Time. They say we have it to kill and to burn. Yet it also flies. We waste it, but it also passes us by before we know it. It heals all wounds and eventually reveals all secrets, but when you lose it you never get it back. It’s the most valuable thing we can spend, but it stalks us like a predator because ours is limited. Time is a curse…and a tool. It is money. It governs our existence and orders our lives. But what if everything you understood about time was shattering the universe…?
[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final, prototype of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it; the final product will feature variation in game play, art, and/or components.]
How It Plays
In Paradox, you play a scientist rushing to counter a massive disturbance in the space-time continuum called the Quake. Manipulating your personal temporal matrix, you must quickly construct anomalies to create new energy strands which can repair these breaches. However, every move you make creates a new ripple in the Quake which fractures another time and world. It’s a desperate race against, well…time.
Paradox is a unique game that plays out over four separate, but interconnected, areas. Two of these are communal while the other pair is unique to the player.
The Wormhole contains Timeline, Nexus and other cards representing damaged time and space. Players will draft a number of these each round. The Wormhole comprises an unstable timeline (meaning cards will be discarded if not drafted) and a stable one (meaning unselected cards will move to the unstable timeline next). Timeline cards are associated with a planet, a research goal, and either the past, present, or future. You place these in the appropriate timeline on your personal Mat.
After drafting, you will create energy strands within your personal Temporal Matrix. Your matrix is a 5×5 grid of 25 energy discs. There are five different colors and they come with three different symbols. To create a strand, you must arrange 4-5 discs of the same color in a row horizontally or vertically. The symbols on the discs do not matter, except when moving them around on your matrix. During your turn you may take two actions – essentially swapping discs of matching symbols. You can swap a pair within your Matrix itself, or swap one of your discs with one in the Anomaly on the Multiverse board.
If you create a strand, remove those discs and keep one (in a 4-disc strand) or two (if it comprises five) and discard the rest. Those discs within your Matrix that were above the strand you created now drop down Tetris-style into the resulting gaps. You replace those holes at the top with new discs drawn from a bag. The energy you retained from a strand may be used as a resource to repair Timeline cards that you drafted in the first phase. Of course those require specific resources (red, yellow or blue) and each turn they move further along the timeline on your mat. If you don’t meet the requisite energy cost in time, you risk losing it forever. Repairing a Nexus card requires creating a strand from a specific location within the Temporal Matrix. So manage yours well!
Black and white resources are used to repair fractured worlds and/or shield them from the Quake. These are tracked in a ring on the Multiverse board. As you and your opponents repair worlds via the Timeline cards, the Quake advances around the universe shattering worlds that it contacts. Cards from worlds that remain fractured at the end of the game may not be able to score. Therefore, you need to spend energy to repair those planets so that all your efforts aren’t in vain! You can also use that energy to shield a planet from the Quake if it’s currently stable.
Players and the Quake run their courses in this temporal struggle through twelve rounds. After that, the disruption dissipates. A fractured world is erased from time, space and memory incurring a penalty to those cards associated with it. The severity of the penalty depends on the game’s difficulty. After sorting through the impact of fractured planets, players score sets of repaired Timeline cards based on worlds and research goals. While everyone has worked hard and done their part to repair the continuum from the Quake’s destruction, only the most successful scientist will be hailed as the chief victor!
No Time to Kill?
There are lots of Match-3 category games. Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Bubble Safari, Gems with Friends. Most of them are quick, colorful and played on electronic devices. And they’re very popular. Recently, this concept has been infiltrating the tabletop hobby. Although not to say that means anything sneaky is going on. It’s actually very interesting, has a ready-made audience and is still new enough to feel fresh. I’m not a fan of the digital implementation, myself. As a stand-alone, the style is mind-numbing and dispensable. Though I admit I’ve not a mind geared towards puzzles.
However, in Paradox this element is a mechanic that drives other interesting things. Yet by itself it’s more than just new, familiar and interesting. It actually fits with the theme in a way. Removing strands is making progress, but it also alters your continuum so that it constantly fluctuates. And as everything in the matrix drops and collapses and gets refilled, you have a sense that time is advancing. While you have some control over it, much is still out of your hands!
Now about that ready-made audience. Casual board gamers, or new ones, will immediately recognize what’s going on with the Temporal Matrix to create strands of matching colored discs. That’s great. It could potentially draw irregular gamers deeper into the hobby. On the other hand, if the design turns out to be more complicated than what they’re used to, the bait-and-switch could just as easily repel them. Paradox walks on that eggshell with clever agility by weaving in a number of versions and play suggestions. That’s even greater. Because while the design’s four elements – Wormhole, Temporal Matrix, Timeline Mat, and Multiverse – are fascinating and deftly interconnected, the package will likely prove to have too many moving parts for those unaccustomed to designer games.
The solution? Variations. For example, you can completely remove the worlds-destroying Quake element for a simpler scoring version in which planets never fracture and so all cards earn points. It can be a fiddly element to track, anyway. You can play the Training Mission in which you add the Quake, but only discard one of your cards from each fractured world. Or you can play the full-on challenging Category 3 Quake in which every card you hold from a destroyed planet is worthless!
With the Category 3 you can also add Research Goals. These are three cards at the beginning of the game which identify objective icons you want to collect from the Timeline cards. So in addition to saving sets of world cards, you’re also trying to gather specific symbols. Finally you can toss in Factions. These correspond with the game’s five resources. Available from the start, players can buy one by expending a disc of similar color. The Faction can then be used as that type resource later by discarding it. Or retained for a victory point at the end of the game. Beware, however, because opponents can spend a resource to rip it from your hands – injecting a bit of fun, but not overly confrontational, interaction.
All of this modularity is done very well. As players become familiar with the game beyond the smart Match-3 element, you can add more layers at a pace that best suits them, enriching their experience without overcomplicating things. Therefore, it’s not really just a gateway game, but a gateway process!
That said, the full game at Category 3 Quake with research and factions will hit if off swimmingly with serious games. Other elements appeal, as well. Amongst the Timeline and Nexus cards, you can also acquire Breakthroughs which give you variable powers. And an alternating Chief Scientist role provides players opportunities to draft more favorable cards. Paradox smoothly blends an amalgam of resource management, card drafting, set collection, push-your-luck and variable powers. It’s an appealing mid-weight game with solid depth and choices and feels unique, which is difficult to accomplish today in the hobby.
Paradox should prove to be a top-end gateway game. The familiar matching mechanic will lure new gamers, but at a pace considerate to their inexperienced sensibilities. Indeed, you may need to introduce it slowly, because there are several moving parts, with four connected play areas and a mixture of mechanics. That variety is great, because while experienced gamers use the design as an olive branch to their more casual-oriented friends, they can bust it out full force against each other. A design that fits the tastes and styles of both new and experienced gamers makes Paradox a paradox indeed!
Paradox is currently seeking support on Kickstarter – today and for the immediate future, though alas not in the past. It’s too late to go back. If you’d like to mix and match with this game, head over now to the campaign page. You can get a copy of the game with a $39 pledge, which includes all stretch goals and free US shipping. Hurry now before you run out of time!
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