Otherwise know as as “Spiel Essen” where over 160,000 people converge on Essen, Germany for games galore.
Here’s the intro straight from Spiel itself: Four days of fun, meeting friends, playing and testing thousands of games and novelties together with gamers from all over the world. Make up your own mind about the quality of the international gaming market and feel free to buy your favorite ones!
Loads of games everywhere!
So for anyone looking for a new game, you’ll have thousands more to choose from by the end of next week.
If you’re going, don’t look for us because we won’t be there. Oh, how we wish we could!
Maybe we’ll have to do a Kickstarter campaign next year to raise funds to make our way over there so we can report straight from the source…
Of course, we will be keeping an eye on things to see what games become the talk of the show.
Over 160,000 attend!
And if you do go (or have been in the past), we’d love to hear about your experience. After all, it doesn’t start until Oct 8th (Thursday) so you still have time to get there.
If you want to find out more, check out these sites:
The intro flavor text to The Undercity board game goes like this, “The Undercity is a game of heroic adventure set beneath the Cygnaran city of Corvis in the Iron Kingdoms. Your band of mercenary heroes – part of the infamous Black River Irregulars – has been hired by the shorthanded City Watch to help investigate recent crimes, but you soon uncover a sinister conspiracy. It will be up to you to make sure the heroes get to the root of this new subterranean threat.”
If all that sounds like something you’ve never heard of before (Iron Kingdoms, Corvix, Black River, City Watch) don’t worry. Knowledge of any of that isn’t necessary at all to having a great time playing The Undercity.
We know because we didn’t have any background in the Iron Kingdoms world and we’ve had a great time playing.
Let the battling in The Undercity begin!
What peaked our interest was the dungeon-crawling, villain-battling, hero-advancing, cooperative game play. (Oh, and of course the artwork and cool miniatures grabbed our attention as well.)
Our most-played board game like this is Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd edition. We’ve also played a few more types of these games this year (which we haven’t yet reviewed) so we have a few more games to compare it to and will tell you how we think The Undercity stack up.
As you can see in our video review, The Undercity revolves around players working together to defeat the villains and achieve the scenario’s objective. While players can choose individual scenarios to play, the most fun is in going through all the scenarios/chapters as part of a campaign.
Of course, playing through a campaign will take many game sessions. But who’s complaining?
It’s a lot of fun playing a campaign because players get to level-up their heroes – increasing their abilities along the way.
Like many dungeon-crawl type board games, the rulebook is nice and thick (23 pages). There’s plenty to take in during a first play. But the hurdle to get in and play with The Undercity isn’t so bad. The rulebook is well written and makes it easy to step through the first few turns.
Each chapter has its own set up and objectives.
One of my buddies joined in for our first play of The Undercity. He hasn’t ever played this type of game before and picked it up right away. (And afterward is very excited to get back and play some more.)
The first couple of turns took a little while to work our way through. But by the 3rd round, we had the system figured out and were rolling.
For every attack, players may make multiple rolls. The first roll is to see if the target is hit. And if successful, the player rolls a second time for damage. The same holds true regardless of who’s attacking (hero or villain). So there’s plenty of dice rolling.
Not every turn will require attacking, but most of them will.
Villains sit ready to spawn.
In most cooperative games, on a player’s turn, they’ll do something good but also activate something bad. The same holds true for The Undercity.
On each player’s turn, they’ll start by spawning a villain figure onto the map. Then they’ll move their character and perform actions (like attack). To finish their turn, they’ll draw a villain card to activate one or more villains (who may now attack the heroes). So it’s a constant job to keep the villains in check.
Working together as a team is the only way to stem the tide of villains flooding the area and knocking the heroes out of action.
What we like about The Undercity
Here are a few reasons why we like The Undercity:
1. Cooperative Play
Our 4 heroes are keeping all the villains at bay.
The first thing that really strikes my fancy about The Undercity is that we all get to play the heroes!
The Undercity truly is a cooperative game where we all work together against nefarious forces. Instead of one person needing to play the role of Overlord or Dungeon Master, the mechanics of the game dictate what the villains do when they activate.
And after being picked on and beaten so many times as a dungeon overlord by my hero sons in other dungeon-crawl games, it’s so refreshing to be on the same side.
2. Villian Spawning and Activation
Some nasty villains await their trigger to enter play and fight.
Another element we really like – that goes hand-in-hand with the first point – is the programmed villain activation.
Since there isn’t an overlord, the villain spawning, movement and attacking is done by dice rolls and cards with programmed actions.
Different villains will spawn in different locations on the map every turn. It all depends on the dice. You really can’t predict where they’ll come out each turn, so players must be on their guard.
Then at the end of each turn, the active player draws a Villain Action card, which indicates which villains activate. But the best part is that each villain type has a card that dictates how they’ll activate.
At the bottom of their cards are a series of symbols that they’ll try to follow. Going left to right, they’ll do the first action they can. So depending on how close they are to hero figures, they’ll do different things.
It’s a type of villain AI that we think works well – so we can all play on the same side.
3. Epic Villains
It’s fun to knock out the Epic baddies.
Another cool thing about The Undercity is that players can vary the difficulty of the villains they face.
Each villain card has a normal and an Epic side. So if players want to decrease the difficulty a bit, they can use the normal side of the villain cards.
But that’s not how we roll. We love facing the challenge of Epic whenever we can. It adds a bit more pressure to battle and it’s very fulfilling when we win.
4. Leveling Up
We’re all gaining experience together as well.
Like we mentioned before, the best way to play The Undercity is in Campaign mode.
Every time a villain takes damage, the heroes get Experience Points (XP). In addition, heroes can gain XP by achieving certain conditions in different chapters of the campaign. All XP gained during a chapter goes to a joint pool that gets divided amongst the heroes between chapters. Players can then use XP to purchase cumulative Abilities for their hero character.
We know leveling-up is pretty common in dungeon-crawl type board games, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t highlight it here. Because we still love it. And we like how all the experience goes into a general pool during the scenario so in the end we are share the experience gained – regardless of which hero does the actual damage to the villain.
So many cool abilities to choose from.
Since we’re all working together it makes complete sense. Because I may be taking care of one part of the scenario that needs to be done, but requires less attacking. It’s very necessary to completing the campaign, but the other heroes are the ones dealing out the damage. In the end we all get to share in the spoils of victory.
And because each hero has their own Abilities card deck (16 cards each), every time you play, you can purchase different abilities to test out. Cool stuff.
What we don’t like about The Undercity
1. The Map and Tiles
It’s a fun battle-arena type play.
The most notable downside to The Undercity is found right from the start during the game set up – the map and tiles.
Having played so much Descent, we were pretty underwhelmed by The Undercity map tiles. There’s just one large map board and a number of other dark tiles that act mostly just as walls on the map.
So when setting up for the first chapter of the campaign, we were left thinking the setting looked kind of dull. Rather than adding double-sided tiles with a lot of stylistic and terrain flair on each, they just serve as barriers.
However, after playing through a couple chapters, we saw some benefits of the simplicity of the map and tiles.
A new Event occurs every round.
Based on the game play, there really isn’t a ton of dungeon discovery going on. But it’s full of a lot of straightforward battling.
So instead of using many movement points to run down corridors, explore distant rooms, and battle through to an exit, it’s more of an arena battle. Characters don’t travel far or explore secret rooms. They head for the bad guys and fight.
Thus, the simple board and tile structure fits right into the style of game that it is. (And we don’t have to figure out how to fit a gazillion tiles back into the game box.)
But we’d still like to see more flare to the board and tiles.
2. Turn order
The thing we liked least about the game play of The Undercity is the set order of the hero turns.
Characters take turns based on their Initiative stat. The hero with the highest Initiative goes first, followed by the others in descending order.
So rather than deciding as a team which order we should take our turns to be most advantages, we go in the same order every time.
I like Gardek, but I don’t like going last every round.
Playing as Gardek Stonebrow, the hero with the lowest initiative, I didn’t much care for it because many times by the time it got to me, there wasn’t much for me to do (villains to attack nearby). So I was left just moving around with no one close to attack.
Instead, at the start of each round we’d like to choose the order in which we’d take our turns.
I know in some scenarios a boss villain may come out and he’ll have a high Initiative showing that he’ll go before any of the heroes each round. But that can still be done even if the heroes go in a different order.
I think we’ll try it out that way on our next campaign.
All that being said, there are definitely more positives than negatives with The Undercity. It’s a fun game of cooperative battling the bad guys.
There are a ton of dungeon-crawl type board games out there. And we’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to playing them. So while we may not have super extensive experience in this realm, we have played a handful and like some more than others.
Between the two, our nod still goes to Descent when looking for thematic dungeon-crawl game experience.
However, Descent is a more complex game. There’s a lot more going on in Descent, more to learn, and many more options. All of the scenarios make great use of a plethora of interlocking room tiles with fantastic artwork that helps create the ambiance for a great dungeon feel.
Because of the uniqueness of every quest in Descent, every time we play it takes us a while to set our strategies (and for me as overlord to select which of the myriad of monsters I want use to help me win). There’s definitely a bigger learning curve.
No Overlord to worry about. The Villains have programmed attacks.
On the flip side though, as I mentioned before, I really like The Undercity because I don’t have to play the role of Overlord. It’s a fully cooperative game that I enjoy playing alongside my boys. And that in and of itself will keep me reaching for The Undercity.
We’re also pretty sure that Privateer Press will publish expansions for The Undercity to add new characters (heroes and villains) and more campaigns to play. So the lack of that now isn’t worth comparing because we’re sure it will come.
So depending on the mood we’re in, either game may be the right one for any given night. It’s not a question of either/or but rather, which one for tonight? (Or if playing through a campaign, which one for the next handful of game nights?)
The red Ogrun Brute was missing an arm.
While that covers our review of playing The Undercity board game, I’d also like to mention the fantastic Customer Service of Privateer Press.
When we received The Undercity, there were a couple issues with our copy. The most notable item was that we were missing one of the hero miniatures – Gardek.
The other thing was that one of the villains was missing an arm. The red Ogrun Brute was missing his arm holding the hammer.
Now we’ve got a real Ogrun Brute that’s ready to hammer something.
We contacted Privateer Press about it and within a few days, the new miniatures were in our hot little hands.
Fantastic response and turn around time!
Keep up the great work Privateer Press!
How does The Undercity score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, The Undercity scores high on the “let’s play again” meter not only for our family, but also for my buddy that joined us for a play one night.
Actually, I’ll make it clear the the score holds true for the boys and I. Neither mom nor Brooke are interested in joining us for the hero/villain battles.
My buddy is looking forward to the time he’s back in town and can return to The Undercity with us. He’s also looking forward to the day when his young boys are older and ready to start their own journey into The Undercity.
Ubongo is a great puzzle-racing family board game.
The only video game mom has enjoyed is Tetris.
This goes way back to the day of the first Nintendo Gameboy system. She’ll laughingly admit that Tetris was an addiction. She played it so much as a teenager that when she’d see road signs while driving, her mind would try to fit them into a Tetris grid. And her heart rate would jump if they wouldn’t fit!
It’s one of those family stories we always laugh about.
While those days have faded, the enjoyment of playing games with “Tetris-shaped” pieces remains.
Star Wars isn’t limited to a galaxy far, far away.
Need I say more?
That’s usually all it takes to get someone’s attention.
With the Force Friday a couple weeks ago and Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out in 3 months, Star Wars is definitely on the minds of a lot of people. It’s safe to say you’ll be hearing Star Wars chatter for quite some time.
Of course, that shouldn’t be any surprise because Star Wars is so deeply engrained in our culture that it’s never far, far away.
With school starting back up again, we’ve heard a lot about teachers using board games in the classroom to better engage students. Lest you think your kids will be playing games at school all day, we thought it would be good to share a guest article on the subject from educator, Daniel Dulek.
USING EDUCATIONAL BOARD GAMES IN THE CLASSROOM
by Daniel D. Dulek
Educational board games have received a bad rap over the years. And rightly so–they tend to be nothing more than review questions or flash cards without much thought to creativity, originality, or real engagement.