Das letzte Paradies
The Last Paradise

Published by: franckh/Kosmos
Designed by: Reiner Knizia
Reviewed by: Joe Huber (huber@tribe.enet.dec.com)

Players: 3-5
Game length: 20-30 Minutes

There are very few good multiplayer boardgames which play within a half hour. Most games which play in such a short period of time are two player abstracts, which is fine such as it goes but doesn't help much when there are thirty minutes until a player, or perhaps dinner, is due to arrive at the gaming session.

The one designer who seems to excel at creating games to fill this gap is Reiner Knizia. At that, the games have far less chrome than their longer counterparts; still, they are not devoid of flavor, and they are sufficiently involving to justify playing. What's truly amazing is the number of such games Knizia has created: High Society, Auf Heller und Pfennig, Quo Vadis, most of the 14 New Games in Old Rome, and so on. While some of the ideas within these games are recognizable from other favorites, each has a clean play, strategic opportunities galore, and a unique Knizia twist.

One other such game is Das letzte Paradies. The game centers around the development of a remote island. As the game starts, the island is completely undeveloped. One by one, the 16 blocks which make up the island are auctioned off, and either developed or left natural. The board is divided into four quarters, each a district for scoring purposes. In addition, the center four properties form a fifth district (and thus these properties are each a part of two distinct districts). Initially one property in each quarter of the board is auctioned; following this the other twelve properties are auctioned in a random order.

Whether to develop a property or preserve it is a key decision at nearly every juncture. Each preserved property earns the owner an environmental brownie point (represented by small wooden trees). At the end of the game, the players with the most and second most trees receive a bonus; the fewer trees given out, the larger the bonus. Preserving land also enhances the value of surrounding developed properties, resulting in an immediate payment to their owners. This in turn can lead to the opportunity for bribing, as players with property adjacent are often desperately looking for additional capital for their future property purchases.

If a property is developed, the owner receives immediate income for each preserve already adjacent. Furthermore, owning a development in each of the five districts or all the developed properties in a fully owned district brings a significant bonus.

Auctioning of properties thus continues until each property has been purchased, and then the "green" bonus is paid out. Whoever has the most money then wins - but only if he or she has at least as much money as at the start of the game.

Das letzte Paradies has quite a bit going on, particularly given the short length and relative simplicity of the game. Each player has sixteen bid decisions to make, plus the decision as to what to do with each piece of property won. The systems of the game are all wonderfully intertwined - the balance of trees vs. developments must be weighed constantly. There's also a nice feature to the auctions, which are done by closed bidding - the winner pays only the amount of the second highest bid.

Das letzte Paradies is a beautifully produced game. In addition to the wooden trees, players receive large wooden markers to indicate their developments, and even the money for the game is represented with wooden disks, in three denominations all clearly marked with their value. Furthermore, the game board is nicely designed, giving a good feel for an island paradise.

For all of the things there are to like about the game, there are a few annoyances. As might be suspected with a game that requires a profit (or at least a non-loss) for victory, making money is not an easy thing to do. This in turn brings up the bugaboo of the do-nothing-to-win strategy. As a practical matter, this hasn't played out in my experience; there have even been games where everyone has made money. But there have also been games where only one player has made money, and I suspect that in a five player game doing nothing might actually work on occasion. It's an uncertain enough strategy, though, that it's not a fatal flaw in my eyes.

Another annoyance is the shortage of money. As nice as the wooden money looks, it's not terribly easy to keep hidden (shields similar to those in Modern Art would have been a nice touch), and there are few enough pieces in the lower denominations that in a four or five player game a lot of shuffling needs to be done to allow players to make the bids of their choice. A shortage of money for the players also effects things - it's very possible to end up in a position with little to do after the midgame by means of having overspent early. This would seem not to be a failing of the system so much so as the strategy, but I've seen this situation occur with players familiar with the game, so it's something to watch for.

As might be expected from a themed abstract, Das letzte Paradies is not a complex game; it can easily be picked up in a matter of minutes. The theming is thin, but not unreasonably so, and there is a very reasonable feel for the development/preservation economic tradeoff. This helps build more of an air of excitement than in some other, even more abstract Knizia games, as players are naturally more drawn into the game.

All in all, Das letzte Paradies is an enjoyable game, and one of the more enjoyable filler games available. It's not a game, though, that often escapes the shelf in preference to its longer brethren when the choice is available. Das letzte Paradies does stand out as a particularly strong short game, though, and I would recommend the game to anyone looking for a short multiplayer game.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell