Episode 235: The Spiel on Paradox


Release Date: June 20 , 2016

Download: PDF

Designer: Brian Suhre

Publisher:  Split Second Games

2-4 pl 90 min ages 10+ MSRP $40


In Paradox you are a scientist fighting to save worlds from The Quake which tears at the fabric of reality. Inspired by Match-3 games like Bejeweled, players manipulate a grid of colorful discs to gather resources in order to save the past present and future of 15 different worlds

The heart of Paradox is the match-3 engine that drives so many casual games. The wonderful surprise is that this same engine can drive a game with greater complexity and deeper strategies. This brilliant union of seeming opposites makes Paradox a worthy winner of the Spiel of Approval Award.

Written review continues after the break.

Paradox   Split Second Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

The Concept 

The fabric of reality, all of time and space, is been ripped apart by a massive anomaly known as The Quake. Entire worlds are being erased from existence. It’s up to a small group of scientists to try and save as many worlds as possible by keeping the timeline intact. Using a temporal matrix, each scientist can manipulate and repair the strands of time, saving existence as we know it. The scientist who is the most successful will be hailed as a hero throughout the universe. Fix time, save worlds, prevent the universe from ripping apart. No pressure, right?

In game terms, players will manipulate a match-3 like board of tokens in order to repair time and save worlds from destruction while keeping the Quake from returning to worlds you have saved.

The Components

The main board in Paradox tracks the progress of the Quake across space and the different planets it threatens.

There are tokens to represent the planets threatened by The Quake

Each player has a board with four columns for world cards to be placed.

There are several types of cards: world cards (past, present and future), nexus cards, scenario cards, research cards and so on.

Most important of all are the 155 energy discs. The discs come in five different colors and three different symbols

These discs are placed in a drawstring bag and then each player draws out 25 discs. The discs are placed in a 5 by 5 grid next to the player board. These tokens form the temporal matrix you will be manipulating to save the universe as we know it. NOTE: There are spiffy wooden discs available for an additional price. 

The Mechanics

Paradox incorporates several well known modern board game elements: card drafting, resource management and action points. At the beginning of each turn each player will select a card (the last player may select two) from a tableau called The Wormhole and adds the card(s) to his or her player board.

In most cases these cards will be world cards, either the past, present or future version of a world. The card will start at a certain position on your board depending on its place in time. You have more time to fix the past and less time to fix the future. The card also lists a recipe of resources needed to save it from The Quake which threatens time.

There's one mechanic I can almost guarantee you have not seen before in a deep, strategic game. The engine that drives Paradox is the temporal matrix, the 5x5  grid of colored symbol discs laid out in front of each player. You’ll maneuver these discs using 2 actions, swapping discs with matching symbols, attempting to make matches of 4 or 5 like-colored discs.

You’ll receive 1 or 2 of these discs as resources and the rest of the discs will be taken out of the grid, allowing existing discs to drop down and new discs to fill in from above. If this grid matching sounds eerily familiar, it probably should. This element of the game was inspired by match 3 puzzle games like Bejeweled or Jewel Quest. And if you are familiar with the moves and strategies behind making matches in those games, you’re already a huge leg up on understanding one of the key concepts in Paradox. 

This puzzle aspect of the game is not an isolated action, though. It is essential to your success in every other aspect of the game. The resources you gain, you will spend to save the world cards you have drafted onto your personal timeline board. The more world cards you save, the more points you will score at game end. You’ll also need to keep some resources handy to protect the worlds you have invested in so The Quake doesn’t undo all your hard work. 

Deciding which world card to save on a given turn (by making the right matches) is significant since the Quake will move around the board based on whether your world card was past, present or future. If you don’t consider this timing aspect, you could save one world only to bring the Quake down on another you’re trying to help.

And here’s the rub. When The Quake lands on a world, the world will fracture. If a world is fractured when the game is over, none of the world cards you saved will count toward your score. So you’re making matches not just to save the cards but to manipulate the Quake so the worlds you save will be intact at the end of the game!

What Sets This Game Apart 

Innovative is a word I try not to throw around too often when describing games, even ones I like or love, because the term loses all its meaning that way. Paradox looks feels and plays in a way that truly deserves to be called innovative. 

It’s not that the match-3 concept is revolutionary. It’s that designer Brian Suhre found such an elegant way to incorporate a modern digital gaming meme into the cardboard world and put it in service to a grand strategy. You still get the pleasure of solving the small puzzle on the grid but you get even more satisfaction by making the right match to aid you in a long term goal.

The art in Paradox is very noteworthy on several accounts. First, the world cards for each world are done as a triptych from past to present to future. When lined up, each world tells a little story.  In addition, each of the 15 worlds depicted has been illustrated by a different artist which means each world has a unique look and feel. As a result, the universe the game creates feels rich and vast. Here's a sampling of the different worlds.

Consider also that most publishers engage a single artist for a game. Gathering the talents of 15 different artists is not only a tremendous effort above and beyond a typical game but shows a commitment to the overall aesthetics of a game that few publishers would demonstrate. That effort shines through loud and clear; The art enhances the game and definitely sets Paradox apart.

Spiel of Approval

Paradox earns the Spiel of Approval award because the game has real depth of strategy while remaining accessible to a wider audience because of the match 3 elements. The game plays faster than you think, so every decision you make matters. I mean it’s just reality and the whole space-time continuum on the line here…

There are several variants for advanced players to explore which gives the game even more replayability. That said, you can enjoy the base game for hundreds of plays on its own and still enjoy the mental gymnastics the game asks you to perform. 

I really enjoy abstract strategy games. The best ones have a simplicity and elegance combined with real depth of strategy and the potential to grow into a greater understanding of the game the more you play.

The engine that drives Paradox is, in essence, a small abstract strategy game. The joy of the game comes from the straightforward mental challenge the matrix of discs provides. Can you puzzle out a way to manipulate your matrix to get the result you want while constantly adjusting to the actions of your fellow players? It takes a creative partnership between designer and publisher to see the potential in this kind of abstract element for both challenging strategy and, most important, fun. 

Paradox is a union of opposites. It marries the familiar match 3 casual game element to traditional more heady european game elements (drafting, resource management and action points). This game has a casual core; it also has depth and real strategy. And while the title might suggest otherwise, this is not a paradox. It’s what makes Paradox worthy of our award.