Game Buzz: Undermining

Sticking with sci-fi, let’s next look at:

image by BGG user mopeymatt

Undermining is a game published by Z-Man games, and designed by Matt Tolman.  I first became aware of this game thanks to a contest the designer was running on BGG.  The concept of the contest was, due to the way the title is written out on the cover (Matt Tolman’s Undermining), to come up with the best response as to what exactly Matt Tolman was undermining.  My response had an Incredibles reference (Behold! The Underminer!), and though my entry got more thumbs than any other entry, it didn’t win.  At least three other people posted a variation on my joke, probably without seeing my entry.  I doubt that’s actually what caused Tolman to pick other entries, but the point is this: I don’t have a free copy of the game, so I’ll have to wait before I can play it.  But I can still talk about it here.

Undermining is a game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to play.  Basically, you’re mining on an alien world, obtaining resources, upgrading your mining vehicle (your UMVee), and collecting cash to win the game.  Since finding out that one of Matt Tolman’s major influences is the game MotherLoad, a Flash-based game I wasted entirely too much time on a few years ago, I’ve been even more interested in checking Undermining out.  So let’s see what we’ve got.

image by BGG user asdoriak

In the box, you get a double-sided game board, 18 contract cards, 18 star buck tiles, 16 equipment tiles, 5 unavailable bay tiles, 5 player mats, 10 alien tech cards, 5 plastic UMVees, 129 debris tiles, and 40 wooden battery cubes.  Three contracts are chosen randomly to be face up, and three stacks of star bucks in descending order are made (8 to 3, with some left out for less than five players).  Resource tiles are distributed on the board, with solid rock on the top row.  Each player gets an UMVee and a mat, and (in a 5-player game) blocks a space with an unavailable cargo bay tile.  The player with the most experience digging holes goes first (rolling my eyes now).

On your turn, you spend your available action points to do various actions.  You begin the game with three AP, but you can increase that number with reactors and by spending battery cubes (2 for 1 action).  On your first turn, you place your UMVee on one of the four above ground spaces (any number of players can be in each space).  Here are your action choices:

  • Drill – Here, you’ll drill into an adjacent space.  You can go additional spaces with additional drill bits.  If drilling into a resource tile, you take the resource and put it on your player board in an available cargo bay.  If you have no available cargo bays, you can’t drill into a resource.  If you drill into solid rock, you flip the rock over so it now shows rubble.  Drilling into rubble is a separate action, and removes the rubble from the game.  If drilling resources or rubble, you move into the now vacant space; if drilling solid rock, you’ll need to wait until the rubble is cleared before moving.
  • Drive – With one action, you can move up to two empty spaces, plus extra spaces allowed by additional rockets.  Diagonal movement is not allowed, and you can’t use your second move to drill – that’s another action.  You also can’t move into the same space as another UMVee, unless you’re above ground.  However, you can spend two battery cubes to move through another player, ending in an empty space on the other side of them.  You only get two moves per drive action – unused moves don’t roll over to another drive action.
  • Unload – If you’re in the refinery space (above ground), you move all resources out of your cargo bays and place them in your warehouse.  There’s no limit to what can be placed in your warehouse.  Alien tech resources are discarded, and replaced by alien tech cards.  These cards can be used at any time during a turn, and they don’t cost an action point.
  • Build – Also in the refinery space, you can pay resources to upgrade your UMVee.  You have five expansion bays, and you’re limited by what’s available – if an upgrade runs out, you obviously can’t get it again.  X-ium is wild.
  • Contract – Again on the refinery space, you can return resources to claim an active contract.  Take the top star bucks tile from the stack next to that contract, and draw a new card to replace it.  X-ium is wild.
  • Charge – Take a battery cube.  You can’t have more than 8.
  • Portal – Move from one portal to another.  There are circles marked on the board that are portals.  If there is no tile or UMVee blocking it, you can move through from one to another.

The game ends as soon as one or more stacks of star buck tiles are gone.  You then add your scores up – one buck per resource in your warehouse, one buck per unused alien tech card, star bucks based on the number of upgrades you have (4-7-9-or 10 for 1-2-3-4/5 upgrades), and of course, the totals of your star buck tiles.  The player with the most star bucks wins.  And I love the tiebreaker, which completely makes up for the stupid start player mechanic:

In case of a tie, give each of the tied players a shovel.  The first player to dig a hole 10 feet deep in the backyard is declared the winner.

So there it is.  An overview of Undermining.  And I have to say that, after reading the rules, I am very interested in this game.  It seems fairly light and easy to explain, but with a race element, trying to claim contracts before other people do.  The diminishing returns from the contracts should help to increase the tension, and the upgrades will help you to do more on a turn.  Being a fan of MotherLoad, I can definitely see how that game influenced this one.  I have said to myself while playing MotherLoad that I would like to see a board game version.  Matt Tolman seems to have come up with a good multiplayer way to do it, keeping the heart – collect resources, collect money, upgrade your ship.  Some aspects of MotherLoad are not there – the effects of gravity, the occasional random earthquakes that mess up what you’ve already dug, lava pockets that can damage your ship, and the kind of ridiculous big boss at the end.  However, I think this will be a good game that a wide variety of people will be able to enjoy.  I can imagine that it will play very quickly, and I wonder if this might be a good gateway game.  Time will tell.  I’m even sadder now that I didn’t win a copy – now I’ll have to wait and get my own.

I also wanted to mention that this is (I think) the fourth game I’ve covered from group known as The Game Artisans of Canada, following JAB: Realtime Boxing, Alba Longa, and Belfort.  It’s definitely a group to keep an eye on – some really interesting ideas seem to be coming from there.

Thanks for reading!



  1. Wow, great post! 😉

    Thanks for the kind words, I wish everyone could have won (My brother had to talk me out of buying extra copies of my own game to give out.) I’m glad you are still interested in the game and I think your estimation of the play is fairly close to reality.

    Thanks for covering 4 of the Game Artisans of Canada’s games, I’ll return the favor by getting all the game artisans to share your blog!

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