Insider 7-10-2015

Welcome to the first in a series of articles about the newest board game from Privateer Press, The Undercity. Over the next several weeks I’ll be giving you a look behind the curtains at how the game was developed.

In this first installment I’m going to talk about the earliest conversations about the game and how it first took shape.

During my first few weeks at Privateer Press back in the spring of 2011, we had several meetings about future board game products. One item on our list was simply labeled “dungeon crawl board game.” Its description was very basic as well. It stated that the game should tie into the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game (still in development at the time) and would include tiles that could be incorporated into RPG games.

Over the next year, as I worked on the LEVEL 7 line of games, we had numerous conversations about the possibilities for what would eventually be The Undercity. Many of these discussions revolved around two questions: who would the heroes be, and which of the setting’s myriad threats would they be facing? In the months before the Iron Kingdoms RPG launched, work was being done on the introductory scenario to be used in Gen Con demos, and that work would have a big impact on what our board game would be about.

For the first taste of the roleplaying game, we wanted to create a new group of characters that embodied certain core themes in the setting while dealing with concerns much smaller in scope than the conflicts among great nations that play out on the tabletop in games of WARMACHINE. I’m speaking, of course, of the Black River Irregulars.

This small band was part of a newly formed mercenary charter working in and around the Cygnaran city of Corvis, and we quickly realized that a mercenary group like the BRI operating in a place like Corvis would be a great fit for the board game, too. As a bonus, we had the perfect place to set the game’s chapters—the extensive subterranean section of Corvis from which The Undercity gets its name. From there, we still had a lot of decisions to make about how the game would function, but with the general guidelines for the heroes and the environment in place, the making of the game could begin.

My schedule cleared up to begin working on the new game in the spring of 2013. The main topic of our conversations during the first few weeks was the sci-fi dungeon crawl board game we had just finished designing, LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL]. There were some discussions about adapting the rules of that game to reflect the Iron Kingdoms setting, but that approach presented some complications. Firstly, OMEGA PROTOCOL is a head-to-head game in which an overseer player uses the enemies in the game to battle the heroes, and we wanted The Undercity to be a fully cooperative game that didn’t require a player to run the villains. Secondly, OMEGA PROTOCOL uses its own unique system for resolving combat, whereas we knew The Undercity would share the dice system used in the Iron Kingdoms RPG and WARMACHINE. This led us to the decision to create a unique rule set that could serve as an introduction to the other games in the brand while allowing players to work as a team against the game.

Once the fundamental decisions about how the game would work were ironed out, I sat down to start building the basic rules. I started with the characters, and that’s where we’ll continue this series next week.