Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire is a newish game by Games Workshop. It was released at the end of 2017 and I noticed it only after buying the Sepulchral Guard for just painting skeletons.
In this post I’ll be discussing my views of the game and how I experienced it while playing. Spoiler alert: I love the game.
Shadespire is a boxed board game that most likely was designed to act as a “gateway game” – a game that introduces wargaming to people and could act as a starting point for getting into miniature wargaming. It is clearly designed from a boardgaming point of view. The starter box comes with everything you need to play and the game is played on an actual gaming board.
The matches are played in three rounds in which each player has four actions and the winner of two matches wins the game. While trying the game we didn’t go for multiple matches (mainly to get broader look of the game) I can easily see that this balances the bad draws and rolls.
Winning a match does not require you the annihilate the opposing team. In fact we found out that with certain warbands and cards avoiding combat altogether more a more valid strategy than charging into combat. It all comes down on how you build your decks to suit your to suit your preferred playing style. For victory points are gained from various sources as indicated by your objective cards.
The main thing to note about Shadespire gameplay is how fast it is. I was able to teach the basic of the game in about ten minutes and the first games we played took a little under one hour. Once the players get to know their characters, decks and strategies the gaming time should drop down to about half an hour per match – even including the setup.
The time frame of Shadespire was the major selling point for the game to me. Once upon a time I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle (as well as Necromunda and Mordheim). It took forever to set up and play. As a student I did have the time (though not always the patience) for such games. As finding free time and an opponent with matching schedules is quite a luxury these days I cannot emphasize enough how much this helps me. I even joked with my old nemesis from Fantasy Battle days how I got the play more matches in one evening than we got to play FaBa during a year.
As with most good games Shadespire is easy to learn but it takes time and practise to master. Building good decks requires experience (or net-decking) and offers yet another way to ponder about the game while not actually playing. Painting the miniatures is naturally another and I must say these models have been one of the most enjoyable minis I have ever painted.
But it is not all only high praises. The biggest and most obvious downside with Shadespire is the fact that there just isn’t any flavor behind it. Age of Sigmar is a bland as always and all of the warbands drive this point even further. The just released dwarven Fyreslayers are one of the most ridiculous miniatures I have ever seen and the only warband I haven’t bought (and painted) yet.
While taking the bus home from our gaming night I considered the option of creating more interesting gaming boards and replacing the official cards with custom ones that would have different art. And I found no reason to not to do so. Sure, I could not use those warbands in official tournaments but since that is not something that would happen anyway I could just as easily make this game about vikings and xenomorphs if I wanted to.
The small pamphlet of rules that comes with the starter box explains that these warriors are fighting in a cursed city for glory and a way out. And that’s about it. The lack of ordinary life from the gaming world makes this whole struggle pointless and takes away a big point of games for quite a number of players. I mean I enjoy Magic the Gathering as someone who is interested and invested in the lore. Shadespire doesn’t meet this requirement and thus is easy to miss. In fact one of our friends was watching while we played but quickly lost interest since the game has flavor as a game of Checkers.
It must also me stated that the game leans heavily on dice rolls. A key-point of the game is to build towards to the dice rolls so that the odds would be in your favor. But as we all know the gods of the dice are the most fickle ones. This randomness was brought up by one of our players. Personally I wouldn’t hold it against the game. It is still a fact that should be stated especially since another player kept rolling abysmal result in two games.
All in all I believe this game to have a huge potential. As said it is easy to learn and quick to pick up. There have been rumors about Warhammer Underworlds continuing in another setting but since no actual information has been released about this yet we just cannot be sure.
I think I will try to build new teams and print out proxies to enhance the flavor aspect of the game. If and when I get there I will talk more about this process. Until then we will be rolling dice in Shadespire and you can follow our battles for example via our Instagram account.
Good gaming for everyone!