Type: RPG / Co-Op

Time to play: < 180 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 3)

I have previously reviewed Too Many Bones (the base game for this), but having played Undertow separately as a stand-alone game I thought that it was worth putting my thoughts on the changes and the campaign mode in writing. One particular reason is because this really is a stand-alone game. There is enough content here, and the rules are clear enough, that you do not need the base game to play this. Which is better? I will come back to that shortly!

In undertow you still play as Gearlocs, intrepid heroes venturing beyond the walls of their home town and gaining skills. The game can be played as a short version against a single bad guy or as a long campaign against a series of threats to this fictional world. The long campaign takes the micro stories that build up the shorter game but throws in a few specific cards in which gives you benefits from boss fights and adds the stories of the defeated bosses.

The campaign, whether in the base game or in Undertow, is really interesting because this allows you to develop your characters more fully and fight more challenging combinations of enemies. In case you haven’t played either game it’s worth saying that every fight gets more difficult (based on time passed x size of party) but each fight also rewards you with treasure or training. These rewards make your characters more powerful and after a 4-8 day (game time) short campaign, your characters will have just unlocked the key powers and been used in the last fight. However, in a long campaign (15-20 days) you get a chance to learn the character in full – explore all their powers and find the most efficient way to use them.

I really enjoyed this game mode in Undertow and whilst undertow has less player pieces, less villain pieces and less stories than the base game, from my perspective it had enough for me. What’s more the expansion is playable and can be mixed with the base game. The villains can be blended in, the heroes used in both and the missions pulled across. This would give enormous variation and scope to the game. Whilst the coloured rings on the discs and the mini pictures on the cards, makes the sets easily separable.

Now, in the expansion they added a much bigger variance on how you start the journey. The first few days events are crucial and in the main game they force the same three events on you each game – which becomes frustrating especially as you teach new groups. In the expansion there are a mix of day 1 and day 2 cards which you must take one from each group. This gives variation in each day and variation in the combinations – ultimately for me this is a much more satisfying start to the game.

Secondly, the new game has two battle maps. The raft sees the heroes battle to stay a float, with water based creatures hitting the heroes or sometimes the raft itself. Enough damage would sink the raft. These creatures can submerge and re-appear as well to add new dynamics to the fight. Meanwhile in the land battles, you fight new mechs – able to self repair or cause new forms of damage.

These new horrors enhance the game and make for more varied combats. This is very exciting for players because this added variety makes for more tactical battle decisions, more varieties in the strengths of the characters and more mixed formats of bad guys. In combination with the new starting events, this makes Undertow a superior game in my mind. If you were buying one and not the other – I would pick Undertow every day. As a bonus the box is also more compact and easier to travel.

It’s worth noting though that there are only two base characters in this version of the game and so the character boxes may be helpful to build out the variety of the game and to allow more players.

There are some negatives to the game, but actually these are predominantly the negatives of the core game. The new characters are balanced and enjoyable, the new rules don’t add too much overhead. However, the game remains long for what it is and the map is still too busy at high player counts.

Last notes:

  • If you like character development this game adds variety and new characters to the mix
  • If you want a story with strategic planning then this is really a tactical only game
  • If you win at this game, try the campaign mode