Starting with Castle Ravenloft in 2010, Wizards of the Coast has been offering a steady stream of high-quality board games in the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. Most are the kind of fun adventure or conquest titles you associate with the license. But the range also includes some deeper strategy titles, including 2016’s Tyrant of the Underdark (check it out on Amazon).
Players represent the noble homes of dark elves, spreading their malicious influence through the caverns of the dark underworld. To do this, they build their own decks by purchasing new decks from a direct selection, a mechanic known as deck crafting. Now the game is back in a power-packed new release that includes the Aberrations & Undead expansion, giving you even more cards to play with.
What’s in the box?
The original version comes with miniature plastic shields to represent your forces on the chessboard. Here they have been replaced by cardboard discs. It’s a small loss that makes the game a little less pleasing to the eye but a lot more compact and affordable.
The table that tokens continues to be simple but functional, showing a series of areas connected to each other through the means of lines and circles. Everything is purple, black and white, which is thematic but can make things difficult to distinguish. There are also four player tables and a market table to hold stacks of cards.
Below the board are numerous cards, which also have purple backs and are unnecessarily decorated with the word “Minion”. However, the game excels with card fronts on which all the information is clearly laid out around some of the classic Dungeons & Dragons pieces. Given the game’s long history, there’s plenty of great artwork for all of the people and monsters depicted in the game, and full use of the back catalog to make the process happen. living.
Rules and How to Play
On your turn, you draw and play five cards from your deck. Most provide influence, which you can use to buy more cards to add to your deck, or power-ups, a summary of military prowess. A powerhouse can be used to deploy a token to an area adjacent to an existing token. Three will allow you to destroy an adjacent enemy token, either from an opposing player or one of the white “neutral” tokens scattered across the board at first. It’s a compact, accessible framework.
Your goal in doing so is to have a large portion of troops in key positions that will score you points late in the game. Some of these represent major cities that will give you bonus influence or even points as soon as you take control. Needless to say, these are hard to come by and hotly contested. You will stretch your troops from the starting point, balance controlling positions with speed of spread, racing with opponents to suffocate. It’s really stressful to wait to see how the map will change before it’s your turn.
The secret to Tyrant of the Underdark’s success is that location points are only one possible source of points. You can also score points by knocking down your opponent’s cards and by the action of some cards. Indeed, the cards themselves have value at the end of the game. Instead of destroying cards from your deck, like most deck builders, here you “promote” them to take them out of your deck and set aside, making them additional value in the final tally.
Together, these simple concepts provide a dizzying array of approaches to the game. At the extreme, you can go all out to conquer, cramming your deck with cards and hoping to overwhelm your opponent before their strategy can even begin. Using up tokens will end the game, which is a viable tactic. On the other hand, you can increase your influence to win more and more powerful cards, taking advantage of promotions and points to make up for a weak presence on the map.
In effect, your selection is directed by the randomly selected cards available for purchase on your turn, forcing you to get your hands on the game’s various intrigues. It’s a powerful formula that makes you think on your feet, increasing your knowledge as each new card becomes available, while still allowing you to decide how to shape your strategy. No two games are going to be the same, and your potential winning path will be different each time. At the same time, random trading can sometimes leave you short of viable options or deliver a killer combo to your opponent.
Many cards expand the basic formula of influence and power. And another good job, when going back and activating an enemy unit, then adding one of yours, only to see the opponent repeat the moves, can wear out a bit. The most common are those who bring spies into the mix, units that can be placed anywhere on the board, then sacrificed later for powerful rewards.
But this is a Dungeons & Dragons game, and the cards represent the breadth of that popular game’s world-building. Each game has two halves of the deck for the player to buy cards: the rules suggest you start with Elves and Dark Dragons. They fit in well with the core mechanics of the game: the former tend to provide influence and opportunities to promote your cards, while the latter deal more in raw power. They run the gamut from feeble underlings to mighty Drow Matriarchs and Ancient Wyrms, incredibly satisfying to add to your deck and play.
These are just two of the possible ways to build a market. Other halves of the deck include Demons, which you can power up by sacrificing your own cards, and Focus keyword Elements that allow you to stack related cards for big bonuses. The two halves of the deck from the Aberrations & Undead expansion included here are less distinct but still fun to play with. And each one is filled with iconic monsters from the planet of the role-playing game to recruit and serve your cause.
Where to buy
Tyrant of the Underdark has an MSRP of $74.99 and is available at select retailers.
https://www.ign.com/articles/tyrants-of-the-underdark-board-game-review Tyrant of the Underdark Review