If you follow the game, you’ve been hotly anticipating this arrival, but if you’re only faintly aware or have never heard of Warhammer Underworlds, you may want to know what are you missing out on.
In my opinion, it’s the best game competitive game Games Workshop have ever made. It’s accessible, it’s quick, and it’s fun. In short, Warhammer Underworlds is a deck-building game where the decks you build dovetail with a small warband of miniatures. You pilot these warbands to score more glory than your opponent.
The game’s basics haven’t changed significantly, so rather than repeat them, you can check out my other Warhammer Underworlds posts for a description of the game and how to play.
With the popularity of the game proven, we are now in full rolling season mode, and I think we can expect Underworlds to run and run like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon. As a result, Beastgrave is the tightest incarnation of the game yet.
What’s new for Warhammer Underworlds: Beastgrave?
There are a few small but significant changes to the game that will make it run a little smoother and hopefully clear up lengthy discussions about exactly what a card does.
1. Farewell, Shadespire.
How we did love you.
In some ways, the most significant change has nothing to do with the new product. As for all good CCGs, GW announced a few weeks ago they will begin card rotation once Beastgrave arrives. What does this mean? For competitive play, all universal cards from season 1 (Shadespire) will be removed from the game. The season 1 warbands and all faction-specific cards are still completely legal and useable at all levels.
For casual games, anything goes, but of course, a lot of people play the competitive “meta,” even when playing casually. This is a strong move on GWs part. Shadespire was a brilliant starting point, but the game has evolved and some of the early cards’ woolly wording has caused confusion and some cards are so strong they are omnipresent in decks. This bold move rang the changes, and in one fell swoop, the game became fresher than it had been in months.
2. The setting has changed.
In real terms, this doesn’t make much difference, but we’re now outside the original setting of the Mirrored City and have moved into the realm of beasts. This means new colors for the boards and some new style tokens. The token refresh is welcome and the components all look great.
3. There are new warbands.
New seasons bring with them new warbands, and the two included in the box put the beast in Beastgrave. First, some traditional Warhammer style Beastmen, with regulation goat heads, horns, and cloven feet. Grashrak’s Despoilers will be trying beat, claw, and bite their way to victory. That said, they do have a wizard in the form of leader Grashrak Fellhoof, so you can bring your favorite spellcasting shenanigans from Nightvault with you, if you so desire.
My favorite of the pair is Skaeth’s Wild Hunt. These are totally new, high-concept elf type warriors that we’ve yet to see in the Age of Sigmar universe but are totally in keeping with it. I love these models; they’re part horse, part elf wardancer and look awesome. The guys are highly maneuverable, can cast spells and they will hunt you down like a… errr… large goat-headed beast thing.
4. Warbands playable from the off.
This is a big step up from earlier seasons.
Warbands are made up of two types of card. Universals, which all warbands can take, and Faction specific cards, which are only useable by the particular warband you’re playing. In previous seasons, there weren’t enough faction cards for you to make up a complete deck (Underworlds decks are made up of a minimum of 32 cards).
For Beastgrave onwards, all warbands will have 32 faction specific cards, so you can play them without any universals. This means you can just start playing without giving up time to deck-building, or if you don’t want to buy-in big time to the game, you can just buy one expansion box (of which 2 will be along soon) that you like the look of and have a game with little or no thought to what cards you need.
This also means if you’re playing casually against somebody who has ALL the cards and you only have a small fraction of them, you can play “faction only” and compete on a level playing field. I love this idea—I have found the deck-building aspect to be a cyclical exercise in copying whatever the current strongest “meta” is (I’ve yet to discover my own “meta defining” combinations!) and for me, this could be the game in its purest form. Playing with a consistent set of cards and puzzling out how best to utilize them, knowing your opponent is doing the same.
5. There are new mechanics.
New boxes inevitably bring new mechanics, and the design team have outdone themselves, in my opinion.
- There’s a small change to how roll-off for board placement is carried out. How the boards are placed makes a massive difference depending on what style you’re using. For some playstyles, under the old rules, winning that roll could put you at a disadvantage, leaving a sour taste. Now the winner gets to choose who picks the first board, giving them a little more control.
- Lethal Hexes. The Beastgrave is a dangerous place. Now the objective tokens that you place at the beginning are double-sided. They start as objectives but can be flipped during the game to become additional lethal hexes. Note: They’re not called objective tokens anymore; they’re called feature tokens. After those have been placed, players can each choose to place another lethal hex token (almost) anywhere on the board. This enables you to place some strategic traps to lure your opponent’s fighters into.
- Hunters. “Hunter” is a new keyword some fighters have (4 members of each warband so far). Certain cards can only interact with fighters with the Hunter keyword, meaning that certain effects are restricted to these fighters only. This potentially puts previous season warbands at a disadvantage, but we’ll have to see exactly what cards are available to hunters as the game moves forward.
- Quarries. Quarry is another game keyword, that ties in with Hunter. There are a couple of cards which give you bonuses if one of your opponent’s fighters is designated a quarry. With the current card set, there is only one way to name a fighter a quarry, so at the moment this is not a big deal, but I would expect more ways to make somebody a quarry to come in future expansions.
- Guard Rules Change. The team has made a technical change to the Guard rule that will promote playstyles that don’t rely on aggressive play. It’s a small but important change and a great move by the designers
If seasons 1 and 2 had a fault, it was inconsistent wording. Cards that did the same thing had different wording and crucial timing windows were ambiguous, with people being able to argue just exactly when they were allowed to play their card. This has all been tightened up with the application of keywords and a generally more consistent approach to card text.
There is still some discrepancy between season 2 and season 3 cards, but with Games Workshop stating that cards from more than 2 seasons ago will be cycled out in competitive play, once we move to seasons 3 and 4, hopefully, all card wording will be more consistent.
Enter the Beastgrave!
And that, pretty much, is it. Games Workshop has worked hard with this new season to make it the absolute best platform to ensure Warhammer Underworlds is a great gaming experience for players old and new, casual and competitive.
The new Beastgrave Starter Set will be available to pre-order from the 9am local time on Saturday, September 21st and will be released a week later. Look out for more Warhammer Underworlds news on the Warhammer community website and its dedicated website. Alternatively, do check out Agents of Sigmar on Facebook and YouTube. If you have any Underworlds related questions, do feel free to ask in the comments here or on an Agents page and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the game in order to write this review.