Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting With Style

by Angie
Yomi is a card based fighting game by Sirlin Games that we picked up recently and have been enjoying quite a bit. We got the Complete First Edition, which contains all 10 character decks and some extras that make storing and playing the game easy and pretty. The premise behind the game is that each player takes on the role of a specific character in the Fantasy Strike universe to compete in fighting tournaments, and it’s modeled after classic video  fighting games such as Street Fighter 2. I love it that this designer is creating an Intellectual Property (IP) with his games, and working to expand a world and tell a story throughout several games (Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel). Inventing and representing an IP through board/card games is something that has always intrigued me, and this series seems to have hit the ground running and made quite an impact ‘round the ‘net so far. Since this is a game I was very very excited to get and has been a frequent flyer at our gaming table lately, I figured I might as well chime in and share my thoughts.
Yomi: Complete First Edition

Yomi plays relatively quick, while still providing a good amount of strategic decision making. This is an important consideration for us right now, with game time at a premium. We want to play something that feels satisfying but doesn’t take hours. It seems like Yomi matches take about 15 minutes or so, and a couple matches in a row seems to provide a high level of satisfaction for us. Each character sports a unique deck, and they all play differently. Simplified, the combat consists of round after round of picking a fighting move, revealing it, and comparing the results to deal damage. The goal is to take out all your opponent’s life points. The combat is resolved through a circular mechanic where attacks beat throws, throws beat blocks and dodges, and blocks and dodges beat attacks. The two main elements of gameplay are figuring out what your character does well and how to do it, while also trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do. That’s it, except the game is so much more than that.
The Complete First Edition; 10 decks, 2 play mats, life counters, deluxe rulebook, awesome storage box with good art.

Yomi is a game with STYLE. Through the careful attention to character design and balance, the gorgeous art, and the clever execution of the theme, Yomi hits the sweet spot of what games should be. In his book The Art of Game Design (a personal favorite book of all time, and one you'll likely hear more about from me), author Jesse Schell describes the idea of looking at a game through the “Lens of Essential Experience” and states “As a game designer trying to design an experience, your goal is to figure out the essential elements that really define the experience you want to create, and find ways to make that part of your game design”. It’s brilliant really, rather than trying to recreate the whole of a concept, it is sometimes better to take out those elements that define the experience… the pieces that stick out in your memory as essential… and focus on finding ways to experience those in the game.  It feels like Yomi was designed with this in mind, capturing the essence of its genre. What do you want to do in a fighting game? Power-up and land devastating combos, outmaneuver and outthink your opponent, use your special moves in clever ways, and get cool visuals… and that’s what this game is about. Is it the perfect game for everyone? No way… no game ever will be. But this game does what it does very well.
Combos! Combos are the heart of all fighting games. You can button mash until you are blue in the face, but the skilled player is the one who hits the right buttons in the right sequence at the right time. In Yomi, you can chain moves together with careful planning to create powerful combos, but you’ve always got to be alert for what your opponent is doing. Is it the right time to unleash your powerful combo attack, or will it just be dodged? Each card has two moves on it, and can be rotated to do either one based upon player choice. Additionally each card is numbered and suited like a poker deck. Cards are a finite resource, and you don’t want to waste them on moves that don’t connect. In addition, you can use sets of cards to “power up” and search for your ultimate move cards (Aces). Do you want to use that 7 as a throw or a block, keep it in hopes of a combo, discard it for a character special move, or discard the pair of them to search up an Ace?  Interesting choices are a core part of this game, and how you use your cards matters.
According to the game’s designer, Yomi means “reading” in Japanese, and in this game the concept is applied to “reading” your opponent. Trying to figure out what the other player will chose is a huge consideration when playing and planning your own moves. Each character deck has it’s own strengths and weaknesses which are represented in the frequency, speed, and power of their moves. When playing against a character that is very skilled at throws (lots of throw cards available) it’s more risky to choose block or dodge. Each move has a counter, nothing is “ultimate”, so there’s always a consideration.

Decks can be bought in 2-packs instead of the whole set. See the variety in card pictures, amazing!
As if all that wasn’t enough to consider, characters have unique special moves on their character card that helps define the way the player experiences the world, and several cards in each deck also have character specific powers that you can activate by discarding that card (instead of using it for a fighting move). The characters have been extensively playtested and really seem to be balanced against each other. The imbalance in a game of Yomi will be in player skill, strategy, and comprehension of how to best utilize their available options… with a hint of luck. Luck is a good thing, the random nature of cards provides for an interesting mental puzzle that changes each game. Your options at any given time will be different based upon your cards, so there isn’t that rigid definition of an optimal play that doesn’t change from game to game. In Yomi you’ll be playing very differently as Lum, the Gambling Panda than you would be as Rook, the Stone Guardian. They are designed to feel special and unique, and their individual moves keep things dynamic and interesting. It’s a game where I constantly feel conflicted between trying any given matchup “just one more time” or trying out a new combo of characters.  
Yes, each character has multiple special moves with awesome art like this one!

The final element of this game that just makes it pop is the art and design. Each character has detailed and beautiful art on the card, especially the face cards. Those special moves really feel special, they are beautifully illustrated and capture that artistic style and feel that defines the fighting game genre. The attention to detail in this game is amazing, and “small” things like the unique design for each deck’s card back really enhance the experience of each character and set the tone. Every time I shuffle the cards and deal out a hand I think “Wow, cool”. Video games often reward players with neat animations and special effects when something epic like a finishing move happens, and this is the closest analog I have seen to that experience. My 5 year old daughter is too young to read all the cards in Yomi, but she loves to just play card games like Crazy 8’s or Go Fish with these decks because they have pretty art and “look cooler than our other cards”, plus it’s fun to pick out which character we’ll be playing with each time.
To sum up, Yomi is a game that is simple to learn with depth to grow. It’s an elegant design that captures the essential experience it was designed to deliver. It is beautiful and even more importantly, it’s fun. Yomi is a game with genuine style, and I’m impressed.
Amazingly enough, I could say more... but I won't. Yet. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment! We love comments, honest!


  1. I've spent some time looking at my new big box Yomi purchase. The rules assume you'll grasp all
    that's there. Simple things are not always clear. A face card shows 1 combo point at its top and a symbol. Can I use any card for the combo? How often can any random card be used to
    fulfil a combo? Are there any circumstances where a 5 and a 2 could be used? There is no good online glossary, nor an example game you could follow as an observer. I found your nice site here and dedcided to pick on you. I'm a senior citizen but a game collector of novel
    ideas. -RRS (aka sitdownsmith)

  2. As I understand it (I claim no authority here!), all attacks played (with the exception of those discarded for certain attacks) count toward the maximum combo. For normal (non-face)cards, they must be played either in order (ie, 5>6>7), or with a Linker, or an Ender. Random cards only work if you're Valerie (whose special power is that she doesn't need to combo in order), or if they're Linkers. The symbol I think you're referring to is the Knockdown symbol. If a Knockdown attack/throw succeeds against an opponent, on his next turn he cannot play a Dodge, and his Blocks only work if it and your attack are both odd or both even. It does take a bit of getting used to. A good source of answers would be the Sirlin Games Forums:
    I hope that helps! :)

  3. I suggest posting any questions on the designer's site:

    They are a nice community and will be happy to answer any questions about the rules. They also have strategies to give you that extra boost if you just cant seem to beat your friends ;)

  4. I have also my own fighting style when I play fighting games, I usually do powerful combos to defeat and kill my enemy.