Saturday 13 April 2019

Warhammer Underworlds Advantage

While it may seem clear that achieving glory is the way to win Warhammer Underworlds, it is less clear as to the best way to do so. Because Underworlds is a deck-building game as well as a miniature skirmish game, there is a constant interplay between board and model position, the cards in your hand and your deck, and the activation sequence itself. This means that your strategy will require flexibility as there are many complications that could change the character of your game. So, instead of trying to come up with a hard and fast set of killer combos (although Charge – Shardgale – My Turn – Upgrade – Ready For Action is pretty damn cool) it is probably more useful to understand key concepts that have been floating around in other games that may inform your deck-building process and decision-making in game.
I think there are two key resources in your armoury – one obvious and one less so. The obvious resource is your cards, and I include your fighters in this. The less obvious resource is activations.

Card Advantage
There is a concept in Magic: The Gathering and similar deck-building games of Card Advantage. This is the idea that, all other things being equal, if you have more cards in play or in your deck and hand than your opponent, you have an advantage, based on the fact that you’ve got more resources to deploy. If you can remove cards from your opponents hand, deck or play area without losing any of your own, you gain card advantage from that action. If you have to use two spells to remove one creature, your card advantage is decreased.
Warhammer Underworlds is not exactly analogous to Magic: The Gathering, but the principle is the same and can be applied to the game to your benefit. If you can outdraw your opponent, you’ll have more ploys and upgrades to play. If you can kill, or otherwise neutralise, fighters with upgrades without losing your own fighters, or at least losing fewer resources, you’ve gained an advantage which will allow you to more easily score your objectives in later activations.
Without any models you can score very few objectives. You could play Warhammer Underworlds without playing a single card and have a fine time, but the game has been designed around the explicit principle that your warband is your fighters AND your cards. While your fighters exist in a three-dimensional space (and can act in two-dimensions), they are clearly defined by the abilities on their cards and the power cards you play on them. Reframing your fighters as part of your card resource can help you focus on the concept of card advantage.
Grawl may not be Riptooth, but it is wrong-headed to simply regard him as cannon-fodder (or canine-fodder, if you will). Sacrificing Grawl, if that is your plan, must not simply feed the other player glory; make your opponent work for every card they take and every glory they score. Plus, Grawl with Enchanted Collar has amazing defence – three dodge is as good as an inspired Snirk Sourtongue or Batsquig.
Activation Advantage
And now for a concept unique to Warhammer Underworlds – Activation Advantage. Activations are rare – you only get twelve all game, so if you use activations in ways that don’t lead to a net gain of glory (by scoring glory yourself or denying your opponent glory) you are effectively wasting those activations. Like card advantage, if you can get an opponent to use an activation frivolously, use a single activation to score multiple objectives or if you gain more activations, or activation like actions/reactions, using ploys then you are in a stronger position to win the game.
Imagine the following scenario: You guess that an opponent has Supremacy in their hand, as they’ve arranged three fighters on objectives in their last activations of the round. One of these fighters is in range of a friendly weak fighter, and a fourth enemy fighter, who is not on an objective, is within charge range of your best fighter. If you are correct, and the player does have Supremacy, then making an attack against the fourth enemy fighter, and taking them out of action, would result in a net loss of two glory. It would be better, by far, to use a weaker attack on a fighter standing on an objective to knock them off it for a neutral glory outcome.
Change of Tactics is a trap card, in this respect. You think it’s a solid card because it is reliable and doesn’t require too much interaction with your opponent. But, it takes two activations, or one ploy and an activation, to score one glory. If you can combo it with another objective, like Keep Them Guessing, then it becomes a bit more valuable, but it is then situational to you having both objectives in your hand at the same time. You also have to play suboptimally for one phase, unless you have the fortune to be in a good position to begin with, so you’re diminishing the chance you’ll score objectives in subsequent rounds. It is really easy to score, but its rewards are pretty poor for the effort you have to expend.
Running Change of Tactics and Keep Them Guessing together, you can expect to score three glory for four activations. Compare this to Skritch is the Greatest, Yes-Yes… which you can score in one activation. You’ll gain two glory, and the chance of success is 59% against a weak fighter. The expected average glory from this manoeuvre is then 1.18 per activation, whereas Change of Tactics is a measly 0.5 per activation and Keep Them Guessing and Change of Tactics nets 0.75 per activation.
So, what do you think? Change of Tactics was in the deck of the latest Grand Clash winner, so I could be talking rubbish, but it would be interesting to see how effective the deck could have been with a different objective.

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