Abyss is perhaps the most beautiful game that I own. It is a set collection game of underwater politics, bribery and corruption. The artwork is dark and moody backgrounds with popping bright colours. I absolutely love it, it is one of my favourite games to photograph in fact. It is just so lovely. But you’re here to find out how you play, so let’s dive in.
Let’s Get Under The Sea, Get That Box Open
As soon as you lift the lid of the Abyss box, you are presented with the beautifully bright board. I am a big fan of my games looking and feeling high end. You have some plastic clear clam shells which are used to store the beautiful pearls that are the currency in the game. There is a shell that can be used as the central bank too. You also have the main board, a set of cardboard keys, a bunch of location tiles which should be shuffled and stacked. The monster tokens also need to be shuffled up and stacked, a smaller monster board with a red monster token, and two decks of cards; small and big. Shuffle both decks quickly before you get to the rest of the set up.
The board is kind of dark and moody with a lot of space. I guess the ocean is vast, and so is this board. Nothing is bunched together. So get that board unfolded in the middle of your table. I prefer to sit to the side of the board as you do need to access the three sections turn to turn. There are three main parts to the board, the top track is The Exploration Track. You place the deck of smaller cards there. Do NOT display any, just leave the deck face down. At the start of the game this will be mostly what you do, it becomes less important as the game progresses. The central semi circle section is The Council where the unused race cards go face down.
In my plays of this game, I tend to use the council quite a bit but my partner less so, I think the game works best if the council is used a little but not a lot. The final section along the bottom is The Court where the lord cards go, this is the larger deck. You draw cards to fill in the gaps which will be the available lords that you can bribe and corrupt to do your bidding. The shuffled larger deck of cards can be dealt out now, one into each slot.
This game has beautiful artwork on the cards, but the thing I like the most is actually the contrast between the dark backs of the cards and the bright neon artwork on the front. Considering the theme is evil corrupt lords that you bribe into doing your bidding, and the vast majority of the lords are really quite ugly looking, I just love the art and think the whole thing is a feast for the eyes.
You need to set up the Abyss monster board and place the red eel token onto the top spot of the track, nearby to this wee board put the stack of monster tokens face down and also the supply of keys and pearls too. Take yourself a clam and a pearl each and then that is the setup.
Let’s Get Playing
Ahead of getting started, the aim of the game is important to know. You need to get as many IP (influence points) as possible, you get these from the lords that you sway, the locations that you control, the strongest allies from each race that you affiliated to the lords when you recruited them, any monster tokens you won, and the weakest ally from each race in your hand at the end of the game.
Randomly determine the first player of Abyss. You can do this in any way you like, some of the ways that are commonly used to decide who goes first is by a simple dice roll, however, some people like to go all out and do it based off of something more personal. A simple google search can give you some creative ideas.
There are three actions you can do on your turn, this is the first of them and we will look at them each in turn. The first player will always have to start by “exploring the deep”, which is the only way to get ally factions into your hand at the start of the game. You need ally factions in order to sway lords which are the main point scoring ability for the game. To explore the deep you turn over the first card from the small card ally deck. The deck contains five factions in five colours; squid, crabs, seahorses, jellyfish (jellies), and shellies (not the real term but I like this better). These come in values from one to five, indicating the strength of the ally. There are far more of the lower value cards than the higher strength ally cards.
Within this deck are also hidden the monster cards too which present you with a choice of either fighting the monster and ending your turn and taking the reward or you can leave the monster and just move the red token down to the next better reward and continue exploring. If it is an ally from any of the five factions then you must first offer it to your fellow players. The first card that is bought from you has a cost of one pearl, the second costs two and if a third is bought then you charge the buyer three pearls. If no one wishes to buy the “poxy” one seahorse card you just drew then you may choose to take it, although for a one value you are unlikely to want to.
If you choose to continue, you draw the next card, again offering to your fellow players. Anyone can buy from you once, but they cannot buy multiple cards from the same player. You can keep going in this fashion until either you elect to stop by taking the card or fighting a monster, or you get to the end of the track. Making it to the end rewards your plucky pushing of your luck with a pearl as well as your card.
Once you have your reward, you then place all the cards you didn’t choose face down into the correct faction area of the council. Which sets up for the second action you may choose on your turn. You can choose to take a stack of face down cards from the council. This is a way of getting multiple cards in one turn, and if you are smart you may know what cards are there already. This is also a smart move as it can get you a bunch of cards quickly, but they usually will be the lower value cards.
Swaying A Lord
You are corrupt and bribing lords is your jam, but how pray do you do so? The third action option is what you are doing everything else for. It is swaying a lord. You are collecting those ally cards for this as these both offer points, abilities and also keys that will help you unlock locations which will offer you more scoring opportunities too.
The cost of each lord in Abyss is shown in the bottom right corner. There will be a number which is the total strength of allies required and the colour that must be used surrounds this, there may also be pearls indicating the number of additional factions that will also need to be used to pay for swaying the lord. I think theme wise that you pay these jellyfish and seahorses for the lords to eat, which is kind of rough, but the lords do look like they would eat them.
What kind of abilities can these lords give you though? Well that is determined by which faction type they come from, the red military lords will have adverse effects on your opponents. Things like making them discard pearls or cards. The green lords will gain you pearls, the blue ones will let you gain additional lords or swap lords around with the Court. Some are one time bonuses and some of the lords have ongoing abilities which are active until the lord is covered by a location tile. Some of the lords will also have keys in the top right of the card. Once you collect three keys be those from fighting monsters or from your lords, you must choose and take a location to control.
The final thing you do on your turn is see if you have three keys in your possession. If you do then it is time to get a location tile. These offer sweet scoring opportunities but they will disable some of your sweetest lord abilities. You may select the face up tile, or you can draw blind 1/2/3 or 4 tiles and select one from those. Any you do not choose will be left face up in the market for your opponents to choose from should they wish later. Having said that, these locations are your points on the line so I ALWAYS draw four if I am drawing blind, I want as many choices as possible to find what works best for me. Once you “use” a key for a location, then you have to cover over the lord with the key you used, deactivating its ability. So you may want to try and hold off on getting that lord with a great ability if you would get a location immediately.
Abyss End Game Scoring
The game ends once a player gets their 7th lord. You need to keep an eye on your opponents as there really is a chance that someone could run away with the victory because you have been faffing about and not getting lords or locations quick enough. It is an eyes up game for sure with quite a bit of player interaction.
At the end of the game, you take your finishing hand and put the weakest ally from each faction still in your hand into a scoring pile first and then discard the rest of your allies. Tot up the scores from the monster tokens you hold, that scoring pile you just made, the base points of the lords that you recruited too. Then calculate how much each of your locations scores, and also the strongest ally from each race that you affiliated. The player with the most points wins, if there is a tie it is broken by the player who has the most pearls.
Expand This Game
There are two expansions for Abyss that are available. The first is the Bombyx Abyss: Kraken which brings in some more corruption in the form of silver pearls. These are worth negative points and can be spent as regular pearls but only if you have no “normal” pearls available to spend. So getting rid of them is tough, but the cards that give you them are simply so powerful. The additions to the game that this offers are relatively small and subtle, which you would expect from a small box expansion, but I do enjoy playing with it still as a shakeup to the base game.
The second expansion is Leviathan: Abyss which adds some direction to how the monsters are fought. In the base game, you just fight the monster and always win, but in this expansion, there is abit more about the fighting aspects. This introduces a lot more strategy to the gameplay in my humble opinion.
Read the Abyss Review here!