Warhammer 40,000: Shadowspear review
The forces of the Imperium of mankind and the depraved followers of the Dark Gods clash in this new outing for Warhammer 40,000. Shadowspear pits the Primaris Vanguard Space Marines (a new type of Adeptus Astartes, the setting’s poster boys) against the traitorous forces of the Chaos Space Marines, comprised of a mix new units and revamps of existing miniatures.
Like most wargame box sets, Shadowspear tries to straddle the line between being a standalone entity and a gateway to or expansion of the wider hobby. Looking at the box in its former capacity, sadly, it quickly becomes clear that there are noticeable balance issues between the two factions. The Vanguard Space Marines are billed as a stealth-based faction, whose principal strengths lie in long-range snipers, greater benefits from taking cover and being able to deploy virtually anywhere on the board. The Chaos Space Marines, meanwhile, are geared towards brute strength and close combat, and it becomes clear after a few games that brawn is significantly mightier than brain here. In particular, the Chaos faction’s heavy hitters – the gun-festooned Obliterators, the spider-like Venomcrawler and the mutated Greater Possessed – can make short work of the Vanguard, who simply don’t have enough heavy firepower to bring the brutes down.
To a certain extent, it’s arguable that a stealth-based faction was always going to struggle within the confines of a traditional all-out wargame, particularly in an edition of Warhammer 40,000 where mass shooting and the numbers of bodies you can put on the tabletop are what count. However, that doesn’t excuse the choice of units within the box, and the campaign booklet the set comes with certainly doesn’t help matters.
Whilst a few missions play up to the idea of the Vanguard as a small, elite force sneaking past enemy lines, the scenarios' somewhat rigid structure means that you can only really play them once or twice before they get boring, at least if you’re using the Shadowspear figures every time. Most of the other scenarios, however, are straight-up gun battles, and often tip the balance even more in favour of the Chaos side. One particularly egregious example is a mission meant to represent the Vanguard holding off waves of Chaos enemies. The scenario allows the Chaos player to roll to redeploy destroyed or near-destroyed units at the table edge to represent fresh reinforcements; considering the Vanguard’s existing disadvantage, this mechanic often leads to the Chaos marines steamrolling their loyalist counterparts by the mid-game.
The miniatures the box comes with are of the mono-pose variety, and fit together pretty well. They’re certainly highly detailed, though whether this is necessarily a good thing depends on your perspective. There’s a school of thought in wargaming that holds that miniatures should strive for the maximum amount of detail possible; if you ascribe to this notion, it’s likely you’ll appreciate the aesthetics of the figures on offer here. One downside of this approach is that such miniatures are invariably more difficult to paint, and novices, or those who view miniatures primarily as gaming pieces, may not appreciate the amount of time it takes to get a figure from sprue to tabletop without cutting corners.
The long and short of it is that Shadowspear is a game that’s aimed squarely at gamers already invested in Warhammer 40,000, and your preference for playing it will largely depend on whether you belong to that group or not. The game’s steep price and intricately-detailed models are par for the course for Games Workshop, and as the rules and armies are clearly meant to be integrated into existing forces, those who intend to use the box in this manner probably won’t be much vexed by the balance issues. Though fans may abide, outsiders will probably have a harder time of it.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
A box set designed for and catered to hardcore Warhammer 40,000 fans, Shadowspear’s lack of army balance means that it’s hard to recommend it to people who haven’t yet converted to the gospel of Games Workshop.
Designer: Games Workshop team
Artist: Phil Moss, Games Workshop team
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.