Andean Abyss Play by Forum

Welcome, denizens of Quarter to Three, to the first play by forum game of Andean Abyss!

What is Andean Abyss?

Andean Abyss is a new board game, designed by Volko Ruhnke and published by GMT Games, which covers counter-insurgency operations in Colombia during the 1990s and early 2000s. It is the first in a planned series of counter-insurgency (COIN) games designed to explore conflicts that are less often gamed than “traditional” wars (Napoleonic, American Civil War, the Second World War, etc.)

Why play by forum?

Andean Abyss is an ideal game to play by forum. There is no hidden information, and there is no secret diplomacy. By rule, all deals must be conducted at the table and in the presence of all other players. That means that the inner-workings of our decision making can be (mostly) laid bare on the forums for all to see without requiring the players to avoid reading the thread. We will be using VASSAL, a program that allows players to run a board game over email, to keep track, and post images of the board as we go. The move files are all kept on dropbox, so if anyone actually wants to follow along with the play by play, they can PM me and I can add them to the shared folder.

What are the sides?

Andean Abyss explores the tangled web of counter-insurgency that characterized Colombia during the 1990s and early 2000s. It has the following cast of characters:

The Colombian Government (Syzygy): The Colombian Government is currently struggling to build an effective counter-insurgency infrastructure. While it has successfully cracked down on the Medellin drug cartel, new cartels are rising to take its place. At the same time, the government is dealing with a Marxist revolutionary movement, the FARC, as well as a reactionary movement backed by land-owners, the AUC. The Government’s challenge to to build support among the population and establish rule of law. In game terms, the government wins win support for the regime (measured by degree of support times population) exceeds 60.

The FARC (Brooski): The FARC are a Marxist guerrilla movement that has taken control of substantial portions of the lowlands of Colombia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the FARC turned to the Cartels to extract protection money, and kidnapping of wealthy elites (and cartel members) for ransom to fund its operations. The FARC’s goal is to increase opposition to the government and further increase its bases of support in the region. In game terms, the FARC wins if total opposition to the regime (degree of opposition times population) plus the number of FARC bases on the map exceeeds 25.

The AUC (CF Kane): The AUC is a rightwing paramilitary organization that combined several local militias that arose in response to the FARC. The AUC uses terror tactics and targeted assassination against the FARC, and anyone else who frustrates their agenda. The AUC has a strained relationship with the Government, which appreciates their ability to target the FARC, but dislikes the consequences to foreign aid and the rise of domestic lawlessness. The AUC’s goal is to have more bases of support in Colombia than the FARC. In game terms, the AUC wins if it has more bases than the FARC.

The Cartels (Alan Dunkin): The Cartels suffered a major blow when the government successfully cracked down on the Medellin cartel. A new leader, Gilberto Rodriguez (“The Chess Player of Cali”) has arisen, however, with plans to lead the Cartels to new heights. The Cartels do not have an ideological preference, but rather prefer some degree of chaos to prevent the government from interfering with their drug production and distribution. The Cartels’ goal is to accumulate material wealth and expand their production base. In game terms, the Cartels win if they have more than 10 bases and resources above 40.

I will post a brief discussion of the rules, along with pictures of the board in its opening state late tonight.

Bruce is FARC? Hahaha. I’m very eager to see how this goes- the Cartel player seemed weak to me based on a cursory reading of the rules. Thanks for doing this!

The random number generator we used to pick sides clearly has a sense of humor.

The fickle sides of a d6 made me a Red Communist.

Sounds cool. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out. I’ve always thought counter insurgency could make for an interesting game.

I’ve always thought of my self as Pablo Escobar.

— Alan

How do you play?

Andean Abyss is a card driven game, although unlike other card driven games, the players do not have a hand of cards. Instead, there is one card face up that governs the actions of all players. Only two of the four players can act per turn, and acting makes you ineligible to act on the next card. The card has a series of icons along the top, the colors of which match the colors of the various factions (Blue: Government, Red: FARC, Yellow: AUC, Green: Cartels). Players get to decide whether to act or pass in the order the icons are listed, from left to right.

Players can undertake the following actions:


Train: Build new troops or police in a city or government base. It costs three resources per selected space.
Patrol: Move police or troops along any number of lines of communication (the roads and pipelines connecting Cities on the map) until they encounter a guerrilla, after which they stop and activate the guerrilla. It costs three resources per destination.
Sweep: Move troops (only) one space. Each troop moved activates one guerrilla, except in forest spaces, where two troops are required to activate one guerrilla. It costs 3 resources per destination space.
Assault: Troops (and police) attack and destroy activated guerrillas. If no guerrillas are left, they then destroy bases. Each troop may remove one activated guerrilla (or base, if no guerrillas remain). It costs 3 resources per space.

Guerrilla Factions

Recruit: Recruit guerrillas in an eligible location (must be neutral or have support (for AUC) or opposition (for FARC). May also move guerrillas to a base and make them inactive. Costs one per location.
March: May move guerrillas to an adjacent space. Costs 1 per destination space.
Attack: Activate all guerrillas, and roll a die. If the die is less than the number of the active player’s guerrillas in the space, he may eliminate two enemy pieces (guerrillas, troops, or police first, and then, if there are none remaining, bases). Costs 1 per targeted space.
Terror: Activate an inactive guerrilla. Place a terror marker in the space (or a sabotage marker if a line of communication) and move the level of support one towards neutral (if AUC or Cartels) or one towards opposition (if FARC).

Special abilities:
A faction that chooses to forgo the event on the card, or whose opponent plays the event on the card, may execute a special ability as part of its action. These are as follows:

Airlift: Move up to three troops from one space to any other space. May be paired with any government operation.
Airstrike: Remove an active guerrilla (or if no guerrillas, a base) in a department or LOC (NOT a city). May only be paired with a patrol, sweep, or assault action.
Eradicate: Boost aid by +4, remove all cartel bases from a department (not city). Then shift the target department, or an adjacent department, one space towards opposition. If no eligible departments, place a FARC guerrilla. (People don’t like having their crops eradicated.)

Extort: Select any space where the FARC has control (its pieces (Guerrillas plus bases) outnumber opposing pieces). Activate an underground Guerrilla and gain 1 resource.
Ambush: May only target a space that is being attacked. Instead of the usual attack procedure, activate an underground guerrilla. The attack automatically succeeds. Place an available guerrilla of your faction in the space.
Kidnap: Kidnapping allows the FARC to take 1 die roll worth of resources from the Government (if in a City or LOC) or the Cartels (if in a location with a Cartel base). If the FARC targets a space where the Cartels have a drug shipment, it takes the shipment instead. May only be used alongside a terror action.

Extort: As for FARC.
Ambush: As for FARC.
Assassinate: Target up to three spaces selected for a terror action where AUC guerrillas outnumber police. In each space, remove any 1 enemy piece. If an assassination forces the removal of a drug shipment, place it with an AUC guerrilla.

Cultivate: Relocate any one cartel base from any space to the selected space. If the space is selected for a rally action, you may instead place one cartel base from the pool there.
Process: Processing prepares a major drug shipment or exchanges bases for resources. It must occur in a space with a cartel base and accompany a Rally or March action. May place one or two available shipments with cartel guerrillas.
Bribe: The Cartel can pay 3 resources per space to remove 2 cubes, remove or flip 2 guerrillas, or remove a base. Bribe is the only special action that costs resources. The cartel may take any shipments removed by bribes and give them to another guerrillas.

The Setup

Here is the board at the start of the game. The blue cubes are government pieces. Light blue are police, and dark blue are troops. The tall cylinders are guerrillas and the discs are bases. FARC is red, AUC yellow, and Cartels are green.

As you can see from the map, the government has a strong base of support in the Cities, except for Cali, which is ideologically neutral. The FARC is strongest in the low lying grasslands and jungle. The cartels have bases in Cali, as well as several of the forested southern provinces. The AUC is spread out, with its strongest base of support in the north.

Below are the first two cards revealed. The one on the right is the active card for this turn, and the one to its left will become active next turn. The government gets to make the first decision (because their marker is on the top left position on the card) and must choose between a very good event and the ability to take an early action.

As the game goes on, we will discuss other issues, like how to get resources, scoring, etc.

I’d love to take 7th Special Forces for the event. The “GOVT CAPABILITIES” marker on the card means that I would keep the special ability at the top of the card for the rest of the game. This differs from “INSURGENT MOMENTUM” which only lasts until the end of the campaign (until the next propaganda card, or roughly a quarter of the game).

However, first card is bad timing as I’d give up initiative to the insurgent factions on the board. I’m particularly concerned about Santander Department. If I don’t augment my forces there with police, it’s awfully tempting for AUC to use their terror with assassinate special ability to destroy my base there (as they are already positioned to take out two FARC bases with assassinate and the government base is arguably a good third option).

Therefore I’m using the train operation with no special activity. Not taking a special activity will mean no one (i.e. Bruce) can use the shaded portion of the event card “US training ineffective” to permanently impact the government’s capability to protect its Lines of Communication with a view to choking off my funding in the long run.

Train: Santander (3 police, 3 troops), Pereira (4 troops, 2 police), Bogota (3 troops, 3 police), Santa Marta (3 troops, 3 police)
Government Resources reduced from 40 to 28

I’ve uploaded my VASSAL move. Hopefully I did it correctly. I downloaded the save file, picked government, started a log file, made my move, then stopped the log file. If it doesn’t come across correctly Mr. Kane you are welcome to move my pieces so it doesn’t hold up the game.

Syzygy, the one thing that you need to do to have VASSAL work is load the most recent log file into the program and run through it using the play button on the task bar (or the page down key). Once you’ve run through the previous move, the board will have the proper setup. I redid your move for you and posted it to the drop box. I also took my move.

Since Syzygy did not take a special action, I would be stuck taking only a limited operation, which means that I can only do one of the basic guerrilla operations, and only in one space. That is not especially appealing. Looking ahead at the next card, Mexican Traffickers, I see that (a) it is an excellent event for the cartels, and (b) I am second to act. I am assuming that Alan, playing the Cartels, will either take the excellent event (using the bottom box), or take an action with a special activity, which would allow me to extort him (I won’t take the event, taking away 10 resources from you, if you give me 5 resources).

Plus, passing gets a guerrilla faction 1 resource (3 resources for the government), so I get a small benefit, and I will be eligible to act next turn. If I take the limited op, I will not be eligible.

That means that Bruce, as leader of the FARC, is now up to make his decision.

Oh comrades, your shackles are about to be overthrown! Rise up and smite the capitalist exploitationaters using our red cubes of equality and six-sided dice of limited action events. Today is the first day of our victory!

Did you buy that? That I’m going to play this whole game in character? Because I’m not, although it does have some appeal. Anyway, I now have a choice to make. But I can’t make it now, so this will have to wait until I look at the game map. Maybe I can think up some more insurgent dialogue in the meantime.

I should start off this post by explaining to everyone that the way I usually play these games is that I imagine what I would do if I were the person in question IN REAL LIFE, and then just do what that person would have done in my place. In a game of Midway by Avalon Hill, I would attack the Japanese carriers and try to sink them. In a game of 2by3’s War in the East, I would try to draw the Germans into a meatgrinder around Stalingrad, and then surround them in a pincer attack. If I were a settler somewhere in Catan, I would try to build a long road and raise a large army.

But what can I do here? The first thing I would do would probably be to lobby the government for a tax break for oil companies so they could hire more workers to produce more oil. But I can’t do that. The second thing would be to urge the government give the peasants tax breaks on their taxes for education credits for job retraining. Not an option here. I think the last thing I would do would be to return any government subsidies so that exposure to outside agricultural markets would force my peasants to become more competitive. You may be surprised that I can’t find a rule for that, and I’ve read the rule book twice.

So the only thing I can come up with, after a lot of sitting and thinking and revolutionizing, is the old wargame standby.


To explain this in frustratingly arcane game terms, the Andean Abyss substitute for having people play cards out of individual hands is to have a single deck and then to regulate each player’s actions based on what the previous player did. Each card has a hierarchy of players who can take actions, and the actions of the second player are limited by the action of the first. If the first player takes advantage of the card event, it allows the second player to take what is essentially an augmented turn, with special actions and full range of motion, so to speak. If the first player limits his actions, it constrains the second player as well. That’s what Syzygy did to me. He didn’t want to take the event, but if he didn’t and instead went ahead and flexed his muscles to the full extent of the law, I could have activated the event myself. Because of the brilliant genius of the dual-event card system, a good event for one side almost always has a flipside that benefits the enemy if the enemy manages to activate it. So Syzygy just nullified the card entirely by not taking the event, but also not taking a special activity with his move. That prevents me from activating my version of the event (which I certainly would have done if he had let me) and limits me to just taking a Limited Op (LimOp in covert agency-speak) or alternately doing nothing.

What would doing nothing do? Well, it would get me more of the People’s resources, because you get +1 resource for passing, and doing nothing is called “passing” in revolutionary-speak. Commandante Kane did that on his turn, and it worked out spectacularly for him in that he got +1 resource EXACTLY AS HE PLANNED.

Passing would also keep me “eligible” for the next card, as Comrade Kane explained a couple posts ago. Thing is, if you act on a card, you generally won’t be able to act on the next card. Your action moves you to the “ineligible” box which doesn’t get cleared out until the next card is done. As CFK said, Senor Dunkin of the narco-narcos is very likely to activate the next card (Mexican Cartels) for the event. It’s good for him, and he should do it if he is a right-thinking narco-terrorist, which we all know he is. Even if he isn’t, historical determinism and the clash of capitalism with the people’s will to prevail will likely lead him down the preordained path of … sorry.

As I was saying, Alan is gonna hook up some Mexican distributors. So that leads us to rule something-dot-something, which says that only two players can act on a single card. If you look at the Mexican Cartels card, at the top is the hierarchy, and as you can probably see, I am last. If you activate an event, the second player gets to do the super turn-plus-spec ops: the line we all dream about. I am pretty sure that either El Jefe Kane or El Presidente Syzygy will choose to take that opportunity, meaning I won’t be able to act on that card at all, even if I really really wanted to. I say that just to highlight the unfairness of this whole thing and how the people are constantly trampled despite their right to a better life. So the next card is a wash for me, thus making myself ineligible for it becomes no big deal. Thus, I act with the full force vested in me by Chairman Mao and take a Limited Op (LimOp!) and choose any of the regular ops available to me (Rally, March, Attack, and Terror) but have to limit it to one space (i.e. “limited”). For very complicated reasons essentially boiling down to the fact that I have no idea whom to attack right now, I choose Rally, which gets me more troops. Troops in my world are called “insurgents.” Thank you. I pay one Resource for this honor.

Reading the dash-whatever section of the rulebook, I see that a Rally gets me additional insurgents in a space equal to the number of bases I have in that space, plus the space’s population level. Looking around, it seems like the department of Huila-Tolima, high up in the mountains, has a population of 2. That ties it for first on the Colombian department population leaderboard. So that’s probably as many insurgents as I’m going to get in any one place. Adding that to one base, I can place 2+1 = 3 insurgents in Huila-Tolima.

So I do it. I hope it makes the other players nervous.

In keeping with my movement’s ideals of total equality, I then propose that we end this game right now as a four-way tie.

At the end of the first turn, all of the action is in the center of the map. El Presidente Syzygy has placed a number of troops and police in Bogota and Ibague Pereira, as well as in the Mountain province of Santander Boyaca. Comrade Geryk has responded by recruiting heavily at his base in Huila-Tolima, From there, his insurgents pose a credible threat to turn popular opinion against the government in Huila-Tolima itself, or in the neighboring Cities of Nevia, Pasto, or Cali, which have comparatively small numbers of police and troops.

One of the nice things about Volko Ruhnke’s designs, which include Andean Abyss, Labyrinth: The War on Terror 2001-?, and Wilderness War, is that the sides have very asymmetrical goals and tactics. This can make the strategy hard to grasp without having a few games under your belt. We are all relatively new to the game, so we will probably make mistakes.

An example, from my first game. I was playing government, and the various insurgent factions decided to pile on after I, perhaps foolishly, pulled into an early lead. The FARC and AUC spread terror, making it hard for me to find support. They also used events that limited my ability to use special abilities. As a consequence, I couldn’t use the eradicate ability to eliminate cartel bases. After the first propaganda phase (where, among other things, resources are generated), the cartels had a very strong position. By the second, they pulled into a commanding lead, which they held until the next propaganda card, which ended the game.

At first blush, the Cartels and AUC look weaker than the Government, with its easy access to resources and large number of troops, or the FARC, with its massive stockpile of insurgent pieces. They have their own advantages though, and in the right hands can be incredibly powerful.

For example, the AUC can easily co-exist with the government. In other games I have played, the AUC has worked out agreements where the government funds AUC activities, paying them resources to eliminate certain pesky FARC or Cartel pieces. The Cartels, on the other hand, do not come in direct conflict with the Government as often as the FARC, which means that their buildup can often go unchecked until too late.

Now, on to turn two. I took the liberty of cleaning up the game files and drawing the new card. Here is what awaits us:

The Colombia Nueva card allows the AUC to take the first action. I’m not particularly tempted by it, however, because I can rely on Bruce to play the anti-government event, which hurts Syzygy without compromising my position. There is a scenario in which I pass this turn, but I don’t think that it is particularly likely.

Pablo “Alan” Escobar (slightly ahistorical, but good enough for me) is up next.

Oh, man, this is awesome. I either need to immediately buy a copy of Andean Abyss or play a game of Labyrinth stat.

Can you use a less racist term?


I have a few questions and am playing my round (Chip can do clean-up if necessary):

[li]I’m assuming because everyone ahead of me did something and there was one Pass, it left me ineligible for anything and I didn’t get to Pass in Turn One.[/li][li]If so, still, my Resources should still be 10 since I wasn’t affected (far as I could tell) by anything in Turn 1, instead of 9 where it is at now.[/li][li]Bruce’s remark makes it seem like both the 1st and then the 2nd eligible player could use the same Event (or even part of the Dual Event) when he said “two players act on a single card”, which I’m fairly sure is not accurate. Just that if 1st Eligible uses the Event, the 2nd eligible can do something cool (Op + Special Ability). Actually I think he explained this fairly well previous to that so… I guess I only confused myself :/[/li][/ul]


The Escobars like Mexicans very much. We want to do more business with them, now, while there is a sizeable gap between the Miami Vice TV series and the movie. Since we are content to sit, wait, and grow our empire in this newly formed coke vacuum, we will play the Event shaded portion of the Mexican Traffickers card and come reap the benefits during the next Propaganda round (moved card to Insurgent Momentum holding box; I am now Ineligible till Turn 4). See, we’re not bothering anyone. We just want to make some money. We’ll just sit around for awhile…

— Alan

Alan, yes you are correct that you should be at 10 resources. Bruce probably accidentally moved your marker to 9 as well when he moved his own down one space, since they started the game stacked on top of one another.

The assumptions in your third bullet point are correct, both portions of the event can’t be activated.

[/li]Sorry, I just meant that only two players can perform any action at all on a given card. Even though there are four players, there are only actions defined for the 1st and 2nd eligible factions. So if you are fourth in the hierarchy, two players have to pass for you to be able to take an action. Otherwise the play moves to the next card. I think that’s one of the coolest parts of the game.

Bah! My bad.

Comrade Geryk’s embrace of radical redistributivism does not sit well with our landed overlords. The AUC must act to make the low lying grasslands safe for large landowners and cattle ranchers!

Luckily, we have an underground guerrilla cell in Arauca-Casanare, a North Eastern province near the Venezuela border. A cunning ambush is laid:

Like our inspiration, the Patrick Swayze led Wolverines from Red Dawn, we lie in wait, and when the moment is right, reveal ourselves and strike!

I have not only managed to clear the red menace from Arauca, I’ve also managed to recruit another upstanding defender of power and privilege from the local population. Arauca could become a useful base of operations, once I sufficiently terrorize the population into abandoning the cause of the FARC.

The event cards for next turn are:

Only the FARC and Government are eligible for Colombia Nueva. The event is great for FARC, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they take it. The next card’s event is not particularly helpful for the FARC at this point, and it is unlikely that the government will ever get to use it, because it goes last.

What is troubling for me is that Crop Substitution may be a repeat of turn one. The cartels may prefer to take an action without a special activity, to prevent me from using the event against them. That would leave me with a limited operation, which means I can only activate one space, and do not get a special action.

Now, back to Comrade Geryk for his decision on Colombia Nueva.

Looking good so far. As Bruce mentioned, the mechanics for who takes actions when and the events are really clever.

I’m trying to understand the rules so I can follow along a little better, and I just have a few questions about the last turn.

I’m pretty sure I understand it, but just to make sure… so the top of the second turn was the Cartels taking the event. Because they activated the event that gave the next in line on that event card (the AUC) a special action to use, in this case an ambush.

So then for the bottom of turn 2 the AUC did an attack order (I assume since ambush can only be played on a province being attacked), plus an ambush special order to automatically make that attack successful?

The only thing I don’t get there though is the difference between active, inactive, and underground units… I see the attack order says you have to activate all guerrillas, and then the ambush order says you need to activate an underground guerrilla. How does that work exactly? Wouldn’t activating all guerrillas mean there aren’t any left to activate to do the ambush?

And finally, after the AUCs turn it goes to the next event card… normally the AUC would take first action on that card, but since they were active in the previous turn they are ineligible so play goes to the FARC?

Thanks in advance!

A player can sequence his actions in any order he wishes. If we were playing the board version of the game, I would place white pawns on each space that I was going to declare an attack in. Before any of those attacks are executed, I can place a black pawn, indicating my ambush. At the end of the turn, I have to pay the resource cost for each pawn I place.

So in this context, I declared that I would be attacking in the province, and that there would be an ambush. According to the rule for Ambush, I resolve the ambush first, which requires me to activate an underground guerrilla (that is why my unit goes from a plain front to having a star in front - in the board version, I’d flip it over.) The ambush procedure replaces the attack procedure, so I automatically succeed, remove two pieces, and place an AUC guerrilla.

That is exactly right. Only eligible factions can activate a card. Ineligible factions are ignored.