£65. Sixty. Five. Pounds. Sterling. That’s how much a copy of Street Fighter II cost me for my Super Nintendo back in 1992. Nearly twenty years ago I paid £65 for a video game… but man, what a game. Yes, it was only the basic version (Championship Edition came out soon after and let you play with the bosses like M.Bison) but I hammered that game into the ground. Whether you were facing off against the AI or a real life opponent, there was one simple reason I loved to play SFII – the satisfaction of landing that final knockout blow.
Even now, it’s particularly good when you manage to beat someone who’s as good as you (and so much better when they’re more skilled than you are). Getting into the zone, your hands working instinctively as you bash buttons to pull off those glorious specials… it’s almost like you’re able to tell what your opposite number is doing before they move. Reading them. And that brings us neatly to card game called Yomi.
According to designer David Sirlin, Yomi means ‘reading’, that ability to know your opponent’s next move and adapt your play to counter it. David has a history firmly grounded in fighting games, particularly the Street Fighter series (a couple of which he worked on) and Yomi is the latest release from his independent game company that has a rather familiar feel. If there was ever a game that succeeded in capturing the world of a video game in tabletop form, Yomi is it.
Two players face off against each other using one of ten preconstructed decks, each representing a character from Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike universe (also seen in the excellent Puzzle Strike). Every card is double ended and shows two different moves: the numbered ones represent basic attacks, throws, blocks and dodges, while face cards show more powerful abilities that require a bit of work to pull off.
The basic game works on the Rock / Paper / Scissors principle. Attacks beat Throws, Throws beat Blocks and Dodges, Blocks and Dodges beat Attacks – get that down and you’re halfway to understanding pretty much everything. You each draw a card from your hand and reveal simultaneously – the winner of the face-off then gets the opportunity to do a little extra, depending on what type of card they revealed. Using an Attack or Throw will generally allow you to perform a combo, (potentially) letting you get some hefty damage in. Each character has a limited amount of combo points meaning that you can’t just go all-in and destroy your opponent in one go – you need to consider what you have in your hand and see what works with what you’ve played. Many cards are labelled up as Starters (which begin combos), Linkers (which add to or end your chain) or Enders (which complete the combo, even if you have points left over) but even if you get a decent set in, you may not necessarily do all the damage you planned.
This is down to the Jokers. Each deck contains two and they have a couple of uses. In the case of combat (that phase where you choose a single card), playing a Joker beats Attacks and Throws. If you’re successful, you get to search through your decks and pull out two Aces, the most powerful cards in the game. However, they can also be used to bluff your opponent… when one player is allowed to combo, the defender may place a card from their hand face down. The attacker then chooses whether to lay more cards for the combo down and, when finished, waits for the defender to flip the card. If it’s a Joker, all cards bar the initial one are discarded – no damage is taken apart from whatever the first card dealt out. If it’s not a Joker, everything hits for full damage. This element of bluffing isn’t mandatory, but certainly could prove useful. In a game that’s all about reading your opponent, the ability to trick them out of hitting you with huge combos should not be underestimated.
Fighting games are also emulated in other ways. Some Attacks hand out chip damage, still hurting a player even if they manage to successfuly Block. All ten characters have their strengths and weaknesses and are remarkably well balanced – you never feel at a disadvantage no matter what deck you’re using or who you’re fighting against. The artwork throughout is reminiscent of classic beat ’em ups from the great companies like Capcom and SNK – you can see that Yomi has truly been a labour of love for David Sirlin. He’s spent over six years getting Yomi right and it really shows. After your first few bouts getting the rules straight, you’ll be getting through games in no time – the straighforward ruleset quickly becomes second nature and you get used to each character’s special abilities. While there’s a few other smaller things to pick up (you can be knocked down, certain abilities require one or more Aces to be discarded, that kind of stuff) but the vast majority of players should be able to pick up Yomi pretty quickly. The fact that every card has a succinct explanation of what it does and what it can possibly link into means that bouts in Yomi move along at an impressive pace.
So, I’ve been pretty positive thus far… but yeah, there’s a couple of downsides. Nothing major, but they may well skew your opinion on whether you’d like to pick it up. First of all, price: Yomi is pretty expensive, even moreso if you’re outside the USA. That £65 that I spent on Street Fighter II? If you’re after the full set of ten Yomi decks, you’ll be looking to pay that and more besides especially when you consider shipping on top of that. Now, admittedly you get a bunch of other stuff included in the Collectors Set – playmats and the like – but that is a lot of money to hand over for a single game. However, in the interest of balance, you are getting a complete game for one payment – many folks are comparing it favourably to something like Magic: The Gathering where you can be constantly having to catch up with newer, more powerful cards. Yomi is self contained. Yes, it’s pricey, but you won’t need to buy anything else.
Second, it’s increasingly difficult to get hold of especially if you’re looking for the Collectors Set in the shops (though it’s available directly from David’s site). It’s easier to get your hands on pairs of decks that are also available, but these work out to be more expensive. If you’d like to pick up the game, your easiest route is to just head to http://www.sirlingames.com and grab it from there. You’ll be supporting a truly excellent independent game producer that has made it his mission to produce excellent games to a high quality. Put the pad down, pull out a couple of decks with a mate and get ready for a battle like you’ve never experienced before.
Yomi was originally released in late 2010 by Sirlin Games. Designed by David Sirlin, it is strictly for two players and is (currently) available from sirlingames.com – if you’re lucky you may find it in your Local Game Store, but don’t hold your breath. Sets of two decks cost around £17 here in the UK, while the Collectors Set on the site is $100 plus shipping. Worth it? Definitely. But if you’re cheap, you can also get a Print and Play version for buttons – only $15 and a few papercuts! – or play the excellent online implementation for FREE at www.fantasystrike.com – Now FIGHT.
Edit: David has said over on BGG that if you’re looking for your local store to stock Yomi, you could do a lot worse than badger the guys at GameSalute to help you out!