To The Table: Warhammer Underworlds – Shadespire

Warhammer is a massive franchise and has been since its creation in 1983. Over the years there’s been spin-off games, books, films, video games and even music. In the last few years Games Workshop (the publisher of the Warhammer brand) has tried numerous attempts to create stand-alone games that are a good entry point into the Warhammer world. None of these seen to have been as successful as Warhammer Underworlds – Shadespire. I don’t think anyone really expected the game to be as successful as it’s been straight out of the gate. Why has this game grabbed fans of the franchise as well as newbies?

Accessibility!

I would argue that out of everything WarhammerShadespire is easily the most newbie friendly game that’s been released. I have been into Warhammer on and off for most of my life and have seen so many of the spin-off games vanish without a trace. This didn’t make me overly excited at the idea of yet another, albeit one with some very well sculpted miniatures. Needless to say, when it was released I kept it at arm’s length. Then after a bit of time and other board games being released, I kind of forgot about it.

It was a friend’s request to accompany him to an official Shadespire tournament and the offer for me to borrow one of his extra Warbands (team) that got me intrigued again. I agreed to go and chose to use the Chosen Axes who are a bunch of butt-kicking dwarves. The first game was a quick learning lesson for me but I learned the basic rules easily:

  1. Each person has a war band and 2 decks of cards (one with upgrades and one with objectives)
  2. The game plays over 3 rounds, with each round consisting of 8 actions (4 for each player)
  3. The goal of the game is to earn the most victory points by either completing objective cards or by killing the opponent’s units (objective cards have a set task and you get a number of points equal to that on the card. Killing an enemy only gives you 1 point)
  4. The winner is the one who has the most victory points at the end of the 3 rounds.

The fact there is a set number of actions and rounds means that the game doesn’t take a long time and with the simple rules, it all flows at a fast pace. After winning my first game by simply killing all of my opponent’s figures I figured I must be doing something right. I tried playing with more of the cards in the next game. This brought about some far deeper tactics to the game; Holding objectives, killing certain characters, having your war band move into enemy territory. All of these showed me just how deep the game is. I quickly won games 2 and 3 putting me into the semi-finals. Feeling quite elated at getting this far I managed to win that game putting me into the final.

The semi-final did teach me that there can be a reliance on the luck of the draw and the roll of the dice. My opponent didn’t manage to draw any achievable objectives and lost most of his dice rolls. This sort of thing did highlight what could be a deal breaker for some as it may become a game of luck rather than skill. For me though, it highlights the fact that you can tailor your decks to fit your own gameplay style.

Tailoring isn’t required as the decks are playable straight out of the box but by having the option of switching out cards Games Workshop has brought more depth to an already deep game. Each Warband pack comes with a full deck meaning if you know someone with the starter set you can play straight away. This gives the game a truly appealing price point. You don’t need crazy amounts of money like other Warhammer properties. A Warband will put you back around £20 and the starter set £35ish. Considering the starter set includes 2 Warbands, 2 decks as well as rules and all the boards and tokens, I consider it a great purchase.

Going into the final I felt like a knew the game pretty well. That was until the tactics I had devised and which had been successful in the other games started to fall apart. The Warband I was up against played in a way I didn’t see coming. The opponent had finely tuned his deck to cover all possible scenarios which quickly proved to be a great tactic. The final game ended with me scoring 4 victory points and my opponent scoring 9.

In the end, I finished 2nd, in a game I hadn’t played before. I was pretty happy with that. It truly made me realise how accessible the game is. I can’t think of many games where you can have someone ‘winging it’ in a tournament with experienced players and do really well. I feel that I understand the game now, but feel that I want to explore new strategies and tailor some decks. I’m also interested in trying out the other Warbands as each seems to play entirely differently. For example;

  • Orcs are bashy and just like smashing things.
  • Dwarves are bashy but get stronger if they hold objectives so you have to think hard and time attacks.
  • Skaven can move quickly and can be resummoned making them a quick constant threat.

The fact they are all different gives every player a chance to find their style of play. The fact that the price of each Warband is so low helps make the game even more accessible. The miniatures can even be used in the big scale Warhammer – Age of Sigmar as they have all been given stats and abilities for the relevant armies they can be in.  This effectively means that if you play both games you get an even better deal with the Warbands.

For me, it’s a complete no-brainer if you are even slightly tempted by the game. It’s a stunning achievement and one that gets better with each new release.

Games Workshop is due to release the next starter set in the coming months and it will be interesting to see what wonderful new Warbands and mechanics they have devised.