Warhammer Underworlds: First Impressions and Review
It's finally here, the much anticipated strategy miniature board game, Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire. I've been looking forward to this game for quite a while. As you may know, I was once the commander of various Warhammer 40k and Fantasy armies, consisting of hundreds and hundreds of miniatures, many of which I never got around to painting. I have since become far more interested in games with smaller miniature counts, where I can really put some serious work into each model, without them getting lost in a sea of "table-ready" paint jobs. Maybe it's because I have a wife and kid now, or maybe it's because I ran out of storage space for models, either way, Underworlds seems like an ideal game for my current hobby habits.
What's in the box?
When I got home it was a matter of seconds before I cracked into this box to get my hands on the glorious miniatures, cards, dice and tokens inside. The miniatures are just beautiful sculpts, with some very crazy shaped bits and pieces to come together in a dynamically posed model, but only in two parts. The end result is a small collection of wonderful models, but if you're into converting and kit-bashing, it may be a bit more challenging. The rulebook is high quality, full color printed with staple binding, has a lovely little bit of fluff, and some great artwork.
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to play 3 games of Underworlds, the first of which was with my father-in-law, who has never played any sort of miniature game, and no board game of higher complexity than Monopoly. The core mechanics of the game seemed really straight forward, with a little bit of confusion coming regarding supporting, though once we figured it out, that was easy (much like the difficulty in assisting in Bloodbowl at first). The Power step continued to be a bit confusing through the entire first game, since it is something you do during one activation phase, but it affects the following phase, meaning if you use a buff spell, it'll often buff your opponent if you play it during your activation. In the end, the Stormcast (fielded by my father-in-law) ended up annihilating my Khorne Reavers, as my tactic of charging in and getting punched in the face, was apparently, not a good one.
My second and third game were against a veteran gamer, who I often play Infinity with. Before this game, I took a minute to optimize the Khorne decks, since claiming objectives 1-5 seemed like an uphill battle against the Stormcast, and I felt like they needed a little more kick to take down the armored giants. For these games however, I commanded the Stormcast, and Jon, the Reavers. This introductory game went a lot faster, as Jon already has a good background in gaming, he was able to pick up the concepts very quickly. In our first game, he didn't manage to kill any of the Stormcast, though it was a fairly close game, the Khorne still lost. During our second game Jon went a bit a bit more aggressive, and ended up losing two models almost immediately. The rest of that game saw the Stormcast bully the Reavers into submission and won by a large margin, though we were able complete the game in about 25 minutes! It is true, once you get the rules, the game goes very quickly.
I definitely need to play some more games. Out of the box, the rules seem very solid, no real ambiguity once you get the hang of things, and even how the cards work and interact is very clear. As far as a product from Games Workshop goes, I'm incredibly impressed with the rules writing. The minis, art, and publishing quality is all the high standard that is to be expected from GW. If the other factions come out quickly, even beyond the next 4 alluded to in the starter set, I can see Shadespire really becoming a serious competitor in the competitive gaming market, and one I'd gladly play.
So what don't I like? First of all the starting forces seem mismatched for novice players. Obviously I have only slightly above 0 experience with the game, but as an introductory product for a brand new game, having one easy to play faction against one difficult to play faction kind of kills excitement and replay value. I also think that the game could benefit from some sort of additional level of consideration in the game, perhaps scenarios or something similar. As it is, it seems like once you make your decks, you're finished with the non-gaming side of the game. Finally, I feel like there is a huge missed opportunity in their choice of factions for the first 8 sets. Two Stormcast and Two Khorne armies isn't bad, but they're still missing elves, which have had basically no love since Age of Sigmar came out. Their choice of Undead faction is possibly the least interesting choice from their own IP, Nighthaunt, Flesheaters, or even Soulblight would have been far more compelling to collect, than a fairly standard horde or skeletons (though they do look gorgeous).
The game is still super young, so don't take those complaints as anything more than some early concerns. It seems that the big reviewers in the community were able to play the core set, plus the Orruks and Undead, giving them access to a wider selection of cards and factions to play with, and more than just Khorne vs Stormcast match ups. I suspect with these additions to the game, it gives it way more customizability and excitement.
Overall, I'll probably work on my Khorne and Stormcast models, and see how things shape up. I am excited to get my hands on the expansions, but I'll probably wait and see how the community receives them before I get too gung-ho. That said, I absolutely love the idea of a miniatures game that is easily portable and that I can play in 30 minutes. I really hope to see Underworlds take off, and if it does, I will definitely want to get into the competitive scene.