Here I talked about how it's best to have system where the subsystems aren't so tightly woven so that you can tinker with one subsystem without messing up the rest of them. Well, that's not how Puzzle Strike is. It's very tightly woven, and I didn't fully realize this until we were trying to balance it. This made it unlike any other game I have balanced. For months it changed radically, often multiple times per week, because changes to one system affected all the others. Some playtesters would come back a week later and feel like they were playing a different game. I've said before it's best to avoid such interwoven systems if possible, but I kind of wonder if they turn out even better and more fun *if* they are balanced--it's just that balancing such a delicate web is tough.
In my series on balancing multiplayer games, I talked about how "balance" can mean a couple different things. On the one hand, it can mean making sure that a set of different starting options, like characters in a fighting game or races in a real-time strategy game, are fair against each other. But there is also some concept of "balance" in games where everyone starts with the same stuff. The word can also mean making sure that the game system allows players to play in different ways, using different moves and tactics, and that it doesn't all boil down to just one thing (we'd call that "degenerate").
In Puzzle Strike, I had to worry about both types of balance at the same time. You might think any asymmetric game has to worry about both, but actually I haven't really had to before. Street Fighter and Puzzle Fighter already had working systems, they only needed asymmetric balance, the kind that's about fairness. For Kongai, I created the system, but I didn't develop it in parallel to all the characters. I started by making the system, and it was basically fine from version 1. The only things that ever really changed about Kongai's system were adjusting the damage an intercept does and adding a switch-cooldown so characters can't switch two turns in a row. Other than that, all the balancing was about the characters, not the system itself. Same story for Flash Duel. I adjusted the system of En Garde, changing timing, edge cases, adding a push mechanic, etc, but Flash Duel's system was fine from day 1 and all the balancing was about the characters. Yomi comes the closest to Puzzle Strike in balancing system + characters, but because system changes happend over such a long period of time--6 years!--it was not quite as traumatic.
The Different Types of Chips
In Puzzle Strike, there are character chips, puzzle chips, gem chips, and purple chips. (There are also wounds, but those just clog up your deck and do nothing, so we won't worry about them for now.) You can see all 62 chip designs here.
The character chips are the ones that need "asymmetric balance," meaning they need to all be fair against each other. But we can't even hope to fix problems there unless we have a game system in the first place. The puzzle, gem, and purple chips compose that system. The gem chips you play from your hand count as money to buy other chips for your deck. You can use gem chips to buy more gem chips to increase your buying power. You can use them to buy purple chips, the most important chips in the game. Purple chips let you empty your "gem pile" and fill up the gem piles of other players. (Each player has a special zone called the gem pile, and if a player's fills up, he loses. The gems in there don't count as money, they just get you closer to losing.) You can also use gem chips to buy puzzle chips so that you can do a bunch of extra stuff that gives you resources, gives you more actions per turn, slows down your opponents, and so forth.
The main balancing troubles here are that the money system affects the entire game, the way purple chips work affects the entire game, and that puzzle chips compete with the other types of chips for attention. Let's look at each of these situations.