Under the sea, down deep in the depths lies a world, not much unlike ours here on the surface.It is a world of political tensions, where control is the ultimate prize. A vacancy in the throne has caused an opportunity for a select few to rise up and vie for the throne. Use your skills of cunning, patience and sharp-mindedness to secure the support of various factions of the undersea world of Abyss and claim you place as the new King. Veteran designers Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier have teamed up to bring us Abyss.
Abyss is at its core a set collection game with a strong underlying press-your-luck element. It plays 2 to 4 players in under an hour. In Abyss, players are competing to be crowned King of Abyss by having the most Influence Points (“IP”). Influence points are gained through fighting monsters, recruiting Lords, controlling locations, and affiliating allies.
The main game board at setup.
The game board is set up into three sections. The top section is known as the Depths. Here players will have the opportunity to explore them. More on that in a bit. The middle section of the board is The Council. Players will be able to petition the Council for support. And the bottom section of the board is the Court, where Lords of the different factions become available for you to recruit. There are 2 other board components that make up the game. In the picture above, there is a threat track to the right of the main board. This is where we can monitor increasing tension from various sea monsters.
The threat track with the threat token placed on the third space.
There is another board component, the location stack, which is placed below the game board. At the start of the game, one location is available, but as the game progresses, more locations will appear.
One of the coolest components of the game is the currency used. In Abyss, Pearls are used as a way to pay for things. They are stored in shell-shaped cups.
Pearls, the currency of Abyss
OVERVIEW OF GAMEPLAY
The game takes place over several turns. And there are steps that must be taken in order:
- Plot at Court (optional) – you may spend Pearls to bring new Lords to Court
- Take One Action (mandatory) – You must choose one of the following three actions:
- Explore the Depths
- Request Support from the Council
- Recruit a Lord
- Control Locations (mandatory) – When you gain a third Key, you must take control of a location
Plotting at Court happens at the beginning of the turn. You may choose to pay one Pearl to the Treasury to add one Lord to an empty space in the Court. You may do this as many times as you wish.
The Lords of the Court
The meat of the game comes down to the actions. You have three choices to make.
The first is to explore the Depths. The exploration card deck is made up of monsters and five allied races:
- Squids (blue)
- Shellfish (green)
- Crabs (red)
- Seahorses (yellow)
- Jellyfish (purple)
Allied Race cards from the five factions.
When you explore, you reveal cards from the top of the Exploration deck one by one and place them on the Exploration Track of the game board starting with the space closest to the deck and continuing to the right Each time you reveal a card, you must follow this procedure:
- If the revealed card is an Ally, you must first offer the other players the opportunity to buy this Ally from you, asking each player in turn going clockwise. Each of the Ally cards has a faction they belong to as well as a certain amount of Ally points they offer. Players can either buy or pass. NOTE: Each of your opponents can only purchase one Ally during your turn. If none of the other players want to buy that Ally, you must either add it to your hand for free, which immediately ends your turn, or leave it in its space on the board and reveal the next card. You must then offer the new card for sale, and so on. If all of the Exploration track spaces are filled with Allies and none of your opponents wants to buy the last Ally you revealed, you must add that ally to your hand. You then gain one Pearl as a compensation for taking the last card.
Monster card from the Depths.
- If the revealed card is a monster, you must either fight the monster or keep exploring. If you decide to fight, victory is automatic and the monster is discarded. You win the reward shown on the Threat Track and the monster card is discarded. These rewards improve as the threat increases. You can win Pearls, points from monster tokens, or Key Tokens that can be used to control locations. After fighting, t he Threat Token is moved back to the first space on the Threat Track and your turn ends. If you decide to keep exploring, move the Threat Token one space up the track and continue revealing cards. NOTE: When a monster is revealed on the last space of the Exploration Track, you must fight it and you will also receive 1 Pearl.When you are finished exploring, any remaining Ally cards are moved from the Exploration Track to their matching faction space(s) on the Council section of the board.The second choice is to Request Support from the Council. When you choose this action, you will take all of the cards from one stack in the Council (without looking at them) and add them to your hand.
Stacks of faction cards in the Council.
The third choice is to Recruit a Lord. Now the Lords come from 5 different races and depending on their race, the Lords each belong to 6 different guilds that all have their own flavor: Soldiers, Farmers, Politicians, Mages, Merchants, and Ambassadors. They all have a cost required to recruit them. Many of them will have powers, some being applied only once when recruited, as noted by an arrow, or a semi-permanent power the Lord can use while he is “Free.” Some Lords will offer Keys that can be used to control Locations.
The Lord’s power
Each Lord has a cost required to recruit them as noted in the lower corner of the card. There are bubbles that indicate the exact total number of factions that must be used to recruit this Lord and the a large bubble that indicates a mandatory faction that must be present. There is a number also listed that indicates the total value of Allies needed recruit the Lord. In the picture above, The Landlord requires 2 factions to recruit him with Shellfish needing to be one of them. His recruit cost is 10, so players will discard Ally cards from 2 factions, Shellfish and one other that will have a total value of points needed to recruit him. Any Ally cards used to recruit the Lord are placed in the Exploration discard pile except the one with the lowest value, which is placed in front of you and is considered affiliated with your cause. When you recruit the Lord, place him in front of you. The Court does not automatically refill. The Lords are slid the right to move any vacant spaces closer to the Lord deck. The Court will refill automatically when a certain space is open on the Court.
The final step you must take is to Control Locations. As soon as you gather three Keys, either by recruiting Lords or fighting monsters, you must immediately take control of a location. Each of the Location cards has a name, a symbol that indicates how to win influence points with that location and also influence points awarded at the end of the game.
Various locations in Abyss.
When you take control of a Location, you can take one of the face-up Locations that are available or draw 1,2,3 or 4 Locations and choose one from among those drawn. Then place the rest of them face up beside the board, making them available for later turns, not only for you but also your opponents. Any Lords used to take control of Locations are slid underneath the location, hiding their Power as he loses it in order to control a location. They do retain their IPs for scoring at the end of the game. Keys used to control a location cannot be used again. So discard the key(s).
When you have finished your mandatory actions, your turn is over and the player to the left takes their turn, and so on and so forth.
The end of the game is triggered when either any player recruits their 7th Lord or any player recruits a Lord and the Court needs to be refilled but there are not enough Lord cards left to completely fill the Court. In either case, the active player completes his turn and each other player gets one last turn. Then each player places and affiliates the lowest-value Ally of each race they still have in their hand. The rest are discarded. Influence points are totaled from the locations controlled, recruited Lords, the strongest affiliated Ally from each race you hold and any monster tokens you hold. The player with the most influence points wins.
I had to make sure to give a thorough overview of the rules, most of which this information came straight from the rulebook. The way the game is played relies on mandatory actions that occur in certain order so I needed to make sure you the reader knew exactly how the game works. The rulebook is very thorough in explaining the gameplay, giving examples for each of the rules and also having a Lexicon to reference key terms used in the game and also some clarifications for certain Lord’s powers. The game has some thematic elements, most notably the Pearls as currency, and the different factions in the game, however Abyss I do not find too deeply thematic.
First impression when looking at the game is…..amazing artwork. Xavier Collette has done a wonderful job of capturing the world of Abyss and bringing it to life for us to enjoy. In fact, Abyss has five different covers available all showing a different face created by him.
Box cover artwork
The artwork for the Lord cards is breathtaking and the Exploration deck has wonderful images as well. I had voted for Abyss for the best artwork category of the 2014 Boardgamegeek.com’s Golden Geek Awards. The insert for the game is awesome and very functional for the base game. However, at the time of this writing, there is an upcoming expansion which I don’t think will fit into this insert.
Upon first reading the rules, Abyss may come across as very regimented and the game structure is that way. You must do these things in this order. There are mandatory actions that must occur and there is a certain order for things associated with those actions. Despite the rules holding the game to a firm structure, it has a casual feel to it. The game-play itself is very straight-forward and the rules keep Abyss simple to play. As I said in my introduction, the game itself has a strong set-collection aspect, with the acquiring of Ally Cards to recruit Lords. But there is a press-your luck aspect that drives the game especially the whole way the exploration phase is handled according to the rules. For all players involved…….Do I buy this card? or hope that something better comes along? And if I buy a card too soon, did I act to fast and maybe blow my chance for a better Ally? Do I fight the monster now? Or do I keep exploring and increase the threat? By increasing the threat, one of your opponents may encounter a monster on their turn and decide to fight it and take a better reward. For taking control of locations……Do I take what’s available now? Or do I draw more locations to try to get what I want yet giving my opponents some more choices as well? Also there is a bit of a memory game going on too. When Ally cards move to the Council, you have to remember what is there so if you choose to go to the Council for support, you know which faction to take the stack from that will give you the most help. Choosing locations to control is another key for the game, as it forms and changes your strategy as you play Abyss. This element may not appeal to some players as the random draw of locations can have an effect on certain pre-planned strategies.
I find this to be a solid game that a family with teens can enjoy. It offers a medium-light level of complexity in terms of strategy so it should appeal to a broader spectrum of players, most notably those newer to the hobby, or those looking for an experience that is not taxing on the brain. I don’t think that younger players will grasp the nuances of the press-your luck elements as well as planning for recruiting Lords so I will stick to the 14+ age as recommended on the box. I think the game offers a bit in terms of risk vs. reward and touches on a bit of resource management in terms of Pearls. Without Pearls, there is no way to buy Ally cards and you will be stuck having to take what nobody else may want. I think the game offers replayability and provides a good gaming experience for the players involved.
On the downside, I feel that the game was forgotten not long after its release. And I have seen this with other titles as well. It released at Gen Con 2014 and I saw a lot of action around this game at the convention booth, including the designers helping teach the game. But the “Cult of the New” is so strong that a game does not get much attention long after it’s release. This may be a contributing factor. It may have been due to the sheer number of solid games released in 2014. Or maybe that the game visually appeared to be more than it was and caused some disappointment? Of this I am unsure. But I do see Abyss paled in popularity to one of Bruno Cathala’s other 2014 releases Five Tribes.
That aside, I think the game is good and I am glad the designers are continuing to support this game with an expansion due out in the coming months that will add new elements to the game. I think this game fills the itch for a set-collection game that just edges beyond that of a gateway game. With that I say this is a game suited for a family environment that will get people around the table to have a good time.
For more information on Abyss, please click the link: http://us.asmodee.com/ressources/jeux_versions/abyss.php
Disclaimer: A review copy of Abyss was provided by Asmodee for the purpose of an honest, unbiased review.