Bystrice nad Pernstejnem
What do you know about Colombia? It will perhaps not be much, as well as with us a few weeks agou. When we asked players about it at the beginning of the first game, we learned only two things: it is located in South America, and there are rampant drug cartels there. That information is known from many movie thrillers. Someone has finally remembered name of its capital - Bogota.
Geographically, Colombia is interesting country, because it is washed by waters of both Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Adjacent countries are Venezuela and Ecuador. They speak Spanish there and pay with pesos. But would you imagine the fact, that their country is also a major producer tobacco and emeralds? Its dominance in the last twenty years of the last millennium was decided with fierce battle and also USA intervention. And we will be a part of it now, as a lesson of history, but mostly as fun..
Andean Abyss is name of new game from GMT Games, which just deals with this power crisis. This is the first game in COIN series (INsurgency and COunterinsurgency), a games with a rebel theme and attempts to suppress it.
It's been a while since we have chance to talk about game Labyrinth: War on Terror. Combating terrorism was built on very similar principles, because this pair of games is made by the same author - Volko Ruhnke. Andean Abyss, however, is novelty for 2012, and was eagerly awaited by fans of all tactical card-driven games (card-driven games).
Everybody just cheered, when GMT Games company managed to pip this issue before Christmas 2012. A few days or weeks later, it came also to Czech market and to us on our editorial desk. But it took a little longer, than we are used to, to test it. Finally we underwent (this time collaborate) writing of its review and it gets published today.
Game will not leave you in doubt, that you are holding box from GMT. High quality packaging of solid cardboard can survive probably even a monster truck crossing over it. On green cap of this box, which clicks perfectly with game topic, you will find a local soldier coming from the jungle with a machine gun around his neck. The box itself is again very rich in components. Although there are lots of cardboard tokens, but at first glance, their function is unclassifiable. Therefore, we will skip it for now.
Large folded map takes us to the next level of description. It has a height of 85 cm and is made of a really hard cardboard, so you have to be careful, that your table sustains its weight. Anyway, its holding the whole of Colombia on it. Now the country is of course drawn on a map, while there are a lot of different boxes and scales around, serving various purposes.
Main component are still cards. In Andean Abyss, there are not so many, namely package consists of 76 pieces. And while this game is card-driven, it could seem as there is not much of them. Big advantage are wooden components, are they are main reason of the whole box weight.
With plastic bags, you get a pile of wooden tokens - government controls dark blue soldiers (30) and light blue police (30). There are also many hexagons indicating all three available guerrillas - FARC, AUC and drug Cartels. Each of the participating four sides (three guerillas and government) get also round tokens in their respective colors - blue, red, yellow and green.
Wood accompanies us across other components, because you will find also black and white pieces and eight columns. On a separate sheet, you can see help pages for each player's and also charts of course of the game. Conclusion is made with trio of six-sided dice.
Now we must return back to the map Colombia, where you will find towns and villages connected by roads. Now these lines shape different areas and create regions with different terrain. The area can be mountain, grass or forest, with number of the population living there. Around the number, there are squares for state tokens and cubes. Each of the sites themselves has also drawn set of tokens, marking their initial state for game preparation.
Within the game itself, each player takes the role of one available side. There must always be a player on the government side and the rest (one to three others) represent the guerrillas. The remaining factions, which are selected by nobody, are controlled by artificial intelligence plotted on the diagram and described in detail in the rules. As in the Labyrinth, you will find support of cities on a scale of four levels from active support to active opposition.
Players will first need to agree on the method of preparation. It can be either a classic using the default state, or open, where players have control over distribution of their initial forces. Likewise, you have to agree on additional ruling, which make rules quite clear.
Most important thing is to prepare the deck with events. First, you need to sort out four propaganda as well as set dozen cards aside (without looking - these cards will not be used in the game! - you always get a completely different course of the game), while you must shuffle remaining 60 and divide them into four roughly equal piles. One propaganda should be inserted and shuffled into each of them and they all are placed on top of each other to form a draw pile.
On the map, there are scattered forces and tokens indicating status of each region. Players put their faction token on resources scale. Cartels are disadvantaged starting at ten, everyone else has 40 points of available resources at the beginning. Using those, you pay for playing cards during a game. The scale of resources is lined around whole game board.
Each round then revolves around one event turned from the deck. At the beginning of the game, you take top card of the deck and lay it face up on the site for discarded cards. But in addition, you also turn the top card on the pile, so players know exactly, what event is going to happen in the next round and are able to prepare themselves for it properly. This allows all to plan ahead and its strictly bound with gameplay we will describe. It's nothing like in 1989: Dawn of Freedom, where you have more cards in your hand and you choose one to play.
Each card is wearing faction symbols in different order. Now according to them, you will have opportunity to take some action tied to this particular card. On the board, you will find two boxes closely linked to implementation of events and operations (executable from cards). These are names of two activities allowed by cards. They are called Eligible and Ineligible. Ideally, it causes you to alternate with your opponents during all rounds.
In fact, it is a little different. In any case, order of colors on the card determines order, in which players will be asked to do some stuff. But there is one catch, you must be also eligible. First eligible faction in order (it has its token in this box on the board), you can choose, which activity to perform - an event or operation (with the possible addition of special activity). Or you can give up your turn to get a single point of resources, if you (for example) do not want this particular event. to happen at all.
By the first player's choice, also the others are bound. Second one (also must be eligible) can do only second option, that was not chosen by his opponent. But he also has option to skip his turn. Other two players can not do anything! But they can be sure (with the exception of effects of certain events), that they will have a chance to do stuff in next move, when their token moves to eligible box.
On the contrary, players made some transactions or event this round, will be pushed over to ineligible box. This means, they can only watch others play in the next round. But its not true, when they were not able to act or they have passed - in such a situation, they remain in eligible section for a turn to come too. That's why players have the opportunity to see contents of one future card and accordingly adjust their position. They can make use of the one, that is more tactically appropriate for them.
Playing events is simple. In contrast, operations, each of the two opposing sides (government and rebels) have their special and all of those are written on the Information Sheet. Each player chooses the one he wants to do and pays appropriate number of resources points. Through operations, players can add new units, move forces on the map, change support of countries and alter other parameters, that can lead to victory.
They provide means to destroying the rebel forces, uncovering hidden cells or recruiting new soldiers. Insurgents can gather (arming and also increase the number of men in their ranks), but also terrorize some cities, reducing government's control. Each section of opposition forces can carry out some specific activities beyond the standard four. This makes sense and makes game for each side different.
After some time of switching turns and turning card, player occasionally find propaganda card (on of those four shuffled in at the beginning) and start propaganda turn. At the start of this special turn, you discover, which cities are controlled by the government and which are subjugated by the rebels. All parties aggregate their profits, for example for guerrilla bases.
All parties will then agitate before the elections and try to get people living in cities on their side by spending resources. Elections mean, that token of reigning president is moved one field to the right. This changes president from Samper to Pastrana or from Pastrana to Uribe. Government units are moved by a predetermined formula and preparation for the next part of the game commences (removing terror tokens, relocation of guerrillas into hiding, etc.).
Any of this may not occur, if at the beginning stages of propaganda, one of the opposing parties meets their victory conditions. Government wins, when its support reaches 60 points. Other factions then have a premature victory conditions focused on having a certain number of bases. But this only affects early end of the game. Otherwise, winner is decided by distance from the above objectives for each of parties involved. Who was closest to meeting his goal is the winner.
Andean Abyss is a game, to which you have to find your path. But when you do, its atmosphere and gameplay will not give you a chance to leave. Game mechanisms complement each other perfectly and presented to you on a golden platter experience of South America rebel war.
Overwhelmingly we like how the details are all interconnected and sophisticated. This is of course not case only with Andean Abyss, but it started earlier, with author's previous game, Labyrinth. This time the topic is absolutely central motivation for the players and everything is done on the basis of historical events, that underline suggestiveness of the game.
Unfortunately Andean Abyss, unlike his predecessor, has one distinct disadvantage for most players. It is built on the less known conflict, which probably does not have the appeal, as the fight against terrorism. And it will result in lesser attractiveness for players, who are not simply fans of the GMT games, Volko Ruhnke or card-driven games. There are no terrorists, no antipaties and hate. Those parties are plain unknown to most of us from the real life.
Andean Abyss is overall easier compared to Labyrinth and you will learn it in no time. We're talking of course about the basic rules, we have described. Playing alone and especially learning your way to victory will need to know the play style of all available factions and will take some time. And because each of them has some different actions, it is not easy to keep track of all this.
The first few games are here only for you to get acquainted with this game, that will grow on you before your eyes. Games are definitely different from each other, since propaganda phase occur randomly (this may be an issue for strictly tactical players), as well as different card mixture of event cards. And they may not be all played, if you succeed sooner. This is interesting and funny stuff and mechanism of player alternation is elegant. Players always choose between a pair of cards, in addition to their benefits, but must also consider their chances to really play them. The order of card evaluation is essential.
But when you weigh the box, just do not feel only weight of the components. But weight of the decisions awaiting you inside. Each round is filled with considering pluses and minuses. Playing with complete information available to all players, which in turn results in a great experience from a thrilling game.
Truth is, that the game of Andean Abyss is not predetermined to be played with less experienced opponents. While the game may end in early victory, most fights come near three hours. This time is not changed even with different number of players, because other factions have their own intelligence and have their own distinctive position on the board, no matter how many players are involved.
As a result, duel of two players becomes an interesting experience as well. Besides your own units, you must reckon with movement of other parties, not controlled by players. Yet you know rules, they are governed by, so you can simply expect, what will happen. They are perfectly predictable. Unfortunately, constant searching of diagrams may not be to the tastes of every player out there.
Volko Ruhnke transformed mechanism of card-driven games. You do not hold any cards in your hands, but uncover them sequentially from a common deck. Players can choose in advance, if they wish to participate in the card somehow. Chance to act is opened always only for two, others can only watch them play, which can make someone uncomfortable.
Each side has a different goal, which together with various actions means, that you will take away totally different impression depending on, who you choose. Role from each other is truly differentiated, although of course, the biggest difference remains between the government and all other parties in general.
Processing is perfect. From delicious, sophisticated maps, through stiff and rigid cards to a pile of wooden tokens. These are again double sided, with icons printed on it, to indicate the position of the guerrillas. This time, they are not wearing a crescent, but the coca leaf.
Andean Abyss is a real chasm. Dark, unhappy and without a light. You immerse into it without knowing, what to expect. You fall and fall and when you are already gasping for breath, you start to see signs of life. Their luster shines through the water and you will not really need to breathe anymore. This game will be enjoyed, while you drown in it!
Original review posted on DeskoveHry.com with more pictures:
You can find more our reviews not only on our site, but also on DeskoveHry.com GeekList:
Thank you for the great review Dusan.
If you liked this, you're going to like Cuba Libre and A Distant Plain, both of which use variants of this system and are coming out in August 2013!
Great review for a great game !
I liked the suggestive style of this review. not just a mechanical description, but also a specific flavor implying the intrigue, and struggle and how the player is going to feel compelled to continue on into further games.
Andean Abyss just won a Charles Roberts Award for "Best post-WW2 Board Game".