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Monday
Jan132014

Yomi Development: New Rulebook and Print-and-Play Decks

Here's a new rulebook for Yomi. It has many updates, including visuals for combo sequences that are valid and invalid to better illustrate to new players how combos work. It also has the new 2v2 Team Battle mode as well as a solo mode.

Yomi 2v2 Mode

The 2v2 mode is pretty crazy and awesome. Amazingly, you can play it right now with decks you already have. It doesn't need any changes to any cards to work. (That is some kind of insane miracle, if you ask me.) You can think of the 2v2 mode sort of like Marvel vs. Capcom-style games where you have a main character in play and an assist character on the bench. The assist player gets to heal a little bit and draw extra cards. You'll probably want to switch several times so you each get a chance to heal and get cards, because you can do combos by tagging, and because sometimes switching your partner in creates a more favorable matchup against the opponent's team.

There's also an assist mechanic that lets the assist character participate in combat along side you. You might play without the assist mechanic at first because it's the most complicated part of the 2v2 mode. If you're ready for it though, and can wrap your mind around it, it really adds to the craziness. It turns out that tons of characters have good assist moves because there's several properties that help in an assist. Any linker becomes good as an assist move because it can help you do big combos. Any fast move is good because it helps you win combat. And any SLOW move is good because of the way the timing to resolve things works, you'll get to resolve things in the order most favorable to you if you do a slow assist.

Even besides assists, the 2v2 mode is really super crazy. It feels a bit like Marvel vs. Capcom video games in that so many teams have absurdly powerful things they can do. And when you think it's unfair, you realize the opponent's team also has some amazing thing too. Some examples off the top of my head: Argagarg on the bench with Bubble Shield active, ticking away and you can't even hit him. Troq is the only character in the game who can guarantee a snapback (to force the opponent's team to switch) without needing to even win combat. DeGrey dodging all day into Rook's AAAA Checkmate Buster super even though Rook can't dodge into it himself. Gloria as the only character who can continue to combo after she tags in with a super. Lum building on the bench building up extra cards to set up poker hands. The list goes on!

Solo Mode

The new rulebook contains instructions for how to fight against an automated "bot" opponent. It's actually pretty neat and legitimately helpful for new players. Playing against it until you can consistently beat it means you will learn the fundamentals of the game and about card valuation. Blocking more early, dodging more late, managing your hand, generally being efficient, getting the best use out of your abilities and playing to minimize the opponent's abilities—all that stuff is very important even without the "yomi" (reading) aspect of predicting what an opponent will do. The bot could be a good start to learn some basic competence at the game.

The online version of the game at www.fantasystrike.com also has bots. These bots used to play literally randomly, so they were terrible and probably taught you very little, other than how bad playing randomly really is. Now, that random bot is still available as an "easy" setting, and there's a new "hard" setting that's very sophisticated. Much, much more sophisticated than the single bot in the rulebook for the tabletop version. The hardbots online will put you through your paces.

Various Rule Changes

These days in Yomi, whenever your normal attack wins combat or is blocked, you get to draw a card. This makes normal attacks a bit better, lets you get away with blocking a bit less, and causes a wider range of speeds to be relevant in combat. It's pretty fun.

There are also other minor rule changes. There's now a hand cap of 12 cards. It's pretty easy to stay under that, so hopefully it won't affect you much. What it does is put a cap on how good blocking can possibly be. I'm not saying you should block block block until you have 12 cards, but if you do, then you won't much benefit for blocking beyond that. Also, some Lum players had like 30 cards in hand at times in order to set up poker moves, and it's just unwieldy and bad-feeling in live play. Now it feels much better to have a reasonable cap. And don't worry, Lum is still plenty good.

When both you and your opponent are knocked down at the same time, just cancel the knockdown effect. Imagine that you both get up and fight normally. It doesn't really make any sense for you to BOTH be able to mixup the other. This was an edge case that rarely happened, and it's slightly more possible (still rare) with the expansion characters, so this is just a minor bug fix.

When an effect would have you gain life, you can't gain more than your maximum HP. First, this fits fighting game flavor where you can't go above the end of your energy bar. Also, it allows the 2v2 mode to work at all. The benched character healing above their maximum life would be a problem there. The cap on hand size AND life makes it so that a benched character in 2v2 who is maxed on one of those is "wasting" the benefit of getting more cards and life while benched, so that's an incentive to switch in, which is a fun dynamic. The cap on life total also prevents bad potential gamestates with Gloria (a healing character) where she might be able to gain so much life that the match would take too long.

Finally, there's a new time out condition for when any player runs of out cards to draw. Now when any player draws their last card, the game ends right away and the winner is whoever has more HP. This is just like a fighting game, so it matches the flavor a bit better. It's similar to how time out works in Flash Duel (the round also immediately ends when the last card is drawn). It also helps with some rare situations in the 2v2 mode.

The normal draw rule changes the feel a fair amount, but all the rest of that stuff is just minor edge case fixes that you might not even notice by just playing normally. Yomi's been around long enough that we can smooth out some of those edge cases though. :)

Print-and-Play decks

All 20 characters are now available in print-and-play form here. All the final art is there for every card, including the card back designs, new graphic designs for all character cards, and a completely new "stat & reference" card for all characters that gives you a quick way to know every stat in your deck. Grave and Jaina's print-and-play decks are free right now too.

Physical Beta decks

There are still a few beta decks available for 8 characters: Grave, Jaina, Midori, Setsuki, Quince, Onimaru, BBB, and Troq. These are from a print-on-demand run, and are pretty good quality. If anything changes about the balance, it will be easy to offer just a set of changed cards later for these decks because they were print-on-demand, rather than a large scale print run. Same goes for the print-and-play files, those will be updated if anything changes too, and you'll be able to use the same download links to get new versions later. That said, the balance is in a very polished state right now, and there might not be any further changes.

It will still be a while until a real manufacturing run. For starters, I have to design a crap load of boxes and packaging. There's probably months of behind the scenes stuff left to do, plus more time to set up a kickstarter, then run the kickstarter, then several more months for manufacturing. I'm as anxious to release it as you are, if not more, so believe me it's coming but there's still a wait. In the meantime, the beta decks, print-and-play version, and online should tide you over.

Yomi Online

You can play Yomi online, too. The online version at www.fantasystrike.com has all 20 characters. The iPad version of Yomi is pretty far along too. It's hard to predict development times for it, but maybe another month given how far along it is at this point.

New Players

We could use your help in recruiting new players. You could invite them to try the online version for free with you, or for the tabletop version you could print out the Grave and Jaina decks for free (all the tabletop and print-and-play stuff is here). Or maybe you already own the tabletop version. Try out the 2v2 mode with some friends. I hope you enjoy Yomi in one way or another!

Oh and some specific call outs: Hey Day9, TrumpSC, and Kripp. I think Yomi should really be your competitive card game of choice. How about train up and start entering our online tournaments?

Saturday
Jan112014

Pandante Development: Rules Updates and Manufacturing

The Pandante kickstarter was successfully funded last month, and manufacturing is now underway. So far, no delays so we're still on track to meet the ship date in May.

There have been a few rules updates since the print-and-play version was available at the start of the kickstarter. The latest (and final) rulebook is at www.sirlin.net/pandante/rules. The print-and-play version is available here.

In case you already played the game but didn't notice the updates, I'll list them here for you.

1) If you fold with the highest (or tied-for-highest) hand, then you must buy breakfast next gambit. This means if you already plan to fold, you can't bet on straight flush to get a free snack (free card) while denying everyone else snacks. If you do this, you'll have to pay to get new cards anyway.

2) The conditions for when you get a Panda Lord are more specific. The part that has not changed is that you need to win a gambit alone by claiming you had a higher hand than you really did. But now in addition, one of the following two things must also be true: either at least *someone* had a chance to challenge you and decided not to -OR- you scared everyone into folding so that you were the only person left in the showdown. Now getting a Panda Lord is a bit more in the spirit of getting away with a lie. There were just uncomfortably many cases before where you could get one just because you happened to be the only one left after several people challenged each other during the showdown, and you were last from from the dealer button.

3) When resolving ties, you now go in reverse turn order rather than regular turn order. For example, imagine a 1v1 game where you and I both claim "straight" as our hands. At the end of the gambit, we first try to break the tie by saying what kind of straight we have. Assume I have the dealer button, which means you say what kind of straight you have first. For example, you say a 7 high straight. Then imagine I repeat whatever you say automatically so that we stay tied. I can always do this when I have the dealer button and in the previous rules, players *accepted* challenges to their hands in turn order. That means I would challenge you first. So in the case where neither of us has a straight, I could always get away with challenging you first, I would get free snacks the whole gambit, and there'd be no way you could really stop that while I had the dealer button.

Now, players accept those challenges in reverse turn order, so I (with the dealer button) get challenged first. I got to say the kind of straight I had second (so I still could say whatever you said to maintain a tie), but I actually have to put some thought into it now because I'll be receiving challenges first. Note that this rule change *only* applies to when hands are tied at the end. It just fixes some issues with that case that come up especially much in 1v1.

4) 4X -> 5X for challenging poker hands. The most costly type of challenge in Pandante is when you falsely accuse a player about their poker hand. For example, they say they have a floosh, you challenge it, but then they really have the floosh. You had to pay them 4X gold where X is the number of players before, but in the final version it's now 5X gold. This will reduce the number of overall challenges so that it's a bit more possible to actually get away with lying sometimes.

5) There was also a slight adjustment in the amount of gold needed to win the game when there's 4 or 5 players. The amount of gold needed to win for 2 / 3/ 4 / 5 players was 80 / 90 / 100 / 120 / 150 but in the final version, it's now 80 / 90 / 110 / 130 / 150 gold. This has no effect on the seriousface gambling mode of the game.

It's great that so many of you are into Pandante that we were able to make those tweaks for high level play. It's quite a fun alternative to poker. If you missed out on the kickstarter, pre-orders will be up in 2 or 3 months on www.sirlingames.com. In the meantime, follow Sirlin Games on facebook so you can get notified about when Pandante is available or try the fan-made online version or the official print-and-play version.

Friday
Jan102014

Codex Development: Combat Evolved

I wrote before about the process of making Codex possible to play asynchronously by compressing all the decisions an opponent has to make on your turn into just one step, rather than like a thousand steps. It turned out surprisingly well. There was one detail of combat that became more confusing with that change though.

You have two units, we'll call them A and B. I attack your unit A with some of my stuff and I also attack your unit B with other stuff. Because all the opponent's decisions all occur in the same step in the asynchronous version of the game, it means you can have your unit A block to protect unit B *and* have your unit B block to protect your unit A. Then later we'll see which of those units is still around to actually block depending on the order that the attacker decided to resolve things. This particular situation made it difficult to understand how you should even block sometimes. Meaning "if I decide to do it this way, what will end up happening?" In one playtest a situation like that came up and a group of experienced players argued over the strategy for like 10 minutes about which way they should block. And one of them was factually incorrect about how it even worked. This really shouldn't be so hard.

Maybe we should fix that? I mean if it's that confusing to an expert then something seems to have gone wrong somewhere. There is no simple fix to it though. Stuff like saying "if I attack unit A, then unit A just can't block to protect another unit" doesn't work. It might be possible to change the way combat works entirely though, such that this situation can't come up, or maybe change it so that if it does come up, the way to resolve it much simpler.

Any Changes Needed?

"Is this worth fixing?" was a real question here. There's nothing mechanically wrong, though maybe we should do something about it anyway. This was just the beginning of unravelling of a lot of rules though. The very prospect of changing anything about how combat works made me think of other questions, too.

"Do games take too long?" This is another judgment call. How long is too long? And more to the point, what if usually game length is ok but sometimes it's too long? Like 20% of the time? Or 10%? It's not so straightforward but several times I've thought "this game took too long to finish I think." There seem to be two main reasons for this: 1) combat situations are sometimes so complicated to plan for that it takes players a really long time to decide what they should do and work through all the possibilities and 2) by nature of how the combat system works, defense is pretty good. Sometimes it just takes a while to really be able to punch through someone's defense.

And then another possible issue is that it's pretty great that all the opponent's decisions are now concentrated into just one step during your turn, but should we have really figured out some way to make it 0 steps? As in, just take your entire turn without having to wait for the opponent? One way to fix that confusing combat situation I mentioned before is to go up to TWO waits for opponent decisions per turn, but maybe that's wrong direction? Is it ok if we did that, or should it stay at just one wait period for the opponent during your own turn, or should that go all the way down to zero to be fully asynchronous?

So now there's four issues on the table:

1) Combat has one situation that can come up that is especially confusing.
2) Combat often causes analysis paralysis.
3) The way combat works inherently favors defense, and possibly a bit too much.
4) Maybe combat should remove the step where you wait for the opponent to make decisions to make the game fully asynchronous. 

No one complained about *any* of these things though. (The last one will only matter for online versions someday). Everyone who plays the game seems to really like it as it is. So which, if any of these things are worth caring about? None? All? Just one? It's not clear at all how to address any of those things even if we did care. And it seems unlikely to be able to address all of them. Probably some tradeoffs will make it so that fixing one of those problems would just make a different one of the problems worse. Who knows.

Some Ideas

The last time I tried to make Codex more asynchronous, the first step was "just let it be totally terrible, try it, and see if that sparks any ideas. If not, we can just revert it all to what it was before." That worked well, so I tried that technique again here. It was pretty difficult to think of any system that could address all those points, but at least some things line up. If blocking could somehow happen "automatically" then that means it would probably end up faster, probably end up less confusing, and probably end up with defense being a bit weaker.

After thinking through a new system for about a week, I had something to try, at least. When I tried it against a friend, immediately on turn 1 it was terrible. I had thought through many examples of how it would go mid-game, but I hadn't really thought about turn 1 when you don't have much in play.

So we abandoned that idea and improvised a variation of it. What if you had a "patrol zone" and any units or heroes you put there would automatically block? It turns out that many possible ways to handle "automatically block" involve really complicated rules, so how about the attacker gets to choose exactly how the blockers block? That makes  defense hugely weaker, so to make up for it somewhat, after each attacker is blocked by one patroller, if there are any remaining patrollers then they get to "harass" and deal their damage for free without getting hit back.

It turns out, this actually worked fairly well. You don't decide the specifics of how your guys will block, but you do decide which guys will block at all and which are "in the back row" protected by your patrollers. This worked well sometimes, though were several frustrating situations that came up where the opponent choosing blockers in the most favorable way was just too favorable. Sometimes it was fine though. All attempts to make this more fair to the defending player made it much, much more complicated though. As soon as you try to make up some algorithm about exactly how these blocks happen, there are just tons of loopholes and special cases you have to take into account, and it sucks.

So I tried coming at it from a different angle. Instead of trying to really fix these problems, how about just a small step toward fixing them? Then we can see how that goes. That step was to let you say that one of your patrolling guys is a "patrol leader." That patrol leader always automatically blocks the attacker with the highest attack power (or the attacker chooses if it's a tie). I was very surprised how much difference this made. It wasn't a small step, it was a huge step. It felt like an actual working system. The ability to choose which of your guys patrol at all AND which will block their most threatening thing makes the automated blocking system function a lot better than I would have ever guessed.

There was also another implication I hadn't thought of until playing this experimental, fully asynchronous version. Each turn in Codex, there's a step where you modify your deck a bit. In live play, if it really is asynchronous (so you don't make any decisions during your opponent's turn), then their turn is the natural time for you do that step where you modify your deck. That way no one is waiting on you to do that and it actually flows very well. We weren't able to it that way before because during the opponent's turn, in the old days the opponent is constantly having to ask if you want to respond to this or that, so it wasn't a good time for you to do the deck-modifying step.

Testing the New Version

Anyway, I updated about 1/3rd of the cards in the game to function correctly in this new fully asynchronous version. Playtesters liked it so much that they said the whole game should be converted to this. It's faster to play, easier to understand, and still had the parts of the game they liked. One person said it was like a more concentrated version, in that it was delivering a similar kind of fun as before, but in less time. Another player said he had no idea why any of these changes were made because he wasn't around for any discussions, but that just playing the newer version with no context, it was "far more accessible." He liked it a lot, so I have since converted all cards in the game to work with this new combat system, held another playtest with even more players, and they liked it too.

Conclusion

There is currently no work on an online version of Codex (maybe a kickstarter for it someday?) but when it eventually does exist, the ability to play like 10 simultaneous, asynchronous games of it is going to be pretty awesome. And the current players who are trying the live version and not even thinking about online stuff have so far all approved it due to faster play time and less confusion. I actually like that offense is a bit better now so we don't get locked up board states where no one can do anything for a while.

Codex has been through several major system changes, and each time it seems to have emerged a bit more streamlined and with various new and good properties. Hopefully all these experiments will have been worth it once you can finally play it too. Lots of art development is going on right now, so it's getting there.

Tuesday
Dec172013

Pandante Kickstarter Ending Soon

Just a reminder that we're in the last two days of the Pandante kickstarter. It's your last chance to get in on the gambling pandas. A lot of you have told me that the game feels like "Poker 2" and that it fixes various issues you've had with Poker. While that wasn't actually the original point of making Pandante, it sounds good to me! And thanks.

I thought you guys might like this blast from the past: the original console version of Pandante from the 80s. So here you go:

If you back the deluxe edition, in addition to the regular retail version of the game with 180 clay poker chips, you'll get the kickstarter exclusives of: 6 diamond challenge cards, an alternate Orange Panda Lord (General Oni-Mari), and an alternate art Joker featuring Lum, Gambling Panda. For more info on the kickstarter, head here while you still can!

Tuesday
Nov192013

Pandante Kickstarter (Reboot)

Pandante is back! The new kickstarter is up right now. It features the same great gameplay as before, this time with much less expensive poker chips. The chips are now clay, and the deluxe set costs $100 rather than $300.

There's also a travel version of the game now, as well as the print-and-play version. And there's kickstarter-exclusive cards, a $5 savings off MSRP for the standard version, and stretch goals that unlock more free stuff. You can even unlock FREE Blivand Yomi decks of the characters "Panda" and "G.Panda" if we raise enough. So please share the kickstarter with your friends to make that happen.

Pandante Gameplay

We've all heard about gambling Pandas, but I didn't realize how much fun their games were until I saw them myself. They play this game called Pandante that's sort of like Human Poker, but it's a lot more about lying. You lie about what's in your hand and you lie about which abilities you have access too. (There's only a few abilities and they're pretty simple.)

Everyone pretty much knows that tons of lying is going on, so that adds quite a bit of fun factor. And there's not much folding in Pandante, at least not nearly as much as in Human Poker. There's also no Panda elimination. I found that all of that has great synergy because it means everyone is participating most of the time, so that's more opportunities to lie about stuff (and laugh about it). That said, it's also playable as a really serious gambling game for real money. I really liked that it could be a really social game as well as a highly competitive one, so I decided to bring it over from the Pandalands for everyone here.

I hope you enjoy the game as much as these kids. :)

Head on over to the kickstarter page for lots more pics, video, and info about the game and components!