Base price: $20.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 28
Full disclosure: A review copy of Conspiracy was provided by Flat River Games.
Back to Abyss! I’m always a bit intrigued by games that have “mini” versions of themselves. Sometimes they’re just the game on a smaller scale, sometimes they’re a roll-and-write or a card game or a dice game version, and sometimes they’re just a different game set in the same universe. Conspiracy: Abyss Universe has Abyss right in the title, so one would assume that it might just be related, but it might be deeper than that! One way to find out.
In Conspiracy, the Kingdom of Abyss remains controlled by Lords who wish to see their own interests represented and their own groups promoted. Getting them to back you will require work, as you build a structure and organization to install yourself as the next leader of Abyss. Whether it’s earning Influence Points, Keys, or Pearls, each turn you’ll reveal cards from the deck or take a set of discarded cards of the same color, trying to make an inverted pyramid of Lords and leveraging their powers. Though the game takes a lot from Abyss, instead of keeping track of any details, players just use the cards in lieu of tokens or pearls. Two keys of the same color will earn you a Location, which adds even more points (potentially) to your growing influence. Players who earn the most Pearls become the Pearl Master, earning 5 additional points if they can hold on to that title until the game’s end. It’s a quick game of pressing your luck and growing your influence, so will you be able to bend a conspiracy to your will and lead the Kingdom of Abyss?
Player Count Differences
The only difference ends up being kind of abstract. Functionally, there are players who are flipping some number of cards (both Lords and Locations) every turn. With more players, you’d expect there to be more cards. However, you’ll also see more cards getting taken, as a result, so it should largely balance out. The only time you’d notice a player count difference is if one player is doing a truly bad strategic move and always revealing a ton of cards, thereby letting another player (hopefully you, in this example, but not always) basically get their pick of the spares. It’s not great, but there’s also nothing you can do about it if the player benefitting isn’t you, short of telling them to play better. It’s just a hazard of this kind of game, to some degree. If you want to avoid it entirely, play with two players. But beyond that, most everything averages out; I haven’t noticed major player count differences between my various game groups, and we’ve happily been running a three-player game for the last week or so (as of writing; who knows what we’ll play on Board Game Arena next?). I wouldn’t sleep on the two-player game, though; it’s still pretty fiercely competitive, especially because if you’re not the Pearl Master, they are.
- Keep an eye on what your opponents are doing! You should know what your opponents are looking for and how they’re scoring points. If one of them already has 9 Pearls, for instance, you’re likely not catching up without a concerted effort. If you have two Lords of equal points and ability, maybe you should take the one that your opponent would likely want more! Things like that.
- Being the Pearl Master is never a particularly bad move. It’s 5 points at the end of the game, and the Lords with Pearls are worth 3 or 4 Influence Points. If you can chain together a bunch of the same color, you’ll get 3 points per Lord of the same color, which is also great. In a two-player game, it’s pretty critical to be the Pearl Master; it’s essentially 5 unanswerable points because it’s entirely zero-sum. Either your opponent is the Peal Master or you are.
- Early 6s are great, especially if there aren’t any other Lords in the pile to get taken. A 6 flips the top card of the deck into the discard pile (making it easier for subsequent players to pull multiple Lords of the same color from the discard area). You’re not able to create a stack of multiple Lords if the discard area is empty, and it’s much more likely to have fewer cards at the start of the game, so taking an early 6 can help a lot. Plus, there are Locations that give you points equal to your highest-value Lord of a given color, so having a 6 in that means you earn another 6 points on that Location!
- There’s some advantage to making a giant connected chain of same-faction Lords, but it’s unlikely you’ll get all of them. Try to diversify as well! As mentioned, your largest connected chain of Lords of the same faction (color) earns you 3 points per Lord in that chain. If you hit eight or so, unless you get lucky, your opponents are going to start aggressively trying to block you (partially so that you don’t just get a minimum of 45 points). You should consider getting a few cards of different colors just to give yourself some options, rather than expecting to get all the cards in one color.
- Locations can really work in your favor. They tend to be either valuable or powerful, but in the rarest case, you can sometimes get Locations that are both! One that I enjoy is a Location that forces all other players to draw two cards and keep one, which can pretty easily fill up the discard area with Lords (that only you can grab) for your next turn. Another is just worth a clean 7 points, which is pretty good! Just keep an eye out for Locations that fit your strategy and see what you can get for yourself.
- Some Locations mess up your opponents! But it messes up them all, so in a rare recommendation, I say go for it. I usually don’t recommend messing with your opponents outside of a two-player game, but here, the Locations can effectively block your opponent from doing something as useful on their next turn (or return the discarded Lords or Locations to their respective decks). Since it’s hitting everyone, and it doesn’t cost you extra turn work, it earns the relatively uncommon “go for it” from me.
- Taking a key of each color is pretty much always a waste; try to take doubles so you don’t end up needing a third. You really want to focus on silver keys or gold keys; if you take one of each, the game won’t give you a Location until you gain a second of either color, and then the game spends both colors. That’s not ideal. Make sure you’re separating which keys you take when so that you can get keys in an appropriate order.
- If you’re taking from a stack, you can choose the ordering; try to work that in your favor. Pulling a bunch of Lords from the discard area means you can place them in your pyramid in the order that they want. You should be mindful of this ordering. For instance, if you take two Lords, one with a gold key and another with a silver key, you should place the Lord that matches your unplaced key first, so you get the Location. If you get a 0 Lord, that lets you swap. You may want to place that first or later, so that you have the ability to swap Lords and make your pyramid as connected as possible.
- It’s usually not great to leave a stack of Lords for your opponent, but they’re not all that good, contextually. If you leave your opponent two 0s, for instance, early in the game, there’s not a whole lot of swapping that you can do at that point. If you end up with a stack of 4-value Lords, well, they only give you one Pearl each. That might not be enough to catch up to the Pearl Master, for instance.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Still great art! I really like it a lot, and the colors really pop on the table. It’s a beautiful game, even if the fish-people are a bit unsettling at times. To be fair, the deep ocean is a scary place, so this is a completely fair reflection of that.
- I actually appreciate this quite a bit as a portable, mini-Abyss. They’ve filed down a lot of the complex parts of Abyss to make it more portable, like making Pearls just a thing you keep track of as a player, rather than having to deal with physical pearls, or making Locations just stack on the last key you paired (and making keys unswappable). There are a lot of smart design choices to just shrink this down to a little box, and I think they all work out pretty well. I don’t really see this as a mini-Abyss anymore; I just appreciate the similarities the two games have to each other.
- The inverted pyramid is a lot of fun. It definitely makes things challenging if you want to try and build a long chain of the same faction of cards, which I appreciate from a strategic perspective. It’s also just not a shape that I make a lot in card games? So it’s kind of nice.
- It’s actually really nice to not have to keep track of basically any resources; everything is on the cards. It saves a lot of jockeying with resources and extra pieces. The only thing you really need to track is which card is your highest-value card of each faction, and they have little tokens for that. And even then, that just makes bookkeeping at the end of the game easier. It’s a very streamlined experience.
- The Locations introduce a lot of fun strategic elements to the game, and I really like how they change up my strategy every time I play. You’re still pressing your luck when you draw them. Some are very good for your particular strategy, your particular player count, or your particular set of cards you already have. Others are none of those things and they just make you kind of wish that you had a better draw. That said, one of the Locations is just a straight 7 points, and that’s nothing to shake a stick at. I really like how the random draw of Locations can really benefit you at the right time.
- The quick-play elements of this are really nice. The game plays quickly, especially with more players. More players usually means more cards ending up in the discard, which can lead to a nice stack of cards for players to take and accelerate the game along. It’s just a speedy little game.
- I appreciate that there are still the press-your-luck elements, too. You’re pretty much always pressing your luck. You’re either drawing 1 / 2 / 3 cards from the Lords deck and hoping you get what you need, or you’re benefitting from the leftover cards from previous turns that nobody wanted. There’s a lot of luck involved, granted, but for a short and strategic little game that’s totally fine.
- Square cards remain the bane of my existence. Thankfully, these aren’t symmetrical, so that at least makes it easier to put everything back together and shuffle them all the same way. I just don’t … love square cards.
- I guess there are alternate art boxes for this one too? I find that vexing, but I think that was just a design choice for Abyss / Conspiracy in the past. I’m not sure they’re still making five distinct boxes for this game, since that’s extremely silly.
- The challenge with this kind of game (and even with Abyss proper) is that there’s no way to handle one player just continually grabbing as many cards as possible and setting the player after them up for success. You can’t do anything about it, so just hope it’s you. This occasionally happens and is extremely frustrating. If you have a player that’s consistently drawing 3 cards every turn, they’re usually filling up the discards with a few cards each round. When that happens, unfortunately, the player immediately after them usually benefits. There’s not always something you can do about that, which is a bit of a flaw with the game. You can’t effectively control what other players do, though enough games of that will hopefully demonstrate for them that always taking as many cards as possible isn’t necessarily the strongest strategy.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I really enjoy Conspiracy! I was pleasantly surprised, especially since I already like Abyss quite a bit. But this “Mini Abyss” stands alone in its own right. It’s faster, granted, but also pleasantly reminiscent of the things I already liked about the core game. Both are surprisingly-intense games of pressing your luck, but the adjacency bonuses present in Abyss from getting large chains of the same color are really fun! I also particularly like how Locations work, here. Just get a few keys and the Location (and its effect) is yours! I appreciate that the smaller box is a bit more optimized for transport, even if making a big inverted pyramid of cards is, itself, ever-so-slightly impractical. It’s a process. This has actually become the go-to game for me and a couple coworkers, and I’m proud to say I’m doing the worst of us. I think it’s because it’s easy to just get lost in the process of getting Pearls or drawing a bunch of cards or trying and holding out for that perfect card, rather than making the best of what you have. Either way, it’s as much fun to lose as anything else, I’ve found, given that I’ve played it 20+ times, at this point. Something keeps bringing me back to this little box. Ultimately, that’s enough for me to say that Conspiracy is more than just Mini Abyss; it’s very much its own game, and I enjoy both quite a bit. If you’re interested in a press-your-luck game with some spatial elements, you want to explore the mysteries of the deep, or you’re just a fan of colorful games with fantastic art (like I am), you might enjoy Conspiracy as well! I’d definitely recommend it.
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