Board game reviews, strategy tips & session reports
No. of players: 2-4
Amount of time to play: 60 min
Age requirements: 14+
Set-up time: 5 min
Tyrants of the Underdark combines deck-building with area control as you play a drow house looking to subjugate the Underdark.
Tyrants of the Underdark is for two to four players and depending on the number of players you only use certain sections of the board. You set out the neutral troops on the board and mix two of the four different 40 card faction decks to create the market deck. Each player starts with 40 troops and ten starter cards.
Most of the actions you can take in this game require presence. You have presence on any site or space you have a troop or you are adjacent to. You also have presence at sites where you have a spy. In order to place a spy you must play a card that gives you that action.
Other major concepts to understand are control and total control. You have control of a site when you have the most troops there. You have total control of a site if you are alone there and have filled all its troop spaces. If an enemy spy is on your site you cannot have total control.
On your turn you draw five cards from your deck and then play them. They grant you resources or let you perform an action. The main two types of resources are power and influence. Power is spent to deploy troops to the board, kill enemy troops or remove enemy spies. Influence is used to buy new cards from the market. Every card you buy is worth certain number of VPs just for being in your deck.
At the end of your turn you may promote cards if you played any that gave you the promote action. This will remove them from your deck but will make them worth more VPs. Then you gain VP tokens based on the site control markers you have. Some of the sites generate influence and VP when you have total control of them. Lastly you discard your hand and draw five new cards shuffling your deck if you have to.
The game end is triggered once one player runs out of troops or the market deck is empty. The first player has a token and play continues until everyone has had an equal number of turns. Then you total your VPs for each site you control, 2 VPs for each site where you have total control, 1 VP for each enemy or neutral troop you eliminated, the VP values of all the cards in your deck, the VP value for each promoted card and any VP tokens you have. The player with the most VPs wins.
Tyrants of the Underdark mixes some familiar mechanics to create a very fun game. I know some other games have used similar mechanics but I think game does it better. It is a simple and elegant design that still makes sense with the theme.
The components for the game are good. The art is nice and the board makes it easy to see what is going on. Some of the graphic design (like the card backs) is not great, but it doesn’t affect the gameplay. My other issue is that the dark blue and black troops look too similar. The troops are a different shape which is a nice touch, but if your lighting is not great the blue and black are a bit too close in color. The insert is nice, but doesn’t account for sleeved cards. And though there are a couple things that could be better, there are no major missteps here.
I like how quickly the game flows. There is not a lot of downtime and as a whole the game goes by swiftly. It doesn’t end too soon or overstay its welcome either.
This game is pretty accessible. The concepts are easy to teach and both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy it. It might take a few plays to know all the different cards available, but it is a short ramp up. I played it with two, three and four players and it scales well.
There are multiple paths to victory. And even if you focus on one or two, you can’t completely ignore any of them. So even if you are buying and promoting a lot of cards you cannot try and slow your opponents’ progress on the board. Even if you are just trying to get a site or two you should use spies to keep your foes from getting total control.
Having four faction decks adds to Tyrants of the Underdark’s replay value. The decks play a little differently with some being more complex than others. It will be easy to add expansion decks to keep things fresh.
Be aware there is some take that and possibly a bit of gang up on the leader in this game. If that is not your cup of tea you might not like this game.
One thing that can be tough is not getting the chance to buy promoting cards. It would be tough to win without promoting as it can thin your deck and help you remove less efficient starter cards. It also helps you increase the VP value of your more expansive cards. But you may not get the opportunity to buy cards that let you promote. You must adjust your strategy for this but it makes it tough to win.
Tyrants of the Underdark takes Dominion, Ascension, Trains and a bit of Valley of the Kings puts them in a blender and creates a fun game. If you like deck-builders or area control board games, pick this up.
Score and synopsis: (Click here for an explanation of these review categories.)
Strategy 4 out of 6
Luck 5 out of 6
Player Interaction 6 out of 6
Replay Value 5 out of 6
Complexity 3 out of 6
Fun 5 out of 6
Overall 5 out of 6