Today is game day once more here at spalanz.com, and today I’m going to talk about my latest obsession: Warhammer Underworlds! It’s been out for years, and I’ve had the Nightvault core set hanging about for a couple of years now, but only recently started thinking about it seriously for the game, rather than the miniatures as part of the larger Age of Sigmar game.
I do love the miniatures though, it has to be said they’re some of the best fantasy sculpts out there!
Anyway, Warhammer Underworlds is heavily marketed as the competitive miniatures game, and you can really tell just from reading the rulebook. Everything is quite strict and laid-out, trying really hard to cut out any room for error or misinterpretation. Of course, some rules can come across a bit thickly, if that makes sense, though subsequent “seasons” have sought to refine the rules to the point where, I believe, they’re in the best shape yet.
Seasons, I hear you ask?
There have been four seasons, as the time I’m writing this. Shadespire, Nightvault, Beastgrave, and Direchasm. To remain competitive, while keeping the bar for entry somewhat low, a system of rotation was introduced to keep only the two most recent core boxes current – something akin to Standard for Magic the Gathering, I guess. Whether additional formats will come in time, along the lines of Modern say, I suppose time will tell. At any rate, the cardpool is kept small enough that it doesn’t become too arduous to build a deck for the game.
A deck, you say? But GW are a miniatures company!
Ah yes, Games Workshop is mainly all about the minis, for sure. But Warhammer Underworlds is a curious mix of miniatures and deckbuilding. When assembling your warband, you build two decks; an objective deck and a power deck. At the start of the game, you draw three objective cards, and five power cards; the objective cards are exactly that, objectives that you can aim to score throughout the game. These can be scored immediately or at the end of the game, and upon achievement they give you “glory” – at the end of the game, the player with the most glory wins.
Power cards are a more immediate benefit, which come in two flavours – upgrades and gambits. Upgrades can, well, upgrade fighters for the cost of the glory that you have earned (this doesn’t remove that glory from your final pool, though), whereas gambits can be more one-time effects. With Nightvault, the game had the addition of Magic, and several gambits come in the form of spells, which can be used only by wizards in your band.
There are of course many rules for deckbuilding, which is pretty much true of any such game of course. You can only have 12 objectives, only six of which can be “surge” objectives (the type you can score immediately once the conditions are met). The power deck must have at least 20 cards, no more than half of which can be gambit cards. Additionally, you cannot use multiple copies of the same card.
So how do you play?
The game lasts for three rounds, which are split into four activations for each player. Perhaps the best thing about this game is that it follows an I go/You go principle of alternating activations, so you don’t have to sit through one person working out their strategy for the whole turn. Warbands come in many sizes, from three to nine fighters, though you only have four activations to work through each round, causing a lot of decisions as to who you use and who you leave back.
Each fighter can move, attack, charge or go on-guard. In addition, there are player activations that you can take, such as discarding and drawing cards. Interestingly, fighters can be activated more than once per round, however once a fighter moves he receives a token which means he can’t perform the same action again. In addition, if the fighter charges, he receives a token which means he can’t be activated again. But in theory, you can move the fighter in the first activation, and then attack with the same fighter in each subsequent activation. Very useful if your warband is reduced to one fighter!
The game uses special dice, which can be a little confusing at first of course, as with any game that uses such dice. The white dice are used for attacks; black for defence, and blue for magic. Each fighter’s card uses a fairly elegant system to show how they move, attack and defend, as well as their wounds characteristic.
On the left we have the weapons, showing the range (in hexes), number of attack dice rolled, as well as what you need to roll for a success, and then how much damage the attack deals. Attack dice have two hammer symbols, one crossed swords symbol, and a critical success symbol. When attacking, a critical success symbol has the potential to cancel out any successful defence roll, and the other way round.
Rather than trying to cover the whole gameplay thing, it might be easier if I just link to the GW video where Becca Scott explains it all:
While you can attempt to destroy your opponent’s warband, the game is all about playing the objectives, of course, and at the end of the game, the player with the most glory is the winner – even if they have no fighters left standing.
I’ve recently picked up the Direchasm box, which I’ve been eyeing up for a while because of the Slaanesh warband, but decided it was high time I actually see what I’ve been missing out on all these years. The short answer, of course, is a lot of fun! Sadly, due to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, I’ve been unable to play real games, so have been checking things out by playing against myself, but already I’m pretty hooked!
I’ve played one game with each core game so far – although I think I may have sold off the Stormcast that came in the Nightvault box, so instead I used the Godsworn Hunt warband, which I have hanging about because I love the aesthetic so much. As shown up at the top, the Thorns of the Briar Queen warband is the only one that I have fully painted up, though, so it was a pleasure to get those guys out at last!
It’s definitely the sort of game that I can see myself really immersing into. I’m not about to go ahead and plough a lot of money into all the various warbands, of course, but I would like to pick up a few (probably ones that I have already earmarked for their miniatures) so that I can get a wider cardpool to use, and of course having different warbands to try is always going to be a nice bonus!
The rotation thing that I mentioned before does give me pause, though. The Nightvault game that I had yesterday was played using cards and warbands from that season – kinda like Block Constructed for MtG, I suppose! The way that rotation works, all the Warbands currently out there are still legal, including any warband-specific cards they have. But each warband is sold in a pack that includes 60 cards, roughly half of which are “universal” – when a season rotates out, those universal cards go with it. If a card is then featured in a new, current season after being printed in the older one, you can use the old printing if you like. I’m not sure how many cards that affects – there are probably sites out there that crunch these sorts of numbers! – but it’s something I find interesting insofar as longevity of the product. I’m not trying to say that I’m against rotation per se, especially when you think I’m trying to get into the game during its fourth season, so would otherwise have quite the task ahead of me to do so! But while I like the look of the Beastmen warband from Beastgrave, I’m probably not going to buy that set because it’s going to be rotating out this year…
Obviously, rotation only affects tournament play and I don’t think I’m likely to be playing in any such events with a baby due in two months’ time, but I’d like to get as much play out of my stuff as possible. Luckily, Direchasm seems to have the greatest number yet of warbands that I’m actually interested in – along with the Slaanesh Hedonite warband from the core box, there are Slaves to Darkness and Ossiarch Bonereapers, Idoneth Deepkin and even Seraphon.
I’m two games in, and already I can feel myself getting sucked in to the whole thing. I’m finding myself pondering deckbuilds, and wanting to read up on all of the Glory Points articles in White Dwarf that I have, up to this point, been ignoring. The rule book covers all kinds of different scenarios and has rules to cover supporting other fighters during activations etc. There is a lot of depth to the otherwise basic gameplay that I tried to summarise earlier! I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m going to be talking about this game again, and most likely soon!