What: A unique choose-your-own-adventure game of village building and exploration
Time: 60-90 minutes
People: For those that love silly voices and a good story
Available: On Amazon here
Why we recommend it
When Tales of the Arabian Nights first came out, it looked like it might open a new door for board game designers, with its unique ‘choose your own adventure’ mechanic.
For whatever reason, that wave of storytelling games never really materialised. Above and Below offers a very welcome exception to that idea, providing players with a blend of ‘Tales’ style adventuring and more traditional village building elements.
Confused already? I’ll start again.
You begin the game as a wandering family of refugees, having fled your last home from marauding invaders. After years of traveling you finally find a nice place to settle down again, but soon discover that your new dwelling rests atop a vast network of caverns.
After recruiting a couple of new local villagers and constructing some improvements to your huts, you can send down a party to explore the caves. This brave group of villagers will encounter a wide variety of curious people, places and threats deep below the surface.
Some games can be boring to sit and endure while other players take their turn. Not Above and Below. You see, once you’ve decided to go adventuring, it’ll be the responsibility of another player to read out relevant passages to you.
They might tell you of a giant frog that blocks your pathway, and ask you what you want to do about it. He won’t move. So you tell the reader that you’d like to try and persuade him to move aside. What happens next will depend on which type of people you sent down to explore with.
Will he waddle out of your way like the king in Ocarina of Time, revealing a new passageway you didn’t know existed? Or will he be offended by the request and start flinging frogspawn in your general direction?
Depending on how scenarios like these play out, you’ll either be rewarded with goods (or in rare cases some new villagers to join you on later quests) or be punished with inconvenient penalties.
These journeys will give you the resources you need to add new buildings to your village, and recruit yet more people to the cause. The more cautious among you can keep trips below to a minimum, as there are plenty of ways to get more rope, fish, apples and such without many adventures – but where’s the fun in that?
Getting creative with the storytelling brings Above and Below to life, and acts as a welcoming and familiar component that should help attract less experienced players. Unlike Tales of the Arabian Nights, the best part is that the game doesn’t end there either: having a detailed and strategic village-building part to the game ensures more serious gamers have something to focus on other than reading stories.
This combination helps make Above and Below an experience that all types of player can enjoy.
The game is at its best with three players, as this maintains a good balance between pacing and scale, but it’s almost as fun with just two as well. The full suite of four players might make the game last a little too long, but it’s unlikely to ever get boring.
It’s hard to think of any other game that manages to bring storytelling into the heart of a game that’s strong enough to work on its own. Above and Below offers players something unique and special, and we hope there are other games on the horizon that follow – and develop – the ideas within.