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Above and Below» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Pxool review: Above and Below rss

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David DeVoss
United States
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Above and Below is a worker allocation, story telling game with gorgeous artwork and solid game mechanics. In this game players take turns sending his or her workers to complete one of five actions. Players can harvest goods to increase economy, explore underground caverns to expand below, build a new building in their village (either above or below on an explored cavern), teach new villagers to be productive members of a growing town, or labor for some extra money. Points are awarded based on the buildings you have built, resources collected, and your reputation earned while exploring. The game lasts for seven rounds and the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Above and Below really comes alive during the main action of the game: exploration. When a player sends villagers to explore the caverns they are read an encounter and given choices. The encounters are short stories that are full of flavor text containing strange creatures and caves. The rewards for exploring are often goods that can be placed on your resource track to increase your income at the start of each round, coins to help you build or teach, and reputation as word of your daring or dastardly deeds spreads to the other underground dwellers. Actions are taken by exhausting villager(s) on a task. The more villagers you have, the more actions you can take on a turn. Just be sure to build enough beds so every villager has a place to sleep at night and therefore be used the next round. Since the villagers are being used on a single player's tableau, the game is largely non-confrontational. Player interaction comes from building or teaching a particularly useful building or villager before the other players.

Above and Below quickly became one of my favorite games. Friends and family are drawn to Ryan's amazing artwork which makes it really easy to get the the table. While somewhat imposing with all the piles of cards to buy from, the game plays relatively simply and can be explained to beginner players. I love this game, but its important to understand that I love the game for what it is. There are a few drawbacks to the game. First, while the encounter book is the heart of the game, it is limited. Eventually you will play through all of the encounters and you lose the excitement of every encounter being a new encounter. Another drawback of the game is the luck of the random encounters; some encounters are more beneficial than others. There have been times I played this game where there was no chance of winning because of the rewards another player was receiving from their encounters. But despite these drawbacks I have enjoyed the game again and again because of the experience it provides for the players. I get lost in the stories as I explore the underground caverns and try to explore at least once a round.

Rating: 8.5/10*
*As long as you understand the capacity of the game.
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Brad Keusch
United States
Ann Arbor
MI
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It's hard to remember we're alive for the first time. It's hard to remember we're alive for the last time.
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My biggest problem with this game was the fact that the stories are completely divorced from literally everything else you do in the game. They are chosen by die roll and often make no sense. What is even worse is that there is no resolution text, so the rewards you get ALSO often make no sense. Here is what I wrote after my play, when I was frustrated at the unrealized potential in this game:

Here is how it works:Go exploring (using at least two of your 3-4 workers to do so). Read a random passage that has NOTHING to do with anything whatsoever. Nothing to do with the people you sent on the mission, nothing to do with anything you have done so far in the game, nothing to do with the buildings you've built, nothing to do with ANYTHING, it is simply a passage chosen by a die roll. You are presented with choices that are essentially meaningless. The only choice you make is how much "explore" successes you can generate based on who you sent on the mission. Often these are trivially easy because of the range of options, in our game no one ever failed a single mission. Then when you succeed? No resolution text, no sense of any real progress or achievement at all, you simply get rewards determined by the book, in a manner that often makes no sense whatsoever. You rolled three successes? -1 reputation and one pot for you! Why does this make thematic sense? *shrug*

I do agree that the game is gorgeous, as are most of Mr. Laukat's games. I think the resource track and how it scores was an interesting idea, but overall, this game is now a hard pass for me, though I can certainly appreciate why so many people like it. Thanks for the review!
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Enon Sci
United States
Portland
Oregon
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Like Brad, I too was a bit let down by the unrealized potential of the story book. Granted, my issues were to a lesser degree (I could often rationalize appropriate resolution text to make sense of the rewards), but Near and Far looks to be correcting this flaw.

Honestly, I received the game as a birthday present from my girlfriend last year, yet it never came back to the table. That was August 30th last year, so .. wow.. we've almost come full cycle.

My biggest gripe was the unrealized potential of the commodities in this game. Sticking the into the advancement track felt like too simplistic of a mechanism, and the trade mechanic wasn't particularly enticing.

*shrug*
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Alex Kendrick
United States
Madison
WI
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The lack of resolution text does feel as though something is missing. One thing that we've found to be a lot of fun: improvise a resolution story for your fellow players that fits the story and the outcome. It doesn't have to be anything involved, but it adds a little closure and is pretty entertaining. Try it!
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David DeVoss
United States
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Thank you for all of the counter points as they make reviews more valuable to anyone trying to decide on a game. While there is no arguing the small sections of stories are disconnected, I personally like the choices offered in each encounter. Usually the rewards will be fairly obvious (either resources or money, loss or gain of reputation) and a player's decision can help gain more ground on the resource track or gain enough money to buy a powerful building at the cost of some reputation. As for no resolution text I was also disappointed at first, but starting creating the stories on my own (Like Alex suggests) with those I played with. It may be a flaw of the game that it does not provide the text, but my friends and family enjoyed the experience of explaining how I got +1 fish and +1 reputation from wading around in an underground lake.
 
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