By Chris Picone, 30 September 2022
Underscore’s a great little roguelike card game with a bunch of innovative mechanics and some interesting execution. It’s challenging and doesn’t hold your hand and I really like it.
Unders_core features low poly graphics which look decent enough but can be underwhelming at times – but it doesn’t matter because that’s not what this game’s about. The graphics are really just there to give you something to look at between battles, and the battles are solid.
One of the core elements that sets Unders_core apart from other deckbuilding card games is that you are simultaneously in control of two decks; the combat deck and the exploration deck. The concept is that you’re a drone exploring some alien landscape to collect data. So you move through the game by drawing cards from the exploration deck; the starting deck is primarily a “medium challenge” that comes with a “medium reward” or safe passage, although there are a few other cards like the quick fix which heals you but at the cost of adding malfunction cards into your combat deck, but you can pick up more interesting cards through the game. A word of warning here: Unders_core doesn’t hold your hand. To get better and to discover the most powerful combinations, you have to experiment. Combat’s fairly similar to most other card games except for one key difference: You have three resource types, which refresh each turn. What I like about this is that each of your card comes with three play options depending on which resource you choose to spend. So a default attack card, for example, can be used to attack, or can be spent to boost your attack power for the rest of the combat, or spent to add another combat resource which might allow you to play a more powerful attack card. As I’m sure you can imagine, this system lends itself to loads of flexibility and synergy. You draw one card a turn and can play as many as you like for as long as your resources last. What really makes this game challenging but also rewarding is that you don’t heal between battles and all changes to your deck – good or bad – are permanent. Staying alive’s tough but after x events you also have to face some gnarly boss fights. But it’s all good: The game’s a roguelike so each run gives you a little upgrade of some sort, allowing you to get that little bit further on the next run.
I’d happily recommend Unders_core to any fan of deckbuilding card games with one caveat: It’s probably not a great introduction to the genre. But if you’re already an experienced card gamer, jump on it.