Those of you who have been following along with my recent digressions back into the world of tabletop gaming (sorry about all that) may be aware that, over the last year or so, I’ve exposed myself to all manner of new and new-to-me games, several of which I’ve already written about as part of my new recurring column on board games over at Unwinnable. (The column on a generally social activity that began exactly when we could all no longer be social anymore, because I have truly incredible timing.)
Of those, some have quickly become favorites. I recently wrote for Unwinnable about Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower, just in time for the folks at Games Workshop to announce the latest incarnation of the Warhammer Quest line: Cursed City, which is essentially the Warhammer answer to Castlevania. So naturally, that’s what I’m really excited for right now.
In all this, though, I’ve hardly mentioned what has rapidly become probably my favorite of all the new-to-me games I’ve experienced: Warhammer Underworlds. For the uninitiated, Underworlds is the smallest and most intimate of GW’s various skirmish wargames. Played across a couple of hexed game boards that fit easily on the kitchen table, with warbands numbering as few as three models and never more than nine, Underworlds makes even games like Necromunda, Warcry, or Kill Team feel epic by comparison.
I’ve long realized that I was more attracted to skirmish games than all-out wargames. The bigger armies simply tax my energy levels too much. I have fun, but I end the process feeling exhausted and wrung out. With Underworlds, I hit a sweet spot.
It isn’t just the smaller scope that appeals, though. I like the turn limit, the necessity of shepherding what resources you have carefully because you only have three rounds in which to accomplish your goals, and only four activations per round. I like the way that play alternates back-and-forth between players, and I like that your goals may not be best served simply by defeating the enemy.
I like the cards, which bring a level of randomness to the proceedings that dice alone cannot. Your goals will shift as the match progresses, as will the tools you have at your disposal. This takes some of the pressure of strategizing off, at least for me, and forces me to accept the hand I’m dealt with equanimity, and make the best of it. This is good for my anxiety.
Most of all, though, I love the warbands. I love the way each character has a name and a role, like positions on a team. I love the way each one brings personality to their fighter, so that each one feels like a legitimate loss when they fall. I love that, while there is deck-building, there is no army building. The warband is the warband – there’s nothing you can do to change it. I love the way all the fighters in the warband go together, like an adventuring party under your control.
When I first got into Underworlds, it was because of one warband: Mollog’s Mob. Anyone who knows me at all will not be surprised in the least when I say that Mollog’s Mob is not only the best of all possible warbands, it remains my favorite and probably always will. But something else I came to love, as I got into the game, was the “collectible warband” aspect of it.
While other wargames encourage you (by dint of the fact that they are expensive and models are plentiful, if for no other reason) to pick a faction or two and stick with it, collecting multiple warbands in Underworlds is not only feasible, it actually makes tactical sense, as each warband comes with unique universal cards that can be used with any of the others.
I didn’t start doing it because it made tactical sense, though. I just love my stupid little plastic friends, and I enjoy pushing them around on their hexes and making the fantasy equivalent of blim-blam noises (or, in the case of the Thundrik’s Profiteers, actual blim-blam noises).