Warhammer Underworlds: Online Impressions — Does the Dice Roll Payoff?

Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a virtual realization of the popular tabletop skirmish game. So how does it stack up?

Slicing its way into Early Access on January 28, Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a lovely recreation of the competitive tabletop game originally released as Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire in 2011. The game has seen plenty of growth with steady expansion releases from Games Workshop. Though it has a lot of moving parts, it has some aspects that could help it stand out when it sees a full release. 

Warhammer Underworlds: Online Impressions — Assemble the Warband

In Warhammer Underworlds: Online, you build a small force from a faction called a warband. Currently, there are four such factions in the game. In the tabletop version, there are more than twice that number, and hopefully, we'll see more added here as time goes on.

Right now, though, players have access to Steelheart's Champions, Magore's Fiends, Sepulchral Guard, and Ironskull's Boyz. The warband you choose will help shape your strategy because it will limit the unite you have available. However, it won't completely define it.

For example, Steelheart's Champions only have three units to choose from, but they all hit hard and can take a lot of damage. On the other hand, the Sepulchral Guard uses many weaker units in an attempt to overwhelm opponents and attack from every angle. Without having any concept of the metagame, simply choosing a warband can be a daunting task.

And there's still plenty more to do than just that.

You also need to build a few decks in Warhammer Underworlds: Online. One deck includes bonus attacks, stat-boosting cards, and tricks to help you win in fights. Again, there are cards specific to each warband as well as cards that fall into the realm of "generically universal."

What's more, you will also need to put together your objective deck. This is how you'll actually score points to win a match in WUO. Some objectives are simple (such as "stand on a specific space at the end of the round to earn a point") while others are extremely difficult to achieve, often making them worth many more points.

All of this is done before you even start playing. Luckily, there are "starter decks" to help you dive right in if you don't want to spend the time building your own.

Outwitting Your Opponents

Each match of Warhammer Underworlds: Online is played over three rounds, and each round consists of four "activations." Activations can be a move, an attack, a charge (which is a move plus an attack), or a special ability. An individual unit cannot use the same activation more than once in a given round, so must be strategic about which units you're activating and in which order.

At the end of each round, each player will have a chance to score based off of their objective cards, then the next round begins. Of course, whoever has the most points at the end of three rounds wins.

Though it sounds relatively simple, there are a lot of wrinkles involved. Since you build your decks, you'll have access to all sorts of special attacks and abilities to mess up your opponent's plans. You'll also be the only one who knows how your deck will actually score points.

You won't have all of your objectives in your hand, though. Some are buried in your deck, and you'll randomly draw three at the start of the round. This means your objectives can switch on the fly, adding a lot of variability to each match.

Each Warband has a strategy they favor as well. You can try to suss out how your opponent wants to score based off of their unit composition and their behavior during rounds. At the same time, maybe they're just goading you in so you think they're trying to do something when, in actuality, they're trying to do something completely different. 

Therein lies the fun of Warhammer Underworlds: Online. Having just enough time to keep your opponent guessing adds nuance to each encounter. Sometimes you'll want to start scoring immediately and build up an insurmountable advantage. Sometimes you'll want to play for one massive, endgame objective. And sometimes you'll just want to kill your opponent's units so they can't accomplish anything.

Unsurprisingly, dice are used in combat. Each unit has a number of dice they roll for attacking and a number they roll for defense. If you manage more successes than your opponent, you'll deal damage, and you'll gain a victory point for every unit you take down.

Combat, like the rest of the game, can seem a bit daunting at first, but you'll most likely catch on quick. Though there are a lot of intricacies that can be tough to figure out, consulting the rules often moves things along.

Due to how many small customization elements are available, there is a ton of room for a competitive scene to grow around this game. Matches play pretty quickly, and everything feels balanced once you've gotten the hang of the different warbands and their capabilities. 

Rulebooks and Rulers

Almost everything about Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a slam dunk right now. It looks great, it recreates the tabletop game well, and it has a lot of room to grow. If you have friends who play the tabletop game who you can't always meet in person, or if you're looking for a competitive, turn-based skirmish game to obsess over, this is right up your alley.

It's got a little bit of everything. Pregame strategy and deck building. Dice combat. Quick, competitive games. Plenty of turn-based strategy. If you want to treat this as the virtual version of the tabletop game, pick this up. 

That said, it is still very early in development. For example, when you load up the tutorial, the game will teach you about placing and moving units. It will run you through some combat scenarios, too. But when you load your first game, you may be shocked to discover board choice, cards, objectives, special combat rules, and more — all things the tutorial conveniently forgot to mention.

This has to be something the developers plan on adding in as the game moves forward, but you're going to have to do some online rulebook reading if you want to learn how to play beyond the very basics.

We're excited to see how Warhammer Underworlds: Online develops, and we'll have more on the game as it moves forward. For more games to satiate your thirst for digital tabletop games, be sure to check out our list of the 12 best board games currently on Steam

Contributor

Jordan has been gaming and geeking since he was a wee lad. He is a freelance writer and content creator, contributing to SVG, Looper, and Feast Magazine, among others. Check out his stuff on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExyOMK798p7mCXwSayD2hg/featured and Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/jojotheninjagaming.

Published Jan. 28th 2020

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