Thursday, September 2, 2021

REVIEW: Arena Mortis - Direchasm

In a surprise final entry for the Direchasm season of Warhammer Underworlds we have a new iteration of Arena Mortis. So, what does this set contain?

First off, thank you to GW for sending me this review copy for free to check out. If you're not familiar with it, Arena Mortis is kind of a side game to Warhammer Underworlds. As its name alludes to, it's an arena combat game, where you only have one fighter and your main goal is to kill, and sometimes be killed, over the course of the game. If you want a full breakdown of the rules you can read my review for the Arena Mortis set from Beastgrave. As far as I can tell they're pretty much the same rules wise, but with two key additions this time around.

The biggest change is the introduction of the Hazards Deck. This is actually something we first saw in the Barnes and Noble exclusive, Dreadfane. It's essentially a deck of cards with environmental hazards that affect all of the players on the board. Sometimes these hurt players, sometimes it buffs them, and other times it messes with the normal rules. Beastgrave's Wrath for example gives +1 damage to all range 1 and 2 attacks for everyone. Deadly Ground on the other hand makes it so every time a player is driven back they suffer 1 damage. This all happens in the new Hazard Phase, which takes place at the start of each round. Your flip 1 card from the top of the deck for the entire round and resolve its actions before moving on. Most of them persist for the rest of the round, but some of them are resolved right away. There are 20 of these cards. It's a pretty cool idea and I liked it when I first saw it in Dreadfane as well. It's something I think could be worked into regular games of Underworlds, but at the same time I'm wary of overloading special rules.

The other new addition are the Mortis Tokens (the orange/red skulls at the top). You get these when you kill an enemy model. If you already have a Mortis Token when you kill a model then you get to flip it to its empowered side and give yourself an upgrade. It's a nice little addition to the game.

For the rest of the cards you get 20 universal gambits and 20 universal upgrades. While these are designed for use in Arena Mortis, they're also usable in the regular game as well. One thing I noticed, is that although Risen tokens are included and still used in this new edition of the game, none of the cards interact with them anymore, which is a bit of a shame. I really liked how the Beastgrave version of this introduced the Risen tokens for use by the Sepulchral Guard and opened up new avenues of play for them. With no new cards that interact with them, it seems like that nice little bonus will most likely cycle of out tournament play here soon once Season 5 starts up.

Out of the cards we do get there are actually quite a few that I think will be useful in the main Underworlds game. There are a lot that reward you for models dying, which makes sense in Arena Mortis. This immediately stood out to me since I used to play the Godsworn Hunt when similar cards existed in the main game, and I would almost always try and get Grawl killed to gain glory and help upgrade, and then inspire my other fighters. With these kinds of cards back in play I may take a look at their deck again. A Good Death gives you a glory point if your fighter is killed by someone with a higher wounds characteristic than them. Hello 2 wound Grawl. Dark Sacrifice lets you draw 2 power cards after one of your fighters die, which you could combo with the previous card. Omega's Offering also gives you glory for one of your fighters dying.

There are a few good upgrades as well, like Dying Curse, which takes 2 wounds off of the fighter that killed your fighter. Again, combo with some of the gambits before and you could have a nice little thing going killing off your own warband. This is especially nice for horde warbands with expendable fighters. There are also a lot of upgrades that interact with combo, so if you use a lot of that in your decks then there are probably a few good cards in here for you. The Seals also seem fairly good.

Besides the universal gambits and upgrades you also get the initiative cards you use to determine player order, a bunch of tokens, and two new fighter cards for a Knight of Shrouds and a Knight Incantor that can only be used in Arena Mortis.

You also get a new double sided board, which is always a welcome addition for Underworlds.

I haven't actually played a game of this yet due to a couple of reasons, one of which is Covid really limiting larger get togethers which this game needs. It needs 3 - 6 players to work. The other main deterrent for me is deck building. I'm not the best deck builder, so when I come up with something I like for one of my warbands, I tend to keep it together and then just tweak it over time. Arena Mortis uses all of the Underworlds cards ever printed, with a few restrictions, plus the ones it comes with. So you really need to build your deck from all of your cards. For me, I'd rather not take apart my other decks to make one for this. This might be something that's just a "me" issue, as I know other people deconstruct their decks all the time. Personally I would prefer it if Arena Mortis was more self contained. Maybe just the Arena Mortis cards (including the last edition's) a fighter card from any warband, and maybe the warband specific cards for that fighter. It makes it a little easier to build a deck for.

If you play Underworlds competitively you'll want to pick this up for some of the new cards and the board. There are some really good gambit and upgrades in here. I'm interested to see if we see a rise in "Martyr" decks taking advantage of all the cards that give you benefits for dying. I think this would also be an excellent "after hours"game at Underworlds events.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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