Thursday, June 13, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 42 (14-13)

#14 Abyss

In Abyss, players are competing to gain the favor of different underwater factions. The factions are cards, and Abyss is a set collection card game. In the "story" of the game, Abyss is a water world, a planet that is just one big ocean. All of the sentient life on the planet Abyss has evolved, lives, and breathes at the bottom of this huge ocean, under the sea.


Abyss is one of those games where the theme doesn't really mean anything. The theme was chosen to create an artistic direction for the game, and what an artistic direction it is! Abyss is gorgeous. The various merpeople that represent each faction are stunningly illustrated. In fact, the original print run of Abyss featured different box covers in order to showcase this art. (None of these covers marred the art by having the name or any other markings on the front of the box.) 

The awesome thing is that Abyss plays as good as it looks. On your turn, you choose one of three actions. All three actions are represented on the central game board. This makes learning Abyss pretty easy. Just learn the three regions of the board, and you know what to do.

The top region of the board lets you draw cards to gain resources. Resources in this game are just small mini sized cards which show art with a symbol representing the card's suit and a number from 1-5. These card values are weighted so that lower value cards are more plentiful than higher value cards. There are a lot of 1's in each suit, but only a few 5's.

Next to the resource draw pile there are 5 spots to place cards. The fifth and final spot has a picture of a pearl on it. Pearls are the game's currency and are represented in the game by little balls that look like real pearls. These are cool, but they roll around. So, the game includes little cups to keep them in.

When you gain resources, you must first flip the top card of the resource deck face up into the left most slot of the track at the top of the board. Your opponents can choose, if they want, to buy this resource from you, before it falls into your possession. They do this by giving you pearls that you can add to your supply. Each player can only do this once on your turn. 

The first time an opponent takes a card from you, it costs them 1 pearl. The second time an opponent takes a card from you, it will cost them 2 pearls. The cost continues to escalate, and yes, your opponents could end up taking the better cards from you, but you'll be getting that money, allowing you to do the same to them on their turn. 

If your opponent doesn't buy the card, then you can add it to your hand, or you can draw again to hopefully find a better card. The next card you draw is placed into the next available slot and again, your opponents have the option to buy this card from you, but if an opponent has already bought a card from you this turn, that same opponent can't buy a card from you again.

You can continue drawing until you find a card you like, or you fill the fifth slot – the one showing the pearl. If you flip a card into the fifth slot, you have to take it and no one can buy it from you. Also, because that fifth slot shows a pearl on it, you get to take a pearl from the bank and add it to your supply.

With your turn completed you need to clear any unclaimed resources, but these don't go into a discard pile. Instead they are organized by suit and placed face down into the stack matching their suit in the center of the board. This brings us to the second action that you can perform: Visiting the Council.

To Visit the Council, you simply select one of the face down stacks in the center of the board and add it directly to your hand. You can't look at the cards that are there before you choose. So, you may try to remember what was moved down from before, or you might just want to take a stack that has a lot of cards in it.

The bottom action is to Recruit an Ambassador. Here you spend cards of a specific suit or suits and values to take an Ambassador card and add it to a tableau in front of you. Ambassadors have different special powers that will benefit you during the game and will be a big source of victory points.

The Ambassador cards are also the major source of art in the game. These are all big tarot sized cards featuring all the gorgeous artwork that I was raving about before. One special feature on many of the Ambassador cards is the key symbol. Once you have collected three key symbols you must automatically gain a location.

Locations are special cards that sit on top of the Ambassador cards that summoned them, covering their special abilities. This is unfortunate, but necessary, as it's these location cards with different scoring conditions on them, that make you the victory points, that you will need to win the game. 

Abyss is fun, light, intuitive and beautiful. This is another one of those games that I feel is a must have for every board game collection. It's a great set collection card game that is my 14th favorite game of all time.


#13 Botanik

Botanik is a two player only tile laying game. Each player is laying tiles to create their own personal network of interconnecting pipes called their garden. Each tile contains a small section of pipe. There are five different shapes of pipe section: a straight across section, a "T" section, a bend, a crossroads, and a dead end. In addition, each pipe section is one of five different colors: black, yellow, red, green, or blue.


Thematically, Botanik is about "steampunk gardening". The pipe sections provide water and nourishment to various plants and flowers growing from the pipes. Both players start with an origin tile that represents their gardener. As they build their pipe network out from their gardener they need to keep in mind that if a pipe tile doesn't create a trail back to their gardener by the end of the game, it can't be scored.

Pipe sections are scored by color. Color groups of four or more that are connected together directly are worth 1 point per tile in that color group. If there are not at least four tiles of the same color together in a color group, those tiles don't score. You also score for flower and fruit features on a tile as long as the tile showing the feature is connected to at least one other pipe of the same color.

That's the scoring for the tile laying portion of the game, but the challenge of Botanik doesn't come from laying down the tiles into your garden. The challenge of Botanik comes from drafting the tiles. Tile drafting involves manipulating a central board that is the key to Botanik's game play.

Sitting between the players is a central board that contains three rows of five spaces each. There is a row immediately in front of each player, and a row that sits in the middle between the two players dividing them. At the start of the game, the five spaces in the middle row are populated randomly with 5 tiles.

Each round three tiles are placed randomly face up beside the board. This is the offer. Players take turns selecting tiles from the offer. When you select a tile, it doesn't go directly into your garden, it goes onto the central board. (The player who goes first will get to take 2 tiles during the round, but then the other player will go first in the next round.)

When you select a tile, you can place it into an empty space in the row in front of you, or you can place the tile on top of an existing tile in the middle row. The trick is that in order to fill an empty space in front of you, you must match either the pipe color or the pipe shape of the tile in the center row.

Once you place a tile in front of you, it's yours. But, you can't add it to your garden until it is "released." To release a tile one player (either you or your opponent) must play a tile to the central row that doesn't match the tile pipe shape or pipe color of the tile that you are trying to release. Once the center tile no longer matches the requirements for the tile that it's holding, that tile is released and added to the player's garden.

Releasing tiles can be tricky business. The central row is shared by both players. So, releasing a tile for you might also release a tile for your opponent. Optimally, you want to release your tiles without releasing your opponent's tiles at the same time. You also want to try to plan ahead, stacking the center row so that you will be able to capture the tiles that you want on a future turn.

Botanik is a fun, fast, thinky, two-player puzzle game. It's awesome! Julie and I love this game so much. It's my 13th favorite game of all time.


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