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Abyss Review – Even the stuff no one wants is useful

Recently at OrcaCon I was able to play Abyss with some friends.  I’ve been looking to get a game of this in because I figured it would be a great game to add to my ‘family’ library of games.  The art is great and although it is a competitive game, I heard there was not a ton of attacking other players.  I found a cool mechanic in this game by Asterion Press/Asmodee as well, and I like how it integrates unwanted cards back into the gameplay.

The first time I played Abyss I was a bit underwhelmed.  I normally enjoy a game that has a high amount of strategy with elements on the board being revealed early where you plan your path to victory hoping no one sees what you are up to.  After a few more games I realized I was just looking at the game wrong.  What it is a high art game with light strategy without a lot of player interaction.  And it’s great at that.

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I won’t get into specifics on how the game plays but I will point out a specific mechanic that I enjoyed:  It is the way that exploration cards are revealed, bid on, and then ultimately placed into the Council if passed over:

On a player’s turn, they can choose to explore.  During the explore action, you flip over cards one at a time from the Exploration deck.  The Exploration deck is full of cards from each faction numbered 1-5 and a few monsters.  Other players have a chance to buy cards from you, and then if no one buys it you can choose to take the card, ending your turn, or pass that card and draw again.  You can do that up to 5 times, but that 5th time you have to take the card and end your turn, with a pearl bonus (the pearl is the currency of Abyss).  Then…. the cards that are passed over and placed into the Council, facedown.

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The Council is just a stack of cards, one for each of the five factions.  Instead of Exploring, on a player’s turn, they can choose to take one of these stacks.  Typically a player will take this stack if they see the stack get relatively large, but then they get something like 4-5 cards that are numbered 1-2 which is pretty low.

The awesome thing is, everyone passes over the low cost cards normally.  But, the game is designed in a way that if you have many small numbered cards, they can be used in multiple ways.  It’s balanced quite well and makes for a fun game no matter how well (or badly) your explorations go.  The game itself revolves around this mechanic, enabling multiple ways to victory using the Exploration cards in multiple ways.

I think my only critique of Abyss is something similar to many games in this strategic game space.  Just when you feel like you are getting the ball rolling on your end game strategy, the game ends abruptly.  It’s like a weird bell curve as you start out very slow, build up, recognize your end game strategy, then you have 2-3 turns to execute your move before someone else executes theirs.  But if I got my way, that would only mean that the game would take longer….and hey… I’m probably complaining for no reason and likely just plain wrong.  :p

If I were in my game store and you pulled Abyss off the shelf (in one of its five different box covers) asking me if it is a good game, I would ask:

  • Do you prefer light strategy games over high strategy games?
  • Do you prefer versus games that have a low amount of player interaction (attacking)
  • Do you like games more if they have great art?


If you are answering yes to those three, then Abyss is likely for you and your gaming group.  When you hear people talk about Abyss, they often mention the great art as part of the draw of this 2-4 player game.  The art is great but don’t dismiss the game if that is not something you care about.  There is a fun thematic strategy game in that box as well, and it’s worth being on your game shelf.  For me, a father of two gamers in training, it fits nicely into my collection.

David Gerrard – @dagerr

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