Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 60 minutes (2-4 players)
TL; DR– Amass an undersea powerbase quickly and easily in this great game. 95%
Basics-Under the Sea! In Abyss, each player is fighting to be the lord of an undersea kingdom. Each turn players can do one of three things: explore the depths for cards, take cards that have been discarded by searching, or spend cards to get undersea lords for points. When a player explores, the player reveals a card. If it is an ally card, then every other play can buy that card from the player for one pearl. Ally cards are one of five different undersea creatures with point values ranging from one to five. As more cards are revealed and more are bought, the price of each card increases. If the card is not bought from the player, then the first player can choose to pick up the card for free or leave it. If the player takes the card, then their turn is over. If they don’t take the card, the player then continues this process until they fill up a track with cards and are forced to take the last card also gaining a pearl. In the exploration deck, there are also some monster cards. These cards can be avoided, or the monster can be fought and the player gains pearls, bonus victory points, or possibly keys to buy locations. In either case, the cards not taken are separated based on the type of deep sea ally they are and placed in different piles below the exploration track. The second action a person can do on their turn is to take one of these piles. The final action a person can take on their turn is to spend allies to buy an undersea lord. These lords have a number of bubbles indicating how many different types of allies have to be spent, a number indicating how many total ally points have to be spent, a value for end scoring, and possibly a power and/or a key. Also, when a player buys a lord, he chooses one of the lowest point allies used to buy the lord, and places that in front of the player for end game points. If a player ever has three keys, the player has to buy a location either choosing from the current visible locations or drawing up to four, but all not bought drawn locations become available to all other players. These locations provide end game victory points based on the lords or allies you have in play. This continues until one player has seven lords or until a player can’t buy another lord. Then players get points for the monsters they fought, the highest point ally of each ally type they put into play for buying lords, their lords, and their locations. The player with the highest points is the new king or queen of the sea!
Mechanics– This game has the look of something far more sinister and complex than it really is. It’s actually really simple once you get the rules down, and that takes less than two turns. There is deep strategy, but it’s not so deep that you can’t have fun. This is honestly as complex as Settlers of Catan with a different theme and a bit more player interaction and memory. The three actions you can take on your turn are really self explanatory, and play fast. There are some problems like players have no hand sizes. One player in one of my games just kept taking cards. He ended up with over half the deck of allies at the end of the game. He didn’t win, but that can make the game drag a bit. Unlike some Eurogames, this one has tons of player interaction, so who you play with can really impact your enjoyment. That aside, if you like some quick thinking with a bit more auction mechanics than Catan that is a good intro to middle complexity game, this is a great game to add to your collection. 4.75/5
Theme– This game feels dark and mysterious, just like the undersea. As a player you do feel like you’re building a support base for yourself by first getting the commoners on your side, then moving to the lords before you move on the throne. It all feels fun. The art really hammers home the feeling of being in a deep sea kingdom too. It can seem a bit too oppressive at times with some of the art bordering on gothic macabre, but even then it’s still amazing art! 4.75/5
Instructions– The rules do teach this game really well, but this is a game you can’t just open the box and play. The mechanics are well done, and the rules teach them easily. My only real problem with it is that some of the leads are buried with small, important parts of gameplay kind of put in the middle of paragraphs. I bought my first lord without realizing I should then have put an ally in front of me for end game points. The rules are well done, but this is a game whose rules you should read by yourself before you bust it out on the table with friends. 4.5/5
Execution– This game gets a five out of five for presentation alone! Much like most of the games I’ve been reviewing lately, I’ve made a YouTube video (http://youtu.be/nAGFEi1FldE). The game is amazing. The art is great. The writing is clear. And even the box looks good. The little plastic shells for the pearls are the cherry on top of this game. And, when you’re done conquering the undersea nobility, the pieces all fit back into the box with nice custom cut places. Well done! 5/5
Summary– I really love this game. It’s got a great theme with some amazing mechanics that make this a blast to play. Building up your undersea alliances with different nobles for power is quick, fun, and easy to do with the sleek mechanics of this game. It’s got a few minor faults like some player mechanics that can be made less fun depending on who you’re playing with and a few smaller problems, but overall if anyone wants to play this game, I’ll be one of the first to come to the table! 95%