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Tyrants of the Underdark» Forums » Reviews

Subject: We've Seen Most of this Before, so why is Tyrants so Good? rss

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John E
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What It's All About
Tyrants of the Underdark is a game about asserting your influence and expanding your domain to be the most powerful Drow house in the Underdark (the sprawling underground realm in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting). You will do this by recruiting minions and using their influence and power to deploy your troops and spies to sites throughout the Underdark.

How To Win
The final round is triggered when the market deck of 80 cards is emptied or when one player has placed their last troop onto the board. Players then add up their scores from area control, enemies killed, card and inner circle vp values and vp tokens. The games seem to consistently fall into the 60-90 minute range.

Haven't I Seen This Before?
At a pure mechanical level Tyrants doesn't do a whole lot that is new. The market deck of minions is created by combining two half-decks of 40 cards into one 80 card deck (similar to Smash Up). The deck-building component will be familiar to anyone who has played any game with that element. You have starter cards and as the game goes by you acquire better cards to allow you to do more and better things on your turn. The game uses two currencies, buying power and fighting power, and cards are bought from a central market deck much like Ascension or Star Realms. The method used to cull cards (a staple of deck-building games) is the same as Valley of the Kings -- you remove cards from your deck to an 'out of play' area called the Inner Circle where they are worth more points at the end of the game than they would be worth if still in your deck.

The area control portion is similar to, well, hundreds of games. Whoever has the most units of their color at a site has control (ties mean no one has control) and if your units occupy all the spots at a site you have total control. To use abilities that mess with enemy troops you have to have presence; that is you have to have a troop in a spot on a route or site adjacent to the enemy troop you are trying to affect (assassinate, supplant, move etc).

What Do I Like About Tyrants?

So many things!

1) The combination of deck-building and board play. It has been done a few times before, most notably in Trains (and you could also argue in similar 'bag-building' games like Automobiles and maybe Orléans). Of the small set of games that has combined deck-building and board play I feel as though most of them are more 'euro' style. Seeing it combined into a more confrontational area-control style game feels fresher to me.

2) The Spy unit is another important element and I think what really makes the game. Spies can be deployed at any site on the board. Having a spy at a site does two critical things: while an enemy spy is at a site that enemy cannot have total control even if they have all the troop slots filled; and equally important you now have presence there. That means that unless your spy gets returned (ie: opponent pays 3 'fight' to send it back to your barracks) you can assassinate, supplant and deploy at that site.

3) There are lots of different ways to score points. Points at the end of the game come from areas you control (with bonus points for total control), points for cards in your deck and inner circle, points for enemy troops you have defeated, and victory point tokens collected throughout the game. While you might have a general sense of who is doing well you never really know who has the win until everything is tallied at the end.

4) The game scales really well at 2, 3 and 4 players. You use different segments of the board at different player counts so your enemies are never too far away.

What Do I Dislike About The Game?
I like Tyrants of the Underdark quite a bit. However there are a small handful of things that bug me about it; mostly visual design/nit-pick kinds of things.

1) It's all purple! I don't know if Prince (RIP) is an uncredited designer but the cards, tokens and board are loaded with purple. The board doesn't bother me so much but the card backs are nearly solid purple (with plain white text that says 'minion' - real creative GF9), the vp tokens are purple, the card fronts have purple gradient borders. The card focus symbols are also purple which I feel is a missed opportunity to make the symbols stand out; make the guile symbol a green circle, conquest red, ambition gold etc.

2) Troop tokens are on the small side. When placing or moving things on the board it is easy to knock them around.

3) The major site control markers should have been more distinctive. They are, you guessed it, all purple with white text. That combined with the wacky dark elf location names makes it hard visually to tell at a glance who has the site control marker for Menzoberranzan or The Phaelan or whatever. If they had been color coded or somehow made distinct from one another I think it would have helped a lot.

4) In the 'missed opportunity' department - the map board and player house boards are all one-sided. Another map on the other side would have been a perfect opportunity to have either a variant map or a whole different area, like an above-ground map. That way when they release new minion packs they won't have to be restricted to only things that you might find underground. Also, the player boards could have been double-sided with one side being 'standard' (ie: every house is the same) and the other side 'advanced' with each house maybe having a unique special power and/or disadvantage. GF9 did that with the clubs in Sons of Anarchy; it would have been nice to see here.

Let Me Sum Up

There is something about the way all of these familiar gameplay elements work together that really elevates the game for me. I do like confrontational games and conflict is inevitable in Tyrants. After the first few rounds of buying cards and expanding players will be assassinating, supplanting, moving and generally disrupting each other in no time. However I have found that it is usually a game of inches rather than big swings. Unless someone has a monster turn with their most powerful cards they will usually only mess with one or two enemy troops on a turn. And that enemy can usually turn around and do the same thing if they really need to. I have yet to see someone get completely crippled by a play -- you almost always can work around any setback you are dealt.

The game is also the perfect length -- unless you play with the most AP players in the world I can't see the game ever going beyond 90 minutes (and usually more quickly once everyone knows what they are doing). The arc of game also feels just right; it has a nice gradual build up and then before you know it you realize there are probably only 2-3 rounds left and you slam it into endgame mode and try to promote your best cards and snag whatever free spots you can find on the board.

I also really appreciate the variety of the minion half-decks. The 4 factions in the base game all bring unique elements and the combinations will only get more interesting when/if more expansion decks are released.

The price of the game may be a deterrent for some people; $75 msrp is kind of on the high side. However it can be reliably found in the $50 range from online retailers and I think it is very worth it at that price point.

Right now this is a 9 out of 10 for me. Setting aside some of the visual design nit-picks is easy for me to do when all the moving parts of the game work so well together.
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M M
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The best kind of review is one that makes me go look into the game. I'm now interested.
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Dustin Crenshaw
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People in my group love this game. I found it ok. It didn't anything interesting with the deck building or the area control. Probably doesn't help my favorite game is starcraft did all of this stuff way better over a decade ago.
 
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Salman Qaisar
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Excellent review! have a GG!
I've got it, sleeved the cards (which now no longer fit the insert! booo GF9! angry)
Cant wait to play my first game!

Sal
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John Brock
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Played it once; I'd say this review is pretty much spot on, though I don't know what rating I'd give the game myself (I'd play it again but certainly don't need to own it).

One thing the reviewer did not mention is yet another piece of the "it's all purple" comment: The player pieces. They come in four colors, but GF9 felt the need to make the colors all thematically drow-appropriate, so there are dark purple, light purple, midnight purple, and off-purple. googoo

No, I kid. They're actually red, orange, and two very dark colors which seemed so alike in the light we were playing in that I had trouble telling them apart. At the time I thought they were something like charcoal grey and black, but the images here seem to show blue and black, and the difference is much more obvious in them than I found it in real life.

The board also felt a bit too abstract, which only matters because it was hard for me to get a sense of what we were fighting over, and thus the importance of various areas. (Not enough of a Menzo fan for any of the place names to mean anything to me.) This would be less of a problem for me with each additional play, presumably.

Edit to add: I note that a number of comments in the ratings section compare it to Lords of Waterdeep. I would say that the games have absolutely nothing in common, except the obvious Forgotten Realms connection.
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Shawn T
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I'm glad you reviewed this game. It feel like it blipped on the radar and has already disappeared, which is unfortunate.

I *completely* agree with you and other responders about the color choices. So dark. Never mind my color blind gaming friend--I can barely see the difference between the tiny blue and black pieces.

Also, surely there were stronger art choices for the card backs.

Oh, and the graphic design of the board could've employed stronger images to convey the setting of each major location. That way, we wouldn't need prior knowledge and/or the back of the instruction manual.

Still, very fun to combine different decks. I'm really hoping for an expansion of two factions or so, and it should include another color set--say, a phosphorescent green. Not to add a player, but to allow easier color distinction.
 
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Paul DeStefano
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jwb3 wrote:
Edit to add: I note that a number of comments in the ratings section compare it to Lords of Waterdeep. I would say that the games have absolutely nothing in common, except the obvious Forgotten Realms connection.


And the designers.
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John E
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Mat628 wrote:
The best kind of review is one that makes me go look into the game. I'm now interested.


Thanks!

SeerMagic wrote:
People in my group love this game. I found it ok. It didn't anything interesting with the deck building or the area control. Probably doesn't help my favorite game is starcraft did all of this stuff way better over a decade ago.


It's definitely true that the elements of the game feel familiar. There isn't anything mind-blowingly inventive about it, although I definitely appreciate just how well the deck building 'powers' the area control board play.

jwb3 wrote:
They're actually red, orange, and two very dark colors which seemed so alike in the light we were playing in that I had trouble telling them apart. At the time I thought they were something like charcoal grey and black, but the images here seem to show blue and black, and the difference is much more obvious in them than I found it in real life.


Great point; this is actually something I had meant to mention in my 'dislikes' section. The gray and dark blue colors can be hard to tell apart unless you are playing in a really well-lit area,
 
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Gaetano Punzo
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Nice review, really, thanks for it, but i think that 9/10 is too much considering the graphic compartment that is so much lacking.
Probably 7/10 is more realistic score.
Do you agree?
 
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James Ridgway
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How much for the little game in the window?
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Eithereven wrote:
Nice review, really, thanks for it, but i think that 9/10 is too much considering the graphic compartment that is so much lacking.
Probably 7/10 is more realistic score.
Do you agree?


You are really asking: "Shouldn't you value graphic design as much as I do compared to game play?" The answer is definitely no. Graphic design is clearly less important to his desire to play compared to how you value it. There's nothing wrong with that.

The key to a good review is that you understand the reviewer's perspective well enough to figure out how to get meaningful information from their experience. Agreement with your valuation is not the point of review.
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Scott Sexton
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Eithereven wrote:
Nice review, really, thanks for it, but i think that 9/10 is too much considering the graphic compartment that is so much lacking.
Probably 7/10 is more realistic score.
Do you agree?


Nope. Scoring is a matter of subjective opinion and the OP is fine scoring the game anything they wish. The content of the review is the important thing here, not the final score. The review shows us the OP was extremely impressed by several things, so I don't know why anyone would be surprised by a high score. A good review will allow the reader to form their own opinion about whether or not a game is for them, and I think this review does a good job of conveying what the OP likes while highlighting things he or others may be disappointed with.
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Kurt B
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I just got my copy today. After a brief look at it, the graphic design is reminiscent of the DnD Adventure Games, especially the cards. Maybe it's something the license requires? Anyway, it looks fine to me though I haven't played it yet so my opinion may change.
 
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Stuart Cresswell
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Played this game tonight. As a long time Ascension fanboy this game has instant appeal... Why the character deck of minions is being called the Market deck makes no sense. The card art is decent, tiny text too small when the card area site off to one side. There is some frankly p!ss poor iconography being employed involving spider webs which relate to acquisition costs (runes to Ascension regulars!) although the promotion points bump sort of makes sense I suppose.

Visually the game is a horror show. The graphic design team should be hung! The reason being that this muddled mixture of mechanisms smashes other deckbuilders, so the aethetics undermine everything the designers have worked to achieve in the end design.

As a finished product Tyrants looks cheap & nasty. The colours of the nasty plastic pieces clash with each other and the board itself. The player boards are linen finish but nothing special to look at. The cards are cheap cardstock which will get dog-eared immediately if not sleeved. The board itself whilst well playtested fails to evoke any sense of feeling, which given this game is set in the Forgotten Realms universe is a massive fail. Lines and boxes dropped over some barely visible artwork is all that's on show to host the subterranean turf war... This could easily be improved by any half-talented artist superimposing the area control grid over some proper D&D cartography.

Anyone who doesn't give two turds about aesthetics should just buy this game. Despite the fact that nearly nothing new is offered here, with perhaps the exception of the way spies are deployed and withdrawn, because the game is just a better deckbuilding experience than anything else that's around. The board interaction is so much more impressive than Trains, when that works well enough for bearing a comparison.

Whether the mechanisms fit the theme properly or at all will be open to debate for anyone with a superior knowledge of the FR setting. If the presentation had not been rushed then it may be easier for die hard fans to connect the dots.

This all compels me towards the following conclusion... As a player I will definately look to enjoy this game again. As a collector I will look to avoid having to add this first edition to my collection.

Regards,

Stu
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Salman Qaisar
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werekin wrote:
Played this game tonight. As a long time Ascension fanboy this game has instant appeal... Why the character deck of minions is being called the Market deck makes no sense. The card art is decent, tiny text too small when the card area site off to one side. There is some frankly p!ss poor iconography being employed involving spider webs which relate to acquisition costs (runes to Ascension regulars!) although the promotion points bump sort of makes sense I suppose.

Visually the game is a horror show. The graphic design team should be hung! The reason being that this muddled mixture of mechanisms smashes other deckbuilders, so the aethetics undermine everything the designers have worked to achieve in the end design.

As a finished product Tyrants looks cheap & nasty. The colours of the nasty plastic pieces clash with each other and the board itself. The player boards are linen finish but nothing special to look at. The cards are cheap cardstock which will get dog-eared immediately if not sleeved. The board itself whilst well playtested fails to evoke any sense of feeling, which given this game is set in the Forgotten Realms universe is a massive fail. Lines and boxes dropped over some barely visible artwork is all that's on show to host the subterranean turf war... This could easily be improved by any half-talented artist superimposing the area control grid over some proper D&D cartography.

Anyone who doesn't give two turds about aesthetics should just buy this game. Despite the fact that nearly nothing new is offered here, with perhaps the exception of the way spies are deployed and withdrawn, because the game is just a better deckbuilding experience than anything else that's around. The board interaction is so much more impressive than Trains, when that works well enough for bearing a comparison.

Whether the mechanisms fit the theme properly or at all will be open to debate for anyone with a superior knowledge of the FR setting. If the presentation had not been rushed then it may be easier for die hard fans to connect the dots.

This all compels me towards the following conclusion... As a player I will definately look to enjoy this game again. As a collector I will look to avoid having to add this first edition to my collection.

Regards,

Stu


THIS. Squared. To the power of this.
Sal.
 
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Jason Spittle
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I thought it was called the market deck because the minions are slaves you're buying. :o
 
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Gene Chiu
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werekin wrote:
Anyone who doesn't give two turds about aesthetics should just buy this game. Despite the fact that nearly nothing new is offered here, with perhaps the exception of the way spies are deployed and withdrawn, because the game is just a better deckbuilding experience than anything else that's around. The board interaction is so much more impressive than Trains, when that works well enough for bearing a comparison.


I care more about functionality than aesthetics. My only criticism is that colours should be used better. I would like if the different areas with special control tokens had different colours. It's a minor annoyance, but making them different colours and the tokens to match will make the set up a little easier. Also, the orange and red units look too similar to each other. I think they could have gone yellow and red to add a bit more contrast.

Overall, I love this game. It does remind me of Trains and has aspects of Smash-up and other games in it. My first game experience had a nice swing in momentum (not in my favour) that kept things close and made the final outcome really close. The direct player interaction is what put this game over the top over many other deck builders out there.
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