Above and Below is an action selection/choose your own adventure game. Game designer and artist Ryan Laukat creates a world where you recruit explorers and adventurers to your village. Those recruits collect resources, build your village, and explore the mysterious caverns below.
The rules are easy to understand, with clear pictures, examples, and a player aid on the back. The artwork in Above and Below is a unique take on a fantasy world. You won’t find any elves or dwarves, instead there are fish people, talking cats, and red-eyed stone gollems. The player mats keep your items and villagers neatly organized, and the iconography is clear and simple to remember and understand. The adventure book is spiral bound with high quality paper.
The Kickstarter version of this game came with wooden resources instead of cardboard pieces, but the cardboard resources are better in this case because they stack easily. There’s not much we didn’t like about this game, maybe some nit-picky things. The cubes that track your reputation could have been something more interesting, and if the dice had custom faces it would have been more unique. Really, there’s not much to complain about, it’s a fantastic production.
Gameplay in Above and Below is an interesting mix of a modern Euro board game and an early 90’s choose your own adventure book. You could either choose to play the game strategically, buying only above ground buildings you know will give you points and resources, or you can take a gamble by sending your villagers into the caves below to open up cave cards and find treasures and resources. However, when choosing an adventure below you can mitigate your luck by sending more villagers and improving your chance of success.
Some villagers are better at exploring, others recruiting or building, deciding where your villager would be best used is a key part of the strategy. You might send your highly skilled adventurer you trained the previous round along with a builder you don’t plan on using to explore the caverns. While exploring, they come upon a group of people attempting to burn a sorcerer. You choose to attempt to free the sorcerer, you succeed, but only after your builder becomes injured. You save the sorcerer and he comes to your village as a new recruit, but you lose reputation from the cavern dwellers. The game has a lot of give and take that way, advance in one section, but forfeit points in another. Meanwhile if you never adventure down below there’s a good chance you can still compete and win, but you’ll never see the payoff of a large amount of luck.
Most games you play you’ll be working towards building one of the major point generating cards of the game, which are more expensive but often crucial to winning the game. It’s important to buy these cards at the right time so that your opponent who may be employing the same strategy doesn’t beat you to the punch.
- Unique artwork on nearly every card.
- Adventure/luck and strategy are integrated well, both options are viable.
- Every game is totally unique, with over 100 different adventures it will take quite a few games before you see any repeats.
- The rewards you get when exploring are totally random and might not be what you want or need.
- It feels a little short, we often would like the game to go one more round.
- The kickstarter version came with additional pieces and adventures and we wish we’d backed it.
Final Thoughts and Rating
This game puts you in the middle of a beautiful, original fantasy land, with fun adventures and interesting strategic options. I just want to spend more time here.
Bonus: Try listening to the Legend of Zelda soundtrack while playing – amazing ambiance
Final Rating: [star rating=”8.5″ max=”10″ numeric=”yes”]