Dragons of Underearth
is a tactical combat boardgame
with some role-playing
elements. It was published by Metagaming
Dragons of Underearth was one of the results of the falling-out between acclaimed designer Steve Jackson and Howard Thompson of Metagaming over Jackson's The Fantasy Trip (please see that node for more information). After Jackson left Metagaming, Thompson wanted to purge Jackson's name from every Metagaming product. He was legally able to do this because he owned the copyrights to all the games Jackson designed for Metagaming.
On some games he simply removed the designer's credit from the game's rulebook (he did this on the last few editions of Jackson's Melee and Wizard games). But when it came to The Fantasy Trip, Jackson's best game to date, simply stripping Jackson's name off wasn't enough - he wanted the game repackaged into a new product so that he could bilk Jackson out of his remaining royalties. The Underearth series of games was the result.
Therefore it's quite difficult to view and rate this game objectively, knowing the vile purpose for which it was created. But I'll try.
The Game Itself
Dragons of Underearth comes in a 8 1/2"x5 1/2" cardboard box, and consists of two booklets (Character Creation and Combat), a counter sheet of 70 counters that represent characters (called "figures" in this game), a 11"x17" mapsheet, and a tiny six-sided die. (If you've read the node for The Fantasy Trip, you will note with irony that this is pretty much the packaging Jackson wanted for that game, which Thompson denied him.)
The game rules are a combination and simplification of Melee and Wizard, with some rules (like Talents) from In the Labyrinth thrown in to make it work better. Character creation is identical to The Fantasy Trip, but combat certainly is not. In the course of simplifying the game advanced actions like hand-to-hand combat, dodging, and even changing weapons in mid-combat were all removed; all you can do now is make a melee attack, throw a thrown weapon, fire a missile weapon, or cast a spell. A figure with a ready bow can no longer fire one last arrow when it becomes engaged, it must immediately drop the bow and ready another weapon. You may now fire a missile or throw a weapon "through" a single friendly unit to hit an enemy one with no penalty; you no longer "roll to miss" friends between you and your target.
While I don't approve of any of the above changes (they simplify an already simple game at the detriment of its realism), there is one change that intrigues me and I almost approve of. All figures during a turn are assumed to be acting simultaneously, and all damage is given and taken at the end of the turn instead of during. This means that if you strike an enemy figure with a killing blow, he still gets his turn and may be able to do you damage - or even kill you - in return! This does do a good job of stopping "DEX monsters" - figures whose owners have boosted their DEX to the point where their enemies never get to act.
But, in the end, Dragons of Underearth is not as good as any of the games it inherits from. Its only virtues are that it does play well, and that it is inexpensive compared to its predecessors (which are now collector's items).