Clue Too: Paradise Lost

Not Milton's Paradise Lost. Although I'd play that in a heartbeat, designers.

Paradise Lost tricked me into playing Clue. Not that that’s a bad thing. If anything, I admire Tom Butler’s deftness in pulling out the rug. One moment I was expecting a bland fantasy excursion, so generic as to be staffed with public domain heroes like Hercules and Alice — not the first time I’ve been surprised to see her show up — and a few minutes later, we were asking questions about the Water Witch’s henchmen. “Was it the Big Bad Wolf with the Vorpal Blade?” There’s no third part: “…in the Eternal Cedar Forest?” There’s a reason for that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

arty shot! or at least that's how I get away with my image glare

On an adventure.

Much like Clue, Paradise Lost opens with the sealing of an envelope. Oh, you could say it begins when you pick which public domain character you’d like to play, explaining how Billy Goat Gruff and Aladdin came to coexist in this place. But that’s mere setup. The real beginning is the envelope and the two cards it contains. Villain and weapon. Henchman and implement. Baddy and bad-tool. Never mind that half of these creatures could surely murder some toffs sans the advantage of wand or axe. These are your culprits, and by the time you meet the Water Witch you’ll either have deduced the identity of this pairing and succeed in your quest… or not.

But before that moment, expect to do a lot of walking. So much walking, in fact, that Paradise Lost soon resembles the hiking in Parks, itself a reflection of the East Sea Road traveled in Tokaido. The passage from one place to the next is a winding trail, long enough to feature markets and shrines and arenas, but narrow enough that only particular spots can host more than one character. Since this is drawing from Clue, what can you expect from such destinations? Perhaps clues? Well, no. Rather, each stop is an exchange in an extended resource game. Arenas let you pay one mana for two coins; shrines accomplish the opposite. Mage towers sell scrolls, which, when assembled, will let you bypass one of the Water Witch’s questions entirely — although this is far harder said than done, to the point that the scrolls seem more useful when bartered at marketplaces, where you can purchase seeker cubes. Some spots, like truthseekers and black swans, let you draw from a deck of cards. The former’s deck is filled with surefire boons, while the latter is such a gamble that it’s very likely to wreck your day.

I say “wreck your day,” but the reality is that you’ll be set back a few mana crystals or coin tokens. Either way, it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for these swings of fate, or indeed for those times when you’re blocked from stepping onto a desirable spot along the trail. There are moments when all this trading rises to the point of mattering, which I’ll discuss momentarily. The remainder of the time, there’s very little reason to worry yourself over holding mana or coins beyond the immediate demands of the upcoming oracle.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about oracles.

It was the ugly one.

Figuring out a mystery.

At the conclusion of each trail — there are four — stands an oracle, which serves as the most Clue-y portion of the game. As long as you can pay the necessary toll, which is never prohibitively expensive, you’re allowed to ask a single question consisting of two elements. Exactly as in Clue, you go around the table until somebody can show you a card that disproves some part of your hypothesis.

Very unlike Clue’s placid dedication to logic, however, there are some much-appreciated wrinkles to this process. Certain cards, like Excalibur or the invisible cloak, make it possible to dodge giving an answer, although in both cases the cards are somehow revealed. Excalibur is discarded, while the cloak is traded into the asker’s hand. The absence of an answer could sometimes be taken as an answer in its own right, or perhaps not. Further muddying the waters, a successful question doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve hit upon the correct answer; each oracle also conceals a random card, forcing you to piece together the proper combination over a long duration. And if the Water Witch grows sufficiently perturbed, she’ll fling little disruptions onto the table, or even whisk you away to the final confrontation prematurely.

But the most interesting part of visiting an oracle has almost nothing to do with the oracle herself and everything to do with that missing third element of the killer’s equation — their location. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a random location card. Instead of deducing it the same way you deduce the henchman and their chosen weapon, your goal is to manipulate the matrix in the center of the table by buying and positioning tiles so they point to your card.

I so wish.

Corrupt investigations!

True, this isn’t how investigations are supposed to work, unless Fantasy Realm P.D. is up to their tiaras in corruption and plants pixie dust in the Soulless Swamp to implicate those filthy immigrant orcs for possession with intent to sell, but this is the one place all those economic microtransactions actually pay off. In order to buy, lock, or remove tiles, you need seeker cubes, which in turn require plenty of mana and money. The tiles are easy to read but soon stack up, prompting players to purchase additional seekers. Whoever successfully discovers the villain’s hideout gets the first stab at confronting the Water Witch, which is no small thing since a correct guess wins the game outright.

This is clever enough that I almost wish the rest of Paradise Lost had followed suit, perhaps even to the point of letting players fabricate the outcome to the mystery entirely — a fantastically sick inversion of the Clue formula. Instead, its two main spheres, travel and deduction, certainly put a new spin on an old formula, but don’t give it the shaking it truly deserves. The first is irritatingly straightforward; in most cases your travels churn up piddly rewards that struggle to matter, and in the remainder you draw cards for wild advantages or poor gambles. There’s very little question about which spaces are most advantageous, which reduces the entire exercise into one of advantage via turn order. The scrolls could have been interesting, but their advantage is all or nothing, making them rather risky as a strategy given how easy they are to block.

Meanwhile, the deduction is more interesting than Clue, but not by much. Those special cards are a good introduction, but Paradise Lost should have leaned harder into its inherent weirdness. This was a perfect opportunity to do something unique and unexpected, leveraging its fairy tale plot into a guessing game that keeps your head spinning. Instead, it’s still pretty much Clue, albeit Clue with an uninspired resource management game in between guesses. In the era of lightning-fast deduction games, it’s a Clue that takes and feels longer.

"Yo. Warlock or Bubba Gump, tell me the truth."

Approaching the oracle.

Morbid curiosity led me to Paradise Lost’s ratings page, only to learn that some people apparently don’t understand what “plagiarism” is and isn’t. Paradise Lost is a work of adaptation and iteration, exploring Clue’s central deduction puzzle via the confines of resource management and simple character movement. It’s a dance that doesn’t quite succeed, a Charleston that moves forward, backward, and sideways all at once. Better than staying locked in place, I would contend, even with one foot trapped in the past. The result isn’t a game I’m liable to revisit; its designer is another story. Hopefully Butler’s next effort will see his creativity breaking free.


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A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on March 24, 2020, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nice review for a game I hadn’t heard of previously. It maybe sounds a bit like Android, where the goal isn’t to deduce the criminal so much as to tag a potential suspect with incriminating evidence?

    This is the second or third game I’ve heard about recently whose name evokes some classic work or some specific concept, and then the game itself has nothing to do with that. I’m not very good at naming things (for many years the working title of one my games was “Collusion”, but there was no actual player interaction!) but it seems to me that calling your game “Paradise Lost” is really weird if your game has nothing to do with Milton. And I had a similar reaction to some of those other games. It’s like calling your game “Vespers”, but instead of having some connection to a prayer service before bed it’s about a post-apocalyptic hellscape. I don’t get it!

    But I think my objection here is that we little appreciate how important or influential Milton’s work is in shaping our thoughts about heaven and hell. The average person would say with rock-ribbed certainty that certain ideas about hell are found in the Bible, when actually they’re from Milton. So I think calling a game about fairies and swords “Paradise Lost” is about as cheeky as calling yourself “Elvis Costello”. But at least Declan MacManus can play and sing really well (and /write/, something the original Elvis could not do!).

    • It’s certainly a strange title. It makes a bit of sense in context, but definitely doesn’t have anything to do with Milton. I would love to play a proper Miltonian game. Apart from Solium Infernum, obviously, since that’s already perfect.

  2. Interesting. No doubt Paradise Lost by John Milton is a masterpiece poem written by John Milton. Thanks for sharing such a great piece of English literature. It took me to those ages.

  1. Pingback: Review: Paradise Lost:: Clue Too: Paradise Lost (a Space-Biff! review) – Indie Games Only

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