Since hitting the big screens this year, Dungeons and Dragons has well and truly made a comeback. Boasting bards, skilful sorcerers, beastly barbarians and fierce fighters have us all enthralled once again in the quest for good and the thrill of adventure, but what of the lesser known parts of the Forgotten Realms? What about the villainous families who control the world under Faerûn? What about the Tyrants of the Underdark?
Welcome To The Underdark
Below the perfect valleys and snow-capped mountains of Faerûn, is an expansive, subterranean system of caverns and tunnels known as the Underdark. Inhabited by grotesque monsters and evil creatures, the Underdark is also home to a society of intelligent and decadent elves known as the Drow. This matriarchal civilisation is made up of ‘Houses’, renowned for their cunning, hedonism and complete lack of compassion, stopping at nothing to be the most revered and indeed, feared.
Tyrants of the Underdark is the perfect game for those seeking a change from their usual ‘hero’ role. In this deck building strategy game, 2-4 players each take on the role of a Drow House, vying to become the most powerful House in the Underdark. Mobilise your troops, send out your spies, enlist the help of powerful minions and allies, assassinate your enemies’ forces - do whatever it takes to be come the ruling Tyrant of the Underdark!
Having played D&D for the last 5 years, this game is thematically perfect. Framed in hues of purples, blues and blacks, the game board flawlessly captures the eerie beauty of the Underdark. Those who have played D&D will recognise some of the stunning artwork on the game cards from game books such as The Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and even modules such as Princes of the Apocalypse. However for those who are unfamiliar with D&D, do not be disheartened! This game offers a fantastic opportunity for any fantasy lover to take on the role of an anti-hero for the day!
Previous Experience - Desirable, But Not Required
Over the last few years, deck building games have become strong favourites in our house, even more so now that we play Magic the Gathering. Tyrants of the Underdark is no exception. Each player begins the game with identical starting decks, which you build upon as the game progresses by acquiring cards from the “market”. I feel that this gives Tyrants of the Underdark great replayability, as you can mix and match different decks to make up your market, leading to different combinations of cards each time you play. We played the game with family members who haven’t the same deck building experience as us, and they still really enjoyed this game!
One point I would like to make however, is that we found our experience with deck building games really helped us to grasp the game rules quicker than some other members in our family. It also gave us an advantage when it came to the sequence in which we played our cards from our hands, as we were able to see different synergies between cards, allowing us to spend our “power” and “influence” more wisely, just like the perfect, scheming Drow would… mwahahahaha!
Web Of Influence
Market cards are bought using “influence”, an ability gained by discarding certain cards from your hand. Thematically, you send out your House nobles and priestesses to to spread your House influence, in the hopes of gaining the allegiance of powerful monsters and other mercenaries or Drow. These cards offer buffs when it comes to increasing your power (which you need to deploy troops or assassinate enemy forces), increasing your influence or by removing cards from the market so other player's don’t have access to them. I really loved the system of the open market. It made for great strategic play as you could set your sights on cards and try to work towards gaining enough influence to be able to buy them, or it allowed you to plan your attack and thwart your enemies by “devouring” a high value card in the market, removing it from the game and preventing other players from obtaining it first! I felt that this mechanic really added to the amount of player interaction and also to the Drow theme of the game, because Drow are notorious back stabbers after all!
In Tyrants of the Underdark, you can deploy spies to areas of the map where you have no presence (i.e. None of your troops are currently at or adjacent to that site). This interaction allows you to prevent your opponents from having or gaining full control of a site on the board, robbing them of easy victory points each turn. We really loved the spy mechanic in this game, as we felt that it prevented stalemates on the board, and also stopped opponents from “walling in” sections of the board, which we have seen happen in other military style games. The addition of the spy kept the game flowing, as it also opened up ways for you to advance around the board, even if you had initially been nowhere near that area.
Use It Or Lose It
Too many games allow players to stack resources, leading to them “popping off” mid game, and running away with the victory. Thank you Tyrants of the Underdark for not allowing this! On your turn, you play your cards from your hand in any order, to gain power and influence. Once you come to the end of your turn however, any unspent power and influence is lost, as you discard any remaining cards in your hand and draw 5 new cards, ready for your next turn. Not allowing these resources to stack between turns was really refreshing, as it meant that you didn’t have to worry about an opponent saving up all their resources for a massive game winning spend in 3 rounds time!
Tyrants of the Underdark is a thematically accurate and fun deck building game, with the perfect balance of momentum through turns and competitive play. Player interaction on the board and in the market is high and not only is this a brilliant game for people who love D&D, but also for those who just want to play the bad guys for a change! If your up for a night of cunning, treachery and troop assassination, then Tyrants of the Underdark is the perfect game to add to your collection!