04/04/2020

Above: Rise to be the King of Olympus [Review]

Above_feature

Above brings us back to Mount Olympus where gods and goddesses resided. After Zeus defeated his own Titan father, Kronos, the throne was empty. All of his brothers and sisters were competing to sit up there, governing Olympus and the mortal realm. This game is brought by Don’t Panic Games from France and designed by Yves Charamel-Lenain. Its debut was during Spiel Essen 2019. In BGG‘s site, it seems that the content hasn’t been updated yet.

Game overview

Above can be played by 2 or 4 players. In a 4-player-session, two players will play as a team and the rules shift a bit. The objective, however, stays the same: whoever becomes the first person/team to move a deity to the top of Olympus wins the game.

The setup is pretty simple. You just have to randomly place the deity miniatures on the bottom row, giving one space distance between each other. Then, randomly place all the mentioned skill tokens by using the cards’ row number and Greek-alphabet. The player who gets the Zeus card with ‘alpha’ on it will be the first player.

There are eight deities both parties can control. Each deity has his/her own card printed with the unique skill that helps you to advance or to hinder the opponent’s move. In the two-player game, each player gets one set of the deity cards. First, the active player will pick one deity card and flip it over. Then, he/she must move the corresponding deity’s pawn on the board. At the end of his/her turn, the unique skill of this deity must be triggered, if able.

The Olympus with its gods, goddesses, and their disputes.

When all deity cards are flipped down, it is refreshed; all cards are then flipped back to its original state.

Four-player variants

In four-player variants, Above is played with two teams. Instead of distributing the cards in a set to both teams, all cards are shuffled and then distributed. Whenever a player wants to move a deity, he/she must discard that deity card from his/her hand.

If the hand is empty, they will take from the discard pile. Whenever it’s possible, players have to take a different deity card in comparison to what they have on their hand.

There is another alteration in two of the deities’ skills. But overall, just as mentioned, the gameplay stays the same as the two-player variant.

Thoughts on Above

First impression

Above is packed in an enormous box. The box itself was quite simple and we didn’t get any impression that this game takes Greek mythology as its theme only from the glance on the cover. When you open it, Above is really packed neatly. I really like how they provide the insert like this to ease up the storage.

Components

You really need to assemble the board yourself and you really have to do it neatly. They provide the guiding lines to build the Olympus together and you have to wish your hands are not shaking when you attach them together. The board itself is quite thick and reliable, I think it will be robust and playable in a very long time with the least care. It really gives the 3-dimensional experience to the game.

The set of the deities cards for each player.

The deity pawns have a very detailed carving and it’s a good thing. Although Don’t Panic Game can just really use wooden tokens, they really went extra miles to bring better experience in Above. You will feel it when the tiny Hades shoves his brothers and sisters to atop the Olympus. It’s fun. The miniatures really compliment the board.

I would say that I am not a fan of the size of the game. It can be smaller and more compact, though. The unusual size (wide but thin) really gives me another chore to pick where to store it on my shelf. Hence, I really want to see Above in a slightly smaller size.

Gameplay

Above is a strategy game and it can be an abstract game (thanks to you guys you add the Greek mythology so it still has a theme) in a point-of-view. You have all information open on the board and all players share the same miniatures they can move however they feel fit. This really opens a new perspective on the how-to win because you share the same pawns to win the game.

The mechanic they use is the programmed action queue. The player picks a deity card, move the corresponding and lastly, trigger the ability.

As you can see, the skill tokens are spread all over the spaces.

It should be a fast-paced game but with the blocking and shoving, Above’s duration can extend. The nature of the game makes the player be prone to analysis paralysis, especially because they share the miniatures to win the game. The thinking process is most likely becoming like, “If I move Zeus here, will this give my opponent an advantage in his next turn?” rather like “Will this move gives me an advantage this turn?”. Devising a move which will be profitable for you in the next 2-3 turns is crucial.

Importance of Hera and Athena

Not only players have to take care of the miniatures on the board, but they also have to manage the available miniatures they and the opponent can move. Momentum is really important in this strategy-slash-racing game. Thus, the presence of Hera is really important in the game because she helps you to deny the opponent’s next move by exhausting a deity card of your choice (in a two-player game). But, be careful. As I said that triggering Hera may deny your opponent’s move but it also helps them to reduce the ‘downtime’ to refresh the deities card as well.

You can also exhaust your own unnecessary deity cards in order to gain momentum by triggering Athena. She will exhaust two other deity cards you have in order to speed up the refresh time. This is really helpful when you want to advance the miniatures on the board or to trigger a deity’s unique skill which card is exhausted already.

The deities are racing to reach the top of Olympus here.

Opinion & verdict

Above is a very smart board game. It is likely an abstract strategy game that will grind your gear. The rule is easy to follow and both players have this kind of open-information situation. The two-player variant is my favourite because I find it more intuitive and easier to play. Both variants have different play style you have to adapt to win the game.

This game is really good for those who like abstract game. The replayability might not be its strong suit except if the publisher decides to expand the game with something else in the future. Anyway, they haven’t updated the BGG’s entry on this game, though.

I really like Above when I played it in a duel. True that it offers another course of the game but I prefer the rules for two players. I wonder if they would enable a three-player variant in the future, though!

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