Monday, September 23, 2019

REVIEW: Warhammer Underworlds - Beastgrave

The third season of Warhammer Underworlds is upon us, and for the first time it's outside of Shadespire! What is Beastgrave and what changes does this newest iteration of the game bring with it? Read on to find out!

I know a lot of people are probably super excited for all of the rules changes, but I'm also really excited about the new lore. For the first time the game takes place outside of the city of Shadespire. How does that work considering the whole concept of the game is built upon the cursed city? Well let's start with the new setting itself. When you crack open the rulebook the first thing you find are several pages of lore. Beastgrave itself is a massive mountain within the realm of Ghur. It's so massive that it's said you can see it from any point within the realm. Not only that, but it's also incredibly ancient and mysterious. There used to be a people who lived within it known as the Silent People. Nothing remains of them except for the labyrinth of tunnels carved through the mountain. Even that is a mystery as to whether they were its creators or just made their home within it. What statues do remain of them have a slightly insectoid appearance. I love the mystery surrounding these guys. It's definitely on par with the Katophranes.

The mountain had long drawn adventurers to it due to the abundant amount of gold stashed within it, which is yet another mystery. Some even say that the mountain itself is alive or that there is some massive beast at its heart. Now the peril is ramped up even more. The Necroquake did more than just unlock the Nightvault within Shadespire, it also started to fracture reality surrounding the cursed city. Slowly its starting to bleed into the rest of the Mortal Realms, spreading the Katophrane curse. The first of these locations we hear about is Beastgrave, where deep within the mountain the cursed city has started to spread. Now those who die within Beastgrave find themselves waking up the next morning, ready to fight again. Not only that, but adventurers could turn a corner within Beastgrave and suddenly find themselves within Shadespire and vice versa. I love the way they've linked the previous setting with the new and I'm definitely excited to see where this takes them in future seasons of the game. Essentially it can be set anywhere within the Mortal Realms now.

We also get one page each focusing on the warbands included in the set, Skaeth's Wild Hunt and Grashrak's Despoilers. The Kurnothi have come to the mountain to attempt to slay the beast within while the Gors are there to cause a ruckus and amass power. There are also little snippets on two other warbands. One of which is the Wolf Riders we've already seen, as well as what appears to be a Flesh-eater Courts warband.

Now onto the rules section. The changes to the rules are more about streamlining and making gameplay easier than some big fundamental change like how magic was introduced in Nightvault. The single biggest change in Beastgrave, to me anyway, are probably the Lethal Hexes. All of the objectives now have an alternate side that's a Lethal Hex which can be flipped during the game. I haven't come across any cards that flip them yet but presumably there will be some. Each player also gets to place an additional Lethal Hex, making them a much more integrated part of the game this time around. Some other streamlining changes include the winner of the roll off being able to choose who places the first board, some clarification on reactions and other odd and ends.

Some of the most impactful changes come with the cards. There are now keywords, such as Hunter and Quarry, which certain fighters may have on their card. These do nothing on their own, but certain cards will interact with the keywords, such as Snare, which is a gambit that lets you do an additional damage if you drive back your opponent and you have the Hunter keyword. The cards in general are also much cleaner. The inclusion of keywords and how they're bolding certain parts of it makes it much easier to read at a glance. When I was going through my card collection last night pulling out all of my season one universal cards it was a pretty stark difference, even between Nightvault and Beastgrave cards. For instance, the Great Strength card is the same between the two seasons, but the new Beastgrave version has the 1 to 2 hex range and +1 damage part bolded so they jump right out at you. It's a small change, but very much appreciated. There are also a few new types of Objective cards. Ones that are scored immediately are now called Surge Objectives. There's nothing new with them, but it helps that they're classified in their own category. There are also objectives with two different qualifications you can meet, as well as ones where you have to meet two different qualifications.

Another really cool addition are some warband specific rules. This is what the new Counter Set that's for sale is for. For example, the Beasts of Chaos have a special Ritual mechanic. Grashnak, the Bray-Shaman, starts off with one Ritual Counter at the start of the game, then receives one additional for each enemy fighter taken out of action. He can then spend one of these points as a reaction when a friendly fighter attacks, allowing them to re-roll one of their dice.

From the looks of things this will be common across several warbands as the Counter Set comes with Ritual, Feast, Madness, Potency, Sacrifice, and Waaagh! Counters amongst others. I personally really love this idea as it gives each warband more of its own flavor. It feels like Allegiance Abilities in AoS proper and makes me more excited about each warband.

The starter box also comes with two new boards with some cool new Beastgrave artwork on them. I really appreciate the visual refresh we're getting on the game with it moving to a new realm.

You get the usual assortment of tokens and dice as well. This time the wound tokens have a blue crystal design on the other side so you can use them to keep track of things like Ritual as well if you don't want to invest in the Counter Set. The objective tokens also now have the Lethal Hexes on the flip side, so you'll need to use the ones from Beastgrave.

The boxset comes with three decks of cards. Two prebuilt ones, one for each warband, then a set of extra cards. The prebuilt decks are meant for new players to just be able to use them right away. I played a test game using them and it worked perfectly. The prebuilt decks have a few universal cards in them, but new for Beastgrave each warband also has enough Warband specific cards to make a complete deck out of only those. You can find the rest of the warband specific cards in the extra cards deck. I'm really excited about this change and I think I'm going to try and play Grashnak's Despoilers just using their warband cards, at least to start, just to see how it goes. Due to this there are less universal cards in this box then there have been in the past. Most of them are duplicates too, so you get two of each universal card, incase you were splitting the box with a friend. I'm curious to see if that means there will just be less universal cards across this whole season if each warband is going to come packaged with 32 warband specific cards each. I have to imagine that will be the case.

Last, but certainly not least, you also get the models. I think the Despoilers are some of my favorite Underworlds models yet, and the Wolfriders that have been previewed look really cool to me as well. These are just like you're used to, pre-colored plastic and snap fit. The Despoilers have six models while Skaeth's Wild Hunt has five. I think this is our first cavalry base in Underworlds as well. The warscrolls for these two warbands in AoS are also amazing! I love that the ungors and bestigor act as bodyguards for Grashnak, allowing them to take wounds meant for him. This gives them some real purpose instead of just being a tax for taking the hero, and his spell is immense as well! I expect to see both of these warbands taken in AoS a lot more than previous warbands.

All in all I'm really impressed by Beastgrave. I definitely think this is the best season yet, and the effort that has gone into streamlining the whole thing has paid off big time. The use of keywords and bolding key information on the cards is worth it alone. I think I'm going to go in on Beastgrave a lot more than I have the past two seasons. The gameplay just seems a lot smoother, stuff like Rituals adds a ton of flavor, and the models are amazing. I already plan on picking up the Wolf Riders when the come out. I may even get all of the warbands this season for the cards alone. I also picked up Dreadfane (review coming sometime soon), so I have the Mymourn Banshee warband to play with too. They were clearly designed with Beastgrave in mind and have enough warband specific cards to play an entire deck of just them. I'm definitely ready to explore the depths of Beastgrave and find death or glory!

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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