Bring It On: Underworlds and Competition by Compak

Hello again! I’ve been getting myself primed for Harrowdeep and getting ready for the upcoming warband and card releases. But today’s article comes from Graham, AKA Compak who was most recently on this blog discussing Madmob. He’s got some thoughts to share about the competitiveness of Underworlds.

In defense of UW / Why UW is GWs most competitive game system

Ok first, just a little bit of bragging if you’ll indulge me. If you read my last article you’ll know how I lamented not being able to play a real life game with my favourite direchasm warband – Hedkrakkas. Well, I took the Madmob to a real, body-odoured, beer filled tournament and won! The LGT was just 16 players and I took on 4 high tier warbands (Grymwatch, Harrows, Kainans, and Stalkers) with my orruks and everything went according to plan. What plan? Well go read my article because I used the exact list I put there, and used the exact board setup and strategy described. It works. I’m probably going to give the Kunnin Krew a run when Harrowdeep drops but I really do think this savage warband is underrated. 

It is a great shame that I have not yet painted the warband and so they are omitted from the photo. It’s the first tournament I’ve played without a painted warband and only built them the night before. But I recently moved house and have a newborn so hopefully you can cut me some slack.

Thank you for that. Playing in person again was amazing. As you’ll read, I’m still an advocate for online play, but I would love to see the return of 100+ tournaments or at least some prize support (you’ll note the lack of glass in my prize). So I wanted to write more about why UW is so well designed for competitive play. I may follow this article up with one on how I think we can grow the game.

While I was at the LGT there were a lot of game systems on display. I’m not here to say they are bad games. I have an AoS army and I do love the game. I do, however, believe that Underworlds has a number of factors that make it the most competitive game system and will keep it there for some time.

My dawnrider charging into Direchasm (Elves got nothing on Stormcast –Matt)

Maybe you’re new to the game and want to know more. Then great, read on and I hope this motivates you to get started in this wonderful hobby. Don’t be scared by the competitive nature either – you can have friendly games which are competitive and the community is very welcoming. Your opponents will start off easy if you let them know you are new. You’ll see in this article that underworlds is rare (in GW game context) in that it’s very easy to become a better player if you want to and I believe this is a very good thing. Without it, the inequality in skill between players would be far greater because players who can spend their time travelling to tournaments every weekend and building the latest army will be untouchable to new players. There is nothing worse than showing up to a tournament and you’ve had no experience against some super competitive build running around and you get stomped. It is very easy to get access to competitive underworld games and decks.

Maybe you’re a veteran and already love this game. Well the internet has taught us that people love to read articles they agree with, so please read on (and share with anyone thinking about starting, or quiting). 

Hex based movement and ranges 

I love that everything in UW is measured in hexes. No pesky measuring tape that you have to hold still or curve around terrain. And you don’t have to worry about being that guy who points out you’re actually a quarter inch out of range so no you can’t shoot at me. Hexes make Underworlds significantly faster because you don’t waste time arguing or making multiple measurements or doing complicated math

Moreover, the hexes make ranges perfectly clear and you know what is possible before you do anything or your opponent does anything. It is this that really adds to the competitive nature as your positioning of boards, objectives and fighters can be considered precisely and countered.  It is a lot more chess-like than any other of GWs games. Yes there are cards that can boost movement and range, but you have knowledge of those cards and the exact difference they can make. 

The line of sight rules are also made clearer with hexes. You don’t have to worry about height or shape of terrain or drop your head so you can get the same view as the fighter. 

Hexes are precise and clear and I love them.

Best of 3 format

Put your hand up if you’ve lost a game due to a single dice roll (or a lot of bad dice rolls in a row). Or a time when you got caught off guard by some unexpected playstyle your opponent took for the warband. I know I lost the first game in the LGT final when Klaqtroq charged Hedkrakka first activation and both his attacks went through (the odds of that being 16%). Granted, I shouldn’t have risked that positioning and it almost ended the contest very early (I ended up losing by just 2 glory, and of course won the next 2 games). 

Thankfully, Underworlds is a relatively quick game so we can fit in 3 games. Moreover, a game you are losing doesn’t take that long to finish, compared to having lost an AoS game by turn 2 and going through the long painful process of playing it out. I’ve seen games where Nagash managed to Hand of Dust Archeon (an instant kill spell in which you have to roll to succeed the spell (83%), then have the opponent fail their dispel (call it 75% depending on what the spell rolled) and then hide a dice in one hand and have the opponent pick the empty one (50%). So, overall it’s around a 30% chance to succeed. –Matt) (extremely low odds) and although it was still competitive, it isn’t really a viable plan over 3 games. Or there was the 40k LGT final which was called after a single turn. A single turn. 

Thankfully, the brevity of the Underworlds enables players to fit in 3 games within a 100 minute period. In my opinion, the best player is far more likely to win a best of 3 compared to a one off game. It also makes games 2 and 3 far more interesting as each player has learnt more about their opponents plans and cards and tries to counter them. So you’re just going to charge me and lack movement cards? I’m going to longboard you! 

Standard Warband Fighters

You buy a warband and that is the warband. They have the weapons they have and both players know that. There is no need to think about loadouts when physically putting the miniatures together. (I recently put together some Stormcast Paladins and it took me literally months to decide exactly what weapon loadout I wanted… –Matt) No need to learn how to magnetize. No need to squint over at the opponent and see what weapon his 2 inch tall model has. No need to buy a whole new box when a different weapon set becomes powerful. You customise through cards and that is far easier in my opinion, and allows you to change quickly if the meta changes. 

I think this simplifies the competitive environment a fair bit because again you can have very good knowledge of what fighters you are likely to come up against. Yes we probably have too many warbands at the moment but at least you know exactly what each fighter in that warband will start with and inspire to. That makes reading the meta much easier, and lets you quickly prepare yourself when a warband is dropped opposite you for a match. Using AoS as a current comparision to the point of warband amount, there’s around 25 different armies in the game, with around 4-8 subfactions each, with 20-80 different units in each army. –Matt

Too often games where you can customise your army lead to people choosing one unit that is overpowered and spamming that unit. See the 5 foxes lumineth build, or that admech LGT winning list I mentioned already. Who wants to go out and buy a bunch of units that happen to be OP at this time in the meta, only for them to be nerfed and you send them to your cupboard. 

I know I’m dunking on the other systems a bit here, so apologies about that, these just needed to be pointed out. Personally, it’s more about overpowered styles of play being oppressive and a negative play experience than straight dunking, as I’ve talked about in the past with Relics –Matt

Competitive Deck Accessibility

Thanks to the hard work of the community, you can quickly find winning card decks from worldwide tournaments. See underworlddb or Underworlds Deckers. Although there is a lot more to a tournament win than a good deck, it still let’s players get up to speed quickly with what a strong set of cards are and what synergies there are. 

Accessibility goes beyond just being able to view the decks – it’s quite easy to build that exact deck. Yes, it does require you to own all the cards, but I’d still argue that it’s far more accessible than having to have every unit in every army available. You can get practice against winning decks quite easily. If you and a friend have all the cards they can just build that tournament deck and try it out. 

I don’t really want to get into the cost of Underworlds, but from the perspective of always having access to a tournament winning build, it is miles cheaper than others. If you buy each warband for a season, you’re set to build a strong deck for every single warband. That’s brilliant.

Accurate Online format

This needs to be said. Although I do love playing in person. The easiest way to become a better player is to play online. I think I won some of my games at LGT on board and objective set up alone because I’d played with this warband and deck many times against players from all over the world who are very good at the setup stage. There’s a reason why real life poker is now dominated by online players. More games make you a better player. If you are restricted to playing in person you are restricted in your ability to learn. I don’t want to scare off new players with this as it’s actually a good thing! If you want to get more games against different players, it’s very accessible and easy to do. Just join the Underworlds Vassal Discord. It would be far worse if only a few lucky people could play a lot of in person games because of their circumstances and then you got crushed by them at a small or big tournament. 

All of the other GW games can’t be replicated online very well. Yes there is Tabletop Simulator but it 1) struggles to replicate inches and actual armies people can afford to take, and 2) is slow so you can’t fit in more than a best of one for an evening. Underworlds works online for the same reasons it’s a good competitive game – hexes, cards, and brevity. 

There are a number of people who don’t like the online format and that’s fair enough. Personally I love it almost as much as I love playing in person if only because physically rolling dice is quite fun and I do like to take out my painted miniatures. Sometimes for online tournaments I’ll just have the models out next to my laptop and talk to them because I am that big a nerd.  I’ve definitely done this too…💕 –Matt

Spectator Friendly

I loved watching the Warhammer World finals on Twitch. Thanks to the small boards (easily viewable on screen), hexes (easy to see range), tokens (you can quickly tell the status of each fighter) and standard fighters, I believe Underworlds is very spectator friendly. I can often drop in on a game and it will just take me a minute to figure out the status of everything and the scorecard. Furthermore, the game is short so you don’t need fancy editing to make recordings watchable. 

This is not only great from the perspective of watching the game you enjoy, but you can learn from it. When I decided I wanted to pick up Grymwatch, I went and watched how Mike (of Steel City fame and winner of the Grand Clash at Warhammer World) played them. How he set up boards, where he put his fighters, what cards he played when. It’s that easy to become a more competitive player.

Online games are even better from this perspective. You can watch the entire tournament, dropping in and out of any game that looks interesting. It doesn’t take long to see what is going on and follow the whole game. You don’t even need to hear their voice chat really. Some of the games in the past have had commentary and it’s been brilliant. I enjoy my games where I know there are 20 or so people watching. Another few reasons why I think online play is great and more people should be using it.  To quote Derek, “Mithril sharpens mithril” –Matt

Looking forward

I’m not going to speculate on what Harrowdeep is going to bring. I’ve no idea what they will be although we’ve seen some announcements on the Warhammer Community website and I’m excited for the shake up.

I will say this – if you want to enjoy this game going forward then embrace change. Don’t wish the game was the same as it was in Direchasm or another season. Study the new changes and figure out what impact it will have on the game. And get out and play! Give the rules a chance. You’ll probably love some of them. Changes keep the game interesting and the competitive scene fresh. 

I hope some of these thoughts have made you realise what a great game Underworlds is. And if you’ve just decided you’re not sure about Underworlds and may be leaving the game then just know the community will always welcome you back if you realise you’d like to jump back in. I’m here to compete, and I want more people to play so I get to play against the best players. Bring It On. 

Thanks again to Graham for contributing today. Personally, I’m looking forward to what the Harrowdeep season is going to bring us. Keep your eyes here as I’ll be working on some content as things release and you can walk with me through the realm of Ulgu. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to me at setthetempoblog@gmail.com or on the Underworlds Discord channels as Matt ~ Set The Tempo. Take care and set your own tempo!

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