Publisher: Asmodee & Bombyx
Number of players: 2-4
Abyss is the gorgeous game by Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier. In Abyss there is a power vacuum, you and up to 3 other players must use all tactics possible to buy and win votes from the council to ascent the throne.You will be recruiting the most prestigious lords to use their powers and conquer strategic areas to help bring all of Abyss into your grasp. It will take pearls, wisdom and pushing your luck to be the king. Do you have what it takes to hold Abyss's power and throne?
Xavier Collette deserves an MVP for his art in Abyss. Before it was release at Gen Con 2014, this game was getting a ton of buzz on the art alone. Everyone was loving the art of this game and how well it fit the dark deep sea. When I bought my copy at Gen Con 2014 and opened it up, I had to say they were absolutely right. Collette has in my opinion set the bar high for art design in games. Each component is beautifully designed in a way that stands out from other games, but also does not distract from the gameplay. The insert makes for easy storage & quick setup/tear down time. Abyss has 5 box covers to choose from, each depicts a different council member. Please note that the cover is the only difference between the copies, all other components are exactly the same. Rulebook is organized well and has the same great art design that was delivered throughout the game. The currency in the game are pearls. Asmodee/Bombyx has given us round plastic pearls instead of the usual cardboard tokens or wooden cubes. The pearls add an extra flare to the game. Now you may be thinking "Taco, round pearls are going to roll all over the place and be a big pain to hold on to". Well good news gamers, Abyss has you covered by providing black plastic seashell cups to place your pearls safely into. Keys, locations and other tokens are your standard punch out cardboard. The cards have full art with no boarders, yet the game text is easy to view and understand. For those that are color-blind, each color or council race also is distinguished by a faction symbol. Overall Abyss gets a thumbs up from me for its components & 2 thumbs and 2 big toes up for its art. Did I mention I liked the art?
Abyss can appear at first to be a complicated game, but I found it very easy to grasp. Be careful to not mistake ease of learning with lacking strategy because that is far from the truth. On your turn you will decide one of three actions. The actions are Explore the Depths, Request Support from the Council, and Recruit a Lord. After you take this action if you have 3 keys you must take control of a location. First lets discuss those actions.
During the explore the depths action, you reveal cards from the top of the exploration deck (see above picture for image of explore cards) one by one. If the card revealed is an ally card you must offer the other players in clockwise order to buy this ally. If they decide to purchase this card they pay you 1 pearl for each card that has been bought this round. That means if one player has already purchased the first card for 1 pearl and the next card is purchased by the next player, that player must pay 2 pearls. If its the third card purchased then it would cost 3 pearls. If a card does not get purchased then you may either add it to your hand for free (ends your turn) or leave it in its space on the board and reveal the next card. If all the spaces on the exploration track are filled with allies and none of the other players wants to buy the last ally, then you must add that ally to your hand and gain one pearl. If the revealed card is a monster then you may fight it or keep exploring. If you choose to fight, victory is automatic and monster is discarded. You will receive the reward on the threat track, which could include keys, pearls, and influence points (the games victory points). If you decide to keep exploring then you move the threat token one space on the threat track.
At the end of the exploration action, all unclaimed allies are placed face down in their races council spot. Ally cards are used for purchasing lord cards and influence points at the end of the game. The recruit a lord action is purchasing a lord card (see picture below). The cost of the lord card is represented in the lower left corner of the card, the total number of bubbles indicates the exact number of different race types that need to played to pay for it. Some will have a larger bubble with a race's icon on it to indicate that the race is mandatory to pay for the card. The number under the bubbles indicates the total value of allies you need to play to recruit that lord. (Example: card displays 3 bubbles, 1 of which has a crab symbol. the number below is 10. You would need at least 1 crab card, 2 cards of other races and their total value to be 10 or above. You can play additional cards of the same race to make up the value cost but are limited to the 3 races needed for the Lord.)You can also use pearls to help complete the cost of a lord card. After you purchase a lord, you keep the lowest cost ally used to pay for that lord and place it in front of you as a "affiliated ally". Affiliated allies can be worth IP at the end of the game. Each Lord has a number of influence points its worth in the upper left corner, text in the bottom that gives a power until a lord is used to to control a location. Also some lords have a key symbol in the top right corner, which can be used to acquire locations.
The third action is request support from the council. When you perform this step you take one of the stacks (race) in the council without looking at them beforehand and adding them to your hand. As soon as you have 3 keys you must immediately take control of a location. Locations give different ways of getting influence points. (example a location may give 3 IP for each of your affiliated from a certain race.) When taking control of a location you may take one from the available face up locations or draw up to 4 face down locations and choose one of them. After you choose one, you place any other drawn locations face up with the other locations to be purchased. Any lords used to pay for the location must be slid under the location so that their power is covered up. These powers are no longer available for the rest of the game. Also the keys on those lords can not be used to purchase more locations. After your action and any possible mandatory action, your turn is over and the person to your left starts their turn. Game ends when any player recruits their 7th lord or the court can not be completely filled due to lack of lord cards. That player completes their turn and each of the other players get one last turn. After that each player places the lowest value ally for each race in their hand and place it with other affiliated allies. Players add up IP from the locations you control, lords you have recruited, strongest affiliated ally from each race and monster tokens. Player with the highest influence points wins the game. If tied then most pearls wins, if still tied the one with the highest valued lord wins.
Abyss has been hit or miss with my group of friends. All enjoy the art but some just did not seem to enjoy the game. I enjoyed Abyss. Is it a top 10 game for me, no. I enjoy it as a mid to light card game that is easy to play with 3 other friends and can still have a conversation while playing. Some did not like the luck of card draws or not being able to buy ally cards because the person in front of them bought it. There is a certain amount of randomness in what cards come up and being in the right spot at the right time to be able to purchase that card. Nothing more irritating then on your turn being last to be able to buy a card and its one you really want. I enjoyed the pressing of luck when it came to exploring ally cards. Do I take the 3 seashell or do I flip over another card in hopes that I get a higher value card and risk extra cards going into the council decks. Some players did not like certain lord cards that attacked other players cards and rendered them useless minus the IP. I find the game to have a nice flow and some really good strategy of when to purchase lords and obtaining keys. Locations are great end game for scoring but are they worth the price of purchasing earlier in the game if you lose a good lord's power. I enjoy those difficult choices. While the theme is just added on with no real effect to the game, it is a theme that is unique and has given us very great art. The art does make this game go from indistinguishable game to a game that is remembered and played. I had a hard time giving this game a rating because I enjoyed it but it didn't really stand out in any way for me. In summary, Abyss is not a game that I see myself pulling out to play but will play if someone else wants to play it.
+The art sets the benchmark for other games
+Difficult push your luck decisions
+Some player interaction but also allows for conversations
+nobody runs away with the lead
- Some feel game is bland and no theme
- buying cards to purchase other cards which give you powers and ability to buy locations.
-Fighting monsters is an automatic victory over them
-Attack lords can irritate some individuals who do not like getting attacked in games.