A big, sturdy box can make any game look intimidating, and Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift is no exception. The tabletop dungeon crawler from Dragon Dawn Productions offers players the chance to dive into a cooperative adventure that will test them to the breaking point and beyond.
Abyssal Rift takes players into a hive of cultists intent on summoning forth their insectoid god.
Drawn by visions and hallucinations, a number of adventurers have come together to put a stop to the dark deeds taking place in the cult’s lair. The base game comes with six heroes to choose from, though more can be obtained in expansions or on the company’s shop. Each champion comes with a backstory and motivation which can be used to roleplay the characters as they fight through the swarms of the insectoid cult. The various champions all have their own stats that affect what they can do each turn and a unique special ability. In order to survive Perdition’s Mouth, players will have to be clever and collaborative.
Danger lurks around every corner in Abyssal Rift. Enemies and their ever increasing level of viciousness hammer home the very real possibility of death. In one playtest, four characters entered the first level and only one made it to the exit of the floor alive – and from the first floor onward, encounters only get more challenging. Players accumulate wounds as they take damage and damage effects each character’s abilities. If players fail to stop certain enemies from accomplishing certain objectives on each floor, then the global threat level rises, increasing the number of enemies that spawn whenever they are able to call in reinforcements. That threat level also carries over into subsequent levels.
The base game contains eight levels which can be played in a variety of ways to increase difficulty. Each character can be given a special weakness, alternative scenarios can play out over the various maps, and decks can be stacked to include better bonuses… for both players and for monsters. Even on the easiest settings, Perdition’s Mouth presents a fantastic challenge for a dedicated tabletop crew.
Don’t confuse Perdition’s Mouth with your run-of-the mill dungeon crawler, though. The rondel stands as the biggest deviation from comparable co-op dungeon crawlers out there. Instead of rolling dice to see what their character can or cannot do, players spend action points to make tactical choices during their round. Selecting an action to perform on the rondel takes a certain amount of action points and then performing the action consumes action points.
The switch from dice to rondel might seem small, but it changes everything. What previously would have been left up to luck now relies entirely on the skill and cooperation of the party. On the player round, heroes can move in any order, so coordination becomes paramount in order to succeed. Some characters have fewer action points or unique skills and using them at the right moment or maneuvering around the rondel to set up for a future strategy could mean the difference between life and death.
The element of randomness still makes an appearance, however. Each hero possesses a deck of cards from which they draw while performing certain actions on the rondel. They can use these cards to provide themselves with bonuses while attacking, defending, or performing special actions. While each enemy has a set value for their attack and defense, they also have access to a reaction card, which more often than not will provide a bonus to their attack. That means players must always weight their options. Do you spend a precious bonus card from your limited hand to bolster your attack or do you hope the reaction the creature draws isn’t enough to save it? If you spend that card, you might find yourself defenseless at a critical moment.
Of course, this being a dungeon crawler, players can find all kinds of items and treasures on their hellish journey to defeat the insectoid god. Many levels include the opportunity to obtain these helpful pieces of equipment, but they might put heroes at risk or be balanced against certain objectives. Do you go for the treasure chest or do you save the innocent victim on the other side of the level? Do you commit the sin of splitting the party to attempt both at once? The treasure or item in the chest might prove to be the party’s salvation, but allowing the prisoners to die or enemies to escape could become lethal as the party makes progress. These are the tactical questions with which groups will have to wrestle.
The initial setup for the game can seem a bit daunting. A thick rule book and a plethora of quality miniatures, tokens, and boards initially feel overwhelming for a new player. Luckily, the basics can be mastered with just a few practice rounds on the first stage. It helps to have someone involved in the first session who has played the game before, but if at least one player has looked at the rule book before launching into the game setup and gameplay learning, things will move along relatively quickly. A number of comprehensive overviews of the game exist out there, too; perhaps the best being Catweasle's multi-part series.
People looking for a short game will not find it in Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift. The first level with inexperienced players might take two hours to complete. A full playthrough (assuming players survive) spans at least six levels, so if you want to make a stab at finishing one full attempt in a single sitting, be sure to set aside a full afternoon and evening. For people who don’t have that kind of time, the game also comes with cards to keep track of progress so players can resume next time they come together.
Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift feels like a long overdue evolution for tabletop dungeon crawlers. The strategy of using the rondel over dice makes every move feel much more personal and when your character falls victim to a wound or falls in battle, it genuinely feels like you were responsible, not the whims of fate. Though certainly difficult (you might want to take the first floor through a trial run before going through the dungeon in earnest), the difficulty feels fair for a game that pits a rag-tag group against the forces of a god. If you're looking to add a spicy new game into the mix of your board game night, Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift is certainly worth a try.