I wanted to do a Shadespire review since I don’t often get into new games. In fact, this is only the third tabletop or board game I’ve played. I’m also including some useful general info for anyone else who has been curious about the game.
So, Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire is a very big departure from what I’ve played. The only games I’ve played for tabletop have been Warhammer 40K and Blood Bowl. I suppose Shadespire is like Blood Bowl in that it’s far more a board game than tabletop wargame.
Anyway, Shadespire is a combination of various games. It has elements I’m familiar with but haven’t had to do in forever, like deck building. It’s a smaller scale game with the starter warbands having 3 and 5 models respectively. The scale suits me since lately I have no interest in churning out unit after unit for 40K.
How to Play Shadespire (Rules)
Below you’ll find a more thorough walkthrough video, however, I’ll give a basic rundown.
You take it in turns activating a model. So, you activate a model allowing you to move, charge, attack, go on guard, or a few other options.
Once you’ve done your activation, you go to a power step where you can play cards from your hand. These power cards have two categories: ploy and upgrade.
A ploy will allow you often perform another action, like make another attack, move a friendly model (or enemy model), heal a model, etc. Kind of as the name implies, fun – and often game-changing, tricks.
Upgrades are exactly as they sound; they let you improve fighters. The upgrades are rather assorted covering things like special weapons, special attacks, improving health, strength, speed, etc.
Once you’ve played cards in the power step, or chosen to pass, your opponent gets to do the same. You go back and forth in this way until you both pass. Once you’ve both passed then it’s your opponent’s turn.
Each player has 4 activations they can perform. Once all 4 activations are done, you go through an end phase (scoring and upgrades), and then begin a new round. The game lasts 3 rounds.
Since I reference it below, I quickly wanted to explain what inspiring is.
Each model in a warband has a way to inspire. Once inspired, the fighter takes on new attributes (you flip their card over). Many fighters will get more attacks, hit harder, move faster, and some even gain more health (Fyreslayers).
Definitely check out the official Shadespire site by Games Workshop. It has a lot of info, and it also has a card library, which is super useful. The sites they have been putting together for these specialist games have been great.
If you’re curious how to actually play the game (and you should be!) then check out this awesome walk-through by GW.
Shadespire Deck Building
This is the element that was new to me – sort of. The last time I played any sort of game that used cards was Magic the Gathering back around 1994, and also an out of print card game called Rage around the same time.
So, the concept of deck building wasn’t lost on me, but it had been a very long time.
When I played my first three games of Shadespire I used the stock Bloodreavers deck. I didn’t open the extra deck of cards, or the deck for the Stormcasts because I wanted to get a feel for the game before I even attempted building decks for it.
I definitely recommend that approach when you’re new to the game, stick with the faction deck. Let me explain.
Each warband has faction specific cards for objectives, ploys, and upgrades. They are the only ones who can use those. However, reach warband also comes with generic cards as well, which can be used by any faction.
So, when you’re learning a warband it can be useful to put all their faction cards in your deck and supplement with a few generic cards. Once you get an idea how you want to play them, then you can go ahead and start building a deck for them and change around the cards.
It’s worth noting that the generic cards that come in each warband are unique. At the moment the only way to get cards is through buying warbands – GW’s clever ploy. So, if you want a certain generic card then you may have to buy a warband you don’t want just to get at that card.
Games Workshop has put out the first every card only expansion with the Leader Deck. These are cards you can buy without buying a warband and they are unique to this Leader Deck.
The Leader Deck is a set of 60 cards that revolve around leaders; be it using your own leader, attacking an enemy leader, supporting a leader, etc.
If you’re new to the game and trying to save some money then I’d skip this deck for now. There are some nice cards in there, but there’s nothing you need when you’re starting out. It’s a good buy for later on once you’ve got a firm grasp of the game.
The official Shadespire site has a card library. That will show you ever card in the game and where you can get those cards – which warband boxes.
Deck building is where Shadespire’s depth derives from. The core mechanics of the game are simple. With so few models in a warband, the game doesn’t have the strategic depth of Blood Bowl in terms of maneuvering and positioning. I’m not saying those elements don’t exist, they do, but the smaller scale lessens the impact I feel, and I don’t mean that negatively.
Also, where Shadespire warbands are set in stone with what models are in it, you don’t have the luxury of creating the warband before each game in the traditional sense. What is going to differentiate my Bloodreavers from Ed’s Bloodreavers is how we choose to build our objective and power decks.
You know what? I’m cool with that.
I do want to take a second to say that the miniatures are awesome. As has become the norm for GW, the models are snap-fit, but have a great level of detail to them. I have always loved the look of the Fantasy Chaos models through the years, be it Warhammer Fantasy, or now Age of Sigmar.
So, I was very excited to start painting the Bloodreavers up. This was my first time painting something non-40K in probably 10 years.
I’m also realizing that I have been enjoying the GW specialist games more because of the tone of them. To me, and it seems others I play with, the tone is much lighter with a game like Shadespire, or Blood Bowl compared to 40K.
I know Shadespire can be just as competitive as 40K (more so actually), but people locally are just having a good time with it and not overthinking it. I think when you’re playing a 2-3 hour game like 40K, your investment is much different than a 30 minute game like Shadespire; it is for me at least. You don’t normally have a bad game of 40K, shrug it off, and rack’em up again for another game, but you can with quicker specialist games.
Something I was thinking about is all.
Shadespire Warbands (2018)
For anyone curious, I’ll list the current Shadespire warbands we have so far.
Each of the Shadespire warbands does play different than the others, and each warband gets unique cards. It’s perfect for those who love to collect.
The Sepulchral Guard is the largest Shadespire warband so far at 7 warriors. They rely on their numbers to overcome their fragility.
Using their numbers, the Deathrattle can swarm their opponent or play an objective focused game.
The Sepulchral Warden can revive the dead, so you can always bring back those that are taken out of action, plus they have ways of moving more than one model an action phase.
The models for Deathrattle are just awesome too, and they can look good with a simple paint job.
Oh, these guys inspire when they are brought back from the dead.
The Bloodreavers are lightly armored Khorne warriors. They’re reasonably fast and hit pretty well, though they rely on their numbers for most fights.
Garrek’s Reavers can’t really take a hit, most anyone will kill them outright, so swarming the enemy is crucial, as it choosing your fights.
Once inspired, and with a few upgrades, there’s a few heavy hitters in the group that can carry the warband if things start getting bad.
It’s a very aggressive Shadespire warband and plays like a glass cannon. I find I win big or lose big with these guys.
When 5 models (friend or foe) are out of action then Garrek’s Reavers inspire.
Orruks are slow, but they are tough and can hit reasonably well. They fall between the Stormcasts (tanks) and Bloodreavers (damage) basically.
Ironskull’s Boyz inspire when they take damage, so getting into the middle of a fight is a great place for them.
With some ploys and upgrades you can have some very deadly Orruks. I do find these guys to be a bit tricky to build a deck for, but I like that as well.
Mostly, Ironskull’s Boyz are walking tanks.
Another Khorne warband that, unlike the Bloodreavers, features a more heavily armored force. Oh, it also has a Flesh Hound, which is pretty damn awesome.
Magore’s Fiends are like the Stormcasts for Khorne. They have decent speed, good health, and hit pretty well.
Unlike many Shadespire warbands, each fighter is capable in Magore’s Fiends, though I admit the Flesh Hound is a favorite of mine.
Successful attacks is how they inspire, so you want to get into the fight.
Skaven are the fastest Shadespire warband. Their speed lets them isolate lone warriors and bury a single model with numbers. Never fight fair.
Spiteclaw’s Swarm also has the ability to bring back out of action fighters, so you can just keep flooding your opponent.
For the most part, you’ll probably want to play an objective focused game. Between the numbers and their speed, Skaven are great at getting to objectives all over the field.
Admittedly, Spiteclaw’s Swarm are a tricky warband to play as. I haven’t used them yet, but it’s something I keep hearing. They also inspire when they are the subject of a ploy, which is interesting.
This warband of Stormcast Eternals can tank a hit and dish one out. They are good at everything, though on the slow side.
A big disadvantage is there’s only 3 of them. This means you have to think through the activations as you’ll have more activations than models.
However, Steelheart’s Champions really do hit hard and are really hard to take down. Even with just one fighter left, the Stormcasts can take on a few enemy fighters at once.
In fact, rolling a shield or critical on defense is how they inspire, and when inspired they get two defense dice. Steelheart’s Champions really are the tankiest and hardest hitting Shadespire warband.
Once you put upgrades on these folks it goes from great to amazing. Stormcasts are very elite and very good.
The Chosen Axes
Dwarven Fyreslayers are middle of the road for durability, slow (slowest in the game), but capable in combat.
To inspire The Chosen Axes you need to stand on an objective at the end of a round. It’s a bit of a mixed bag if you ask me. It’s easy to inspire them, and doesn’t require fighting, but it’s at the end of a round, so slower to inspire than others.
Because of how The Chosen Axes inspire, it means playing an objective focused game isn’t a bad idea. In fact, I’d highly recommend it.
The Dwarves can fight well, and once inspired they can take a hit well also (gaining health).
The Farstriders are a more lightly armored Stormcast group that has a focus on ranged attacks. Every fighter has a range of 3 with their ranged weapons, and they all have melee weapons as well.
Farstriders are just as beefy as Stormcasts, and move faster too.
Unlike Stormcasts, Farstriders inspire by being in their opponent’s territory. This makes them interesting since being at range works well for them, but they also need to move forward to inspire.
I’ve played against this warband quite a bit and they’re good. If you want Stormcasts, but want more of a challenge than the beatstick Steelheart’s Champions, then pick these.
At the Warhammer Fest in Europe, Games Workshop gave us this teaser for Nightvault, an expansion for Shadespire.
They also had this to say on the community site:
A new season of Warhammer Underworlds is coming. Warhammer Underworlds: Nightvault will bring new cards, warbands and more to the ultimate competitive miniatures game, offering fresh challenges for new and old players alike.
What I believe will happen is this will become a second edition for Shadespire, allowing them to weed out any potential problematic cards, replace them, adjust rules as needed, etc.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens here.
Shadespire Review Final Thoughts
I really think Games Workshop hit it out of the park with this one. Shadespire is amazingly affordable to get into. For $60 you get two warbands, which would cost you $30 each anyway, as well as everything you need to play (board, dice, cards, etc.). So, you’re getting free stuff with the game.
The game is fun to play, and quick too – I didn’t mention that. My average games run 30 minutes, and that’s including when I (and others) were learning the game. Hell, I’ve played some games in 10 minutes. Granted, the 10 minute games were blowouts, but we just reset and went again.
Anyway, it’s really easy to learn, enjoyable to play, and offers depth and long-term enjoyment through deck building.
It will be pretty easy for GW to expand the game as well. Not only through more warbands and cards, but also the game boards. Choosing the boards that are used, and how they are placed, is part of the game’s strategy.
I feel that if GW fosters Shadespire properly that they will have a very big success on their hands.
Hopefully my Shadespire review has convinced you to try out the game if you were on the fence, or at least gotten you to consider it if you weren’t.
Have you played Shadespire? What are your thoughts on it?
Cost - 10/10
Miniature Quality - 10/10
Ease of Learning - 10/10
Fun Factor - 9/10
Replayability - 9/10
Shadespire is a fast-paced game that's fun to play. It's affordable to get into, offers high quality miniatures, and has some great depth to keep it enjoyable.
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Shadespire Review Including Free Rules & All Warbands