Here follow my initial thoughts for Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire. As you’ve probably noted based on my recent posts and Instagram feed, I’m playing a lot of this game and it’s rapidly risen to be my most payed game of the year by some margin.
Shadespire is a ‘fast-paced game of tactical arena combat’ according to the box, and is similar in style to MOBA games, where you control a warband and fight out a skirmish against your opponent/s over three rounds of four turns each. The game is fought out on two boards with hex spaces marked, with each player choosing a board (it can be the same one if you each have a set) and some basic rules governing what configuration they can be in. The game is for 2-4 players, with most of my experience with two players, and one three player game.
Given the quick setup and the low turn limit for the game, it plays quite short, with games generally clocking in at around the 30 minute mark. Tournament play calls for a best of three games match to determine the winner, and I find this makes for a better experience – both interms of averaging out luck of card draw and dice, as well as providing insight into your opponents deck to better counter it (I’ve certainly seen some ‘gotchas’ with oddly matched warband playstyles).
The warbands are pre-set, with specific number and type of constituents (each unique), however there is a high degree of customisation via selection of the two decks you’ll use. One deck comprises objectives, which reward you glory (the player with the most at the end wins), and the other of ploys (cards providing benefits/detriments) and upgrades (making your fighters better). There are a range of neutral cards as well as faction specific cards across each card type providing unique feel and flavour for each warband, as well as a few cards you’ll see in almost every deck.
There are specific six-sided dice used for the game (include in the core set with faction specific also available), and are slightly different for attack and defence. The specific characteristics of your fighters determine the number of dice they roll when attacking or defending, as well as the specific results you’re looking for from them (hammer/sword for attack and shield/dodge for defence).
Components and Models
As you’d expect from Games Workshop, the components and models included in the game are all of a high quality. The boards and components are printed on thick cardstock, and the rulebook is full colour, with illustrations and fluff included. Outside the models, it feels equivalent to one of Fantasy Flight Games better offerings.
The models for the game are all push together (both core box and expansions), however this doesn’t compromise on detail, with these being the high quality sculpts you’d expect from GW. I especially like the skeleton warband models, as they’ve gone next level on poses and ideas for skeleton models. The model count is also very low, with three the smallest and eight the largest warbands currently.
- High quality models you’d expect from GW, with dynamic sculpts, whilst still being easy to assemble
- A very quick playtime at half an hour, which I find refreshing given some of the games I’ve played recently seem to have gone the other extreme
- The game is tactically deep, with the limited turn count and numerous deck construction options providing an incredible number of decision points
- Games Workshop is offering excellent organised play support for the game, with alternative art cards, acrylic tokens, deck boxes and trophies featuring. This is very much a page out of Fantasy Flight Games’ playbook and I hope to see it continue
- I found it a somewhat overwhelming at the entry point of core set plus four warbands, and even now I’m not up on all the cards. Expect to have to invest some time and money to come up-to-speed with the game which will be a deterrent for some people. This isn’t necessarily different to a Fantasy Flight Games Living Card Game, so viewed in that light it isn’t horrible
- There were several ‘gotcha’ moments in my initial games from my lack of familiarity with the game – for me, it’s good as I believe “burnt hand teaches best” but may feel bad for some if they’re not aware of the myriad of cards available
- You’ll need to purchase all warbands to have access to the full card set (similar to an FFG Living Card Game), which whilst not absolutely necessary is definitely required if you want to play competitively (or your friends own all the expansions). This can get expensive and presumably entry will continue to get more expensive as the game expands, unless you restrict play to within one city – i.e. Shadespire warands and cards only – but we’ll have to wait and see where the game ends up going before concluding anything
- I’ve noticed that some of the models don’t push together snugly, leaving obvious join gaps on the models. Not an issue for a boardgame piece, but as a hobbyist I found it annoying – you can address this by clipping the pins and gluing or by using greenstuff to fill the gaps but shouldn’t have to in my opinion.
It’s fair to say I’m loving this game so far and it’s been a surprise hit for me this year, quickly rising to most played status on my list. The models are excellent and the small warband size makes them ideal as a palette cleanser, plus I’ve already used the skeleton models in other systems, so certainly getting value out of them beyond just Shadespire. The organised play aspect is also excellent, with the prize support top-notch. I’m very interested to see where the game goes next with Shadespire done for all but one card-only expansion it’ll be interesting to see the next city, new boards, and new warbands.