Shadespire: A Review


Time for another review, where I delve in detail into Games Workshop’s slightly difficult to define boardgame, miniatures game, card game hybrid.

Well I’ve already written it off as tricky to define, but let’s endeavour to reach a conclusive categorization. It’s a board game. that’s what it looks like walks like and quacks like so although comparisons can certainly be drawn with games like X-Wing (or even Android: Netrunner), board game is the box I am going to unceremoniously dump it into.

It comes with a core set containing two boards which are double sided and connectible in a number of different ways. Two is the minimum required for a two player game, though the game can be played with 4 boards and 4 players. The accepted “standard” for competitive play is to change the boards each round and each player provides one of their own boards to make the battlefield. Also included is two warbands, one Stormcast Eternals and one Khornate Bloodbound and a massive pile of cards to build various variant Warbands. There’s also a collection of the necessary counters, objective markers and custom dice. This is certainly enough to get you started and in truth for the casual player it might be all you ever need.

Of course GW are counting on that being a rare edge case. There are as of the time of writing six additional warbands representing Skaven, Orruks, Skeletons, Dwarf Slayers, Armoured Khornate Warriors and more Stormcast equipped with crossbows. Each of these expansions comes with cards specific to their warband as well as plenty of generic cards that they or any other warband may use. Thus competitive players will want to buy all the expansions to get access to all the generic cards for their warband of choice.

So we’ve briefly touched on a few rules above, but let’s get into some details. Before you play each player needs to build a deck of cards to go with their warbands figures. The figures you take are always fixed named characters, and they each have a double sided card. One side shows their normal version, the reverse is an “inspired” upgraded type. How you flip the cards is different for each warband. Orruks are turned over when they take a wound, whereas Khorne Bloodbound  are all turned when 3 figures (from either side) have been killed for example.

Shadespire Objective Cards.jpg

There are three other types of card which a player uses, these are all kept hidden from your opponent until they are played or discarded. Objective cards of which you always have three in your hand (with replacements drawn as they are scored/discarded) are the means by which you win the game, they have a wide variety of forms, and score you different amounts of “glory” points dependent on how difficult they are to achieve. For example holding an objective at the end of a round  scores you one glory. By contrast wiping out an enemy warband might score you five glory. In addition to this, one glory is scored for every enemy fighter you manage to kill. A player’s deck must always contain exactly twelve of these cards. Glory not only helps you win the game, the counters you gain for each point are double sided and you may “spend” them and flip the counters to use the second type of the three cards in your hand…

Shadespire Upgrade Cards.jpg

Upgrade cards are played on fighters to enhance their abilities in many different ways, from making them hit harder, move faster or even score more glory from holding objectives till the bitter end. They cost glory to equip, many are generic, but some are limited to specific fighters. You must have a minimum of ten of these and you may not have more of them than the next and final card type.

Shadespire Ploy Cards.jpg

The third type are probably the most varied of all, ploy cards. These don’t cost glory to play, though their use is time limited in that you can only play them at specific times and circumstances as stipulated on the card. They may allow you to push a friendly or enemy fighter a hex or increase the damage of the next attack by a point or even bring a fighter back from the dead.

All these combined creates a warband’s deck. At the game’s start both players draw three objective cards and five power cards from the power deck (the upgrade and ploy decks combined and shuffled together). Once looked at, either player can mulligan their starting hand by discarding all their objective or power cards (or both) then redrawing.

As we’ve established a game is played across two connected boards. Once players have rolled off to set the boards position, type and orientation five objective markers are placed on the boards. These are numbered and placed face down before being turned over after placement to reveal their numbers. Players then take turns placing their figures on the board in their territory on one of the seven marked hexes. A roll off (with an advantage to the player that finished placing figures first decides who goes first as the main game begins.

Play is made up of three rounds of four activations for each player. During an activation a player may move, attack, go on guard or charge (with a charge being defined as a move action followed immediately by an attack action). A figure may only make one move or attack action per turn and may not be activated again if it charges. The stats for these actions are all listed on their cards although these can be tinkered with through ploys and upgrades as well as often changing when the figure becomes inspired.

After each action there is a power step in which both players take turns to play any ploys and upgrades they wish before proceeding to the next players activation.

Once both players have carried out their four activations and power steps there’s an end phase to tidy up the board, objective cards are scored and the received glory can be spent on upgrades, before cards are discarded/redrawn so both players have three objective and five power cards before going into the next round.

That’s pretty much the game. The depth is in the variety of cards which it’s difficult to get into as you could (and many have) write entire articles about the utility of certain cards.

So following a lengthy overview we come to the important opinion part of the article. Is the game any good?

In short yes, yes it is. It’s also quite a departure for GW for a number of reasons, first is the pretty low buy in costs. The core game is £40, but it’s not hard to find it for £30.00 online or in FLGS for those lucky enough to have one close by. The expansions are £17.50 in the UK (odd price as GW are still sniveling about a VAT rise nearly a decade ago and pick these prices (as far as I can tell) to make a “point”), elsewhere they seem to go for about £14.00. That means everything costs about £115.00 at the time of writing, I don’t think any other GeeDubz game gets anywhere near approaching that.

Second difference is it’s a properly supported “living” card game with proper expansions. Thus far it doesn’t look like it’s going to get dropped any time soon. That said it’s not actually on sale in the UK GW stores, but you can’t expect common sense from them on much for long. It’s also getting plenty of the “warm arts” support that any game needs with proper FAQs getting published and action taken when problems are found (more on this below).

Thirdly it’s trying and to a large extent succeeding in being a proper competitive game. Workshop are pulling out the stops with tournament support for the game with prize packs featuring alternate art cards, custom tokens and rather nice glass trophies. These tournaments seem to be generating a good spread of victors and warbands in the top spots. This is something they have been -terrible- at within recent memory, not only treating competitive play and players with contempt, but producing rule sets tailor made to hobble any serious competition.

Where it doesn’t differ from the GW norms is in it’s visual flare, the game looks great on the table, the figures are lovely and really pushing the envelope for push fit glueless figures. They do share the common modern GW fixation with dynamic poses over practicality in some places and some can be a pest to transport as a result (looking at you Skritch Spiteclaw). The boards are solidly made as are the cardboard counters. Although it doesn’t need scenery to play some enterprising after market players are already producing some nice ruin pieces you can use on the boards blocked hexes if you wish. The cards themselves are pretty nice, Games Workshop has partnered with Wizkids to manufacture these and they know their onions.

The game also benefits from it’s speed of play. With only twelve activations per game play positively whips along. As such competitive tournament play consists of a best of three games per tournament round, which in theory at least goes a long way to take luck out of the equation for both opponents.

Downsides other than the minor stuff touched on above there’s been nothing too egregious thus far. We’ve recently seen the biggest problem for competitive play be swiftly dealt with after a long predicted combo was finally realised after the latest wave of models enabled it and said combo utterly dominated a big tournament (as well as some smaller ones). It is unfortunate that it took these tournaments being cheapened somewhat to get the changes made (strictly speaking only firmly proposed at this time), given the combo was seen coming by all serious players long before the relevant cards were released.

The push fit nature of the figures does sometimes leave nasty gaps in obvious areas which need tackling, but most serious types will know how to handle that and the less serious ones won’t care.

Some warbands are most definitely harder to play than others. Larger tournaments have seen all but skeletons take the top spot at least once so far though, so a good player seems to mostly be able to work around these perceived problems.

I think all of the above negatives are extremely small and niggly problems (particularly as I’m far too incompetent to genuinely play any game competitively) GW have shown they have the will to address issues when they can. As such I’m happy to give the most hearty recommendation possible to Shadespire. It’s great as an entry level game for nervous painters and gamers looking to put their toe in the water, but balanced enough to give a challenge to old miserabilists like myself. Five Morat Stars.