Interview: Paul Imboden


Paradox - box

Today, we “sit down” with Paul Imboden, publisher of Paradox.  This unique design is currently on Kickstarter and uses a familiar mechanic you’ll likely recognize from the digital gaming app world and mind just find pretty innovative and worth checking out…

Thanks for taking some time to talk with the ‘Dragon, Paul.  First off, describe Paradox in one sentence for our readers.
Paradox is a game.

Hmmm.  This isn’t a very auspicious start…
Paradox is equal parts space-time adventure, disaster rescue mission, and Candy Crush.

Interesting!  Well, since we’re dealing with pretty sophisticated subjects like time and space and candy, there’s obviously more to it.  In that case, give us the elevator pitch.
In the near future of Paradox, a space-time disturbance called The Quake is fracturing entire worlds’ timelines and removing these worlds from existence. Two to four players take on the roles of scientists working quickly to repair these worlds’ connections to their past, present, and future by making new time strands — however, every repaired connection ripples through time and fuels the Quake to fracture more worlds. When the storm’s power fades, the most successful scientist will be hailed as a hero throughout the multiverse.

Paradox takes familiar board game elements such as card drafting, set collection and resource management, and then adds a Bejeweled-like grid of colorful disks for each player to manipulate, along with a universe of worlds that must be protected by game’s end. As a result, Paradox is simple to learn yet challenging to master as players navigate three interlocking systems to protect these worlds from the chaotic forces of the Quake.

Okay, I see two rare characteristics here.  First, the theme isn’t relatively common in board games, mostly because it’s difficult to do well.  What’s been the most challenging part of making a game about rupturing the space/time continuum and still feel spot-on?
Staying true to the Butterfly Effect the designer, Brian Suhre, wanted to evoke with the Quake, while having it make thematic sense.  In prototype, the Category 5 version of the Quake required some…creative liberties to keep the theme intact.  The storm moved forward based on Past, Present and Future, but the player mats prioritized the timelines as Present, Past and Future, and that point disconnected players.  Other decisions only made the advanced rule set more confusing, to the point where blind playtesters threw up their hands and said, “We didn’t even try the advanced rules!”  When we changed the Category 5 focus to alternate set collection rather than the possibility of a larger single set, it allowed us to remove the confusing bits while encouraging players to play more horizontally (save more planets, score different sets) rather than merely vertically (score the maximum points for a given world, turtle into those worlds).

And the second unique element is the Bejeweled match-3 resource collection mechanic.  Besides the obvious inspiration, what prompted the idea to build a game around it?
No, that was it.  Brian was recovering from hospitalization, if I remember correctly, and was playing a lot of Puzzle Quest during his recovery.  That game triggered the idea and various iterations (including a version that used a central shared board not unlike current Kickstarter project Apotheca).  The idea to incorporate the sci-fi theme was our add-in, but the core game was all Brian’s doing, and all as an experiment that bloomed into something fantastic.


Do you see its familiarity maybe connecting with those who aren’t traditionally “big gamers”?
I’d definitely say it’s an opportunity for us to re-examine what it is we mean when we say “gamer”.  Board game players realize there is a vast number of console, handheld and mobile-phone gamers, and conversations around gateway games are as endless as the wheel.  But those conversations focus on OUR gateways.  Take first-person shooter fans.  Settlers of Catan is a decent game even after all these years, but any number of minis games could be an easier entry point for these players, yes?  Paradox takes the concepts from match-3 games and drops them into the arena of modern board games.  Once they take their first step with Paradox, these players will understand drafting games, resource management games, games with action points like Tikal and games with insurance markers.  Deciding a “next game” from that platform is easy.

Long answer short, I see the familiarity as Paradox’s greatest asset, probably.  It shows another way to play the game they’ve been playing for 3 weeks or 20 years, and it present this gameplay in a game that will still challenge and delight board game veterans.

Along that line and even a little more broadly, what audience or gamer types do you feel the design will appeal to?
Obviously, fans of certain mobile-phone apps will find a quick connection to Paradox, but anyone who enjoys spatial puzzling will find a lot to enjoy here.  There’s not a great deal of take-that play involved in Paradox; however, if one is eagle-eyed they can find opportunities to disrupt their opponents.  The art is fantastic and helps make the universe of the game come alive, and I can see someone bringing their copy of Paradox to Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo for signatures from the involved artists.  Also, thematically, there’s a bit of a Doctor Who space-time adventure feel mixed in with the rescue mission aspects of gameplay, and sci-fi fans will enjoy that aspect.  People who like a certain ‘toy’ quality with their game will really enjoy the grid manipulation; we’ve jokingly described the game as having 165 minis in the box.  Finally, the modularity of Paradox ensures that the game can be as streamlined or as complex as they choose, so players can grow into Paradox’s challenges as they play it, step by step…or even make it a family game by removing the Quake entirely.  People who want that flexibility will find lots to like here.

Paradox is a frantic race against time to save worlds from non-existence and the game’s appeal leans toward the more casual side of gamer types, but omnivores will find something to like in Paradox.  War gamers, minis gamers, and deep strategic gamers may enjoy as well, but they’re not the core audience.

Yes, and more about that art.  In terms of style it’s “all over the map,” as they say.  Can you tell us about the artists and the process of getting them on board?
We’re pretty blessed in Chicago.  There are dozens of established and up-and-coming comic illustrators, two colleges dedicated to design and a history of screen-printed rock/theater posters.  We started talking to some of these artists and we gave them virtually complete freedom to draw the worlds’ timeline.  The only limits were the pictures needed to be family-friendly (at most PG-13 graphics); the picture needed to break into a triptych showing that world’s past, present and future when the cards were laid next to each other; and no artist was allowed to tell others what they were drawing.  And as a result, the visions run the gamut from childlike Claymation to Strange Tales ’70s sci-fi, utopias and dystopias, and a weird bean guy with a corndog.  We couldn’t be happier.


I absolutely LOVE the idea that you forbid all the artists from collaborating with each other!  It ensures your game gets very distinct worlds!  Still, were you even just a teensy nervous of what the result might be?  Or did you have a good idea of these individuals’ work before jumping all in?
We were familiar enough with the artists’ previous works to know what they were capable of producing.  Take “davpunk,” who’s pretty well known for his love of robots.  I expected something shiny and chrome would show up somewhere.  We expected Ryan Browne’s work to be weird and wonderful like his work in God Hates Astronauts, and we weren’t disappointed.  We gave the artists very limited restraints because we trusted their work as artists and we wanted this experience to be off their beaten path — with a couple of notable exceptions, these people aren’t known for their board game work.

You mentioned that Split Second Games added the sci-fi time/space theme.  What was Brian’s original theme and did it involve as many elements, what with between the Wormhole, Multiverse, Temporal Matrices, and player mats?
Paradox was originally built with a superhero theme, I believe.  The multiverse planets were regions of a metropolis, the past/present/future cards were nefarious plans in each neighborhood, and the Quake represented the mastermind the superheroes were trying to defeat.  The matrices and player mats were still there, all the elements were there.  When we first saw Paradox, Brian had just started thinking of a sci-fi theme.  We just helped flesh out those worlds a bit further.

You successfully Kickstarted and produced Quicksilver back in 2012.  What were some lessons from that campaign that you’re able to learn from and apply to make Paradox even better?
We flew under every radar when we launched Quicksilver.  For Paradox, we pressed the pavement HARD.  Local, regional and national conventions — we got Paradox out there and played and played until we dreamed about four-drop combos.  Paradox was intended to launch in 2014, and we’re so glad we took that extra time for people to see the game in action and get excited.

Also, the art for Paradox is about 90% complete, and we expect to be wrapping up final approvals by the time the campaign ends.  When Quicksilver ended its campaign, even though we hadn’t unlocked a stretch goal, we included it anyway.  That stretch goal delayed the project by about four months as we waited for the final art.  Lesson learned.

So with Quicksilver in Split Second’s past and Paradox in the now and present, anything you can tip us off to what might be in your future?
If Paradox succeeds as well as we think it might, Brian has been working on a fully cooperative expansion for it.  It would use the same elements in a slightly bent way.  Otherwise, there are a few designers with prototypes we’ve enjoyed, and informal talks held but nothing written.  But right now?  We’re looking to relax, if only for a bit.

And finally (I always save the most important question last) – if a time traveler from the past and one from the future suddenly appeared, what game would you play with them and why?
OK, from the past, I’d play backgammon.  They’ll know the rules, and the game could fade into the background while we discussed each other’s experiences.

And from the future?  That’s easy!  Paradox 50th Anniversary Designer Edition.


Well, we wish Paul all the luck in his future prediction!  If you think Paradox sounds like a good time for you and your gaming group, jump over now to the campaign page.  The project is already a third of the way funded and will run until July 26, 2015.  If you’d like to join in saving the very space/time continuum, you can do so for a pledge of $39 which includes all stretch goals the game earns, as well as shipping within the U.S.  Unless you wait too long into the future and then the price may go up.  Inflation, you know!


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I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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