With the recent announcement of the eighth edition of Warhammer 40,000, there may be people out there who are interested in the game but put off by the price tag of starting an army. For those people, Games Workshop’s new Shadow War: Armageddon is an excellent entry point for the curious, requiring a far smaller investment.
This game is based on the rule set of Necromunda, Games Workshop’s classic game, originally published in 1995. Swapping out gang warfare in the underground cities of Necromunda, Shadow War takes place during the Third War for Armageddon in which human and alien factions are vying for control of the factory planet, framed around scouts and pathfinder teams engaging in combat in hive cities—massive vertical cities that house millions.
It is a small-scale skirmish game; a typical team is made from 10 to 15 models, as opposed to the dozens of models needed for a game of 40K. And if you do decide to take the jump into 40K proper, all Shadow War models are compatible with the main game. On the downside, Shadow War isn’t a game you can bring home and immediately play, as models need to be cut off of the sprue and glued together (and painted, if you so wish). Also, though less expensive than 40K, it can be pricey compared to an average board game. A copy of the rule book costs $40 and model kits $30 to $40 (generally a team can be made from a single box), although a group can share a single rule book.
While Shadow War can be played in one-off games, where it truly shines is its campaign system, which adds in a number of RPG elements. Players begin each campaign with a cache of points that they spend to recruit members for their teams and purchase weapons and gear for battle. Each team consists of a leader, veteran troops, recruits, and weapons specialists. Most factions are represented here: Imperial Guardsmen and superhuman Space Marines, the forces of Chaos, Orks, the Tau Empire, and more, each with their own play style and armory. A typical match can be played in 30 to 40 minutes.
During the course of each game, team members can be wounded and potentially have to sit out a game, or even die of their wounds—and when someone dies, they’re gone for good. But as your troops survive matches, they gain experience to level up their stats and gain new abilities and more points to spend on new weapons and soldiers. Although roster sheets are used to track your team, it can become difficult to keep track of what models have what weapons and abilities, much less those of the enemy team so you can plan accordingly.
As matches in a campaign are completed, teams are awarded “promethium caches”—accrue enough and you’ll win. They can also be spent on operatives—special characters who last for one match only. Each brings heavy weapons along with special rules, some with negative effects to weigh. Space marine scouts can call in terminators; these marines in hulking suits of armor can deal massive damage, but if the enemy manages to kill one, they’ll be awarded another promethium cache. The Imperial Guard can call in a commissar, who’s deadly in melee combat and gives your soldiers’ leadership stat a much-needed boost. But with his “Fear Me, But Follow” rule you’re unable to retreat, normally an option if you want to cut your losses and surrender the match, forcing you to fight to the (potentially bitter) end.
There are a number of mission types, from the standard death match to capturing objectives or even rescuing a team member who has been taken hostage by the opponent. A typical game is played on an area three feet by three feet, but the space can be larger or smaller if desired and requires terrain to provide cover and block line of sight—that can be Games Workshop products, homemade terrain, or just pop cans or whatever else you have around your house. Each turn is broken up into four sections: movement, shooting, hand-to-hand combat, and recovery. Most things are done with either a ruler or dice. Each soldier can move a certain number of inches; weapons possess a minimum and maximum range for use, and each weapon needs a certain die roll to punch through enemy armor. Shadow War isn’t an overly interactive game, with no cards to flip or a lot of flavor text to read—much of your time will be spent consulting charts and statistics in the rule book, a play style certainly not for everyone.
Unfortunately, there’s no packaged deal for the models and rule book together. When Shadow War first launched, Games Workshop sold a box set with two armies, a rule book, and several pieces of terrain, but this sold out online within an hour and was a limited run with no plans to sell it again. As a result, players must buy everything piecemeal. Prepackaged sets are missed opportunity on Games Workshop’s part, especially for new players who may be overwhelmed at choosing a faction to play.
The rule book is full color and printed on high-quality paper. In addition to the core rules and army lists, it also includes several pages of lore, detailing the outline of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and the conflict on Armageddon, which provides a quick primer for anyone unfamiliar with the setting. Also scattered throughout the book are art pieces and pictures of expertly painted models and terrain for inspiration.
While the cost and relatively slow pace may turn away some players, Shadow War: Armageddon’s small-scale matches for quick games and long term campaigns for friends offer a great alternate option to Warhammer 40,000—and a great choice for anyone simply looking for an in-depth tabletop game with a lot of room for customization.