Finding the time and the group required to play a role playing game can be difficult. Friends have work, school, and other hobbies to deal with, and being able to put aside a few hours to play a game can be a daunting task.
Enter dungeon crawler board games. These self-contained games are easily played with the friends you have available, and many use them to scratch that role-playing itch that may be hard to satisfy.
The Undercity is such a game. With a campaign that can last you across several evenings, you can feel as though you are an adventurer without waiting for weeks or even months on end for a group to show up and play!
How it Plays
The Undercity’s gameplay revolves around players working together to defeat the villains and achieve the scenario’s objective. Playing through a campaign will take many game sessions, allowing players to level-up their heroes and increase their abilities along the way.
To start a round, a player will flip an encounter card and resolve its effect. Besides that effect, the card will be either red or blue, which will be used to inform the villain choices later.
On each player’s turn and acting in initiative order, they’ll start by spawning a villain figure onto the map. Then they’ll move their character and perform actions (like attacking; make a roll, on a successful hit damage is then rolled). To finish their turn, they’ll draw a villain card to activate one or more villains (who may now attack the heroes).
Repeat the rounds until either a hero is incapacitated and cannot be revived, the mission objectives are met, or there are no encounter cards when you need to draw one.
Over or Under?
The Undercity is a dungeon crawler based on the Iron Kingdoms world of Warmachine and the Iron Kingdoms RPG. Privateer Press has done a fantastic job building a unique and amazing landscape to base all of their games within and their characters around. Iron Kingdoms is a rich steampunk/fantasy setting and it translates well into this board game that simply oozes with the theme.
The prologues and epilogues to each scenario reinforce the theme and give the game amazing immersion, providing depth to mission backgrounds, the overall story, and the characters.
These characters are distinct and well fleshed out. This is revealed both through the story and the way each character is played, having different abilities and attributes than the others. Because it is a campaign based game, you get to level up those characters and stick with them for a while. If you’re looking for that RPG feel, this part of the game is a huge draw.
The goals and objectives come in a wide and interesting variety. Without giving too much of the story away, goals can range from simply questioning suspects, apprehending a target, or making an escape! Each scenario has a bit of a twist on the core mechanic to give the game an even more thematic feel. The way the world of Iron Kingdoms is showcased in this way is quite pleasing to me, as I was already a huge fan of the world.
Despite the relatively straightforward turn structure, this is definitely not a gateway game. There is lots to keep track of, and it can be long one to sit through (up to 3 hours long). On the other hand, if you are used to and expecting more of an RPG experience, that shouldn’t be a big issue. RPG sessions are known for lasting hours and hours.
But there are some overly complicated mechanics, not to mention an extensive set up required to play. The unique rules of each scenario, while adding to the flavor, further the rules complexity and setup time.
In some ways it’s similar to Mice and Mystics, with a variety of scenarios and a story-driven campaign, but The Undercity doesn’t give you the same sense of exploration. It may be share many traits in common with other dungeon crawlers, but it lacks the crawling part. Even if the gameplay is solid, it can feel more like a battle arena than a true dungeon crawler. This isn’t to say it is completely devoid of the crawling aspect, I just wish there was more of it. There just isn’t a lot of impetus to really explore the dungeon. We rarely felt it necessary to go to the side quest cards laid out on the map.
The combat itself plays much like an RPG, which makes it fun for those who enjoy those types of games. You declare your weapon and target, roll to hit and then roll for your damage. Your rolls can be buffed by stats on your character sheet.
I also found that some of the quests become repetitive, especially the longer ones. You start to get the feeling of walking from one combat encounter to another without much to do in between. There are side quests in each scenario, but I rarely made it to any of them. They just seemed more like a waste of time rather than something that needed to be accomplished before the end of the chapter. Plus, that would have made an already long game even longer.
While the heroes play differently, I felt there was a lack of variety and that was kind of a letdown. There are only 4 heroes, and only 1 is female! It would’ve been nice to see more options so you could choose who you wanted to play rather than being forced to use every character.
But my main gripe with them is that their initiative order is set in stone. This only adds to the repetitive feeling of combat. Adding some kind of die roll or other randomization factor would go a long way to fix this problem; it just felt as though by the time the last character went, there was very little left to do, and that poor character was always last!
I enjoyed the programmed villain spawning and activation, but I did feel that the villain phase could have been simplified. Once you got the hang of it, it made sense, but the same result probably could have been achieved with far less fiddliness. At least it is nice to play the game without requiring a “dungeon master” player. Everyone gets to be a hero!
Conveniently, there’s a nice way to vary the difficulty level of the villain encounters. Each card has a “normal” and an “epic” side. Depending on how brave the players are, they can choose what side they would like to play. The set up suggests what side of the card should be played, but it can be played on an easier level by simply keeping them on the normal side.
The tokens, minis and cards are good quality, and they look and feel nice on the table. This is a quality I have come to expect from Privateer Press and I wasn’t disappointed! Very detailed miniatures are great to see out of the box, and I can see them being fairly easy to paint because of this fact. Where the box itself is concerned, it is very sturdy and the walls are nice thick cardboard. It won’t be denting as easily as some of the flimsier boxes I have seen. The insert is standard for shipping and does nothing to separate the pieces, which I find an increasing trend in most games. It will hold everything, but it won’t keep anything from sliding around. Card iconography listed was clear and concise, but I think it helps a lot if you already understand the icons. If you’ve played Warmachine before, you will recognize them immediately. Other than that, I did find that the cards were a bit on the thin side, which meant they bent fairly easily.
The game board, however, leaves much to be desired. The pattern is rather unimaginative and generic with grey walls and stone work “floors”. Very drab and hard to get excited for. I wish they had been a bit more thematic, bringing in more of the steampunk and grittiness to them. I believe they could have been made to look a lot more fitting with the theme.
At least it is very sturdy.
Overall, The Undercity is a wonderful and thematic game, but I do hesitate to call it a true dungeon crawler. It has the same feel as one, but it really plays more like a battle arena. If you are looking for more of a true RPG experience however, this one may not be for you.
But as long as you know what you’re getting into, the game succeeds beautifully. The combat is easy to pick up and understand, which makes it a blast to play. Despite a few complicated mechanics and the lackluster dungeon tiles, this is still a super fun title!
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Privateer Press for providing a review copy of The Undercity.