Paradise Fallen Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 5 and up (publisher suggests 14+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 15 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Survive and explore after a natural disaster besets an island paradise

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

It happened quickly and without warning. The “End”. In a flash, everything I took for granted had vanished. Technology  luxury, safety…all gone. Now I fight to survive and I am not alone in this struggle. There are others…there are always others…who will either help or look to harm. I must be careful. What was once a paradise and a destination for relaxation has become a testing ground to challenge the strong and bury the weak. I, for one, don’t plan on going down without a fight.

Paradise Fallen, designed by Andrew Wright (II) and to be published by Crash Games, will reportedly be comprised 90 cards, 9 Upgraded Island Location tiles (not covered in this review), 4 Canoe meeples, and 20 Kanaloa tokens. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game’s quality, nor will we suggest that the game components we have listed are the final contents of the game box. What we can say is that the artwork we have been provided was fantastic.

The Ugly Side of Paradise

Paradise Fallen is primarily a card game with a few extra bits to help move it along. There are several different card types in the game that should be explained that will make the rest of the review easier to follow.

Island Cards

There are 9 Island cards (representing the 8 major and 1 of the larger minor Hawaiian Islands) that represent the locations the players will be traveling to, around, away from, and even avoiding. Surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, the islands are the only bit of security the player can hang onto during these troubled times. Unfortunately, even the islands can be in turmoil and one must always be on their guard. Each Island card contains two important pieces of information for the players. The first is the island’s name and the second is the Ration Cost value (a number noted in the corners of the card).

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Aptitude Cards

The player is not a helpless survivor. They have natural talents that have kept them alive this long and should help them through the dangerous times ahead. The Aptitude cards represent everything from a lucky break to a proficient survival skill allowing the player to slightly bend the game rules when activated. For example, additional ways to move about the islands or making use of the local sea life to keep alive. Aptitudes are powerful, but not permanent. They are a one time use bonus, but they remain available to the player until activated. Each Aptitude card uses a series of simple icons to represent the action the card provides.

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Aberration Cards

Everyone appears to have a theory about what caused Hell to break loose. Some are very rational like giant deep-sea earthquakes while others are outlandish and suggest that all the devastation is nothing more than a precursor to an alien invasion. The thing is, no one really knows for sure and anything is possible. Things are simply not right or normal anymore. For example, the giant whirlpools that have suddenly appeared around the islands and the thick green mist that seems to have a life of its own. The Aberration cards represent the affects that impact all the players during the game, but are brought into play by players, too. These cards are placed under Island cards or between them, making travel and exploration dangerous. Each Aberration card uses a series of simple icons to represent the action the card provides.

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Island Exploration Cards

In what would appear to be an endless sea of blue, the green islands and atolls are your lifeboat. Unfortunately, no island is safe and navigating the dangerous waters takes time and energy. Luckily, you have a plan. You remember reading some facts in a travel book, glancing over some tidbits on the internet, and recall some past conversations with resort employees on specific places that sound like they might be locations of safety. If you can make your way to these locations, you think you have a chance of surviving. Each Island Exploration card depicts one of the 9 Island cards and provides a special Kanaloa ability that can be triggered once per game.

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Ration Cards

Lucky for you, when society went to Hell, there were a lot of convenient stores nearby. Convenient. You grabbed all the essentials (pop, chips, candy bars, and the ever popular “STAM” – the meeting in a can) and continue to find small caches of untouched supplies as you travel. But each time a player travels, it will cost them their Ration cards. In the game, a player will never technically go “hungry” and starve, but without enough Ration cards to use, they won’t be going anywhere, either. Each Ration card has a number that defines the Ration card’s value.

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Kanaloa Tokens

These are indeed strange times we are living in where people only yesterday who were talking on cell phones are now brandishing sharpened sticks to hunt people down. Stranger still are the myths and legends of the ancient Hawaii deities that have reemerged. A number of the locals keep whispering the name Kanaloa, the god of the Underworld and a teacher of magic to those brave enough to learn it. One legend states that Kanaloa lead the first group of spirits that were abandoned by the gods, eventually leading them in a rebellion. That legend doesn’t have a happy ending, but beggars can’t be choosers. A lucky charm is always a good thing to have when you can use all the luck you can get. During the game, the Kanaloa token is awarded to players when they successfully discover and explore an island. Kanaloa’s boon will grant the player a one time affect that will greatly improve their odds of survival.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first separate the Island cards from the rest of the cards. Set the deck of cards aside and place the 9 Island cards randomly in a 3 x 3 card grid, face-up, with space between each card.

Second, have each player pick a Canoe pawn color of their choice and place it on the center Island card. Remove any Canoe pawns not selected for the duration of the game.

Third, shuffle the deck of cards and deal out 5 cards to each player, face-down. Players should look at their cards but keep them hidden from their opponents at all times. Place the deck of cards, face-down, next to the playing area and within easy reach of all the players. Leave room for a discard pile.

Fourth, place the Kanaloa tokens to one side of the playing area in a pile and within easy reach of all the players.

That’s it for game set up! Time to explore and to survive!

Where Once There Was Only Beauty, Now Contains Only Danger…

The game is played in turns with no set number of rounds. A player’s turn is comprised of two phases. Each phase is summarized here.

Play Phase

During the play phase, the player can take two possible actions as often as they like or are capable of. The first action is to play cards from their hand. These can be Aberration and Aptitude cards (attaching them to Island cards, swapping them between Island cards, or placing them in between Island cards). If the player has a Kanaloa token they want to use, they can pull it off their Island Exploration card to trigger it. The second is moving about the islands.

Movement is, unless otherwise modified by an Aptitude card, always orthogonal (up, down, left and right, but never diagonal). Movement from one Island card where player’s Canoe pawn is currently located to any other Island card will cost Rations. The amount of Rations needed is equal to the Ration Cost value of the card the player wants to move into. For example, using the below image, it would cost a player 5 Ration Cards in total to move from Nihoa to Lana’i. Players can use Aptitude cards to help reduce their Ration cost and can use Island Exploration cards for their Ration value. Aberration cards can increase the Ration cost to get onto and away from islands, making it necessary for some players to take long “shortcuts” to get where they want to go.

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If the player lands on an Island card that they also have an Island Exploration card for, they can place the Island Exploration card down in front of them and place 1 Kanaloa token on it. However, each player can only explore each island once. If they have already explored the island, they cannot explore it again, but are welcome to visit it as often as they like.

The Kanaloa tokens placed on the Island Exploration cards represent a gift (referred to as “Island Powers” in the game) from the ancient island god that can be triggered by the players, but only once. The icons on the bottom of the Island Exploration card detail what each Kanaloa token will trigger once used. Some examples of the special gifts the players can attain include drawing one more card when replenishing their hand, changing the location of two Aberration cards, and moving immediately to any island that the players has previously explored.

End Phase

After the player has used all of their cards or chooses to end their turn, they can discard any remaining cards in their hand they do not want and then draw back up to 5 cards. This ends the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now goes starting with the play phase noted above.

If at anytime the draw deck is empty, simply shuffle the discard pile to form a new draw deck.

Finding Paradise

The game continues until the end game is triggered when a player explorers a certain number of Island cards. The number of Island cards is determined by the number of players (8 for a 2-player game, 7 for a 3-player game, and 6 for a 4-player game). One a player explores their last island, all the other players have one more turn to attempt to explore as many islands as possible. When the game ends, the player who explored the most islands wins. Ties are broken by the number of unused Kanaloa tokens.

To learn more about Paradise Fallen, read the full rules, more game reviews, and demonstration videos, visit the game’s Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

I’m a sucker for card driven games. There’s just something I like about having the entire game in card form. Not that I dislike board and dice games, mind you. I love those a lot, too, but some of my first happy memories with games was nothing more than a deck of 52 cards and learning all the different games you could play with it. Paradise Fallen is not just your standard deck of cards game, to be sure, but the fact that everything is driven by cards, played on cards, and used by cards makes me happy. But will it please our players?

I think the Child and the Parent Geeks are going to enjoy Paradise Fallen, but there might be some confusion at first with the icons. The game doesn’t use any text to describe the card actions and effects. Instead, it uses a small number of icons (17 in total) that define where cards are put, what cards are taken, and where bonuses and penalties are applied. For any veteran gamer, this wont be a problem. For the Child Geeks, we might see a slight uptick in the learning curve as a result and the non-gamers might scratch their head a bit, too. But I don’t see anything to suggest that the game play will be spoiled as a result.

I predict the Gamer Geeks will enjoy playing Paradise Fallen, but possibly not enough to approve it. The game is light and would certainly do well as a game filler, but my concern is they will find it too shallow for their tastes. There is much to think about during the game, but the level of thinking is trumped by whatever cards the player has in their hand. Since cards are always random, the player could have a lot to think about or only a little. The saving grace here might be that some of the cards can be used multiple ways and that players can keep cards in their hand. We’ll just have to see.

Teaching the game takes about 2 minutes. I focused on what the endgame goal was and worked my way backwards. This proved to be a really good method of teaching the game and none of our players, except a few non-gamers had questions. The number one question I kept being asked was, “will I starve if I run out of rations?” No, you won’t. While thematically rations are keeping the player alive, in game term it is “fuel for travel” only.

And so, after teaching the game to my two oldest little geeks, I asked them their thoughts on Paradise Fallen so far.

“I really like exploration games and I think this one sounds like fun. It sure was easy to get on the table, which is a nice change.” ~ Liam (age 8)

“I really like the card drawings, but I’m going to need help with the icons, Daddy.” ~ Nyhus (age 5)

I should explain my 8-year-old’s gibe. He has of late decided that all the games we have been playing take longer to set up than they do to play. Totally incorrect, but it is hard to change an 8-year-old’s mind once they’ve made an irrational decision. I should also note that my 5-year-old will need help with the icons, but I don’t think he’ll need help for long. The icons are pretty self-explanatory. Let’s explore Paradise Fallen and see if we find fun or the next fall the game takes is in the Goodwill pile.

Final Word

The Child Geeks had a great time with Paradise Fallen and really enjoyed the aspect of exploration the game provided. The older Child Geeks did very well and had no problem playing the game. They used their cards deftly enough and made many smart plays. The younger Child Geeks were not nearly as strong a players, stumbled a great deal with their card plays, but still had a great time. Note that reading is not necessary for this game (as everything is driven by icons), but older players will need to help younger players remember what each of the icons represent. The only aspect of the game the Child Geeks disliked where the limitations on the Kanaloa powers. They wanted to use them all the time. Despite not being given god-like powers over the game, the Child Geek’s still enjoyed it a great deal and had no problem giving it their approval.

My oldest little geek makes ready to paddle to a nearby island

My oldest little geek makes ready to paddle to a nearby island

The Parent Geeks thought Paradise Fallen was a wonderful family game and a lot of fun when just playing with their peers. The game is fast, fun, and casual. A typical turn only lasts about a minute or so and the players only got faster as they became more familiar with the game. All the Parent Geeks appreciated the fact that all the card art and game play was exceedingly “family friendly”, despite the rather dark undertones of the game’s theme. Paradise Fallen was enjoyed to a lesser degree by the non-gamers. They were thrown off by the icons and would have preferred that the Aberration and Aptitude cards had some sort of identifier on them so they could easily see which cards were meant to hinder opponents and which cards were meant to assist the player. Of course, that information is clearly communicated with the icons the non-gamers were having a hard time reading. Despite this slight hiccup of icon miscommunication, all the Parent Geeks voted to approve the game.

I don’t know if it was because the stars were aligned right or if I am getting really bad with my predictions, but the Gamer Geeks really surprised me. I thought for sure they would enjoy Paradise Fallen but not endorse it. I brought it into play with a few work friends, knowing they were not big card fans, but wanted to get their thoughts on it all the same. I introduced it, they played it, and they loved it.  I was right on the money when it came to correctly predicting that the game would be consider light with a mixed bag of tactics and strategy. Most of the time, tactics and strategy were not present and all that was needed was critical and logical thinking. What intrigued the Gamer Geeks most was the changing island grid. A safe passage during one turn suddenly became a dangerous voyage the next. The Gamer Geeks had to time their moves just right, predict their opponent’s moves so as to cause them trouble, and keep a close eye on their rations. The game kept them engaged and they were all surprised how fast it played and how tired they felt afterwards. One Gamer Geek stated, “This is a fast little game that kept me focused from start to finish. Very satisfying.” All the Gamer Geeks we played the game with agreed it would be an excellent light filler game whenever a game was needed and a challenge desired. They approved Paradise Fallen without hesitation.

Paradise Fallen can best be thought of as a quintessential exploration card management game for those who don’t have the time to play a longer game. Our shortest game was 15 minutes long and our longest clocked in just over 20 minutes. From the very start, players are working their cards and thinking through their moves as they scan the island and chart their voyages. This can be a difficult task as the dangers on and around the islands begin to manifest. No obstacle is insurmountable, however. Players can always avoid them, but this takes time and Rations. And time is one resource players do not have a lot of in Paradise Fallen. The game moves at a fast pace and any player who think they can take their time to come up with the perfect combo will be left far behind. Which is not to say that the players won’t have an opportunity to make some fun combos using their cards. There’s a lot for a player to consider during their turn, which is surprising for such a little game. But it all works and it works well. Each game is slightly different because of the island layout, but the challenge is always the same as is the rewarding feeling when you play it.

Do check out Paradise Fallen when you get a chance. It’s an excellent card game that can be set up in a minute and played in less than 30 minutes using a very small area. Perfect for traveling, at work lunch gaming, game fillers, or whenever you have the opportunity to play it with the family and friends.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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