Game Review: Fight Your Way to Victory with Yomi

If you've ever attempted to play Street Fighter but just didn't have the joystick wielding skills necessary to pull off a victory, then I've got the perfect game for you. Yomi is a 1-vs-1 card game that aims to bottle up all of the mental strategy used by professional Street Fighter players while leaving out all of the finger-twisting dexterity.

You may recognize the game's creator, David Sirlin, as the designer of the recent Street Fighter HD Remix video game and Puzzle Strike: Bag of Chips which we reviewed here on MTV Geek a few weeks back, so he's definitely got the right resume for the job. The big question here is whether a fighting game can still be fun without the controller, or if it simply feels like half of a game. Read on for the full review to find out:

Just the Facts:

Players: 2

Playing Time: 30 minutes

Age: 10 to Adult

Publisher: Sirlin Games

MSRP: $25 (2 decks) / $100 (10-deck Complete First Edition)

Release: January 2011

The Gameplay:

At it's core, Yomi uses a rock-paper-scissors mechanic to represent the various types fighting game moves and the different strengths they hold over each other. These attacks, dodges, throws, and blocks are each assigned to the cards of a standard poker deck, and just like a true fighting game, player must begin by selecting a character. There are ten to choose from in Yomi, and each comes with its own unique abilities.

The game begins with each player receiving a starting amount of health and a hand of seven cards. On each turn, both players will secretly place on of their cards face down and simultaneously reveal them to see which card prevails. That's the gist of the game: out-think your opponent and whittle the character's health down to zero. There is more strategy here than simple guessing, though, but to understand it you must learn more about the different card types.

  • Attacks: Beat throws and slower attacks (each card has a speed printed on it). Each attack deals some set amount of damage and then allows the attacker to combo off of this initial hit (immediately play a few more cards with very low chance of their effects being avoided). Discarded after use.
  • Throws: Beat blocks, dodges, and slower throws. Deals damage and also allows for a combo, but can leave an opponent with knockdown stun if no combo is launched. If stunned, that player is not allowed to dodge for one turn, and the odds of their block cards actually preventing an attack are cut in half. Discarded after use.
  • Dodges: Avoids any throw or attack and allows the dodging player to respond with a single attack card. Discarded after use.
  • Blocks: Absorbs most of the damage from attacks. When a block card is successfully used to stop an attack, the blocking player is also allowed to both draw an extra card from their deck and return the block card to their hand, otherwise the block is discarded after use.

As you can see, several of the card types allow you to beat up on your opponent with a combo of additional cards after the initial hit, but the process of playing a combo is a bit more complicated than that. All of the cards in Yomi are numbered as a traditional poker deck, and in order to play a combo of attack cards, they must be played in sequential order. The only exception to this rule is when some face cards (used to represent special moves) allow a player to reset the numbers in mid-sequence.

As a last-ditch defense, the victim of a combo has one shot to avoid the string of attacks by using the "rewind time" ability seen in modern fighting video games. There are two jokers included in each deck that both give players this ability. The twist is that jokers must be played face down before the attacking player decides what combo they would like to play, but the defending character is allowed to bluff! A well-timed joker will save you from an entire combo, but a perfect bluff will have you placing a junk card face down to intimidate your opponent into holding back their more valuable and powerful attacks.

The only remaining aspect of Yomi to explain is how to use a crushing finisher. These are the sort of attacks that you charge up throughout the entire game and then unleash to blow away close to half of your opponent's health with one blow. All of these finishing moves (called "enders" in Yomi) are printed on aces, and will require a player to discard several more aces along with the attack in order to unleash the full amount of damage. Forcing a player to stockpile these aces is a perfect representation of the special attack bar charging seen in video games.

Fortunately, there are ways to speed up the collection of aces. Whenever a player succeeds in playing a combo of sequentially numbered normal attacks, they will be able to grab a few aces from their deck. Also, player are allowed to discard matching sets of cards at the end of each turn to do the same. The more cards in the combo or matching set, the more aces a player is allowed to take.

The Components:

Yomi is available in a few different formats, all with a different take on the components. The retail editions come in 2-deck packs for $25, which gives you just enough to play a standard 1-vs-1 match. There are 5 different 2-packs which covers all of the potential pairings of characters in the Fantasy Strike universe.

The second retail product is a complete boxed set with all 10 decks and a few exclusive goodies for $100. Those extra bits include an expanded rule book with example rounds and a detailed FAQ, roll-out play mats, and plastic gems to use the scoring tracks printed on those maps. Of course you're also getting an awesome box to transport all ten decks and these extras around in. Admit it, that Yomi box in all black is going to look sexy on your game shelf:

Here's a look at one of the play mats included in the boxed set:

As for thoughts on the quality of these components, Yomi is a card game that gets it right. The game was actually supposed to release back in August 2010 but was delayed to guarantee the highest print quality on the best card stock, and I'll explain exactly why this paid huge dividends.

While it may sound unfair to pidgeon-hole Yomi into Street Figher comparisons, it's an unavoidable fact that Yomi is at a disadvantage without such a license when it comes to attracting new players. Instead, the game had to make itself stand out with top-notch artwork in order to draw fans to the Fantasy Strike universe. Delaying a product is a big decision, and Yomi did justice to the wonderful character artwork included on its cards by giving them a high-quality print on very flexible playing cards that match those of professional poker decks. These are the sorts of flexible cards that you can bend and flick yet still expect them to retain their shape, which is another important factor given that Yomi is a game designed to inspire a highly competitive tournament scene.

Final Thoughts:

The goal here was to distill the head games between two fighting game players into a card game, and Sirlin Games has hit it out of the park. The first instinct of a hardcore strategy gamer is to lift his or her nose at the thought of playing rock-paper-scissors for twenty minutes, but there is much more to Yomi than that. The influence of random chance is actually a lot less than even what I expected, as the current state of the game and your opponent's special power should give players a strong edge as to what card type an opponent is about to play. The last piece of the puzzle is figuring out how many levels deep your opponent is playing, which really does involve some serious head games.

Being a solid strategic game is not always enough, though. There are plenty of those collecting dust on my shelves because they simply don't have the wide-ranging appeal of other games. This is another point where Yomi excels, as it surprised me with how much the casual gamers I introduced the game to enjoyed it. The cards are a bit stuffed with information and symbols, but at the end of the day, that's a heck of a lot less intimidating then a mountain of wooden cubes. A few sample turns and some looks back at the player reference card should be all anybody needs to get up and running for a game of Yomi.

Price here can be a big sticking point, though. The two-deck packs are actually competitively priced with what you'd expect for two decks, as $25 is the same cost as a duel deck pack of Magic: The Gathering would run you. That $100 boxed set is just so tempting and shiny though! Geeks can tend to be a bit OCD with their hobbies, and the desire to have a complete collection can be strong, yet it's always hard to part with $100 in one transaction on a single game. Even with the game highly recommended to me, I know I would still have trouble leaping that mental hurdle.

This runs a bit counter to logic though, as you are actually getting a discount on the decks in the boxed set (plus extra components), yet many gamers wouldn't blink an eye at spending more than $100 on several expansions to Dominion or booster boxes of Magic over the course of a year. Consumers may not act purely rational with their purchasing decisions, and it is unfortunate that Yomi hits up against such a roadblock. But the truth is that you really don't actually need all ten decks. If Yomi is going to be a game you play constantly and two decks just won't cut it, then my recommendation would be to split the boxed set with some of your gaming buddies.

The best possible solution to this dilemma is to allow players to try the game before they buy it, and Sirlin Games has done just that. They've put the entire game online for free, so you can test it out at the Fantasy Strike website and not have to make a blind purchase. In that vein, you can buy a print-and-play PDF of all of the decks for $15, where the eventual quality of the cards will depend the stock used to print them out (thankfully, Sirlin includes some pro tips on how to make the best possible print-and-play cards at home).

In general, card games have moved so far away from this formula that it's refreshing to see a return. If I looked at my game shelf, I could easily count five deck building card games and several more casual single-deck card games. It's important to separate yourself from the competition and Yomi excels there, so appreciate it for what it is: a good game that is almost definitely not like anything else in your collection.

Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game.