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Andean Abyss

Reviewed by: Chris Kovac

(GMT Games, 1-4 players, ages 12 and up, 3 to 5 hours; $75)

andeanabyssboxAndean Abyss, designed by Volko Ruhnke, is a strongly thematic, action planning gamers game, the first of three of GMT’s COIN games. COIN stands for Counter Insurgency and in this game, the theme is about the fighting in Columbia in the 1990’s and 2000’s between the government, FARC (Marxist Guerrillas), AUC (Paramilitary Guerrillas) and the Narcotic Cartels. (The other games in the series are Cuba Libre about the Cuban Revolution and A Distant Plain about the recent fighting in Afghanistan.)

To start, you lay out the board and put the starting pieces of the four factions on it. The board shows Columbia with major cities and provinces along with places for each faction to put its pieces and the sequence of play chart. This is relatively straightforward as the starting pieces and which side a province supports at the beginning is printed on the board as well as listed at the end of the rules. Each faction then takes its remaining pieces and places them on the specific faction’s holding areas on the edge of the board except for its faction piece which is put on the eligible faction box of the sequence of play chart on the board (more on this later). Each player also gets an amount of resources which are used to pay for various actions and events as well as a players aid which outlines the winning conditions and actions for all factions. For example the victory conditions for the government is for total support to exceed 60 while the FARC must have opposition plus FARC bases greater than 25. Finally, the draw deck is prepared by shuffling the event/operation cards and setting 12 aside. These 12 cards are not to be used in the game. The remaining cards are divided into four decks. Into each of these decks, you shuffle a propaganda card. You then stack these decks back into one main draw deck and turn over the first two events. The second event card remains on top of the event deck and is the future event which will occur in the next turn. The first card turned over is the active event/action card which will be acted upon by the players this round. You can now start the game.

During a turn, the players first look at the top of the card which shows all the factions in a particular order. The first faction listed on the left is favoured by this card and can do one of three things as shown on the sequence of play chart:

First, the player can pass which keeps your faction eligible for the next turn and earns you a resource. The next faction in the order can then use this card and again has these three options.

Second, you can choose to use the event which can help or hinder various factions. Some cards have two versions of the events: one which usually helps the government faction and the other guerrilla or cartel players. If the player chooses this option, then the second player in the order at the top of the card can perform one of his faction’s special actions from his choice of faction actions.

andeancardsThird is using the card for an operation with or without its associated special action. If a player chooses this, he can choose an action from one listed under his factions action list affecting all or some of his pieces on the board. The second player in the order can then perform a limited action (an action affecting only one space on the board) or the event (if the first player performed both an operation and the special action). Operations are things like moving pieces, eliminating opponents’ pieces or bases, building new bases, etc. and can be done in some fashion by all factions. Special actions are actions unique to a faction. For example, the government faction has a special action called “airlift” which allows a limited number of the government player’s pieces to be moved further than the usual one space. Some actions cost resources or, in the case of guerilla actions, activating some guerillas (turning the guerilla piece to show a star) to perform. Also, if a player has a shipment (representing drug money from a drug shipment), a player can expend this to perform an additional limited operation if it performed an operation which required resources to be spent. Usually shipments are only created by a Cartel player though they can be obtained by the other players through various actions or events by the other players.

Any faction or factions which use an event/operation card move to the ineligible box on the sequence of play chart and misses one turn before it is moved back to the eligible box. After the eligibility is adjusted, the current event/operation card is discarded and the card on top of the event/operation deck is moved to the current event spot and the next card in the deck is turned over to show players what the next event will be. The game continues until a propaganda card becomes the current event (there are four in a deck for a long game, three for a short game). Then a propaganda round occurs.

A propaganda round has various sub phases. First of all is the victory phase where players check to see if they have met their factions winning conditions. If a player has met the conditions, he has won the game and the game ends. If not, you proceed to the control phase where you check each province for control between the government faction and the FARC faction. Whichever side has more pieces in the area gets to put a control marker in that area.

Next, in the resource phase, resources are paid out. Each faction earns resources differently though in most cases it is how many bases or areas you control multiplied by a set factor. For the government, it depends on who is president whether they get any extra resources. Then comes the support phase.

In the support phase, the government faction can expend resources to build support in government controlled areas by removing terror markers which shift areas one level towards active support. The FARC can then do the same in areas it controls The president marker then advances one space (it might also advance due to an event). Finally the AUC player may rally (replace men) in one space which is neutral (controlled neither by the government or FARC and no opposition markers). Next is the redeploy phase where the government player must move back any troop units in provinces with government bases to government controlled areas. He may also move units (troops and police) around between government controlled areas. Finally, a reset phase occurs where all factions are moved back to the eligible box, any insurgent momentum event cards are discarded and markers generated by events or actions (terror, sabotage and control markers) are removed. Guerrillas are flipped back to there underground (non-active) side. The propaganda card is then discarded and the event on the top of the event deck becomes the active event. The game continues until a player meets his victory conditions in a propaganda phase or the last propaganda card is played. If no player has won by the last propaganda card, then there are calculations in the rule book to see who has the best margin of victory and they win the game.

In order to win at Andean Abyss, you have to able to use the faction’s actions efficiently along with using the events in order to accomplish your victory conditions all the while your opponents are doing the same thing. Andean Abyss is a very strategic and heavy gamers game with lots of ways to win. The game is very well designed with a good rule book, a walk through book which lets you get familiar with mechanisms of the game, superb player’s aides and nice game pieces. However the game does have a few drawbacks which does reduce its replay ability.

First of all, this is a very long playing game of at least three to five hours and possibly longer if you have players who like to analyze their turns a lot. Secondly, since the game relies on a deck of randomized cards, it does sometimes seem to favour one faction more than another during a game. Finally, there can be a bit of downtime for players between turns. As long as you aware of these issues and like a game with lots of options and strategic planning along with a heavy theme, this game is for you.


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