Wednesday, April 14, 2021

REVIEW: Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set & Expansion Cards

I'm a big fan of Warhammer Underworlds, and while it's gotten a starter set of sorts with the start of each new season, it's never had a "proper" starter set until now. So, what are the Warhammer Underworlds starter set and Expansion cards, and whats make it different from the season sets?

When most people think of a Warhammer Underworlds starter sets they probably think of the Shadespire, Nightvault, Beastgrave, and Direchasm boxed sets, and up until now they would have been right. Those were the best ways to get into the game. In fact, they were essential. The problems with those boxes in retrospect though were a few. They change up every year, half the cards and boards rotate out after a season or two, and they were not always the most balanced for beginners. Well, the new Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set looks to address all of those problems.

This new set is intended as an entry point for anyone looking to get into the game, regardless of the season. It's not tied to any of the seasons at all. This isn't to say the season starter boxes are going away or anything. I would still expect to see a new season starter box for season 5 and anything else in the future as well. Inside the box you'll find two boards, two warbands, two decks with only warband specific cards, dice, tokens, and a rulebook. You can check out my unboxing video above for a closer look at all of those things.

The boards are re-prints of existing boards from Shadespire and Nightvault that were previously rotated out of competitive play, but were always pretty balanced, like Mirror Well. Since the intention of this starter set is for it to stick around for years, that means these boards are now going to be constants for the game for at least a few years. The tokens that come with the game have all of the wound, move, charge, guard, activation, glory, and objective tokens that you need to start out. This only includes five objective tokens though, which I will get to shortly. You may also notice that there were a few other tokens left out, such as scatter and lethal. This is all part of the starter set's objective of scaling the game back to the basics.

Before I go into the warbands I want to touch on the rulebook, and what I perceive as the intention of this set. The rules are the current version of the rules, with all of the current wording, but with a lot of the extraneous stuff stripped out. It's essentially the Shadespire rules, but brought up to the modern version. This means things like magic, scatter, lethal hexes, as well as other season specific things are left out. It's also missing the rules for multiplayer, which is why there are only five objective tokens. It's looking to deliver the full Underworlds experience, but in a much simpler package, which I think is a great idea. This is essentially the foundations of the game on which everything else is built. If, in a future season, they decide to get rid of lethal hexes, they can and it won't affect the validity of this starter set. Though I doubt stuff like magic is going anywhere, it still makes sense to leave it out of this set, especially since it doesn't apply to either of the warbands included.

Even the setting is stripped back to the basics. It provides the lore for Shadespire, the opening of the Nightvault, and the two included warbands, and that's it. Nothing about Beastgrave or Direchasm. This, again, makes perfect sense. Shadespire is the bedrock of the game and will always be there. Right now in season three and four, the Katophrane curse is infecting Beastgrave, but that's originating from Shadespire. Maybe season five will move back to the cursed city, or the curse will continue to spill out into a new area, such as in Hysh, Ghyran, or Chamon. If we look at AoS and 40k as examples, the starter sets usually hang around for 3-4 years. I fully believe that's the intention here. This starter needs to be a introduction to the game that works no matter what is happening in the current season, and I think it has absolutely nailed it.

Another big part of this are the warbands. We get two new ones here, Storm of Celestus and Drepur's Wraithcreepers. This repurposes the easy to build models of the Stormcast Castigators and Nighthaunt Glaivewraiths from Soul Wars, just like Dreadfane did with the Sequitors and Mymourns. This means no new models, but it's still new warbands that can be used in any game of Underworlds. 

Both of their decks only contain warband specific cards, no universals. So, once again, no concerns about something having to be cycled out. I actually think they've done a pretty good job of balancing the two warbands against each other, and also showing off two different play styles of the game. The Wraithcreepers are all about aggro play, with you gaining glory for killing models. They also have to get up close and personal to do this, though most of them do have reach 2 attacks. Even their inspire condition is to be near an enemy model. In comparison, the Storm of Celestus models are all armed with ranged crossbows, except for the Gryph-hound, and are much more geared towards holding objectives. Most of their objective cards have you grabbing objectives and they have a lot more buff for staying stationary. Nothing seems overpowered or underpowered, just right down the middle, which is what you want in this situation.

I really like the Wraithcreepers. I feel like they have some real potential in the game as a whole. I would make their deck even more aggro with some universals to get the most out of them though. The Stormcast look good too, but I'm definitely biased towards the Nighthaunt. I'm also really glad that the Glaivewraiths seem to be good in this game, since they're not the best in AoS and they're pretty cool models. 

The Expansion Cards set is there to fill the universal cards slot that's missing from the starter set. This, just like the starter, seems to be intended to stick around for years and not cycle out with the various seasons. As far as I can tell these are all re-prints of older cards from Shadespire and Nightvault that were cycled out, as well as some staples that we'd been seeing every season anyway. You have your classics like Annihilation, Denial, Capture Objective 1, 2, 3, etc, and Sidestep. This means that they won't have to re-print these every season, and instead can use those slots in that season's universals to do new cards. We already saw this with Direchasm which had none of these basic cards in it. There are also plenty of returning favorites, like Healing Potion from Shadespire. There are even some Beastgrave cards in here. Although those cards are still currently playable, they would be cycled out come season five in the fall. This seems like a really solid set of 60 cards to act as the universal foundation for Underworlds and is a great idea so each season can be more unique. Maybe we'll even get more Expansions like this in the future that are intended to stick around, bring back even more fan favorites, or rescuing some cards from Direchasm or future seasons that would by cycled out otherwise.

There's also a pretty major card redesign here. The art now stretches across the whole card, which is fantastic! Who doesn't want to see more cool art? The layout has also been cleaned up a bit. For example, on objective cards it now has a symbol of a glory token with a number telling you how many it's worth, instead of having that many glory symbols on the card. The fighter cards have been reworked a bit too, with the move, defense, and health moved up above the attacks. On these fighter cards the inspired sides of them also have different artwork from the uninspired sides. This is something I've always wanted so I hope that's the plan going forward. I would expect to see this new style become the standard once season five drops.

All in all I think this is a fantastic idea! I love this game and would really want to see it grow more. Hopefully they plan on putting both of these in more traditional shopping locations such as Target and Barnes and Nobel in the US. This is the perfect game to try and rope in the board game crowd. The starter even has the Dice Tower seal of excellence on it, which leads me to believe this is their plan. They have pretty reasonable prices too, at $60 for the starter and $18 for the Expansion Cards. I would love to see some older warbands brought back with just their warband cards, such as ones from Shadespire and Nightvault. They could sell them at slightly lower prices than current warbands and have them in the same Targets and such. For existing Underworlds players you'll definitely want to pick up the Expansion Cards set at the very least. I would probably pick up the starter too as the warbands are pretty solid, and if you don't have the boards in there already than you'll want those too. I'm super excited for what this could mean for the future of the game. I hope we see it enshrined as one of their "main" games and the community grows a ton from people who may not even be familiar with Games Workshop. They're even releasing both of the starter warbands on the Warhammer Underworlds Online video game to generate some cross platform synergy. The future is looking bright in the underworlds.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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