Beastgrave – Returning to Warhammer Underworlds

A new season of skirmish combat and deck-building in the name of glory!

Fondly do I recall my first plethora of games of Warhammer Underworlds. When Shadespire first released I invested heavily, both in time and financially. I have surely snared more hours than most other games I have played thanks to the fun and exciting mechanics alongside the stunning accessibility and balance. Will Beastgrave, the latest, beast-laden iteration maintain the good points of Underworlds? Or does it become feral and frayed beyond recognition?

The core of the gameplay elements remain steadfast in Beastgrave. You still use power cards and upgrade cards with your warbands, attaining glory to achieve victory. Unchanged, the Underworlds prime game loop is as it ever was. That said, there’s plenty of new introductions ushered in with this new box.

This is quite possibly my favourite box art from any of the Underworlds releases.

Beastgrave introduces, unsurprisingly, a brand new selection of warbands. The core set ships with the gor-kin Grashrak’s Despoilers and the Kurnothi of Skaeth’s Wild Hunt. The models maintain the safe and dependable quality of the Underworlds miniatures, all in dynamic and exciting poses with details you’ll never finish catching until your third or fourth look over the miniatures themselves. Some may still grumble over the push-fit builds of these miniatures, but they serve the purpose aptly. You clip them off the sprue, pop them together and start playing minutes later. It’s also worth clarifying that you don’t need the previous expansions to play the game.

Behind the Beast

The rest of the contents of the Beastgrave core box also see that persistent level of standards alongside some subtle refinements. Each warband deck contains cards unique to their warbands, making the time between unboxing and playing even shorter. The sheets of counters and the game boards themselves also maintain the calibre of quality.

Once you’ve got the models put together, decks to one side and rulebook to hand, you can start playing. The dice included contain the familiar magic dice as introduced in Nightvault. Magic is, seemingly, here to stay. At this time I’d suspect it’ll have less of a prominent focus this time round as new mechanics and rules take centre stage.

The boards are utterly stunning. I’m a big fan of the palette that Beastgrave has leaned into. Earthy, rich tones with an accent dash of gory red here and there.

Beastgrave does many things differently in Underworlds. It changes existing systems and adds new ones, giving Beastgrave a familiar yet somehow distinct flavouring, exhibiting it a sheen of individuality. Some changes are less grand but worthy of note, such as Guard actions now denying fighters being pushed back. Whereas some changes will likely cause rifts and strategies to be overhauled entirely, including objective tokens now being “flippable”, turning them into lethal hexes. During the reign of “Katophrane Relic” decks, these newly-dubbed “Feature Tokens” would have been most welcome.

For the Hunt

Another change brought in comes in the form of Hunters and Quarries. These keywords are tied together in blood, making chosen fighters Hunters or Quarries. In a twist that will shock nobody, Hunters get bonuses and boons when fighting Quarries. This means you can choose to make your prized fighter an assassin against an enemy fighter of your choosing. This may well promote some old-fashioned cat and mouse across the board, but does provoke some aggressive play which will surely fit plenty of the warbands. The warbands even have bespoke counters for abilities that involve rituals for the gor-folk and Horn counters for the Kurnothi. These may manifest a sense of particularity for these and future warbands and I’m keen to see what more can be done with these.

As seems to be tradition, Beastgrave brings even more tokens to Underworlds. If you’re grabbing this having already bought the previous boxes you’re likely buried under a mound of tokens. Still, that would be a lot of glory points…

With all the talk of the aforementioned Hunters, Quarries, Feature Tokens along with other new updates and features such as Super Actions and Keywords. At this point, my brow furrows and I shift uncomfortably in my seat. I adored Underworlds at launch due to the simplicity and clarity in it’s gameplay. I could play two full games of Underworlds in a lunch hour (and did many times) but with magic from Nightvault and the scattering of changes in Beastgrave, I worry that the game is quickly swelling.

I’m curious as to how this game will sit to those who have yet to dive into Underworlds. Could it simply be that, as an older dog, I struggle to learn new tricks? It may well be that playing so much of the older Underworlds makes old habits die hard and new ones difficult to adhere to. I can’t sit here and say that the changes brought in are bad because, simply put, they aren’t. There’s a lot of clarification in the changes and will likely change the game for good and, in spelling this out, I consider that I may just be stuck in my ways.

Again, the Rulebook will offer a more granular look into the rules. It even features a handy reference/glossary page. Learn to Play is for all you newcomers.

A Feral or Futile Future?

What will Beastgrave bring with it as future warbands come out? We have seen warbands formally announced whilst some have been less gracefully exposed. There are even some hints of what we can expect through the artwork shown on released and upcoming cards. With wolf-riding goblins and Nurgle-themed fighters seemingly on the way, Beastgrave may well ensnare my attention for far longer than Nightvault did. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be a single Stormcast warband in sight! We’ve had enough of those, for a while, at least.

Does Beastgrave improve Warhammer Underworlds? I’d certainly say so. Is Beastgrave enough to breathe entirely fresh life into the game? To reignite the flames in the “ultimate competitive miniatures game”? That, I cannot honestly answer currently. After the release of Nightvault and some of the warbands the game saw a drop in activity in my local scenes. Will Beastgrave turn that around? I fear no matter how refined the game becomes, you’ll struggle to break through the pay to win element. Owning as many warbands (or the cards supplied within, specifically) will continue to inflate the cost of more assured victories.

If you think Beastgrave will turn the tide on the dropping interest in Underworlds, we’d love to hear why. Perhaps you feel strongly the other way? Do let us know. Be sure to find us on Facebook, too!

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