Monday, October 2, 2017

REVIEW: Shadespire

What is most likely one of the most hotly anticipated releases from Games Workshop this year, Shadespire, is almost here! I was lucky enough to get an early review copy to check out and get a few games in. So what exactly is Shadespire?

Let's start off with what comes in the box. Shadespire itself actually comes in a fairly small box, which is great for storage. The box seems to be of fairly high quality, which is good since you'll most likely be keeping all of the different parts in it between games. The cover image is something I'm sure we've all already seen since they've been previewing it for awhile now, but it's no less awesome looking because of that. Once you crack it open you are greeted with a fairly small rulebook, two game boards, three cardboard sheets of punch out tokens, three decks of cards, and the sprues for the Stormcast Eternal Liberators and the Khorne Bloodreavers, as well as various single sheet pamphlets, reference sheets, and ads for Age of Sigmar.

The game boards are super high quality, and fold in half so they fit neatly in the box. You'll need two to play a game, one for you, and one for your opponent. There is mention in the rules of choosing any game board from your collection, which to me implies there will be more game boards released in the future. The artwork on these is really cool, and reflects the background of Shadespire perfectly. Everything is in ruins, with graves, broken mirrors, and other fancy shattered architecture. All of this is overlaid with a hex grid system. Some of the hexes are blacked out a little, which represents impassable areas. Each of the boards have one side with a few impassable areas, and one side that's completely open.

The token sheets are, once again, very high quality. These definitely seem like they will stand up to the test of time as long as you don't abuse them. There are tokens for the objectives you place on the board, for marking damage, if your model has moved, if your model has charged, if your model is on guard, four tokens per player for your activations, glory point tokens, and a few other various tokens. The art is pretty cool, with some of it being more graphical, like the on guard tokens, and other more artistic so it matches the board. There are several ziploc bags included as well so you can keep all your tokens together once you've punched them out.

The cards are divided into three decks, each separately shrink wrapped. There is a pre-made deck for both the Stormcast and Khorne sides, so you can just crack those open and start playing right away, no fuss, no muss. The third deck are additional cards. Deck building is actually a pretty big part of this, which I will go into more once I start talking about the gameplay itself. The pre-made decks give you the proper amount of cards for everything though for your first few games. There are four types of cards.

You have your fighter cards, which show the stats for your models. Each of these have a front and back, with the back having the inspired version of your character, basically a more powerful version that is triggered by a different action for each faction. The objective cards are what score you points at the end of each turn. These will tell you what you need to do to complete them, and how many glory points you'll earn from them. You can only ever have 12 of these in your deck.

The last two types are upgrade cards and Ploy cards. These make up the bulk of your deck. Upgrade cards can be applied to certain models in your warband, it will say which ones on the card, and give them some kind of bonus they then have for the rest of the game. You must spend glory points to use these, and they can only be played at the end of each turn. Ploy cards will have some kind of ability on it, like being able to re-roll a missed attack you just did, or putting your fighter on guard without having to spend an activation point. These are played after an activation. You must have at least 20 of these two cards in your deck, but you can have more if you want. No more than half of your deck may be ploy cards. Each faction has cards that are specific to just them, and will have their icon in the top right corner. These can only be played on the faction's model. There are also generic cards cards that can be used by any faction.

The models are pretty amazing looking, as I'm sure you'll have seen already. They are pretty user friendly too, with everything being push fit and no glue required. The Stormcast are cast in a blue plastic, while the Khorne stuff is all red. Each of the models is around two or three pieces and the base, with a one or two being a few more pieces.

I ended up gluing my models together, so I did clip off a few of the push fit pegs to make it easier. One thing I would say is be a bit more careful on the Stormcast since the blue is darker than normal plastic. It was a bit hard to see, and in a few places I clipped off more than I intended when taking them off the sprue. The mold lines are almost nonexistent though. These models are full of character, with some truly awesome poses.

Now let's move onto the rulebook and gameplay. The book itself is soft cover and saddle stapled, and is pretty thin, which is mostly just because the rules are clear and concise.

When you open it up, the first thing you see is the background on the city of Shadespire. There's only three pages of background on the setting itself, which was a little sparse for me, but what was there is pretty cool. I understand this is more of a board game aimed at the competitive crowd, so they don't want to make it to exposition heavy. There's enough information there though to contextualize the setting and make you want to learn more. There's a little bit of crossover between this and the Skirmish book on what is covered, but we also get new details as well. Shadespire once stood as a prosperous city in the middle of the Desert of Bones, and it's ruling class, the Katophranes, figured out how to cheat death itself. They invented shade glass, a mirror like substance that allowed them to basically transport their souls into the network of mirrors in the city after their deaths, allowing them to impart their knowledge upon future generations. Nagash was none to pleased with being cheated his due though, and set about destroying the city. Instead of simple razing it to the ground or killing everyone, he instead siphoned the city off into a limbo between the realms of Light and Shadow. Here the citizens were trapped, and the long dead Katophranes found themselves trapped as well. The physical remains still stood within the Desert of Bones, and over time attracted eager treasure hunters. This is, of course, the setting of AoS Skirmish. Some of those adventurers found themselves slipping through holes in reality whilst perusing the ruins of Shadespire and became trapped within the version of Shadespire between the Realms of Light and Shadow.

Here we learn about the different warbands who now frequent the haunted city of Shadespire and how they came to be there. There are the Stormcast Liberators, the Khorne Bloodreavers, the skeletal Sepulchral Guard, and the brutish Ironjawz which we have all already seen previews for. Here we also get a tease of expansions yet to come though in the form of Stormcast Vanguard, Khorne Blood Warriors, Fyreslayers, and Skaven. Most of these are bands of warriors that have become trapped within Shadespire, some for relatively short times so far, like the Stormcast, while others have been in there considerably longer like the Fyreslayers and Ironjawz. The Sepulchral Guard are the remains of the citizens of Shadespire, trapped by Nagash's foul magics.

The gameplay section is pretty straight forward and easy to follow. First it goes over what all of the different components of the game are, such as all of the tokens, then it breaks down the gameplay stage by stage. There are already so many sources out there covering the exact rules of the game, including the excellent Shadespire website, so I'm just going to kind of go over the basics and the two games I played. Each player must have their decks in front of them, both the power cards (ploy and upgrade cards) and the objectives cards, shuffled of course, as well as the cards for their fighters. You can build your deck before each game, though in tournaments I'm sure they will make the decks fixed for the whole event. The boards can be placed any way, as long as at least three hexes are touching if it's horizontal, and two hexes if they're vertical. The objectives are then placed randomly, with the numbers face down so you can't see what's what, and the fighters are placed, taking turns, on the starting hexes for them. There are only specific hexes they can start on. Before the game starts the objectives are flipped over and revealed, and each player draws their hands. You get five power cards and three objective cards. If you don't like your hand you can discard the whole thing and draw again.

The actual round goes pretty quickly. You roll off to see who goes first and each player gets four activations per round, which you keep track of with tokens. An activation can be a move, a charge, an attack, going on guard, or using an action on your fighter's card. Each fighter's card tells you how far they can move, how many attacks they get, how much damage they do, and how many dice they roll for defense. After each activation both players can play any number of power cards. Some ploy cards set you up with abilities for the next activation, while others have immediate effect. Each upgrade card costs one glory point to use, which is what you earn from killing enemy fighters and from your objective cards. Even though you spend the glory point, it's still counted for your total at the end. After that's all done, the other player takes their activation, and it goes back and forth until all four activations are completed. At the end of each round you can score your objectives, discard cards you don't want anymore, and draw new cards so your hands are back up to starting size. Then you just repeat the round process two more times for a total of three rounds and that's the game! The winner is whoever has the most glory points at the end of it.

With that knowledge in tow, Brad (@Rhellion) and I played two test games. The first saw him taking the Khorne Bloodbound against my Stormcast. He had a bit of experience with the game since he got to play it at Adepticon. It flowed super quickly and easily, and everything felt pretty intuitive. Shadespire doesn't use normal dice, instead it has it's own special dice, one set for attacking and one for defending.

The attacking dice, for example, have a hammer icon, a sword icon, a critical hit icon (!), and two supporting icons, one for one supporting fighter, and one for two. Your card will tell you whether you need the hammer or sword to hit, while the critical hit icon always hits. It's essentially the same with the defense dice, except it's a shield and an arrow icon instead. After each successful or tied attack (it's a tie if you roll the same number of successful defense dice as they do successful attack dice), then the attacker can push the defender back one square, plus any damage they cause. The game went really quickly, and unfortunately for me, the Stormcast were picked apart pretty easily.

In our second game Brad continued to use the Bloodbound, but I switched the Stormcast out for the Sepulchral Guard, aka, the Skeletons. I really liked the way these guys played. There are seven of them, so they are the most numerous warband, but most of them are killed pretty easily. The champion is the linchpin of the whole operation, since he has the ability to allow two models to move (otherwise there is no way you would be able to do much with seven models when you only have four activations), and he can also bring a slain model back onto the board. This is what makes a skeleton inspired as well, so they really play the way you feel they should. Their ploy and upgrade cards are really cool as well, and synergize with you warband really well and are a lot of fun. This game went more in my favor this time and I really enjoyed using the Sepulchral Guard. I think they will definitely be the warband I take most of the time. Each of these games only took about 20 minutes, so this is great for quick games, or after a tournament. I imagine Shadespire tournaments will move fairly fast as well. I can definitely see myself taking Shadespire along with me to the game store whenever I am playing AoS. It'll be easy enough to fit a few games in before and/or after.

I was lucky enough to also get sent the Ironjawz and Sepulchral Guard expansions. Each of these come with the models, four for the Ironjawz and seven for the Skeletons, as well as two more decks of cards. You get the fighter cards for all of the models, as well as new Objectives cards specific to that warband and Ploy and Upgrade cards both specific to the warbands, and generic for anyone to use. So if you want to get all of the generic cards out there you will have to pick up the expansions as well.

It's worth mentioning here how nice the packaging is on these as well. The boxes are small and compact, with some cool artwork for each warband on the front, and the cards and models come in a cool plastic sleeve inside, so everything is protected and presented nicely. I know it's not a big deal, but as a graphic designer I geek out over stuff like this sometimes.

Overall I think this is a huge success for GW and I'm pretty positive the community will love it. I have no doubt that the Shadespire tournament network will be in overdrive. I definitely look forward to playing more games of this, and Shadespire is the first card game I will get into since I was 12. I'm super excited to see all of the future expansions as well since these are some of the most dynamically posed models the GW does. If you like AoS and want something that's quick and fun, Shadespire is a great fit for you. It's also extremely tight in it's ruleset, and is perfect for competitive players. All around, I don't think there is a single "type" of player out there who wont enjoy this game. Even collectors will want to get ahold of the models to paint up a few. It's been announced that the core game will go up for pre-order on the 14th of October, for release on the 21st, with the expansions going up on the 28th and releasing on the 4th of November, so not that far away! I'll definitely see if I can fit a Shadespire tournament in at Adepticon this year.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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