Game Review: The Abandons!

the abandons maze labyrinth card game reviewYou’re tending the fields and living the live of a medieval peasant, but somewhere in the back of your head there’s a voice, a voice compelling you to head for the hills and solve the labyrinth of The Abandons. Once you enter the maze, however, can you make it out the other end and survive collapses and seeming dead ends, or are you going to just be another skeleton covered in cobwebs for the next adventurer to stumble across?

The Abandons is a one-player maze exploration card game by Michael “Dmitri” Blascoe that fits into your pocket and offers a quick, albeit not particularly challenging puzzle to solve. It is, however, 99% luck of the draw as there’s very little place to make meaningful decisions or apply any sort of tactics or higher level strategy. This might appeal to you – once you get the hang of it, you can fly through this game in 5-10 minutes easy – or it might leave you wanting a bit more intellectually challenging solo game.

Let’s jump in, while those voices are still compelling me, shall we? Setup is easy: you identify the start and end tiles and place them aside, shuffle the remaining cards, place the start tile on the table (you’ll need a lot of room, as you’ll see) and place the end location tile on the very bottom of your deck. To win, you have to survive placing every single tile until you place the exit tile. Here I am one move into the game:

the abandons, starting position

The lower tile is the starting spot and you’ll notice it has a red hand pointing the way: Each card you place is matched with your current layout by having the red hand pointing out of the passageway you’ve chosen. The upper card is an intersection with two possible directions to travel. Go left and you’ll burn a card as the cost to go that way (denoted by the two diamonds). Go straight ahead, however, and that’s a cheaper direction, no extra cards will be spent.

That’s about the entire strategy of the game right there: do you choose more expensive paths so you can get through the deck and reveal the exit tile faster, or do you take the slow route to make as big a maze or labyrinth as possible? My general approach is to always take the most expensive route, but I also pay attention to card layout on the table (which will become important as the layout gets larger, as you’ll see): The route that gives you more chances to keep going is always better, right? 🙂

To give you a better sense of how this works, here I am 7 tiles into the game. I’ve highlighted my route:

the abandons, 7 cards in

Notice on the top left I went up (the more expensive route out of the room) into a dead-end. The game lets you back up to the most recent intersection and try again if you get stuck, which is good, otherwise I might have died on the spot since you can’t just wander backwards until you find an unexplored passage. Why you can’t do that I’m not sure, but them’s the rules, mate!

Now on the leftmost tile I’m also in a dead-end. Bad. I’m dead, right? Well, no, because you can also collect item cards on the way and the more item cards you have, the more powerful they are:

the abandons, item cards

Starting at the top left and going clockwise, a single item is a “map”, two item cards combine to make a “bomb” and three item cards give you the great “magical mirror” that lets you zip back to the entrance, wipe all cards deployed, and continue your exploration from there. The bomb is what I need at this point, though: It blasts a passage through an otherwise impenetrable wall. Just what we need here!

Some time later, here’s my position:

the abandons, bigger maze labyrinth

Another interesting phenomenon occurs on the top left: Where I have the circle, you can see that two passages, by luck, lined up. This means I have a circuit or loop. In that case, the rules allow you to pick anywhere along that loop and explore from there. So I did, heading down to the tile with the “?” marked on it. My next draw, however, is a staircase, as shown. This means I can either wipe every maze tile and proceed as if I went upstairs and started on a new level, or simply ignore it and pick the next card. Since I have so much space to keep exploring, I opt to ignore the staircase and keep going.

Smart move. I finished! And with quite a labyrinth spread out before me:

the abandons, winner!

In this instance, the circled tile is – blessed be! – the exit. Phew! We survived this grand exploration of the underground passageways, with 27 tiles laid out and three item cards unused. Not too bad at all.

Now I realize it’s a bit hard for you to tell how big the game is, so here’s a scale shot with a prop can of soda:

the abandons size reference

Basically, the entire game fits into a box that’s smaller than a drink coaster. The publisher tells me that the final production game will be just a bit smaller, though, with “euro-square sized cards” . All of which works fine until you get to the directions. Because he wanted to keep it as a book format, the instructions are ridiculously small and well-nigh impossible to read if you aren’t 16 or have great eyesight. I ended up downloading a PDF copy so I could read through it on my computer screen. That download should end up available from Board Game Geek, though, so if you have a similar issue, it’s an easy solution.

Overall, I find myself having a love/hate relationship with this game. There’s much fun in a fast, simple game where you flip cards and place them to build a complex route, very similar to Pipe Dream, a favorite Gameboy game from years ago. But there are times that it feels too simple and a part of me wants to whip up a quick program to play the game instead, to see if it could be coded to maximize wins. It wouldn’t be too hard. 🙂

So that’s the scoop. If this sounds fun and interesting to you, it’s certainly not going to be a Descent or 7th Continent level investment and a game that fits neatly in your pocket or backpack is a winner. I just wish there were more puzzles and challenges to overcome along the way.

The Abandons, by Michael “Dmitri” Blascoe. Published by Puzzling Pixel Games. Check it out: The Abandons Kickstarter Campaign.

Disclosure: Puzzling Pixel Games sent me a pre-production copy of The Abandons for the purposes of this review.

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