Warping my fragile little mind!!
As the title might suggest, I recently played Tyrants of the Underdark. Now, when I got into board gaming, I went out of my way to seek out low conflict and had a preference for co-operative games. This is because I do a lot of gaming with my wife and as you may or may not know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned after a savage game beating. Since I have now been reviewing board games for some time, I am finding myself more and more enamored toward games which contain heavy conflict. Thanks to a few people which shall remain nameless, it has awoken the beast within me, which likes to watch people suffer and bask in the glory of an epic win. In summary, I think that board gaming is turning me in to a bad person, and you know what? I don’t care. I do have Tyrants of the Underdark in part to thank for this epiphany and given that I am now comfortable with the fact that I am actually starting to like conflict driven games, YOU’RE ALL GOING DOWN! You’re going down like a sad clown with a painted frown!
See, it has warped my fragile little mind…
CD delves into D&D
Until Tyrants of the Underdark I have never ventured into the D&D universe, save for watching the cartoon when I was still knee high to a grasshopper. Having also seen the cartoon recently with grown up, less naive eyes, it was pretty awful. I think that the reason I steered clear of D&D, is that I could never get my head around why someone would want to play a game which is so complicated – that it needs a Games Master! The only Games Master which I ever approved of was the late, but great Patrick Moore. Mind you, I can honestly say that the theme for Tyrants of the Underdark could be that you’re fluffy bunnies, trying to take over a fluffy bunny kingdom and the game would still be equally as awesome. Hmmmm….. I feel an expansion coming on. “Tyrants of Fluffy Bunny Kingdom”- Call me Wizards of The Coast, there’s plenty more where this came from.
Tyrants of the Underdark does have a much more sinister theme though. You’re playing as houses of Dark Elves vying for supremacy of the Underdark, which is apparently the home of the drow and other D&D regulars, including Dragons of course. You do this by literally taking over the subterranean cities , like some pointy eared, darkness dwelling mafioso. Or at least, that’s the look I was going for anyway. For full disclosure though, I have managed to get through several games without making someone an offer they can’t refuse. Also, I’m not sure I could lay my hands on a dragon head to leave between their sheets; more’s the pity.
Not your typical Deckbuilder
Don’t let the title deceive you, the game is a normal deck-builder to a point. You start with 10 cards, 7 “noble” cards, which can be used for purchasing new cards from the market and 3 “soldiers” which can be used for attacking. Whilst the purchasing is nothing new for anyone who has played any kind of deckbuilding game before, the attacking cards are used for something very different. For example, in a game like Star Realms your attack is pointed directly at your opponent and it takes down their life (or respect or any other type of theme), but in Tyrants of the Underdark the attack is used to put soldiers out on to the area control board.
The aim of Tyrants of the Underdark is really simple… score more victory points than your competitors. If only it was that simple to work out! You get victory points at the end of the game for all of the areas you control. You earn points for all of the cards you promote from your deck (more on that soon), for the cards you have left in your deck and you also score points for other players that you kill during the game.
Dungeons and… Death?
At the beginning of Tyrants of the Underdark, you all choose a house and colour to play. Depending on the amount of players you then set up the area control board, which shows the Underdark you’re all trying to take over. There are spaces all over the board to place the white players, which are of no use aside from making things difficult for the real players. The picture below shows the inital set up for a 2 player game, but with a 3 or 4 player game you play an extra side of the board or all of the board respectively.
Touching a little more on the mechanics, you can play an attack card to do a few things, if you have 1 attack you can place a soldier anywhere on the board you have presence. This is a spot where you already have someone placed or an adjacent spot to them. For 3 attack you can assassinate another player or one of the white tokens in your attempt to take over the Underdark and start looking to control areas for victory points. Nice! However, you could be scuppered by dirty spies which the other players have placed, stopping you from having complete control. So, for another 3 attack you can (optionally) politely return them to their owner. The spies are used to add presence to a location and also to mess with the other players.
There are 4 half decks (40 cards each) to make the market deck. They recommend starting off with the Drow and Dragons as they’re the easiest to get to grips with, but there is also Demons and Elementals and you can choose a deck of whichever you wish – to add a completely different spin on the game you play.
Components: Evil Dark Elf or Dr Evil?
I do love deckbuilding games and there seems to have been quite a lot of thought put into making gamers lives easier in Tyrants of the Underdark. You get boards for your personal deck, which also has a designated space for your discard pile. Cleverly, underneath is a space for your “barracks” to keep track of your soliders and your “trophy hall” where you can keep your conquered foes, making scoring them later on much easier.
During the game you can buy cards which allow you to promote cards to score points later on. You can promote any card which was played in the last turn and you have a designated “inner circle” for storing them. I have used promotion mostly for getting rid of the low powered starting cards, but you can put higher powered (and higher scoring) cards in there if you think it might benefit you. The inner circle is exactly that, looking like a coaster from a manic depressive artist.
You also get a designated board for the market with spaces for cards which are “devoured” (ejected from the game completely) and also VP tokens. The main board you use for keeping an eye on how well you’re becoming a tyrant is good quality, but as with the inner circle the art is very dark.
With the game you’re given pawns of sorts, which represent your spies and your soldiers. The spies are truly mini miniatures as they’re cast well, but are only 5 or 6mm tall (they’re the ones on the left of the image above). The shields and the spies seem to be fantastic quality and come in the house colours (Orange, Black, Blue and Red).
I have 2 issues with the components, and first is the box insert. Because deckbuilders mean you’re handling and shuffling the cards all the time, they get pretty sweaty and nasty really quickly, so I like to sleeve them. Sadly, there’s no room in the box for sleeved cards. It seems a bit like they missed a trick on this, but to my knowledge I don’t think that Wizards of the Coast have made a deckbuilding game before, so it could be lack of experience on their part. Secondly, is that you get a notepad to help you take score at the end of the game. This only comes with around 25 sheets, meaning that if you play it as feverishly as I have been doing, they’re going to disappear quite quickly. To be honest, I have used a calculator instead of the pad to save wasting it, but some more sheets on the pad would have been nice.
Tyrannically awesome, or utter Tosh?
I could give Tyrants of the Underdark a really big build up before revealing my opinion on the game. Not this time, I absolutely love this game. I have been full on nagging my gaming group to have another game virtually every day. Not only that, the person I played with first keeps trying to invite himself back for another game. So I’m clearly not on my own in my opinion of the game. This is also the first game I have played in some time, that I have found myself “fan-boying” about to anyone that will listen.
Something very interesting happened when I was playing Tyrants for the first time. After a couple of rounds of getting the hang of the mechanics and the round structure, we both had a realisation at same time, that this game not only had great potential to be really fun, but also that we were going to spend the next hour really messing with each others minds. Oddly enough, I know it happened as a glint appeared in the eye of my opponent, at the same time I realised what was going to happen. As I alluded to in the beginning of this review, Tyrants of the Underdark has awoken my inner lover of wanton destruction and I’m no longer sure how to feel about that.
I think the mechanic of mashing 2 game styles together is something I have never seen before and it feels to me like a breath of fresh air into an old mechanic, and I can respect that. The other thing that I have noticed while playing, is that every game tends to play radically different. The first game we played, there were spies all over the place, yet I’ve played it since and none of us placed one spy. It’s all down to the luck of the draw from the market and also what hands you end up with.
The only really negative thing I can say about Tyrants is that all of the art is really dark and moody. I understand why, since it’s thematic; it’s meant to be set underground and you’re playing a cut-throat type of game. But still, would some brighter colours have killed it? It probably gives more cause and a bit of support for the Tyrants of Fluffy Bunny Kingdom expansion I guess.
The game plays fantastically well with 2 players, which is something I can’t say for all games and the scaling for 3 players seems to work really well. I’m yet to play with 4 players, but I have a feeling it will be utter madness. Four people vying for the same places, while stabbing each other in the back (and the front) to get into the same cities and trying to get to the best cards, really tickles my fancy. This game is going to take a long time for the novelty to wear off.
To give you an idea of how crazy a 2 player game can get, here’s a picture of the board at the end of the game:
I can’t say enough good things about Tyrants of the Underdark, however the proof really is in the pudding. The game is utterly fantastic. If you’d like to bag yourself a copy, you can do so here:
If you’d like some more information about the game then the makers site is here, and the BGG page is underneath:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.