Above and Below
May 4, 2017
When the buzz first started about Above and Below, I was curious. But then people said "storytelling," and I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Is it part RPG? How would this play at home, or across age levels?

I finally got a chance to play last month, and storytelling just means "choose your own adventure." As a child of the 80s, I am all over that!
You begin with a village of three people. Your villagers can build things, recruit new villagers, harvest some resources, labor for coin, or explore the caverns below the village. Most of these actions are about resource management, but the heart of the game is found in the caves. When your villagers set off spelunking, a combination of die rolling and a random card decides which adventure you will encounter. Another player will read off your encounter, and you will be faced with a decision, such as "attack this nice guide for his change purse" or "befriend the nice guide." Once you have made a decision (or had a decision made for you *cough lack of coin cough*), you roll again for the outcome. You could wind up with money or lose reputation or find yourself with an ornery furry companion.
A limiting factor is that your villagers need to sleep at the end of every turn. If you do not have enough beds (or cider!), not all of your villagers can play next turn. But acquiring new beds requires a builder who then can't spelunk or labor that turn. It's a balancing act that changes from turn to turn.

It can be difficult to settle upon a strategy, as your cavern adventures are unpredictable, but it's still fun to adapt as you go. One reviewer compared the vibe to that of Tokaido, which explains why we took an instant liking to it. Yes, it's a competitive game, but it's about the fun along the way! I wish this game existed when I lived in Michigan—it would have been perfect for our gaming group.

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