If You Like Fighting Games, You’ll Love Yomi

by Matt Miller on Sep 05, 2011 at 01:00 PM

There are plenty of awesome tabletop boardgames out there that are easily accessible and friendly to folks more familiar with a controller, as we’ve highlighted with games like Tannhäuser and Castle Ravenloft. There’s an equal number of amazing card games that have released in recent years, many of which explore some fascinating and unique game design ideas. One of my recent favorites is an unusual but entertaining game called Yomi, from Sirlin Games. 

Mixing the martial arts tournament styling of a game like Street Fighter or Tekken with a cleverly designed rapid-fire card fighting mechanic, Yomi hits that beautiful balance of easy to learn but tough to master.


In Yomi, each player chooses a deck of cards – each deck represents one unique character in a fighting tournament. Each deck is different, but they all include the traditional numbering system seen in a poker deck, including 52 cards and two Jokers.

Two players each shuffle their decks and then draw a hand of seven cards. These cards represent combat maneuvers that each player can enact on their turn. Both cards are played and revealed simultaneously, and a paper/rock/scissors rule applies to see who wins the exchange. Attacks beat throws, throws beat blocks or dodges, and blocks or dodges beat attacks. The winner of the exchange can use other specific cards from their hand (if they’re available) to create a combo attack, layering on additional damage. After the turn is completed, players get to add a card to their hand and the sequence begins again.


Like its cousins in the world of  video game fighters, Yomi has a pretty simple story concept, but Sirlin has done an excellent job of making each deck/character unique and filled with personality. Some beautiful art bedecks the cards as well, adding a fun visual element to the system.

The game takes place in a fantasy world filled with plenty of martial arts craziness and potent magic. One of the characters is a towering stone golem with devastatingly powerful single attacks. Another is a deadly ninja student. A third is a goofy but powerful panda with a penchant for gambling. The ten playable characters come together to do battle in a mighty tournament meant to bring together the rival provinces of a troubled kingdom. The characters and their setting feel quirky and surprising, and offer more than a few laughs as you try to figure out why in the world a painter is fighting a watchmaker, or some similar mismatch. You’ll catch yourself thinking more than once that you’d like to see these personalities brought to life beyond their playing card likenesses.

Each card has two play options, depending on which direction the card is facing when you play it against your opponent. Some special cards (see above) have only one option no matter the facing

Unique Features

Yomi strikes a great chord that balances luck and strategy in equal measure. By using the familiar conventions of numbered and face poker cards, players have an immediate clue as to the relative power of any given combat move.

In addition, the elegant rules systems allows for a number of interesting features that deepen the game beyond the limited paper-rock-scissors dynamic. After a successful first attack from an opposing player, the defender can lay a card face-down from their hand that might be a Joker. After the attacker’s combo is completed, the defender reveals the card – if it is a Joker (and not a bluff) then the combo does no damage and all of the attacker’s combo cards are still expended.

The combo system itself is also a lot of fun; every card you play can only combo with certain other cards. Oftentimes, these other cards are straight runs of numbers, adding to the distinct Poker vibe of the whole experience.

Next up: Where can I get it, and how much does it cost?

The playmats that come with the full version of the game depict attractive artwork, and they help track health


Once you grasp the basic rules of Yomi, the game plays quickly and easily. While you’ll be forced to memorize a few exception-based rules, like who hits first when both attacks have the same speed, it won’t be long before you completely grasp the fundamentals of the game.

The real complexity of the game is the same you’d expect in a video game fighter. Namely, you have to learn the different combatants, both as a player of that deck and a defender against it. Each of the 10 different characters in the game plays differently from the others, so if you’re playing with competitive friends it’s not a bad idea to specialize early on and find a character you like.

For Video Gamers?

More than almost any tabletop game I can think of, Yomi seems designed from the ground up to appeal to a certain segment of the video game crowd. Fighting game enthusiasts who would like a break from the screen will find a lot to love in Yomi. In fact, the game’s designer, David Sirlin, was the lead designer on Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, so he definitely understands and loves the video game scene.

Like playing King of Fighters or Mortal Kombat, there’s a lot of joy to be had in figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of different characters. Yomi also does a great job of emulating that experience of facing off with an opponent as you each gauge the other’s personality. Will they play defensively, offensively, or a mix of the two?

Like any good fighting game, Yomi also benefits from nearly limitless replayability, especially if you opt to purchase the full version with all ten characters.

What else do I need to know?

Yomi is available for purchase in a number of different formats, depending on how you want to play. The easiest way to play the game is to purchase one of several two-deck packs for $24.95. With these two character decks in hand, you and a friend can play an endless sequence of fights, but only between those two characters.

If you’re ready for a more robust play experience, the Complete First Edition of the game is available for $99.99, and includes all 10 characters, two gorgeous battle maps, and some beads to track hit points for your characters on the mat. If you’re really looking to play the game on the cheap, you can also purchase a full version of the game in a print-and-play format for only $14.99. Just have your scissors ready, and good luck with shuffling. Finally, if you just want to see how the game works, you can visit the Fantasy Strike website and try the game online (against bots or other visitors) for free.

No matter what version of the game you opt for, you can track down the game at any number of different online and brick-and-mortar game stores, or you can go straight to the source and purchase from Sirlin Games directly.