The Noob Learns to Play Warhammer: Underworlds

So earlier this week, Hunter, who sits behind me sees me looking around for things that need mentioning in print, and he asks if I’m familiar with Warhammer: Underworlds.

“Nope! Not in the least!”, I tells him.

So he offers to demo this for me. I’ve no minis for that kind of thing, but he says that’s no problem. And given that the Beastgrave set is going up for pre-order this week, there’s the nub of an article in there for me to write about learning to play in Shadespire. He recommended I have a look at some of the underworld factions and see which one I’d be interested in playing. Looking through, only a few really REALLY appealed. I can see that when I get properly into this, I may really start with some Greenskins as their MAXIMUM RIDICULOSITY appeals to me in a way that most of the ‘Grimdark Future’ doesn’t quite reach. Gimme a humorous take any day friends. Gimme-gimme those laughs!

Now… going through the factions, I eventually settled on Thundrik’s Profiteers. They looked like some nice distance-loving, gun and gadget-having DPS-ers who had the added benefit of whenever they get cards with points or a modifier of some sort, it doesn’t matter if the card says “PLAY AT THE END OF YOUR TURN” or not, them dwarf’s is able ta play em’ immediate like! Cos’ Dwarves is awsome like that!

Ahem. *drops accent*

Anyway, Hunter left Thundrik’s Profiteers at home by accident cos they were all set up for priming, and they never made it back out of his priming bin. ‘God-damn them all!‘ So I’ll have to pick something else. Ahh well. Dwarfs is for another day I suppose. Too bad really. I’ll see what else he’s got with him. Like they used to say on That 70’s Show, “It’s funnier this way.” Maybe he’ll have Ironskull’s Boyz on tap. The site I was looking at seems to think that they’re good for beginners like me.

Looking at an overview of how the game is played in that same article, the impression I get of Underworlds is a kind of cross between a skirmish board game and Magic: The Gathering. Or maybe for you folks who are more videogame card-game based, Hearthstone. Me? I think of something else. Dating myself here, but only a bit. I’m thinking RISK. Hey, the right card at the right time in that game is the difference between holding the Russian Bloc, or having to retreat all your armies down to Australia and then striking out in one final balls-out run of glory, leaving 1 or 2 armies behind you as you tear an arc across the world with a marauding mega-horde only to be wiped in a few successive turns cos you’re done after that. I’ve pals that still refer to that as, “Pulling an Eddie.”

There’s a few victory condition things too where you can still win the game, even if you’re getting your Boyz kicked all over the board. Just as long as you satisfy the card’s demand for the ‘Glory Points’ you get. That’s a bit Settlers of Catan or 7 Wonders for me, but both of those games are on my shelf at home, so I’m not gonna complain. There’s even a bit of Wiz-War in there, in that you roll initially to see which way the boards are facing to get a bit of a better strategic start. Can we tell I’ve got that one too? A friend was even nice enough to paint the game pieces in that for us as a gift.

HE DID have Ironskull’s Boyz! He even customed his a bit to be zombiefied versions of themselves. He says he’s got a themed deck for them based on the “Bouncer” or “Are you on da list?” deck. Happily, that’s a deck design that was mentioned in the article I read. So I’m not going in entirely blind. So yay! Beginner-friendly warband for me! We’re gonna arrange some time to do this sometime today.

Now they’re feelin’ ZOMBIEFIIIIED! Shoutout to my punk fans of ‘Alien Sex Fiend’!

So until we get a moment, this goes on hold for now…

Well, that could have gone better. I was right in that it felt a bit like a bloody-minded mash-up of several games I was already familiar with. The Card-Suspense of Risk or a deck-building card game. There was something of an element of Stratego to me, to be honest. There was the feel of a tabletop wargaming rig with all the hexmaps minus the headaches that come with facing. All in all, though, the reading I’d prepared myself with was okay, but didn’t prepare me for what was coming. Remember, kids. Cramming for a test doesn’t really teach you anything other than cramming doesn’t work in the end.


Hunter did a good job with your Noobness here. He didn’t go easy on me. And was patient with my trying to pick up the more necessary nuances. There’s a lot of balls to keep in the air here. And my inexperience with Warhammer really didn’t do me any favors.

To start with, there were a lot more objective cards than I anticipated. And many only seemed to grant their glory points, which you get for killing opponents units or completing an objective, at the end of the third round. (there are only the three.) So I was shedding cards to get others at the end of the first and second turns that really didn’t seem to be practical. Like ones that only scored you glory points if three people went down in a round. So trying to get an objective that I could score to start accumulating glory points went slowly for me at first. And if your opponent is accumulating them fast, and then using them to upgrade and inspire his units, then you can’t be slow like I was.

“Know yer Powers Cards, and know yerself, and you will always bring da DAKKA!!” -Yugi Motorcycle

Secondly, I didn’t twig immediately to the difference between cards where I had to have a glory point to update my Boyz with, and ones that you could use any time the power step came along. This is more on me than anything to do with the game design. So in addition to not snagging glory points, I wasn’t really able to use half the cards in my hand to begin with. So I made what might have been a rookie mistake and discarded all the ones I needed glory points to use at the end of the first turn in favor of the other flavor. But that brings me to my other tactical mishap.

“What? What are you looking at us for?” -Da Enemy

I get the idea that my Boyz weren’t really designed for needing to charge endlessly at my foes. The Foes in this case seemed to be a chaos group that Hunter had subtly painted with the theme of the Scooby Gang. I’d figured from my reading about Ironskull’s Boyz that some of their better objectives really came from Getting all your boyz INTO enemy territory and keeping your enemy in their territory. Which on hindsight, explains the ‘Bouncer‘ and the ‘Are you on da list?‘ nicknames for the deck Hunter had for my Boyz. You get em there, then you hold the line and make them come to YOU.

And I did manage that in the end. But they did outnumber me 6 to 4. A more experienced player may have used his power cards a bit more wisely than I did and parlay that into a win. But I kept not-noticing that many of the non-glory point dependent cards I’d kept also tended to stipulate that you couldn’t use them to your advantage if you had just used a charge action to close with the enemy. The All-Melee Boyz Choir here were a little disadvantaged by this since Orruks are a bit more in yer face, if ya ken savvy dat.

“Or was dat Sun Zoo?” -Ash Catcha

So I wasn’t getting the glory points early on, like I needed to be. I wasn’t conning the powers cards as closely as I ought, so my strategy of rushing the Chaos Scoobies really wasn’t working out cos the objectives I had that made that a good idea didn’t drop their points til the end of the third round. I’d even discarded one that REALLY would have put a kink in Hunter’s plans, had I the sense to use it. One where the Boyz can just snap up an objective off the board and keep it. That would have kept Hunter from meeting one of his objectives and getting the points he was upgrading his team with, which inspired them. Inspiring them allowed him to flip his characters’ cards over to a side where they had better stats, and made them that much more dangerous.

And all this… in the hands of an experienced player, might still have been salvage-able. Though really, an experienced player wouldn’t have been in my fix in the first place. But there was one final spike in the lid of this strategy of mine. And that was really no-one’s fault. It happens to everyone at some point.

Sometimes the dice are kind. And sometimes they are not. Last night, my dice were apathetic, lazy and contrary besides. Hunter’s dice were on point like a sniper in god-mode with a gyro-stabilizer implant. If I rolled a hit, he rolled a crit to defend. If I rolled a defense, he rolled a crit to attack. If he merely rolled hits, I rolled useless assists. Though I really can’t blame his dice too much. We even switched once. I continued to suck. (Eat yer heart out, Wil Wheaton!) I did apologize for my poor performance. I lost on my own merits in the end, even if the dice were agin’ me. I hope I didn’t get too much suck on his dice. (Ahem) In the superstitious magical thinking sense, I hope the suck doesn’t linger. (Again. AHEM.) I honestly feel like I ought to be posting a pic of myself in those ‘Dice Shaming’ threads out there. “I sucked with any dice given to me in my first demo of Warhammer Underworlds.”

I did lose, but in the end, I did get the much-needed objective cards I needed for the endgame. I also managed to take out at least two of his six Chaos Scoobies. My inexperience crippled me in the end. That said, I managed to pull out 8 glory points to his 11. So that was not an entirely horrible showing for Your Noobness here.

Hey, Ironskull himself survived. It wasn’t a total wipe. ^_^;;;

In summary… I think it probably would have served me a bit better to find and try to read the rules ahead of time instead of trying to learn the mechanics on the fly. This is not a game for beginners, and you really need to be cognizant of several influencing factors that can help or hinder your warband’s performance on the field. Being on more familiar terms with the game’s mechanics and the cards in the decks likely would have clued me in to some of the walls I face-planted into when it came to the terminology issues I had that kept me from using them effectively.


My being a bit more familiar with GW’s symbol-based dice and how they work would have made it a bit more enjoyable. This again is no slight on the idea of those dice. I played Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars a few years ago. And it took me a bit to get used to their symbol based dice too. I can appreciate the kind of copy-protection / profit margin that symbol dice engender for companies that make them. In that respect, maybe my age is showing a little. In my day, we rolled dice with numbers on em! Uphill! In a crowded game store fulla kids playing Pokemon! AND WE LIKED IT! Etc.. etc…

It wasn’t what I’d call a negative experience. Hunter was very sportsman-like, patient and didn’t patronize me a bit. For more experienced types, I imagine those three turns fire right along like those guys you see in public parks playing Speed Chess with timers. I managed to make our game take the better part of an hour. Which isn’t bad at all. (Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness on the other hand… YEESH! Set aside a day for those.) But I bet it would have run quicker had I known what I was doing a bit more. I certainly recommend it for experienced gamers who enjoy the thrill of combat who are familiar with how GW tends to structure their gameplay. Tacticians familiar with the strengths and limitations of the warbands they’re playing are going to likely have the best time here I’d say.

Sam the Man said it best… “Hold onto your butts…”

That said… Hunter put it out there that some mechanics of the rules will be getting changed with the upcoming Warhammer Underworlds: Beastgrave set that’s opening up for pre-order this weekend, and releasing next week. A fellow watching us play (I WILL LEARN EVERYONE’S NAMES PROPERLY SOON!) seemed a bit alarmed at a change in the mechanic of how charging worked, which screwed with his own warband’s proven strategies in the past. So don’t be like Your Noobness here. Make sure you’re up on the rules and how things work. Otherwise no matter how kind the dice are to you, you may end up like I did. A leader without an army. Surrounded by chaotic lunatics painted and dressed like characters from Scooby Doo as the final activation chip was flipped…

At least… until they’re all resurrected by the powers that be, and it all happens again.

— Edward WinterRose is a Warhammer Noob when it comes to quick skirmish-y games like this. He did play Gorechosen with one of his best pals once. Now THAT was funny!