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Necromunda Underhive Review – Games Workshop

Necromunda Underhive Review – Games Workshop
EH Gaming

November is shaping up to be quite a good month for the re-release of Games Workshop titles that coloured my youthful days. In 2016 it was the return of Blood Bowl…and in 2017 they resurrect Necromunda!

Halle-frickin-lujah!

Like many others I assumed that the long rumoured return of Necromunda had been killed off by GW with the release of Shadow War: Armageddon earlier in the year. This game, if you squinted, kinda looked and felt a bit like Necromunda whilst actually clearly not being it at all. Not a gang member to be seen…Orks in the box…nah!

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Shadow War set but I must confess to never actually getting around to playing it yet. The real attraction was the scenery that came in the box; worth the money alone and then some.

Necromunda shadow war terrain

The game itself looks very good to be fair, it just didn’t get played in the first couple of months and then 8th edition came out and so on, and so on.

This re-launch of Necromunda (Necromunda: Underhive to be correct) now means that I may never play a game of Shadow War…because, well, Necromunda is…just…so…damn…good!

What’s in the box?

  • 10 Escher Gang miniatures (loads of build options on the sprues)
  • 10 Goliath Gang miniatures (again, loads of build options)
  • 25 Feature Sculpted Bases (for the miniatures)
  • Necromunda: Underhive rulebook
  • 28 Tactics Cards & 42 Profile Cards
  • 9 Gaming Tiles (to create the ‘board’)
  • Loads of Scenery (bulkhead doors, barricades, ammo crates, etc)
  • Game Tokens
  • 16 Necromunda Dice
  • Flame & Blast Templates

Just a quick word on the miniatures…stunning!

Basic Game Overview

Necromunda takes place in the dirty underbelly of the Warhammer 40K Imperium…far away from the epic battlegrounds and interstellar xenos encounters that we normally associate with Games Workshop’s flagship products. This is gang warfare in the depths of hive cities. If Space Marines were premier league footballers then the Necromunda gangs are the soccer hooligans that beat the bejesus out of each other in hidden alleyways.

It is human v human. There are no superweapons, or tanks, or impenetrable armour. No psychic abilities or orbital bombarments; just grimy men and women going at each other with basic guns, blades, tools and machinery. The ‘cities’ of the Imperium are controlled by various different ‘Houses’ whom each monopolise valuable resources of supplies that every other House and human relies on. From time to time the Houses clash, but not in open warfare. Conflicts are played out between the gangs that belong to the Houses and this starter set includes gangs from House Escher and House Goliath. The former is made up entirely of deadly females and the latter is a collection of musclebound nutters.

Both gangs carry a vicious array of weapons; for shooting and chopping and each individual ganger is as deadly as the next in their own way. Goliath brutes are almost unstoppable when they get up close and personal but the Escher ladies are fast, skilful and full of chemical tricks. There are no guaranteed outcomes when they meet in the claustrophobic corridors or trade shots across open spaces.

The game is played out on the included board tiles from which a decent number of individual floor layouts can be made up so each game can have a very different setting to the last. It is an activation based game, where each player takes it in turn to ‘activate’ a model and perform actions with it, such as moving, shooting or charging into hand to hand combat.

The core mechanics of the game borrow from the current 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000, certainly as far as shooting and melee combat goes and movement is measured out using the included ruler or your trusty tape measure. The use of plastic templates for flame or gas weapons and blast templates for grenades is a nod and a wink to the past but whereas I don’t miss having to use them at all in 8th edition 40K I feel that they HAVE to be part of the Necromunda theatrics and I’m glad they are part of the rules.

What’s it like to play?

It is a dream to play. I am not going to hark back to the version of yore or start drawing comparisons between the two. There is plenty of purist content out there if you search for it. Right here and now this smells like Necromunda 2.0 but it’s an evolution of aspects rather than a revolution of all.

I have to cast my mind back to around 20 years ago when I personally last played Necromunda and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. From what I can remember, limited as it is, this reboot FEELS like the Necromunda of old but is more polished and faster to play. Shooting and combat feels like it is resolved quicker and the game is speedier and even more captivating for it.

The contents of the Underhive starter set are designed to bring new players into the game through a staged (and not steep) learning curve. The recommended basic rules are the entry point, graduating up to the fuller advanced rules after grasping the basics through an introductory scenario between the two gangs. All of this is detailed in the really rather excellent softcover rulebook that is included with the game. Kudos to the artists and writers involved with the project as this is one of the best, if not THE best, game books that GW have ever produced.

The artwork is stunning and the background detail and ‘history’ of the Houses is compelling and beautifully scribed. I have looked at this version of Necromunda as a newcomer to the game as although I played it plenty of times back in the 20th century I haven’t touched it before now since 1998. House names such as Orlock and Escher were words I knew and could recall, but I couldn’t remember any of the lore or background to the game so it really has been like discovering it for the first time.

But I slightly digress…back to the gameplay. This is a very fun, yet at times very tense tabletop miniatures game that never feels ‘samey’ when we play it. Some games turn into a series of mini games of cat and mouse as individual gangers chase other opposing individual gangers down corridors, whereas other times like moths to a flame the gangs converge in one of the larger open ‘rooms’ on the board, trade a round of shooting and then duke it out toe to toe for a couple more rounds (this doesn’t go well for Escher too often if their shooting doesn’t reap rewards first!).

Necromunda Underhive is fun, and that is how it should be. It will scale up to the seriousness of tournament play and I bet that is quite something to take part in, but as far as opening a box goes, setting up a board and rolling some dice this ticks every box on the enjoyment list. You could class it as a beer ‘n’ pretzels game, and that is a perfect label for something that provides a really enjoyable couple of hours but you could also see it as an ongoing game to build a campaign around as it flexes any way you want to play.

Who would like it?

First and foremost, this is a perfect segway for any Warhammer 40k player who wants to play something on a less dramatic scale than the usual 1,500/2,000 point battle. It provides new adventures in the 40k universe without having to break the bank as everything you need is in this core box. There are expansions available already, and a third gang is out with more on the way, but purchase is optional. You can have a great time just with this set.

I’m trying to avoid the phrase ‘gateway game’ but this feels like that is what it can be for tabletop gamers who have so far resisted the lure of full-on 40k as they don’t want to jump down that potentially expensive rabbit hole. If you have played and enjoyed the likes of Deadzone (by Mantic) or other skirmish type games such as Test of Honour (Warlord Games) then Necromunda is right up your alley. I don’t necessarily think it is a ‘gateway game’ for someone who hasn’t encountered a tabletop miniatures game yet as although easy enough to get to grips with there is a level of complexity that might be quite abstract to a complete beginner, but neither would I suggest that the uninitiated keep away from it…it just might need a slow and steady approach and a couple of games for it to ‘click’, and the right person to guide them through the gameplay also.

Summary

Kudos to the Specialist Games team at Games Workshop as this is a classic reborn in the right way. Similar to Blood Bowl they have resurrected a much-loved game of ours and breathed new life into it in a respectful and addictive way and it’s a complete hit. I hope that the promised support for the game materialises and then persists and I hope that they expand their team to make sure they can keep all the good plates spinning. I have a minor concern that a game such as Blood Bowl might get forgotten for a while as they focus on Necromunda and that would not make me happy. In the same vein other classics such as Adeptus Titanicus are slated for re-release in the future and shelving Necromunda while they focus on the next shiny thing would also make me grumpy.

I only reference this as there is form in this area from Games Workshop, but I do digress…and I am being a bit unfair as sometimes the popularity of a game is hard to predict.

In the final analysis I would rather wait and get great gear and miniatures than a whole bunch of rushed average bits…so, I’ll trust them to do the right thing and close off by saying that they have nailed Necromunda Underhive; it’s epic!

Our Verdict

Scores 11 out of 12

11 out of 12…SMASHED IT!!


Publisher: Games Workshop
No. of Players: 2
Recommended Age: 12+
Time To Play: Around 2 hours