Abyss + Abyss: Kraken review

Abyss was something we checked out at GenCon after seeing the amazingly good box art in our local store a few times, and it was the right sort of middle-weight euro-ish game that Angelica likes best. We re-checked it out last weekend, this time with the Kraken expansion, and definitely still liked it though I’m not sure how much more with the Krakens.

First things first about this game: the art is amazing. Every Leader is different and each one is absolutely beautiful. The theme is consistent and it’s a joy to look at.

Unintentional action shot of "where will the next location go"
Unintentional action shot of “where will the next location go”

The goal is the euro-style “collect victory points”. The main flow of the game is revealing little ally cards of various ocean themed suits. Everyone else has a chance to buy it off you before you get a chance to take it. If they don’t you can take it or keep exploring for new cards. Any cards you don’t keep are added to little piles of unwanted allies. On future turns people can take one of those piles instead of drawing new cards.

The cards are then spent to buy Leaders. Leaders come with various powers that alter game rules. You see where this is going.

There’s also an added complexity of Locations that alter scoring and remove powers from leaders. It adds a bit of (pardon) depth to this ocean abyss themed game.

Full board + various other bits
Full board + various other bits

The game’s hook is mostly tied to the great art, very solid design of all leader cards, and in the clever “pearl economy” manipulation. Pearls let you break the rules slightly by buying cards on other people’s turns or not paying the full price for leaders. Flip side, if you use it to buy allies out of turn you give them directly to your opponent and now they can use it right back against you.

The above is for the base game. This time we played with the Kraken as well and this adds some interesting dynamics. The big one is a new wildcard Kraken race that when used provide you with Black Pearls that count for negative points. Possibly quite a lot of negative points. This mechanic is a lot like the corruption track in the Scoundrels expansion of Lords of Waterdeep: not so bad if you have a  couple, but very bad if you’re the one with the most.

It also adds some other less interesting mechanics like “reserve this spot” Leader tokens and treasure matching Push-Your-Luck locations that we never managed to draw. And while interesting, it doesn’t really fit with the game at all, almost feeling like a mini-game in an RPG.

So overall, Abyss is still a great game if you like the genre, and especially if you’re someone who appreciates good art design. Plays quickly and is quite fun. As far as Kraken: if you find yourself bored with the base game and want it to be a bit more competitive, then give it a shot, but it’s not nearly as imperative as Scoundrels is for Lords of Waterdeep.

7 Wonders: Duels review

Went to store to get one last present, left with present and 7W:D.

7 Wonders: Duel. Pretty much perfect for us

It’s a card builder and a variation on the drafting formula. It’s 2 player, has multiple ways to win, contains strong strategy, and plays in 30 mins. It’s basically perfect for us.

The game is comparable to a simpler 7 Wonders, or a more complex Sushi Go, but instead of drafting (which is always awkward with 2 player, Tides of Time excepted), you pick the cards, solitaire style, from the table, as long as there’s no other cards on top.

About half those cards are face up, and half are face down. As they become available, the face down cards flip up, which prevents perfect knowledge (and the accompanying paralysis). The result is an interesting dynamic between choosing the best card for yourself, taking the best card for your opponent so they can’t have it, or playing towards the unknown and hoping nothing amazing comes up before your next turn.

7 Wonders: Duel. An early metropolis

The game is at its heart a “buy cards, use cards to pay for bigger cards” style game, with a few complexities like money, a war tracker, scientific research, and the titular wonders that everyone competes for. Cards can be sold for money, money can be used instead of resources, and certain cards ‘chain’ so that owning it can pay the cost of a different card later. And it’s all modified by the rule changing scientific research and wonders.

It’s also a good example of design where there’s a lot of long term strategy, but only a few choices available at any single moment (only so many cards that can be picked up) so there isn’t much decision paralysis. Makes the game interesting without being stressful as there’s less you juggle in mind as you play.

It’s really a quite neat game. We’re liking it a lot.

Neuroshima Convoy (1st ed) review

Seeing as the second edition of the game is out now and everyone’s getting it in their BGGcon goodie bags, I figured it was time to give this one another try at work.

It’s tempting as a work lunchtime game: 20 minute play time, no board, just cards, 2 players, how hard can it be?

Neuroshima Convoy, 1st ed
Neuroshima Convoy, 1st ed (Sorry for the shoddy photo, I didn’t see how glare-y it was

Very hard. Incredibly hard. Portal hard. The rules are deceptively simple, other than list of small things you have to remember constantly which, since the game is so short, come up all the time. Example: “You win the fight, as a bonus you get to destroy a region and also a robot gets to move for free, then it’s power of enter triggers, and it gets a +1 for moving to an opposed city, and then you have to move a different robot and then that triggers as well but there’s no +1 cause that’s not a non-active city and also a different robot had a “on win” trigger so you have to do that now and then…”

There’s also the fact that the game is 100% interaction between cards, and there’s some unique card interactions in there. You’ll reference the manual a lot while playing.

Having said that, the game is very good once you get the rules right and come to grips that it’s not a “win battles”/”territory control” game. It’s a milling game, pure and simple, with a battle theme. Outpost is here to make Moloch mill, Moloch is here to rush through before the deck runs out. It’s incredibly tight and balanced flawlessly. Also very stressful.

It’s definitely a game for gamers by gamers. If you want a great example of balance, combos, control, and asymmetry, look no further. Just be willing to put in a good 3 playthroughs before you get the hang of it. Though get the 2nd printing if you can. The art is nicer, and text on cards adds a lot to playability.