Unfathomable Review - Immersive Gameplay and Backstabbing Thrills Make for a Captivating Voyage

Fantasy Flight Games is no stranger to the world of Arkham Horror and the supernatural, and it's diving back in with its newest game, Unfathomable. Unfathomable is a new semi-cooperative game that has you playing as characters aboard the S.S. Atlantica who are attempting to survive the trip and keep the ship afloat as it sails towards its new destination. That won't be easy, though, as you'll need to drive back monstrous creatures, repair damage, keep other passengers safe, and deal with a traitor in your midst all at the same time. That might sound a bit daunting to keep track of, but Unfathomable expertly weaves its many mechanics together with precision, and soon you'll find yourself fully immersed in this fantastical scenario.

Unfathomable is a fully cooperative game at the start, as everyone is attempting to keep the ship safe and is allied against the Deep Ones, creatures who live in The Deep and are led by two even more powerful monarchs known as Mother Hydra and Father Dagon. Hydra and Dagon are also massive, by the way, so when they show up on the board, you cannot miss it. After the first turn of the game, Loyalty Cards are given out, and at this point, at least one player will be made either a Hybrid or a Cultist, and this opens up all sorts of fun throughout the game.

(Photo: Fantasy Flight Games)

Hybrids and Cultists are on the Deep Ones' side, so players who control them are often going to try and work against the other players and undermine them at every turn. Traitors also have the option to reveal themselves as a traitor at any time, and there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. The amount of choice you have at your disposal makes it a joy to play as a traitor, as you can nitpick the crew to death with things like risking fuel, food, not saving passengers, not repairing sections of the ship, or impeding the crew's attempts to meet Skill Checks.

Skill Checks come into play in the third phase of a player's turn. The first has you drawing your character's arsenal of Skill Cards, and there are 5 different Skill Decks, with each character having a different mix and skillset overall. The second phase is the action phase, which lets you take 2 Actions that include moving spaces, attacking, repairing, rescuing passengers, and more. Then we get to the third phase, which has you draw a Mythos Card, and this presents one of the key points in each turn. You'll have a choice presented to you with some story text, and there will be a number and set of skills that need to be met to meet the Pass requirement. Passing one of these often nets you a small reward or no negatives, but failing this will normally net you some sort of consequence.

(Photo: Fantasy Flight Games)

Because each player can put cards into the pool to try and pass the Skill Test, Traitors can push and pull a bit to see if they can throw a wrench in the crew's plans. There are also two cards pulled from the mixed up Chaos Deck with every Mythos Card Skill Test, so if you play your cards right (literally in this case), you can screw over the other players and pass it off as a bad draw, but do this enough and some will likely catch on.

This back and forth from turn to turn is immensely fun, as each time around you are pushing the boundaries of what you can get away with. While I enjoyed playing as several characters and utilizing their specific mix of abilities (especially when I was Keeper of the Tome and able to use spells on any given turn), I had the most fun being a Traitor, as there are simply so many ways to screw with the other players or win the game outright if you can play the long game. That said, there are ways for the humans to fight back, including sticking you in the Brig, if you are worried about balance.

The other major threat is from The Deep Ones, specifically Mother Hydra and Father Dagon, who move around the ship and can damage sections of its interior. You'll also spawn several Deep Ones with certain Mythos Cards, and these can add up quickly, as four Deep Ones will typically hit the board all at the same time. You can go from calm to panic in no time, and that sort of unpredictability is one of the game's strongest elements. That's why it's paramount to get to know your character and what they can do as quickly as possible, because you only have two Actions, and you need to make the most out of every single one. Certain cards let you re-roll a die, add and subtract 2 from your result, or do multiple things with one Action, so take note of what options you have at your disposal at any given moment.

(Photo: Fantasy Flight Games)

To win the game for the Humans, you'll need to move across Travel Track several times until you get to the Arrive space, and then you draw a Waypoint card, which gives you a Distance number and typically either penalizes or rewards you (or asks you to risk a passenger to roll for a positive or negative result). If you get enough Waypoint Cards to create a distance of 12, the next time you hit the Arrive Space, you win, but even then a Cultist might just pull victory right out from under you.

If anything, the bevy of choices present at any given time is what sticks out most about Unfathomable. From turn to turn, it feels as if you've got any number of avenues to pursue towards your survival and they don't all necessitate combat. You can save Passengers and pick up more items if you want to help, though you can also take down Deep Ones as your primary function. You can also move the Spell Tracker to create a massive protective spell to remove Mother Hydra and Father Dagon from the board, as well as risk elements like Sanity, Souls, or Passengers to move further along the Spell or Travel Track, praying that you can get to your destination before your risky choices catch up with you.

This game is gorgeous, too, with stunning Hydra and Dagon miniatures that tower above everything else, and the board itself stuns with vivid colors and stellar design that allows space for most of the various decks and items used during gameplay. 

While the board is gorgeous, it is quite large and will eat up substantial space when you factor in the larger Character Cards and various card decks you'll have surrounding the board at any given time. Thankfully, some of the space on the board is used to house certain decks and dials, but it's still big enough to mention in case you have limited space.

(Photo: Fantasy Flight Games)

The only other issue is the aforementioned daunting nature of the rulebook. The Learn to Play book is decently big on its own, but the Rules Reference is even larger, and there are several layers to each player's role (like Keeper of the Tome, The Captain, and Loyalty Cards) that might start to overwhelm newer players. Once they get a few turns under their belt, they'll likely be just fine and move along quickly from turn to turn, but those first few turns might end up being a slog. If you are teaching this to new players, this is a game you play and learn ahead of time and then present to the group as opposed to a learn at the table scenario.

Unfathomable knocks its presentation out of the park, but it's the game's compelling storytelling through gameplay and questioning of loyalty that makes it so replayable. Working as a team to save the S.S. Atlantica is incredibly entertaining as is the hunt for the one waiting to stick a knife in your back. However, for those looking for a laid-back experience without a barrage of required rules to learn, this won't necessarily be as appealing. If given a chance, though, you might end up loving this sea-bound adventure. I truly enjoyed my time with Unfathomable, and if you've got the time, space, and patience to learn all of its intricacies, you're going to have an amazing time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Published By: Fantasy Flight Games

Designed By: Tony Fanchi

Creative Director of Story and Setting: Katrina Ostrander

Art Direction: Deborah Garcia and Jeff Lee Johnson


Sculpting: Rowena Frenzel

Unfathomable is in stores now.