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.
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.
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.