Paradice is a production of See Through Games, and as far as I can tell, their only production. The designer, John O'Neill, is credited with a number of other games, all designed according to his 'Admcadiam' philosophy. Paradice is supposedly 'the first of a matrix of nine games that carry meaningful messages for living in a more harmonious, cooperative way', but at the moment the other 8 games are apparently not in production.
The game itself
The first thing that people will notice about this game, is the pieces. Truly, this is a very beautiful game to look at, and this is part of the intention of the designer. The game is sold as art, and packed up in it's see through pyramid shaped box, or even just set up, it is something to look at and admire.
The game consists of a nine-by-nine grid board, 28 pieces representing 4 types of trees, 4 pieces representing forest spirits, 4 pieces representing humans, 1 'circumstance changer', 1 round (!) 6 sided die, 1 mask, and four colourless pieces representing deactivated humans and forest spirits.
This is a two-player game, in which the roles are divided in the Giver and the Taker. Very unusually, only the Giver has a chance to actually win the game! The roles are determined at first by a die role, and the person rolling the highest number becomes the Giver. The roles reverse whenever a 1 is rolled.
At each turn, the number roled on the die is used by both players. First, the 'Circumstance changer' moves clockwise around the edge of the board, the same number of spaces as the die roll indicates. The nearest Human to the Circumstance changer will then get the mask, and becomes the only playing piece of the Taker.
The Taker starts the round, by moving it's piece and taking trees of the board. It can also use it's Masked Human to displace a forest spirit (they change places). If a Forest Spirit becomes disconnected from all it's trees, it becomes deactivated and is replaced by a colourless figure. The nearest unmasked Human then also becomes deactivated.
The Giver will try to move Humans next to each other. The aim of the giver is to place all four humans together, so they form a small blue pyramid. On his turn, the Giver can:
1. Move a Human
2. Reconnect a Forest Spirit with it's forest, thereby reactivating the spirit and the deactivated Human;
3. Give back a tree if he can move two humans together ('eye to eye');
4. Take an extra turn if he has 3 Humans together, and if he has enough moves, move the Taker's piece into the pyramid and win the game.
The Giver moves by either moving into empty squares, or by displacing trees or Forest Spirits. A move can also be changing the direction in which a Human is facing (turning it 90 degrees).
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's....
As will be clear, this is not a typical board game. The rule on winning sets it completely apart from other board games, and the design itself (which probably is one of the main reasons of the very high pricetag) makes this more of a collector's piece than a game that everybody might enjoy. It is also designed with a certain philosophy in mind, and that philosophy has only little to do with the more common board game philosophy: Having Fun.
Strategically, playing either role is an unthankful task, since whenever the roles change, all the progress you might have made can lead your opponent to victory. And vice versa, all the damage you have done will now cause you problems, which, I presume, is part of the idea behind the game.
My judgement? I like the game. Not just for it's looks, but also for the idea behind it. Yet I can see it is something that will only appeal to a very limited group of people. This game is designed to make people think. For me, this is something I do already when I play games, so it is merely an extension of an existing quirk. The fact that I can actually afford to buy this game also makes a difference, otherwise I probably would not have spent the money on it. For the average gamer, this will just be an overpriced, boring game that's best left alone.
Nice review. I've only just seen a picture of this game on the BBG homepage and I thought 'Wow, that's so cool!'. It is a seriously cool-looking game but, like you said, I certainly can't see the gameplay appealing to too many people...
I just saw this game at the San Francisco Green Festival yesterday, and while the new-age hippie-trippy stuff was kind of silly, the game was actually pretty cool. After having the lady explain the rules in great detail early in the day, I came back later after hitting the booths for free samples of granola, hemp butter, soy cheese and the like with a friend and tried a game. It was actually very fun, especially in the altered state we may or may not have been in, and both the wood and resin sets were very, very cool looking.
I did find it annoying that the damage I did was only helping my opponent when we switched, but a quick tweak of the "house rules" can fix that. You keep your roles the whole game, and the taker wins when 3 spirits are displaced. Ba-da-bing. The game is good for the masses.