Shadespire: Chosen Axes and Spiteclaw's Swarm Review
on Mar 15, 2018
Critical Hits: More warbands for Shadespire that add more variety and depth even to existing factions; great models that give painters a chance to try a different faction.
Critical Misses: No "pre-con" starter decks for the new factions.
Shadespire was one of the best games of 2017 and in 2018 it is still going strong - in fact, it's getting better. Late last year we got the Sepulchral Guard and Ironskull's Boyz expansions which added undead and Orruks respectively, breaking the game out of the somewhat less compelling Stormcast versus Khorne opposition from the starter set. I really liked those factions but in my review I faulted Games Workshop for not providing an "out of the box" option for new players and those who don't necessarily want to get into the deckbuilding part of the game. They've repeated that misstep with the new factions, Fyreslayers and my personal favorite, Skaven.
So you still can't quite pop open one of these boxes and get to playing right away, but the good news is that these expansions are excellent and in fact I prefer both of these warbands over any of the others released to date. I'm even willing to give back half a star that I took away from the previous sets because I simply enjoy these factions so much and I think they really add a lot of dimension to Shadespire, and as with the previous releases there is a value-add in that each set includes some new cards usable by any faction.
Looking at the Fyreslayers first, this troupe of four mohawked dwarves-sans-britches has a little mobility issue without some help from Ploys or Upgrades, but they emerge as tough little boogers that get inspired when they end a turn on an objective. It can be a little hard to get them across the field in three turns if your opponent is sticking his objectives deep into his board, but you can always use the markers as a kind of upgrade station. They have a couple of interesting objectives that situate them as a take-and-hold kind of faction but with the big damage outputs you'd expect from a more aggressive warband. The leader, Fjul-Grimnir, deals out 4 wounds when inspired. He's also got a couple of special upgrades that can make him a total machine of destruction.
I'm finding that the Fyreslayers play best when played like a brick wall on their own territory in the early game, with a push in the second or third turn if you have the right cards. Let the enemy come, then clobber them right on back. This is a faction where, depending on your deck construction, you ought to avoid cards that require objectives to earn points. If there is a weakness, it's that any player who understands how the Chosen Axes works is going to immediately try to prevent them from inspiring on those objectives since that is an obvious and somewhat easy way to get these fellows upgraded.
Spiteclaw's Swarm couldn't be more different. This is a supremely mobile, slippery warband with one of the most fun inspire conditions in the game- they get that glow when you play a Ploy card that targets them. So of course, loading your deck with all kinds of tricksy ploys is a good policy so you can get the rats charged up and ready to tear across the board with their 5 movement. They don't hit that hard, as you might expect, but they are also somewhat more resilient than anticipated. But odds are you are playing this game to tear across the board and grab objectives or gang up on an enemy fighter - although some of this warband's objectives reward dispersing your units or essentially lurking in the darkness. The idea is that you skulk and then strike quick and unexpectedly- Ploys that double movement, for example, scoot a Skaven 10 spaces across the board- plenty enough to an under-protected objective.
The Swarm's bag of tricks also include some resurrection abilities ("There Are Always More") and Spiteclaw's ability lets him return downed fighters to starting spaces- they just keep coming, as it should be. One of the things I especially like is how this warband combines the persistence of Sepulchral Guard with a sense that these vermin can be practically anywhere on the board on any given turn. Once they get inspired, they are also tough to hit with 2 defense dice succeeding on the dodge result. As for the universal cards, there are a few real humdingers in here and between the two sets you are looking at 60 new cards that you can add to any warband. This makes these two sets a solid overall expansion to the whole game. But there again, I can't help but wish that the assembly instructions had an example deck built strictly from the contents. Granted, I would probably want to tweak it up after one game but having something to go on in terms of construction without having to hit the Web to find a basic starter deck to get some ideas.
One thing I am absolutely loving about Shadespire that isn't necessarily advertised as a feature is that I really like how these expansions give me a couple of figures outside of my usual Age of Sigmar armies to paint up- it's fun to have these kinds of "one-off" sets. I have a big Skaven army, but even with these models I'm looking forward to painting them in a different scheme than my usual Scryre bunch. And I've never owned any Fyreslayer dwarves, so it's a great opportunity to put them to the brush and see how it goes.
So there it, another winning release in the Shadespire line that any fan of the game should consider. A few months on, I think this is one of the top games on the market (in fact, quite possibly the best skirmish game available today). I'll take everything they'll give us to expand it from here.