Abyss is a dark place shrouded in mystery where the civil unrest between those who reside under the dark waves of the sea must be settle by gnashing of teeth and … well, diplomacy?
Part set collection game, part bidding game, this gorgeous Bruno Cathala, and Charles Chevallier designed game is one of my favorites. On the surface its not difficult to see why. The game is just tremendous eye-candy. The deep swirly blue palette is dusted and dotted with sparkling marine life, horrific humanoid creatures, and mystical underwater locations that carry an excellent sense of wonderment. Its hard not want to add the game to your collection just based on the box alone. Every detail is super fun.
This is a really nice change of scenery for a games who’s goals — to win the influence of lords, control properties, and seize power — usually are reserved for games with medieval and victorian themes. Instead you’ll be trading that in for a creepy aquatic cast fitting the part concept creatures for the next Guillermo Del Toro movie. The stunning illustrations come courtesy of Xavier Collette.
This Euro-style game is simple enough to understand, but deep enough to keep you playing over and over. Players take their turn by either exploring the depths, consulting the council, or recruiting the a Lord. All of these actions contribute to a set collection mechanic, that drives the game throughout.
Exploring the depths allows the active player to turn up cards representing different races and with different levels of influence. The catch is that every card that is turned up is first offered up for purchase to you competitors! If players full explore the depths, the last card and one pearl (the game’s currency) are collected by the active the player. The remaining cards slide down to their respective race’s section in the council chambers, where they build up their numbers as the turns go on.
There is always a chance that a monster card appears and the active player must decided wether to slay the eel-like beast, or advance the threat level on the monster tracker making the reward for killing him great with each time the card is waived on.
Requesting support of the council is simply grabbing an entire pile of passed up cards from one race. Its a great way to gain a lot of influence, and adds additional pressure on plays to bid when their opponents are exploring the depths.
Finally, players may elect to spend their various influence points to recruit a lord. Lord cards and dealt out six at a time to start the game, and cost different levels of influence by different combinations of the guilds. These lord cards are where the most impressive variety of art in the game reside, and where players will initially find their first victory points. They also tend to have awesome special powers that make life in the dark depths harder on your opponents.
Many lords also carry a key value (you can also grab key from the monsters whilst exploring the depths). Once a player has three keys, they activate their ability to claim territory. Territory cards are claimed and played over the abilities of the lords used to control them. The abilities of the territory now replace those of any lords who’s key was used to obtain the new land.
The game ends when one player recruits 7 lords, or there are no more lord cards to fill the court. Check out the full rules.
I can’t say enough about how unique I find this game. It plays just a little bit differently than anything else out there, but the mechanics are all mainstays for any gamer. The pace is very moderate, so each play through is satisfying, but not often grueling. Two players work just as well as three or four for me. Though, it should be noted two players to have a tendency to bid less and council piles seem to get large faster. Its just a fun race against your friends that looks and feels amazing the with every plunk of a pearl into your clamshell cups .. did I mention the little clamshell money holder?
This one is underrated in my opinion and needs a space on your shelf.
Oh and before you go: the expansion, Kraken, is excellent. Its simple enough to add automatically the main game, and adds a push your like element to some properties and brings some griefing via nebulas (negative point value pearls) to the bidding and buying portion of the game.