So, I really love this game, and I want more people to play it with me. It does have a bit of a learning curve, though. I started this game pretty recently (September 2018, just before the release of Nightvault) and have done everything I can since then to understand the game and improve as a player as fast as possible. My local area (DFW, Texas, USA) has a small group of excellent players with a lot more experience than I have, so jumping into this game with little more than the Shadespire starter set was a bit of a shock since I had no idea what I was doing, and everyone else was already quite good at the game.
After my first few crushing defeats (which are always a great way to learn and get motivated) I quickly figured out I needed more and better cards (I talk about buying all the cards and what order to do it in here), but also needed to gain a better understanding of the game as a whole, and as quickly as possible to start competing with the players in my area. To do this, I dove headfirst into the internet world of Warhammer Underworlds blogs, Facebook groups, YouTube channels, Discord chats, and podcasts (all of which you can find here) in order to gather as much information as possible.
Only a few months and many games later, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the game, I win a lot more of my games, and I have even won a couple of Shadeglass trophies in local tournaments. Importantly, I also feel like I remember a lot of what I learned, how/where I learned it, and how to explain it to other new players. I am still definitely learning more about this game every time I play it, but I also believe I have reached the point where I can start to help other new players along the path I took to getting a better understanding of the game, so that is what this massive post is about.
If I could unload my brain into a new player’s head, I would. But until then, this article is the next best thing.
Part One: The Basics
The best thing I think you can do to start is just play the game and understand the rules. Games Workshop made a great video explaining everything here. The starter sets for either season (Shadespire and Nightvault) contain basic starter decks for each of the factions they come with, and playing a few games with those decks against each other will get you used to how the game works (incidentally, these decks and ones like them are also a great way to introduce new players to the game. For more info on how to make similar decks to the starter sets, I wrote more about that here).
Keep the rule-book close by, and reference it as you play through your first few games. Ideally, I would try to find someone who knows how to play the game already to walk you though a game with these starter decks, but it’s also perfectly fine to read the rule-book once through and then play with a friend, or even to slowly play against yourself consulting the rules as you go (I might have done this the first day I opened the Shadespire box).
I wouldn’t bother with deck building until you have played a few games with the start deck, because it helps to understand how the game works first.
Here are some tips for your first few games:
- I like to think about playing cards in the Power Step like this: I play cards that will help my turn in the Power Step before my Activation, and cards that will mess up my opponent’s turn in the Power Step before their Activation.
- To figure out support, I think about it like this: How many fighters are distracting (standing next to) to the enemy I am trying to kill vs how many fighters are distracting (standing next to) my fighter doing the attack.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Killing the enemy isn’t always the best thing to do. You will win more games by making sure you complete your Objective Cards than you will by blindly charging in. You don’t have to have any fighter’s left at the end of the game to win, you just have to have more glory than the other player.
- Think ahead: You only get 4 Activations per Action Phase, and 12 Activations during the whole game, so you should keep in mind what you might want to do 2-3 Activations ahead of time in order to complete your objectives.
- Going second can be good: Going second gives you the final Activation of the first Action Phase, which lets you determine the state of the board going into the End Phase when Objective Cards are scored. It can be a good idea to go second a lot of the time, especially when you are trying to score positioning objectives that involve holding objectives or standing in certain parts of the board.
Besides playing, a great way to get a feel for the game is to watch other people play it. This can be in real life, or online. Agents of Sigmar and The BattleCast both have great YouTube channels where they play lots of games of Warhammer Underworlds. As well as being entertaining to watch, their videos are also a good way to watch games from start to finish and get used to how everything works. By the time you get through all of their videos, you should have a pretty good feel for the way the game works and the general flavor of the different Warbands.
Once you get the game basics down and understand the mechanics and flow of the game, it’s time to really dive into the cards.
Step Two: Card Knowledge
This game has a lot of cards, and to get good at the game you will want to have a basic understanding of all of them.
Though possibly a bit boring, I recommend flipping through and reading every single card in the game on an online deck builder. This includes the cards for all of the factions as well as the universal cards. Spend a few seconds reading each card, understand what it does, and think about when it might be useful, then move on to the next card. Long car rides, while waiting in line, or waiting for a country music concert to end (a small glimpse into my life in Texas) are great times to do this.
Doing this even just once makes you much less likely to run into times when an opponent plays a card you haven’t seen before and you are like “Oh wow, I didn’t know that was even a thing” (– A sad Wigglefish, the first time someone played Quick Thinker on me).
I think the easiest way to do this is on a phone is to go to https://yawudb.com/library, click the Eyeball icon and change it to “View As Scans.” Then just scroll through alllllllllll the cards.
You should also get familiar with all of the Warband Fighter Cards, which you can easily view here.
Note: Bad cards
As you go through all of the cards, you should notice that a lot of them do very similar things, and that a lot of them seem to be better at a certain job than other cards. The unfortunate truth is that not all cards are created equally, and many cards in Warhammer Underworlds should never be used in any serious deck.
These “bad” cards come in many types, but their badness typically involves some combination of having too specific a requirement, not enough of an effect to take up a valuable deck slot, or being a worse version of another card. It is possible that even the very worst cards would be useful now and then, but you want to use cards that you can rely on when you build a deck.
Bad Objective Cards are typically very cumbersome to score. A general rule I like to follow is “If I am not likely to score this card in the first Round of the game, I might not want it in my deck.”
Bad Gambit Cards are typically not very impactful. Because you usually only want to have ten Gambit Cards in your deck (more on this later), so you ideally want the best ten cards you can find that help you win the game.
Bad Upgrade Cards tend to also have low impact on the game, only matter in a small percentage of games, and/or be worse versions of other upgrades.
Some examples of low tier cards are below.
The Harvest Begins is a difficult Objective Card to score because a lot of things have to happen: First, you must have three or more enemy fighter’s in range of a fighter than can attack multiple enemy’s such as the Harvester or Inspired Steelheart. Then at least three of those attack have to do damage. Because these conditions are not something that will come up in most games against good players, you usually wouldn’t want to use this card.
Stumble is a low power Ploy Card because it is very rare that you need an enemy fighter to be driven back an extra space. Usually you simply want to kill the enemy, and in the cases where you do knock them back 1 space is frequently enough. There are edge cases where you might wish you could drive a fighter back another space, but probably not often enough for this card to make one of the ten slots you have for your Gambit Cards.
Sixth Sense is a low power defensive Upgrade Card, because of how rarely most Warbands actually have two supports when they attack your fighters, and because of how many other, better defensive Upgrade Cards exist.
Although you generally want to stay away from these “bad” cards, I think it’s still useful to know that they exist because sometimes you might want to use a less powerful card in your deck if it compliments other cards in your deck, or if you are taking it in addition to a more powerful version of itself in order to create redundancy or combine their power.
Once you have an understanding of the cards that exist in the game, and start to see how some cards are more useful than others, it’s time to start thinking about building decks.
Step Three: Deck Building
Deck building is likely the most important and deepest part of this game. The cards you have in your deck determine the way you win and the abilities you can do throughout the game. A good deck will have a synergy between it’s Objective and Power decks that allow your Warband to accomplish its goals and score more glory than the other player.
My favorite way to build decks is on https://www.underworldsdb.com, but there are a number of other deck builders available as well as good old fashion you, your piles of cards, and a table.
A few things to be aware of when building a deck are the Banned and Restricted list, which bans some cards from play and limits a group of other cards to a maximum of five per deck, and the Underworlds Errata and Designer’s Commentary (AKA the FAQ, found towards the middle of this page), which clarified many rules questions and card conflicts. You should always have a good understanding of how certain cards were FAQ’d, since it can affect which cards you want to use, and what choices you make during games. It’s never fun to think a card works one way, and then find out the FAQ says something else.
Most online deck builders will let you know which cards are banned and restricted, and if your deck is legal or not, which is another good reason to use an online recourse. https://www.underworldsdb.com also includes any relevant FAQs as a note on the effected cards, which is another reason I recommend it so highly.
Generally, it is a good idea to follow these steps when building a deck:
Choose your Warband, and look at the things they naturally do well. All factions are different in numerous ways, and each faction tends to be better at certain play-styles (and you should read more about the four main play-styles here) than others because of their stats and faction specific cards. Although it is definitely possible to build a deck that goes counter to a Warband’s strengths, such as objective holding oriented Steelheart’s Champions, or all out aggressive Sepulchral Guard, you are generally better off building your decks to reflect their strengths and shore up their weaknesses. Some examples include:
- If your Warband has a large number of fighters (Guard, Gitz, Thorns, etc) then they usually have an easier time holding objectives and parts of the map, and cards like Supremacy tend to be easier for them to score than the smaller Warbands.
- If your Warband has a smaller number of fighters and a combat oriented Inspire condition such as Garrek’s Reavers and Magore’s Fiends, you will typically want to focus your deck on allowing you to kill the other player, and on rewarding you for doing it such as Advancing Strike.
- If your fighters are all very slow, such as the fighters in the Sepulchral Guard or The Chosen Axes, cards like Spectral Wings can be extremely useful for getting your fighters where they need to be.
I have also created a page collecting Warband specific overviews and other information here, which can be useful in figuring out which faction you’d like the play, and what sort of deck you want to build.
Build your objective deck first. Because your objectives are how you score glory and thereby win the game, I like to build this first. The objective deck is probably the most important of the two decks because it is how you score glory, and is generally where you will use most of your Restricted cards. When I build my objective deck, I like to ask myself the following questions:
- If i draw a particular card at the start of the same, will I be able to score it during the first Round? If the answer is “no,” “sometimes,” or “maybe?” you may want to consider other cards. The exception to this can be very high scoring Objective Cards that are typically only score-able in the third End Phase such as Superior Tactician, Denial, or Annihilation. These cards can be good to include in your deck even though you will draw them in your initial hand now and then because they provide so much reward when you do score them that they are generally worth having around.
- Can I score most of these cards at the same time, or during the same Round? The more cards you can score per Round the better, so cards like Precise Use of Force and Advancing strike can go very well together since it is very possible to score them both at the same time when you kill an enemy fighter. Other cards may be good cards, but difficult or impossible to score together such as Keep Them Guessing and Blood for the Blood God, so you generally want to avoid those combinations.
- Do I have enough Score Immediately Cards/how will i score my first glory? Score Immediately cards such as What Armour? and Change of Tactics are very powerful because they allow you to score glory in the middle of the Action Phase, and grant access to more than three Objective Cards per Round. Your first few glory are frequently the most important of the game, because gaining glory to apply upgrades earlier than you otherwise would be able to is very powerful, and the more objectives you can score per Round the better.
I think it is generally a good idea to have at least 3-5 Score Immediately cards in your deck. In a perfect world you will be able to draw and score all 12 of your Objective Cards, and Score Immediately cards are what help you do that.
- Do my Objective Cards reward me for doing things I am good at/want to be doing to do anyway? Magore’s Fiends want to kill stuff. Sepulchral Guard want to stand around and hold objectives. Their Objective Cards should involve and reward those things. More generally, cards like Escalation are also good because they are almost guaranteed to happen over the course of the game without you having to go too much out of your way to score them.
- Do I have Objective Cards in my deck that I can score if things are not going according to plan/that the enemy will have a very hard time stopping me from scoring? If, for example, you are playing Magore’s Fiends and every card in your objective deck involves killing things, but your opponent sets the boards up the long way and hides his fighters in the back, it can be difficult or impossible to score any objectives during the first turn while you move closer to them. If they have objectives they are able to score while they hide from you, this can create an insurmountable glory lead that can cost you the game. You will usually want to have a few cards that you can score in your Warband’s worst case scenario. In the above Magore’s Fiends example, cards like Extreme Flank, Escalation, and Skirting Danger can allow them to score some glory and keep up with the other player while they close the distance or if they get behind.
Then build your Power Deck with Gambit Cards and Upgrade Cards. Once you know how you want score glory (your Objective Cards), you should build your Power Deck with the goal of making it easier for you to score those Objectives Cards. Generally, I think there are four main archetypes of Power Cards, detailed below. It is likely that most decks will have a combination of 2-4 types of these cards, depending on your personal play-style, and the goals set out by your objective deck:
- Damage Cards: These cards involve doing damage to the other player, either through additional attacks, single points of unavoidable damage, adding dice to attacks, or modifying the damage of successful or future attacks. Some examples include Great Strength, Ready for Action, Shardgale, and Twist the Knife. These cards help you kill enemy fighters, and aggressive decks will typically contain a large number of them.
- Mobility Cards: These cards help you be in the right place at the right time and can be very powerful when it comes to scoring objectives and closing the distance between fighters. Some examples include Sidestep, Quick Advance, Great Speed, Faneway Crystal, and Spectral Wings. These are useful in almost any kind of deck, though objective holding decks tend to have more push cards than aggressive decks.
- Defensive Cards: These cards help keep your fighter’s alive, and are usually upgrades. Some examples include Last Chance, Great Fortitude, Deathly Fortitude, Acrobatic, and Champion’s Fortitude. These are generally good for all deck styles, since keeping your fighters alive is usually a good thing.
- Disruption Cards: These cards interact with enemy fighters, or objectives in a way that can stop them from doing the things they want to do, and are usually Gambit Cards. Some examples include Distraction, Invisible Walls, and Mischievous Spirits. These work well in all decks because they stop the other player from scoring their glory, but tend to feature most prominently in control decks.
Try to limit yourself to 10 Gambit Cards and 10 Upgrades. Although there is no limit to the number of Gambit and Upgrade Cards you can include in your deck (although you do have to have at least as many upgrades as Gambits, and will always want to have the same number of each since Gambits are typically better than Upgrades), it is generally a good idea to limit yourself to the minimum 20 cards in your Power Deck.
The reason for this is that you normally only draw about 15 cards from your deck per game (assuming you spend a few activations or draw cards, and carry a few cards over from one Round to another), and taking more than 20 cards decreases the chance of you drawing any specific card. All cards are not created equally (thus the existence of the Banned and Restricted list) so by adding more cards to your deck you are effectively watering down the power of your cards and making it less likely you will draw any Restricted cards you’ve included.
Now and then you will find a situation where you cannot seem to narrow down your deck from 22 (11 Gambits and 11 upgrades), and in those cases I think it is fine to go ahead and try it, but I would seriously try to never go over 22 cards. As you are playing the deck, I would also recommend thinking about which of the cards you included seems to do the least for you during the course of those games, and tweaking it down to 20 in future iterations.
Do some test draws. A test draw is simply shuffling your decks and drawing the first three and five cards from your Objective and Power Decks, respectively. The Deck Editor at https://www.underworldsdb.com/deck will allow you to do this with its Card Draw Simulator, or you can do it the old-fashioned way with real cards. Test draws help you determine if you’ve answered the above questions about objectives, and built your Power Deck well enough to support it. Keep track of how many test draws result in hands you think you would want to draw in a real game and how many you would have to do over. If you have too many difficult to score hands, or too many conflicting cards, it is likely a good sign that the deck needs some tweaking.
Netdecking, the deck building shortcut:
Although I definitely think building decks from the ground up is something you should do (because it makes you think about your deck, how it works, and gets you more familiar with the different card options), it does not always make sense to reinvent the wheel each time you want to make a new deck, and I would be lying if i didn’t say I think trying other people’s successful decks are not an important tool in the learning process. Lots of great players have put time and effort into making, testing, and winning with strong decks, and it only makes sense to learn as much as you can from their experiences.
The following resources can help you find successful decks by other players:
- I have compiled a list of articles, deck reviews, and tournament reports from the different Underworlds blogs for each faction here: https://wigglehammer.wordpress.com/warband-article-link-library.
- You can find a large number of major tournament winning decks to try yourself, or to use as a starting point for your decks here: https://www.underworldsdb.com/decks.php.
- You can also see what cards are popular in winning decks right now here: https://yawudb.com/statistics.
In my opinion, the best process for starting players to follow is to read up on other player’s experiences with a Warband, try out a successful deck, and then tweak it with other cards they want to try or think might be useful. Because you know the deck is solid, this will give you a firm foundation to learn how the Warband functions and experiment with different play-styles. It can also give you new ideas on what cards to use, or show you a play-style you were not aware of.
Once you have a good understanding of how the deck works, you can modify it to fit your own play-style, which will most likely work better than simply using someone else’s deck because you understand it and are more comfortable with it.
Diving even deeper on Deck Building:
Finally, I would be amiss if i didn’t mention some great resources that other, better players have already created regarding the deck building process. These have helped me and they can help you too:
- I highly recommend this article by John over at the Can you Roll a Crit? Blog where he walks you through the process of building a deck.
- I also recommend this article (and the whole series it is a part of) by the Steel City Underworlds guys about building an objective deck.
- The Call it Shadespire blog specializes in deep dives into specific cards, going into all of the various uses for the card and when you might want to include it in a deck.
- Jamie Giblin over at the Katophane Relic blog has this article about his top 5 tips on building an objective deck.
Step Four: Playing games
Definitely the most fun part of this process, you have to play games in order to understand the game, your faction, and your cards.
In my experience, the best way to learn how to win games is to lose games. Of course you don’t want to lose or try to lose games on purpose, so the best way to actually do it is to play against the best players you can find, play your best, encourage them to play their best, and talk about the games afterwards to try to figure out how to play better.
The lessons you learn painfully tend to be the ones you remember. You only forget to play the Sidestep in your hand during the last Power Step of the game to stop the other player from scoring Denial and costing you the game once (I did that yesterday ughhhh!). You only deploy your Warden too close to Riptooth once. And so on. You can read a million articles (I will keep linking them, don’t worry) and they certainly help, but playing lots of games with learning new tactics and forming good game-play habits as your goal is the best way to learn.
All that being said, here are some tips to consider during your games:
Remember that you win the game by having more glory than the other player. It can be easy to tunnel vision on to simply murdering the other player and end up losing because you didn’t score enough of your Objective Cards, or didn’t stop the other player from scoring theirs. Focus on your cards, how to score them, and how to stop the other player from scoring theirs.
Board choice and placement can win or lose you games. Once you win or lose the roll off, think carefully about what your goals are, and what you think the goals of your opponent might be, and choose your board accordingly. You want to make sure that the fighters you don’t want to lose will be safe, and the fighters that need to be close to the enemy can do that as well. You can read/listen a lot more about this topic below:
- The January White Dwarf has a lot of good info on the boards and their uses. I strongly suggest picking it up.
- This is a great article going over the uses of each board: https://canyourollacrit.com/2019/01/04/boards-what-are-they-good-for.
- This is a quick top 5 board placement tips article: https://katophranerelic.com/2018/10/25/top-5-tips-for-board-placement.
- This is more info on the Shattered City Boards set: https://katophranerelic.com/2018/07/06/are-the-new-boards-worth-taking.
- The Battle for Salvation podcast has an episode about board placement with a lot of great information: https://battleforsalvation.podbean.com/e/episode-6-im-board.
- Many of the tournament reports found here go over which boards these players used in their games and can be used as guides: https://wigglehammer.wordpress.com/warband-article-link-library
Objective placement matters. When placing objectives, make sure to consider how close they are to your fighters, if they are on edge hexes, and where they will be in relation to enemy fighters. This can matter significantly due to cards like Hidden Paths, Faneway Crystal, Deceitful Step, and Mischievous Spirits. Even if your Warband doesn’t need to hold objectives to score glory, the other player might, so you should try to place them in hard to get places, or use your placement to force them to place them in less optimal hexes.
The first hand can make or break you. Knowing when to re-do your starting hand is a good skill to practice and master since it can have a large impact in your games. Discarding your Objective Cards means scoring less glory over the course of the game, but keeping cards you can’t score can mean the same. Holding on to too many upgrades is typically a poor choice, unless the 1-2 ploys you have allow for something incredible during the first turn.
- The Steel City Underworlds blog goes deeper into this topic to great effect here: https://steelcityunderworlds.com/2019/01/06/1102.
Fighter placement is very important. You place your fighters after you choose your boards, place the objectives, and know the cards in your starting hand. You also get to see how your opponent is deploying as you deploy. all of this information is important, and should be considered as you deploy your fighters. Importantly, you do not know who will win the roll off to decide the turn order. It can be important not to fall into a habit of placing your models the same way each time, no matter what cards, board set up, or what the other player does. Think each placement through carefully, plan your upcoming Activations in your mind, and be aware of what the other player does and react accordingly. It is also generally a good idea to place the least important fighters first, and the more important ones last.
Be prepared to go first or second. If your game-plan relies too much on either one, you’ll have a bad time. Try to set up so you are okay with either.
If you win the initial roll to choose who gets the first Activation, think carefully about which is better. Going first is frequently not the best choice. Going second gives you a number of advantages including:
- You get a Power Step before your first Activation. This can be very useful since you can use your ploys to empower your first Activation.
- You get the final Activation of the Action Phase, which allows you to determine the board state going into the final Power Step and End Phase. This can be very important for scoring positioning cards such as Supremacy, or making a risky charge.
- You have the possibility of a double turn, by having the final Activation of the first Action Phase, and the first Activation of the second Action Phase. Double turns can be very powerful and hard for the other player to recover from, especially if you kill a fighter in each one.
Plan your Activations out as far forward as possible. Think about the Objective Cards you have in your hand and in your deck (because you can always draw into them, or be set up to score them later) and make your actions accordingly. It’s never fun to draw into an objective card such as Extreme Flank mid Action Phase with one Activation left and realize you could have scored it through better planning and positioning, but can’t now because your fighter’s on in the wrong places.
Think about what objectives the other player is trying to score, and stop them from doing it. You can frequently tell what objectives the other player is trying to score based on their actions and positioning during the game such as Supremacy and Extreme Flank, and try to stop them by killing fighters, using push cards like Distraction to move their fighters, or by moving the objectives themselves with Mischievous Spirits.
Other cards such as Denial require a specific board state at the end of the third End Phase, and give large amounts or glory that can be the difference between winning and losing the game. Be aware that these cards exists, and formulate “best practices” like making sure you have a fighter in the enemy territory at the end of the game so they can’t score Denial. Other cards like What Armour? or Skritch is the Greatest, Yes-Yes can only be scored by specific fighters (ones with cleave, or Skritch himself) so killing those fighters first can deny the other player glory.
It can be difficult at times to foresee what cards might be in another player’s deck, but as you play you will see that many factions tend to use certain cards a lot because they are good cards, or certain cards will just be very popular in the meta. If you are playing a Best of Three format where you play the same player multiple times, make sure to keep a mental note of what cards the other player has during the first game and try to stop them from scoring them in the second or third games.
Play your offensive upgrades at the right times. It is generally a good idea to equip powerful offensive upgrades like Shadeglass Dagger right before your Activation so you are able to use it against the enemy right away. If you apply them in the End Phase or before your opponent’s Activation you risk giving the other player a chance to kill that fighter and waste your upgrade and glory.
If the score is close at the end of the game, keep the objective tie breaker in mind. Losing a tied game because the other player is on an objective and you aren’t can be very frustrating, so always keep it in mind and try to stand on the objectives when you can help it.
Don’t stop learning. I imagine I’m not the only one thoroughly addicted to playing and reading about this game, and thankfully there is an internet full of great content creators and other people to talk to regarding this game. I’ve created a list of all of the Warhammer Underworlds resources (many of which I’ve already linked to in this article) that I know of here and I plan to keep it updated for as long as I can. There is also a list of my favorite faction specific articles here that can help you improve your play or learn more about a new faction. There is a wonderful amount of content out there, so go read/watch/listen/talk and share it with other people. The more people we can get playing this awesome game the better.
Thanks for Reading
I think that is all I have for now, and hopefully you found this useful in some way (if you even made it this far, lol).
If you noticed any typos, think I missed anything important, know of another great resource I should share, have anything to add, disagree with something I said, or have any questions about anything I mentioned, please feel free to let me know. I have purposely tried to leave out specific meta information, card recommendations, or anything too faction specific in order to make this article useful as the game changes and evolves, but I may have missed something important. The goal of this blog is to help new players get better at the game, so everyone can help add to that.
Special thanks to Joe Lewin on Facebook for letting me know about a mistake.