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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.


The end of the game, at the beginning of the article – how progressive.

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
  • Defend.

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.


Garrek’s Reavers

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.


Waging war.

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.

The light shone through the window at just the right moment for this picture.

The light shone through the skylight at just the right moment for this picture.

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.

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    • I’ll be picking up the Orc warband next. The look like a good team, and apparently their cards go well with Skeletons. It’s a smooth game – I would recommend giving it a go as you never know – you may like it πŸ™‚


      • Well I used to play Sigmar a lot but I just don’t have the time that I used to. So smaller games like these are becoming my go to games. I get a similar effect and don’t have to spend half as much time!
        It’s a pretty big game at my game store so I eventually will. I’m just a little spread thin right now.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hmmm… been tempted by this before & might look again – as a time-pressured mini painter, the low model count is very appealing! Glad it isn’t just me who has earned the eternal contempt of the dice gods πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I purchased the core set earlier this year, and have played about a dozen times.
    It’s a difficult one – I want the game to be great, but so far it just hasn’t lived up to the hype. I find the balance is this issue. The random objectives you place at the start seem to cause a few issues. If you have the right cards you can end up just sitting on the objectives at the start earning glory straight away. I have tried several games without placing the objective tokens, and have found that the Steelhearts pretty much win every time!
    Am I missing something? How can this be a competitive competition game with balance issues?
    The miniatures though are amazing, can’t wait to get around to paint them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s really interesting and I’m not hugely surprised. GW have always struggled with balance, and I think this is where the cards come in- they are effectively a balancing mechanic. I can imagine the Sigmarines doing well every time because…well…they’re the GW favourites at the moment.

      I have to admit, I am loving the minis though. Painting them is so much fun.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oddly it does kind of work. I do recommend it πŸ™‚ the only problem is that where everyone else has become really interesting, the Stormcast Eternal are, in my opinion, really dull. It’s a real shame since they are the main guys.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The minis look nice. I guess I’ve hobbying too much lately as I keep fixating on what looks to be a gap in the Reaver’s back (in the Chaaaaarge! pic) and wondering how a Pro could just leave that?! Maybe it’s just shadow.

    Anyways, very nice writeup and I’m glad you addressed the shortcomings of the game. It doesn’t sound like a game for me. I’m not much into deck builders or war-games. I prefer campaign style games where I can grow a character or team over time. The strategic element and the minis are appealing, but not enough to sell me on the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They were painted for an expo, so, speaking to the guy who walked us through the game, he said they’d probably end up in the bin afterwards.
      That’s fair enough mate – I don’t imagine it would be for everyone. Each to their own.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article but the only thing I disagree on is the focus on deck building. Shadespire, at its heart is a movement and positioning game. The cards are important but it’s all about board control and how you position your fighters.

    Agreed that you were unlucky with your dice rolls. Can’t wait to see more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Then more you shall see πŸ™‚ the skeles are shaping up nicely now so will post an article when they are done, as well as a few more when we get around to playing more. Interesting that you disagree with the deck building aspect.It’s still got to be a fair part of the game though, right? How would you say the most glory in the game is won?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s great to hear, can’t wait to see more! It’s a big part of the game but good positioning and movement will win you games alone. I’ve won games from just out-positioning opponents.

        For glory you mean via the objective deck or just specific ways like killing, holding objectives, etc?

        Liked by 2 people

          • Well combat objectives get glory faster but you become a slave to the dice.

            Hold objectives are more consistent but easily disrupted.

            Then you have passive/neutral objectives that can score in a variety of ways but it comes down to how well they gel with your playstyle.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Great write-up here Alex. I admittedly still haven’t played a game yet, since I refuse to play it without painted models, and so the starter models would need to jump the thrice-damned painting queue. I’ve been sorely tempted to start on one of the (gangs? teams?) though…

    Liked by 1 person

      • Of course – derp! Warbands. Yeah, three models isn’t a lot, but I’ve been holding off to use them as a “reward” for getting a bunch of other stuff done and out of the way. I also have to come up with a colour scheme. Unless I just go with The One On The Box…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ahh the colour scheme is one of the fun bits. I couldn’t decide with my skeletons so have gone for a different colour for each one. Their bones are obviously bones, but their rags are different. Why go with one scheme when you can go with many 😁 and surely you have room for three to seven minis in your life πŸ˜‰


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