Welcome back to Talk of Tales, where Christy and I, JP, review board games. Sometimes they’re random, other times they’ll be games offered at Tavern of Tales. Today’s entry is a game that’ll be enhanced with Tavern of Tales’ custom sound and narration, Ryan Laukat’s Above and Below. This was the first project I worked on at Tavern of Tales, and the project I’ve worked the most on, so for me it’s kind of my baby. And for that reason, this will be a solo review.
From just a look at the Above and Below box, the system of huts, a hill, a woman above, two monsters (glogos) below, it looks quite cute, a bit simplistic unlike artwork for say Warhammer 40K, but don’t fall for its cutesy appeal. This game is neither simple nor cute. Though the set up doesn’t take that long, when I played the game with Christy, for the first time in a few months, we were overwhelmed by the number of object tokens, order of operations, and variety of possible actions for just doing Above activities. Figuring out who got what, who wanted what, which huts needed to be shuffled about, where to place cave cards vs. outpost cards etc. etc. and finding space for it all on my lowly narrow desk was a handful and a half. But overall, aesthetically, the game is pleasing. Each piece from the villagers to a simple fruit token look well crafted and hand painted in a way that’s not trying too hard to fit the fantasy genre (i.e. hyper realistic and/ or gritty).
Now, though the set up took a while, and we had a hard time figuring out what meant what and all the “fun” things that come with learning, or in this case re-learning, a board game, once we got to actually playing the game...it was just as slow. Though that was more of a problem of Christy and I just wanting to jump into the game. And I feel as though, unless you’re seasoned at this game and know all of the ins and outs, there’s really no such thing as just jumping into it. For the first two rounds Christy repeatedly said that she hated this game, which, since I worked on the Tavern of Tales customization of it, felt a bit disheartening. But it was just more that to a newbie at board games, there’s a level of overstimulation. There’s so many things that you can do at once, that if you don’t have a strategy from the get-go, you’ll be swamped by the options. As we eventually got into the groove of things, and learned the flow of the game, it was a much more enjoyable experience. We laboured when needed, utilized huts and outposts, tried to gain as much as we could from the advancement track, so all in all it became a fun time. One of the biggest cons was going below. Not that it wasn’t filled with adventure or fun, but more so that we had to stop, look through the encounter book, find the encounter we rolled, and then read the intro, hoping we didn’t stumble through it in an illiterate stupor. I wouldn’t say it bogged the game down, but I necessarily didn’t feel like reading each encounter, and more so wished it was just done for me (though that might be either my laziness or my preference for video games talking).
Though I’ve made quite a few complaints about this game, it’s still a fun game, and one that would benefit from Tavern of Tales’ custom enhancement. With GMs in each play room, already prepped with the rules, players won’t have to necessarily know the ins and outs to play. They won’t even have to go through the extraneous process of setting up the game. With music playing throughout the game, there won’t be dead lulls, and since we have a narrator and voices for miscellaneous characters, players won’t have to worry about slipping up while reading. Hopefully, with our customization players can have the best time they’ll ever have playing this game. So is it Tavern of Tales approved? Of course. And I hope people come and try our take at it when we open.