If you’ve read our article on Underworlds formats you’ll know all you need to know the 3 main ways to play, but recently a new “unofficial” format has emerged. That format is Rivals+ and it’s having a huge impact on how I, and many others play Warhammer Underworlds.
Rivals+ is a little different from all of the other formats, because it’s not an “official” format with a rules document on the Warhammer Community site, but it’s gained in popularity due to it’s use at a number of competitive events held at Warhammer World, and that in itself has given it a legitimate place on our list
In Rivals+ you can combine your warbands faction specific cards with one of the pre-constructed universal rivals decks, or the essentials card pack, and use those cards to build your deck following the core rules (20 power cards, 12 objective cards etc). There are no banned or restricted cards but it does use the Underworlds FAQ and errata.
As you’d expect from the name it has a lot of similarities to Rivals, but despite being a fantastic approachable way of playing casual games, Rivals has a few issues competitively that Rivals+ seeks to address.
The first is that the lack of deckbuilding in Rivals. Not being able to modify your deck means there’s less opportunities for a skilled player, who has planned their strategy and carefully crafted a deck to support it, to express that skill on the table to beat less skilled opponents. You could argue that this makes a game of Rivals amount to something like rock, paper, scissors, where the largest impact on the outcome of the game is made as soon as you select your warbands. Does my aggro warband do well against your objective control warbands? Well then I win. Obviously board placement, deployment, and all the activation decisions you make in a game mean it’s not as bad as that, but you can start the game with a significant advantage.
Unfortunately it’s also the case that not all warbands are quite as good as one another out of the box, and warbands from Shadespire and Nightvault don’t even have legal decks in their box so are limited to just the prebuilt rivals decks. This means that while every warband is playable, the competitive warband pool is severely limited by who’s Rivals deck contains the strongest cards and old warbands find themselves getting left behind. Card limitations are one thing, but many people start playing the game because they like the appearance or strategy of a specific warband only to discover it’s weak Rivals deck means they struggle to win games (or even come close sometimes). This isn’t a problem that existed in Championship, where players would pride themselves on making decks that work with “weak” warbands and taking them to tournaments.
So when Games Workshop set about planning their new casual/competitive event schedule they needed to hit a middle ground between the existing formats. Many other card games do this with “limited” formats, where games are played with decks built from a small pool of random cards. Players don’t use their whole collection so new players are not disadvantaged, but making the best deck out of a unique card pool is a challenge requiring skill and knowledge. Underworlds isn’t played with randomised packs of cards though so this wasn’t an option but Rivals+ limits the card pool in a similar way.
It feels like more than just a new player format, but a good way for anyone to compete on a level playing field…
Ultimately I’m looking forward to playing more Championship as the season goes on, but I’m also looking forward to the development of Rivals+. It feels like more than just a new player format, but a good way for anyone to compete on a level playing field, regardless of their time or financial commitment to the game. The deck building is interesting, but not overwhelming, and old warbands are showing some ability to compete in results from the Warhammer world Bugmans Clash events. The choice of a limited card pool means decks are more warband specific than they tend to be in Championship, where powerful cards often overshadow synergies and unique abilities, and as more Rivals decks are released focusing on more niche strategies I’m excited to see what strange play styles and weird ways of gaining glory I can bring to the table.
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