History of Lum in Puzzle Strike

Discussion in 'Announcements' started by skeller, Nov 28, 2012.

  1. skeller

    skeller Well-Known Member

    By Vivafringe

    Curious how some of your favorite Puzzle Strike chips came to be? In Hidden Gems, we explore the development history of various chips. This time we take a look at Lum.

    Jaina might be my favorite character overall in the Fantasy Strike universe, but which PS character do I find myself playing the most?

    Good ol' Lum.

    Last week, I mentioned that Valerie was the overpowered mono-purple monster that we didn't catch in version 1 development. Lum was the one we did find in time... sort of.

    We have to go back quite a ways, to a Dark and Stormy Night. Sirlin's board game business was just getting started. He had released Flash Duel version 1 just a few months earlier, and after no doubt a ton of work, submitted the Puzzle Strike images to his manufacturer. The very first printing of Puzzle Strike had two versions: a deluxe $150 set made out of fancy wood and a $60 set made out of chipboard. The first sets had already shipped to people who had pre-ordered. Here is what Lum's original pieces were:

    (ominous music)

    Living on the Edge (brown): If your gem pile totals at least 8, +:pschip::pschip::pschip::pschip: , +:pspurple:.
    Poker Winnings (brown): A picture of a :ps2gem:.
    Panda's Bargain (brown): +1$ for each 1-gem in your hand.

    A note about Poker Winnings: this really did act like a 2-gem (except you couldn't Pilebunker it), and was the only non-reaction character chip that didn't require an action.

    It was at this time that I had started hanging around Sirlin's chat. The topic that night drifted towards how when Lum only bought Combines, he was tough to beat. Things sort of spiraled out of control at that point. As it turns out, the optimal strategy with Lum was so simple you could program a computer to do it. Lum ignored nearly every puzzle piece except Roundhouse, One of Each and It's Combo Time. When he couldn't buy one of those, he bought a 2-gem or a Combine. And he was an unstoppable machine! Playtesters played game after game, and couldn't beat Lum.

    It's Combo Time, which cost 6 at the time, was targeted as an exacerbating factor in Lum's dominance. Not only was it hideously undercosted at 6, but Lum could use his natural money to buy it quicker than anyone.

    Why hadn't playtesters found out about Lum before? The answer is a bit embarrassing: Lum was a boring character. Unlike characters like Setsuki, who had all manner of interesting tricks to try out, Lum didn't do much except have a lot of money. Because of this, he was largely ignored by playtesters until that fateful night.

    The problem was that the game had been manufactured, and was already shipping to customers! In Sirlin's words: "Disaster. Terrible disaster."

    Sirlin decided to ship a free emergency patch to everyone who had been shipped a copy of Puzzle Strike. I have no idea how much this cost him, but my guess is "a lot." Here were the replacement chips:

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    As drastic as this was, even this wasn't quite enough to bring the Lummernaught down. As a final "stealth nerf," Lum's Poker Winnings was changed in the rulebook to cost a brown arrow to play. This, finally, ended Lum's dominance. The really scary thing, however, was that even after a huge nerf to every single one of his chips, he did reasonably well in tournament play. And yes, he still did the boring degenerate strategy of only buying purple chips.

    For the rebalanced version 2, Lum was due for a heavy rework. In fact, all three of his chips were changed:


    For Valerie, we used the red, brown and blue arrows to coax her into buying puzzle chips. For Lum, we were less subtle, and changed Panda's Bargain to literally not work unless you bought them. Poker Winnings was deemed boring and not "gambly" enough, and got changed to Jackpot. Finally, the last purple arrow to not be accompanied by other arrows was removed from Living on the Edge. Unfortunately, even after all these changes, mono-purple was STILL the best strategy for Lum!

    ...just kidding. Actually, this version of Lum played quite nicely.

    He had one remaining issue: players weren't that excited by him. At this stage, it's worth mentioning that Sirlin's games tend to attract two very different crowds. There is a small, hardcore faction that plays the game at a very competitive level. And then there are more casual players from the boardgaming crowd.

    And the more casual players just didn't like Lum. Where was the feeling of risk and excitement? Where was the GAMBOL? As far as I can tell, Lum is the first character changed not because he was imbalanced or even played poorly, but because he didn't have enough casual appeal. Around this time, we started humorously making a differentiation between "robots," the hardcore analytical players, and "humans," the more casual players. Robots didn't have a problem with Lum. But for humans, it was less "Lum, Gambling Panda" and more "Lum, Careful Accountant."

    We decided that the main problem was Jackpot. Where was the actual jackpot? Getting +1$ and replacing itself, while reasonably powerful, didn't feel like a huge win. We decided that we needed a bigger possible payoff that was less likely to hit. After brainstorming for some time about a very unlikely event and a huge payoff, the following idea came up:

    Jackpot: Reveal two chips at random from chosen opponent's hand. If any are gems, +:psblack: +:pschip:. If both are :psorb:, gain and play a double crash gem.

    This version had two issues. The first problem was that +:psblack: +:pschip: was a little too good. Panda's Bargain already lets Lum cycle through his deck quite a bit, and the added cycling from Jackpot pushed things over the top. The second problem was that this version was too long to fit on the physical chip. We soon arrived at this final version:


    The result? A more jackpotty Jackpot that preserved the gameplay that robots liked. As a note, this version adds more luck into the game, which caused some concern. Indeed, in one game, my opponent bought a single Combine first cycle. Using Jackpot, I somehow managed to pull it and his Crash on my third turn! I remember the game fondly, but I'm willing to bet my opponent has different feelings.

    However, after some deliberation, we deemed the event rare enough to not have too much of a detriment on tournament play. On the other hand, the few times where it did activate would be memorable and worth the increased variance.

    ...and the result, in my mind, is easily the most fun Puzzle Strike character. While powerful, he has to work around some serious deckbuilding limitations. More importantly, lucking out on Jackpot is hilarious when it happens. Give him a try!

    Previous article: History of Combine
    Next article: History of Four Minor Puzzle Strike Changes

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  2. BarnabyTJones

    BarnabyTJones Active Member

    So it DID originally act like a 2-gem! I remember thinking it was a neat chip until I found out how it worked; then, I was just confused as to why it wasn't written as +$2, since that's what it did. Never realized that it had gotten errata'd.
    Star Slayer likes this.
  3. zem

    zem Super Moderator Staff Member

    aw, no mention of the panda’s bargain version that gave you +:pschip: for EACH :pspuzzle: you bought. that one didn’t last long. I’m terrible at PS and even I managed to set up an engine that drew my entire deck every turn when we ran a tournament with that one.
    vivafringe likes this.
  4. Archon Shiva

    Archon Shiva Well-Known Member

    I always assumed discouraging opponents from going mono-purple against him was a major component of Jackpot's double-purple hit. Reading this, it seems like it was barely incidental...
  5. Fry

    Fry Well-Known Member

    Certainly, discouraging monopurple was a nice side effect. Mostly we wanted something that was not so awful you wouldn't play it, not too good if you played it all the time, and occasionally caused something silly to happen.
  6. Star Slayer

    Star Slayer Well-Known Member

    Final Lum is great, especially because Jackpot can provide the occasional early blow out. Now it really feels like a gamble where Lum goes all in... and hits the jackpot! Btw, I really like the chat message in the online game that pops up when you reveal two purples: Player Name HIT THE JACKPOT!!! (The all caps and three exclamation marks are very important for overall flavor.)

    While you get a Double Crash Gem most of the time, I did get a Combine with it on a few occasions, too. Sometimes you have an ender in hand that is just more powerful in the current situation that a DCG would be and the Combine's +:psblack: allows you to play it after the Jackpot.

    That always bugged me, too. Now I finally see the reason why the chip was so weird.
  7. Fry

    Fry Well-Known Member

    The one thing I don't like about final Lum is that IMO he requires lots of skill to be not-awful. Would prefer that the cute panda be newbie friendly. Oh well.
  8. chucklyfun

    chucklyfun Active Member

    Where did Lum's name come from by the way? Was it really a reference to Rumiko Takahashi / Ranma 1/2?
  9. Archon Shiva

    Archon Shiva Well-Known Member

    It's short for Lump.
    Inkstud, garcia1000 and Star Slayer like this.
  10. Star Slayer

    Star Slayer Well-Known Member

    While half the characters in the base game (Valerie, Grave, Rook, Geiger, Setsuki) are easier to play than Lum, I think you can get decent results with a moderate skill level already. He is easier to play online than in RL though, because being able to look into your bag at any time makes it easier to plan your cycling and your use of Living on the Edge.
  11. ApolloAndy

    ApolloAndy Well-Known Member

    Just got linked to this thread and wanted to Zombify it to defend myself in posterity. ;)
    I did suspect how ridiculous O.Lum was well before he went to print. We just didn't have enough playtesting going on at the time to really draw the correct conclusion.

    If you poke around in that BGG strategy forum, you can see some crazy earlier proposed versions of chips and characters (At one point, Val had Burst of Speed, Chromo Orb was effectively a natural combine, and Creative Thoughts as is!) and just some interesting history.

    Also, if you want to see what a strategy guide for boring but not OP Lum was and the origin of "the triangle" and other fundamental concepts like tempo came from, I'll toot my own horn again:

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