Game Buzz: Abyss

With GenCon looming around the corner, there are a number of games that are really capturing people’s attention.  One of these is Abyss, by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier.  The game is being published by Bombyx, and features this guy on the cover.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Surprisingly enough, there are actually five different covers you could get for this game:

image by BGG user Najak
image by BGG user Najak

Just from the cover art alone, I am instantly intrigued.  And that’s probably the point.  But to get some more detail, the game is for 2-4 players and takes around 45 minutes to play.  In the game, you are trying to gain the most influence to buy votes from the Council and become King of Abyss, an underwater kingdom.  The game comes with 20 Location tiles, 35 Lords cards, 71 smaller Allies cards, 50 plastic pearls, 20 Monster tokens, 10 Key tokens, a score pad, and 5 Shell plastic cups.  Each player game begins the game with a pearl, and six Lords are revealed and placed face up on the board.  A location tile is also revealed.

On your turn, there are three steps to take, which must be done in order – plot at court, take one action, and control locations.

PLOT AT COURT: This is an optional step.  You may spend one pearl to add a Lord to an empty space on the track.  You can add as many as you want, you just have to pay a pearl each time.  You cannot do this if there are no empty spaces or the Lord deck is empty.

TAKE ONE ACTION: There are three action options, and you must choose one of them.

  • Explore the Depths – For this, you reveal cards from the exploration deck one by one and add them to the exploration track until you take one.  There are two types of cards – allies and monsters.
    • For allies, you must first offer the opportunity to purchase it to your opponents.  In turn order, they can either pay you in pearls (an increasing price based on how many have been bought this turn) or pass.  If no one purchases the ally, you can either take it for free (which ends your exploration action) or put it on the exploration track (which allows you to draw another card).  If the card is placed on the fifth and final space of the track, you take the card and a pearl.
    • For monsters, you either fight or continue exploring.  If you choose to fight, you win automatically and gain a reward based on the threat level.  This ends your exploration action.  If you continue exploring, place the monster on the track and draw a new card, increasing the threat level by one.  When a monster is defeated, the threat level drops to one.  If a monster is placed on the fifth space of the exploration track, you defeat it and take a pearl.
    • At the end of exploration, all ally cards on the exploration track are moved to the council based on their color, with monsters placed in the discard pile.
  • Request Support – For this action, you can take all cards of one color in the council into your hand.
  • Recruit a Lord – Each Lord requires an exact number of ally races to be turned in, often including a specific ally.  They also require a certain value, which is added up from the allies.  You can use pearls instead of allies, but you must use at least one of each required ally.  If there are fewer than three Lords after recruiting, you also gain two pearls and refill the court – otherwise, it is not refilled.  Lords are worth influence points, and give you some special abilities based on their guild, which are either applied when recruited or are semi-permanent:
    • Soldiers aren’t worth many points, but are useful for messing with your opponents.
    • Farmers have no powers, but are worth lots of points.
    • Politicians will affect the lords themselves.
    • Mages are useful for collecting more allies.
    • Merchants give you pearls.
    • Ambassadors help you gain control of locations.

CONTROL LOCATIONS: As you play, you will collect keys, either through recruiting Lords or fighting monsters.  As soon as you have three, you must claim a location.  Take one of the available face up locations, or draw 1-4 and choose from those.  All that are not chosen get placed face up to offer more choices to future claimants.  If you use the key belonging to a Lord, the powers of that Lord will be unavailable for the remainder of the game.  Key tokens are discarded.

After following these steps, your turn ends and it is the next player’s turn.  The game ends either when a player recruits their 7th Lord, or when the Lord track cannot be completely refilled.  Once this happens, the active player finishes and everyone else gets one more turn.  Then you score points from locations, Lords, the strongest Ally you control in each race, and the monster tokens you hold.  The player with the most points wins.

This seems like a fairly straightforward game.  The action choices are limited, and it seems that you’re working from several angles to try to accomplish the end goal, which is scoring points.  The Lord seem to be big in giving you advantages, and of course locations give you bonuses.  Overall, I think this looks like a pretty fun game.

But oh my goodness, the art.

Last August, I did an edition of The Eleven where I talked about how artists are the unsung heroes of board games.  And I honestly believe that, despite the name of a big designer like Bruno Cathala being attached to this game, most people are going to get it because of art like this (images from BGG user hazgaard):




I have to give a big round of applause to Xavier Collette, the artist for this game who has previously worked on Dixit games.  From what I have seen in Abyss, I can’t wait to see his future contributions.  Overall, I have to say that while I think this is a solid design that I AM looking forward to playing, mostly I just can’t wait to see it in person.  Thanks for reading!


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