Warhammer Underworlds is an incredible tabletop game. It nails a load of elements that a lot of tabletop gamers look for. It plays fast, it’s competitive, and it’s quick to set up. It has a small number of components, making it easy to transport. There are deck building elements for added variety. Most importantly, it’s incredibly fun, and Warhammer Underworlds Online captures all of that in a tight, digital package coming to Steam Early Access in January 2020.
In Warhammer Underworlds Online, players select 1 of 4 available factions, a subset of the planned total. On release, you’ll be able to play Steelheart's Champions, the poster-boys for the Warhammer Age of Sigmar setting. They’re golden warriors heavily armed and armored, but limited in numbers with only 3 of them. Or, you can play Magore’s Fiends, 4 wild fighting Chaos worshipers, and a beast. There’s also Ironskull’s Boyz, 4 huge orcs who love to scrap and the Sepulchral Guard, a swarm of 7 slow-moving but relentless undead warriors.
The deck-building element is a huge part of Warhammer Underworlds and things are no different with Online. To get you started, each faction comes with a pre-built starter deck, so you can learn how each faction plays and test out the cards before you head straight into building your own decks.
The depth of tactics and information for Warhammer Underworlds Online can be overwhelming, but there is a tutorial to help move things along. It takes you through how the game works, as well as the set-up options for each battle. Once that’s completed, you can play against AI-controlled bots before taking your games out into the brutal competitive PvP.
Games of Warhammer Underworlds Online are turn-based, and there are 3 turns in each game. During each turn, each player gets to make 4 alternating actions. Actions include things like moving or attacking with a fighter, but there are some restrictions. A fighter can only move once per turn, but they can attack as many times as they’d like if they have a target within range. There’s also a charge action, which allows you to move and attack in a single action. Fighters are unable to move or attack for the rest of the turn after a charge, so it can leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks.
What makes Warhammer Underworlds Online different from most turn-based wargames are the 2 decks of cards that are used throughout the game. The first deck is the objective deck, a 12 card deck of which you will always have 3 cards in hand. Scoring objective cards earns glory points, which is how the game is won. The second deck is the power deck and it has a mixture of action cards that are used for bonus movement, attacks, or boosting damage and upgrade cards.
Attacks in-game use the same custom dice as the tabletop game. There are 2 types of dice, attack, and defense, and the number rolled depends on the attack you’re using. The symbol needed to hit/defend depends on the attack being used, and this is shown on their fighter card. The different symbols effectively control odds, with Shield and Hammer having 2 dice faces and Dodge and Swords only having 1.
It’s not important to know this when you first start playing Warhammer Underworlds Online, as you just select and attack and the computer does the rest. It does become important the deeper you go, so you can work out which attacks are more likely to hit. You also learn to pay attention to board, objective and fighter placement during setup. This, along with action currency and action sequencing, can make or break your game plan. Each player only gets 12 actions in a game, so using them optimally is the difference between a good player and a great player. But that’s all high-level stuff, to start with, players should focus on smashing face with the Orruks, or laughing as your enemies attacks fail to hit you as the Stormcast Eternals.
How Close To The Original Is it?
Warhammer Underworlds Online is a perfect recreation of its tabletop predecessor. As an experienced player, I can't fault how it looks or feels. The animations for each fighter look great, especially the way the undead warriors of the Sepulchral Guard pull themselves out of the ground.
The game has lots of handy hints for the new player, that you wouldn’t get in the tabletop version. For example, the game highlights playable cards by slightly raising them from their position in the hand. There’s no need to worry about timing issues either, the game does all that for you.
The only real difference between the physical and the digital is the content available, and the obvious differences between a physical and digital game. The digital version has no miniatures to put together, and no huge binders of cards to store, which is great if you want an extremely quick and simple way to play Warhammer Underworlds. For some, the hobby side of putting the miniatures together and painting them is just as important as the gaming and the digital can’t replace that. It does give a permanent option for games if you can’t find an opponent for a physical game. The main difference for me was that I missed the physical act of dice rolling. A random roll is a random roll, but it does feel like you’re giving away some agency by having a computer-generated result.
In regards to content: The tabletop version is being released in seasons and is currently in season 3. At the time of writing, there are 22 warbands available, (8 from Season 1 - Shadespire, 8 from Season 2 - Nightvault, 4 released so far from Season 3 - Beastgrave and 2 released from a standalone product Dreadfane). At launch, Warhammer Underworlds Online will have 4 warbands, with all their faction-specific cards and a limited universal card pool. This is similar to the first season of Warhammer Underworlds. Players coming from the tabletop will have to wait until it completely replaces the tabletop experience, but this way new players will have a chance to get to know the game and the warbands, with a limited card pool, rather than being overwhelmed with a huge amount of cards.
Universal card drops will come regularly for free, and extra warbands will be available to purchase via DLC. This is a slight change from the tabletop version, where you had to buy all warbands in order to get access to all the universal cards.
We were interested in how WUO will follow the physical release, especially in terms of the meta, so we spoke directly to the development team and they had this to say:
“To start with, the meta will be quite similar to Shadespire’s original physical launch. We will be changing things substantially though as we have a different warband release order to Shadespire, Nightvault, and Beastgrave, and our universal card drops will also contain a variety of cards that will not necessarily follow the same patterns set by the physical game. We have a lot of catching up to do with the physical game, so, for now, there will likely be a delay between the two formats, although that could change in the future.”
Warhammer Underworlds Online initially felt restrictive for me. I’m used to having a huge card pool to draw on. But after my first few games, it felt great to actually take the pace back and really focus on what makes each Warband great. There isn’t currently a lot of variety in what I would consider optimized decks for each faction, but that will really help new players to get to grips with the game. The fact that all universal cards are going to be free is incredible, as it means that you will only ever need to buy the warbands you want to play. Steel Sky Productions have nailed getting the essence of Warhammer Underworlds into digital, now they just need to figure out a way for me to physically roll my own dice in the digital game.
We will follow up our first impressions article with a review when the game is released in Early Access and you can Wishlist it yourself on Steam now.
TechRaptor previewed Warhammer Underworlds Online on PC via Steam Early Access with a copy provided by the publisher.