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The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire

The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire

We’ve been lucky in 2017, with amazing games hitting store shelves and our tables. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just 10 games to spotlight on the list, and here is one of them.  Stay tuned to see the other games on this list and for the full list.

I received a text message from fellow Geek & Sundry writer Charlie while running from one end of Gen Con’s vendor hall to the other. “You need to go demo Shadespire” it read. I knew very little about the game other than that Charlie and Teri (Geek & Sundry’s contributing editor) were both excited about it, but I’ve come to trust what they say – especially when it comes to Games Workshop. I found some time, sat down, and immediately knew I was playing something special.

Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire is an interesting game for a few reasons. Games Workshop has always made independent boxed games – Space Hulk and Gorechosen are personal favorites – but Shadespire aims to be more than that. It’s been designed from the ground up to support a competitive tournament environment, long-term organized play, and regular expansions. Despite that, it’s eminently accessible from the perspective of both the game and the detailed miniatures inside the box. It earns its spot in our Best of the Year Round-Up on its strength as a game and as a product.

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Shadespire is a game of punishing arena combat. Inside the core set are two warbands – assembly necessary – who play as differently as they are violent. Garrek’s Reavers are blood-thirsty Khorne worshipers. There are many of them, they’re fast, and they’re here to get the blood flowing. They’re so blood-thirsty that they’ll become more powerful as soon as 3 figures are dead whether those figures are your opponent’s or your own. On the other hand, Severen Steelheart brings only 2 Stormcast allies into the mirrored-city though the triad packs a mean punch. They hit harder and take more damage than the Reavers but trade raw power for speed and flexibility.

This asymmetry is great because it’s so much more exciting than simply having a squad that does +1 to attack and a squad that gets +1 on defense. The truth is, the Stormcast are better at both. That seems odd and difficult but it also leads to deep tactics and strategy. The Reavers have to balance their bloodthirst with tactical movement and finding opportunities to team up on a single Stormcast while the Stormcast have to ensure they don’t sacrifice too much control of the board. Most points in a game of Shadespire will come from scoring various objectives you’ve selected before the game to put into your deck. Together with a deck of mid-game power cards known as Ploys or Upgrades, they are the beating heart whose pulse pushes a game of Shadespire through its 12 tense actions.

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There are a lot of good tactical arena combat games out there, and without these two decks of cards, Shadespire would still be one of them. Limiting the game to only 12 actions spread across three rounds makes every decision critical, packs every roll of the dice with tension, and ensures the game doesn’t devolve into two weakened fighters impotently swinging weapons at each other. But interspersing those actions with powerful effects from a deck you’ve built yourself? That elevates Shadespire. Mitigating a bad situation or taking advantage of an opening with a deck of cards you built yourself is rewarding, and crafting a strategy that takes advantage of your Warband’s strengths just feels good. The dice are there and there’s always the opportunity for a rough roll but there’s also the opportunity to use smart play to get around it. These decks make the game feel like a battle of two tacticians, not a roll off, and make competitive play both possible and exciting.

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Now, being a Games Workshop product, these amazing miniatures do have some assembly required. None of that gameplay means anything if you can’t actually get the game on the table which is why I made the point of saying that this is a good product in addition to being a good game. Unlike most the miniatures of Warhammer 40k or Age of Sigmar, the miniatures in Shadespire are press-fit and assemble in minutes. They’re no less detailed or dynamic, but they’re much easier to put together which makes it much easier to recommend this game to someone who’s never known the joy of clipping fresh injection molded plastic from its sprue. They’re also color coded for ease of play, though the community surrounding this game is already sharing pictures of their painting schemes. I’ve enjoyed painting my own set bit by bit and watching them come to life on the table.

Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire surprised me at Gen Con, but its reception since then has not been surprising. It’s fast, brutal, and has a rapidly growing competitive environment for those who enjoy that sort of thing. For those that don’t, it still rewards casual skirmishes and battles. And for those worried about variety, there are already two additional warbands available and 2 more coming in early 2018. Games Workshop has plans to support this game in the future and the foundation they’ve laid down is strong enough to support it.

What’s games do consider your game of the year? Tell us in the comments!

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Editor’s Note: Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire has previously been featured on Geek & Sundry under a paid placement, but its inclusion on the “Best Of 2017” list is independent of that sponsorship.

Image Credits: Rafael Cordero, Teri Litorco

 

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Raf Cordero writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. Chat with him on Twitter @captainraffi.

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