W. Eric Martin
• Like that ugly mug staring at you? Credit goes to French publisher Bombyx and artist Xavier Collette, who have adopted a bold look for the cover of this August 2014 release from designers Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier. Yes, that's the game's cover: textless and unforgettable, with the game's name and assorted details on the back and sides. In any case, here's an overview of the setting and gameplay of Abyss:
The Abyss power is once again vacant, so the time has come to get your hands on the throne and its privileges. Use all of your cunning to win or buy votes in the Council. Recruit the most influential Lords and abuse their powers to take control of the most strategic territories. Finally, impose yourself as the only one able to rule the Abyssal people!
Abyss is a game of development, combination and collection in which players try to take control of strategic locations in an underwater city. To achieve this, players must develop on three levels: first by collecting allies, then using them to recruit Lords of the Abyss, who will then grant access to different parts of the city. Players acquire cards through a draft of sorts, and the Lords of the Abyss acquired on those cards grant special powers to the cardholder — but once you use the cards to acquire a location, that power is shut off, so players need to time their land grabs well in order to put themselves in the best position for when the game ends.
So you've gotcher basic "grab the vacant throne" premise, but with players now headed underwater to bring finned friends to their side.
In more detail, you have three ways to advance in Abyss, starting with the recruitment of forces from allied nations, specifically Crabs, Octopi, Jellyfishes, Hippocampus, and Shells. (I'm not sure what shells are going to do to sway others to your side, but I'll admit to not being in close proximity to shells anytime recently.) Among each nation, you'll find support from values 1-5, with higher-valued cards being harder to come by. Players recruit allies through a push-your-luck mechanism that I've seen described as being reminiscent of Animalia, which was co-designed by Cathala, with opponents being able to scoop up the allies you first made available, but only by paying you for the privilege.
Allies passed over by all players make their way to the Great Allied Council to take comfort amongst one another. If you call upon the Council, those spurned allies join forces at no cost to you because they're happy that somebody finally wants to use their talents. Their combined force might prove greater than allies that cost pearls — the currency of Abyss — so keep watch on the growing Council and make sure that opponents don't get a bargain at your expense.
With allies in hand, you can recruit Atlantean Lords, each with a unique power, each granting influence, and each belonging to one of the game's guilds:
-----• Merchants, who grant control over pearls
-----• Mages, who help keep allies under control
-----• Soldiers, who obstruct opponents
-----• Politicians, who help you finagle control over other Lords
-----• Farmers, who grant more influence thanks to the algae they grow, which provides energy for the underwater realms
Certain Lords bear a key, and with three keys in hand, you gain control of one of the Sacred Places of the Abyss, gaining more influence. When a player recruits her seventh Lord, each player takes a final turn, then tallies her influence from Lords under her command, areas under her control, and allies that you've swayed to your side. Says Cathala, "Abyss is a rather intense experience, playing out in 45 minutes and combining push-your-luck, resource management, and card effect combos."
Bombyx plans to release Abyss in the U.S. and Europe in August 2014, with Asmodee handling distribution and the game debuting at Gen Con 2014 in North America.