Under the sea. Under the Sea. Darling it’s better. Down where it’s wetter. Take it from me! No, Sebastian was clearly not singing about the Abyss.
In Abyss, set in the deep ocean, you are trying to influence important Lords with the help of your allies. Allies help you to do business with the Lords and Lord may help you to control the right locations. At the end you win by having right combination of Lords, Allies and Location.
Every player starts the game with one pearl, the currency in the game. The board is divided into three areas: the depths of the sea, the Council and the area of the Lords, the Court.
Allies are basically cards with a colour (a race) and a number. You get them through the Council or by exploring the Depths of the sea. You need allies to be able to acquire Lords. These lords belong to a faction, have a cost, are worth some points, some of them have one or more keys, and most of them have a special ability.
At the start of the game there’s a row of six face-up lords in the Court, the bottom of the board. The rest of the board is empty.
In you turn you may refill the Court by paying one pearl per lord you draw. You also must do one of the following three actions; you can explore the depths, take a pile of cards of one colour from the council or you can acquire a lord.
When you decide to explore de depths you must draw cards from the ally deck, one by one, and each time you have to offer it to the other players. Each player can only buy one card per exploration and the first player who buys a card he wants pays one pearl to the active player, the second player pays two pearls, and so on.
You don’t have to buy a card.
If nobody wants that card, you can take it yourself for free, your turn ends right there and then. There are five card spaces on the board and you must always take the last card, but you get a pearl as a bonus.
Sometimes you draw a monster card. You can decide to fight that monster and if you do you get a bonus according to the monster track. If you do not, and continue drawing cards, the monster marker advances one step on the track, which means that the bonus for fighting a monster just got better. Bonuses can be pearls, keys or monster tokens. You randomly draw these tokens from a stack and these have an amount of points written on them.
When you got your ally card or you’ve fought a monster, your turn ends and all the cards that were drawn, but not taken or bought, go, face-down, to their place in the council. You can request the support of the council as an actions and that means that you can take all cards from one pile, which means one colour, in your hand.
Lastly, you can acquire a lord. On a lord card, in the lower-left corner, you find a number and one or more bubbles, with one bubble in a colour of an ally. Imagine that on a lord card you find three bubbles, one in red, and the number 12. This means that to acquire that lord you have to pay with exactly three different types of allies, at least one of the ally cards has to be red, and the total value of the cards must be twelve. The value may be less than twelve, you can pay the difference with pearls, but the amount of ally types must be exactly the same as the amount of bubbles on the lord card.
You can then place the lord in front of you. Plus, you must place the lowest ally that you’ve used in front of you. So, if you bought a lord with a red three, two green two’s and a blue five, you must place one of the green two’s in front of you.
Lords might have powers that are activated immediately or powers who will give you benefits throughout the game.
Some lords have a key depicted on the card. Whenever you’ve accumulated three keys you must take a location and cover up the abilities of the lords with the keys. These abilities can’t be used anymore. Locations are end-game scoring conditions. Like, you get an x amount of points for every yellow ally you have in front of you, or double the point value of your lowest lord.
When you buy a Lord the Court is not replenished. That only happens when four of the six Lords there are bought. The player who does that gets two pearls as a bonus.
The game ends when one player has bought either his seventh lord, or the lord deck has to be refilled, but there are no cards to do so. Every player, except the one who triggered the end of the game, takes one more turn, and after that all players can place their lowest ally card from every faction from their hand in front of them.
You get points from locations, lords and monster tokens, plus an amount of points equal to the value of your highest ally from every faction.The player with the most points wins the game.
Let me begin this review by stating that I really, really like the card-art. It’s dark, yes, but the deep-sea isn’t bathing in the sun either, so it’s fitting. These illustrations add so much flavor to the game and they are mysteriously beautiful. The art on the board is mainly functional, but the box-art, like the card-art, is stunning. Whenever people see it, their first reaction is ‘What’s that?’, so that probably means that it succeeded in getting people’s attention.
The game itself has very simple mechanisms. It starts of a bit slow, because you have no ally cards in your hand and only one pearl, so the first player, and probably the second player as well, has to explore the depths. Only one, or very few players can buy cards in the beginning, because there are very few pearl present in everybody’s cups and the rule is that the first player has to pay one pearl and the second player has to pay two pearls, so as long as player don’t get extra pearl by exploring the depths, by fighting a monster or by a lord’s power it will stay this way.
Once everybody has taken or bought some cards and some more pearl are added to the pool the game speeds up a bit.
Abyss is not a heavy game. You can only do one of three things in your turn and the decisions that you have to make aren’t that difficult to make. You can create some cool combos with the lords you buy if you want to and you have to think about how to spend you ally cards. They are worth some points at the end, so you’d better not end up with only ones in front of you. Which location to choose is also something you have to think about, but I found that most of the times it was more like choosing a location that fitted the lord or allies that I already had, than it was like choosing a location and then devising a strategy to get as much points out of it.
The most interesting thing about this game is the way you have to balance buying lords and getting locations. Once you’ve collected three keys you have to take a location. However, that also means that you have to cover up the lords you use for that location and you can’t use their powers anymore. It’s therefore a waste of time and effort if you are collecting specific ally cards to buy a lord with a power that can be really useful throughout the game, like getting a pearl each turn, or increase the cost of all lords for your opponents, and you immediately have to cover it up with a location.
Or you are just buying that lord so that other player can’t buy it, of course. I like the idea of this lord’s power vs. the location’s end-game bonus mechanism.
I did find that the game had a nice flow and most of the time you were able to do something nice. There are some take-that cards, but they are not too bad. And no, the points won’t come flying to you, you still have to make an effort, but Abyss is just a nice quick family game that I enjoy quite a lot.
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