Warhammer Underworlds Direchasm Arena Mortis Review
Warhammer Community recently teased the upcoming fith season of Warhammer Underworlds (check out their post here) but we’re not quite done with the Living Mountain just yet. Arena Mortis is sort of spin-off expansion for Warhammer Underworlds Direchasm with varient rules allowing 3-6 players to pit a single fighter of their choics against one another in the Arena Mortis!
Games Workshop have kindly provided Sprues and Brews with a review copy of Warhammer Underworlds Direchasm Arena Mortis so let’s dive in and check out what’s inside!
Firstly it’s worth pointing out that Arena Mortis is not a stand alone game and you will need a copy of a Warhammer Underworlds Core Set in order to make use of this expansion. Each player will also need a single Fighter model (which can be selected from any of the existing Warhammer Underworlds Warbands), their corresponding Fighter Card and selection of Upgrade and Gambit cards to use during your game.
Arena Mortis does include two new Fighter cards (but no actual models) which players are free to use if they wish, Regis Fulbringer, a Stormcast Knight Incantor and Dolorghast, a Nighthaunt Knight of Shrouds. There are also 20 new Universal Gambit and Upgrade cards included in the set which players can use when building their decks (more on this shortly).
Arena Mortis also includes a set of 20 Hazard cards which represent the malign influence and power that the Arena Mortis has on the combatants trapped within it’s grasp. These cards are drawn at the beginning of a round and confer a special effect that can last for the duration of that round or in some cases persist much longer. These range from effects such as Beastquake which causes each fighter to be pushed 2 hexes (in a direction chosen by an opponent) or the Firebite Tuskgnat Hives which deal damage to those fighter which have the Block defence type.
Finally there are six initiative cards are a bunch of card tokens that are used to keep track of various effects and counts during your game, including six new hex tokens that represent the Mortis Lenses – magical mirrors crafted by Nagash and his Mortarchs in order to claim the loyalty of those mighty warriors whose reflections are captured in the foreboding glass.
A game of Arena Mortis consists of between 6 and 9 rounds depending on the player count (for 3 players it’s 9 rounds, for 6 players it’s 6 rounds). Players compete to earn the most Glory Points over the course of the game with the winner being the player with the most.
Before the game begins you pick your fighter, grab their fighter card and then build your decks. As mentioned above, you can select any single fighter from any of the Warhammer Underworlds warbands (the only exception being Brimstone Horrors). As we all know, some fighters are much stronger than others and I was interested to see how Arena Mortis would incentivise players against just choosing the most powerful fighter they could. Suffice to say after reading the rules I do not believe this should be much of an issue. Weaker fighters have access to additional upgrades at the start of the game as a balancing mechanism and there is an incentive for players to target the strongest fighters during a game which earns them more Glory Points.
Deck construction differs slightly from the base game, for a start there are no Objective cards (the only objective in Arena Mortis is kill, kill and then kill again!). Players select at least 10 Upgrade cards to form their Upgrade deck (each card must share the same warband symbol as that fighter or have the universal symbol) . They then select at least the same number of Gambit cards (again with the same symbol restrictions) to form their Gambit deck. The Arena Mortis rulebook provides a short list of ‘banned’ cards that cannot be included in any player’s deck. It’s worth noting that Power Cards and Objective Cards are not used in games of Arena Mortis. If during a game a rule refers the Power deck you’re instructed to reference the Gambit deck instead. If during a game a rule refers to the Objective deck you just ignore that rule.
We then move onto the set up, players reveal their chosen fighters and then each draw an initiative card at random – these cards are used to determine in what order the players will take their turns during each round (they are shuffled and redrawn at the beginning of subsequent rounds). What’s really fun is that these initiative cards are kept hidden from other players until it is their turn to act. You will never know in which order the players will take their turns during that round. This keeps each round exciting and forces players to react and adapt during each round, in keeping with the theme of high adrenaline arena combat!
The player with the “First Player” initiative card reveals it and then chooses a game board to use during this game. Only one board is used in Arena Mortis and is considered as no one’s, yours and and enemy territory together. The first player then random selects a single Mortis Lens hex token and places it as close to the middle of the board as possible. Each Mortis Lens has a different in game effect, granting bonuses and in some cases Glory points to those fighters who manage to occupy the same hex. These bonuses are actually very strong meaning you’ll want to either occupy the hex yourself or at least ensure that other fighters don’t!
Finally, players shuffle their Gambit and Upgrade decks, draw their starting hand of three cards from their Gambit deck and then place their fighters on an empty starting hex (again, in initiative order). It’s at this point one of those balancing mechanisms I mentioned earlier kicks in, depending on each fighter’s wounds value they receive a number of upgrades. For example a fighter with 2 wounds receives 3 upgrades (drawn from the top of their respective Upgrade deck. A fighter with 6 or more wounds starts the game with no upgrades, ensuring a relatively even playing field for the different fighters at the start of game. Upgrade cards can be given to fighters during the game and there are some really fun rules for this. Fighters can be given an upgrade during their turn by flipping a Glory Point token (in much the same way as in the base game). You draw the top card from your Upgrade deck and give it to your fighter. If that upgrade cannot be given to the fighter or would result in the fighter being taken out of action you instead discard it. In addition, if an enemy fighter already has an upgrade with the same name they are forced to discard it! Lastly, if an upgrade causes the player to gain, take or score any Glory Points they must also discard that upgrade.
At this point you’re ready to start the first round! Each round is split into three phases. During the Hazard Phase you’ll start by determining the initiative order for that round (see above) and then the first player draws and resolves a single Hazard card. Some Hazard cards can deal damage to fighters and should a fighter be unlucky enough to be taken out of action during this phase they award glory points to the other players!
During the Action Phase, each player takes their turn in initiative order. During their turn they’ll be able to raise their fighter if required (basically bring them back to life on a starting hex), upgrade their fighter, draw and or play a Gambit card and activate their fighter (using the activation rules from the base game). Players may also play Gambit cards as a reaction during this phase if they wish.
If during their own Action Phase a fighter is taken out of action, that player loses a Glory Point. Players can earn Glory Points themselves by taking out enemy fighters with their own fighter. Depending on the wounds characteristic of the slain fighter (and the controlling player’s number of Glory Points) you’ll be awarded a varying number of Glory Points and a Mortis token. For every two Mortis tokens you earn you’ll be able to upgrade your fighter!
During the End Phase player’s redraw up to three Gambit cards to their hand, clear all tokens from the board and get ready to start the next round. At the end of the game you total up who has the most Glory Points and declare them the winner (there are some additional conditions to settle any ties).
Overall it’s a fun little game with lots of scope for alliances and back stabbing between the different players. The balancing mechanisms built into the rules do a good job I feel of leveling the playing field and ensure that even the lowliest of fighters is able to compete in the Arena Mortis. There is plenty of variety provided by the different Hazard cards and Mortis Lens effects to ensure that no two games will play the same and the cool ‘hidden’ initiative mechanic keeps it interesting and entertaining for players from one round to the next. For those that want to mix up their Arena Mortis games further still the rulebook present rules for Tag Team Elimination and 2v2 or 3v3 games as well!
With so many random elements to the game (random turn order, random upgrade cards, random Hazard effects) I get the impression that this is a game that does not take itself too seriously, you’ll have to be prepared for those rounds where it seems everything is against you – but I don’t think this is too much of an issue really, your fighter will be back to their feet in time for your next turn and you’ll get an opportunity to enact your revenge on the opposing fighters before the game is over!