|Young Basha squares off against Iki-Turso - the breaker|
Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire is a fast-paced board game of arena combat set in the Age of Sigmar universe. It is the newest addition to Games Workshop’s continually expanding board game line. They touted it as their first truly competitive game, one that would occupy a similar space as Fantasy Flight’s X-wing miniatures game. Interestingly, in addition to involving miniatures, Shadespire has a card-based component, allowing you to have finer control over the play-style for each warband. Being a fan of X-wing’s simple yet depth-filled rule system, as well as card-based games (like Magic: The Gathering), the hybrid system in Shadespire appealed to me. Luckily a good friend purchased a copy of the game, and I was able to play a few games, and eventually purchased one of the standalone warbands, Ironskull’s Boyz. With this post I thought that I would talk a little about my thoughts of Shadespire as a whole,and the separate warband box sets.
Games Workshop can create a board game?
Shadespire is as much a board game as it is a miniatures game, filled with all manner of cardboard components, from a few excellent mounted-boards for the models to fight over, to numerous tokens, as well as a large selection of cards (which are thankfully standard size, fitting typical MTG card sleeves). The game uses a simple system where each player goes back and forth activating a single model to take an action (move, attack, charge, etc.). Each player gets 4 activations until the round ends, and there is a scoring/bookkeeping phase. You do this three times before the game is over and you determine the winner by who scored the most glory points. Glory points are scored by killing the opponent’s fighters, but more importantly by completing objectives from a small deck of 12 objective cards you create specifically for your warband. The inclusion of this objective deck makes the game far more interesting, and one that you can tailor to your own distinct playstyle, allowing you to create a deck that encourages furious aggression, or instead more defensive play focusing on holding objectives and keeping your warriors alive.
|Each additional warband comes in a small box, complete with the plastic models and a large selection of cards.|
The game is advertised as a gladiatorial game, so combat is still a major focus. As one might expect from a Games Workshop game, combat is worked out by rolling six-sided dice. These dice are custom-made for Shadespire, however, with two distinct types, Attack and Defense. Each warrior has their own distinctive attack and defensive characteristics, telling you how many of each respective dice you need to roll and what symbol you need for a success. One side on each die is a critical symbol that trumps any other success rolls (unless both sides roll a critical, then it defaults to who rolled the most additional successes). It is an interesting system, and one that makes every roll seem important. Even if you are rolling only a single defense die, a lucky critical can usually deflect even the most vicious attack. Having said this, the game does still tend to favor offence, with most attacks using two dice, while most defense rolls only using one, giving the attacker the higher probability to roll that important critical. Having only played a handful of games, I am not sure how well the system ultimately works, but my first impressions were positive.
|The orruk warband is spread between two small sprues. Each models is only a few pieces that push-fit together not necessitating glue.|
Perhaps the element of the game that I like best is that each warband has a Power Deck, which consists of 20 cards, a mixture of equipment/ability cards to make your warriors stronger and ploy cards which activate special abilities and events/responses. Some of these cards are restricted to particular warbands, while others are neutral and can be used by all warbands. The boxed game comes with two premade decks, one for the Stormcast and another for the Bloodbound. While these decks are great to start playing immediately, one of the most fun aspects of the game for me is that you can modify them to better fit your play-style, swapping out cards that you found were too situational or rarely played for new ones. While you cannot change what warriors are in a particular warband, the Power Deck offers a huge amount of customization, allowing two Stormcast warbands to play quite differently; this is magnified when you consider your objective decks can also be modified. Although the cards available in the boxed game are somewhat limited for creating unique decks, the two other released warbands, the Ironskull’s Boyz and the Sepulchral Guard, introduced over 100 additional cards to supplement what was included in the core game. I hope they continue to release cards over time, allowing people to continue to customize their warband’s decks. But as it is currently, I think there are still a lot of options to explore, allowing you to find the most optimal deck lists for your play-style.
After playing a few games with the warbands in the boxed game, I thought it would be fun to get one of the other separately released warbands and see how well it functioned on its own, without being supplemented with components of the core game. I decided to get Ironskull’s Boyz partially due to the low model count (more likely that I will be able to paint them all!) and because they seemed like it would be fun to play (a rowdy bunch of orruks looking to krump some heads!). The warband was relatively inexpensive, at least in terms of Games Workshop products. For $30, it contains all the miniatures, in this case, four orruks, as well as a selection of around 60 cards. The box is quite small, just big enough to fit two small sprues of colored plastic (a nice touch, making it easy to start playing with without painting the models), with the cards beneath. As expected, the models are well cast and easy to assemble. They are all push-fit models, which do not require glue to assemble, but I would still recommend it. They all went together smoothly with only a few minor gaps that I filled with green stuff. The cards look nice, with good artwork (mostly) and a pleasing layout. Overall, they are printed well too, but are cut in a way that could lead to paint chipping off at the edges, so I would recommend using card sleeves/protectors. Thankfully the cards are standard size (63.5 x 88mm or 2 1/2" x 3 1/2"), making it easy to find sleeves, and since both the Objective and Power Decks together only number 32 cards, you only really need to buy a single pack.
|The orruks went together quite smoothly, only requiring a little green stuff to fill some minor gaps.|
Using just the cards included within the box, I was able to build both an Objective Deck (12 cards) and a Power Deck (20 cards). This left 28 cards for other decks, or for modifying the orruk ones after playtesting them a little. As of writing this, I have been able to play two games using the decks, and they functioned quite well, losing one game (that was fairly close) and winning another. While I am certain I could have created stronger Power and Objective decks if I had some of the cards from the base game, I am pretty happy that I was able to build something playable with just the boxed set itself. Eventually, I plan to get the core game, and with the additional cards I will continue to optimize the Orruk decks, but until then I am quite happy to play with the warband as it is. Ultimately, I am pretty impressed that with just a single box, you largely have enough components to play Shadespire. It is worth noting that to truly play the game, you still need the board tiles, tokens, and dice, which with the exception of the dice, are only available in the boxed game. Having said this, if someone in your gaming group has the game, just buying a warband boxed set would be enough to get you started playing the game.
|The fighter cards for Ironskull’s Boyz and a selection of power cards, each with some nice artwork.|
|I decided to paint the Ironskull’s Boyz with deep red armor to contrast nicely with their green skin tone.|
|For being push-fit, the Shadespire models are quite detailed and dynamic.|
Having now played a few games of Shadespire, both with the warbands in the core game, as well as with the orruk one, I am suitably impressed. The game is incredibly fun and easy to pick up, but contains a lot of depth due to the addition of cards and the activation system. Furthermore, the game is quick, allowing you to legitimately finish a game within 30 minutes, making it possible to play multiple games in a session (something you would be hardpressed to do with any of Games Workshop’s other games). Starting to play the game is also not terribly expensive, requiring only that you buy one of the warband boxes, provided that someone in your group has the core game. And while it might not be as strong narratively as Necormunda, or allow you to command massive armies like Age of Sigmar, I think mechanistically and strategically, Shadespire may be the best game Games Workshop has ever produced. Now I hope that they continue to support it!
- Eric Wier