Greetings brave warrior. Whether you be a veteran of Shadespire or newly tempted by the treasures that await, welcome to my review of the new Nightvault starter set.
Firstly, thanks go to Games Workshop for giving me this to review early. While I would have bought the box anyway, it was a great surprise. Hopefully I can give you a detailed breakdown and review with my unique viewpoint as a successful competitive Warhammer Underworlds player.
If you’re new to my blog, I’ve won a national Grand Clash tournament as well as over 10 store tournaments and events. While it may come across as bragging, I like to think it helps to reinforce what I’m talking about as it shows there must be some truth to my words and input. After all it’d be pretty useless (in my eyes) if I preached about all these tactics and tips but never won or went to any tournaments.
Yet even before that, let me cover pressing issues you may have about season 2 of Underworlds.
Are my cards from Shadespire compatible with Nightvault?
Yes. All cards are fully compatible but follow the normal rules for use, e.g. no duplicates of the same card.
Can I use my Shadespire warbands with Nightvault?
Yes. Just like the cards, they’re fully compatible.
Is magic broken?
No. I’ll be going into it later in the article but magic is fairly balanced and implemented well.
Are there any faction-specific cards for Shadespire warbands?
No. All the cards in the set are either for Stormsire’s Cursebreakers, the Thorns of the Briar Queen as well as neutral cards.
Are there multiple forms of play like matched play and open play?
No. The game still follows the gameplay options of Shadespire so you won’t have modes that mirror those of Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar.
Can you roll a crit?
Yes. Yes I can.
With all that out-of-the-way, let’s begin.
Like I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Warhammer Underworld’s narrative and Nightvault only adds to this. As revealed before, Nagash (supreme lord of the undead) unleashed a powerful magical shockwave called the Necroquake. However it was corrupted by the Chaos gods, result in a far more longer lasting and catastrophic spell.
The Necroquake shattered the illusions hiding Shadespire from the mortal realm. Even those trapped inside the mirrored city saw a greater chance to escape their eternal prison now home was insight. However, now that the fabled city was confirmed real, it drew in even more warriors. As they begun to seek the power over death, Nagash grew vengeful. He searched deep with Shadespire and found the Nightvault, an eternal prison as well as a secret experimental lab for the Katophrane’s advancements with Shadeglass.
Nagash found the undead horrors within and unleashed them to do his bidding…
As said earlier, Nightvault is fully compatible with Shadespire. Both in terms or cards and warbands. Everything you invested with previously is at your disposal. It’s great news and something I expected for a while. It does have its downsides for balance but that’s something I’ll address later.
The setting isn’t the only thing that’s changed. With the addition of magic, there are a few new game mechanics added into the mix. However, let’s talk about the biggest change.
For season 2, ploys have changed and now come under the category of gambit cards. They share this spot with magic cards, or more specifically Gambit Spells. It’s a simple way to fold in the new magic cards but means they compete for spots with ploys. Deck construction still follows the same rules as in Shadespire, just that this time a power deck has to have half the number of upgrade cards for every gambit card and you still need to have a minimum of 10 upgrades.
In regards to magic, it is broken down into 3 of its own categories: gambit spells, on fighter cards (as well as upgrades or reactions) and fighter cards or upgrade cards as attack actions. When casting magic, it can only be done when there is a friendly wizard on the board. In addition, when casting magic, rolling 2 (or more) crits means the spell goes haywire and the caster suffers 1 damage before it goes off. This can mean that you magic user could die, stopping the spell going off despite it being successful roll-wise.
Wizards are fighters with the magic symbol to the left of their number with a number denoting how many dice they can use when attempting to cast (so a wizard with a level of 2 has 2 dice for magic). When casting, you use the brand new magic dice. These consist of a 3d6 with each die have 2 ‘swirl’ symbols, 3 “lightning bolt’ symbols and the ever-faithful crit.
Gambit spells are cards with magic effects. They have their own effects and cannot be stopped apart from the use of power cards that can be used to dispel magic. Each card has its own value which must be met. Simple spells have either a single swirl or lightning bolt whereas more powerful ones need 2 of the same symbols. This precise casting requirement can often mean that more powerful spells require card effects to be used more consistently.
Next are magic attack actions. These are usually on fighter profile cards or as upgrades. These work exactly like normal spells but this time you get to defend against them with your dodge or shield defence characteristics. Just like normal attack actions. Note you can still attempt to dispel attack spells and then roll for defence. It’s a bit confusing at first yet the counterbalance is you won’t always have access to your gambit spells making them harder to stop where on the other hand you will generally always have the ability to use attack magic from the start of the game.
My impression is that magic is balanced. The more powerful spells require 2 of the same symbol (or crit) which is not an easy task. Magic won’t win you games but it can give you the edge at certain times. More powerful spells require card investment to be reliable so you have to build your power deck around magic to make it very efficient.
After those big sub-topics we have the new scatter mechanic. What’s that I hear you ask? Well it revolves around this fancy new token included in the starter set:
Here’s how the rulebook explains its use:
Quite simple really. Place the token a suitable distance away (usually I do by the number of hexes with the value of dice used) from the user and roll the required number of dice. Being able to choose which order the template goes is a great boon to help mitigate the randomness of the effect. So far only 1 spell card uses scatter: this. Although I am intrigued to see how further this implemented. Maybe a gambit spell that sends a fighter into a crazed stupor? A bomb? Specifically a Shadeglass bomb. Or even a scattering fire blast. The possibilities are endless.
Another minor rules change is that tokens denote the effect a fighter has. For example when a fighter has a guard token, the token causes them to have the guard effect. This can be applied by card effects or by simple using an action to place a guard token on a fighter. Interestingly, if you can removed to token the effect associated with it is lost. Currently only Tyrant’s Command can do this by removing a move token from a fighter. What’s even more intriguing is that the rules say fighters with one or more tokens. So if token removal becomes more important, there could be ways to add more tokens to fighters to counteract token removal. This, however, is all speculation on my part.
Finally we have Innate Symbols:
Pretty neat. Basically bestowed by card effects, innate means you get that symbol for the next relevant action. For example an upgrade that grants the fighter an innate lightning symbol would grant said warrior a free additional lightning roll for all of their magic actions, meaning they roll 2 dice and use those results plus the symbol from the innate ability (e.g. you roll 2 magic dice and get a swirl and a lightning bolt with a spell that cost 2 lightning, you add the extra lightning from your innate ability meaning the spell is cast!). Very useful for magic but the rules do mention innate hammers and swords which can be used to better guarantee your attacks are a success.
In the Nightvault box you get 2 warbands: Stormsire’s Cursebreakers and the Thorns of the Briar Queen.
The Cursebreakers are Evocators from Sigmar’s newly opened Sacrosant chamber. Magical warriors in their own right, these fighters have been sent into Shadespire after the opening of the Nightvault to find the secret of Shadeglass in order to repair the flaw of the reforging process which allows Stormcast to be reborn after dying.
The warband consists of 3 stormcast. I wasn’t a fan of them at first but they’ve won me over in-person. They feel a little less unique to their tabletop counterparts when compared to the Farstriders and Steelheart’s Champions but still maintain that Underworlds vibe.
Gameplay-wise these guys are all mages and probably the most consistent magic users in the game. They all have their own spells so can use magic immediately without needing Gambit Spell cards. The easy inspire mechanic is even better as you’re always going to be casting magic. I feel these guys are great to start Nightvault with while also playing differently to the previous 2 Stormcast teams. I find they work best advancing forward to gain board control. Ammis and Rastus go on point while Averon can blast foes away with his Fulmination. Build your deck right and he can be doing 3 damage per magical blast.
The Thorns of the Briar Queen are the 2nd warband in the box. Lead by the aforementioned ghost, the Briar Queen was a death mage who commanded undead legions against Shadespire. In a climatic battle, she was defeated and sentenced to the Nightvault where she spent an eternity in an undying prison. By the time Nagash freed her, she had already gone insane. He fashioned her into a banshee and let her loose upon Shadespire with a legion of Chainrasps at her disposal.
This warband has 7 miniatures, the maximum number that an Underworlds team can currently have. A beautiful warband that steals the show from the Cursebreakers as well as the Sepulchral Guard. Each ghost has its own little flair to give a little bit more narrative behind each one.
They’re mostly fragile but fast and hard to lock down. Their inspire mechanic is simple at a glance but requires careful planning as you can only inspire at the start of your own activations. When they meet the requirement however, the warband becomes even better. Extra move, defence dice and a attack buff. They excel at Hold Objective play and can be quite resilient when inspired. Varclav is amazing due to his ability to push all Chainrasps while the Queen is a magic user with a 2 hex attack profile. Difficult to use at first but very powerful once you get the hang of them.
Finally I’ll be going over what’s left in the box. Basically you get everything to play the game for up to 2 players. Dice, card counters, tokens and game boards. The quality is still as good as with Shadespire and the new aesthetics provide a nice update. You get 11 dice in total; 5 attack dice, 3 defence dice and 3 magic dice.
You get 2 double-sided boards to play on. One board has only starting hexes whereas the other 3 contain a mixture of blocked hexes and the return of lethal hexes. These hexes just cause a single point of damage whenever a fighter moves or is pushed into one. It’s great to see them added to the game but I do feel the Shattered City Board Pack has better lethal hexes. Still, the new boards open up greater options for deployment, definitely something I plan to experiment with. Only having 1 board with no blocked or lethal hexes also opens up a lot of risk for those without access to the Shadespire boards, a change which I like.
Just like with the Shadespire starter set you get a lovely set of gaming tokens from glory to objective markers. A new addition are the 2 lethal hexes. If you flip them over, they work as Shardfall counters too.
It’s a nice addition for those dedicated Shardfall users out there.
The rulebook. Probably the most important addition. A must for every gamer and still nicely laid out. The wordings are updated to include most of the FAQs except for the going on guard loop. Still the book is worded well and still contains the glossary, narrative section as well as rules for multiplayer games. No hints for the next 10 warbands but instead adverts for Shadespire warbands. Although 8 of the upcoming teams have already been mostly revealed by Games Workshop.
Finally an excerpt from The Mirrored City novel. As you know I really like the narrative of Underworlds and found this to be a great read. A neat little addition that shows it’s not always gaming and crits.
You also get an extra number of small plastic resealable bags to hold your dice, cards and counters. Exactly like in the Shadespire box. Another really useful add-on continued with Nightvault.
I thought it was worth talking about these in their own section. You get 96 cards in the set, this time most of them are faction specific. I think this is a great idea but it means you only get about 40 neutral cards. Most of them are reprints of ones from Shadespire however.
Those are all the reprints and they come printed at least 2 times with some neutrals even printed 3 times. While great for new players, it’s not so for experienced ones. The new artwork is nice but I suppose it’s a trade-off for having such a large number of faction-specific cards.
Generally the cards are very balanced. Nothing screams out as broken and both factions have some great key cards. I’m really happy with the balance so far and I hope it continues for further releases. While I love Shadespire, towards the end there was a massive boost in power creep with cards like Great Concussion and Quick Thinker. Overall meta balance is something I’ll be covering in another article though. I’ll wait and see what the next warband releases bring but we may need a ban list of some kind to shakeup the current card meta.
Overall I’d recommend buying Nightvault. The only reason I didn’t was because I got it for free. Still it is a great jumping on point for new players. Veteran players will enjoy the new mechanics as well as the twists that each 2 warbands bring to the game. Competitive players will need the box for the rules but may find a lack of value if they have no interest with the Cursebreakers and Thorns of the Briar Queen. However I found myself enjoying the challenge of the new warbands despite not really using any of the Nightvault cards except with the new warbands. They really do freshen up the game.
I hope this was useful to you whether you’re new to the game or a veteran. Next week I’ll be going over each of the 2 warbands in detail with example deck builds too. Either way enjoy your journey into the Nightvault, may it bring many crits.