Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire is a very big departure from what I’ve played. Really, the only games I’ve played for tabletop has 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.
After hearing nothing but praise for the game, I figured I had to try it out. So, here’s my Shadespire review.
The First Few Games
I played my first three games of Shadespire against Ed. Ed is still new to the game, having played a few times prior.
I brought the Bloodreavers, the Khorne warband, and Ed also brought Bloodreavers. Neither of us are big fans of the cliche good guys. Bleh!
We then went on to play two more games with my Bloodreavers against his Skaven. Much to my surprise, I won all three of my games. I had this unnatural talent for rolling crits on defense, and Ed couldn’t get anything through. The dice gods favored me that night.
How to Play Shadespire
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 walkthrough by GW.
At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like the Bloodreavers much. I tend to favor more elite bloodthirsty killers over more lightly armored ones, but I enjoyed them. I don’t have much to compare them to, but they were fairly mobile on the table. Having 5 of them allowed me to play to objectives as needed while still playing offense.
I can definitely see the need to get in a lot of games to really familiarize yourself with a warband, whatever it is. With each model being unique, you really have to understand each model’s strengths and weaknesses to put together a strategy. Combine that with the deck building component and you can see the depth of the game.
This is the element that’s 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 isn’t lost on me, but it’s been a very long time.
When I played my first three games, I used the stock Bloodreavers deck. I didn’t open the extra deck of cards, or the deck for the Stormcasts. I wanted to get a feel for the game before I even attempted building decks for it.
This morning, just before I started typing this article, I opened those others decks and began building my objective deck and power deck. Granted, the options were pretty limited. It’s not like I had to cull through 100 cards and choose the best amongst them, but I definitely enjoyed the process of working out decks that would suit me and my warband. I can definitely see myself having a lot of fun with the deck building.
The Depth of the Game
It’s easy to see as well that 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 warband up. I only have one model completed so far, but I’ll get the warband done soon and show them off.
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 could be just as competitive as 40K, but people 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; I know it is for me. 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.
Onward and Upward
I definitely want to get some more games under my belt, but I can see myself buying more warbands in the very near future. It’s pretty awesome that the warbands are only $30 and you get everything you need. That’s one of the reasons why I love Blood Bowl as well, it’s cheap and easy to have multiple teams.
It’s pretty obvious that’s the intent of the game as well. Again, with things being set in stone for warbands, having other warbands is where you’re going to diversify playstyles.
Plus, getting those other warbands will get you more cards, and in turn allow you more deck building opportunities with all the warbands you have. See, each warband not only has warband specific cards, but also universal cards that any warband can use.
So far I’m interested in the Sepulchral Guard the most. The models are just awesome. I’m also tempted by the Orruks. They also have cool models and you can’t help but love Orcs Orruks.
For anyone curious, I’ll list the current warbands we have so far.
Deathrattle – The Sepulchral Guard is the largest warband so far at 7 warriors, they rely on their numbers to overcome their fragility. However, you can always bring them back if they are taken out of action.
Garrek’s Reavers – The Bloodreavers are lightly armored Khorne warriors. They’re reasonably fast and hit pretty well, though they rely on their numbers for most fights.
Ironskull’s Boyz – Orruks are slow, but they are tough and can hit. They fall between the Stormcasts and Bloodreavers basically.
Spiteclaw’s Swarm – Skaven are the fastest warband. Their speed lets them isolate lone warriors and bury a single model with numbers. Never fight fair.
Steelheart’s Champions – This warband of Stormcast Eternals can tank a hit and dish one out. They are good at everything, though on the slow side. Their disadvantage is there’s only 3 of them.
The Chosen Axes – Dwarven Fyreslayers are middle of the road for durability, slow, but capable in combat.
My 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. We averaged a game length of around 40 minutes, and that’s for a complete newbie (me), and someone still new to the game.
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.
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 – Should You Be Playing It? You Should!