Bruno Cathala had two fantastic games come out in 2014. One was the award-winning game Five Tribes. His other title, while overshadowed by the excitement of Five Tribes, was a great underwater themed game called Abyss. We reviewed it last year (spoiler alert: we loved it) and it has made its way to our tables countless times since then.
So when an expansion for Abyss was announced, to say I was excited would be an understatement. Eager to see what Mr. Cathala had dreamed up with Abyss: Kraken, I quickly dove into what’s new in this expansion.
Abyss: Kraken includes four new modules that can easily be incorporated into the base game. We’ll first take a look at what’s new in the expansion and then discuss if it’s worth your gaming dollars.
The Abyss: Kraken expansion has four main parts, some more complex than others, and we’ll go over each of them in turn.
First we’ll start with the most interesting component of the expansion, the Nebulis. These come in the form of Black (Silver) Pearls. They work just like regular pearls, except they are “dirty money”. Any Nebulis you have at the end of the game are worth negative influence points, with the player who has the most Nebulis losing an additional five influence points. There also is a cool looking Kraken miniature to signify the player with the most Nebulis during the game.
So you’ll want to get rid of those pesky Nebulis during the game. How do you do that? You give them to other players of course. If you’ve spent all your regular pearls, you can then spend 1 (and only 1) Nebulis to either help pay for a Lord or recruit an ally during another player’s exploration phase.
The expansion includes 18 new lords, 2 for each of the base game’s guilds and 8 belonging to the new Smuggler’s guild. Most of the Smugglers have powers that allow you to manipulate the use of Nebulis.
Three of the new lords are The Sentinels. Their main power is to allow you to reserve cards or locations. When you recruit a Sentinel, you receive its corresponding token, which allows you to reserve a Lord in the court, a stack of Allies in the council, or a Location. No one can take a card that you’ve reserved with your Sentinel, and once taken by you, allows you to reassign your Sentinel.
The new allies in the expansion are, unsurprisingly, the Krakens. Krakens act as wild ally cards that can be any color you want when you recruit a lord. The down side is they all contain 1-3 Nebulis icons. Every card you spend (or have in your hand at the end of the game) forces you to take Nebulis for each icon on the card. These cards will really play with your risk tolerance.
Finally, the last part of the expansion is the new Locations. There are 6 new ones in total, but 4 incorporate the use of the game’s new loot deck. When you take control of one of these locations, you get to draw from the loot deck. The deck has 25 cards in it, numbered 3-7. There is an equal number of cards based on the number (i.e: 7 7s, 6 6s, etc.). Each card, except the 7, also has a separate reward in the form of Pearls, Keys, Monsters, or Allies. Once drawn, you gain influence points based on the number on the card.
After you’ve drawn your first card from the loot deck, you can then decide if you want to push your luck and keep drawing, or stop and take your loot. The key is that if you draw a duplicate number, you lose both those cards and only get to keep the cards you have left (and must stop drawing). So if you draw really well, you could theoretically end up with 25 influence points, or if you are unlucky, you can get zero influence points.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
As regular readers probably know, my golden rule with an expansion is I want it to add variety to my game without adding a lot of complexity or play time. I don’t want to have to feel like I’m teaching a new game when I bring out the expansion.
And on that point Abyss: Kraken is a complete success. I mixed all the new lords, allies, and locations in with the base game and really don’t see a need to separate them out after the game. The only big rule change is with the new Nebulis, and it’s not really all that hard to explain. Even with the new loot deck, I simply just don’t talk about it until a new location comes up that requires it.
That is also one of the interesting things about the loot deck. There is a chance it might not even show up in the game. Depending on your risk tolerance and how much you like to push your luck, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
I will say this about the loot deck, it can be really swingy. There is a chance you will earn nothing from the location you just acquired or, if you are super lucky, 25 points. If a player got 25 points from a location, that would most likely put them in an incredible position to win. Fortunately, I’d wager it’s incredibly rare for someone to draw a 7-6-5-4-3 from the deck, all without drawing a duplicate. In our play experience, most people earn between 7-15 points off a location. Good, but not broken.
The Nebulis themselves were probably my favorite part of the expansion. I’ve actually seen players approach them quite differently. In one game, players were really scared of them and the negative influence points they brought. This had the effect of leaving massive piles of allies in the council until a player was desperate enough to take the stack and all the Krakens in the deck.
However in a different game, players openly embraced the Nebulis, passing them around repeatedly. It really depends on how risky your players are. For me, I love them and had a lot of fun using them as currency. Nothing is more satisfying than buying a number 5 ally from an opponent, and paying for it with a black pearl. You can almost taste their disappointment.
The new lords add a nice variety of effects to the game. I really liked the Smuggler faction and the way they changed around the rules for the Nebulis. I should mention that you are adding 18 new lords to the deck and none get removed. This means that the end game condition of the lord deck running out will probably never happen. To be fair, I have only seen that happen once in dozens of plays of Abyss, so it’s not really a big deal in my book. In fact, it’s one less thing you have to teach new players about.
Abyss: Kraken fit right in with Abyss and it turned into one of those expansions that I don’t ever see myself playing without in the future. I feel like it easily incorporates into the base game very seamlessly, and that it will only add a couple of minutes to the rules explanation. I wouldn’t even hesitate to play the expansion with first time players.
On a sad note, the absolutely fantastic tray insert for Abyss doesn’t really work all that well once you toss the expansion into the box. I was able to Tetris everything into the tray with a lot of effort and planning, but even then the box lid still sticks up a little.
Finally, if you weren’t a fan of Abyss for whatever reason, than there probably isn’t much in the expansion that’s going to change your mind. The game still doesn’t play the best with only 2 players and the monster track can still feel a bit lack luster.
However if you are a fan of Abyss then there is no reason for you not to pick up the Kraken expansion. It’s really well designed, includes the same outstanding artwork, and adds a nice level of variety to the game, all without increasing the play time. A must own for fans of Abyss. Pick this one up today, you won’t regret it.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Abyss: Kraken, you can get it for about $25.
• Easily incorporates into the base game
• New “dirty money” a lot of fun to use in the game
• More stellar artwork
• Doesn’t add unnecessary complexity or play time
• Doesn’t address 2 player game
• Monster track still a little lack luster