I’ve never been one for exploring far and wide and, although I did a spot of caving as a youth, think life below the earth is best left to worms and moles. That said I have gone out and purchased myself a brand spanking new puzzle solving explorers trilby and full knee length passage walking boots with built in expandable side passage detectors. Why such elaborate apparel you may well ask…and I think you did ask it well….well, the answer is simple.
I had me a few moments of spare time to kill so I descended a mysterious staircase leading me down to a deep underground corridor and inadvertently found myself almost instantly lost in a labarynth of passages and sinister rooms…
What’s All The Fuss About?
The Abandons by Puzzling Pixel Games is a super simple to play but an extremely tricky bugger to get out of. I shall provide the smallest of *spoilers here….I died many times in a multitude of dead ends and races back to the start due to collapsed tunnels.
This is a new solo game coming to kickstarter soon. It is first and foremost (a phrase I may resort to over use) a puzzle solving game. The premis is as follows…
“Have you ever felt like someone was calling you but nobody was there? A voice deep within the crevices of your mind that you typically give little attention. You felt that voice this morning, but this time, it was clear – it was calling you! The voice became loud enough to gnaw at your sanity yet you need to find out where it’s coming from.You run to your home and grab your satchel, which contains some odds and ends. As you start moving west towards the setting sun, you turn around to face your home, possibly for the last time. You don’t care. The need to escape is too much. The need to escape the voice is even greater. Yet, the need to follow the voice is consuming! You’re ready for an adventure. You’re ready for the unknown. Little do you realize, you may
end up alone. Welcome to…THE ABANDONS!”
In the game, The Abandons, you start at the entrance to the abandoned, yet living labyrinth and hope to make it to the final card, the exit, by drawing a card each turn and navigating your way to the end, the exit. Along the way you may encounter surprises or items to help you. But don’t run into a dead end, because that may be what becomes of you – dead! As you draw passages you are often presented with a choice of which path to take. While it may be a natural choice to hurry through the cards as soon as you can, it doesn’t always end well. In addition, you should try to beat your high score by pressing-your-luck and intentionally exploring more passage cards than you need to. The more passages you explore and less item cards you use, the more points you’re awarded!Are you ready? The labyrinth is waiting…
Immersion or Subversion?
There is an interesting back story to the game seting us in a scene of passages and rooms that are hell-bent on thwarting out escape…more fool us for entering in the first place, I say!
The artwork is great and does a good job creating the feel of an underground network but the game itself is really a very simple puzzle solving exercise that could possibly have any theme….
…No, that is not straictly true. The theme set is integral to the game and even though it is a simple game to play, with a simple task of getting from A to B …the puzzle itself is a very tricky customer indeed. I supose this could be abstract in its rendering/concept, but having the setting of this living labyrinth gives an immersive feel to the adventure…
…and, once we begin working our way through the many trixy rooms, we…well I became thoroughly engrosed in the journey. The deeper into the maze, the more tense it becomes as dead ends and cave-ins become ever more the threat to our progress. So, in sumary, it is a simple concept but the nature of play really draws us, the soloist player, in, immersing us onto this dark and trecherous path.
The game, as mentioned, is as simple as could be from a rules point of view. We simply draw a room tile and lay a room tile matching up the finger icon with the previous exit extending the maze as we map our progress through the labarynth.
Don’t be fooled by simplicity here. The game does have a few snappy little tricks up its sleeve to make our game play more of a decision making affair. Each junction or room tile has between one and three potential exits (unless we draw a dead end, collaps or item card- I’ll discuss these shortly)
Small yellow diamond icons on each exit indicate how many cards we draw from the top of the room tile stack. A single icon requires us to draw one tile and then place it on the table matching the ted finger with the previous room exit. Now if an exit has two to five yellow diamond icons, we have to blindly draw that many and select only th last tile to place. This enables us to rush through the stack quickly, making a short trip but the risk of dead ends could be more dangerous and, ultimately we will not score as highly if we are eventually successful at seeking out the exit. So careful consideration is needed before rushing off, whizzing through the stack at lightening speed.
Staircase tiles allow us to make a choice. Continue on as we are or remove all tiles and begin exploring on a different level as if back at the start. This can help if we feel progress is likely to end in tradegy.
Collapse tiles are similar but there is no choice…we have to leg it back to the start and lose all the progress made. (This can be a bonus if we are struggling with progress)
Item tiles are a generic “thing” that we may chance upon as we wander but theynare a tipple choice use card. We can use the map symbol to look at tiles in the stack so we know what is coming up, we can use the bomb to blow a hole in a wall…
particularly useful if we get stuck in a dead end and magic mirror that allows us to return to the start and try following a new path (if one is available) However these abilities all come with a card cost. To use them we are directed to discard from the room tile stack. Costly but potentially life saving.
The key to the game is choice. Usually we enter a room and choose which exit to take. If we hit a dead end there are no exits and potentially this can be “Game Over” unless the room we just left has an open (unused) exit. If it does we are laughing as we can retrace our steps and take a new path but if the room has no open exits there is no backtrack, no second chance, no exit…that is it. We are forever lost in the gloom…unless we have a bomb, of course, then we can blow our way to freedom.
Wooden Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I have a print and play test copy but the art on the room tiles does look excellent. At this stage there are no other components so it is simplicity its self. I added a wooden disc to keep track of my progress but at this point in time I am not aware of plans for tokens but this could always be subject to change.
Meeples and Standees:
Game Design: Michael “Dmitri” Blascoe
Illustration and graphic design: Michael Schroeder
Development: Michael “Dmitri” Blascoe & Michael Schroeder
This is first and foremost a solo puzzle solving game. We, the intrepid exploration type person, are tasked with wandering aimlesly in the darkened, sub-terrestrial network of living passage ways. Because it has tiles and is set in a labarynth like environment, it is easy to make comparisons to the dungeon crawl genre or cave exploration games but this is not trying to be that kind of game so there will not be dark spiders or sneaky goblins to fight.
This is purely about a puzzle solving journey through a living maze. Although there is a setting…a theme of sorts, it boils down to one person’s puzzle solving venture and as such, the game actually does this well. There are many pitfalls (not to the game itself but litterally in the game…well not actual pit falls but collapsing ceilings and nasty dead ends) but the game also offers us ways to mitigate this unfortunate set of events, if used correctly.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: This is first and foremost a puzzle solving game but with its many twists and turns, multiple cave-ns sending us scurrying back to the start and numerous dead ends, this is a very tricky customer indeed. Only the most adept underground labyrinth navigators find their way to the exit while the rest of us remain in our dead ends for all eternity.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The twelve page rulebook is nice and simple. It gives some background to the setting and clearly explains the various tiles in the game. It also explains the rules clearly and simply so that a wide age range of gamers can access them. I have the rules in digital pdf but looking at it I imagine the finished book to be a small A5 size which really means that twelve pages of rules are not so mountainous an affair. Something simple to digest, allowing us to dive straight in to the game.
- Lucky Buggers: Obviously the bulk of the game is about tile turning from a draw stack. It is the luck of the draw, obviously, for which room tile shows up next and would make for a tedious game if it were anything other than this. During the game we are presented with numerous choices in both direction and the quantity of tiles we wish to “burn” through. Familiarity with the room tiles may eventually sway your tile draw tactics but I for one cannot count cards like Rain Man. Added to this, careful use of the item cards can mitigate certain bad draws…something I found particularly useful when I became blocked in a dead end…a handy explosive device blasting through a wall is a handy tool to set one back on track again
- Highs and Lows: As the game progresses it does become quite a tense event. With a dwindling supply of room tiles we know the inevitable dead-end is lurking around the next corner and we feel woefully unprepared for it, having invested so much time, so many days of wandering the poorly lit tunnels. So close to the exit but so often so far away! There is no horror element, no unpleasant beasts or poor subject matters so all ages should be at home in the tunnels providing claustrophobia is not an ailment a player suffers from.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: There are currently something along the lines of fifty eight room/item tiles and if a game is fortunate enough to avoid tunnel collapse situations, there can be quite a sizeable, twisting labyrinth growing across the table. As the exploration could potentially take us in any direction it is tricky to predict an over all size but a normal dining table should accommodate the game satisfactorily.
Me, Myself and I:
Now to the interesting and rather theoretical part of proceedings. This is not a dungeon crawl as stated earlier, and fighting beasties or getting treasure is not what this game is about. I enjoyed the game and, albeit frustrating at times dying in dead ends, I did want to get back into the tunnels and prove I could master the corridors!
However, I feel there is scope/potential for some very interesting ways to expand the game experience.
Now I don’t want to interfere with Michael’s design but I really wondered if bonus objectives…or even win objectives could be added at some point…rather than just a beat your own score mechanic. I only say this because I like a reason to play a game solo. I wondered if a series of win objectives could be included as an advanced option….randomly selected before play….a player has to complete X number of room tiles with the x diamonds on them for eg, or have to explore x number of ‘T’ junctions…or what ever else might come to mind just to further encourage deeper exploration of the tunnels and, inevitably increase the push our luck tension…also in doing so it makes each game have a slightly different focus each time, thus increase replay-ability and giving the more hardcore gamers something to think about.
Another thought occurred to me (and this suggestion is not to make it like a dungeon crawl at all, because this is not where this game is set/going) … I was wondering if the addition of room tiles with special encounters on them…(a little like the collapsed tunnel tiles or even tiles with a generic encounter icon that require random encounter tokens being pulled from a bag) might add a little additional suspense to the already tricky path through the passages. The game is great as is, regarding the testing of puzzle solving skills, but my thoughts are for, perhaps, an expansion to add longevity to the game.
Yay or Nay?
If you are expecting a heroic crawl through dungeons dark, dank and donk then this is not for you but if you want a simple gameplay with a very challenging puzzle solving element then this will be right up your avenue. The Abandons does have a challenging side and gets one thinking. As such I think it twists and turns its way into a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (6) It is fun, challenging but for me will benefit from an expansion to add a little more complexity. That said, this is perfect to play with younger gamers or those who do not wish their heads to implode with overly complex rulesets add intricate complexity of game play. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
I think I have lingered here enough. Time to get my walking feet back on…though to be fair, I have no clue where I am. All these walls look alike and the lighting is dreadful…bloody NHS hospitals….I knew I should have stayed on the left hand passage in the labarynth…typical! …cave-in just when I was squatting in an uncompromising position…don’t look at me with distain…even when exploring tunnels sometimes we all have to go….
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Abandons Kickstarter link coming soon
Abandons BGG page: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/249047/abandons
Puzzling Pixel Games on Twitter:
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