PLAYlist 47: Terror Below | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

PLAYlist 47: Terror Below

Oct 01, 2019 Web Exclusive By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

A cast of unlikely heroes fight for survival against giant, subterranean, worm-like monsters hungry for human flesh. If that sounds like the 1990 Kevin Bacon classic Tremors to you, well… that’s because it was a synopsis for the movie Tremors. But! It’s equally applicable to the new board game Terror Below, which squeezes the premise of everybody’s favorite Saturday afternoon, basic cable sci-fi movie franchise into a single box of tabletop entertainment. 

Terror Below is a new release from designer Mike Elliott and Renegade Game Studios for 1 to 5 players. You’ll be racing around the worm-infested Nevada desert competing to earn points by picking up and delivering eggs, killing these oversized, slimy freaks, or by finding special items. The game ends once someone hits 20 points, or after somebody’s whole squad is wiped out by the worms. (More on that later.)

This is a game that has flavor in spades. The game will begin with each player being handed three character cards who will make up their team of misfits, selecting one as their leader. The essential function of this is to give players unique abilities, but Terror Below takes it as an opportunity to add some honest-to-goodness character. While there’s a good chance you’ll have a marine, survivalist, GBI Agent, or similarly well-equipped team member, you’ll undoubtedly be paired with an unlikely match in homemaker Rebecca, Anise the board game store owner, or life coach Sebastian. There’s even a playable dog. But, just because you’re stuck with one of these seemingly under-qualified worm battlers, it doesn’t mean you’re out-of-luck. Their powers are usually as good as the game’s obvious bad-asses, and they’re more fun to play thematically. (One of our favorites is Old George, a senior citizen whose best power only kicks in when you sacrifice him to be eaten by a worm, which is always hilarious.)

On a player’s turn, they’ll play a vehicle card from their hand which dictates how many action points they’ll have to play with. Those points are used to move one space, remove rubble from an adjacent spot, pick up eggs, deliver an egg, or ramp another player’s vehicle with their own like they’re taking part in a monster truck rally. (House rule: you have to shout “Woooooooooooooo!” when performing this action.) These cards also depict arrows, which determine where you’ll move one of the worms.

When you play a card, it’s discarded into a pile beneath one of the three worms currently roaming the board. Once a pile rises to a certain number, that worm erupts from the Earth and attacks any humans unfortunate enough to be caught nearby. Unless you’re well-armed—or have another player nearby to lend a hand—the attacks are often deadly. Whether the worm escapes or is defeated, it leaves a mess of rocks and debris in the spaces surrounding its emergence point, as well as an egg to be pilfered and exchanged at the nearest, convenient location for points and special actions (like taking a weapon, or reviving a dead teammate.)

There are other little wrinkles, such as exchanging rubble for weapons and items, or completing special tasks for bonus points, but that’s the core of Terror Below’s gameplay. The biggest fun is in not only selecting which vehicle/movement cards you’ll play, but where you’ll place them. Can you move a worm away from you, and closer to your opponent? Can you trigger an attack that will hopefully catch another player off-guard? You’re playing a pick-up-and-delivery game simultaneous to a game of cat and mouse.

Terror Below is for one to five players, but… to be honest, we think it’s best at either a higher player count (4 or 5) or in solo mode. With more players, the board becomes crowded as everyone bumps into each other and rushes to grab the same eggs. Given the longer wait and more cards being drawn between each player’s turns, players are more likely to get caught in a worm attack, which gives the game a more exciting, chaotic feel. (At two or three players, it’s just too easy to navigate around the worm attacks, which removes the tension and turns the game into a pretty straight-forward series of pickups and deliveries.) The solo scenarios included in the game provide a similar sense of danger by removing the game’s handful of safe zones, forcing the player to always fight the worms.

Complementing the flavor provided by the game’s chaotic worm attacks and colorful cast of characters is its downright stellar production quality. No corners were cut in producing Terror Below: where it could have gotten away with cardboard standees and tokens and felt more like one of the sillier board games we used to play in the early ‘90s, we’ve got multi-colored, textured eggs and rubble molded from plastic, and painted wooden cars. (These come in five unique shapes, and seriously reminded us of Micro Machines.) The cards have a premium finish to them, and even the double-sided board is cut to be shaped like a worm egg. And this was a first for us, but Terror Below comes with punch-out worms that are only meant to be set up around the board to add atmosphere. We’ll repeat: Terror Below comes with its own decorations. Crazy, but we’ll take it. The game looks absolutely fantastic when set up on the table, yet it can still be squeezed down into a relatively small box thanks to some patented TARDIS technology, no doubt.

With all of its bells and whistles, Terror Below is relatively simple to pick up. The box recommends ages 10 and up, but it could be played by younger with a little adult assistance. (The iconography is pretty limited and well-done, but younger kids may need help grasping the strategy.) A game runs roughly an hour, and provides some silly fun – either for a family, or a gaming group after a few beers and a VHS screening of Tremors.

Terror Below is available from Renegade Game Studios for an MSRP of $45.

This column’s playlist is all about the bass, about the bass… er, the bassists. Yes, we’re giving the spotlight to the usually-unheralded sidemen of every band without whom any song would lack its groove. We’re celebrating the bassists who make our floorboards rumble like the giant worms in Terror Below. Here are two hours’ worth of some of our favorite bassists and basslines for your enjoyment. Adjust your equalizers accordingly. And remember... walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm!


Previous PLAYlist columns: The Estates, NobjectsMemoir '44 & New Flight Plan, Bubble TeaUndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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