Board game reviews, strategy tips & session reports
No. of players: 2-4
Amount of time to play: 45-60 min
Age requirements: 14+
Set-up time: 5 min
In Abyss you must gain ally cards to recruit lords and locations for Victory Points. This game has a blend of press your luck, resource management and set collection.
In Abyss you are trying to gain the respect and gratitude of an underwater kingdom in order to become king. You do this by gaining allies, recruiting lords, controlling locations and slaying monsters.
Everyone starts the game with one pearl. And on your turn you can and must take one of three actions; explore the depths, request support, or recruit a lord. Before your turn begins you have the option add a lord to the board of there is room.
Ally cards are numbered one through five and belong to one of five factions. When you explore the depths you reveal one ally card at a time. Then the player on your left has the option to buy that card for one pearl. Pearls used to buy these cards go to the active player. Each player gets a chance to buy that card until it is bought. If it makes it back to the player whose turn it is, they may take it for free. If they don’t want it, they may reveal another card. And the same process happens again up to five times. But each player may only gain one card and each card that is bought increases the cost of the next card bought by one pearl. So a card will cost a player from one to three pearls depending on how many other cards have been bought that turn. If the active player must take the fifth and final card revealed that no one else buys. Taking this last card also gets them one pearl from the supply. Any cards not taken are sorted by faction and placed on the council track.
When exploring the deep you might encounter monsters. If a monster card is revealed from the ally deck the active player may choose to defeat it or ignore it. If they defeat it, their turn is over but they gain rewards depending on the monster track. If they ignore the monster, they continue revealing cards from the ally deck and move the token on the monster track down. The further down the track the monster token is the better the rewards. Only the active player may choose to defeat or ignore a monster.
If you choose to request support from the council, you take one pile of allies from the center of the board. These are the ally cards that have been discarded from exploring the depths and are sorted by faction.
The other action option for your turn is to recruit a lord. Different lords require different types and total value of allies to recruit. You discard all the allies used to recruit the lord but the lowest one. It becomes affiliated and will help you score at the end of the game. Most lords have special powers. Some of their powers are one-time abilities and others are ongoing. These powers can grant you special bonuses or give your opponents penalties. All lords are worth VPs at the end of the game.
Some lords or monster rewards grant you keys. Once you have three keys you must claim a location. Locations are worth VPs at the end of the game and most give you another way to score. The lords whose keys you used to gain the location are placed under it. This deactivates any special abilities or ongoing powers they provide for you.
Once a player has recruited seven lords or there are no lords left to put on the board, the game is over. Every other player gets one last turn and then each player may affiliate the lowest ally from each faction they have in their hand. The highest valued affiliate from each faction scores VPS equal to its value. You add the VPs from your affiliates, lords, locations, and monster tokens.
Abyss is a beautiful board game with some common mechanics that are blended in a unique way. It is fun, plays fast and easy to pick up and play.
The art and components for this game are amazing. The art looks great and everything from the shells that hold your pearls to the insert are well thought out. This just looks great on the table. The rules are an easy read, follow and teach too.
I really like the way the auction works. You can press your luck to try and get better cards or a pearl but then you give your opponents opportunities to purchase better cards. But you can take advantage of opponents without pearls or with less than the going rates of the cards.
The monsters don’t seem worthwhile early in the game. But as players have more ally cards affiliated and in their hands, the track becomes more relevant. You can even see more than one monster card in one Exploration action. And as the token moves down the track you can get some really good rewards like keys.
This may bother you or not. But at its core Abyss is a set collection game with a pasted on theme. I am not sure you ever really feel like you are fighting to be king. For me the game play is good enough I don’t mind the theme not really coming through.
Another thing to be aware of is the luck factor. With two separate decks of cards luck will play a role in who wins. What allies, lords and even who you are sitting next to may impact how well you do.
Abyss is gorgeous and fun. You can teach and play it fairly quickly. If you are looking for a unique game that mixes common Eurogame mechanics, pick this one up. If you are the fence, give it a try it is definitely worth one play through.
Score and synopsis: (Click here for an explanation of these review categories.)
Strategy 3 out of 6
Luck 5 out of 6
Player Interaction 4 out of 6
Replay Value 5 out of 6
Complexity 4 out of 6
Fun 5 out of 6
Overall 5 out of 6