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Subject: Above and Below - First Impression after a Gen Con demo rss

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Ryan Trepanier
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While attending my first Gen Con ever, I had the chance to demo both games that Ryan Laukat, of Red Raven Games, was showing off. This review, however, is going to focus on Above and Below, his kickstarted game set to release in November.

Overview
Above and Below is a competitive tableau/engine building game where you are creating your new home after your last one was destroyed. Additionally, the place that your tribe has settled on contains a vast underground world, with tunnels, caverns, etc. This adds a story-telling element to the game, as you will send some of your workers to explore this world. Every time they go underground, someone will read a scenario and you will have to choose what you want to do. At the end of 7 rounds, the player with the most points wins. Simple enough, not re-inventing the wheel or anything, but a nice fresh take on the story-telling genre.

Components
As I got to see the final copy of this game, no longer a prototype, I feel it is fair to comment on the finished components. All of the tokens are represented by strong cardboard pieces, and the cards used are nice and thick as well. No skimping. The components were good for what was needed of them!

Graphic Design
For anyone who flocks to Ryan Laukat's games, you'll of course know that he does his own artwork as well as the design. If you like his style, this is more of the same. I personally thought it was great. There is a playfulness to his style, and it works well in this type of game. It's bright (above ground), and looks appealing even from afar. One of his prettier games for sure.

Gameplay
One of the problems I have with other games from Ryan Laukat, is that I feel he focuses so hard on the mechanics of the game, and forgets about theme and the general feelings you will have while playing the game. Both 8-minute empire and Artifacts Inc. felt like this to me, and while I could appreciate very solid, well thought out mechanics, I didn't really enjoy myself. Above and Below DOES NOT repeat this problem. His mechanics are great, as is to be expected at this point, but the story-telling aspect of the game infuses the theme that most of his games have been sadly lacking. To me, the combination of the Civ building with the story-telling makes an incredible gaming experience. The four of us playing the demo (2 couples) had an absolutely great time, and we did not know each other. So, the experiences we created from the game were genuine, and were due to the stories coming out from exploring the underworld. Had the game not had the story-telling part, it would still have been a mechanically sound game, much like his other things. WITH the stories, it pushed the game over an edge. This feels like a more Euro-version of something like Dead of Winter or Arabian Nights. You feel like you are actually competing and trying to win in ADDITION to the story, rather than the story just being the game. To me, it's a perfect marriage of two elements.

Now, if I have one gripe, it's perhaps the quality of the paragraphs in the book. Some of the stories are good, and others read as if they haven't been edited for clarity or ease of reading. Players were stumbling over awkward and unnecessarily complex sentences and/or words. It's a small complaint, and really, it did not detract from the experience.

Overall
I think Ryan Laukat has a hit on his hands. If this gets enough buzz, and it feels like it has already judging by how busy the booth was all week at Gen Con, this game could take off like a gunshot. It's not a perfect game, but it comes close enough by creating those moments in gaming that you remember weeks after you've played them. If you like story-telling at all, watch out for this game coming in November!!
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Ian Fraser
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Well put! You can join me in a game when my Kickstarter copy arrives this fall.
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Nick Mariner
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SO eagerly awaiting this game. I love all of Laukat's stuff so far, and I'm glad to hear this one is turning heads.
 
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Pas L
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We are doing reviews of demos now?
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Ryan Trepanier
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lamaros wrote:
We are doing reviews of demos now?
This is the game shipping in a month or two. It's not changing. This way people can read impressions of a game before it releases and get it right away. I don't see any harm in it. It's a demo of a completed game, not a prototype. And it was a full demo. No rule changes, and we played a full length game.
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Jeremy Likens
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lamaros wrote:
We are doing reviews of demos now?

Yep! Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did.

(And for the record, why not? It helps the rest of us get a better idea of the game, as a review should. Also, it is identified as "first impressions" from a "demo" so there should be no confusion on the matter anyway.... Thanks OP!)
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Pas L
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Next up: the final rulebook first impressions review.

I get it, its just odd. I prefer a good detailed review, rather than this first in BGG craze.
 
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Jared
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Normally, I think a game should have a few plays to get a review but I really enjoy hearing about first impressions on game demos. I never get to go to the cons and when the review is so well written it really offers a small peak at an upcoming game.

Great work!
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Asger Harding Granerud
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lamaros wrote:
Next up: the final rulebook first impressions review.

I get it, its just odd. I prefer a good detailed review, rather than this first in BGG craze.


The solution to your problem is both: pretty straight forward and entirely in your own hands!

Regards
Asger Granerud
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Freelance Police
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lamaros wrote:
I get it, its just odd. I prefer a good detailed review, rather than this first in BGG craze.


Then don't read a review that says "first impression" or "demo" in it. The game will hit retail and I'm sure we'll have several in-depth reviews.

And you Eurogamers have it easy! Just count how many flamewars threads about the token-flipping mechanic in the unreleased Runebound 3rd edition us Ameritrashers have to go through!
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