Above and Below: a playtesting report

As I write this I notice that Above and Below is #3 on the hotness... Sweet.

I playtested Above and Below last night as the Sandy Board Game Design Meetup, and our session was cut short, so I am posting this for the benefit of Ryan (and any interested parties). Since this was played at a playtesting night, I expect that some of this review will not apply to the final game, but I thought I would post what I felt about the game.

The artwork which was completed was excellent. The village that you build has a distinct feel to it. Reminds me of a nostalgic look at the fantasy Japanese countryside in a Miyazaki film (perhaps Laputa). The people tokens were not yet complete, but the sketches on them were of all sorts of people (slanted toward bearded/facial haired men ever so slightly). There was one fish person and one little girl with pigtails and a hammer. I liked that the people were unique and that they all felt a bit different (I swear that I picked up lord yupa as my first trainee).

The game play involved some cool new ideas (to me at least) and some tried and true ones.

You start with a a single building and a few people and try to build a larger village. The people all had stats which reflected their abilities, so some could train people, some could build buildings and some were better at adventuring. There was even one guy that could do all three.

You took turns having one of your ' workers' perform one action. (I parenthetize workers because this didn't feel like a worker placement game because there was no competition for placement). In this aspect it reminded me of Marvel Dice Masters a little.

The possible actions were: build, train, harvest, labor, or adventure.

Building: There was also a palette of buildings that you could build from. (Which had assigned costs on the cards and abilities). To build one you exhaust a person who can build and then pay the cost of the building. Half the buildings in the game were underground buildings, so to build them you had to go on an adventure first (more on that later.)

The buildings provided the ability to 'rest' more of your exhausted people, to harvest resources, or to get money or points.

Training: During the game there was a queue of people that could be trained and inducted into your village. This mechanic reminded me of selecting cards in Eight Minute Empire (or a race in Smallworld for that matter). To get a guy you just had to exhaust a trainer and pay the cost, with the farthest people from the front of the queue costing more.

Both of the places to get new stuff (the person queue and the building palette) were shared between all the players.

Harvest/Labor: anyone could do these actions and they provided a resource or a money respectively.

The resources are interchangeable in terms of game rules, however collecting lots of different types of resources improves your economy and gives you points, so you probably want to collect them all (and trade them with your friends).

Adventuring: This was a cool element of the game. Your guys could all go on adventures alone or in bands (some were better at adventuring than others, but all could adventure a little bit). You roll a die and consult a card and then read a story set up paragraph that presents your guys with a challenge. There were 100 story paragraphs that existed when I played, but I understand that Ryan is planning on at least doubling that.

After the paragraph is read you have a decision (or sometimes multiple decisions) to make. You can usually select an easier or a harder challenge and then roll some dice and possibly add bonuses based on your adventuring party's composition to determine the outcome.

The mechanic for determining success is dependent on the stats of the party. Each person (that I saw) had at least one threshold number and a number of successes associated with it. For instance, if a guy has: "2->*, 5->**" on him then if you roll a dice for him and get >= 2 you get one success. If you rolled >= 5 then you instead get 2 successes. Each party member gets to roll one die and then applies their successes to the adventure's results (so a large party is pretty certain to get good rolls). If you fail by a small amount you can injure one (or more) of your guys to push your success count up by one for each guy that you injure.

If you succeed then you found a place to build an underground building (which tend to be cheaper to build or provide rare resources) and you also get a benefit that is associated with the adventure that you went on (for instance, if you stole fruit off of a sentient underground tree then you get some fruit).

The text of the adventures is well written and provides a glimpse into the rich world that Ryan is making.

The adventures seemed to be in between the level of Tales of the Arabian Nights and Caverna. There are story elements of the adventures (unlike Caverna), but they do not seem to provide as many options as TAN.

I did not cover a lot of the game, but I did like the game quite a bit (and am not really sad that Ryan bumped War of the Void down to work on this instead, this word is so rich and interesting, and the game provides a lot of the same mechanics of the aforementioned game).

In other news, We playtested "Witch Hunt" and "Booby-Trap Manor" as well during the meetup.

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