Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire
Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire is a boardgame for 2 players (up to 4 with a second copy) published by Games Workshop. In this game you take control of a small warband which is captured within the Shadespire but will not accept its fate without a fight. The winner of the fight is one step closer to escaping the Shadespire.
During setup each player chooses its warband with its matching fighter cards, objective and power deck. These decks come premade in the base set but you can customize these. In the base set you have the choice between two warbands, Garrek’s Reavers and Steelheart’s Champions, but two additional warbands have been released, the Ironskull’s Boyz and the Sepulchral Guard. After you have chosen your warband it is time to setup the battlefield.
First there is roll off to see who gets to go first during this setup phase. A roll off is always done by rolling 4 dice and checking who has rolled the most critical hits. The player who lost the roll off chooses the board he wants to play on, the winner chooses the other board and connects them in any way he sees fit keeping in mind that he needs to have at least 3 complete hexes where the boards connect. Now the different objective markers are shuffled face down and the player who lost the previous roll off gets to place an objective marker. This alternates between the players until all objectives have been placed. An objective may not be placed on a starting hex, within 2 hexes of another objective and on the edge, except for the last objective which may be placed on the edge. Once all objective tokens have been placed you turn them over.
Afterwards each player draws 3 cards from their objective deck and 5 cards from their power deck. For each deck you can do a mulligan once by discarding all their cards you drew and drawing a new set of cards. But keep in mind that the decks are never reshuffled so once discarded it is gone for the rest of the game. When both players are satisfied with their cards it is time to start placing your figures on the battlefield. First there is a roll off again and the player who wins decides who will start with placing their figures. The player who places the first figure gets an extra critical hit during the initiative phase of the first round. Players alternate placing their figures on the starting hexes on their board until all figures have been played.
The game is played over 3 rounds and in each round there is an action phase and an end phase. After 3 rounds the player who has the most glory points is the winner of the game. Each action phase starts with a roll off and the player who won chooses who will go first. Each player has 4 activations and they alternate turns by spending an activation. After each activation there is a power step where players can play power cards. An activation can be used for several different things: move, charge, attack, guard, perform an action on a card, discard an objective and draw a new one, draw a power card or pass.
During the game it is even possible that your figures become inspired. Each figure has a condition for this to happen. When they become inspired, the figure card is turned over and shows a better, stronger version of itself.²
A move action allows a figure to move an amount of hexes equal to its move value depicted on its fighter card. A figure can never move through an obstacle or another figure and it may not end up in the same space it started in. Afterwards you place a token next to it depicting that it has moved because it may not move again during this round.
A charge action is the same thing as a move but afterwards the figure is allowed to immediately perform an attack. When the figure has performed a charge, the appropriate charge token is place next to the figure. This means that he can no longer be activated during this round.
The attack action is simply performing an attack. You choose the weapon you want to use and the target you want to hit within Line of Sight. Each weapon has a range depicting the number of hexes it can reach. Line of sight is determined by drawing an imaginary line between the center of the attacker’s and defender’s hex. When that hexes touches a blocking hex then there is no line of sight and you are not able to attack the target. Figures do not block line of sight. The attacker rolls a number of attack dice equal to its attack value of its weapon and the defender rolls a number of defense dice equal to its defense value. The person who has rolled the highest amount of critical hits automatically wins the combat. Otherwise you have to compare the number of hits to the number of defense. The hit are determined by having the correct symbols (smash or fury) corresponding to your weapon. When you have other figures also engaged with your target it is possible to include the single or even double support roll as a hit. The defense works exactly the same but with symbols matching your defense (block or dodge). Also it is possible to have support if you have other figures engaged with the attacker.
When the attack total is less than the defense total nothing happens. When the amount is equal and you rolled at least one hit you can drive the target back by moving it one space away from your figure, otherwise nothing happens. When the attack total is more than the defense, you deal an amount of damage equal to the damage value of the weapon used and you can drive the target back. It might be that the target cannot be driven back called trapped. In this case when you did no damage with your attack you can still do the damage of the weapon. When the defender has suffered damage equal to its life value than he is removed from the battlefield and the attacker gains a Glory point.
The guard action lets you put a guard token on a target figure. This token lets you use both symbols (block and dodge) when defending. You lose this token when you do a charge with a miniature. The other actions you can choose from speak for themselves.
After the activation there is a power step where the current player has the first option to play one power card. These power cards can either be a ploy or an upgrade. A ploy is usually an immediate effect. The upgrade must be assigned to a member of your warband and they might have a limitation to whom might get this upgrade. Upgrades also come with a cost, a certain number of glory points that need to be used (turned over) to pay for the upgrade. This goes round and round until each player consecutively passes at which point the next player can do his activation.
When each player has done all its 4 activations it is time to go to the End phase. Starting with the player who started the round each player can perform the following in order. First he has the ability to score objectives, afterwards he can discard unwanted objectives. Now he has the option to play power cards and afterwards discard any unwanted power cards. When this is done the players draws back up to 3 objective cards and 5 power cards.
This goes on until 3 rounds have passed and at that point the player with the most glory points wins. If there is a tie end one warband has lost all its members then they lose. If this is not the case then the player who control the most objectives wins. When this still does not break the tie, both players are victorious.
The Steelheart’s Champions
The Garrek’s Reavers
Production for this game is really good. The boards and tiles all look great and are nice thick cardboard. The cards are also well illustrated and have a clear description to what they do. The miniatures are off the chart. Since it is a Games Workshop title the miniatures come on sprues but they are from their line of easy to build miniatures. These miniatures are indeed easy to build because of the detailed instructions with numbers and they only comprise of usually 3 parts. They also fit together without any use of glue and stay together afterwards without problem. The game itself plays like a charm and is really fun. Each warband has a unique feel and even a different amount of figures. The Steelheart’s Champions are masters in defense. The Garrek’s Reavers are out for blood and get stronger when figures have been removed from the battlefield. The Ironskull’s Boyz are all about attack like any good orc would do. The Sepulchral Guard are all about resurrecting their fallen brothers. Constructing the decks for these warbands is really fun and dictates the strategy you are going to use. Are you going for control of the different objectives, try to defeat as many figures as possible, surprise your opponent or… The possibilities are really varied and the game plays real quick. It is not hard to teach except for knowing when it is the time to play a certain ploy card because of the ploy cards that have an effect during the next activation. The combat system is quick and fun. The unpredictability of the battle is also great and gives some great stories like the time I tried to kill off Severin Steelheart and rolled 3 natural hits but unfortunately the defender rolled a crit on the defense roll and fended off my attack. So no matter how strong you are there is always a possibility that you might fail and I love this in these games. The choices you have to make are also great. You can do a charge so that you can do a move and an attack in a single activation but afterwards that figure is done for the round, or maybe it’s better to simply move it in range and use following activations to do multiple attacks with that figure. I also love that it evolves around the number of glory points you score and not simply wipe out the opponent although this will help. All in all one of the best small warband games out there and I can’t wait for the next factions to come out.
The Ironskull’s Boyz
The Sepulchral Guard
Play with Honor