Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift is a mouthful. That title also serves as a solid forewarning of this game being mentally demanding. This is not your typical Descent clone. This is an innovative Euro-style dungeon crawl board game that is all about hitting you with a combination of mechanisms and surprises you’ve never seen before. Engaging and cognitively stimulating are the two most appropriate adjectives I’d ascribe.
First of all, this box is enormous. It’s a heavy thing chock full of plastic miniatures, dungeon boards, and hundreds of cards. What you will notice is the lack of dice. The game does retain a sense of drama and uncertainty from an enemy-utilized reaction deck, but player actions are supported via playing cards from your hand to set the value of the attack. You can mitigate luck by dumping extra points into your mighty swing or vicious spell. This, combined with knowledge gained from the reaction deck as it is depleted, means luck is minimized as strategy and optimization come to the fore.
The most interesting aspect of the game is the action rondel. Players each have a small token they place on this round board which serves as an action matrix. You move along the spokes clockwise, and perform the action of the space you land in. This includes standard fare such as attacking or moving, but also includes more interesting items like a special ability, bash, and guard space. You can hop over players as well as utilize action points you are allotted each round to push farther along the rondel and control your destiny to some degree.
The action wheel is the heart of Perdition’s Mouth. It is the focal point of strategy and prompts legitimate teamwork and discussion. It interlocks eloquently with the asymmetrical character’s action cards and serves as a filter that you must work through in order to manipulate the state of the board. In this way, there is a strong strategic parallel to the Mage Knight board game in spirit. That sense of feeling like you need to do several things but having to work within your current limitations is engaging. For those who favor the more free-wheeling do what you want play of the typical dungeon crawler, this can also be maddening.
The rondel feels very dynamic and a strong representation of a fluid poetic flow to the events on the table, as if you’re trying to insert your presence in the middle of a symphonic piece and hang on for dear life. It can also feel disconnected to the situation on the board as it’s very external. This dual-edged sword is really one of perception and is not inherently right or wrong. This is the hard edge Perdition’s Mouth sits upon as it offers a compelling and altogether unique experience, but its challenge and limitations need to be fully embraced to get the most out of it.
The word challenge is apropos to the discussion as this game is brutal. It’s not so much about powering up and gaining strength over a narrative curve, as it is about outright challenge and overcoming difficulty. The later scenarios in the game throw wave after wave of difficult enemies your way and you will need to optimize your action selection and be on top of your hand management if you want to survive. If you come with the right attitude this style of game is phenomenal. It will have you craving more and immediately setting the scenario up again after a failure, intent on fixing your mistakes and righting your wrongs.
Part of the inherent difficulty of Perdition’s Mouth lies in the enemy rondel. They have their own wheel which governs unique AI behavior. A card draw each round dictates how far along the spokes the enemy token moves, and what actions each enemy figure performs. Some rounds will be more lackadaisical as your foes just perform a move action or maybe simply spawn a couple new units. Others they will charge across the battlefield and attack incessantly. You have a rough idea of what their capabilities are based around averages of that reaction deck, but you’re never exactly sure and there’s consistently an air of tension permeating the atmosphere.
All this talk of action wheels and hand management certainly conveys the heavy mechanical nature of the game. While the mechanisms are at the forefront of the design, the narrative has not been neglected. There is definitely a sense of story here as the group of adventurers descend underground into a swarming cult of humans and demonic insects. You are trying to halt the summoning of a hellish beast, and you must fight the denizens of the darkness with tooth, nail, and claw. Scenarios build upon each other from a story perspective and you can even play a campaign mode where wounds and treasure carry over.
In addition to a solid story, there are little pieces of narrative inflections that continually rise to the surface. Wounds are not simply points of damage, but realized through punitive cards that are placed in your player deck and continually rear their head to haunt you. With descriptors such as missing digit and vasectomy, you will definitely receive a strong visual to the acute pain that arachnid mutant just threw your way. The player action cards also afford interesting powers built upon solid thematic tones as you can build walls, teleport across the board, and give way to barbaric rage.
This game is a hybrid of design schools that has much to offer. It’s mechanically thoughtful and truly innovative. It pairs those compelling systems with an atypical setting of an insectoid cult attempting to ravage the world and the end result is delicious. If you want something truly different, something that stands apart from the pack and offers a wild and uncertain ride, then open your arms and prepare to be swallowed by Perdition’s Mouth.
How do you feel about mixing Euro-style mechanisms with traditionally thematic games? Are you excited to try Perdition’s Mouth? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Dragon Dawn Productions
Article Image Credit: Charlie Theel