Updated: Feb 22, 2020
Published by Gale Force 9, this is a game that bears the Dungeons & Dragons logo and is licensed as a D&D game. It’s a standalone game, though, and you don’t need to have played D&D or have any familiarity or connection with D&D to play and enjoy the game.
D&D connection notwithstanding, Tyrants of the Underdark isn’t in any sense a role-playing game. It is a confrontational player-versus-player game that uses card drafting and area control mechanics. Unaligned (white) troops must also be eliminated to take control of areas of the board.
In Tyrants, the 2–4 players each control a competing drow (dark elf) clan; hence the literally dark palette of the board and cards. Players play cards from their deck for their ‘influence’ (to recruit more powerful cards) and for their ‘power’ (to deploy a troop or assassinate an enemy troop). Players are using troops, spies and cards with special abilities to win control over areas on the board in order to score victory points which are added to those scored for the players’ cards, for enemy troops killed and for scoring tokens won during play.
Tyrants of the Underdark comes with multiple ‘half-decks’, with more supplied in an expansion. As only two of are used in any single game, the option of being able to pair the half-decks in different combinations offers a decent variety to play. The downside is that each of the cards has quite a lot of text on them, so expect much craning of necks and time taken to read and assimilate all the text every time the available cards are laid out in the market.
Troops can usually only be placed adjacent to those you already have out, so their routine use involves a slow and steady build up on the map; just as the development and refreshment of the deck involves a gradual build. What makes a key difference in Tyrants, however, is its use of spies. These allow players to ignore the adjacency rules, contributing much of the strategic appeal of the game…
The criticism that we’ve mostly heard levelled against Tyrants of the Underdark is that it doesn’t bring much new to the table. All or most of the mechanics in this game can be found in other existing games. That is actually quite a common criticism voiced against deck building games in general: all seem to be judged in relation to well-established predecessors like Dominion (Rio Grande Games). What’s new here is the way in which these established mechanics are brought together, and that’s done successfully to create a good combative game.
Check this one out. If you buy it, though, you’ll almost certainly want to add the small Aberrations & Undead expansion which adds two more ‘half-decks’ into the mix.