There’s two sorts of games I’ll play every time when they’re put in front of me: stupid anime fanservice games (because I’ve been cursed by a mummy to do so) and stupid card games. They are both, in fact, stupid. This fact doesn’t stop me from playing everything Idea Factory makes, nor does it stop me from enjoying the odd game of Nerd Poker every now and again. Naturally, when I saw a digital version of David Sirlin’s card game Yomi available on Steam, I had to go for it.
This predictability wouldn’t serve me well playing Yomi, as it turns out, since the game is all about learning to read your opponent. What we’ve got here is essentially a card game simulating a fighting game; each player selects a character and uses a standard playing card deck, including jokers, and each card is a move. Standard number cards represent normal attacks, blocks, dodges and throws, while face cards are your special moves and aces are your supers. It’s weird, but strangely enough, it works.
At its most basic, Yomi plays out a little like rock-paper-scissors: each player secretly puts up a card from their hand and they’re both flipped simultaneously to determine that round’s winner. Like a traditional fighting game, attacks are fast and beat throws; throws are unblockable and will catch dodging characters; blocks stop normal attacks; and dodging avoids normal attack damage and offers a chance for a follow-up attack. The winner of a round can “combo” additional cards if they won with an attack, throw, or dodge, with a block simply avoiding damage and offering the blocker an additional card. Face cards (specials) and supers (aces) fall into the same categories, but tend to offer special qualities like enhanced speed or damage. There’s a couple more mechanics to keep in mind during play, like speed ratings, knockdowns and the use of Joker cards to break combos, but the Steam version of Yomi comes with an effective tutorial that goes over all the bases.
Much like a real fighting game, learning to play Yomi is an evolutionary process. Throwing out cards at random will lead to a massive shutout and massive frustration. First, you must know yourself: find a character that works for you and learn them inside and out. Then you must learn your opponent: learn all the other characters and the advantages your character possesses over them. The next step beyond that, though, is the “Yomi” of the title, a Japanese concept explained as the ability to “know the mind of the opponent” – you need to predict your opponent’s next move and choose an appropriate counter. They’re trying to do the same for you, of course, leading to a possible counter-counter, or counter-counter-counter.
Early on, I was most successful at Yomi when playing against friends I’ve known and gamed with for awhile, as their habits and tendencies were already known to me and I could use that to my advantage. This didn’t last, though, as they could do the same for me and counter every counter I tried to pull out. One friend compared the game to the card experiment used by psychologist Karl Zener to test for extra-sensory perception in the 1930s, but Yomi’s not quite as random as that once you have a handle on how the game works.
The Steam version of Yomi appears to be a port of the game’s mobile version and boasts cross-platform compatibility with that title. Unlike some other card games that have followed this model, such as the disastrous Steam port of Ascension, Yomi actually works pretty well and I didn’t encounter any crashes or technical errors. Online play is snappy as well, including lobby-based play and password protection to keep random players out. The graphics and sound are both acceptable, though you’ll probably want to turn the music off eventually; I also found myself wishing that the characters were animated, since the cast is comprised of a bunch of appealing Street Fighter-esque designs.
If you’re into card games and have some friends who are willing to drop the $10 as well, Yomi is a pretty safe bet. It takes some time to discern some method to the madness, but once you’ve got a handle on things you’re in for a good time. Also: yes, I said David Sirlin. He’s the same guy who’s at least partially responsible for Chess 2: The Sequel (and more infamously, a certain Street Fighter Remix). I think he’s earned at least a modicum of forgiveness thanks to this one.