Total War

Kiwibreakfast’s Guide to the Underempire

Content of the article: "Kiwibreakfast’s Guide to the Underempire"

In a recent post, somebody asked me what the point of the Underempire was, and I did a big effortpost comment that … was buried miles and miles down the page that nobody is ever going to see.

But I also think the underempire is a cool and important, a great addition to the Skaven playstyle, and something that many players don't seem to understand. With that in mind, I'm restructuring and expanding that comment into Kiwibreakfast's Guide to the Underempire.

First things first: What is the Underempire?

The Underempire is a mechanic available to the Skaven in Total Warhammer 2. It allows them to tunnel under cities they don't control and build structures there. Without a few notable exceptions, all structures increase the discoverability of the undercity, which mean the owner might find it and tear it down.

Why don't people like the Underempire?

Poorly-handled, it's a huge drain on resources that gets you LoS over settlements which is … cool I guess but I see why many people skip it. The AI is garbage at using it and tends to massively overbuild, which doesn't help the impression that it's burning a ton of resources for a thing the enemy can easily swat away.

Okay genius, then why are you saying it's good?

Well-developed, the Underempire can be a massive wellspring of resources and intelligence, as well as a powerful tool for handling enemy aggression. Here is a screenshot from a time I bodyslammed the Empire from #1 world power to total destruction in 7 turns.

To understand how we got here, first we need to understand what I call archetypes. An archetype is a collection of undercity buildings that synergise well. A good undercity has 0 discoverability, and creates a resource surplus OR achieves a strategic goal. The first and most important archetype is the digger. It consists of:

  1. Kill Perches
  2. Deeper Tunnels
  3. Scavenger Horde
  4. Mineshafts

This is always my first undercity. Even if I dug the undercity with a warlock engineer, I tear down the lab to turn the city into a digger. You can drop them all at once as soon as you spread there, they have net 0 discoverability, and the build/upgrade times work out so you're never in the red. They're very cheap—the scavengers pay the food cost of the mineshafts so you come out food-neutral, and you're just paying the relatively low upkeep on the kill perches.

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Initial placement is important: I tend to put them as far away from Skaven as possible, go with a smaller town (cities seem to build defence tunnels more often) that is centrally located but relatively innocuous; Eilhart is a favourite of mine, I also quite like Zavastra. Some of them may get torn down, but once you've hit critical mass you'll have a new undercity coming along in a minute anyway. If you really need a particular undercity to stay up (say, the enemy has gotten wise and is dropping a lot of defence tunnels), lose the scavenger horde but keep the deep tunnels. This only really matters early on, once you get big enough you can tank the occasional loss easily.

How you get them there also matters. The fastest way to spread undercities is by attacking and "looting" the city, leaving your undercity behind. The problem with this is that you need an army on-hand and you already need to be at war with somebody who knows you're there. The underempire works best if nobody knows it's there; if you're at war with the AI and there are Skaven in the region, they seem a lot more likely to dig tunnels and put up agents. If somebody has declared war on you and you've got armies in the area then by all means spread it. The better way (and generally the way I start massive underempires like the one above) is with a well-placed Warlock Engineer. This also gives you more choice in picking your perfect drop location.

Early game, you're not really worrying about doing anything with the underempire, your goal is just to spread it as far as possible. I'd say about 60% of my Underempire cities are diggers at any one time. Once they're totally surrounded by other undercities, I tear down the deeper tunnels and mineshafts and turn it into what I call an eater.

An eater is kill perches + scavenger horde only. When you're building normally you want to fill every slot, but undercities are different: an eater is 200 gold/turn for 3 food/turn + visibility over the region and that's a pretty good exchange rate considering how hard it is to get food otherwise. You can have a huge passive food income and great intel while doing nothing. Building more would just endanger that. These are great early game when food is at a premium.

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The third archetype is a popper. I tend to do these when I'm losing a war. A popper is just a Vermintide building. It will be discovered and discovered almost immediately. Its odds of being torn down are high. Why do it? Well, when you're at war, losing, and in enemy territory, you can smash as many small/weak towns as possible and leave poppers behind, and some of them are going to pop. Even if it's 1/5, then that's one free stack behind enemy lines. If you're far enough down the tech tree and target your attacks well, this can snowball exponentially, because each one that pops lets you seed more poppers. Avoid cities, avoid anything with walls, just hit the weakest towns you can, seed a new stack, then move on.

Those three archetypes are your bread and butter, but the underempire can do more than that. Let's quickly go down some other archtypes:

  1. The Zoomer: kill perches OR deeper tunnels + subterranean hideout OR underway hub. Discoverability 0, +40% speed for all friendly armies, a bunch of other fun bonuses depending on which one you go with. Don't buy the underkeep/nexus upgrades, since they push discoverability into the red; if you want the upgrade you need the other concealment building and I find that little extra boost isn't worth it.
  2. The Bank: kill perches + deeper tunnels + scavenger horde + warp-token mint. Net +200 gold/turn, 0 discoverability, food neutral.
  3. The Syndicate: kill perches + deeper tunnels + ratkin mafia. Put this under big money-making cities like Lothern or Altdorf. If they've got defence tunnels, skip the last upgrade. Costs 2 food/turn, income is variable, but can pay off big time if placed well.
  4. The "You can recruit rank 9 ratling guns anywhere? That's bullshit" aka The Catalyst. Kill perches + warpstone refinery. Hypothetically you could get 0-upkeep doomwheels with these things; I've never invested deeply enough into them to find that out but the possibility is there. I tend to grab 4–5 of these: combined with a couple of other special buildings that'll get you rank 9 weapon teams everywhere.
  5. the Special. Varies depending on legendary lord. I'm a big fan of both concealment upgrades and a plague cauldron. It does have +20 discoverability but the AI is terrible at finding them for some reason, and if you place the cauldron well you can absolutely ruin the opponent's ability to fight back. I did this to the Empire for about 30 turns before I popped those vermintides, and it was a massive part of the reason they went over so easily. The Skyre bomb is also very fun: I hate it when the enemy controls one town in a province but going to war would result in a pile-on, and being able to drop the nuke and settle the ruins without declaring war is a great thing to have in the toolkit. Nuking forts and other chokepoint settlements then insta-building them up to max level is also a wonderful tide-turner.
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There are of course variations: raiding camp instead of ratkin mafia, subterranean strip mine (and both concealment upgrades) instead of underway hub, but hopefully that gives you some inspiration to start trying out different combos.

Anything else?

No skaven post would be complete without broken English so uh, thank you manthings for the read-read, no need to dig under your house, everything is fine. Goodbye-bye.


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