The second challenge in chapter 2 of Challenges for Game Designers asks you to create a territory acquisition game for 2-4 players. The game can be a card, board, or tile game, but its victory condition must be either 1) the first player to control all of the territory wins, or 2) the player who controls the most territory after x turns wins.

I decided to go with a fantasy theme this time. I wanted the players to take the role of villains vying for control over a section of the underdark. I also wanted to represent the dungeon with tiles so that each game could have a different layout. Each tile would represent a region of the dungeon such as a fungal forest or the magma-filled heart of the mountain. Every tile generates resources when controlled by a player (represented by the number in the bottom-right corner of the tile). Some tiles also have traps, treasures, or hazards to add some variety.

Keeping with the theme of villains trying to control the underdark, I decided that the game should have minions for the players to control. These are monsters that the villains can hire with the gold generated by their tiles to occupy tiles for them and fight against the minions of the other players. Taking a que from Ascension, which I recently played for the first time, I decided to have only a limited set of minions available for purchase at a time. To accomplish that I made a deck of minion cards and during play only the top 3 minions can be bought.

When minions fight, the combat is handled with a simple roll. Both players involved roll d6 and add their minion’s strength (indicated in the bottom left of each card). The minion with the better result wins (reroll ties). The losing minion is removed from the board and its card goes back into the minion deck. If multiple minions are defending a single tile, only the one with the highest strength rolls. If the defenders lose that roll, the highest strength minion is removed and the rest must move to an adjacent tile occupied by minions from the same player. If the player doesn’t occupy any adjacent tiles, the rest of the defenders may move to an unoccupied tile. If all of the adjacent tiles are occupied by other players, then all of the defenders are destroyed.

Finally, I decided to add adventurers into the mix. After each round, adventurers raid the dungeon and generally mess up the plans of the various villains. I ended up making two decks to support the adventurers. The first deck contains adventuring parties and the second has a card for each tile to determine where in the dungeon the adventurers attack. I decided to make the entrance tile special so adventurers attack it each round before attacking the tile indicated on the location card. The adventurers are handled in the same way as minion combat with a simple strength roll determining who wins.

The game ends after 6 rounds, and the player who controls the most tiles wins. If there is a tie, then the tied player with the most minions wins.

Overall, I was less happy with Lords of the Underdark than I was with the Mario Kart prototype last week. While I like the core concept of the game, it was pretty rough around the edges when we played it. I probably should have kept the game a little simpler, especially given the time constraints I’m forcing on myself for these challenges.

What I’m happy with after playing:

  • Combat: Minion combat was fast and simple letting the game move quickly.
  • Hazards, traps, and treasure: The rules for these provided enough for the tiles to feel distinct but not enough that they were major game changers, which is right where I’d want them to be.
  • Adventurers mixing things up: The end-of-the-round raid was a nice way to mix things up and clear out spaces, particularly the central Door to the Depths tile.

What I’d change in the next iteration:

  • Movement speeds: Only being able to move a minion 1 tile per turn seemed limiting. Both my wife and I agreed it would be nice to have faster movement options. Two ideas we had are minions that get to move faster and some sort of mechanic to follow-up an attack with an extra move.
  • Dungeon layout: The dungeon layout we ended up with wasn’t great, so I’d consider having stricter rules on how the tiles are set up at the beginning of the game.
  • Adventurer targets: With the rules we were using, the adventurers always targeted the entrance tile and then the randomly chosen tile. It would be fun to also have them attack each tile on a path between those two.
  • Turn orders: I’d like to make the turn order random each round rather than keeping it fixed throughout the game.
  • Resource management: We played so that gold carried over to the next round if unspent which ended up giving us a lot of money to spend. I’d consider redoing the system so that gold must be spent the turn it is earned or its lost.
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