My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review of Richard Borg's Abaddon

Richard Borg came out with a new board game named Abaddon. It really hasn't gotten much mention, but I decided to give it a try after watching a video review of it on Board Game Geek and finding an inexpensive, damaged copy on eBay (the box end was slightly crumpled, but it was discounted 60%). I wasn't really sure if it was for me, as it looked more oriented towards kids (at least in the review).

What is it About?

The game introduction from the publisher is:

  1. an area of Hell.
  2. a place of chaos and destruction.
In the not so distant future, mankind will make a mysterious, giant technological leap forward, propelling the expanse of the human dominion into the far reaches of space, to a place dubbed Abaddon.
The air on Abaddon is thick, and physical laws are broken by frequent gravitational surges and other odd happenings. The landscape is a barren wasteland with traces of an earlier, much more advanced culture who, it is believed, has left behind crystalline objects, called Feronium; each containing a gargantuan source of energy. The discovery of Feronium by the first explorers spawned a mad rush to Abaddon, similar to the 49er's Gold Rush of Earth's early history. It was not long, however, before the demand for Feronium by Earth's Pure Energy Corporation became so great that collecting these power crystals became the number-one priority at a major corporation called the Commonwealth Alliance. The Alliance's exploration practices, however, often ignored the rights and claims of the original settlers and their governing council, called the Satellite City-States, which up to a point in time, was the sole exporter of crystals to Earth.
Utilizing bio-mech suits cobbled together from military material of the planet's former occupants, old exploratory and construction vehicles, and technological support from the home world, both sides engage in constant territorial feuds, all the while under the surveillance of a mysterious satellite system that both sides utilize and have come to refer to as "SkyEye". For almost a generation now, battles have raged on and for the men women of Abaddon: life is war ... war is hell ... and hell is Abaddon.
From Board Game Geek, the following has been added:

At your disposal in Abaddon is a 28" x 19" battlefield game board with 32 highly-detailed mech figurines, 18 free-standing landscape terrain features, over 100 game-changing Wild Fire and Weapon System cards, dozens of tokens, battle dice and a Battle Manual containing over 15 mission scenarios. Choose your allegiance and lead your army in non-stop excitement as you forge through unforgiving terrain, fight to overcome random and bizarre technological glitches, and battle your enemies in never-ending war.
Abaddon is a furious, two-to-four-player game of futuristic combat. Each scenario is laid out on the customizable battlefield game board with each side using a varying number of units. The game is played in turns during which a player rolls his Activation Dice, allowing him to "activate" certain units and move them. These mechanical units – Links – are powered by Feronium power crystals, and as they take damage these crystals are depleted. A unit that runs out of crystals is unable to continue functioning and is considered destroyed.Combat is card- and dice-based. The attacker lays out his Weapon System cards, targeting defending enemy units. Once the attacker has laid out all of his planned attacks, the defender may defend with his own Weapon System cards. These cards can modify the dice rolls that are used to determine the results of the combat. Additionally, due to the experimental nature of the Links and the mysterious happenings in the Abaddon region, things can, and often will, go wrong. These malfunctions and odd happenings are represented by Wild Fire cards, the drawing of which can result in anything from possible shutdowns to anti-gravity surges.
Victory is determined based on stipulations presented by the chosen mission scenarios. Typically, victory is achieved by damaging and destroying your opponent's units by way of their power crystals. Each destroyed enemy crystal is worth one victory point, which players must collect in order to win.
First, despite Board Game Geek listing it as such, Abaddon is not part of the Command and Colors family of games. (I put in a correction for that, so it may be in place by the time you read this.) It does not divide the board into sections, cards to not determine command and control, and the iconic dice with symbols are not used for combat resolution. (Okay, there is one exception in there.)

Like Battles of Westeros and my tabletop variant for Command and Colors that I tried some time back, Abaddon uses the iconic dice with symbols to determine which units are ordered. Every turn each player rolls five activation dice – each of which have one face each for Heavy Link, Medium Link, Recon Link, Infantry, Command, and Weapon Systems – to determine what types of units can be ordered and how many. You always roll five dice (a scenario may alter that), regardless of the number of units you have, or how many casualties you have taken. The Heavy Link, Medium Link, Recon Link, and Infantry faces indicate the four unit types (they are also color-coded). The Weapon Systems face indicates you draw a Weapon Systems card, which is used for combat resolution. The Command face allows you the choice of: activating a single unit of any type; drawing a Weapon Systems card; attack with a Doomsday Bolt card; or remove a Wild Fire Marker (i.e. a critical hit).

By the way, this game is played on a square grid, not hex. Movement and fire is orthogonal or diagonal. I don't know why people don't use a square grid more, but in Abaddon it plays a role in combat.

There are three basic types of combat: close combat, indirect ranged combat, and direct ranged combat. The last two types require the play of Weapon Systems cards. You get Weapon Sysems cards at the start of a scenario, by rolling the Weapon Systems face on activation dice, and as a special effect from other Weapon Systems and Wild Fire cards.

Close combat occurs whenever you are in an adjacent square to an enemy. Like Memoir '44 and BattleLore if you are in close combat range you cannot conduct ranged combat. Like most games, close combat can affect either side (i.e. either can lose). Close combat does not use a Weapon Systems card for combat resolution.

Indirect ranged combat occurs by playing special Weapon Systems cards. (It requires such a card.) Indirect ranged combat means you do not require line of sight to the enemy and the best result your target can expect is to block your attack; the target cannot harm the firer.

Direct ranged combat occurs when you play certain Weapon Systems cards and can draw line of sight to your enemy. (Again, it requires such a card.) Now the term "line of sight" does not have the same meaning in Abaddon that it does in most other games. The easiest way to imagine it is the same attack as a Queen in Chess: across left and right, straight up and down, and diagonally. Those attack lines may be blocked by friendly or enemy units, or terrain (hence the "line of sight" moniker). This is a critical concept; if you do not have your mech "lined up" with the target, you cannot fire directly, only indirectly. Like close combat, direct fire can result in either side losing, not just the defender.

Combat resolution is pretty simple. Each unit type is color-coded to not only its activation die face, but to the battle die it uses in combat. A Heavy Link (Mech) uses a D10, a Medium Link uses a D8, a Recon Link a D6, and Infantry a D6 (or 2D6, select the highest die, when in close combat). Each side rolls their battle die, adds a value indicated on the Weapon Systems card played, if any, and the highest score wins. The loser removes one power crystal (hit token) if beaten, two if their score was doubled.

One trump to the above is if either side rolls a natural '1'; it indicates that they have inflicted a Wild Fire (critical hit) on their opponent. In that case no winner or loser is determined and normal combat results are not applied. Instead, the one who rolled a '1' draws a Wild Fire card and plays it on the opposing unit. There are varying effects in the Wild Fire cards, some positive but most negative, and some on-going effects, but most a one-time effect. Examples are "throttle stuck" (can move one more square than normal), power drain (lose two crystals), power surge (add two crystals), anti-gravity surge (get pushed back to own baseline), etc.

Although game play is very easy – the core rules are only 10 pages of large print – the tactics are subtle. Most combat, direct ranged combat, requires you line up on a unit. That means that maneuvering into position is actually required, especially when you want to put fire on one unit from more than one of yours. Terrain's only function is to block movement and line of sight, so it is common to play hide and seek around terrain to limit the number of units that can get a bead on you.

Game Ratings

Using my new method for reviewing rules, here are the ten aspects of the rules I rate. (I have now added Solo Suitability.)

Drama - do the rules create tension during play?

Abaddon has several chance elements and resources to manage, so it creates drama as pretty much all games do. However, even well-planned and -executed attacks fail due to the luck element. This tends to drag drama down to an average rating.

Abaddon rates 3 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty - are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty in the game?

There are three primary mechanics that introduce uncertainty: the activation dice roll (what can I order?), the Weapon Systems card draw (what kind of combat can I perform and how favorable will they be?), and the battle die roll (do I win in combat?). The good thing is that the first two of those elements represent tactical decisions for the player, so the game is not wildly uncertain.

Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging - do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

The game is full of decisions for the player; it is very tactical. As indicated in the Uncertainty rating section two of the chance elements present the player with decisions on how to use the luck that has been rolled up. Do you use Weapon System cards for attack or defense or both? Do you stack activation dice on a unit to get multiple moves or do you spread them out amongst units? The biggest decision is the use of an activation die that rolls up Command; the most common decision is do you attempt to get a Weapon Systems card to increase your odds in combat or do you order another unit, which will cause you to burn Weapon Systems cards faster? Everyone will develop their own play style and it will come out in how much of a gambler you want to be.

Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness - do the rules get in the way?

Like most Richard Borg games, the rules are largely on the die faces and written on the cards. Terrain rules are non-existent. Much of the information on the Wild Fire cards is not contained anywhere but on the card itself, however. This has lead to three questions on the forums to verify whether our interpretations were correct. (They were.)

One slightly negative comment is that the three examples of play (diagrams) in the rules were all in error and had to be covered by an errata sheet, which was included in my game. Questions on the forum indicate that the errata was still not considered crystal clear.

Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness. This may go up or down by one point depending on what else crops up as I play more and apply all of the Wild Fire effects.

Heads Up - are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

As indicated above, the rules are largely in the dice and cards, so really the challenge in the game is about remembering the turn and combat sequences (which must be strictly followed or the nuances of the game's design will be lost) and what choices you have when you roll Command on an activation die. Both of those will become second-nature with repeated play. Note that Abaddon does not include a quick reference sheet.

Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored - do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

Each unit has three basic ratings: move (in squares) per activation die; power (number of hits it can take before being destroyed); and battle (the type of die – D10, D8, or D6 – to roll in combat). Heavy Links move slow, can take a lot of hits, and hit harder. The lighter the unit, the faster it moves, but the less damage it can take and the less it inflicts. Infantry is the unit that breaks that model; it moves slow like a heavy, can take damage like a medium, and dishes damage like a light (except in close combat, where it is better).

The aspects of close combat and indirect combat (labeled Smart Bombs, Long Range Bombardment, and Doomsday Bolt) feel right. Hiding behind terrain and launching missiles at an unseen opponent has a good feel. The Target Lock – a square each player designates each turn as being "hot", and thus enjoys a bonus when combatting an enemy in that square – represents electronic support from SkyEye, and thus adds to the flavor. But, players may question two elements as being gamey, and thus dilutes the flavor: direct fire line of sight and terrain.

As indicated in the game overview, units attack directly the same as a Queen moves in Chess (only limited to five squares). Units and terrain can block that line or shorten it, but if you unit is not lined up on the target, it must fire indirectly (and thus with a less powerful and less commonly available Weapon Systems card). This gives it a very gamey feel, but I think most people who have commented on the forums have indicated that, once they understand how it works, they are okay with it. It makes the game more tactical and forces you to maneuver. So this is a mechanic that trades Appropriately Flavored for Engaging, and I am good with that trade-off.

Terrain simply makes a square impassable and blocks line of sight. For giant fighting robots, I do not have a problem with that. But not allowing infantry to occupy forests, villages, or cities? To me, that should be one more differentiator between infantry and mechs. Sounds like a house rule coming up...

Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored. It intentionally trades off flavor to make Abaddon a better and simpler game.

Scalable - can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or units used or in the number of players – from the 'standard game'?

As it stands the game is designed for two to four players, with scenarios included for all variations (but most scenarios are aimed at two players). The problem largely lies with the activation dice mechanic; you always roll five dice, regardless of the number of units in play. You could change this, but the game only comes with 10 activation dice, so you might need more than one set.

Abaddon rates 3 out of 5 for Scalable. It is designed for two players but can accommodate two more without trouble.

Lacks Fiddly Geometry - do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

The game uses squares to regulate all measurements and units shoot 360°. There are rules to see if you can shoot between gaps when firing on the diagonal, but it is pretty straight-forward.

Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Lacks Fiddly Geometry. (Only grid-based games get a 5 from me!)

Tournament Tight™ Rules - are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the leave the player to 'fill in the blanks'?

The rules are designed, like most board games, to be clear and not requiring interpretation. I suspect that an FAQ will come about about how to interpret Wild Fire cards that have no corresponding rule in the rule book.

Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Tournament Tight Rules.

Solo Suitability - do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

One key element in play is selecting a Weapon Systems card during direct fire combat. Both the active and inactive players get to play a card. The sequence is that the active player places all of his cards face down, indicating the target of the attack. The inactive player may then place a card on each target attacked directly. These cards have a target number, from one to eight, indicating the amount to be added to the battle die roll. In addition, there is a special Anti-Missile Missile card that completely negates the combat. Knowing whether to use that card is something the player must calculate with imperfect information.

In combats where more than one active unit is directly attacking the same enemy unit, that unit can only defend against one direct attack. So knowing which to defend against is also something the player must guess at.

These factors make playing Abaddon solo, without any modification to the rules, difficult.

Abaddon rates 2 out of 5 in Solo Suitability. It is not impossible, but because it has hidden elements important to game play, you lose some of that richness when playing solo.

Test Game of Abaddon

In order to learn the rules I played two games first. From that I could tell that I needed an opponent to experience the game fully. Being on vacation, I did not have many choices for an opponent.

I bribe my wife with bread pudding
I strategically placed some bread pudding near the game board and invite my wife to partake. The photo above was before she was told the price of the "free" bread pudding, hence the smile!

The Basic Game setup (minus the bread pudding!)
The Basic Game has each player with one of each unit type facing off across a battlefield of sparsely terrain. The mission is to eliminate two of your opponent's units.

It took about 10 minutes to explain the rules and go over the finer points with examples. I played the first few turns showing my cards to make explanations easier. My wife has played De Bellis Antiquitatus (DBA) and Ticket to Ride, but she is not a gaming aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. For her, this is "bonding".

The photo shows a turn where I have placed my Weapon Systems cards face down, showing who is attacking, with the arrows pointing at their targets (you must also verbally declare the targets). My wife is placing her Weapon Systems cards in defense.

The Obligatory Action Shot
The game was going well – we really were about even in the number of hits we had inflicted on each others' units – when my wife decided she needed a change in strategy in order to beat me. (Most likely in hopes that I would not ask her to play another game that night if she trounced me.)

Rita tries a different strategy
Observers might say that the change in strategy worked; Rita knocked out my first unit right after that picture was taken. But in the end, my strategy prevailed; I won 2 units to 1! (It really was a close game though as I had two units with a single hit remaining.) The MVP of the game was my infantry unit. On the last turn I rolled four Infantry on the five activation dice. This allowed the unit to make four, one-square moves into close combat where it thrashed a damaged Recon Link, winning me the game.

All in all I like Richard Borg designs and although this does not follow the same pattern as Command and Colors or Memoir '44, it is still a fun and challenging game. I bought it at a 60% discount, but had I played the game first, say a friend's copy or at a convention, I would have definitely purchased this game at full retail.

1 comment:

  1. I played a game of this with my own solo variant:

    On my turn, the enemy discards and draws face-down cards equal to the number of cards it had at the end of its turn. I choose all of my attacks, then look at the enemy cards to determine its best defense.

    If the enemy is attacked by two of my units, it will defend against the one that is the largest/biggest threat.

    Other than that, I was on my honor to play aggressively against myself. I figure I was pretty honest, because I lost.

    Of course, I only played the training mission, so things might get more complicated as I play other missions. It was fun, though!


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").