We have a problem. Board games are too family friendly.They’re becoming the MCU. And while the MCU has produced some great action movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Infinity War. They’re sanitized. Sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes you want your action movies to be visceral. Sometimes you want The Raid. This was my expectation going into a game where the front cover has a blood drenched metal spider ripping the FREAKING head off a giant rat.
Publisher: Cogwright Games
Designer: Fergus Blair
Artists: Mozchops, Matt Paquett
In Underleague you are the unscrupulous. A breeder or collector who’s scoured the lands and found the most exotic animals on the planet. Now you’re forcing them to fight in the back alleys of Helgarten for entertainment, and victory points.
You start with a deck of thirty creatures and begin by drafting 3 face up. From there, you draw a hand of strategy cards, and place all 5 of your betting tokens on creatures in play. The correctness of your bets determines how many strategy cards you’ll draw later. Strategy cards are important. They’re how you interact with the creatures. And what you need to spend to use strategy cards.
This is a mechanic I love to see in games. It creates hard decisions by asking you what will you sacrifice to get stronger? It also creates these mini puzzles on how best to use your cards. Giving the players another avenue to express their play style. Go big on one card? Or use a lot of little cards?
That’s only part of your turn. Playing one strategy card.
The other part involves sending your creatures to fight. Each has a night and day attack value, a victory point value, and usually an ability. When attacking, you and the defender both roll an amount of dice depending on the time of day. The defender chooses that. Then add any modifiers, perform any rerolls, and another opportunity for strategy cards.
The board game could have done more here. I mean this is the spectacle. This is why we’ve all gathered – to see these creatures fight. But instead of putting in a lot rerolls, and modifiers to generate excitement most of the strategy cards deal with other areas of the game. Leaving the die rolls to be just that. Die rolls.
This has an on-flow effect. Because the creature with the highest total value wins. And the fights boil down to die rolls. It makes betting duller than it should be as well. As there’s only the rare reason outside of ‘feeling lucky’ to bet against the stronger creature.
During these fights, attacking creatures are always exhausted. If they win, you get a victory point – which is a random strategy card face down.
I’ll talk about the amazing artwork later. But one thing I didn’t like, was the card backs. Like the artwork, the graphic design of Underleague has been sucked under a tar pit of grungy steam punk, and fantasy. It really feels dark, and grimy. Fantastic.But the brown muddy colour and pattern of the card backs makes it real hard to tell how many victory points you’ve earned.
Every creature that unsuccessfully defends is also exhausted.Meaning they can no longer fight. Don’t despair though, as even when all your creatures are exhausted. You’re still able to play strategy cards come your turn.
Play continues like this until everybody passes.
At the start of the next round, and every other round. Count your victory points. You get points for the exoticness of the monsters you bring, their equipped items, and their ability to win fights. The first to 20 wins.
This is a good game with some rough edges. For instance,when you open the box you’re greeted with a 250 card strategy deck. The instructions say shuffle and play. Awesome. Lots of content, immediately playable.But how big are your hands? Unless you’re Shaq, or have Shaq-like hands,shuffling this deck is a pain.
That’s the minor quibble. The major one is that this deck is too large, and too random for it to provide the strategy it’s named after. When it comes to these hand management, take that, card games, you’re probably thinking Magic: The Gathering, or Arkham Horror: LCG, or at least I am. There’s two key points of differentiation with Underleague.Firstly, these games let you use multiple card plays per turn, allowing for different combinations and card play. The second is how you play the game relies heavily on the deck you use.
This may be true for Underleague as well.
In fact, there are competitive rules for building a personal70 card strategy deck. And a lot of exciting and cool abilities you could build a deck around. However, the curve to the peak of Everest is less than the learning curve of building a useful deck in these types of games. Which is why it’s so surprising that there aren’t pre-built decks, or a set of starter decklists within the manual.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The artwork is amazing. The vibe of grungy back streets in a port village is felt throughout. The creatures are both realistic and fantastical. They wouldn’t be out of place in the world of The Witcher. But it falters with the graphic design. Things that should be obvious such as creature type,and type of strategy card, are difficult to take in at a glance. Additionally,it would have been great if they differentiated the D6, from the D3.
Underleague’s competitive edge is delivered by strategically building your deck, and seeing your plan unfold. Its moments of brilliance lay in rolling the bones and cackling as your David beats their Goliath. Its immersion comes from the gorgeous nightmare inducing art. Its faults, for the most part, can be fixed with expansions, and online forum posts.
That’s all I have to say. What do you think? Would you bet on it?
Disclaimer: This game was provided from Cogwright Games. I appreciated the opportunity to review Underleague. And wish Fergus all the best.
The countdown begins.
Two weeks to the day, till Christmas. And a week and a half left of work. I’m looking forward to the break. Are you doing anything for the holidays? I’m hoping to stay home, read some books, and attempt to lessen my pile of unplayed games. Also, if you have any idea for some delicious easy to make Christmas treats. Let me know!