Above and Below
Designed by Ryan Laukat
Published by Red Raven Games
Above and Below is the story of rebuilding after disaster. Your village was destroyed by barbarians and you’ve moved your people to a new place to start a new life. However, you find beneath the ground is an intricate series of tunnels and the opportunity to discover great treasure. You’ll need to build new buildings, recruit new villagers, harvest resources, and explore the world below to win.
You start the game with three villagers: one builder, one trainer, and one explorer. All are capable of going cave diving, the explorer just has the chance of rolling better. You can spend income to purchase new buildings, each of which have special actions, or purchase new villagers to train. If you choose to go into the caverns you take a cave card and roll one die. The pips correspond to a paragraph number in the adventure book. Another player reads and gives you options to choose from. Different options provide different rewards but you won’t know what those rewards are until after you roll. The game is played out over seven rounds and at the end you calculate points based on the number of buildings you have, how many of each resources you’ve accumulated, your reputation score, and any bonuses you get from specific cards.
My wife and I had a wonderful time playing Above and Below. Sometimes you come across games that say they are for two players, but as you play them you realize the experience would be more complex and interesting with at least a third. Above and Below works beautifully as a two player game and plays surprisingly fast. My wife actually commented that she wished there were a few more rounds. In total we played three full games. The first game was naturally a lot of figuring out the mechanics and making sure we were comprehensive in our actions. About halfway through that first session things began to click. By the third game, we were deep in the strategy and realizing what benefits delving into the caves beyond creating a very fun, light fantasy story.
I was reminded a bit of IDW’s Machi Koro, a city building game, where certain cards are considered top shelf premium ones based on their cost and benefits. In Above and Below, there are six star buildings that provide multiple benefits if you can afford their large cost. There’s also four interchangeable star buildings that provide similar but less powerful benefits. Three pools replenish during your rounds of play: new villagers, regular buildings, and underground buildings. Each playthrough created vastly different villages for the both of us. Resources are harvested either from buildings or going into the caves. Once you have resources you can either stockpile them (which increases your income) or offer them up for sale to other players. At the end of the game you add up the resources you have stockpiled and multiply them by a point value based on where they were place on the stockpile track. So, selling resources can help the buyer increase that score while giving the seller a few quick gold pieces.
Above and Below is a game we would definitely play again. It takes a little more time to set up than the simple card games we had been playing, but nowhere near the set up time of games like Eldritch Horror and the like. If you are looking for a very deep, complex resource management game this is not for you. A perfect game to introduce someone to resource management without overwhelming them with too many actions and options. Because of the numerous building and variety of villagers, including special villagers that can only be recruited through going into the caves, there is a lot of replayability. Highly recommending this game.