Thursday, April 14, 2016

First impressions of the Undercity

Today I had a two player session of Undercity.

We played first two scenarios and it took a little bit over three hours to do that. Not too bad at all, considering I had only read the basic rules once and the second player had one solo game behind him.

I played with the trollkin bodyguard and the alchemist.

As I love the archetype behind a maniacal alchemist throwing explosive cocktails around, I played true to that archetype in the opening moves of the first scenario. Alchemist took Hoof it -move to throw the acid bomb on the group of villains who were hanging around the corpse players were supposed to investigate. Because acid bomb on clues and leads and evidence - why not? Well, I hadn't read my character sheet too carefully, as I was oblivious of being able to get three dice on all of the damage rolls...

Well, some experimental bombs are bound to be dud, I suppose.

I was playing quite carelessly throughout the mission, as I didn't really feel the heroes were in much of a danger. Four free strike hazards on the trollkin, for example... who cares?

Also, I wanted to end the game with style instead of playing it safe - the troll charged Rhulic boss with extra damage die from Great strength buff table and Mighty Blow feat card. That meant if I rolled high enough with four dice, my hero would one-hit boss. And he did. Yay.

Doorstop lived up to its name for the whole game, and gun mage went and snatched an orgoth artifact from side quest.

Each hero got five experience points, and I chose the Shield Guard advance for trollkin.

In second scenario I think I wasn't that reckless... at least until the very last turn.

Alchemist made good use out of acid bombs in this scenario. Trollkin made good use out of... well, nothing in this scenario. Even though gun mage knocked down the troll boss, my melee tank character was not able to cause even a single wound to the enemy - even with additional damage die and charge bonuses. Gun mage had shot a wound or two in to the troll, and my alchemist had to come and show my troll champ how melee weapons are to be used in the Undercity.

And my trollkin learned that, I guess... He did score a boss kill in that game. Against a knocked down Armour 11 gobber boss.

Doorstop lived up to its name for the whole game.

I tried to run to a side quest card when game was nearing end with my alchemist, but this resulted in a lucky crossbow shot incapacitating him.

Heroes got eight experience points from this scenario.

Alchemist got Skulk (stealth) and left three experience points in bank. He starts next game with only three health.

Trollkin had the shield guard card from last scenario and bought Vendetta from this scenario. He also left three experience points in bank.


The game definitely has it's pros and cons. I was left with a bit mixed feelings about the game.

For example, the experience progress feels a little underwhelming and streamlined. When experience pool is shared by all characters, it feels like the heroes don't develop as individuals. Their accomplishes and failures on board don't really affect themselves. I admit I'm a sucker for rules that make heroes develop distinct personalities. However, I understand why the experience isn't tracked individually. It cuts down book-keeping tremendously, and it's far easier to balance experience gain that way. I mean, for example, if most of the experience in a game is gained from killing things, it sucks to be a support character.

Second "problem" comes from the cooperative nature of the game. And the game truly is fully cooperative - a little too much. There is no incentive to be even a little bit selfish. That's not necessarily a bad thing in itself, so I'm not going to judge the game just yet from this viewpoint. But when a game has no competition between the players at all in any way, the difficulty has to be right. Odds need to feel overwhelming, there needs to be a sense of desperation so great that it makes up for the lack of competition between the players. First two scenarios did not have a satisfactory difficulty level, but a little bird told me that latter part of campaign is going to see a jump in difficulty.

Game mechanics, on the other hand, are quite good. Steady inflow of new villains in a good system here, and should lend itself well to that sense of desperation I was talking about earlier. The system how villains activate is well thought. It would be plain hell to keep track which villains have activated and which have not, so thankfully that is not required at all. Also, players can't plan around the activation order either as far as the villains go - as witnessed by the stray crossbow bolt that downed my alchemist in second scenario...

Lastly, I'm a little bit worried about the re-playability of the game. It's the same seven scenarios with the same four heroes with very little variation. Some additional heroes would work miracles in that regard. Maybe Widower's Wood and the upcoming expansion for Undercity will help there? Randomising the assets players have to beat the game is a really good way of adding re-play value to any cooperative game. In Arkham Horror and Touch of Evil you never know if you're going to be able to beat this particular ultimate evil with the current party composition - but those are the tools you have to work with.

Of course those games are somewhat different from The Undercity. Undercity has a span of seven linked missions, where Arkham Horror and Touch of Evil are just one-off games. Time investment for a completed "story arc", so to speak, is way different. You probably want to have more choice over your character and the progress of that character if you have to use him/her during multiple sessions.

But I'm not sure what I'm even talking about any more. Somewhere along the way this turned into writing random thoughts, based on two scenarios played.

To sum it up: the game has merits, but something keeps me a little cautious and needs additional play to make up my mind.

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