Ryan Laukat is a prolific and talented artist/designer who has been plying his trade on Kickstarter for a couple of years. His designs include Eight Minute Empire, City of Iron, Artifacts Inc, The Ancient World and now… Above and Below, a wonderful mix of storytelling with worker placement all packaged up in a Miyazaki-esque art work.

Ryan’s designs are a little more unique compared to many other designers’ work. Ryan does both the game design and artwork himself, which is all the more incredible given the strong and very different styles of art he has used in his games to date. No two games are alike and, for my money, it was the striking and charming look of Above and Below which finally hooked me into backing one of his projects.

In Above and Below players are attempting to build their own villages by using their starting workers to build new buildings, recruit new villagers or explore the caverns below their village (the eponymous Below). Above the surface it’s all standard game mechanics. You assign your villagers to the tasks you require. Villagers with a feather icon can recruit new villagers, ones with a mallet can build new buildings.

Characters from Above & Below

 

You can also build underground, but in order to do so you must first explore the caverns. To do this you assign two villagers to the task of exploring and this is when the storytelling aspect, and possibly the most charming part, of the game comes into effect. When a player chooses to explore they take the top card of the explore deck, which has six numbers on it. One for each face of the die. Roll the die to see which paragraph of the story book applies to your exploration.

Story elements normally end up giving players two choices. Both will require some dice rolling, combined with explorer statistics, to succeed and both will offer either a larger or smaller pay off. Maybe you’ll have the option of robbing an innocent subterranean trader or maybe you’ll explore an underground river and have to decide whether to fight the giant fish that attacks you or simply make your way to the shore and escape. The choice you make will define your reward and also a negative or positive impact upon your reputation (another scoring mechanism).

Story example for exploring 'below'
Story example for exploring ‘below’

After seven game rounds the game ends and scores are totaled up.

For me it was a range of factors that convinced me to back the Kickstarter. For one, The Secret Cabal podcast guys covered it in a recent episode. Their enthusiasm, Jamie’s in particular, for Ryan Laukat’s designs and the look of this game especially which convinced me to take a second look. I chose to back it and then watched Rahdo’s run through which utterly convinced me I’d made the right decision!

Sadly, I have to wait til at least December before I receive my copy. And that is assuming it doesn’t follow the trend set by many a Kickstarter project and end up months delayed! The good thing is that Ryan is a well versed Kickstarter project manager and I have full faith that it’ll be a very well run project. Should anything interesting appear in the updates over the course of the next few months I’ll be sure to post about it. For now, check out Rahdo’s run through below and see what convinced me it was a winner!

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