Author Topic: Shadespire  (Read 1532 times)

Offline Decar

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Shadespire
« on: January 01, 2018, 03:06:02 PM »
It's a brand new year, and disappointed not to reach 200 merits before 2018.   :'(
But I was well under my projected post count, so I have no one to blame but myself  :D
So I thought,I would spend a bit of time writing about the game I got for Christmas:

Shadespire  :o :o :o

It's apt to talk about this now, given our recent thread on using miniatures in gaming and also our conversations about tension, because this game has both.  I have to say before I get started, I've definitely not played enough to give the game justice.  But I've got a pretty good feel for how everything works, so it's about time I give a write-up a go!

Shadespire looks like a lot of things, it's produced by Games Workshop and themed in the Warhammer (Age of Sigmar) Universe, which only helps to muddy the water.  It's got miniatures that look like they're all partaking in a wargame; but underneath these thin-veneers sits a traditional-boardgame, a tactical area-control game, with deck-building and activations at its core!  And that all means, it's got to be worth a little bit of attention.

Theme
But before I get into that, let's cover the theme.  All that those unfamiliar with warhammer need to know is: it's a fantasy world where humans, dwarfs, orcs, elfs and a myriad of other characters have lots of wars.  It's essentially a hobby for them, there's not much else to do other than start fights with your neighbouring nations.  Apparently, they've been at it so long, they can't even remember why they started.  Personally, I think it all started when someone spilt a pint at the local tavern one evening and then a band of dunken dwarfs took sides without really seeing what happen.  The next think you know is it's all Chaos.  Thankfully, Shadespire is set in a tangential story arc to this universe.  Shadespire used to be a very big city where the local bigwigs devised a way of cheating death.  It just so happens the god of death wasn't very happy about that, so decided to punish them with evil pixie-magic.  Insert years of mystical nonsense and now bands of adventurers go looking for trouble/gold, however they also can't die because they're trapped there...so they fight a lot...as there's not much else left to do.

For those that like lore, there are lashings of it the rulebook, and it's all cleverly interlinked into the Warhammer narrative.  It conjures a sense of mystery and ancient grimdark(wrong franchise) magic.  One thing that GW takes seriously is their lore.  In December, GW released 3 short audio-dramas set in Shadespire to provide an even more enriching experience.  I'm a sucker for lore, I enjoy reading what I can, it gives context and explains why characters are doing what they're doing.  As you can probably tell, I don't take it seriously either.


"The Line Will Hold" (Wrong Franchise again)

Mechanical Overview
But let's put that all aside and discuss the game!

Each player selects a warband, this is your party of adventurers and they've all got names too.  In the base game there are two warbands, two more warbands have been released as addon packs.  Currently the choices are the Steelheart's Champions (Big Knights) and Garrek's Reavers (Death Metal fanboys).  The two other expansions are: Ironskull Boyz (Green Orcs) and the the Sepulchral Guard (Skellingtons). Each of the warbands work differently to each other, and that's partly because each of the miniatures represents a corresponding character.  You're given a character card telling you about them.  Each character has some statistics for moving, attacking and defending which you need to be familiar with to make them work together effectively.  Some warbands are good at holding their ground, others are good at maneuverability.  What's interesting is that these skills play off one another and how what might work well against one warband may be very ineffective against another.



Shadespire comes with 2 double-sided game boards.  One player will select a board and side, and the second player will take the other board and decide where to connect it to the other board.  Without going into details:  The placements of the boards are very important tactically as this will affect how your fighters engage one another.
In a two player game, 5 objectives are randomised and players take it in turns to place them on the board.  Once they're revealed you take it in turns placing your fighters down, giving you an opportunity to respond to your opponent's decisions.

Let's talk about turn structure.  The game is broken down into only 3 Rounds.  Each round only 4 activations.  Which means the whole game is done after 12 activations (or 24 in total for 2 players).  Activations might be move a fighter, attack a fighter, charge (move and attack), or draw/discard a ploy/objective card.  After each activation there's a round of card play called the Power Step.  That's it.  That's the game in a nutshell.  I admire this scheduling, as everyone know where they are, and there's no chances to go on longer or draw out the game.

But the cards are the beating heart of this game.  Before you even lay the boards down each player has handpicked at least 20 power cards and 12 objective cards which make up the deck.  Objective cards are your mechanisms for scoring victory points.  It might simply be: hold an numbered objective at the end of a round to score a point.  Or might be more advanced like:  Charge with at least three fighters this round to score 3.  The Power cards come in three flavours:  Ploys, reactions and upgrades.  These give you a tactical advantages during play, which I'll describe in a moment.  You hand is only 3 Objectives and 5 Power cards, so it's important to pick objectives you think you could achieve and select ploys which can make them happen in a number of ways.
Some Objectives are completed at the end of the round, others are completed immediately (like wiping out an opponent).  When an objective is met, you take a victory point and you draw a new objective card.  Power cards on the other hand are only drawn up in between rounds, unless you wish to send an activation to get another.


These objective cards give your warband some clear direction, while the power cards give you a means of going about it!

Once you complete an activation, your opponent can play a reaction card they have.  As a simple example:  one might give them a chance to attack outside of their activation.  Then you're able to play a ploy or upgrade card.  A ploy card might allow you to switch characters or execute defensive operations.  Upgrades allow you to buff your characters by giving them extra wounds or by giving them extra weaponry.  Upgrades don't come cheap though, you must spend your earned victory points to enable them.  Thankfully, those points aren't lost, you still score them at the end of the game.  But it's a way of introducing and spending experience earned through the game.   Once you've played a card, your opponent can, then you can again and backwards and forwards until you both pass.  Once that happens you're on to the next activation, watching the timer tick towards the end of the round.


Obryn has taken a lot of wounds, but has been given an upgrade.  We're in the 2nd activation shown by the counters on the right.

Combat is performed with dice rolls.  Fighters have to pick an attack, most of them have 1 (some have 2, but more can be got with upgrade cards).  The attack will tell you how many attack-dice you roll and which symbol you're looking for (usually hammers or swords) to successfully attack.  To defend, most characters roll a single dice, and they need to find their blocking symbol (usually dodge or shields) to prevent the attack.  The dice also have the possibility of a critical-hit/defence which nullifies lower successes.  It's also possible to assist attack and defence with other fighters in the vicinity.

It's best explained with this example.  I was quite disappointed with this dice roll as it essentially cost me the game.

My Big Knight has charged the Green dude with 2 axes.  I get to roll two dice, and hit on hammers.
As you can see, I rolled 1 hammer on the white attack dice.
My wife only needed a shield to block, but managed to roll a critical-defence with the black die.
(If I had an assist, I would have had 2 successes, my wife could only block with a Critical-Defense).
My attack failed, if it hadn't I would have inflicted 3 wounds resulting in the the enemy leader going Out of Action and removed from the game.
If you noticed, I had an objective card which scored: when charging to take a fighter out of action and also another objective point for taking out the enemy leader.  As a result I've left my fighter in range of a good clobbering.

Once all the activations are completed, you tally up the Victory Points and declare yourself the winner (even if you had the least victory points).

My Feelings
Phew! - Quite a lot to talk about there, in terms of mechanics:  Board layout, Deck-building, area-control, combat, character management.  Did I say the whole thing only takes about 45 minutes?  I find this game seriously packs a punch.  All of these elements are quick, but there are tactical implications of every action.  Player interaction is high and constant.  Even down to positioning the board, or determining if you should play a ploy card now, or in a minute.

Unlike Dominion the deck doesn't change during the game.  You've prepared the deck before the match;  thankfully the game comes with some pre-built decks to educate you slowly.  Some cards can only be used by specific warbands, while common cards are duplicated in the base set, so there's no problem fighting over who gets what.  Once all the warbands are released, there will be something neat 450 cards to build decks from.  That alone provides opportunities for different types of play.  The warband specific cards provide asymmetry between the bands too and guarantee that none of them play the same.

My wife loved the deck-building!  She enjoyed reading all of the cards, and considering how they would work with one another.  In the game photographed she decided to ignore any objectives that require holding positions and instead went on a warpath.   I had a feeling she would do this, so selected some cards to bolster my defense.  I also positioned my units further back on the board meaning it would take her longer to move her units into a dangerous position.

I can see the comat not being for everyone, but there are ways of mitigating the dice rolls; however at the end of the day it does all come down to a bit of luck at the right time.  I quite like that though, I'm comfortable letting the D6 decide.  During the game photographed I was happy to trap one of the Orcs between all three of my Stormcasts.  That was enough to inflict some serious damage.  I was only able to establish such a position by using a Power card that allowed me to switch positions with an adjacent fighter.  I found in this game, it was absolutely necessary to carefully consider where I was leaving my fighters, being able to shift them a hex or making sure they had support from attacks was essential.

Given that your objectives are hidden until they're scored, it can be really fun trying to work out what your opponent is trying to do to win points.  If you make a bee-line for an objective, you'll give the game away, or was it merely a distraction and all they really wanted to do was make sure you've not encroach on their territory.

The tension mounts between every activation, during the game it feels like both players are winding up mechanical-toys waiting to see who will release first.  This is because of the way fighters must support each other to be successful.  It's far too easy to perform a charge and cause a bit of damage.  But you'll find that you were left behind and now your fighter can no longer move or perform other actions this entire round.

The game also supports 3 and 4 players (with and extra base-game) and also includes a hold-the-fort game variant.  Neither of these things I've tried, but I look forward to having a go!  I suspect in the future more boards will be available, with enough cards to support it.

Another thing to note is how well Games Workshop are supporting the game.  They are already running tournaments, and they're also publishing articles making recommendations on the deck-building philosophies, giving players ideas for techniques to try with each warband.  They've even gone as far as explaining opening moves based on board placement.

As a kid, I never played warhammer or it's grimdark counterpart.  I did enjoy a lot of their smaller 'specialist' games (Necromunda-mainly) and they've always presented themselves as a money pit.  So I was mostly sceptical when stepping into Shadespire, however all I've seen thus far is a very tightly developed experience.  Certainly the core-box works on it's own and you could argue that the additional warbands have cards in them.  But for a casual player, the cards are known and I've got a good idea how many there are going to be.  There are some accessories that are in no way beneficial (dice and sleeves).  I think somewhere in the evil-corporate office someone thought it would make a good introduction to the franchise; I think that's undeniable, there's a leaflet in the box saying now buy this box with 50 miniatures in it you need to glue together and paint before going to war.  But if anything that's been thought about after producing the game, as a branding exercise, and I think thus far, they've been sensible to split shadespire into its own franchise.

Generally, I think a lot of traditional boardgame designers should be looking at what GW have done here.  Their means of releasing content and the support they're providing the game.

Components
The components are topnotch.  The boards and tokens are high quality.  The cards a standard size which makes them easy to sleeve and though they're not low-quality the shuffling will wear them down.  I sleeved mine with 'Dragon Shields' which makes they nice to shuffle  :(y)

The miniatures took about 25-30minutes to put together.  All that was required was a pair of clippers.  No-Glue.  Games Workshop have produced a line of miniatures that don't need glue.  Each model has 3-4 pieces which are on a sprue and need to be clipped, other than that, they just slot together, it's really simple; and they're solid.  The miniatures are really detailed too.  Each warband is colour coded too so it's easy to tell them apart.  The character cards also have little pictures on them to make it clear.


We like Angharad Brightshield, she's great at using her shield and does reliable damage (Plus she's obviously Welsh).

The artwork is amazing too, each power card has its own graphic on them too:


The rulebook is very thorough and the publishers have produced an FAQ/Errata to fix anything which was unclear or ambiguous.  It's very straightforward though, and usually the examples in the rulebook assist.  Also Rodney Smith Did a Watch It Played Series, so you can see for yourself.

Overall

I didn't expect this to go on for so long!  We're both enjoying Shadespire as it's offering a solid boardgaming experience with the opportunity to play a deeply tactical game quickly.  There are currently 4 warbands, and it looks like another 4 are on the way shortly.  There's a lot to explore and a lot of decks to consider building.  It's relatively cheap (even for Games Workshop), so I'd recommend it for anyone looking for high interaction, who is happy with dice-rolling and enjoys trying to second guess what your opponent is trying to do.

Linkback: http://www.carcassonnecentral.com/community/index.php?topic=3738.0
« Last Edit: January 01, 2018, 03:08:50 PM by Decar »

Offline thodekey

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2018, 03:14:14 PM »
+1 merit for the great review. Congrats, you're a +200 meriter
« Last Edit: January 01, 2018, 03:20:45 PM by thodekey »

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2018, 03:22:47 PM »
+1 merit for the great review. Congrats, you're a +200 meriter

Thanks Thodekey, that means a lot coming from you too  :(y) :(y)

Offline franks

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2018, 04:48:42 PM »
Decar, merit from me as well! Great write up and nice to see you getting minis to the table.

I've heard a lot of good things about this game. There was a time I would have tripped to get something like this to the table. Still wouldn't mind giving a go if the chance arouse! I've got to get out to meet ups more - that's not a resolution  ;D

Happy New Year!
Franks

Wanna play Carc? Can we add just one more expansion?

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2018, 12:34:06 AM »
It won't disappoint - I believe GW are hosting quite a few tournaments and small contests in their stores.  A quick google suggested there were a couple of meetups in your area before Christmas.

Another benefit is it fits on our small coffee table, and though the boards are wider than it, the pieces aren't heavy enough to cause any issues for us  :(y)

Offline Vinçon

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2018, 01:56:44 AM »
You almost sold me this game! +1 merit for the great review.

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2018, 11:59:52 AM »
You almost sold me this game! +1 merit for the great review.

Only almost!  What held you back?

I forgot to mention the narrative connection between the players and the characters on the table.  I find that any games that introduces characters (especially those who fight) are games that allow us to personify them.  It's pretty awesome recalling how Sevrin Steelheart single-handedly cut down an heretical orc, masterfully dodged the retaliation blow, before running around the corner and receiving an axe in his head  :(y)

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2018, 10:26:19 AM »
On a totally different note.  We managed to damage one of the Sepulchral Warden cards attempting to double sleeves it.  I contacted GW support and they were kind enough to send a replacement even though it was my own stupid fault.  They were a little slow responding, but that's probably due to the New Year rush.  I couldn't have asked for more from them.  :(y)

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2018, 04:52:00 AM »
Special Delivery from the gretchin:

Offline Decar

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Re: Shadespire
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2018, 04:11:37 AM »
Yesterday i received the first new box set for the second season of underworlds:

Nightvault!


The second season is fully compatible and balanced with the last season (and the artwork is too).  The new warbands make use if magic spells which allow for some interesting effects - like chain lightning.  One of the warbands are essentially ghostly spirits thst can walk through walls and other enemy fighters, making them very agile on the board!


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