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Subject: Review after multiple plays - Superb! rss

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Rich Radgoski
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Gouldsboro
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Review – Tyrants of the Underdark
Players – 2-4
When choosing my activities for Origins this year, I saw a half a hundred slots for this game I hadn’t heard of – Tyrants of the Underdark. Intrigued, I signed myself and my son up for a game on Saturday. On Thursday and Friday, I saw the game being played everywhere – with 4 players at every board and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The cards were very attractive and the board – in mid game, intriguing.

I then got to our game on Saturday only to find out that it was a bad slot and only the two of us were there to play. Disappointed, we played the game. (We play a lot of 2 player games, so this isn’t an issue for us). The only major thing that changed in set up is that two parts of the board weren’t available with two players.
The game play is fairly simple. It’s a Deck Builder / Area Control game where your actions are dependent upon the resources/activities you generate through the cards. You start with 10 basic resources, and then build with better actions or opportunities as better cards are drafted into your deck.

There are only a few basic resources and actions you can perform. The First Resource is Influence (spider web symbol) and it will allow you to “buy” new cards from the available minions. In our first game, these were cards with Drow and Dragon themes. We found out later these were the “easier” of the 4 factions we could choose. The Second Resource, Prowess (Dagger Symbol) allows the player to lay out control markers (in the form of colored shields bearing house sigils) onto the board. A player can only place a shield where they have presence – basically at your location or adjacent. This manifests in strings of shields expanding like Spiders webs throughout the map.

Keywords include Assassinate (remove NPC or other player Shield), Supplant (Assassinate & replace with your shield), Devour (remove card from available minions or from your hand), Spies (Spread your presence in other locations) & Promote (Cycle cards from your deck that may not be useful any longer – and yields more victory points)

The game is enveloped in its theme. You are playing a Drow Leader of a prominent house. Your goal is to have the most victory points in the end (Establishing the strongest following & influence). You are trying to control Cities and tunnels of the Underdark, often engaging in ‘take that’ strategies. Placing spies doesn’t require playing adjacent to locations where you have presence, so you can infiltrate other tunnels and locations to vie for control – often directly in opposition of your opponent. The Cards are gorgeously rendered art set in the world of the Underdark portraying all kinds of creatures. I think most, if not all of the artwork is unique to the game as well. The cards and board are rendered in purples, blues, blacks and other colors that seeps the atmosphere of the world.

Thoughts on Gameplay – Tyrants mixes the appeal of other Deckbuilders with a tangible reason for building that deck. You are recruiting minions who are actively helping you spread your control and influence throughout the Underdark. This isn’t abstracted – you can see your influence spreading. That influence is blocked by the NPC player (White static Shields) and your human opponents. I felt the first game with my son in a two player game went well – I saw no issues with the game with 2. By constricting the board, the players are forced to fight each other over control – which is exactly what needs to be happening to make the game competitive. When I played with 3 players, we added one more section of the map and it felt the same. The same thing happened again when we added a 4th player. The game scaled well with all player combinations.

Of course, with more players come more ways in which someone can mess with your plans – and this is a good thing. So, while I will say this is a good game at 2 players (enough so for us to buy it!) it plays ‘better’ with three and four simply because of the level of interaction and manipulation. I love a game that scales well!

The game also scales in a different way – You get four factions of minions to use. The first two – Drow and Dragons – are the easy factions. By swapping in one hard faction, you get a “medium” complexity game. By using two hard factions, you get a hard complexity game. The Hard factions are Elementals and Demons. So far, we’ve played several easy games and two medium complexity games.

The Hard factions are more costly, have greater powers, and synergize with other cards by design. One might say – if you have already played an Obedience card, then you can execute an Assassinate action (for example). The Easy factions don’t have that interaction, but are designed to fit seamlessly with the hard factions.

I will say – upon first look, the board looks aseptic and bland. It has a Underdark theme as a background, but there are so many bright white spaces representing cities, that it’s hard to see it. I might have toned down that bright white, but ultimately, the choice makes playing the game and using the board easier. It’s trusting that the cards are where the theme is at, and after playing 4 times now I agree. As the board fills in, this spider web of influence spreads and is intuitively understood. The White of the locations offsets the colors of the shield pieces. I had similar reservations about these shield pieces as well. They are small and kinda bland… I love the sigils and wish, for the cost of this game, they would have embossed them. (I’m actually starting to use a paint pen to do just that) – but again, it is not necessary. The color of the shield shows the spider web of influence just fine.

Victory Points are generated by several ways – giving each player focus on how to achieve these points, but allowing (ala 7 wonders) different paths to get there. Control of Cities (normal and special cities) provides between 1 & 5 victory points at the end of the game. Control is defined as having the most shields in the city. Total control (having all of the locations of a city filled with your pieces and no spies present) yields 2 more points as a bonus. Special Cities, if you gain total control of them, provide Victory Points during the game (as do some minions) and these are totaled as well. Finally, Your cards provide Victory points. Every Minion is worth 0 to 6 VP’s if they are in your deck. If you “promoted” them to your Inner Circle (and thus no longer in your deck) you get more from that card. Usually, there is a 2-5 point bonus. (For example, a 1 VP card might be worth 3 VP after being promoted) We’ve found that Promoting is Very important to winning the game.

Ultimately, the game ends when all the Minions are flipped to available from the Minion deck or a player has placed all of his/her shields. One would think that racing to place those shields down would mean your opponents have less influence on locations, but I’ve seen players have such a strong deck/inner circle that they still win.

I can’t even begin to express how impressed I am with the design and gameplay of Tyrants of the Underdark. It’s Robust and fresh while using and combining concepts we all already understand. It plays well with 2, 3 and 4 players, although plays better with more. It scales in complexity and allows for player interaction. I know it’s a hit because the game has it the table 5 times since Origins (I didn’t get to play once) just a week ago. My sons and I rate this game a 9!
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Jebstone Boppman
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good to hear, cant wait to grab it
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T C
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My group has really enjoyed the game. Really our only big complaint was that the dark grey and dark blue/purple pieces were really hard for my group to tell apart from across the table.
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