Shadespire returns under a ghostly veil
Shadespire was a breath of fresh air. Last year’s small-unit skirmish game successfully bridged the gap between board and miniatures gaming. Better yet, Games Workshop included a full experience in the confines of that attractive package. You didn’t need to buy additional expansion miniatures or terrain; you simply grabbed a few of the included figures and proceeded to spill blood. It was revelatory.
The strength of this system lies in its combination of cardplay with tactical manoeuvring. The action is framed with a collision of plastic warriors upon a board of hexes, yet the most crucial of decisions lie in hand management and timing. Your cards not only offer special effects and dramatic surprises, they also dictate your objectives and path to victory. It’s an extremely satisfying and engrossing 30 minutes of carnage.
Thus, no-one was surprised to see a second season announced. Warhammer Underworlds: Nightvault is the new starter set and it’s as slick as its predecessor. The Stormcast Eternals and Chaos Blood Reavers have been swapped out for ghostly Nighthaunts and shiny Stormcast Eternals. I know what you’re thinking but quit shaking your noggin; these Sigmarites are different. They wield magic.
This is the significant shift from Shadespire to Nightvault. To facilitate the wizardry we have a new set of special dice. Ploys and character abilities will allow you to fire off spells. Both of these factions feature magic users as you toss bolts of light and hallowed curses to and fro.
This new mechanism is well considered. It’s a compelling inclusion that offers additional tricks and depth to plumb, but it’s not overly strong or influential. 'Power creep' is a set of words that can kill a highly competitive game such as this, and it’s nowhere to be found.
Amid the fun of wielding the arcane is the new scatter rule. This proves a delightful effect of skipping bright energy across the cracked stones and colliding with errant targets. Primarily, this system supports dramatic action.
Both of these new warbands feel unique. The Stormcasts want to play rope-a-dope and hang back for a time before launching a massive counter-attack. The Nighthaunts can move through blocked and hazardous hexes without restraint. Their numbers will overwhelm and they’re more mobile than the previous undead cohort.
This set is fully compatible with all of the Shadespire material. You will find these units very balanced in the overall scope of the game. It’s true that groups lacking magic will have a rougher time countering or dispelling the mystical effects, yet this is not altogether harsh or obnoxious.
Of particular note is that this set makes a fantastic entry point. You will have the most current version of the rules as well as two starter warbands that are exceptionally balanced. All of the old expansions can still be acquired without hiccup or complication.
If you already own Shadespire don’t fret. In addition to two new units and a swathe of cards, you will be able to utilise the new boards in a special way. You can combine both sets for three- and four-player matches that are as wild as a Khorne family reunion. This mode features an unprecedented level of chaos and frenetic energy as the battlefield is fragile and deadly.
Shadespire was a stellar release that clenched my heart and never let go. Nightvault is more of the same: more antics, more carnage and more creativity. The mirrored city is alive and well.
A worthy and inspiring follow-up to one of 2017’s best releases.
Designer: Games Workshop team
Artist: Games Workshop team
Time: 20-30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 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.
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