Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire has been incredibly popular since its release in October last year and has been drawing in non-Games Workshop players, as well as bringing previous GW players back to the brand. Its combination of fast-paced action, mixed with tactical miniatures combat and randomly generated card decks have had a huge impact on its popularity. The buy-in for Shadespire is also extremely reasonable, which has been a huge draw for a lot of players.
We've previously reviewed the Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire Core Set and since then Games Workshop have released four warband expansions:
- The Sepulchral Guard (Deathrattle / Undead)
- Ironskull's Boyz (Orruks / Orcs)
- The Chosen Axes (Fyreslayers / Dwarves)
- Spiteclaw's Swarm (Skaven)
Games Workshop make the details of all the cards available via their Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire website, so prioritizing your expansion pack purchases can be done by checking out all the cards and purchasing the warband expansion with the most useful cards for you. You can see what cards are available in each expansion by using the filters on the sidebar.
Rather than a standard review, like we would do for other tabletop products, I'm going to talk about each warband from the expansion, their strengths and weaknesses, how they play, and then detail my favorite cards from each expansion. They might not be the best cards, as they depends on your style of play and the deck you're building, but I'll talk about cards that I enjoy and find interesting.
Sepulchral GuardThe Deathrattle are an interesting and complicated warband to use. They don't pack a huge punch from the offset and aren't very durable, but the Warden, the warband's leader, is able to move two of his warriors per activation and also resurrect warriors that have been taken out of action. They also start with seven warriors, which is the most in any warband. This means that overwhelming and blocking your opponent's warriors is more of an option than for any other warband, as is surge capturing objectives. They do move slow, and having your warriors taken out of action is a setback if you're trying to drive forwards. They are the most technical of all the warbands to play, as the set up of boards and objectives can have a huge impact on their gameplay. Having so many options each phase can be daunting, so they aren't easy for a new player to pick up, but they are very rewarding to play.
My favorite cards for the Sepulchral Guard are Grasping Hands, the Necromancer Commands, and Battle Without End, purely because of how thematic they feel. Grasping hands allows you to block the possible charge of an enemy; even if you only have one fighter out of action, it can be an incredibly powerful card if timed right. The Necromancer Commands feels perfect for the Deathrattle, and the Necromancer reaching out to control an individual warrior to ensure the success of that attack just feels right. Battle Without End rewards the Sepulchral Guard player for doing what comes naturally, and if they brought two warriors back, they will both be inspired as well.
My favorite Neutral cards from the set are Crushing Force, Forceful Denial, and Time Trap. With Crushing Force I tend to play very aggressive decks, and score immediately objectives are always welcome. Most warbands can find a place for this, with most leaders hitting pretty hard, but the stronger overall warbands will find more use against the weaker warbands with this. Forceful Denial is a risk, like some of the more powerful cards, but I enjoy the risk/rewards cards—it's why I play games with randomized dice. Stopping your opponent playing a game changing ploy is worth the slot in your deck. Time Trap is an interesting card; there's some controversy around it as the ability to go twice in succession can win you the game if you're already in a great position, using it to take out a key enemy, or tactically manage your board presence. Your opponent gets to go twice after, so taking advantage of it is essential.
Ironskull's BoyzThe Orruks hit hard and can take a punch, meaning that most of this warband's decks are going to be combat based. Once on an objective, they can be difficult to move, but they lack speed against some of the faster warbands, meaning that combat can be avoided by your opponent if they wish. Board placement plays a big part in their game and can make or break their game plan depending on if they can be out maneuvered or not. Gurzag Ironskull, the warband's leader, can be made nearly unkillable with a few choice upgrade cards. They're a great warband for new players, as a very offensive deck can be put together easily, but they also have some room to learn and develop with before moving onto the more complicated warbands.
My favorite Orruk cards from the Ironskull's Boyz expansion are Call of the Waaagh!, Kunnin' but Brutal, and Leadin' by Example. As mentioned above, score immediately objectives are incredible, and for the Ironskull's Boys, this is an easy first objective as they're usually going to be heading straight for the enemy. Kunnin' but Brutal allows you to position a fighter among a group of enemies, attack one straight away and then attack others, or the same key enemy on subsequent turns. Usually after a charge, you're only able to attack once, but this allows you to position a fighter well, so long as they survive to attack on future turns. Leadin' By Example is a great way of giving you an extra activation in a round. With four fighters, most of your four activations each turn are spent moving or attacking, and this frees up an activation for other actions, if timed correctly.
For the Ironskull's Boyz expansion neutral cards, I've picked Victorious Duel, Anticipation, and Daylight Robbery. These might seem like strange choices against some of the more powerful cards, but I like what they do for the game and the thematic feel they have. Victorious Duel is what all war games should be about: two mighty leaders battling it out, whether it's two champions charging across the battlefield towards each other or two hunters seeking each other through the shadows, so I like that this rewards that. Anticipation is a beautiful card, punishing predictable plays, or are they also bluffing? It plays with the card game element like no other card so far in the set. All other cards are dice rolls and stats, but this rewards you for knowing your opponent's warband, deck, and overall card knowledge. Daylight Robbery is a great risk/reward card and I've stolen a glory point before, only for my opponent to steal it back again before I could spend it. I like these cards for the game, and while not a hugely popular card competitively, its existence adds a risk to holding on to unspent glory, and I enjoy variables in card games, otherwise it's all just stats.
Spiteclaw's SwarmThe Skaven are extremely fast, and if their decks are constructed properly, can also be deadly in combat. They were exactly what the meta needed to combat the very defensive Stormcast warband decks that were emerging. The Skaven can outmaneuver any waband, and their leader Spiteclaw is also able to return out of action fighters to the boards, even to enemy deployment zones, meaning that they can be very dangerous as an objective-based warband. They aren't very durable, so if left out of formation, the warriors can be overpowered easily. Their safety is definitely in numbers when it comes to confrontation. They are a mid-level warband when it comes to difficulty. Not as straightforward as the Stormcast or Orruks but easy to pilot compared to the Deathrattle, with lots of variety in the types of decks you can make.
My favorite Skaven cards from the Spiteclaw's Swarm expansion pack are Lives are Cheap, Musk of Fear, and There are Always More. Lives are Cheap rewards and encourages playing like a true Skaven and sacrificing your minions for the greater god, possibly the most thematic card in the game. Musk of Fear I love for how useful it is. By targeting a warrior, it will inspire them and then also improve their defense chance for the rest of the round, which when placed on the right warrior can really improve their survivability. There Are Always More is great for two reasons, firstly, because it brings a warrior back without having to use an activation, and secondly, because if they weren't already inspired, by targeting them with this card, they become inspired, which lets you put an inspired warrior on any starting hex, including those deep in enemy territory or close to objectives.
For the Spiteclaw's Swarm neutral cards, I've chosen Master of War, Miraculous Escape, and Momentary Madness. I really like Master of War; it's not for every deck or player, but the multi-tier objectives really appeal to me, and it might be slightly underpowered at only 1 glory, but rewarding you for doing things that you would be doing anyway can only be a good thing. Miraculous Escape is a slightly evil card, and that's probably why I like it; it won't see play in many decks, as the chances of you pulling it off are slim, but in an ultra-defensive deck, you can mock your opponent further by gaining glory for their failure, and that's awesome right? Momentary Madness can be an incredibly powerful card; it's 50/50 for pulling it off, but when the stars align, and two enemy warriors are positioned correctly, you can take out an enemy with one of their own fighters, and it won't even use one of your own activations.
The Chosen AxesThe first thing you'll notice about the Fyreslayers is how hard they hit and how much damage they can take, but then you'll see their movement. Before they inspire, they are the slowest of all the warbands, and getting them in to combat can be tricky. They inspire by holding an objective at the end of a round, so objective placement can be key to their gameplay. As they need to get on objectives quickly, this can lead to a slow first couple of rounds before a powerful finish. They're the most difficult warband to use successfully, as they are unforgiving of poor placement of peak use of activations. But they are a very natural counter to aggressive Orruks and Stormcast warbands, and Fjul-Grimnir is the single strongest warrior in the game, and any enemy getting in range of his charge should be careful.
For the Chosen Axes dedicated cards, I've picked A Claim Retaken, Oathsworn, and Treasure-Lust. A Claim Retaken is so Fyreslayer that it has to be a top pick. They're not the fastest, so getting to enemy objectives can sometimes be tricky, but nothing is more satisfying than settling a grudge. Oathsworn allows you to reroll and attack if it fails, which when combined with the damage dealing the Fyreslayers can put out can be extremely useful. Treasure Lust helps get around the Fyreslayer weakness of low movement, as long as you end up on an objective, which is the Chosen Axe's inspire condition anyway.
For the Chosen Axe's neutral cards. I've gone for Ready for Action, Earthquake, and Making a Statement. Ready for Action can be combined for huge effect, allowing you to attack or move again with a fighter you upgrade. For example, if you've attacked one character, after playing an upgrade card, you can move them out of harms way, attack again, or move to position to attack a different character next turn. Earthquake, like Time Trap, is one of the few controversial cards in Shadespire so far. It has a big impact on a game and can be game changing against objective-based decks, but it can be played around. I personally like huge cards that have an effect on the whole meta; as long as they are not one-sidedly overpowered, I think that they can be healthy for the game. Making a Statement is a bold objective capturing card, and not all decks will be able to pull it off, but for three glory, it's worth a shot and will indeed make a statement.
I caught up with a few players for their opinions on Shadespire, and their favorite cards.
- Jamie Giblin (Owner of Perfect Planning - Competitive Shadespire Blog)
- Jack Gladwell (Creator and administrator of the Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire London Facebook Group)
- Jamie White (Creator of the great Shadespire resource site - Shadeglass)
- John Wynne Rees (Owner of Can you roll a crit? - Competitive Shadespire Blog)
Jamie G - I've been loving Shadespire recently as GW have hit the nail on the head with their blend of deck building and miniatures game. You can be as competitive or chilled out as you want to be and the community that is growing around it are turning into an incredible group of players.
Jack - I love that the rule set is simple to pick up, quick to play and has a surprising amount of tactical depth. It's not a game that requires tons of miniatures or components so it's perfect to pack into a small bag. The community in London is really friendly and welcoming with regular nights popping up all over the city.
Jamie W - Things I love about Shadespire - the warbands , like any miniature gamer I have a huge pile of shame , with these warbands I can knock them out in a weekend and be ready to play , you don’t even need to paint them . The main thing I love about Shadespire though is how you can turn a game in the last phase that you have been on the back foot in throughout .
John - The clear ruleset and competitive aspect as well as the ease of playin games and playing with new people.
Which is your favourite warband?
Jamie G - My favourite warband has to be the Skaven. Their speed and sneaky tricks make Skritch's warrior extremely fun to play, and throwing a lowly rat to it's death just to re-summon it in your opponents territory truly feels like a Skaven general.
Jack - Stormcast Eternals.
Jamie W - My favourite warband at the moment is the Ironskull's Boyz, who doesn’t love smashing things with and an Oruuk!!
John - Orruks.
What is your favourite card/combo?
Jamie - My favourite combo actually exists outside of the Skaven warband and has to be the Orruk multi inspire. Shattering Terrain - Gurzag Charge & take out (inspires via damage taken and does 3DMG + 1 for drive back) combined with Leading by Example to allow Bonekutter to make a charge action that inspires him and he can deal 4DMG too.
Jack - My favourite combo is Brightshield with great strength and tireless assault held in reserve. Great way of killing most units with 3 dice, hammers dealing 3 damage with a reroll if the attack fails.
Jamie W - And my favourite card is daylight robbery, not super competitive, but gaining a glory and taking one off the opponent is a great result!
John - Trap (Admiral Ackbar approved).
The Bottom Line:
Games Workshop have done a great job maintaining the competitive play of Shadespire with the four new warbands. Each Warband offers a new style of play and the cards offer some solid variety in deck building. It's still quite early for Shadespire, but the growing community and competitive play scene is showing real promise. If you're playing competitively, then you will want to purchase all four warband expansions, and casual players will be able to pick which expansions they want based on the warbands themselves and the cards they want access to, but with the relatively low buy-in for the return you get, it will be worthwhile for everyone to have a full set.
Get this game if:
You're looking to expand your core set with further options.
You're a competitive Shadespire player.
You love the models and you want to use them in your Age of Sigmar games.
Avoid this game if:
You don't have the core Shadespire set and you want to use them for Shadespire.
The copies of Spiteclaw's Swarm and the Chosen Axes were provided by Goblin Gaming and you can pick up a copy from them with a 20% discount off the RRP. The Ironskull's Boys and Sepulchral Guard were purchased by the reviewer.
Each set is reasonably priced for the return you get. If you want to play competatively, you will be looking at buying all four, but casual gamers will be able to pick and chose. All the expansions offer some great cards and all four warbands are solid and rewarding to play.