#836 – Pocket Paragons: Origins

Base price: $25.
2 players.
Play time: 3 – 15 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Pre-order!
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Pocket Paragons: Origins was provided by Solis Game Studio.

It’s always exciting to see the start of a new series. Like, sometimes you play a game and you’re like, that was nice, but that’s probably a one-off. Other times, you play something and you hope that there’s a planned expansion or two on the way. Pocket Paragons is straight-up wilding out the gate, with four different sets already ready (and, I have to assume from the “Season 1” on the site, more potentially on the way). That’s at least a compelling level of confidence, so let’s check out the first game in the set, Pocket Paragons: Origins.

In Pocket Paragons: Origins, you’re looking for a fight, and you’ve just happened to find one. Use your special powers, your best abilities, and a bit of cunning if you want to catch your opponent off guard. Just be careful! Resting leaves you totally unguarded and vulnerable to getting Executed, which is about as bad as it sounds. You’ll need to use your abilities as a tyrant’s heir, a timebender, an assassin, or even the ocean queen herself if you want to come out on top in this contest. Will you be able to defeat your rival?

Contents

Setup

Very little. Choose a character of the characters available:

Place their character card and their Ultimate nearby; the rest of the cards go into your hand. Take a dial:

Set your HP to 10 and your Energy to 0. That’s about it! You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of Pocket Paragons isn’t too challenging. Basically, you play until you lose, and you lose if you hit 0 HP or you’re ever Executed. A game takes place over multiple rounds, with each round having its own set of phases. Let’s go through them:

Selection Phase

During this phase, you just pick a card that’s in your hand and play it face-down. Once both players have played a card face-down, you resolve the cards.

Resolution Phase

Reveal the cards and resolve them. There are a few specific things worth mentioning beyond the standard resolution pathway.

First, check to see if any card counters another card. Most cards have a “Counters” area at the bottom of the card. If you play a card that counters your opponent’s card (in that they played a card with the icon in your card’s “Counters” area), your opponent returns their card to their hand and you gain 1 Energy. Essentially, it’s like your opponent didn’t play a card at all. There may be additional effects; check the cards for more information.

Otherwise, resolve cards normally. Shields generally prevent all damage, and any card with a number on it deals that much damage to your opponent. If you dealt damage successfully (meaning your opponent did not defend against it or heal it), that counts as a Hit, which may influence some card effects. Generally, playing a card causes it to become exhausted, and it should be placed to the side, rather than returned to your hand.

If you play Rest, you return all exhausted cards to your hand and gain one energy. Upon gaining energy, you should check your Ultimate. It usually has some kind of energy cost that must be paid to activate it. If your Ultimate is Passive, it is activated as soon as you have enough energy; if your Ultimate is not Passive, it is added to your hand as soon as you have enough energy. Either way, that energy is spent. If your Ultimate is played at some point, you will need to collect more energy to reactivate it.

One last caveat about the Rest action; it leaves you vulnerable. This means that your opponent can Execute, if they play the right card, which will allow them to automatically win! Some characters may have alternative methods of Execution, so be careful.

Either way, check to see if the game ended and, if not, start a new round.

End of Game

If a player was Executed or reached 0 HP, they lose, and their opponent wins! If both players hit 0 HP in the same round, the player with fewer HP wins, and if there’s still a tie, play another round until players are no longer tied.

Tournament Mode

Tournament Mode plays a bit differently than a standard game. Instead of one game, you’ll play three, and you’ll have three characters forming a team. When you’ve chosen your teams, show them to each other and then simultaneously (and secretly) choose one of your characters to start with.

When a character loses, that character is eliminated, but not entirely forgotten. Tournament Mode has a feature called Ability Inheritance, that allows a defeated character to pass on their ability to the next character on their team. You may choose any ability that doesn’t have the no-inheritance symbol (🚫) and replace the matching icon ability on your next character. Naturally, if your next character’s ability has a 🚫, you can’t replace it, either. If your second character is defeated, you may pass on two abilities, one of which can be the previously-passed ability. The new character starts with max HP and 0 energy, and play continues until one player has defeated all three of their opponent’s characters.

Player Count Differences

None, really; this is primarily a two-player game.

There is an optional solo mode, though, that you can get. It essentially is a card-based AI that will resolve cards in a not-quite predictable way. So if you want to learn how to play (or take on the additional challenge mode and just get wrecked by a stack of fewer than 20 cards), that’s another option.

Strategy

  • Lean into your character’s ability.
  • There’s a bit of bluffing that can happen, here.
  • You almost never want to be in a place where the only card you have left is Rest.
  • Keep track of what cards your opponent has already played.
  • Rushing to your Ultimate can be an interesting strategy, but keep an eye on your health.
  • If you routinely play with the same person, switch things up every so often so that your metagame doesn’t become predictable.
  • It’s not necessarily a bad idea to Rest on the first turn, unless your opponent decides to chance it and go for an Execute.
  • If you’re playing Tournament Mode, use your lost character to buff a weaker area of another character.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I think the lowered bluffing element might make this game more viable for folks who enjoy quick card games but aren’t as cool with lying as you might need to be for something like Cake Duel. You have some hidden intent, but you’re not necessarily outright lying. You’re trying to play off of what you think your opponent will do! It’s more speculative and less bluffing, so that adds a different dimension to the game. I usually go to Cake Duel for my quick two-player games, but I find a lot of folks aren’t big on games where you need to lie, so this might be a good fix for that sort of thing.
  • The art and character types are fun, as well. It’s a good mix of a few different types of characters! Fairly magic-y, in this set, and that’s fun enough. The art is upbeat and exciting! I like the symbols and how different they are, too. It’s very easy to read the cards and I like the art style.
  • I appreciate that the characters are relatively easy to learn, as would befit a relatively short card game. They all have pretty distinct play styles, which would worry me a bit. Asymmetry can be challenging to learn, but this kind of reminds me of Super Smash Brothers, in a way. All the characters have similar play styles, but certain moves are stronger based on what character you use. That defined asymmetry makes learning the game’s core system the challenge; the characters can be picked up quickly once you’re familiar with that. Well, the easy ones, at least.
  • The dividers are nice; makes it easy to grab whatever character you want. Dividers, in general, are a plus for me with most games? I just like being able to know where all my stuff is. Though I’ll freely say that Collusion took a while to get together.
  • I’m a particularly big fan of Kairos, the Timebender; his ability to just mix the game up temporally (at great cost) is a lot of fun. Kairos can only really use his rest once; if you run out of cards, you just lose. So his goal is to warp time around him by using his cards to refresh his other cards so that he can keep going. It’s exciting but dangerous! If your opponent learns your cards and your patterns, you become predictable. And here, being predictable is the step before being dead. I think it’s kind of a little thrill to play as him and try to learn ways to change up the patterns and rewind! So that’s fun.
  • Pallash, the Tyrant’s Heir, is also pretty cool, though the cards having two types of abilities each can be a bit confusing. I just like the different types of characters available. Here, her decision to turn tyrant is the only thing that will allow her to go in for the Execute. And that tension is exciting! It’s not so much a matter of if she’ll turn; it’s a when. That’s very different from other characters, and it makes her fun to play and challenging to watch out for! I’m a big fan,
  • The game is super fast to play. I mean, if you misplay, you’re done in one turn, so it could be that fast, but otherwise it’s a few rounds of playing cards. I’d be surprised if a full game took you 15 minutes. You can push it a bit farther with Tournament Mode, but that’s a choice you make, not something that you’re required to do. I appreciate it when a game is confident enough in its core to not just arbitrarily require players to play three or five rounds to pad out the length.
  • Having different difficulty levels for the characters is also great. It gives me, the player, a lot of flexibility based on what I want to learn. I’m kind of excited for the additional sets, if playing them is in the cards.

Mehs

  • The boxes are ambitiously sized; it makes it easy to fit all four games into a box (maybe two, if you’ve sleeved everything), but they can feel a bit like overkill if you only have the one set. The set rattles around inside the box, or, at least the box I have. You might want to put some foam in there or get the rest of the sets if you’re feeling particularly ambitious. As a reviewer, I don’t really like to tell people to buy things, so this is not me doing that; having something else inside the box to keep the cards from bonking around seems like a good idea, though.
  • I can’t tell if I’m just Bad At Dials, but I almost feel like these run the opposite direction of how I expect dials to run? I truly can’t figure out what’s wrong with me, but it feels unintuitive.
  • There’s a character with a passive Ultimate who just continues to gain Energy with no outlet for it and that’s kind of … odd. I think that’s a casualty of a system that’s designed around Energy gain without all characters necessarily having an outlet for that gain. It’s not the worst thing in the world; I usually just tell whoever’s playing them to stop gaining energy after they activate their passive Ultimate.

Cons

  • There’s quite a bit of helpful context that comes from just knowing what another player’s character can do. This is the challenge of highly-asymmetric games: everyone needs to know what everyone else can do. I’ll generally just have players read each others’ character card and Ultimate and allow for rematches if desired, mostly because reading every card for your opponent can really slow down the game, but you generally will do better in the game if you know what cards to expect and what your opponent’s abilities are. That may be more reading than you want to do for a short game like this, so I generally recommend my “reading-light” mode. Do I tend to get clowned more because I don’t know the cards? Yes. Do I mind? Not really. Short game.
  • Getting baited into a one-turn Execute at the start of the game is definitely going to be a “feels bad” for newer players but will also definitely happen. It’s hard to say specifically that this is a problem with the game any more than, say, three-move checkmates are a problem with chess, but I highlight this here under the Cons because this is a very easy way to make sure that a new player will have a bad time. If I Rest on the first turn and an enterprising player Executes me, I’m going to laugh. It’s less fun if I do that to a new player, I think. While short games are often nice to learn because it’s easy to smooth over strategic mistakes, there’s often some care that should be put into the experience for the other player. I’m mostly noting this as “it’s possible to be a bit of a jerk to new players” more than anything else.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I think Pocket Paragons: Origins is pretty solidly fun! It’s got a lot of what I like about Cake Duel, in that it’s quick, tit-for-tat combat with some smart bluffing behind it. What it might have over Cake Duel is the streamlined characters that are fairly unique in their own rights, and I think those are pretty cool. This is a bit more combat-focused than bluffing-focused, and I tend to have a slight preference for bluffing over combat, but I do love how fast-paced it is. You can literally just get ruined on your first turn. It’s very funny, sometimes. Plus, there’s a good variety of characters (six in the box, with a preposterous number of additional ones in other sets), so I’m excited to see the interplay between various boxes, at some point. This is also a good entry point into the franchise. The characters are largely easy to pick up and have clear synergies between certain cards, with very few sets requiring an intense level of expertise. Good art, too, which is always a plus, for me. I’m actually pretty curious about this series; combat games are hard to sell me on, but a microcombat game is compelling, I have to say. And I think Pocket Paragons: Origins has the chops to potentially be a compelling game. If you’re looking for a fun bit of microcombat, you want to play some nasty mind games with only a few minutes of game time, or you just like the idea of getting wiped out on your first turn, Pocket Paragons: Origins might be worth checking out!


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