Recently released by Games Workshop, Warhammer Underworlds: Beastgrave is the new season (and new starter set) for the Underworlds series of games. Having enjoyed the series thus far, we couldn’t wait to try it.
The journey for Underworlds began with the release of Shadespire back in 2017, and we enjoyed it tremendously partly because it’s one of Games Workshop’s more accessible titles, requiring far less background and rule knowledge than a game like Warhammer 40,000 does. As the days grow shorter and the evenings grow longer, it’s great to have another Underworlds chapter to play, and Beastgrave does a few new things while keeping the basics of the original game intact.
Beastgrave is far from the first expansion of the Underworlds range – Shadespire received additional warbands post-release, and the same happened when Nightvault was released. As with most any Games Workshop title there was plenty of lore involved as well, but it’s a series that’s relatively forgiving towards those not familiar (or interested) in it as well. So, feel free to ignore the following paragraph if it feels like gibberish – Beastgrave is a lot of fun even without knowledge of its background story.
The titular Beastgrave is actually an immense mountain, tall enough to pierce the clouds above and so large that it can be seen wherever you are in the lands of Ghur. Besides a mysterious history involving a tribe of people that once lived in it and adorned it with things like bones, the Beastgrave is also home to an ancient magic that instills a lust for battle in those who see it. With the curse of Shadespire having been pushed out into all of the realms by the Necroquake, a new evil now pervades the mountain as well. As a result, monstrous creatures now take to the Beastgrave to battle it out, with the mountain corrupting all those whose influence it touches.
I fully realize that sounds like you need a lifetime of lore knowledge even if I’ve toned it down a lot already, but as I mentioned you can skip the background story and just enjoy the game if you want. The new starter kit is compatible with earlier Underworlds releases so you can mix and match your cards and warbands between them – though you don’t need to because the starter kit has everything you need to play a full game.
The Beastgrave set only contains two warbands though, so you’re doing yourself a favor if you bring out the old ones you still have of pick up a few additional ones. Included in this new set are Skaeth’s Wild Hunt (consisting of five miniatures) and Grashrak’s Despoilers (with six miniatures, all of them Beastmen). Assembling your miniatures is required, but the Underworlds miniatures don’t require any glue work (which is great because I’m notoriously sloppy with that). As usual, the miniatures come unpainted but have a color to identify them with their warband if you choose not to paint. Looking at how gorgeous the examples are in the photographs by Games Workshop, I always hope for pre-painted versions to become available, and you can see why when you look at them and how gorgeously detailed they are. Both warbands in the box are built for offense, which fits well with the bloodthirsty nature of the mountain.
Also in the box are two game boards, and both are of the double-sided variety. Each side features a Beastgrave-themed background and a unique tile layout, making for different strategic options depending on your choice of board. Rounding out the package are sets of dice, tokens and cards, as well as the rulebook and quick start guide. These can be a dense read for first time players because rules seem initially complex, but once you’re comfortable with them a playthrough generally only lasts about half an hour.
New game rules have also been introduced with the release of Beastgrave, with some of them feeling like balance changes and others introducing strategic options to the game. Balance changes include the fact that guarding is easier now, and you can also get keywords that help in countering an enemy’s stronger characters by targeting their weaknesses. What’s new in terms of strategic options and planning is that you now start a game by placing a lethal hex, something that can make all the difference when you near the endgame. These also correlate with the objective tokens, which are now double-sided and can change from something desirable to a lethal hex when a player flips them – sometimes catching another player off guard.
To counter the increased complexity that comes with Beastgrave, Games Workshop has also included a super handy flowchart that lays out in detail how combat action works in the game and what the outcome is. It’s a lot of help, especially if you don’t want to go back to the rulebook mid-game.
Despite the rule changes, gameplay generally feels similar to previous Underworlds releases. As you draw objectives and power cards, you battle for glory points and win the game based on how many you possess at the end of a game – even if you’re losing in combat. It’s fun to use character-specific moves to this end as well – one of my favorites being the ability to go off-board and perform surprise attacks with one of the new characters.
Warhammer Underworlds has been going strong ever since its original release, and I fully expect Beastgrave to continue that trend. Despite its dark fantasy background, it’s a game that’s a lot of fun to play even with newcomers if you have an evening to spare this coming fall and winter season.