40 numbered cards, rather than different modes using 25, 40, and 50 numbered cards.
• All cards and rules now gender-neutral ("their" instead of "his").
• Many abilities edited or rewritten to be clearer how they work or how they interact with other abilities. You can even see all the latest card images here.
• Many balance changes.

Further Reading

You can read more about:
The game design of Pandante
The graphic design of Pandante
Pandante on BGG (rate it and become a fan)
Flash Duel on BGG (rate it and become a fan)
Follow Sirlin Games on Facebook
Follow Sirlin Games on Twitter (and use #pandante and #flashduel)

You can get Pandante here, and Flash Duel here. They ship to anywhere in the world.

Codex Design: Combat and the Patrol Zone

Codex Early Access

See the instructions at the bottom of this post if you'd like to participate in Codex's early access program.

This is the 3rd in a series of design articles about Codex. In case you missed the first two:

#1 Codex Design: Cards and Gold As Resources
#2 Codex Design: Heroes and Tech Buildings

Codex is asynchronous. That means someday you’ll be able to play the online version without your opponent having to be online at the same time as you. You can get through your entire turn without having to wait for your opponent, then they can take their turn without you having to be there either. In offline (tabletop) games, it also means turns go smoothly: without the fits and starts of the opponent constantly interrupting you.

If the opponent doesn’t make decisions on your turn, then doesn’t that make combat too simple? Or not interactive enough? The patrol zone is the answer to those problems.

You can have any of your units or heroes directly attack anything with hit points—any unit, hero, or building of the opponent’s. You don’t have to wait for the opponent to decide how to block your attacks though because they *already* decided their blocking plan before your turn started.

At the end of their main phase, they chose which of their units and heroes to patrol, and which slots they'll go in. If you have an attacker that CAN attack one of those patrollers, you don’t have to attack with it at all, but if you do then it MUST attack a patroller. Patrollers are the defender’s first line of defense so you’ll have to get through them before you can attack something else.

Each patroller has a different bonus. When you’re setting up your defense, carefully consider which bonus you want each of your defenders to get.

The most important slot is the squad leader. Your squad leader gets one point of armor, which means it will take one less damage than usual, but even more importantly it has “taunt.” That means the attacker must attack it even before your other patrollers.

The elite slot gives your patroller +1 ATK, so a 3/3 unit would become a 4/3 unit while patrolling in that slot, letting it deal extra damage if it gets attacked.

The scavenger and technician slots give you 1 gold and let you draw 1 card, respectively, when the patrollers in those slots die. These slots are great when you’re taking a beating. The extra resources of gold and cards can let you mount a comeback as you try to hold off an aggressive attacker.

The lookout slot gives your patroller resist 1. This means the opponent must pay 1 gold to target that patroller with any spell or ability. Sometimes the biggest threat to one of your units or heroes isn’t dying in combat, but rather dying to some sort of spell or ability. The lookout slot gives your opponent a disincentive to mess that patroller.

That’s pretty much it. Combat works in a very straightforward way where one thing directly attacks another thing and they each deal their damage to the other at the same time. Damage is persistent in Codex, meaning it doesn’t get healed automatically at the end of the turn.


Flying is also worth mentioning here, it's especially powerful. It works like it does in RTS video games, rather than how it works in most card games. In Starcraft, a Zealot (ground melee unit) can’t hit a Mutalisk (flying unit) ever. The same is true here. Flying units can attack ground units and not get hit back at all! Flying units can fly over ground patrollers and are not physically blocked by them at all! 

That’s a bit of a double edged sword though; flying units also can’t physically block ground attackers. So if you patrol one of your fliers, an enemy ground attacker can simply run under it and get to your vulnerable heroes and tech buildings. Overall though, flying units are very deadly, just as they tend to be in RTS video games.

Patrol Zone Design Features

The patrol zone is the most unexpectedly good feature in Codex. It was originally developed as a way to make asynchronous combat interesting enough, but players liked it so much that they said it should be a central feature no matter if the game supported asynchronous play or not. It turns out there’s a lot of nuance in just how you patrol your forces!

Before the patrol zone existed in Codex, some players originally suggested putting "taunt" on particular units (meaning the opponent would have to attack those first), but it's just so inadequate as a solution here. You'd be at the mercy of drawing the right units just to be able to block at all. The patrol zone lets you give that power to any of your forces AND lets you stack more bonuses on them too, which is just way more flexibility to plan your strategy.

The extra bonuses the patrol zone gives your defenders solve some very deep problems that we had for a long time. There's a delicate balance in Codex between rushing down and teching up. At some points in the game's history, rushdown was too good, which makes the game degenerate. At other times, it was too weak which means there's nothing to "keep you honest" if you want to blatantly start going for late game plans way too early. The simplest rules were the ones that lead to rushdown being too good, so is there some way we can do a small tweak to them?

It turns out, the single point of armor you get in the squad leader slot (and to a lesser degree, the +1 ATK you get from the elite slot) matters A LOT. That gives you just enough defense that early turns are not based on degenerate rushdown that you can't do anything about, but your buffer of protection doesn't last you long. Soon enough, units and heroes get big enough to overcome those bonuses and crush a weak defender if they don't start putting up a fight.

Unrelated to all that, the card draw system is also tuned on the edge of a knife. It has the great property that you get to draw a lot of cards, yet "card advantage" still matters. That means if you can use one card to destroy two of the opponent's cards, that actually does help you (which we want). It's also great that you often have a tough decision on whether to play a worker because that help your economy later but might hurt your card draw in the process. It's all interconnected and just what it needs to be...but I wished you could get *slightly* more cards somehow without having to build the add-on that's specifically for that.

Just like it was very hard to tweak the combat system to give you "slightly more early defense," it was very hard to tweak the card draw system to give you "slightly more card draw." But in both cases, the patrol zone bonuses saved us. We were able to keep generally simple rules and use the bonuses to get the effects we wanted. If you are losing too many units on defense and you're trying to stay in the game, the ability to put a unit in the technician slot to draw an extra card really helps a lot. Same goes for the scavenger, it's the same concept really. If you're losing a lot of units, you might really need more gold or more cards (or both) to get back in the game. So we give you the option to do that, but it's not like we just give you an extra gold and extra card every turn. There's opportunity cost here and you have to work for it.

It turns out that somehow the extra defense, gold, and cards you can get from these bonuses were exactly what we needed. Usually this sort of design is driven from mechanics first. You'd think all this stuff exists precisely because we needed it, but the truth is that players liked the idea of the patrol zone so much that we kept developing it and kind of stumbled into it solving a few other design problems along the way. The original need for asynchronous play was a mechanical need leading to the patrol zone existing, yes, but that we actually kept it and enhanced it as a core part of the game was all from player feedback and what they enjoyed (and what I enjoyed too).

It's also pretty nice flavor that you set your units and heroes to patrol to protect you during the opponent's turn, then you spend that time figuring out your build order (picking cards from your codex to add to your deck). It feels like an RTS thing. ;)

If you’d like to get in on one of the 200 slots to get Codex many months before everyone else, you can do that right now. Here are the steps:

1) Sign up at as a patron at the $25 level for at least one month on my Patreon.

2) Once you're a patron, you'll see the instructions on Patreon on how to buy the Codex starter set + all 6 factions for $99.99 + shipping. ($165 value, so this is a limited time thing. $15 US shipping, $33 international. This is the actual cost of shipping with no padding.)

3) After we fill these slots, the game will be shipped to you shortly after, within a few weeks.

Don't miss your chance!


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.

Thanks to everyone supporting the game so far!

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 12: Easy Special Moves

We discuss "easy special moves" in fighting games. We can pretty quickly say why they are a good or bad idea, but the bigger issue is trying to clarify what the term means to help others avoid muddled discussions on this topic.

What is a game with "easy special moves" actually trying to do? Moves being easy—in and of itself—tells you nothing about whether the techniques and combos in a game are easy to do or not. Examples from Guilty Gear, Soul Calibur 5, Smash Bros (including a plea for modders to make Sirlin a mod with simpler controls for Smash), Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter 4, Rising Thunder, and Fantasy Strike.

Hosts: David Sirlin & Sean "MrGPhantome" Washington

Codex Design: Heroes and Tech Buildings

It’s generally good in a competitive game when there’s a lot of interaction. In other words, if your opponent is up to something, it’s good if you can do something about that.

In Codex, your vulnerabilities are on the table and you have to defend them. If you want to cast any spells, you need a hero in play to cast them—and your heroes can be attacked. If you want to make anything beyond the most basic units, you’ll need tech buildings to do that—and your tech buildings can be attacked as well.

In combat, you’re able to attack anything with hit points: any unit, hero, or building. Your ultimate goal is to deal 20 damage to the opponent’s main building—their base—but along the way you’ll probably need to try to take out at least some heroes or tech buildings. Think of this like a “pre-counterspell” in a way. If there’s a certain spell that you really don’t want the opponent to cast, you can kill the hero who casts it, and you’ll have at least one turn of breathing room until they’re able to resummon that hero. If there’s a particular unit you’re afraid of, destroying the tech building that produces it will also give you at least a turn of breathing room until they rebuild that building.


Heroes are the stars of your army. You can access them without any randomness: they wait to be summoned in your command zone; you don’t have to draw them from your deck.

Heroes arrive at level 1, and you can spend gold to level them up, even multiple times in a turn. As they level up, they get better stats and new powers (and keep their old powers too). Heroes each have a “spec”. For example, Jaina’s spec is Fire. That means only Jaina can cast “Fire spells.” When heroes reach their max level AND if you didn’t just summon them, they can cast their ultimate spell. Beware of letting your opponent cast ultimate spells—they are really powerful!

Heroes are also great in combat. When a hero levels up from its lowest to middle rank, and when it levels from its middle to last rank, all damage on it is healed. So it can get in an early scuffle and still be fine later.

Killing enemy heroes is so important that you get a bounty for doing so. If you kill an enemy hero on your own turn, all your own heroes (that are in play) level up TWICE for free!

Heroes are fun and flavorful and give the game a ton of character. From a game mechanics perspective, they’re really important because they force you to have your vulnerabilities (in this case, your ability to cast certain spells) on the table where the opponent can interact with them.

Tech Buildings

You start the game with some weak units in your deck that you can summon from your base. If you want more powerful units though, you’ll need to build your tech I building. If you have a tech I building, you can then build your tech II building. That then lets you build your tech III building, which can then produce absurdly powerful, game-winning units.

You have access to three different specs during a game of Codex. For example, an all-red deck would have access to the Anarchy, Blood, and Fire specs. Your tech I building lets you build units from any of those specs. In other words, a tech I building lets you play any card with a bronze bottom on it, regardless of the spec.

At the tech II level, you have to specialize and choose a particular spec though. You’ll only be able to make tech II units of that spec and you’ll be locked into that same spec when you build your tech III building. In practice, this allows for tighter counter-play. If you have no idea what the opponent might even build, it’s hard to develop counter-measures. If you at least know the spec they chose this particular game, you have some basis to choose how to respond.

What if you want to to use two different specs in a game though? You actually CAN do that. Your base can hold exactly one add-on building. There are a few to choose from, and one of them—the Tech Lab—allows you to access two specs at once. That can be powerful, but the other add-ons are useful too!

There are lots of tricky build orders you can use, but the most standard approach is to lean on one particular hero (for spells) and one particular spec at the tech II level (for units). These do NOT have to match. For example, you might rely on the Blood hero and his Blood spells, but you are free to have your tech II building specialize in Fire if you want. That means you have 9 different routes (3 choices of heroes x 3 choices of tech specializations) in standard builds. That doesn’t even include the many more build orders you can explore with strategies that rely entirely on spells, or that combine two tech II specs using the Tech Lab.


You have to pace yourself when you build your tech buildings. Each one takes one turn to finish constructing and you can’t even start building them until you have the requisite number of workers. That means if you build them “on schedule” as soon as you’re usually allowed to, you’ll get your tech I building in place on turn 3, your tech II on turn 5, and your tech III on turn 7. But things don’t always go as planned!

Pressure your opponent and make them spend so much on defense that they can’t afford to build tech buildings. Or destroy a tech building if you can and slow down their progression. You can’t just play solitaire here; Codex is highly interactive so your ability to expand your tech or to deny your opponent’s tech is tightly linked to how much you’re able to pressure each other in combat.

Heroes and tech buildings add a lot of flavorful fun to Codex because they match RTS games such as Warcraft 3, but they don’t exist in the game because of that flavor. Quite the opposite: I chose the RTS theme specifically because the game dynamics are so good when you have to protect your ability to cast spells (from heroes) and your ability to make certain kinds of units (from tech buildings). RTS video games are a great match and there’s a lot of parallels for Starcraft and Warcraft 3 fans to enjoy.

Stay tuned for the next article about Codex's design and a chance to buy one of 200 advance copies of all factions and expansions months before everyone else if you'd like to take part in the last stage of development.

Codex Design: Cards and Gold As Resources

I mentioned in this post the opportunity to get in on Codex way early. Leading up to that, I want to share with you a series of three articles about the design and workings of Codex. This is the first.

Introduction to Codex

Customizable card games usually involve decks that are designed to do one narrow thing really well. For example, imagine if we turned Starcraft into a card game and then made a deck that captured the idea of a Zergling rush. This deck would let you attack early with lots of weak, cheap units. In the real game of Starcraft, that’s a legitimate strategy, but not one you’d want to play over and over and over. If you did that, it would probably be boring and you’d want a new deck. And even apart from it being boring, if you only had access to such a single, narrow strategy in your “deck” then you’d have way too many unfair matchups against all the other narrow-strategy decks that happened to beat yours really hard or lose to yours really hard. It just wouldn’t be fun to play a single deck for very long and you’d often win or lose the game before even sitting down at the table.

The actual game of Starcraft isn’t like that at all. You don’t take just one narrow strategy into the game—you take a whole huge set of them. Rather than picking “Zergling Rush” before the game starts, you pick the entire race of Zerg. It’s interesting to play Zerg over and over and over because each time you can play a different subset of all the Zerg units, and that lets you create many different strategies. Having access to so many different units—more than you’d ever play in a single game—also gives you the resilience to stand up to a wide variety of strategies thrown at you. That helps keep matchups more fair.

Codex is based on this same idea. Your “codex” is a book that holds all the cards available to you during a game—more cards than you’ll actually use each time you play. In other words, the cards in your codex are analogous to all the units Zerg can make, but you only make a subset of those in any particular game. You build your deck as you play, adding cards from codex to your deck as the game unfolds. Your opponent doesn’t know which cards you added until later when you actually play those cards. This is a bit like the fog of war in RTS games, which is really cool!

Now that you have the high concept, let’s look at something really fundamental to real-time strategy games and customizable card games: the resource system. When you see how this works in Codex, you’ll see how it interacts with the high concept above.

Cards and gold are your main resources, so let’s look at how you manage each one.


You start the game with a deck of just 10 cards and you draw 5 of them for your initial hand. Each draw phase, you must discard your entire hand (yes, really) then draw that number of cards plus two, but stop drawing once you have 5. For example:

  • Discard a hand of 0 cards ➙ draw 2
  • Discard a hand of 1 card ➙ draw 3
  • Discard a hand of 2 cards ➙ draw 4
  • Discard a hand of 3, 4 or 5 cards ➙ draw 5

The point of this is that if you use a lot of cards in one turn, you won’t be able to draw as many cards next turn. It might take a couple turns to fully recover and get back to drawing 5 cards.

If you would draw a card when your deck is empty, then you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again, then continue drawing. In other words, your cards will eventually cycle back to your hand, even after you use them.

You won’t cycle just those same cards over and over though. At the end of each turn, you put two cards from your codex—any two that you want!—into your discard pile, face down. You’ll probably draw those cards in a couple turns, and your opponent won’t know what’s coming until you actually play them. All discard piles are face down specifically to hide your deckbuilding choices. Think of this like the fog of war in RTS games.


Gold is the other main resource that you manage in Codex. You need it to play cards, to activate abilities, to level up heroes, etc.

You get gold from your workers and you start the game with 4 workers (5 if you’re player 2). Starting with 4 gold gets the game going much more quickly than some other card games where you only have 1 mana to spend on turn 1 or whatever. You can also save gold across turns if you don’t spend it all.

Just like in RTS games, you have to actually invest in your economy to build it up. You can hire up to one additional worker each turn, and it costs 1 gold and 1 card. You put a card from your hand face down in your worker area to represent your new worker.

Putting It All Together

Hiring a worker costs 1 gold but then gives you 1 gold on every future turn of the game—that’s a great investment! It also removes a card from your deck, which is very important. It might sound bad to remove a card from your deck, but actually you want to remove whatever the weakest card in your deck is so that you’ll be more likely to draw your strongest cards. Remember, your cards will cycle from your discard pile back to your hand so you’ll get to play them several times.

This deck thinning mechanism interacts with your codex. Every turn you’re adding two cards to your deck, and some of those might be long-shot combos you’re trying to pull off. They might be answers to game situations that don’t end up happening. Or it might be that you were starting to go for one strategy but then you saw what the opponent was doing and wanted to shift strategies. In all those cases, you have cards that you might want to get rid of...and you CAN. The ability to get rid of some cards and turn them into workers gives you some leniency and flexibility that really helps.

Playing workers also interacts with your card draw though. Remember, if you play more cards in a turn, you’ll draw fewer at the end of the turn. For example, imagine you have 5 cards in hand, and you play two of them. Should you play a third as a worker? If you do, you’ll get to remove one of your worst cards from your deck cycling, and you’ll get 1 gold on each future turn of the game. BUT, you’ll go down to 2 cards in hand, and that means you’ll only draw 4 at the end of the turn (you draw the same number that you discard + 2, capped at 5).

You can’t always afford to hurt your card draw like that. The most important thing might be drawing a certain card you desperately need, in which case you should probably hold off on playing a worker. Or you might have to hold off because of the gold cost. What if you have 5 gold to spend, and you really need to play something that costs 5 or you’ll probably lose? In that case, you just can’t afford the investment of gold in a worker that turn.

Playing workers is generally a very interesting decision because it interacts so much with gold, card draw, and your deckbuilding choices.

Stay tuned for info about other parts of Codex. Also note that we have 200 slots to get the game way early that will be announced in September.

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'.