Saving The Universe…Or Not: A Paradox Q&A

As part of our March Spotlight on Paradox, we strive to inform readers of little extra tidbits surrounding the game. Games are made by people, and one of those tidbits we enjoy is learning a little bit more about the people behind them. Some designers shy away from the public stage, while others enjoy being front and center.

In the case of Paradox, there was a fair amount of anticipation on our part in getting to speak with first-time designer Brian Suhre. For someone who is usually on the consumer side of enjoying games, the arduous process of designing and publishing an inaugural title is usually as exciting as it is exhausting. We wanted to hear about that experience as to share it with you, and so we prepared to sit down with him about it. However, thanks to a rift in the space-time continuum at the moment of the interview, we were also unexpectedly joined by Paul Imboden and Randy Field of publisher Split Second Games…from the future. Needless to say, although they were pretty tight-lipped about what lies in store for us a few years from now (some nonsense about causality), they were still quite willing to talk about their beloved indie title. Turns out they overshot their destination by a few weeks and had some time to kill anyhow. Just don’t tell their other selves they’re slacking.

The coincidence of coming back in time to chat about a time travel game wasn’t lost on anyone either, but since that is what Paradox is effectively about anyhow…bonus? Yes, in this game, players are members of a time-traveling group of scientists and engineers who are trying to rectify a little thing called the unraveling of existence. Thanks to leaping back and forth through time, our recklessness created a world-destroying storm called The Quake that can eat up a world’s entire timeline, and so now we have to fix it. Instead of a TARDIS though, each player manipulates their own time matrix as to stitch the universe back together Bejewled style. We had no clue how to go about fixing Everything – we’re happy when we can get the microwave to stop blinking after a power outage. Thankfully, we had the right trio of individuals at our disposal to explain exactly how to do that, and how it is that we can…will…did…save the world. Enjoy!

Round One Questions

CR: What was your Gateway Game?

Paul: Strange enough, it was The Princes of Florence – another strategy game with a spatial puzzling element.

Randy: It’s difficult to say, but I think I graduated from casual gamer during my first play of Cosmic Encounter.

Brian: Axis and Allies was a big part of my teen years, but Carcassonne was my introduction to Euro games.


troyes coverCR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Paradox)?

Paul: Troyes. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s slowly becoming a favorite Euro. And after a long absence, I’m building a new Netrunner deck.

Brian: Discoveries. I was surprised this game didn’t make it onto more Top 10’s last year.

Randy: I’m having a lot of fun introducing games to my 3 year old daughter. As such, HISSS and Orchard have been my most recent. For grown-up games, Mysterium really lit me up.


CR: How big is your game collection?

Paul: I think it clocks in at around 200, not counting expansions.

Randy: Embarrassingly small. Maybe 20, and largely kids’ games. I mostly play with Paul’s library.

Brian: I own about 80 games. Between my gaming group and friends we do a good job of not overlapping purchases too often. This gives us a large pool games and makes it easier on my wallet and shelves.


CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?

Brian: I prefer games that favor more tactical choices over long term strategies. I tend to get more replay out of games that make me ‘solve the puzzle’ each turn over ones that let me choose the ‘Temple’ strategy from the get-go. I lose interest in a game once a dominant strategy is revealed.

Paul: I’m pretty omnivorous these days. If I had to pick one genre, though, let’s say I haven’t played a bad dexterity game.

Randy: I’ll agree with Paul on this one. There’s just something magical about dexterity games. Why haven’t we done one yet?


CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?

Brian: I don’t really think about it much these days. Monopoly will always be associated with board games, like Kleenex is to tissues. What I learned from Monopoly was how you stay engaged on other player’s turns. During one of my first plays of Catan I had this same feeling and wondered what game it reminded me of.

Paul: It’s a best-seller for a reason. But as far as mass-market games go, I prefer Scrabble.

Randy: Monopoly is like an incandescent light bulb: once revolutionary but made obsolete by newer alternatives. Still, it will always have its fans. I think it deserves respect as a major player in the history of our industry, even if the game itself has fallen out of vogue to more sophisticated mechanics.


Paradox M world


On Paradox

CR: Paradox’s time-based theme feels at once familiar and original. How did the idea behind it come about?

Brian: Paradox went through a few thematic changes in its early stages. With each change one or more mechanics would carry over to the next iteration. From the beginning, it was always about collecting sets of cards to score points. Once time travel entered the picture, I settled on players trying to save the past, present, and future of different worlds. But I then had to address why. I needed something or someone to be the cause of all this chaos. I wanted players to feel their score piles were at risk and have to juggle between gaining and protecting points. Time travel is risky business, and so after many years of abuse, The Quake was born. Now you’ve got this massive storm in time and space “Monster Trucking” its way through the universe, crushing planets and erasing them from existence. There’s really only one way to solve this problem: more time travel.


CR: If you had to pick the one aspect that sets Paradox apart from other time travel games, what would it be?

This isn't going to end well...

This isn’t going to end well…

Paul: For me, it’s the way Paradox deals with the Butterfly Effect. By saving a Timeline, you’re necessarily throwing some other world into harm’s way. That insurance track of Quake chaos is what separates Paradox from just another set collection game for us.

Randy: I’ll second what Paul said about the butterfly effect. There are very few 100% safe choices, and that’s what initially drew me to the game. In addition, the Energy Matrix is such a novel mechanic for a tabletop game, and the tactile experience of swapping tiles and digging around in the bag is incredibly satisfying.

Brian: Agreed, it would have to be that not everything you do or save is a guaranteed success. In most time travel games, you travel around saving objects or preserving historical moments in time and then jump to the next crisis. But what happens when you have a bunch of time travelers running around the universe changing timelines? You get this ripple effect that can put your past adventures back into harms way. In Paradox, you’ll often say to yourself, ‘It’s OK, I got time, I can fix that later’. Each turn you add to the stack of never-ending pressure to acquire more while maintaining a grasp on what you already have. Paradox does a great job of representing the idea that everything you do in this timeline will somehow affect the next.  .


paradox gridCR: What was the inspiration behind using a ‘Bubble Breaker’-style mechanic?

Brian: The inspiration came from Puzzle Quest. I loved the idea of wrapping this grandiose adventure around such an abstract mechanism.


CR: Similarly, how did that get implemented as the core vehicle in the game?

Brian: I had no theme or game in mind at the time. I just wanted to recreate that matching mechanism on the tablet and knew if I figured it out, it would be a unique way to acquire resources.


Alphoria: a world where horses struck back

Alphoria: a world where horses struck back

CR: One notable thing about Paradox is that each world has a distinct art style. How difficult was it to arrange 15 different artists?

Brian: Randy was the mastermind behind this incredible feat.

Randy: I’m fortunate to have ties to Chicago’s amazing art community, ranging from award-winning comic creators to internationally acclaimed beer label artists. As such, the easy part was finding enough people I trusted to deliver on the past/present/future triptych idea. The real challenge was working with 15 different artists’ schedules. The project spanned more than two years as a result, but I think the results really speak for themselves.


CR: Thanks to the game’s Scenarios and Alliance options, Paradox is scalable from a simple filler-style game to one with deeper strategy. Which was closer to your original concept design for it?

Brian: From the beginning I wanted to turn this simple matching mechanism into something bigger. Working with Paul, we were able to create these scenarios that you can swap in and out as your experience level grows. This added so much replayability to the game and opened it up to a bigger audience.

Paul: There was strategy baked into the design. Of all the Scenarios, the Breakthrough is the most ‘default’ design.  Alliances was a later discovery, when players cried foul that resources couldn’t be ‘banked’ for future use, so we gave them that ability at a cost. Paradox was engineered to be very flexible in regard to Scenarios, and we’re already working on more Scenarios that can slide easily into the game. I imagine creative players will try their own ideas as well.


CR: This is Brian’s debut game as a designer. What was that experience like, from development through Kickstarter, and now to stores?

Paul: It was our first time working with an outside designer, and in our eyes it was a fantastic experience. We fell in love with Paradox when we saw it at Protospiel, and Brian and I worked closely to smooth out the few rough design edges while Randy coordinated assets with the various artists. There were a lot of long phone calls, some spirited back-and-forth on intended play experience, and much patience through playtests even when innovation led to rabbit-holes. More than anything, Brian’s passion was clear from the start. Working with him was a pleasure, and we couldn’t have asked for a better first-time experience.

Brian: The development phase with Split Second Games was such a great learning experience. Kickstarter was quite the roller coaster ride of emotions, but now that Paradox is out into the wild I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s so rewarding to see people enjoying Paradox.

Paul: As for store coverage, Paradox is now beginning to go out for US distribution, and we’re already playing through Paradox Co-Op and some additional Scenarios….


CR: Lastly, we have to ask: are we the only ones who read about The Quake and thought of the series finale of Star Trek: TNG?

Brian: I had completely forgot about that scene. I would say that’s a pretty good connection.

Paul: Ryan, you’re a clever man. In any time period.

tng all good things

So…you know this whole Quake thing we keep mentioning. Turns out that it may be heading this way after all. It’s easy to not think about a universe-swallowing problem when it’s on the other end of things, but, well, surprise! By our highly-paid scientists’ calculations, we have about a week to stop it before it unmakes our tiny little galaxy and everything in it.

Thankfully, thanks to some schematics they emailed to us from the future, we now have access to the same time machine technology of the other races. And we’re looking to send some people back in time to stop it before things get really out of hand. It’ll be dangerous, scary, and the single most important thing anyone has ever done in the history of anything. But we have a handy Paradox board game for when you return, so that should even us out.

Let’s get to it!

Hitting The Past-Forward Buttonparadox indie cover


Photo Credits: Paradox cover and artwork by Split Second Games; The Simpsons by Fox Television; Star Trek by CBS.