Shadespire First Impressions – Swords, Hammers, and Unlucky Dice
Whilst at the UK Games Expo I managed to play a full game of Shadespire in the Games Workshop gaming area. With that in mind, I thought I would write up a few initial thoughts. It is worth noting that this is after one play through and I did not paint the minis in these images – they were from the playtest version of the game, painted by Games Workshop. Usually, they are provided unpainted. Kudos though to the team who did paint them because they looked ace!
Games Workshop are on a bit of a spree at the moment. They are reinventing and inventing new games left, right and centre. We have, in the past few years, seen Age of Sigmar and Blood Bowl enter the world of wargames (in Blood Bowl’s case, making a comeback) as well as countless new games being licensed by external companies. Some of these are, it has to be said, quite good and so it when GW announced to the world that they were releasing a new board game the gaming world went a little bit nuts. Everyone wanted a piece of it.
It entered my radar a few months back, when I entered a Star Wars: Destiny regional tournament. After I got knocked out, and whilst waiting for friends, I watched a couple of guys play the game and it piqued my interest. Before then I had wiped it out as something I didn’t want to play. I’m not a huge fan of Age of Sigmar, so didn’t really care; and yet, when I saw it played, I saw something that definitely wasn’t AoS. It was smooth, sophisticated, and only took 45 minutes to play. Shadespire wasn’t just a wargame dressed up as a board game to try and reach a different audience. It really was a game in itself.
This is, for want of a better word, impressive. Games Workshop have strayed out of their comfort zone, past the forge of Sigmar, and into the modern age. The result is a well thought through game with a couple of pitfalls. That being said, I may as well tell you now, I have invested in the game and purchased the Sepulchral Guard Warband. Evidently, it was enjoyable.
The Concept of Shadespire
Shadespire is, at its heart, a deckbuilding game. It is a two-player game, with each player having a Warband. That Warband is placed on a hexagonal grid board, wherein the battle commences. The goal is simple – the most victory points wins the game after three rounds.
Each round is split into four activations, and in each activation each player can do one of a series of actions. These include:
- Move a figure.
- Attack with a figure.
- Charge with a figure.
- Exchange cards from your hand with their relevant piles
This means that there are a grand total of 12 activations in a standard game, meaning 12 moves with which to optimise what you are going to do.
As you play, you will discover that each member of your warband is different. Each figure, each miniature, is drastically unique compared to the one next to it. They each have an attack value as well as a distance value, and a defense value.
Aside from those they have movement and damage values. You can play upgrades on them throughout the game to boost their stats. It’s all very nifty.
All attacks are still done with dice, and I’ll talk about this later.
So, how do you get glory? Well, you get glory by defeating your opponent, however, you get more glory by completing objectives.
Each player has two decks within the game. One is a deck of objectives, of which the player gets three for every activation. The other deck is made up of ploys and upgrades. Upgrades cost glory and improve stats, give extra attacks, and the likes. Ploys are instant benefits. The player has five cards in their hand at the start of each round.
Undoubtedly there are more nuances in the game; however, that is a brief nutshell. Go out, gain glory. Destroy enemies.
First Impressions of Shadespire
So, what were my first impressions of Shadespire? Well, that’s actually a really difficult question to answer. Overall, it is a well thought through game, however, there are a few glaring problems with it that do strike me as a bit of a shame.
So, the first thing you need to know is that when we play tested this, my friend played as Steelheart’s Champions, and I played as Garrek’s Reavers. Those are the two factions in the core box, with Steelheart’s Champions being the Stormcast Eternal (Sigmarines, as I am partial to calling them), with Garrek’s Reavers being Khorne. Like with Age of Sigmar, the two warbands are meant to be well balanced, and for all intents and purposes they were when you looked at the stats.
That being said, dice are also heavily relied upon and this can be a disadvantage to the game. I say this from experience as I realise I had an unusually poor test game because of dice rolls. That being said, even after realising this I still want to get into the game.
It is worth noting however that over 12 activations I only did two points worth of damage in the entire game due to bad dice rolls. Meanwhile, the Steelheart’s Champions wipes out my entire warband. That means I hit 1/12 activations. Steelheart, on the other hand, did 14 damage and dealt damage in almost every activation. It all came down to dice rolls. This was a huge disappointment, and as I get to know the game I hope there will be ways to mitigate this a bit better. It didn’t put me off, but it did highlight that there is a lot of luck in Shadespire.
That being said, this is where the cards come in. The cards can mitigate the dice rolls to some extent and that is why I am giving this game a chance. I understand that I was unnaturally unlucky, so have bought a warband I think will be fun to play. I also understand that, at its heart, Shadespire is a deck building game.
Okay, so I’ve talked about the dice, what about the rest of the game?
To be completely honest, I am impressed at Games Workshop with this one. Leaving aside the fact that probability and fate can be an absolute pain, Shadespire is an elegant game. Like all Games Workshop products, the production quality is stunning. It helped that the minis had been painted at a pro-level by the Games Workshop reps, and I can see us painting ours up purely because the game looks so awesome with it. The cards and dice are high quality, the board is fantastic. Yes, it is a well-made game.
The mechanics as well, bar the reliance on dice being irritating if luck swings against you, are also incredibly smooth. Everything from how the range weapons work to the movement mechanics, the grid system and the deck building, all work well. They are fun to see in action, as you realise that you are not actually playing a wargame, but are instead playing something that is more akin to a Warhammer version of chess.
Like how Star Wars: Destiny is a mix of deck building and dice, Shadespire is a mix between deck building and a miniature game. I am so looking forward to seeing how the decks work and how everything starts slotting together. In other words, I am looking forward to optimising Shadespire to the max.
So what are the current concluding thoughts on Shadespire?
Oh yes, I am definitely playing this game. It’s amazing. The dice are annoying, but that is just one component and I am one of the least lucky people on the planet. To be completely honest it is a game that has been a long time coming. Not only does it help innovate the two player board game industry, but it also helps innovate the whole way we look at miniature board games.
I think what Shadespire does is straddle a line in gaming. It could be an abstract game, but instead it uses stunning miniatures. It has the making of a deck building game, but it plays out like a war game. It is not quite a Eurogame, and it is not Ameritrash – that being said it’s also not Hybrid. What it exactly is, where it lives in the board game ecosystem, is difficult to classify. It is its own thing – and I personally always have time for games that try to be different.
Yes, this is going to be good.
Not to mention – ALL the strategy articles. Should be fun!
So, what do you think? What’s your take? Is this something you want to try, or something you would like to stay away from? Let me know in the comments below.