It’s been my honour and my pleasure over the years to see Privateer Press grow from a really cool company that produces a tabletop miniatures game, into a really cool company that produces a tabletop miniatures game, multiple card games, roleplaying games, board games, pins, ebooks, and apparel. The subject of today’s attentions is the newest addition to Privateer’s board game stable, The Undercity. To say I’m impressed is an understatement. Let’s unbox the thing, and then I’ll go on a little bit of a ramble.
The Undercity comes with two booklet style manuals, the first being the rulebook and the second being the campaign. This is the first big checkmark for the game. Much like Level 7: Escape and Level 7: Omega Protocol, the game is designed to have an ongoing narrative, a storytelling element that can help engage your players, and of course, with any good campaign there’s character development, so your characters can advance and improve, you get to customize them (more on that in a minute) and make your gaming experience unique.
Big picture is big because board is big. The board is 8-fold, and presents a squared tile pattern with no distinguishing features, until…
… you add the detail using the tiles provided! The set comes with an array of double sided tiles to lay onto the board to make your map as the campaign requires.
As with Privateer’s Level 7 board game offerings, a veritable trove of tokens are provided, each made of thick, sturdy card and clearly (and gorgeously) illustrated.
Sidebar: Tokens represent health on characters has always been a matter of interpretation. If your character has 5 health do you hold on to 5 hearts, and remove them as damage as taken? Or do you prefer to take a heart token every time you get damaged? Undercity solves this little debate by making the health tokens (and the gears for Doorstop the Warjack) doublesided, one side healthy and the other side damaged/wounded. Simple, straightforward, and above all, clear.
Each hero is represented by a card detailing their stats and abilities, with simple and clear instructions. Oh, right, heroes… you want to see the miniatures, don’t you…
Pog & Doorstop. The models are made of a softer plastic, which means you may need to stiffen them up if you want to paint them but at the same time they’re incredibly resilient and can safely be dumped into the box at the end of each session.
Canice & Milo. Much like the models from the IKRPG: Unleashed starter set, the models are heavily based on existing sculpts from Warmachine and Hordes… which, of course, just means it’s that much easier to use them as templates to mod your own versions.
Gardek, team tank. Well, aside from Doorstop, of course…
Now, it wouldn’t be a campaign without some bosses…
… some enormous gribblies…
… and a swarm of minions, ready to stab, shoot and whallop your party members.
Cards aplenty! These four decks, in clockwise order from the top left, define:
– The turn long environment effect, also acting as the clock for the game. When the last card’s drawn, game is over.
– Any side quests that are in play. These can add a distinct amount of replayability.
– What the bad guys are gonna do, which will activate. This is a major plus of the game I’ll get to in my ramble.
– Stats for the mobs. The bottom of the card even spells out priority of actions.
More little cards! Each character has their own ability deck. These as full of new abilities your characters can spend XP on to make them do more stuff, resist more stuff, able to hold one of those enormous Starbucks drinks that are more than twice the capacity of the average human bladder, that sort of thing. These are, of course, integral to the campaign setting. Your players will need more tricks up their sleeves as the missions get harder.
Each character also has their own Feat deck. These cards can be discarded for a character’s innate feat ability (such as Canice’s ability to shoot twice in a single turn) or for one of the two abilities printed on the cards themselves.
So I took all the shinies and I went to visit pal Krystal, and we kicked some tires. I learned pretty swiftly that The Undercity very handily bridges the gap between RPG and Tabletop Miniatures Game, while still being distinctly a boardgame, in the tradition of games like Descent and Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
- How similar, yet different, it is to Warmachine/Hordes. The Undercity will make for an excellent introduction for a boardgamer to the Iron Kingdoms, or for a Wargamer to boardgames, by simple virtue of how many of the elements are shared or at least closely associated enough for easy translation.
- The board’s versatility. I’ve played many tile-centric games, and it can be tough getting all the right parts lined up in the right order; Undercity’s use of a board as the core with tiles marking out the walls, rather than the tiles being the floorplan, allows for more open areas without needing more bulky components, and at the same time is so much sturdier for play.
- The mob control system. I love playing many boardgames, but in ones of this style frequently a player has to take the role of the antagonists, which is in almost every instance nowhere near as fun as playing the heroes (Level 7: Omega Protocol being the primary exception, in my experience). Having a villain control system that is both random and fairly elegant goes a long way and allows all players to be one of the Black River Irregulars.
- The campaign. Aside from side quests and difficulty variants adding to replayability, and the option for one-shots of any scenario, the fact that the game has launched with a campaign system with its own highly customizable levelling mechanics is huge. Games are just so much more engaging when what you do actually matters and/or makes a difference in how your character can handle future engagements.
- The component quality, though this is a given.
The Undercity, as a board game, hits all of the markers I was hoping for when it comes to how the game plays. The rules are straightforward and, for players of Warmachine & Hordes, in many cases intimately familiar, making this an excellent bridge or gateway into a broader world of gaming experience.
It’s also an August release, so bug your game stores accordingly.