Final Thoughts on Abyss
There are many reasons for owning a board game. It might make you laugh or make you think. It might simulate something you have a keen interest or it might cover a topic so esoteric that you just can't resist. The wide breadth of themes and emotional responses that board games cover are a huge reason that I'm so fascinated with them and I can understand most reasons for wanting to own a particular game. Though I do wonder if the reason for owning a particular game primarily for its art is justified.
This is a follow up article to a game covered earlier in the month. As such, it assumes that you are familiar with the game and how it works. If this game is new to you, check out the Initial Thoughts video to see if it's a game you would be interested in.
I don't mean to disparage Abyss as a game right out of the gate, it's just such as visually impressive production that I have to address it. I mean, just look at this:
You may not appreciate the specific style, but there's no denying that the art is incredibly well done. And the high quality illustrations are emblematic of the high production values throughout the game. Whether it's the wonderfully illustrated land tiles or the plastic pearl pieces used in place of more traditional money tokens, there's no doubt that a lot of care went into the physical crafting of this game. I don't usually go on and on about art and quality of game pieces like this, but the fact of the matter is that after spending a month with Abyss the most memorable thing about it is its art.
And so I am faced with one of the most inconsequential decisions in this modern age: can I justify keeping this game around just because I admire the craft and attention that went into making this game an absolute visual treat? Do I keep it around just because it's pretty?
For all of Abyss' efforts to create a world through it's artwork, the actual gameplay does very little to support it. The theme is little more than an excuse to wow players with its fanstastical sea creatures.And if I were to ever forgive a game for this particular foible it would be Abyss because it truly is superb artwork. But underneath Abyss' elaborate presentation lies a fairly straightforward card game. With three simple actions to perform on your turn and a clear way to earn Influence Points (we couldn't just call them victory points?), Abyss is quick to jump into and any potential points of friction are polished down to a game that's as smooth as the pearls.
I can't point to any particular reason or system or rule that rubs me the wrong way. It's all done well enough and the entire game is a generally pleasant time. I even really like some parts of it. The auction that accompanies the exploration auction is legitimately fun! But Abyss doesn't excite me. I don't replay the game over in my head, second guessing my moves. It doesn't create memories for me. And I think I know why. I think Abyss might be a little too pleasant.
Don't mistake my words. I'm no masochist. I don't need a game to pummel me about the head for me to enjoy it. But I do enjoy a bit of grit. Let's take the aforementioned exploration as an example. It's a neat game of chicken, a game of pushing your luck. Do you flip over another card even though it might help your opponent or do you settle for a semi-useful card? And then it happens. You flip over that perfect card ... and it gets bought out from under your nose before you even get a chance at it. It's a painful sight to see that perfect card go into the greedy hands of your opponent. At least it would be if you didn't just make out like a bandit. Since you profit from every card bought, the blow is softened and you never have to feel that sting. You're too busy counting your pearls to really care. Any real tension is undercut by Abyss trying to make sure everyone's having a nice time. It throws points at you for just about everything you do. Fought a monster? Have some points! Recruited a lord? Have some points for paying and some more points for having a lord! You might not be playing efficiently, but you're still getting points every which way. I miss the ups and downs. I miss the sharp edges. They give me something to grab onto.
Abyss is a pop song engineered to make everyone's head bob. Abyss is a summer blockbuster that doesn't want to make the audience think too much. Abyss is a young adult novel where the girl overcomes society's rules and still get the hottest guy in school. Abyss is legitimately enjoyable, just don't expect to be provoked or challenged.
And so I'm still left with a decision. Is a game who's only standout feature is it's beautiful artwork worth owning? If Abyss had been a game of frustrations and poor design, the decision would be easy. I have no room for a bad game no matter how pretty. In a perfect world, Abyss would be an incredible game and I would herald it as a bastion of form and function. Alas, this world is far from perfect. Instead, Abyss is a perfectly OK game. But in a sea of excellence, I'm not sure OK cuts it anymore. So you might be wondering whether or not I've decided to hold onto Abyss. It wasn't an easy decision... so I had my wife make it for me. She really likes pretty things. (Then why does she like me?)