Once upon a time there was a game. Not just any game, but a game centered in a magical world with heroes, villains, magical items, and an evil Water Witch attempting to take control of the realm. A game that promised action and adventure, mystery and intrigue. The kind of game that had something to prove. The kind of game that would decide to travel to far off lands defending the bored, and championing those that loved fantasy. It vowed to to make entertainment and happiness its mission wherever it went. Whether Paradise Lost succeeds is up to you…
In an attempt to keep readers on their toes I would like to move past the metaphorical throat clearing and get right to the review. In fact let’s go right to recommendations. If you love mechanics that combine Tokaido, with Clue(do) and fairy tale style fantasy, then I would encourage you to try it out. It’s a great game for people that want to truly feel the setting, and perfect for families to play together. Paradise Lost encourages risk taking, and shrewd planning. The quality of the art, and component choices are top notch – this is easy to recommend for anyone looking for a deduction adventure style game, especially younger audiences in both age and gaming experience.
Not really. In fact I have quite a bit to say about Paradise Lost. If you are anything like me you usually check out reviews to see if you have permission to get the game, and if you came here looking for permission to pick it up, then I encourage you to do so. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Happy to help 👍🏼
If you are skeptical however, read on. The world of Paradise Lost does include curses, and some may have seeped their way into this box of goodies. Now I understand this might feel like a bit of a bait-and-switch moment since I gave it some nice praise and lead in, just know I meant every word of that. I do think this is a great game for families of fans of fable style settings. But since reviewing is inherently subjective, I can really only review this game based on my own experience. So if you ask me to review this game… I have some notes.
First and foremost – I love the theme of this game. You are adventurers in a fairy tale world who set out to defeat the evil Water Witch in order to save the reality the players live in. This is a lovely theme to emotionally drive the players through the experience, and should have been the vehicle which carried players through the landscape of interesting characters, interactions, and engrossing art that passed by the window on this journey. But thats where the fun part of the road trip ends. Along this road are the bumps, and poorly labeled exits of weirdly shaped components, inconsistent art styles, and the biggest avoidable accidents on the road: non color blind friendly iconography.
This shouldn’t be an issue in 2020. Any graphic designer should be aware that there are color blind people in this hobby, and that we are pretty vocal when a game is unplayable, and when something is just slightly difficult. If most people can see each crayon in a box of a 128, color blind people only see 20-30 colors in that same box. As a color blind gamer (coming in as deuteranopia in the mid to high range) when I first unboxed the game and set it out to learn I had only seen 4-5 different colors for the action spaces on the board. I was shocked to find out there are actually nine different colored spaces on the track – each being a different type of action you get to take and therefore definitely needing distinction between them. Color choices can be just as hard for a graphic designer to settle on since they do have to think about this kind of thing, but more could have been done to distinguish the spaces such as having them be different shapes (ugly I know), have a border around the circles, or better yet, an icon to show the action. This fell into the unplayable category since I needed to clarify each space before I could take my turn every time it came back around to me to play. If you are curious what its like to play a game as a color blind gamer, try playing it with your lights turned down to about 10%, that should simulate the need to bring your nose close to the board, and regularly depend on the other players at the table to let you know what it is you are looking at.
Paradise Lost does move along at a nice pace however. Players turns are quick without a lot of Analysis Paralysis. Resources are available without being too abundant or limited, and there are options on how to pursue the end game conditions of deducing the hidden villain and weapon. And just like Tokaido the game is broken up into sections of the track where players will have to stop for checkpoints at which they will have the opportunity to deduce additional info about the villain or the weapon. This also ensures roughly equal amounts of turns, and no one player getting left behind.
During the game you will collect resources Coins, Mana, Seeker Cubes, and Scrolls. Scrolls are curious since if you can collect three scrolls of the same color (red or blue) then you won’t need to deduce the Villain, or the weapon that defeats the Villain (respectively). This essentially takes the deduction out of a deduction game at the cost of limiting your decisions to these scrolls. Seeker cubes can be bought or sold at an exchange rate of three gold or coin for a single Seeker cube. Seeker cubes can also be used to gain additional deduction info, or affect the clue tiles in the center of the board. Mana and coins are essentially interchangeable since you can trade two Mana for a Coin, or a Coin for two Mana at the Market spaces (no idea what color that space is since it isn’t referenced in the rule book).
While on the topic of the rule book this is where the game naturally started to fall apart which is a shame since this is where any and all new players need to both start and end their journey with a game. The manual is twenty pages long, four pages of which are dedicated to set up (20% of total rules), and three pages explain the mechanics of the area control game in the center of the board. In this area control game going on in the center you are basically voting for your area to be the one where the villain manifests. There are even two tiebreakers listed in the rules in case there is a lot of contention (which there naturally will be since this helps in the end game). There is a possibility ties wouldn’t be resolved after those two tie breakers, in which case you will need to roll the die (possibly multiple times) until you get a definite result of who’s region the witch’s hideout is in. While I am not a game designer I feel qualified to give this piece of advice – if you have a single mechanism in your game that only accounts for briefs moments of the game play at only specific times in the game and this takes three pages of rules to clarify and may still get resolved by a die roll, then it can be reworked into something cleaner, and likely more fun. It’s unclear why you want the Witch’s hideout to manifest in your region in the first place thematically since it seems like it would be the opposite of an honor, but what do I know? This was supposed to be a deduction game.
Amidst all these tokens and resources are also three small decks of cards. One of which only includes negative affects. This would be fine since you have the opportunity to avoid drawing these cards most of the time, but you will never know if the card you draw will be negative for you, or for someone else. This naturally can allow for situations to arise where the same player at the table is continuously set further and further back regardless of who is drawing the card. The Clue tiles that determine the region that contains the Witch’s Hideout are not sized consistently, the art on the cards is inconsistent from the art on the board, there are two parts of the rules that state something will “always” work one way, and then immediately contradict themselves, you can increase the Witch’s rage (an end game condition) with no way to mitigate the increase, and there is a complete lack of any iconography.
Perhaps the two biggest instances of issues in this game for me were the following: 1: This is a competitive game where it is possible for all players to lose, in which case “the Water Which seizes the souls of all the Heroes and seals their stories into her Dark Tome for all eternity. All Heroes lose and the earth falls into darkness and despair.” While I don’t necessarily believe every competitive game HAS to have a winner, this is not one where I feel it makes sense since it is intended for younger gamers. Thematically players are on an epic fairy tale adventure to defeat the evil Which, and the designers have allowed for a situation where no one completes that goal. Essentially imagine if Shrek died at the end, Fiona was forced to live with Lord Farquaad, and Donkey was sold into farm slavery. Perhaps the art should have been closer to American McGee’s Alice so people knew it could go so poorly. The bigger issue occurs during set up. Each player is given 2 heroes to choose from. They keep one and the other is removed from the game. In a five player game however players one through four each get two cards to choose from, and the fifth player gets all the discarded characters to choose from since there are only eight heroes in total. Rather than hand the fifth player four cards that other players didn’t want and treating them like an afterthought two more heroes could have easily been included. I was hurt that developers and designers would treat players as afterthoughts as early as set up.
Overall this is a deduction game with huge amounts of randomness, in which you don’t have to deduce anything; where one of the components that should have been available for deduction turns into a vote (that requires three pages of rules to explain), a map that isn’t usable by 5-10% of the human population, and a setting that deserved so much better than this. Ultimately the game feels like a first time design that could have benefited and been a blockbuster game with some more time in development. In my opinion you are definitely paying for the production of the game and not the quality of the play, and because of that I would recommend taking the chance to play it if you can, but I can’t recommend buying it at the $60 price tag.
The feel I get from this endeavor is that the publisher and designer were going for a magical peanut butter and chocolate situation. By adding bits of ingredients that the know they like they will combine together to be something greater than the sum of their parts. This did turn out to be be more of a pickle and ice cream situation – which I have no doubt some people like, but is a very specific combo that will only be enjoyed by some, while others look on in disgust, unable to contemplate what the other sees in this concoction. The rest of us will raise an eyebrow, but move on pretty quick to see what else is on the menu.
Adam Reynolds is a co-host of the Board Game Squad Podcast. His time gaming is mostly spent asking to play games no-one else wants to play, and then making poor decisions in any game he does play.