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Ham’s Board Games: Tyrants of the Underdark



Hello everyone and welcome to my first board game showcase, which I’ll inevitably slam as bad writing within the next five years.


Today, I am introducing you to the hottest game currently in play, and oh boy, I play it a lot. Fuckloads you could say. I hooked my old friends with it. I hooked my sister and her boyfriend with it. I hooked my NEW friends from school with it. This game.


It’s called Tyrants of the Underdark




Before I start the hype, let me tell what the game about in the first place. It’s a deck building and area of control game where two to four players control one of the Drow clans, trying to win control of the titular Underdark by expanding their influence throughout the cities and important places by placing troops and spies all over the board, while assassinating rival clan’s troops so their influence weakens. As you expand on the game board, you can buy new cards from the market with your ‘Ambition’ which gives you cool toys to play with, such as deploying a lot of troops at once or supplanting – which means killing and replacing an enemy troop with your own – anywhere on the board. While everyone starts with the same ten card deck (seven nobles, who are used for buying stuff, and soldiers, who have the ‘Power’ resource, which is used to deploy troops, assassinate enemy troops or return enemy spies). The real meat comes from two, forty card half-decks mixed together as a market deck before the game starts. While the base game has four half-decks, the expansion pack ups this number to six. They are:

  • Aberration (Expansion): A mean deck where you make the enemy discard their hand cards. Features odd creatures of the D&D universe.
  • Demon: Another mean deck, where you devour your hand cards as fuel to some of the most powerful cards in the whole game, along with filling your enemies’ decks with Insane Outcasts who gives minus points when the game ends.
  • Dragon: The main point is different dragons, which cost a lot but give Victory Point Tokens when their conditions are fulfilled. Also has a disproportional amount of ‘devour a card from a market’ cards.
  • Drow: Simple, low-cost and straight to the point cards. ‘nuff said.
  • Elemental: Combo cards, where you play or show another card type to activate something cool. For example, playing Malice card and then playing the second Malice card lets you draw a card.
  • Undead (Expansion): The power spike cards, where some of them are devoured after they are used. For example, you devour the played card to place six troops on the board.

Purple and black. You better get used to it


Some lad or lass starts the game, shuffles the starting deck and draws five cards. Then they play as many cards as they want to and when they end their turn, they discard the played AND non-played cards to the discard pile, while drawing five more cards to their hand. The game goes around and around ‘til one of two conditions is fulfilled:

  1. The market deck is empty.
  2. One player deploys all their 40 troops on the board.

After one of those has happened, the round is played ‘til the last player plays their turn. After that, we start scoring each player and points are awarded by:


  • Site control: simply have the most troops on the site to gain written score.
  • Total control: each site you have filled with your troops with no enemy spies, you net two points per total control.
  • Trophy hall: each killed enemy nets you one point.
  • Your deck size: you count every card’s black score point.
  • Your Inner Circle: As game goes, you can buy cards which lets you promote other cards. They are essentially out of the game and thinned from your deck but award far more points than they’d be in your end deck.
  • Victory Point tokens: awarded from selected cards or having total control on site marker places, like Araumycos.

And surprisingly, the player with most points wins.


Sadly, no thicc dark elves here


Okay, that was lengthy, and you might be thinking now: “So Ham, why is it so good then?”. Well, lemme tell ya:


It just works. It just works so fucking beautifully.


See, it’s not the single element which elevates the entire experience but the sum of its parts, which are married in such a style that you are left in awe. Deckbuilding adds a tactical aspect to the game, where each turn you play what you’re offered by your hand, which in concretes on the game board, whenever it is by placing troops or spies, killing off enemy troops, taking over the sites and so on. Then, returning to deckbuilding aspect, where you get delicious decisions to fatten your deck with new cards or thin your old cards away by promoting. And it works so well, leaving you at least few choices each turn, not to be said what do you want to buy from the market. Do you want more power so you can expand quickly, or do you prefer spies so you can create backdoors for sudden invasions?

It also helps that the game, while having some amount of key words and quite a bit of readable text, is easy to learn and after a game or two, gets blazingly fast since everyone knows what they want to do with their drawn cards.


It’s more epic than the it shows here!


The best part for me is that RNG works so well for this game. The randomized market deck and your randomized hand demands constant tactical decisions. Do you want to buy from the market, but your enemy might get something cooler when the empty slot is refreshed after the purchase? Or do you buy fillers instead and wait that someone else refreshes the pool for you? Or using your Soldiers and other ‘Power’ granting cards, do you expand rapidly or get rid of that pesky spy occupying your site marker? And those are only some of the decisions you’re given each turn!

But you can also play some long-term strategic decisions, too – which are usually fuelled by the tactical decision you’ve made earlier, but nevertheless they are decisions too. For example, you’ve granted a lot of Promotion cards early on, so you can turn your useless starter cards to some points while buying more expensive cards to score boatloads of points, but you’re more vulnerable against direct conquests on the sites you own. Or you go ham, conquering everything you see with your Power cards, but with little to no Promotion cards, your deck tends to be quite heavy and fat, decreasing chances of your SuperAwesomePowerPlayTurns™ by a lot. And guess what, all these strategies are viable as winning conditions!

And then, your half decks. With expansion, six different decks where you pick two gives you total 15 different deck combinations, which greatly increases the replay value. Combine Aberration-Demon decks to play super mean “TAKE THAT!” game? Or go spam happy with Drow-Undead deck combo? The choice is yours! And even better, playing two games with same half-decks never feels the same. One game, market may be selling spies only and on second game, there might be a lot of deployment cards available. So, playing the same decks doesn’t feel like a chore!


These big boys will be contested, so order yours today!


Any complaints? Well, there are some. Oddly enough, it’s not any game issue but component issues instead. See, the colour scheme is… black and purple. About 85% of the time. Combined with that, the board is simply unappealing compared to card illustrations and doesn’t show anything interesting, which is a shame since this being a Dungeons & Dragons game, it could’ve benefitted from better board design. Oh well.

Second one is the cards themselves. The Internet said they are frail, so I sleeved them automatically. All good, but the expansion pack cards are somehow thicker and have different shade of purple on the back side, which sticks reeaaally sorely compared to base game. Which made the sleeving process even more mandatory. So, along with the base game and expansion pack, you really need to throw some money on sleeves as well.

And minor issue: black and blue shields are hard to distinguish at times from each other, thanks to the game board’s overall darkness. Play in a well-lit room! (Well, they do have the markings of their clan marked on them, but still.)


On left, base game card. On middle, expansion card. On right, the reason of the getting sleeves


And that’s it! This is the current hottest game I own and there’s plenty of reasons to love it. What I’ve gathered is that it’s a bit of a cult classic; not known by many, but those who have played it tend to love it. I know I do, and I consider it one of my gaming jewels in my collection. It’s good, it’s tactical, it plays fast, and it has great amounts of variation. Total banger.


I hope you enjoyed tonight’s episode! Next time, another board game enters the spotlight. Which it’ll be? I don’t know. You don’t know. Destructoid doesn’t know.


Siihen asti, rakkaudella,




Ps. The best deck combo so far? Dragon-Elemental.

- Palvikinkku todellakin on Suomen kuumin ja seksikkäin jäbä.

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About Palvikinkkuone of us since 5:23 AM on 01.25.2016

Destructoid lacks proper board game content. And that's why I create it. To fill the void and fill the need!

Social, radio-voiced little dwarf who finds board games, cRPGS and alcoholism fun enough to fill his days with them.

Currently writing about board games in his collection