Game: Above and Below
Designer: Ryan Laukat
Published: Red Raven Games
Playtime: 1 Hour- 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Play Type: Story Telling
You have fled a vicious barbarian attack. After an exhausting trek across unforgiving landscapes you have finally found the perfect place for a new settlement. This new land has it all, treasure, resources, and land galore. Now as you place your roots down, you must expand into your new land. This means sending explorers on expeditions, and putting roots down both above the ground and below it. It won’t be easy though, there will be a great deal of adventure and stories to be told. Hopefully this time you will be able to build stronger to chase away the impending barbarian attack.
During set up, each player will take their own player board in a color of their choosing. After this players will select three different adventurers. They will place their villages on the ready section of the board. In the center of the table will be the reputation board. This will be a communal board for all players to track reputation, game round progression and will house villagers that can be trained by players. Above the reputation board will be a few rows of buildings and outpost cards that can be purchased throughout the game.
Above and Below is played over a series of seven rounds. Each round, players will take turn using their villagers to complete one of five actions. I will go more into those actions in just a minute, but it is important to note that players will continue to use their villagers to take actions until all players have passed their turn. Players do not have to use all of their villagers every turn. Once all players have passed, the board is refreshed and a new round will begin.
Lets take a closer look at the various actions players can do with their villagers:
Harvest– Take one of the produced goods from the buildings and put it into the advancement track section of the player board. These will score money at the end of the game. Alternatively, players can place resources up for sale for other players to purchase.
Build– If a player has a villager with the hammer icon in the top left of the tile, that player can take the build action. Players must pay the cost of the building and then put it into play next to their player board. Buildings can provide a variety of benefits, such as resources additional beds, or even additional points at the end of the game. If players want to build an outpost they must first have a cave card from a successful expedition.
Train– If a player has a villager with a quill icon in the top left of their tile, that player has the option to train new villagers. Players will need to pay the cost of training the new villager, then place that villager in the exhausted section of the board. Assuming the player has enough beds, that villager will become available during the next round.
Labor– Players may exhaust any of their workers to gain a coin. The first player to take this action will also take the cider token.
Explore-In order to explore, a player must have at least two available workers. To do this action, the player must draw a cave card. They will then roll the dice, and open the encounter book to the corresponding event. The player to your left will then help you to complete the encounter.
Encounters act as a choose your own story adventure. You will have choices to make, which will have requirements to be successful. A player will need to declare their decision, and then roll one dice per villagers in the encounter. They will then check their dice to the corresponding dice on the villager’s tile. That corresponding die will have a number of lanterns underneath it. The player will add all of their villager’s lanterns together. They will then inform the assisting player of how many lanterns they acquired. That player will inform you whether you passed or failed the encounter. If you passed, they will share the resources you received and you will keep the cave card.
What if you fail? Well first, if you are close to be successful you may choose to injure a villager. For each injured villager you receive another lantern, potentially making it so that you can pass the challenge. If you choose not to do this, then you would gain no resources and you would discard the cave card.
After all actions, players will exhaust their villagers they used. Once all players have completed the actions they wish to complete, they will pass their turn. After the round ends, players will need to rest their villagers before they can be used again. A bed will allow a player to rest one villager, one section. A villager who is injured would only be able to become exhausted in a bed. In addition, players may make use of potions and ciders to more fully rest their villagers.
After seven rounds the game will end. End game scoring will include gaining one point per building built, money from the advancement track, reputation points, and finally bonus points from buildings built. The player with the most points will win the game.
The artwork in Above and Below is compelling. The whimsical look of the villagers and buildings is what drew me into the game. It has a vast array of villagers as well. The diversity in age, race, and species of villages is interesting to see and refreshing. The components themselves are also well put together. All of the tiles are easy to read, with simple iconography. The iconography is also consistent throughout the game, making it easy for new players to understand.
- Beautifully illustrated theme
- Unique blend of story telling and resource management
- A lot of well written encounters
- Replay-ability with different encounters
- Simple to teach
- More rounds are needed for game to feel complete
- Players can get caught up in the exploration and lose track of other mechanics
Above and Below creates a narrative that is entrancing and causes thought provoking decisions. The adventures that players will encounter throughout the game are well written, with interesting reactions to decisions. Sometimes these encounters are so interesting, that they can completely pull players into only wanting to add further to their narrative. This can actually hurt players in the game, because they are then not completing other integral aspects of game play. The designer did a brilliant job of not just making this game a story-telling game. Players also need to balance the resources provided to them, and develop a strategy that incorporates the various aspects of game play…not just the story telling.
There is so much to complete in the game that it frequently feels like the seven rounds given in the game play is simply not enough. The end of the seventh round feels like a halt of natural game play, rather than a smooth finishing point. I often house rule this so that the game ends after 10-12 rounds.
Overall the game is beautiful. The variety in encounters allows players to have a different experience each and every game. It has depth of strategy that will appeal to seasoned gamers, but simplicity of mechanics that can be easily understood by anyone. I would honestly suggest this game to anyone who enjoys the feeling of adventure or who enjoys games that include careful management of resources.