Episode 3 of Vanguard Watch once again sees me trying, and failing, to keep up with Games Workshop’s production rate. Today, I’m looking at the new Warhammer Underworlds Essentials pack. As well as dropping a new starter set and a new warband (The Crimson Court) on us in the last month, GW also unexpectedly announced this new pack of cards deemed “essential’ to the game. This release ties in with the new starter set, which I’ve yet to review. More on that in future episodes!
What is the Warhammer Underworlds: Essentials Pack?
The short answer to this question is 60 cards with all-new artwork but no actual new cards. This is a reprint of the game’s perennial cards. It has also been stated by GW that these cards will never rotate out. The pack is predominantly aimed at newcomers to Underworlds.
It was noted after the release of season 4 of Underworlds, that the new core box no longer contained the staples of the game. In the previous three core sets, there were 16 or so cards that always present (and duplicated for 2 players too!). It had become a bit of a joke about how many copies of some cards long-time players now owned. The removal of them from the core set was a welcome move. It avoided pointless duplication, but it also meant that some cards that have appeared in nearly every deck since Underworlds began would eventually rotate out of play. (Underworlds tournament play generally works on a 2 season rotation cycle.)
Now, with the Essentials Pack, those staples and another 30+ popular cards are back. And they’re back for good. Cue dodgy Take That impressions.
Should I buy the Warhammer Underworlds: Essentials Pack?
As stated above, the essentials pack was released in tandem with the Starter Set and if this is your introduction to the game, then you should definitely buy this pack. The starter box has no deckbuilding associated with it and deckbuilding is the lifeblood of Warhammer Underworlds. It’s where (in theory at least) of much the variation in the game is derived from. There are lots of warbands to choose from, once you get beyond the starter set, but their effectiveness and the style in which you play them is very much influenced by the you choose to put in your deck.
The essentials pack has been designed to complement any warband. The cards in it are strong, and if you’re just starting out, one warband (such as either of the two from the Starter Set) and these cards will see you to being reasonably competitive. Additionally, The cards in this pack are never rotating out, so unlike other Underworlds investments, you should always be able to get use out of them. This is an evergreen purchase that you can use with whatever else you pick up during your time playing Warhammer Underworlds and on that basis worth picking up.
For those of us who have been collecting for a long time, we don’t need to buy this pack. We own all the cards already. That said, some of the wording has been updated. This is to bring it in line with current terminology and to make a few clarifications. If playing competitively, you’ll be expected to know (and abide by) the new wording on a card, even if you’re rocking an older iteration.
The deck also has a new art style, currently only mirrored in the Starter Set and not the latest warband releases. I assume we’ll see a transition to this style in season 5 but we’ll have to wait and see. Designwise, I like the change to the cards. The amount of glory scored appearing in a single space on the card (as shown by “Denial” in the above photo) makes for less clutter. The artwork is generally better than the older cards; more atmospheric. The description of the cards e.g. “Gambit Ploy” is clearer than the original cards that used symbols only.
The one thing I don’t like is the little empty trapezium at the bottom of the card (as shown on Healing Potion, above). This space could have had the name of the card printed on the bottom edge, so that when you stacked multiple upgrades on fighters, you could have pushed them under the fighter card but left the card name showing, thus taking up less gaming real estate. The “Voltron” meta is currently very strong and you can easily have 6 or more upgrades on a single fighter by the end of the game. Players often end up with a snake of cards all over the place, and it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve played.
Is the Essentials Pack Good for the Game?
I need two hats on to answer this question. Two diametrically opposed hats.
I can very much see this good side to this pack. One of the problems of collectible card games is ease of entry for new players. From the outside looking in, it seems like everybody who is playing Underworlds already has a collection of models and cards equal in size to the GDP of Japan. It’s very daunting. Even with the two-season rotation, it feels like you have to sink a lot of cash into the game just to come close to even.
This essentials pack goes some way to reducing that gap. The cards in this pack are strong and many tournament decks will have a number of them included on the team sheet. Great Strength, for example, is the most utilized card in the history of the game. I’d be lying if I said “this pack is all you need to compete;” the more cards you have at your disposal, the better your deck is likely to be. Nevertheless, the strength of the cards will allow you to compete to a decent level.
A wise man once said, (in the above paragraph) that “Great Strength, for example, is the most utilized card in the history of the game.” Before the release of this box, we looking toward a time when it would no longer be available in competitive play. There are some interesting alternatives to Great Strenght card in the Direchasm set. Cards that whilst giving the same core +1 damage, do so with some sort of caveat or penalty.
Card design in Direchasm has been more nuanced. Cleverer. Better. This is, of course, subjective but whilst the newer cards can’t compete with older iterations for raw power. They explore more interesting design spaces, forcing players to think about whether they want to pick and play a particular card or not. To extend from Great Strength, the +1 damage it gives is a no-brainer. The Direchasm equivalent, Savage Strength gives -1 to defense in exchange for the +1 damage. Suddenly, you have a decision to make.
With the arrival of the Warhammer Underworlds: Essentials pack, some interesting decision-making and design ideas will be lost.
When designing decks consistency is key. Most of the cards in the essentials pack are very consistent compared with what else is available. As a result, they’re going to see lots of play. This is great if you’re new to the game. Similarly, If you’re designing a game, and people are choosing from a smaller pool of cards (from a small pool of more obviously “good” cards) it’s easier to keep your game in balance. If you give everybody the same solid platform to build from, balance is easier.
But does balance make for a better game? A possibly endless debate.
So those are my general thoughts on the Warhammer Underworlds: Essentials pack. “A necessary evil” may well be the TL;DR. I can definitely see why the pack was needed, I just wish it had some different card choices in it. If you want to check out some full reviews of the cards, I suggest you check out Set the Tempo or Path to Glory. Both great blogs by some of the game’s very best players.
I’m gradually slipping further behind as GW keeps bombarding us with Underworlds products, as this post goes live another warband Hedkrakka’s Madmob and another unlooked-for card pack (The Silent Menace) are up from preorder. As ever, I have thoughts on these and how they impact the Vanguard meta, which I shall bring to you as soon as I am able!