Looks Like Regular Paradise To Me
Sometime halfway through playing Paradise Fallen, the most recent release from Crash Games, I mentioned the game’s post-apocalyptic theme. Probably as an explanation to why we were paddling outrigger canoes around a misshapen Hawaii for no apparent reason other than to check out a bunch of grumpy tribes, evil coral reefs, clouds of green mist, and freak whirlpools.
“What. This game isn’t post-apocalyptic,” one of our players interrupted.
I insisted it was. If it wasn’t post-apocalyptic, I argued, why is it called Paradise Fallen? And why do the ration cards show tins of spam and emergency water baggies? I had to show him the game box, complete with its smouldering, beat-up Honolulu skyline, to persuade him.
“Huh,” he shrugged, and looked back down at his cards. “Looks like regular paradise to me.”
I tell you this story for two reasons. The first is to drive home the point that Paradise Fallen really has nothing to do with anything post-apocalyptic. It would be easy to think Paradise Fallen was about nothing more than the exploring of sexy tropical islands, storing up enough food to get around, and occasionally having to leave in a hurry because you got too cozy with one of the natives and now her tribe is chasing you down like all hell-fury. Or Lua-o-Milu-fury, if you prefer, though that’s already more theme than you’ll find in this game, unless you’re inventing your own theme in the privacy of your secret thoughts, which is pretty much what everyone in my group did.
Which brings us to the second reason behind my story: that even though Paradise Fallen has a halfhearted need to tell you its little story about its post-apocalyptic Hawaiian Islands, without really bothering to, y’know, tell that story, it’s actually, surprisingly, a pretty darn good filler game.
See, when my buddies looked up in mild surprise at the mention that our goal was apparently to remap Hawaii thanks to some sort of disaster — oh, and that we’re each playing as a tribe, I guess — their reaction was the same: to shrug, look back down at their cards, and continue figuring out the best way to string together their moves in order to explore more islands than everyone else.
That’s the core of gameplay in Paradise Fallen, and it’s surprisingly solid. Each turn gives you a hand of cards, full of pretty things like aerial shots of islands, dangerous obstacles, rations, and helpful perks. Your job is to paddle your outrigger canoe over to as many of the islands that match the exploration cards in your hand, spending rations to travel the distance and avoid any dangers your opponents may have laid down to hinder your movement. The first few turns won’t be much of a challenge since the only thing you need to worry about is an island’s natural ration requirement, but after everyone’s had a couple turns, you’ll have spend more rations to pick your way past barrier reefs, enemy tribes, or whirlpools that suck you towards islands, saving rations on the way in but costing more to escape.
Thankfully, in addition to all the rations you’re hoarding, there are other ways to get an edge. There are cards that confer little bonuses, like the one that lets you elude an obstacle left by your enemies, or cards that let you move around to the other side of the map, or travel diagonally, or trade in a hand of useless cards.
Your most useful options are often the islands you’ve successfully explored, marked by Kanaloa tokens. Turning in one of these tokens gives you that island’s bonus, powerful things like pulling any card out of the discard pile or leaping to a previously explored island at no ration cost, though using too many of your explored islands this way can lose you the game because Kanaloa tokens act as tie-breakers and ties are common enough to bear some attention.
For example, in one recent four-player game, I was the first to successfully chart the requisite six islands, giving everyone else one last chance to beat me. The next two players were too far behind and gave up with little commotion, but the last player pulled out all the stops, taking risks turning in his hand for new cards and burning Kanaloa tokens on nearly all his islands in hopes of exploring seven islands to trump my six. In the end he failed, barely, tied at six islands and just one fewer Kanaloa token than me.
Paradise Fallen works best like that, as a push-your-luck hand management game where you’re always doing everything in your power to maximize the efficiency of your moves, lay out obstacles in spots that hinder everyone but yourself, and pray the sea- and deck-gods favor your prayers. There’s a little screwage, a little strategy, a lot of luck, and a whole heap of fun for what amounts to a lunch-break game, since it can be played in about fifteen minutes.
Just don’t expect much from the post-apocalyptic theme. That way lies ruin, and a whole lot of unexplained “Green Mist” cards.