Before I begin, I was provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is NOT a paid review.
If you want to watch a video review of this instead…you can! Check it out below.
If you take a look back over my most recent reviews…or you follow the YouTube channel you know that of late I have been reviewing a bunch card combat games: Paragon, Valdyria, Ophidian, and now Underleague. The cool thing about it has been that every single one of them has been extremely different and with a different gameplay, and unique theme. Underleague is no exception.
In this game you are a “breeder”, and you have bred, and assembled a stable of monstrous, fantastical, and mechanical creatures. Every day, or night, you challenge another breeders to combat in the underground arena. Depending of the creature it may be stronger or weaker during the day or night, so it is a shame that the person being challenged gets to choose when the match will take place. Maybe breeders should stop saying “Let’s fight, you choose the time and place.” Winning a fight gives you a victory point, which is added to the running victory point total that you have for your creatures in your active stable. The first person to reach 20 victory points is the winner.
Each round, or season, as it is called every breeder will place bets on any of the creatures on the table as to whether they are going to win or lose that season. The better you do on your bets, and yes you can place bets on creatures that are not yours, the more strategy cards you will gain each turn. As you can guess strategy cards allow you to buff up your creatures, or debuff other creatures, making the do more damage, giving them abilities, or just making them worth more points. There are also cards that change the basic rules of the game, ie you can challenge AND choose if you fight during the day or night.
Each turn you are allowed to play one strategy card, and challenge one other monster out on the table. If you win, you gain a victory point, and the defending monster is exhausted (tapped) and not able to act again this season. Once everyone passes their turn the season ends, and you start a new season. Counting up victory points, and potentially swapping out one of your creatures from your deck.
So what do I think?
The art is just wonderful. It is dark, ominous, and well detailed. When I was testing it my buddy couldn’t stop talking about how much he liked it, how he would put paintings like that on his wall. I also think the theme is really cool. Something about the idea of this underground monster combat arena, that you are betting on is just delightful, and it does seem well realized. Though how stupid are the authorities if they cannot figure out that this is going on….
I think the choices you have to make each season are very interesting. Are you going to draw extra strategy cards, or are you going to swap out one of your active monsters? Who are you going to bet on? Are you going to bet on yourself to lose? The choices are fun, and because getting these correct is how you gain strategy cards the choices have consequence.
Finally I like that each strategy card is paid for by discarding strategy cards that you already have, I am not sure how that works theme wise, but it does keep a player from stockpiling the cards with a couple of good rounds.
Combat. The idea behind it is awesome, and the way that you gain stronger dice, depending on each creature is great in theory, but I struggle with the way the defender always chooses night or day. In practice this makes it so it is quite hard for an attacker to win. It is a little frustrating. I also think that the game is not as good of a game at two players. With only two players the game plays fine, but you lose the options when it comes to betting and challenging. Two player is solid, but leaves a bit to be desired.
My main quibble with this game is that it just takes longer than I think it should. Since the game is simple to learn you quickly fall into a rhythm and turns go fairly quickly, that is a good thing, but somehow games can drag on, and out stay their welcome a little bit. While I have said that with more players the game shines, but at the same time this does mean that the game will take even longer. This is a relatively easy fix by house ruling a lower Victory point threshold.
Bringing it all together
Underleague is another competitive card game, that manages to find a unique theme, and realize it. The art is off the hook good. There is a cool betting mechanic that has a real benefit to winning, but due to the way that the reward (strategy cards) is used it is hard to really stockpile them. The game does fine as a head to head game, but it lacks the options and choices that you get when you play with more than two, however, the game CAN drag on and playing with more players will make that more apparent. It is certainly a game that brings something new to the genre.
Make me read that and you will be used for feed for the Underleague monsters
*Unique and rewarding betting mechanic
*Interesting combat, though perhaps it is a bit too slanted toward the defender
*Game shines with more than two players
*Game has the potential to drag on.
*Simple to learn, and a solid rulebook
*I have not played another game like this before