So I learned something important after playing The Undercity.
I'm not the biggest fan of dungeon crawls, those games where you're fighting monsters, and then fighting bigger monsters, and then fighting boss monsters.
I also learned something interesting about The Undercity after playing a few more of these kinds of games.
It's quite a bit better than a lot of them. You'll have to decide if it's right for you.
The Undercity is a board game with miniature figures for two to four players. It takes an hour or two to play, depending on the scenario.
It’s set in Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms universe, and the miniatures can also be used in the Iron Kingdoms role-playing games. It has a suggested price of $94.99 but can be found online for about $65.
In The Undercity, you play characters in The Black River Irregulars, who go under the city of Corvis trying to apprehend bosses and their thugs. The game has seven scenarios, each of which play a bit differently.
How it works
While each scenario has different villains and board setup, there are common elements.
You and your friends will have an objective, and you must finish it to win the scenario. Each character has its own statistics and starting weapons that will allow him or her to battle the bad guys by adding their stats to dice rolls.
Villains appear each turn or round, depending on the scenario. The story builds from scene to scene, and if the heroes win, they can use their experience points to buy equipment or skills that will carry over to the next scenario.
Why you might like The Undercity
Unlike some dungeon crawler games, no one has to play the bad guys. Dice determine where they will appear, and they move according to a deck of cards.
The game is also family friendly. While there are a few blood stains on the board, there’s no gory art. In some scenarios, you’re apprehending the villains rather than killing them.
The story that goes along with the game is engaging, and it makes the gameplay more interesting, since you know a bit about the character — or characters, in a two-player game — that you’re playing.
While the game’s scenarios aren’t very difficult to beat, especially the earlier scenarios, the manual gives you ways to make the villains tougher and introduces side quests that can add more challenge.
Fans of the Iron Kingdoms now have another way to play and a simpler introduction to the world than a full-fledged role-playing game.
The battle system is fairly straightforward. There’s lots of dice rolling, and you have a few cards to alter your outcomes, but you won’t spend several minutes combining cards and trying to figure out which character won.
Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the players have to work together. Because each character is unique, you’re unlikely to have one person take over and tell everyone what to do.
Why you might not like The Undercity
Like other dungeon crawls, this is a game about fighting bad guys. And then fighting more bad guys. It’s done well, but it can feel repetitive.
If you’re not familiar with role-playing games — and I’m not — you may not feel like you’re actually in the world because you’re too busy looking at the numbers on your player board and checking your options.
The two-player game forces each player to play two characters. And one of those characters is actually two characters that are always combined because they work together. So one person will be controlling three characters.
The rulebook is sometimes ambiguous. It assumes that people are familiar with common role-playing game terms. Sometimes the information is included but is difficult to find. Figuring out what a smoke grenade does, for example, requires looking under the glossary entry for “Cloud.”
You’ll need to be comfortable making some assumptions and house rules.
Because each game you’ll be playing a new scenario, you’ll also have new rules to learn each game. That gives lots of replay, but can be frustrating since not all of the rules are intuitive.
This was the first dungeon crawl I’d played. I understand the appeal. The miniatures are fun to play with (although I'm waay too lazy to paint them) and it’s cool to beat the bad guys. The world is interesting, too.
But I learned that dungeon crawls aren’t for me. I don’t enjoy fighting that much. I expected that there would be more to do, and while the scenarios give you different villains that fight different ways, you’re still fighting on nearly every turn. Lots of people love that, and if you’re one of them, you’ll probably love The Undercity.
I discovered I’m not in that crowd.
Other reviewers' opinions
Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower praised the miniature quality and the card artwork. He was surprised at the boring board. He also said it's different from other games because the characters are prebuilt, and you can't make them grow. He said, "The gameplay itself feels dated." He didn't feel that the spawning of creatures didn't fit the theme of the game.
Cody of The Discriminating Gamer loved the minis and artwork. He said it's "a pretty standard dungeon crawler." He was surprised at how easy it was to learn. "The game itself is fun ... it's interesting." He said the way the monsters spawn is intuitive, and it works. It's not his favorite, however. That's Level 7 Omega Protocol, also from Privateer Press. That said, Cody thinks there's something charming about The Undercity. I agree.
The Board Game Family liked that the game is fully cooperative so that they can play together instead of someone getting beat up. He also liked that you could add to it and create your own maps, villains, and more.
Not young kids like mine, certainly, but I think older kids and adults would have fun with this together.
The one female has a bit of cleavage showing, but compared with other games, it's nothing. And she's tough, which is nice. As I said earlier, there's a bit of blood, but nothing's overly gory or creepy.
What my husband wants to do to the game
Andrew wants to create a way to play with two players where you're not having to play two characters (or three if you've got Pog and the mech).
He also wanted to streamline the fighting, doing a lot less dice chucking to figure out how who won.
I got a review copy of The Undercity from Privateer Press. That doesn't affect my ability to give an objective review. If it was, I wouldn't have taken the game. Much of this review first appeared at News for Shoppers, where I wrote it.