Down here in the South, storytelling is celebrated. My father was called a “raconteur”, which is Cajun for a story teller, and he could spin a yarn with the best of them. So let’s talk about games where you can be a raconteur.
I’ll bet your game group loves Euro games, and especially town building games, but wish they had a little more flavor. I like Machi Koro as much as the next gamer, but I can’t be the only person who finds that the game is a little…hollow. Sure the card art is okay, and it is fun to build your little town, but I can’t help but feel that the game is missing something, even with the Harbor Expansion.
Or take Puerto Rico, for instance. Sure it is fun to pretend to be a settler, growing corn and indigo, and building purple buildings all over your piece of the island. But be honest, do you ever really feel like you are exploring the island or building up your little community?
Does your game group give a little shrug whenever Machi Koro or Puerto Rico hits the table? Does your game group like to build little towns and villages, but wants a little more kick to the game?
Then, Spice it up! with Above and Below!!
Above and Below is a 2015 release from Red Raven Games for 2-4 players, that plays in about an hour and a half to two hours (although the latter time is probably more for a group’s first ever play.) The game is designed, produced, illustrated, play tested, written, sold and apparently smelled by That Renaissance Man, Ryan Laukat. Yes, you read that right…he not only designed the game but draw all of the whimsical artwork, too.
First, a little about the artwork and components. Laukat is really coming into his own with a unique art style (that apparently he is carrying over into his newest game, Islebound.) Laukat has been doing game art since way back in the original Dominion card game set, but these characters are just fun right out of the box. When my son first looked at the cards, he immediately started giving them a “clan” name, and chose an entire group of big mustaches as his starting villagers. The graphic design is big while pleasant, and the components are all top quality.
Ryan calls the game a mixture of two of his favorite types of games: storytelling and grand village building. (He likened the game to a combination of Tales of the Arabian Nights and City of Iron, in this great interview at The Inquisitive Meeple. To quote Ryan:
The goal of the game is to build the most impressive new village, and players accomplish this by buying building cards, collecting as many different types of goods as possible and constructing outposts in the caverns they explore.
And that is definitely the game in a nutshell, and both parts (village building and cavern exploring) are equally as fun. During each turn, you have the option to recruit more villages, build more buildings, and harvest the goods you can produce from your buildings — sure, sort of standard worker placement / engine building fare, right?
And you are probably thinking, in Machi Koro, you have so many more buildings to choose from (especially with the expansions). Why is Above and Below so much more spicier?
Because Ryan brilliantly added the best part — exploring the caverns below your village. Each time you encourage at least two of your villages to go spelunking, they will meet different denizens of the caverns and have short adventures (spoiler alert – some are longer than others!) They may be asked to save a fair maiden in distress, or break up a fight, or explore dangerous areas of the caverns, or…or…hey there are over 200+ adventures in the beautifully produced adventure book, so you will just have to play the game (or use your imagination!)
If your game group likes dry, themeless euros or only plays combat oriented battle arena type games….well this game is not for your group. But if you have a group that is into engine building games, city building games, and adventure style games, and the players have a little fun, enthusiasm and maybe even some theatre in them, then this game is for your group.
If your game group is quickly losing interest in Machi Karo — and frankly, I cannot blame them — then spice up your next game night with Above and Below. I give it four out of five cayenne peppers!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler…