2-4 players, Competitive, Area Control, Deck Building
Designer: Peter Lee
Artwork: Steve Ellis
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Overview of Gameplay
Tyrants of the Underdark is an interesting game just for the fact that they cram so many game mechanics into this box and yet, it all works gloriously. Going into this game I was hinging on the theme mostly as I just love the Drow and am an avid reader of The Legend of Drizzt. Now of course Drizzt is nowhere to be seen in this game as it focuses entirely on four main houses of Drow society in the Underdark.
In the game players will be utilizing a combination of area control on a board using small plastic tokens representing their specific house as well as a deck of cards that they will be building upon by adding new cards from the market place. Using these cards to grow ever stronger with new exciting abilities, players will move their tokens around the board taking over locations and cities to ultimately gain Victory Points. After either one player has place all their soldier tokens on the board OR all the market cards have been depleted, the game will end. Players will count up all their victory points from locations taken over and cards acquired and whoever has the most vp’s wins!
The components are just a tad below average. The cards are super slick and rather thin which is probably the worst offender of the entire thing. Considering the deck building is a huge part of the game play this is not a good look. The player boards are decently thick and sturdy cardboard so no complaints there. The plastic tokens…….so these are pretty cool and each house’s tokens look a little different which is nice BUT they are SO tiny and fiddly. Anyone with big hands is going to fumble these things around all over the place and the board can get tight really fast once you start placing a lot of them. These things WILL get knocked over. Also the color choices for them is questionable as the blue for one set is so dark is damn near looks just like the black color of the other house.
The game board itself isn’t half bad though. It looks pretty cool and it’s broken into sections on the board depending on how many players you have which is awesome. There is also another smaller board that houses all the cards that you will be using in the game. Everything on that board is labeled so you know where to place the decks easily. I really like that. Overall the components WORK but they need some tweaking to be great.
Another classic case of a game having an insert that is actually worse than not having one. This is the Mage Knight Ultimate Edition insert all over again. It has places for the cards and pieces BUT if you dare store the game on its side, those pieces and cards will come tumbling out of their respective compartments and mix together. Such a pain to have to reorganize all the cards again after placing them in an organization insert. I hate throwing out inserts like this but unless you store the game flat this thing is almost useless. Overall not impressed with the included storage solution.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Now I really love the theme. As I mentioned earlier I am a big fan of the Drow fantasy theme and this game just oozes that theme. The cards artwork looks awesome and there is a huge variety of images displayed on the cards. The board looks cool as more and more tokens get placed, if not a bit confusing. I could see players that have no past experience with the theme not getting into the game as much as those who do though. The gameplay is good no doubt but when combined with the theme it’s truly great.
I didn’t have any trouble with the instruction manual. It’s not all that lengthy but also not all that memorable. The game is surprisingly easy to learn considering. I mean if you have any experience at all with deck builder games that’s half the battle. And as a bonus if you have experience with Area Control games that’s the other half. This game doesn’t do anything new but that lends to the easy pick up and play if you are familiar with these styles. If not, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the provided instructions.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
There are many avenues for player interaction here. First off when you are building up your deck you could snatch a card in the market place that someone else was eyeing and when you start placing troops on the board you can easily capture points that other people might be moving towards. You can place spies in locations to prevent someone from getting some vp’s. I mean with this game you are in each other’s faces most of the time. But that’s the nature of an area control game, you need to use the cards you have available to take over locations to attain the most vp’s. As such the table talk is constant and if you like the “in your face” style of game then you will undoubtedly love this especially at higher player counts. Now you COULD try to stay away from other players but you are not gonna win many games this way as not only are you leaving entire areas free for them to take over but you are missing out on precious location VP’s.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I think this game works well at all player’s counts primarily due to the cool segmented board. You see the board is broken into three main sections, there is a left, middle and right section. If playing a two player game you only use the middle area and those corresponding locations. If playing a three player game use the middle and either the left or right sections and if four players use the entire board. This is really cool as it always keeps players face to face by limiting the amount of play area in lower player count games.
As far as replayability goes there are four completely different decks of market (minion) cards. During a single game you will mix up two of the fours decks and use those so each game will be slightly different depending on which two decks you combine. Each deck has different strategies to employ on the battlefield as well so things are always changing. Not only that but being a deckbuilder, you never really know what cards you will end up with as the game goes since you only have the few displayed available to purchase.
Positive Final Thoughts
Overall I found Tyrants of the Underdark a very enjoyable deckbuilding game combined with Area Control. The cards are fun and the different abilities on the decks are interesting. It doesn’t do anything at all new or even better than other games that have these mechanics but it all works very well together and if you like the theme then I would heartily recommend this one.
Negative Final Thoughts
Component quality could be a tad bit better and the insert is pretty bad. Nothing new and exciting gameplay wise so if you are tired of deckbuilding or area control you may not like this one.
So I also picked up the Aberrations & Undead card expansion pack. This expansion adds a ton of variety to the base game in the form of two new 40 card decks you can mix in with the other decks in the base game to give the game even more replayability. As far as the cards go the artwork on them is excellent and the new abilities are awesome. HOWEVER the quality is a completely different bird. It’s kinda hard to tell but I THINK they tried to improve the card quality with the expansion by making the cards sturdier but by doing so they are completely miss-matched with the base games cards. The color on the cards back is a dark purple than the core sets cards and they have a certain sheen to them. Basically you can easily tell the difference between the different sets of cards so if you mix a core set up with an expansion set you can predict what you are going to draw, at least to a certain extent. This for me isn’t a game breaker, more an annoying thing but for some this could be.