When Peter reached out to me following one of my blog posts on Board Game Geek a few weeks ago, we got on very well and Peter kindly invited me to join the Great Indoors community of contributors - thank you, Peter, for the great opportunity to be here in front of you today.
I like writing about games I’ve enjoyed playing a few times and try to discuss what I think makes them unique, always with a positive spin – I also enjoy engaging in conversations in the comments section.
I am particularly interested in:
- the implementation of Artificial Intelligence,
- the elegance of Graphic Design,
- the depth of player interactions (in particular positive player interactions),
- how evocative the theme is and how it gets players immersed,
- how interesting the decisions players have to make are.
What game do you like that matches any of the points above? Please let me know in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading and for being part of an amazing community.
Until next time, Victor.
If you want to read the blog that attracted the attention of The Great Indoors, continue reading!
Today I am going to talk about what, in my opinion, is so special about Above & Below. I am not going to review the game, but I have to say it is one of the most poetic games I have ever played. The game isn’t perfect and I will give some ideas how it could have done an even better job.
From my point of view, the setting of this game is what’s making it so special. It is essentially a fantasy medieval setting and even though it has a distinct beginning and ending, I want to keep playing in that setting, just because I love it so much. I want to be there, occupy it, continue to have adventures in that setting. It is capturing me at a level I didn’t think possible. What is striking to me is the impact the setting can have on my reaction to the game. So, how did Above & Below manage to create that world and get the player excited about it?
The art of the game
Ryan Laukat created a stylised world with bright colours and naïve art, that instil happiness and curiosity. I would have liked characters to have a bit more back story and personality beyond their ability characteristics.
A game that tells stories
Above & Below is one of the first games to build on what Tales of the Arabian Nights experimented with its book of tales to tell stories. It is quite similar to the event decks in Robinson Crusoe; a story followed by a decision to be made and finally consequences. Using a book of tales rather than cards allows for possibly longer stories and intricate ones.
Some stories reveal some glimpses of a bigger one and it is exciting to play over and over to try and unveil the background story of the game. Saying that, it could have been done much more and I don’t think the game truly makes the most out this format. Stories are usually short and consequences are not thematically elaborated. ‘You decide to fight this monster? Ok, get 2 fishes.’ The perfect story would come along with some art, be detailed, intricate, offer a varied set of decisions, ability checks would use the full spectrum of possibilities and consequences would be thematically explained. Similar to Time Stories, the story teller would be encouraged to talk about the story rather than read it.
As it stands, the usual story is plain text, relatively short and very linear. The set of decisions is very similar from one story to another, and the spectrum of ability checks is quite narrow (usually needing between 4 and 7 lanterns to succeed). Consequences to your decisions are not explained. Stories are related to adventures in the caves below at the moment, which is one possible action amongst many. It would have been bold to use the Stories mechanism to other actions. Robinson Crusoe is using event decks for many actions, like exploration, gathering, crafting and crisis at the beginning of each turn. In Above & Below, above can feel a bit blend and mechanical compared to below.
A game with morality
The decisions the player makes have moral consequences. And morality is integrated as a cool mechanism. Should the player make licentious decisions during their adventures, they will tend to get better short term rewards but will face a penalty at the end of the game. So the player doesn’t feel encouraged in one direction or another. But it kind of breaks decision making during adventures as it is quite straightforward to foresee consequences of both decision options, which one will give you the best short term reward but an end game penalty.
The game is light weight, just like its theme and it is easy to have a great time playing. It would have benefited from more player interaction though and especially positive ones, like Concordia (actions that benefit more than just the active player). For example, it would have been cool to go on adventures with another player or build shared buildings, or you get to produce a certain type of resource each time another player produces one for themselves.
What is your favourite aspect of Above & Below? Can you think of another great implementation of world building? How did the designer manage to make this world come to life ?
Let’s discuss in the comments section!