A couple of months ago I was introduced to Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire, and have since gone all in on the game. I really love that the different warbands have a very strong character and gameplay feel to them, and yet all still seem relatively competitive. Games are quite quick compared to other miniature games, and the best-of-three tournament rounds structure really changes it up because even if you lost the first round, you can respond to what you saw your opponent do in the first to come back and win the second and third.
This article will talk a bit about the deck building process and some of the strengths and weaknesses of each warband.
There are two decks involved when putting your warband together for play. There’s the objective deck, which is primarily how you score glory to win the game, and then there’s the ploys and upgrades that are mixed together to make your power deck. Ploys are tricks and actions that enhance, change, or respond to actions that you or your opponent take, while upgrades are things that usually bolster some aspect of play, either to add defence, add offense e.g. the shadeglass weapons, or add additional actions a model can take.
The thing to think about when making decks is that the objective deck is the one that really going to dictate your style of play. Your upgrades and ploys should be complementing your objectives so that you get the most glory quickly, because that’s how you win the game. The upgrades and ploys are what give your warband their tools and tricks to get the job done, so it’s important to try and get everything aligned.
Types of Builds
So there’s basically three types of builds, aggressive, objective, and defensive. Aggressive builds are trying to get out there and kill stuff to generate glory. Objective builds are trying to claim objectives at the end of a phase to get glory. Defensive builds are basically the opposite of aggressive, trying to survive and stop the enemy being able to engage you, and scoring points in the process (usually with a mix of objective-based glory thrown in). Note there are some upgrades that can enhance the glory for particular playstyles, such as the Keys which add additional opportunity for scoring glory from objectives.
There was a fourth kind, the Katophrane Relic build, but it was way too powerful and has been nerfed where the relic upgrades cost 2 glory to equip compared to normal upgrades that cost only 1. Yes these are classified as beta rules, but honestly they should just be made official already, relic builds are basically one person playing a game and the other person just has to sit there and take it, they’re not fun, and most players I know won’t enter a tournament if the relic rules are not in play because they’re just stupid otherwise.
The stats, abilities, and inspiration conditions of your warbands will determine which builds are most effective. Most warbands you can play multiple different ways, but some warbands are particularly suited for certain builds. To go through the list briefly:
Steelhearts Champions / Stormcast Eternals
These guys are small in number (3) but have very strong attacks, either 2 hammer 3 damage, or 3 hammer 2 damage. They have strong native defence (1 shield), particularly when inspired (2 shields). Because of their relative tankiness and strong damage, they can be played offensively or defensively very easily, but struggle to play objectively because they don’t have the numbers (if you lose one model, can no longer score Supremacy, etc.).
These guys are somewhat all rounders. No very strong attacks, weaker defense, high in number, but very fast. These attributes mean they are one of the hardest warbands to play because they aren’t natively strong in any one field. The upgrades and ploys do exist to help them though, particularly utilising their speed, so it is possible to do well with them in any of the play styles, but it does require more work than any of the other warbands.
Sepulchral Guard / Skeletons
High in number, but weak in all other areas, particularly movement (only 2). They can resurrect though! Super fun and thematic for a skeleton army, they inspire when resurrected, except the warden who becomes inspired once he’s resurrected two others. They’re weakness is that if the warden dies, it’s very hard to recover from. Can be played very well objectively (provided you lose the board roll and get 3 objectives on your side) and defensively, but almost impossible to play aggressive because of the limited movement.
Ironskull’s Boys / Orks
The original aggro warband. They inspire when they take damage, so love running into the fray. Can be played in other ways, but they’re Orks, so why would you? Waaaaaagh!
The aggro warband version 2. They inspire when they make a successful attack, and they love doing so. Basically the same stat line as Steelheart’s, but less native damage (usually 2). There’s one big difference though… Riptooth a.k.a. Magore’s Doggo. That daemon hound can become the ultimate assassin when tooled up, with great movement and a good attack. I still have nightmares of my Skritch being one shotted two rounds in a row by an inspired doggo.
With their relatively strong defence, they can also be played defensively, and utilising Riptooth’s higher mobility, they can also be played objectively as well. Overall a pretty strong warband.
These guys are a bit of a jack of all trades warband. They are similar to Steelheart’s from a stats perspective, but they have weaker melee attacks in favour of gaining ranged attacks albeit weak ones (usually 1 damage). This means they have the most ranged damage of any warband, and can use it to their advantage to play defensively or aggressively. Their inspiration condition does work well with aggressive play, but it’s not strictly necessary for winning so defensively they do OK as well. The low numbers (3) mean they somewhat struggle to play objectively.
The Chosen Axes / Dwarves
The ultimate objective warband. Their inspiration condition straight up proves it. Can play aggressive or defensive, but objective play is where they shine. Plus, if you get Fjul kitted out with the glory you got from objectives, he can become an absolute killing machine.
Spiteclaw’s Swarm / Skaven
Skritch is the greatest yes yes! These guys are very fun to play, but on the most part they find it hard to recover if Skritch dies. They can play any style, but the best way is to score some glory, get Skritch kitted up, and then let him go to town on enemy models. Their high movement can allow them to play objectively, and you’re going to want to keep Skritch alive in any case so some defensive play can work.
I’ve been meaning to write an article about Warhammer Underworlds since I got into it, but haven’t gotten around to it until now. I hope that this gives people some insight into the different warbands, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can play. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts.