There’s Just no Pleasing Him

Those who know me are painfully aware of my current obsession with game developer Dave Sirlin. It’s an obsession in two parts; one of a praise-throwing zealot Fanboy, and one of a raging frothing Madman.

I recently played Puzzle Strike (2nd edition) with Josh. I love the game. It’s a nifty fusion of deck-building and combat, the former based off of Dominion and the latter based off of Puzzle Fighter. Fanboy loves the progenitor games and supports the combination into a new product, Madman is derisive of the obvious ripoff of the ideas.

Puzzle Strike is getting a 3rd edition release, with updated characters and chips. Fanboy loves and appreciates the hours of fine-tuning the game has received by the dozens of fans playing hundreds of games online. Madman is put out that he has to spend another $50 on a game, and while he’s at it, he doesn’t like the cult-of-personality that has been built around the game and its culture. Both are miffed that their current game has balance issues and doesn’t synch with the online game, though they’re constantly arguing over whether to buy the new one. And yes, they’re aware that they bought the game without knowing about the expansion and should be happy with the purchase they have.

Dave Sirlin has made 3 games, each using the set of characters he and his team wrote. There’s Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel. Fanboy loves that there are three fighting themed games that use different engines but still manage to capture that spirit of combat. Madman… he’s got nothing.

For a while I was following Sirlin’s blog regularly. I read his book Playing to Win and followed some postings on, the site used for playing Yomi and Puzzle Strike online and discussing the games and other stuff through the forums.

Fanboy is pretty stoked that the games have such a strong following. Gamers are great people with strong opinions and it’s great to have a community who appreciates the hobby and strives to make it better, especially since Sirlin himself pops in to update folks and give feedback from time to time, and update folks on the Kickstarter he has to get the new edition and stand-alone expansion out. And the fact that the games are available online is a nice bonus; it allows anyone to try out the game, it keeps the best players connected to sharpen their skills and is a place for new people to try out the game and learn the strategies.

Madman is disturbed that the games have such a sycophantic following. Gamers are over-opinionated jerks and the community is toxic to outsiders, especially since Sirlin chimes in to be derisive to nay-sayers and those with concerns and gripes about his product, and the Kickstarter is his subversive way of abusing a system designed to give new projects a leg up, as his games are already made and ready to ship and the Kickstarter is being used to cover shipping costs. The online game is another way for him to make cash; only two characters are available at a time, with a “free to play” system of buying characters for permanent use. It punishes new players by constantly matching them with veterans who trounce them. Yes, Madman read the section in Playing to Win on scrubs and losing gracefully, but damn it he hates to lose.

Hobbies are (ideally) borne from passion. Gamers are passionate about the games they play, how they play them, and with whom they play. It’s not so rare to see someone fanatically in love OR “in loathe” with a game, but it’s kind of special to feel both at the same time. And if I’m being honest, I get a similar enjoyment from complaining as I do from praising (and I know I’m not the only one).

A friend of mine and game designer met Dave Sirlin at a developers conference. The general opinion is that he’s “a smart guy, great game designer, kind of a prick.” Based on his writing style and current body of work I’d believe him. People have said the same about me, minus the game design thing. But regardless of my opinions of the man (whom I’ve never met, so yeah, grain of salt with all this), I do enjoy the games he makes, his writings on game design, and I respect his goal to make balanced tournament-level board games.

As for the PS games with Josh, while I did not enjoy losing the majority of games to Josh, despite my thinking I had it locked, I did have lots of fun playing, and I hope we get many more sessions of it together. If it’s going to be tolerable in the long term though, I’m going to need to update the characters.