When it comes to games involving epic, tabletop battles, there aren’t many companies that do it as well as Games Workshop. They’re constantly coming up with new ways to repackage their core product…miniatures! One just needs to look at the list of options when looking to get into anything involving wargames: Blood Bowl, War Cry, Kill Team, Age of Sigmar and of course, Warhammer 40K and Fantasy.
Let’s add one more to the list, shall we? Warhammer Underworlds! It’s not a completely new game but with the 5th and newest set slated for release in the near future, this is the perfect time to review the game. The new boxed set is set in Harrowdeep which exists in the lightless Realm of Shadow. Beneath the waves of the Shadowsea, warbands meet in battle as they search for glory and treasure! Let the games begin!
So How Does This Game Work?
Great question! Warhammer Underworlds combines your typical dice rolling, tabletop warfare with decks of cards that are made of both faction-specific cards as well as universal cards that any faction can take advantage of. A complete deck usually has about 12 objective cards that allow your team to gain points. Additionally, there are 20 gambit cards that are used to upgrade fighters and to do all sorts of wacky things in-game. Lastly, players choose the battleground they are to meet on. There’s a number of boards that loosely fall into wide, long or diagonal categories. The different boards generally suit some warbands better than others.
With almost 40 warbands or factions to choose from, there’s going to be something for everyone in this game. As per usual, some warbands are better and bashing skulls while others will take a more refined, control style of play. The list of warband is pretty daunting so doing a little research goes a long way before buying.
Games are fast – usually lasting a little over a half hour – and the action is non-stop. Games are only three rounds long and glory points are assigned when players complete objectives listed on their cards. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!
The Various Faces Of Underworlds
There are a number of ways to play this game; some are more beginner-friendly while other formats become extremely competitive. It’s a great way to make the game fun for everyone, no matter your skill level. Here’s a brief rundown on game formats:
Beginner friendly! This format allows only warbands in their original form. As long as the warband deck has 12 objective cards and 20 power cards, it’s good to go. No deck upgrades are allowed. This makes the game even and doesn’t allow for pay to win shenanigans (more on that later).
This is the multi-player format. Instead of your usual warband, everyone gets to use 1 miniature and duke it out. There’s still the deck of cards but having extra players on the field makes things a little more interesting as social elements come into play.
The version of the game almost everyone plays. This is a rotating format that allows decks and cards that have been released or reprinted in the last two seasons. It’s a competitive format that allows for a mix of cards that help to create powerful in-game effects and objectives tailored to the warband being used.
This is the wild-west of Warhammer Underworlds. Aside from a few cards that have been outright banned for being too powerful, anything goes. This format is for those who’ve been into the game for a long time and don’t want to see their old warbands gathering dust on a shelf.
A Round In The Life Of…
So we’ve talked about the general rules of the game but what does a round of gameplay look like? Each warband is represented by between 3 to 9 units, with one of them being the leader (as denoted by the crown symbol on the card. Each round, you’ll be able to move up to 4 of your units. Movement is used to cover ground, either to engage in combat with an opponent or maybe to secure an objective or run for cover. Activations are alternated meaning you move, I move, you move….and so on.
You can also choose to have a unit perform an action other than movement. Attacking, charging and guarding are all options you can take with a unit. When looking at combat, numbers matter. Support is given to the units in combat that are touching an ally and you get a bonus on both strength and defense! Attacks are made by rolling dice which are opposed by a toughness roll. Damage is dealt, or avoided based on the results. If a fighter takes more wounds than the number on their card, it is taken out of action.
After each player has had their 4 move activations, the round comes to a close. All tokens (movement, charge, guard) are removed from the board and a new round begins using the same initiative order as the previous round.
But What About The Deck Of Cards?
Solid question! Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to start using your objective and puh-puh-POWER CARDS! The decks that come with the various warbands are the big differentiator between this Games Workshop concept and the multitude of other wargames out there.
Objective cards are the thing you need to get if you want to win the game. Each one has it’s own set of conditions that need to be met. These are played at the end phase of each round so you’ll have three chances to score points. Nice and easy!
So you’re battling it out against some seriously tough opponents. You’re guys need to reach the next level? No problem! Upgrade cards provide the added beef needed to get back on top and deliver the beat down. These are played in the Power Phase of the game (takes place at the end of each round and after each activation…basically move, attack or whatever..and then POWER PHASE)
These are the cards that provide the wacky and the wild shenanigans. These can be anything from spells to clever tricks to extra attacks. One thing they all have in common, they need to be well-timed and strategically placed. Gambit Cards can be used at the end of each activation.
As far as Warhammer goes, Underworlds is one of the easiest ways to get your wargame fix without having to invest hundreds….and hundreds of dollars into miniatures, paint and all the stuff needed for upkeep. It’s also just a more compact way to play and, as long as you don’t get into an arms race, you can have a lot of fun playing the Rival format.
Harrowdeep comes out very soon so stay tuned for it’s release OR just grab an earlier season box set and get playing!
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