This week we had our first chance to play the new Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire game in preparation for our in-store demos starting today (Saturday 14th) and it was so good that we just had to bring you a review!
Games Workshop has touted Underworlds to be an enjoyable, fast play game with Organised Play bred into the game from the outset. We were somewhat skeptical of this having seen so many other manufacturers try to emulate Fantasy Flight Games' wonderful OP program but let me tell you - GW have smashed this one out of the park, and Underworlds is going to be incredibly popular!
Garrek's Reavers, Khorne Warband
The Game (in a nutshell)
On the surface of things, the game is quite simple. Two small warbands of warriors are set up on a hex-based board. Some squares are impassable squares, some squares are objective squares, and both warbands fight. The objective of the game is to earn glory points, which you gain by both completing objectives and taking out opposing fighters. Activations alternate, and in between each action both players have a chance to play cards from their hand.
Combat is resolved simply by rolling attack or defence dice and needing to get certain symbols for a "success". Certain symbols on the dice only count when you have support of friendly models (ie, a friendly model is also next to the guy you're attacking, or you have a friendly model next to the attacker when you're defending) so positioning models to support eachother (or keeping models in choke points!) is important. If you score more attack successes than defence successes, you deal some damage, and if a model takes enough damage, it is out of action - it's as simple as that. If you hit a model but don't kill it, you can push it back a space, adding a tactical nuance to combat too.
Cards from your hand vary from simple added damage or dice to extra attacks and positional effects. Some cards are "upgrades" which provide a continuous bonus but cost a point of glory to play - meaning that you're spending your victory points to improve your characters, making for some very interesting risk vs reward decision making.
Objectives are scored from a separate, smaller, hand of cards. They vary from holding objective markers on the table (by standing on them) to cards that are very flavourful (Khorne players can get a glory point for any 3 fighters being taken down - even their own!) Most cards award 1 glory but some award more, up to a whopping 5 - score one of those and you're probably going to win!
The game is played best of three games. Even our intro game only took 25 minutes, and we think a game will easily be played in 15 or even less once we know the rules. Playing three games in an hour will be simple, which is fantastic for organised play!
Steelheart's Champions, Stormcast Warband
Why We Loved It So Much
The first thing that you do when you set the game up is place one of your boards. These are about 12" x 6" and have pre-defined squares on which models can deploy. The opponent then places a board joined up to this board, but here's the kicker - he can attach the board wherever he likes. So the boards can be attached to form one long corridor, a wider battlefield, or even in a sort of offset "Z" shape - there's strategy in the game right from the setup, because you might want to create a nice chokepoint for your three Stormcast models to hold, maximise your far-away deployment squares for guys with ranged attacks, and so on. We thought this was a great mechanic and really adds to the game.
The game itself is so fast and fluid it's incredible. As we mentioned above we think it'll probably only take 15 minutes to play. The style of "mechanics not getting in the way of a good game" is a very modern piece of game design which makes the game a joy to play without taking anything away from the tactics and choices involved.
There are two decks to customise - your power deck and your objectives deck. Even the basic set has a lot of variation in what you can do here, but the idea that you could customise your objectives for, say, your Khorne warband to revolve around your own guys dying for the Blood God just as much as you could customise a deck for the same warband to have your guys trying to hold objectives feels like it will add an incredible amount of variety to each game. The powers decks also have a lot to them but are very on-theme, with the Stormcast being great at defending and the Chaos being very good at attacking (though not only at these things!)
Very flavourful Khorne cards!
Who Should Buy It?
We're incredibly excited to see a game from Games Workshop built from the ground up with organised play in mind - deep strategy, many choices, and fast play. What's great about this game though is that it stands on its own merits; as a two-player board game it would be a fantastic buy for any board gamer, and it includes multiplayer rules that don't feel like an afterthought (the objective cards modify their scoring to account for different numbers of players, for example)if you want to play with more than two players.
In summary, we think this game is fantastic and that Games Workshop have a hit on their hands. Competitive to casual, wargamer or board gamer, this game has something to offer to everyone and we highly recommend it!
If you havent picked up a copy yet, click this link to preorder Shadespire from Justplay - we offer free 24 hours postage for all orders over £40 and we ship the day before release so you can be playing your copy as soon as possible!
If you're in or around Liverpool, Justplay will be running demos of Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire from Saturday October 14th. Pop in and give it a try - it doesn't take long and we're sure you'll be happy you did!