Have I got a treat for you today! Welcome to my review of Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift from Dragon Dawn Games!
Delve into a dark and dangerous world full of cultists and demons in this deeply tactical and challenging dungeon crawler!
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time: 30-180 mins
Designer: Timo Multamäki, David Hladky, Thomas Klausner, Kevin Wilson
Artist: Matthias Catrein, Jere Kasanen, Jamie Noble-Frier, Juha Salmijärvi, Tanja Ylitalo
Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions
I previously reviewed Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift some time ago but back then I had only played the online version at Tabletopia. Recently Dragon Dawn Productions sent me a physical copy of the game and I was so excited!
Note: Throughout this post I am referring to the Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift (Revised Edition)
Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift (PM:AR) is such a great game! It looks great and is hands-down the best dungeon crawler I have come across! And looking at the people involved in the production of this game, it’s no surprise. Amongst the regular Dragon Dawn team, you have stars like Kevin Wilson, who worked on Descent, and amazing artists such as Jere Kasanen, and Jamie Noble Frier who has worked on Warhammer RPGs!
I started my gaming life with Heroquest, so dungeon crawlers are my bread and butter, but PM:AR is such a unique take on the genre, that I am hooked! It has a rich world behind it and a simple but compelling story to follow and gorgeous miniatures.
But the most unique aspects of the game are the diceless aspect of it and the action economy which forces the whole group to negotiate. Hard decisions must be made every turn and your decisions effect subsequent players in the round.
The group must work together closely in order to beat each level. And this ain’t no walk in the park like the original Heroquest was. This is a challenging game, even on Standard mode.
PM:AR is a game that will have you on your toes from the beginning and forces you to collaborate closely with your team-mates. There is no “move-hack-move-hack” mechanics here. There is a range of actions which are limited so each player must choose their actions wisely.
The quality of the materials used in PM:AR are all of a very high quality. The card is thick and durable and the game boards are extra thick with excellent finish and gorgeous art.
There are five game boards in total, each of which is double-sided, giving a total of 10 levels for the campaign. Each level has its own unique set up and story and combination of enemies and hazards. Although each level can be played in isolation, this really is a campaign game.
One thing I love about PM:AR (and there are many, many things I love about this game!), is that there are multiple routes through the game. There are three different starting scenarios which take you through different sets of scenarios and there are several forks along the road which means there are many different ways of completing the game.
There are also options for difficulty. I would strongly recommend starting on Standard mode, as this alone is challenging enough!
The designers have been explicit about making this a hard game to beat and they really have lived up to their word. It is definitely not an easy game to win, but the gameplay is so fun that you don’t mind losing sometimes!
There are also additional scenarios designed as standalone adventures of varying challenge ratings and alternative scenarios and optional scenarios that one can insert along the campaign. Altogether, there are 32 different scenarios and over 20 routes through the dungeon.
There are seven different heroes to choose from. Each hero is either a Warrior, a Priest or a Magus and has either ranged or melee attacks. For the best results, make sure your party has a mix of each. The ideal party of four would consist of two warriors, one ranged and one melee and two magic characters, one ranged and one melee.
The combinations of heroes you can choose are manifold and part of the enjoyment is choosing your team and considering you can have anywhere from one to six heroes, that gives you over 60 party combinations! (40+ combinations, if you take the recommendation of not playing with fewer than 3 heroes, even if playing solo or two player)
Each of the heroes are completely unique, with their own special abilities and stats and some are easier to play than others. There is a lovely asymmetry with the characters which just adds to the collaborative nature of the game as each player plays to their strengths and attempts to compliment the abilities and counter the weaknesses of their allies.
There is a great selection of terrifying monsters to do battle with in PM:AR. And of course the difficulty ramps up as you go through. You begin by encountering lowly Acolytes and Guards, but be warned, even these are not so simple to defeat.
Then you go on to meet Summoners who can teleport, a whole host of vicious-looking insectoids and the final Demon! The minis that accompany the game are fantastic and made of a durable plastic that bends rather than snaps and are highly detailed and crying out for a lick of paint if you’re into that kind of thing.
Each enemy type has its own unique set of rules that govern its behavior. The Acolytes, instead of attacking you directly, head off to raise the alarm which increases the threat level, whilst the Guards prefer to shoot from a distance. Some enemies are large and can trample through the player characters, whilst others are able to enhance the strength of nearby enemies by emitting chemicals into the air to boost its comrades.
Probably the most unique aspect of PM:AR, is the action economy. Dragon Dawn have totally rewritten the play-book on turn-taking in a dungeon crawler!
In PM:AR, there are no dice and no set turn order. The order that the players take actions in is agreed by consensus and according to the most efficient use of the scarce action resources that are available to the group.
Each player has a peg in the Stone of Destiny and must, on their turn, use their Action Points to move around the stone and Choose the action which they would like to take. Any action points left over after moving one’s token can often be used to augment the effect of that action.
The actions available are Attack, Sprint, Defend, Charge, Rest, Bash/Aimed Shot, Move and Special. Each action has its benefits, but it means that you can not always rely on being able to move and hit in the same turn, in fact a maximum of two characters can charge each turn, everyone else must make hard decisions about what they will do. Which action will keep themselves from getting killed whilst helping the group the most?
The enemies have their own wheel called the Enemy Watchstone which, together with the response deck (which is used in lieu of dice), dictates how and when they move and attack. The tension is palpable around the table when it is time to draw a card to see how many sections the enemy tokens will move around the Watchstone, for that determines how many actions the enemy gets.
To determine how many actions the enemies receive on their turn, a card is drawn from the response deck. The response deck has cards with numbers -2 to 5 written on them, so you could see the enemies get up to 5 actions in one turn which is truly terrifying!
There are two more mechanics that I need to gush about! The first is the Health or Hit Points system.
In PM:AR, Heroes don’t just loose HP like in D&D, or other dungeon crawlers, they take Wounds. Wounds are cards that you add to your Hero Deck which give you various maluses and take up space in your hand. Also, everytime you take a wound, you move your token down a stage on the health tracker tracker on your Character Board.
This results in reduced Action Points, Attack score and Defend score. So the more wounds you take, the weaker and less effective you are in battle. I love this mechanic as it realistically represents your character getting beat up in-game with some tough consequences, making the decisions that you make even more important!
The Response Deck
The diceless system is fantastic. Instead of dice, you draw a card from the Response Deck. Cards are numbered from -2 to +5 and are added onto an enemies Attack or Defend score in combat. There are a number of other situations where you might draw a Response card as well.
The more I thought about this system, and after reading the designers thoughts behind it, the more I loved it! With a deck-based system like this, the designers are able to fine-tune the probabilities of different outcomes in a way that is impossible (or very hard) with dice.
The probabilities are also manipulated by adding different sets of cards to the deck. In this way, one can adjust the difficulty for different scenarios. If you are into game design, then I would take a good look at this diceless system and see what you like about it and where else it can be applied.
I could play Persition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift all day, every day! And I could talk about this game all day too, but suffice to say that I believe this is, hands down, the best board game I have reviewed on this site!
I know Dragon Dawn for their deep-themed games on a variety of topics and with Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift, they have taken their trade-mark attention to detail, their unparalleled ability to go deep into a topic and unearth new ways of approaching gaming and applied it to the age-old classic dungeon-crawler and they have created something so beautiful and complete that it is a wonder to behold.
They have taken the cooperative nature of dungeon crawlers and built a set of mechanics which draws this element of game-play out and puts it centre-stage. This is such a social game and there is no chance of you coming out on top if you are not working together to solve the scenario!
Add a revolutionary and unique game-play to a ridiculously high-quality set of game components and a wonderful collection of asymmetric characters; chuck in the gorgeous artwork, the clever campaign design and the high-level of challenge and you really do have the game of the decade, in my opinion!
Although PM:AR plays like a modern and fresh game, it also has a really gritty, old school feel to it that reminds me of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Dungeon Crawl Classics. The chance of character death is high, combat is brutal, and that is just how I like it!
Keep an eye out more Dragon Dawn goodness coming your way!
I’ll be reviewing Beyond the Rift soon, a cooperative card game based on Perdition’s Mouth!
And the upcoming expansion, Perdition’s Mouth: Soul Spire, due out Q3 2023- I can’t wait!
So until then, happy gaming and thanks for reading!