The world of Warhammer can be a difficult one to get into. So many places to begin, so many ages that the setting spans, and more than a handful of formats to play. If you're not quite wanting to step into the larger world of wargaming and large-scale combat or prefer a tighter-knit group Warhammer Underworlds uses the same impressive world but allows for Warbands of 3-6 characters to duke it out on a hex board. Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set (2023) seeks to be the optimal place for someone interested in the game to jump in and get the most support.
What is Warhammer Underworlds?
Warhammer Underworlds is a skirmish game set in the high-fantasy world of Age of Sigmar. Unlike traditional Warhammer where players can battle it out across any terrain with armies of certain point values in Warhammer Underworlds players command smaller groups called Warbands made up of 4-5 units and duke it out over smaller themed boards that are connected to one another. Being a game of much smaller scope, you can get into and finish games faster, and it allows you a bit more flexibility when you try to reattempt strategy.
Each player has a small force of miniatures called their warbands, a deck of Power cards that the player can draw from, a deck of objective cards, and a set of communal dice. Your warbands will all come with their own character cards, detailing the amount of health they have, how they attack, and how they move. These cards will also detail any special abilities they have and the requirements that need to be met for them to become inspired. Inspiring a unit flips its card over, and offers that unit a boost. For some Warbands, this might simply mean they can move faster or hit harder. And for others, it can expand upon their repertoire of abilities.
The way that you attack your opponents is by rolling custom dice, and looking for certain symbols while your opponent rolls their dice with defense symbols. After each player rolls off they compare the number of successes that they've made on their dice to their opponents. With Criticals bearing a lot of weight in these roll-offs the player with more successes than the other is able to successfully attack or block. Your enemy being flanked by allies, or standing near your own allies can give you certain advantages in these roll-offs.
Your power deck consists of Ploys that you can activate on your turn and Upgrade cards that you can use to improve your units for the next round of combat. Each Warband comes with its own preset power decks. But with any of the expansions, including the extra decks included in Warhammer Underworlds Gnarlwood, you can swap cards in and out to change the way that your warbands play.
As the aim of the game is not to defeat your enemies but to earn the most victory points, you'll also want to be making sure to custom-tailor your objective deck to match your style of play. Certain objectives may have a focus on objective control, while others will have you defeat your opponents in certain ways. The objectives you pull may entirely change your strategy for how you're going to play Warhammer Underworlds.
What makes it a Starter Set?
The Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set is a new way for players to get into Warhammer Underworlds. Inside this box players will find everything that they need to immediately start playing Warhammer Underworlds, either with a friend for fun or by seeking out organized play. The contents of the box are not too dissimilar from the Warhammer Underworlds Gnarlwood or Wyrdhollow box, but come with one great advantage for new players. A Tutorial Game book that includes fully illustrated instructions and examples of a game being played between the included warbands with full illustrations and explanations. It even comes with the helpful and cheery message "READ THIS FIRST" bolded on the cover.
Warhammer Underworlds was my first foray into Warhammer with last season's Warhammer Underworlds Gnarlwood. There was a lot about it to be very excited for from the in-depth turn-based gameplay, impressively detailed and easy-to-assemble Citadel Miniatures, and the modular nature of the game letting you expand your collection of Warbands. What was definitely daunting was getting thrown into the rules, and understanding the path the game takes between setup, the different turns, and how the end phases give players time to regroup and upgrade their teams. The inclusion of this Tutorial Game book (That still takes 54 pages to completely cover) is the exact thing I would have loved to have encountered when I opened my first box of Warhammer Underworlds.
What comes in the box?
- Two sets of differently colored sprues; Blue for The Farstriders and White for the Sepulchral Guard
- Dice for either Warband's combat
- A 54-page Tutorial game guide complete will full illustrations and examples
- A 56-page Rule Book
- Two double-sided game boards, to be used together to create the full battleground.
One interesting note flipping through the Rival Decks of Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set (2023) is that the colors on the cards seems to be a lot more muted. The normal bright gold on the Objective Card and Inspired prerequisites are instead a deeper dark mustard brown. It does make it a bit more difficult to read the effects for inspiration. Luckily on the Objective cards the text is within a text box allowing for perfect legibility.
The Farstriders Warband and Rivals Deck
The Farstriders are a group of three scouts and rangers from the Stormcast Eternals. With plenty of battle under their belts they've been selected to investigate the Shadespire, the ruins of a once grand civilization. Leader of the Farstriders, Sanson Farstrider, is accompanied by the hunter and assassin Elias Swiftblade and hunter Almeric Eagle-Eye.
As a Warband of three there's an emphasis on each of these fighters being able to hold their own in a fight. All with four HP, 1 defence, and 3 if not 4 movement these fighters will have no issue making their way across the battlefield and doling out large damage. As they're a Warband of three in a game with four rounds you'll also have chances to move and attack with multiple of them. Attacking twice in a single turn, with a different attach, is their simple means of becoming Inspired allowing you to get all three to an inspired state by the end of the third round.
This Warband is relatively straightforward with their Power Deck offering up Gambits and Upgrades that will allow the fighters to move further, or hit harder. If you're the type of player who might not lean as hard into the 'tactics' of combat but are a fan of the strategy of hitting your enemy harder and faster than they can hit you then this is a good Warband to hit the ground running with, especially while you're still learning the rest of the rules.
Our favorite cards from The Farstriders Warband Rivals Deck are:
- Lightning Advance - This card promotes the very core of The Farstriders Warband, getting into the middle of the action. Here the Warband will ensure their survival as well as pushing forward on the enemies. This also promotes the idea of two in the middle of battle supporting one another, while another from afar can use their ranged attaches
- Swift Work - This is a higher objective card, though still only awarding two points, and again it's about getting the big hits in early so that you can take out your foes. In a normal battle taking out more enemy fighters than the number of rounds could be hard, but in this Starter Set against a Warband of 7, this is a likely outcome.
- Covering Fire - This upgrade allows for a fighter who is 3 hexes away to provide defensive support allowing for your small Warband to be covering each other's backs to ensure survival.
- Rapid Volley - Rapid Volley is another example of the fighters doing a lot to work together, it can also help towards gaining an inspired status early for a multitude of fighters when done right. You can always have multiple goals with a single card play.
- Raptor Strike - This is a quick and dirty single point of damage. It's not often that guaranteed damage is an option but when it's available it's fun.
The Sepulchral Guard Warband and Rivals Deck
Who would The Farstriders be expecting danger from in the remains of the Shadespire but the Sepulchral Guard. Loyal spirits of the Shadespire look to the God of Death to grand them necromantic abilities as they rise once more. Among these many followers of the Sepulchral Guard is former Lord Marshal of Shadespire, the Sepulchral Warden. Surrounding himself by the remains of once important people of Shadespire this group fight those who end up sharing their streets.
Where the Farstriders are about all entering the fray as powerfully as possible, for The Sepulchral Warden and his Warband the plan instead is for the Leader to sit back and send his six fighters into combat. Each fighter is weak on their own but can group up for more power, and most terrifying of all the Warden can choose to bring a fallen fighter back onto the field, this time in an empowered state. You'll want to be throwing out your skeletons left, right, and center to flood your opponents.
Our Favorite Cards in the Sepulchral Guard Rivals Deck are:
- They Keep Coming! - I really like this one for the simple notion of how it helps a newer player understand the core mechanic. It rewards reading the cards and getting the mechanics
- Retake What Is Ours! - Much like the first objective this also teaches that with so many fighters you can be doing a lot to keep watch of objectives
- Ancient Commander - This is an immediate upgrade to the Leader who can now have three fighters move for the cost of one of his actions. This allows for your fighters to start swarming and is very much needed when only 4 out of 7 fighters can move in a turn
- Bone Shrapnel - Not all losses need to be total, this allows you to double down on the death and rebirth of your fighters by throwing in an additional bit of damage
- Ceaseless Attacks - With a warband of this size, while they might not be the most powerful you're again able to capitalize on your numbers with this Gambit. Getting to have multiple attacks hitting can assist with your attempted 'death of 1000 cuts'
What are our final thoughts on Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set (2023)?
There's a LOT of Warhammer Underworlds content out there. If you have someone to show you the ropes Games Workshop makes it possible to hop in anywhere with as little as a single Warband. For someone wholly new to the world though the number of products with different subtitles can be daunting. This Starter Set seeks to be the best hopping-on-point for a new player and it absolutely nails that. On top of that the Warbands included are easy to learn and show off the basic ideas of a powerful few, as well as the benefit of strength in numbers.
Should you buy Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set (2023)?
For a new player interested in getting into Warhammer Underworlds but aren't sure where you want to begin, or if you'll even like the greater game, this is the one stop box to learn the ropes and begin expanding. Due to the simplicity of the Warbands mechanics it's not as likely a seasoned player, who likely already has a Warband that plays to their style, is going to appreciate this box as much. If you're someone who wants to have all Warbands available to them however then the Starter Set is going to be another collection you'll want to own. In many cases, especially for beginners, this is the place you want to be.
The copy of Warhammer Underworlds Starter Set (2023) used to produce this review was provided by the Publisher. All photos were taken by the reviewer over the course of the review.