“I always wanted a D&D game where you played the ‘bad guys’, as that brings in some of the best parts of D&D: the monsters!” says Peter Lee, game designer at Wizards of the Coast. As you’d expect from a board game that sees you take control of a house of drow, in one of the most inhospitable regions in Faerûn, there are no shortage of monsters in Tyrants of the Underdark.
This deck-building game draws from a number of Dungeons & Dragons story seasons, using cards and figures of dragons from Tyranny of Dragons, elementals from the Princes of the Apocalypse, and the demon lords from Rage of Demons. “The four highest influence cards in the Demon deck are demon lords: Orcus, Demogorgon, Graz’zt, and Zuggtmoy,” explains Lee. “The Dragons deck also has powerful cards, with corresponding figures, representing the five chromatic dragons, while the Elemental Evil deck features both the Princes of Elemental Evil and the four elemental cult leaders. We chose drow as it made sense for the Rage of Demons season, but was expandable to other seasons.”
Given the focus on the drow and the fact that Drizzt Do’Urden has been so heavily tied to the Rage of Demons storyline, you might expect him to make an appearance. He’s already doing battle with demon lords (and his own sanity) in everything from the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons adventures to the Neverwinter MMO RPG. It really is all about the villains, though. “Since you’re playing the bad guys, who are trying to manipulate, dominate and assassinate each other, a classical hero like Drizzt wouldn’t come into play,” Lee confirms.
How to Play
Tyrants of the Underdark is a territory control game with a deck building element, created by the D&D team at Wizards of the Coast in collaboration with Gale Force Nine. Each player leads a house of drow in a section of the Underdark that is specifically below the Sword Coast.
“If you describe the game as an engine building game, your deck is your engine and the game board is the road that you’re driving on. Your starting deck consists of basic drow minions, which provide the two resources of the game: power and influence,” Lee says.
“Power gives you the ability to manipulate the game board, placing troops and assassinating enemy troops, for example. Influence allows you to recruit new members to your house, which simply means adding new cards to your deck.”
A central marketplace shows new minions that can be recruited. When you spend influence to recruit minions from the market, you add them to your discard pile. This gets shuffled into your deck the next time you need to draw cards and that deck is empty. As you play the game, you place troops on the board and expand your forces across the map of the Underdark, taking over sites such as Menzoberranzan and Skullport.
Each player is in charge of his or her drow house, represented by a deck of cards. Each card in that deck represents a minion in that player’s house. Each minion belongs to one of five different aspects of drow society, and each aspect corresponds to a different strategy in the game:
Conquest minions are best at deploying troops in the Underdark and fighting unaligned troops.
Malice minions are the most flexible and are best at assassinating troops belonging to other players.
Guile minions usually feature spies, a special type of unit that spreads your house’s influence and unlocks a lot of unique tricks.
Ambition minions are best at recruiting additional minions and promoting minions to your inner circle, a special zone that increases their worth at the end of the game.
Obedience minions don’t deal with a specific strategy, but instead form the backbone of drow society, such as House Guards and Priestesses of Lolth. All the minions that start the game in your deck are part of the Obedience faction.
Modular Set Up
When you set up the game, you create an 80-card deck by shuffling two 40-card half-decks together. There are four half-decks to choose from: Drow, Dragons, Elemental Evil, and Demons.
“Each half deck promotes a different style of play,” says Lee. “The Drow deck is the basic deck and is best to use in your first few games. The Dragons deck has some more expensive troops in it, so it rewards strong decks, while the Demons deck has both insane outcasts—cards you put in your opponent’s deck to slow them down—and devouring cards, which remove the weakest cards from your deck to make it stronger.”
Some half-decks alter the game more than others. “The Elemental Evil deck has an ‘aspect matters’ theme, rewarding you if you play cards that belong to the same aspect,” says Lee. “For example, playing a second Conquest card in the same turn might deploy a few extra troops. This encourages players to recruit multiple minions from the same aspect.”
How to Win
Players score victory points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins. However, there are multiple paths to getting points: controlling sites, assassinating enemy troops, recruiting valuable minions, promoting minions to your inner circle, and controlling specific sites that grant points every turn. It’s up to you on which strategy you want your house to pursue, as each minion you recruit directs you down a different path to victory.
About the Designers
Tyrants of the Underdark started as a collaboration between designers Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson. “Rodney and I worked on Lords of Waterdeep together, and we learned that with board games, a small initial design team allows us to be extremely agile,” says Lee. “We only need to worry about our opinions on what is fun. When the game started to transition from system design to content design, we brought in designer Andrew Veen, who promptly kicked the design up a notch.” Jonathan (Yoni) Skolnik joined the team a few months later on loan from Magic R&D as the lead developer. Mons Johnson and Chris Youngs rounded out the final team for development and playtesting.
“We had a lot of great people working on this game, and I’m really proud of the results,” says Lee. “I fell in love with deckbuilders the moment I was introduced to the genre, but I was hesitant to design in that space unless I could express a new experience. I feel Tyrants of the Underdark does exactly that and I can’t wait until people get a chance to play it. I believe it’s the best board game that we’ve made so far.”
What’s Next: Battle for control of the Underdark begins in spring 2016, when Tyrants of the Underdark releases. Talk to your local retailer about pre-ordering a copy of the game.