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Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - enter the depths

Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze, the latest season six Core Set for Games Workshop's Age of Sigmar skirmisher, is now here - here's our lowdown

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the shadeborn warband models with a close up of Slythael the leader

Warhammer Underworlds is an unusual beast among Games Workshop’s many Warhammer spin-off games – partly due to its cocktail of game mechanics, but also its longevity. Born in 2017 as Shadespire – a curious, hex-board, gateway game sibling of Warhammer Age of Sigmar – it’s since spawned four more ‘Core Sets’; an official starter set; and numerous smaller expansions. This week, GW adds a sixth core set to the list: Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze – so we thought we’d take a good look.

As a Core Set, Nethermaze is effectively GW’s ‘launch box’ to begin the new Warhammer Underworlds ‘Season’ (each of which now lasts six months), and contains everything you need to play the game: two hex boards, a set of dice; two ‘warbands’ of plastic miniatures; and all the cards needed to play as each of those teams.

But – since Underworlds is driven by a competitive deck-building scene similar to TCGs like Magic: The Gathering – this latest core box also includes the next big batch of generic cards joining the game’s competitive rotation: 48 ‘Universal’ cards (usable in decks for any warband) and 36 ‘Grand Alliance’ cards (usable only in decks for warbands from the same Grand Alliance – Order, Chaos, Death, and Destruction, the four overarching factions in Warhammer Age of Sigmar).

All of which means a Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review is somewhat tricky, because it’s a box set that’s designed both as an entry point for new players, and an essential expansion kit for long-time fans. Nevertheless, Games Workshop has kindly sent Wargamer a free copy of the new set for review – so let’s dive in even deeper than Harrowdeep, and see what lurks in Nethermaze.

Here’s the savvy on our Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review:

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the box front art, depicting Slythael, leader of the Shadeborn

What is Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze?

Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze is the sixth Underworlds ‘Core Set’, kicking off what’s now referred to by GW as ‘Season Six’ of the game.

The Warhammer Underworlds seasons are: 

  • Season One – Shadespire (2017)
  • Season Two – Nightvault (September 2018)
  • Season Three – Beastgrave (September 2019)
  • Season Four – Direchasm (December 2020)
  • Season Five – Harrowdeep (October 2021)
  • Season Six – Nethermaze (April 2022)

Nethermaze, like its predecessor Harrowdeep and other Core Sets before it, is both a standalone boxed game for newcomers, and a chunky expansion kit that adds more minis, cards, and boards for existing collectors.

Here’s what comes in the box:

  • Warhammer Underworlds rules booklet (including new rules for the Map and Domain keywords)
  • The Shadeborn warband – four push-fit plastic Daughters of Khaine minis
  • Skittershank’s Clawpack warband – five push-fit plastic Skaven minis
  • One pre-built ‘Rivals’ deck for each warband
  • Two double-sided gameboards in spooky deep-sea colours
  • A generous helping of punchboard tokens
  • 48 Universal Cards
  • 36 Grand Alliance Cards
  • 11 dice (five attack, three defence, and three magic)
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In terms of theme, atmosphere, and narrative, Nethermaze takes us almost no distance from Harrowdeep; indeed, it’s presented as a deeper level of the same setting.

Below even Harrowdeep’s ocean-floor dungeon, the titular Nethermaze is a vast labyrinth, wrought by shadow demons from the moon, intended to lure in mortal souls for them to eat. At its core (supposedly) is a realmgate portal that’ll take us to freedom – but where, who knows?

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We’ve seen no major changes to gameplay, either – no great shock, given it’s Underworlds’ first core box since accelerating from a one-year release cycle to a six-month one. The new hotnesses are still the Cover Hexes (which provide a minor defence buff to Fighters in them) and Gloom tokens – which add some extra intrigue to the game’s objective positioning (though it’s worth noting that Nethermaze’s warbands and Rivals decks are well-designed to make better use of both).

There are two new mechanics present in Nethermaze’s cards – Map and Domain – which could see play in decks as more cards come out that make use of them. The big seller for most, though, will be in the two brand new miniature warbands – and the cards that come along with them.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the Shadeborn warband models including a close up of Drusylla

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze models

It’s very hard to fault the two warbands included in Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze. The nine total push-fit plastic models you get in this box (making up the Skittershank’s Clawpack and The Shadeborn warbands) are all gorgeously detailed and – as is traditional with Underworlds and Age of Sigmar minis these days – modelled using dark magic to defy gravity with their cinematic poses. It’s wonderful stuff.

That said, as seasoned modellers ourselves, we suspect newcomers might have a stressful time putting these together. While it’s nothing short of wizardry to produce models this acrobatic-looking that can be assembled without glue, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily easy to build, or that you can’t very easily bend or break a few spindly bits.

On the other hand, the pre-built Rivals decks provided for each of these warbands (a feature introduced in the Harrowdeep core set) are accessible and full of flavour, making each force feel more distinct to play than most we’ve tried in previous seasons.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the models for the Skittershank's Clawpack warband close up

Skittershank’s Clawpack

Despite their opponents getting pride of place on the box art, we reckon Skittershank’s Skaven warband boasts by far the more visually arresting set of Warhammer Age of Sigmar models in this box.

Agile and super-fast-moving, these insidious rat-men are laser focused on killing the enemy leader(s), with assorted ways to outmanoeuvre and/or Stagger and mob their foes, on the way to their true prize.

Some of our favourite cards from the Skittershank’s Clawpack Rivals deck are:

  • The Facegouger Fangs – An upgrade that gives your Fighter a nasty two-damage melee attack, plus the Flying trait, as he spider-rats around with spiked claws.
  • Skittering Blur – A neat ploy Gambit that makes your Assassins (two out of your five Fighters) untargetable for attacks in the following activation.
  • Way of the Lashing Tail – Skaven never fight alone if they can help it; this two-glory objective card scores when you have three fighters adjacent to the same enemy fighter.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the models for The Shadeborn warband close up

The Shadeborn

Smoke-wreathed, ethereal, dark, and deadly, aelven warband The Shadeborn is clearly meant to exemplify the gloomy, threatening aura of Nethermaze’s undersea setting.

They’re also super badass on the tabletop, with a bit more melee punch than the Skaven, and a whole range of abilities and cards making use of the Cover Hexes, added to the game in Harrowdeep. These folks like to slink, hide, teleport, swap places, and generally get up to shenanigans using the shadows.

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Some of our favourite cards from The Shadeborn Rivals deck are:

  • Smoke and Mirrors – A ploy that lets two of your fighters swap places anywhere on the board, so long as one is in a Cover Hex
  • Aided by Darkness – An upgrade that gives plus one damage to all a fighter’s range one and two attacks, as long as they or their target are in a Cover Hex
  • All is Shadow – A meaty three-glory objective card that scores when all your fighters are in enemy territory, and two or more are skulking in a Cover Hex or an Edge Hex.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the provided card packs from the game

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze cards

As per the new six-month rotation system in Warhammer Underworlds’  main-line ‘Championship’ competitive format, the Nethermaze core set adds a stack of Universal cards and Grand Alliance cards, which’ll remain in the game’s tournament-legal card pool for the next two seasons, before rotating out (in casual play, all cards are legal forever).

Nethermaze’s new Grand Alliance cards include three gambits, three upgrades, and three objectives for each of the four Alliances – here are a few of our early favourites:

  • Cruel Maul (Death)  – a two-dice, two-damage attack upgrade that lets you roll two extra dice if the target is wounded.
  • Opportunistic Mob (Destruction) – A reaction ploy card that has you draw two extra power cards when one of your Fighters is taken out by an attack while supported.
  • Unsanctioned (Order) – A two-glory Objective card that scores either when your whole warband is in enemy territory, or when you knock out an enemy Wizard.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the included game dice

Among the set’s 48 new Universal cards, there are 16 gambits, 16 upgrades, and 16 objectives – of which the handful that most jumped out at us (from first riffles through) are:

  • Chum the Waters – A two-glory Objective that scores in an End Phase if your opponent has one or more wounded Fighters on a feature token
  • Quintok’s Bubble – A rather flashy Gambit Spell (Channel one) that grants a target fighter within four hexes Flying, and a minus-one damage shield against attack actions that stays on until the they take damage
  • Shadow Spear – an Attack Action upgrade with range two, three dice, two damage, and Cleave – with the catch that you can only attack from a Cover Hex.

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Of course, as with any deck-building or trading card game, it’ll take time for all the strongest cards and combos to shake out, and for a ‘meta’ to develop, after Nethermaze hits shelves on Saturday, April 30. On first glances, though, there seems a lot of potential to dig into here.

Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze review - author photo showing the game board set up, fighter cards, models, and dice

Should I buy Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze?

Unsurprisingly, if you’re an existing Underworlds player, we can enthusiastically recommend Nethermaze. Besides the more or less essential card pool additions, its two sets of models are some of the nicest Underworlds minis we’ve seen, and come complete with Rivals decks that even experienced players will enjoy taking for a spin.

For new folks, however, the maze is a little more shadowy. A little more nether. Jumping into this long-running, competitive game is no simple task, with successive seasons adding new dice, new tokens, new rules, new phases, hundreds of new cards, and (naturally) lots of new warbands into an ever-larger morass of options.

While it is a convenient all-in-one boxed game, Warhammer Underworlds Nethermaze still offers warbands that are somewhat complex, both to model and to tactically master in-game, and a rulebook which, while neat and refined, is not a step-by-step teaching document.

All of which is to say: Nethermaze is not the best box set for beginners. If you’re looking to try Warhammer Underworlds for the first time, you’ll likely have a better time with the official starter set (even though its models aren’t anywhere near as exciting).

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Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze is, however, an excellent ‘re-entry point’ for lapsed players – providing the most advanced and updated version of the rules, alongside two brilliant sets of models; colourful boards, dice, and cards of the customary splendid quality; and – critically – the best iteration yet of the Rivals decks, allowing you to get right into the game without re-learning the deck-building first. So far, we’re in deep.

Warhammer Underworlds: Nethermaze is available to pre-order from Games Workshop now, and will be released to stores on Saturday, April 30.