Calling all tabletop gamers: If you enjoy strategy games such as Risk and Dominion, plotting to destroy your enemies with a multitude of different strategies and the fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, than this is the game for you! Two of AiPT!’s staff sat down with a few friends to play Tyrants of the Underdark last weekend and have breakdown of their experience for you.
Dungeons & Dragons Synopsis:
“Tyrants of the Underdark pits 2 to 4 players against each other to take over territory in the tumultuous Underdark, mashing up deck-building mechanics with board control.
Designed by Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson, and Andrew Veen, and produced by Gale Force Nine, Tyrants of the Underdark is a competitive board game in which you play as a drow house recruiting monsters, cultists and demons to aid you in controlling locations such as Menzoberranzan and Blingdenstone. Using power and influence as resources, Tyrants of the Underdark features multiple strategies you can use in crafting your deck of minions. Be the spymaster infiltrating your enemy’s strongholds or the deadly war-leader concentrating on assassinating enemy troops. No matter how you decide to play, whoever controls most of the Underdark at the end of the game wins, unless there’s some hidden strategy in play.”
What’s the skinny?
Mike: To start, the learning curve with this game isn’t that bad — definitely not as bad as I initially thought it was going to be. When I think of the mechanics I view them in two categories. There is the card based element, which I equate to Dominion. You have limited low-level cards that you use to buy board pieces, but you also have cards that buy you more cards, which is how you grow your deck. Like Dominion, the cards in hand at the end of your turn go into your discard pile and when your draw deck is empty, your discard pile is shuffled and becomes your draw deck. Each play-through is kept fresh by rotating the cards used every game. I think this aspect of the game is really strong. You really feel like you get to do a lot on your turn and most importantly, it’s fun. After a few cycles, everyone we played with had the hang of this and started coming up with their own strategy.
JJ: 2-4 players lead their own Drow houses (Dark Elves) against one another in a game that employs spying, assassination, deck building and control. The goal of the game is to accrue victory points. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. Gaining control of key positions on the map is one of the surest ways to gain victory points. Moving your pieces around the map and removing your enemies’ troops is done through use of your deck. Thus the path to victory is paved with a well built deck. If you ignore building a good deck and get too caught up in fighting, you stand no choice of winning. There are two resources which you’ll need to carefully source as the game progresses: power and influence. Power allows a player to assassinate enemy troops and deploy more of their own troops, while influence is used for purchasing more cards and using special abilities for unique cards you’ve added to your deck.
What’s the catch?
Mike: The board itself leaves a lot to be desired. Each “site” you control has a name and maybe a bonus for controlling it, but theres no artwork to distinguish one site from another, they all blend into the board itself. In Risk, it feels like an accomplishment to control a continent on “the other side of the world.” Here, Gauntlgryn feels like only a few steps from Araumycos (What, you don’t know where these places are?). The pieces really should have been given a different color scheme as well. I never got used to differentiating grey from purple and had to figure out what pieces were mine on my turn. Ideally you should be able to look at the board and immediately know which are yours.
JJ: The Dark Elf Trilogy was my first foray into the literary world of Forgotten Realms and Dungeons & Dragons. Those books gave me a vivid picture of the Underdark: a place of endless miles of caverns and countless tunnels deep beneath the world. The many domains of the Underdark host dangerous beyond count — Dark Elves, demons, Illithids, monsters, dwarves and deep gnomes. Thus you can imagine my disappointment when I found no representation of any of those things on the game board or within the plastic pieces representing troops, spies and denizens of the Underdark.
Nothing about the game board beyond a few simple images made the different areas of the map unique and distinct. Where are the dwarves of Guantlgrym? The deep gnomes of Blingdenstone? The Dark Elves of Menozoberranzan? I could go on, but you get it. The game pieces were colored to identify who they belong to: black, purple, red and orange for the players forces, with white being neutral forces spread throughout the Underdark. As with Mike I have to echo his sentiment about the color choice, it was often difficult to tell which pieces were yours upon first look. As I said before, the Underdark is filled with all kinds of nasty stuff. So a basic piece of white plastic shaped like a shield didn’t satisfy me. Give me some Illithid, dwarf and monster miniatures!
Is it good?
Mike: I’ll admit, when we first started taking the game out and setting up the pieces I thought “Man, this is going to be a complicated game.” I’ve been there before. I can’t count how many times I’ve pulled out Game of Thrones board game and started setting things up to get some weird looks and “uh, why don’t we play Playstation instead?” But unlike those other self-proclaimed geeks, I’m willing to at least give something a shot before I decide to never open the box again. This time, I’m really glad I did. It’s a pretty great game with some minor flaws and does a really good job of blending Risk with Dominion.
The artwork on the cards is Magic: The Gathering worthy but I just wish the game board had the same appeal. I do think there was a missed opportunity having no lore within the game itself, or even a one sheet blurb on who these factions are and describing the land.
All in all it’s a fairly easy game to pick up if you’re willing to devote 15 minutes reading through the instructions and keeping them on hand for your first run. Our first round was 1v1 and lasted about 20 minutes where our second had four players going probably an hour and a half. If you’re someone into board games and want to build your collection with unique experiences, this is for sure a must buy.
JJ: One of the first things that jumped out at me here was the card art. It’s utterly fantastic. I have to imagine a wide range of artists were employed for this game because there’s quite the variety of styles present. Hands down the card art was the biggest piece of immersion present. It really helped bring the dark elves and the other inhabitants of the Underdark alive.
While I had issues with the art of the game board and the design of the plastic game pieces, the quality of the cards, tokens, and other game pieces was high. Even the box felt nice to touch. Nothing felt flimsy. This is a game I expect to last me a long time.
Initially on finding that combined there was over five hundred cards, tokens and game pieces, I was a little intimidated. Thankfully, as it turns out, learning the basics of this game wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. As Mike said, we played a one on one game before we dove into a four player free for all. I’ll recommend that anyone playing this game takes our approach. It made it much easier to understand the mechanics, kept a good pace since there were only two of us and made it much easier for our friends to pick things up when they jumped in, since they had us to guide them.