Aman: The Gnarlspirit has arrived and I’m a huge fan of this particular warband. From a visual perspective, I love the fact that GW has taken the time to flesh out the human followers of Chaos, particularly the Darkoath tribes. Each miniature is packed with so many details and personality that you can actually get a solid glimpse of each fighter’s story. It’s awesome.
Another reason why I’ve been so taken by this warband is because they have some very fun mechanics, cards, and an aggressive play style that really hits everything that I look for in this game. This warband offers a ton of choice as well so whether you’re a newer player, or a returning veteran, you will be mentally stimulated.
Let’s get into these murderous warriors and watch in awe as their channel their inner beast spirits!
If you’d like to check out all the cards in the deck for an unfiltered, initial experience then you view the entire deck here. Once you’re done with your first read through, be sure to join us back here to get some additional insight.
Also a big shout out to Games Workshop for providing us this free, preview copy.
Overcome and Inspiration:
Due to the unique nature of how this warband functions, I thought it prudent to break down how the fighters work before highlighting each of their individual capabilities.
When you activate a fighter from this warband you are allowed to give them a Spirit counter. When given such a counter, the fighter is now considered Overcome – which means they become a beast. All this means is that they can’t hold objectives and use attack action upgrades when overcome by their bestial patrons. In addition to that, each fighter gains additional boons which allow them to channel the gifts their patrons provide them. These benefits range from movement, accuracy, and even defensive capabilities.
Keep in mind, you can continue to give fighters Spirit counters even if they already have them. This doesn’t change the set of characteristics they have access to, but it does interact with their faction cards so that’s worth keeping in mind.
In order to inspire, your fighter must have had removed all of the spirit counters from your fighter. In a nutshell this means that your fighters will have to first be Overcome before reaping the benefits of their inspire. This can be a but if lengthy process since you will wild out via the Spirit counter, then upon activating the fighter again you will inspire after the second activation.
This means you fighters generally won’t inspire until round 2 – most of the time. The changes with Gnarlwood allow you to activate fighters even after they’ve moved and charged (depending on certain circumstances) so this could happen earlier as well.
Another neat aspect is that if your fighter is inspire, but then gains a Spirit counter, they are immediately un-inspired but then get to immediately reap the benefits of channeling their bestial patrons
I love these mechanics they offer a lot of choice, flexibility, and adaptability. As someone who loves as many choices as possible in this game, this sings to me. It also reminds me of the way the Crimson Court function as well, which is another warband I really enjoy playing. Unlike that warband though, you really don’t care about their standard profiles. It’s really a conversation between being overcome or inspiration. The only time I see base profiles coming into to play is you need a fighter to actually hold an objective in the early game.
I can easily see myself alternating between being overcome and inspired during a game to ensure I have the perfect answer when attempting to defeat my opponent.
The warband is lead by a shaman named Sarrakkar Blackwing, a giant of a man who communes with the beast spirits that bless his pack. He’s a leader and a level 2 wizard with a move 4, 2 dodge, and 4 wounds who has a pair of ranged attacks. His range 2 attack his for 2 smash, 2 damage and his range 3 attack hits on focus and deals 1 damage when un-inspired. Veterans of the game will realize that bears many similarities to how wizards were offensively statted in the Nightvault season, where magic was introduced. This is the attack profile you are looking for in a leader. It’s very nice.
When Blackwing is overcome, via a Spirit counter, his cards start to hit the insane territory and he’s not even inspired yet. His movement goes to 6 and he gains the flying trait (which means he he can ignored blocked hexes, occupied hexes, and lethal hexes during his move), and gains the beast characteristic. I think that is well worth the trade off given how his threat range stays in the hefty 8-9 range from the start of the game. The start of the game! This means he can pretty much target any enemy fighter he wants to, depending on how aggressive you want to position him.
Upon inspiring, Sarrakar’s beefy profile loses out on his movement but more than makes up for hit in terms of sheer accuracy and ranged damage output. His range 2 attack now becomes a 3 smash attack which is incredible. His Raptor Bolt bumps up to 2 damage and also gains the cleave ability.
When piloting Sarrakar, you have a lot of flexibility. Since he effectively start the game with a movement of 6, you can you keep him fairly protected at the beginning of the game. Placing him near the back of the board doesn’t matter because he can get pretty much anywhere he wants to. Additionally, he’s going to be your prime VOLTRON (stacking multiple upgrades on a fighter) target, especially when inspired.
Speaking of inspiration, I think Blackwing highlights the benefits of the Struggle mechanics exceptionally well. Let him unleash the beast as soon as the game start and take as much advantage of his mobility as possible. Since you have to be overcome before inspiring, set him up in a good spot so that when he does inspire, he is is in the perfect position to deal as much damage as possible. Which has the potential to be a lot.
Gorl Spinehammer is the brawler of the group and he’s quite possibly one of the most imposing fighters you’ll come across, without any upgrades. This makes sense as he’s channeling a bear spirit. He’s sporting a move of 3, 1 block, and 4 wounds which is pretty damn solid. He also hits pretty hard with his 3 damage, 2 smash melee attack – it also has knockback which can be nifty.
When Overcome, in addition to becoming a beast, he gains a second dice on defense. That mean he starts the game with 4 wounds and 2 block, and hits for 3 damage! That’s incredible.
Now when he inspires, he gains Knockback 2 and Stagger on his single attack. While that is cool, it isn’t very exciting. However, what makes this side more compelling is that he allows your other beasts within 2 hexes to be able to hold objectives – which beasts at standard are not able to do.
Ultimately, while I find the Beast Breaker special rule I still don’t think it beats the fact that when overcome, Spinehammer has 2 block. With the changes to Gnarlspirit, you won’t see fighters in cover as much so starting the game that that defensive profile is incredible.
While Gorl is the slowest of the bunch, because he is so defensible, you can confidently place him aggressively and threaten your opponent with his fairly accurate 3 damage attack. If you manage to get [Ferocious Bite] on him early, that means he’s swinging on 4 smash. Wild.
Channeling the rage of a wolverine, Crimson Kheira is another brawler but one who leans more into her offensive nature. She’s rocking 4 move, 1 block, and 3 wounds and has 2 range 1 attack options. The first one hits on 3 fury for 2 damage – that’s pretty accurate. The second attack, Bersker Assault, doesn’t really come into play until she is Overcome. At base, it’s fairly accurate given it hits on 4 fury. The damage is only 1.
When she is in beast mode, her move bumps up to 5 and she gains the unleash ability on her 4 fury attack which grants it grievous 1 and scything. That’s not joke. The moment you give her a +1 damage upgrade, she is in contention for being one of the most accurate fighters in the game. Give her +1 dice as well and then you hit laughable levels of accuracy. Wolverines are known to exude extreme acts of violence out in the wild, Kheira is no exception. Horde warbands beware.
If you happen to be fighting an elite warband, then inspiring her might be the way to go. Her Clawed Axes gain cleave and grievous 1 but she loses out on her second attack. This allows her to spike into damage fairly quickly and punch well above her wound class.
I still think you always go beast mode with her. She’s a fantastic VOLTRON target if you can give her +1 wound as well.
Lupan Longcut is a sadistic murderer who embraces the vicious aspect of a wolf (his name is a dead giveaway). He’s got 4 move, 1 dodge, and 3 wounds. This makes him the least survivable member of the warband. He’s 2 different attacks though. Longcut is a range 3 attack, that hits on 2 smash, for 1 damage. This spikes to 2 damage, due to Impact, when making a charge. This is reminiscent of Jagathra (Godsworn Hunt) and Skaeth (Wild Hunt). Unlike them, he can use the attack multiple times. His second attack is pretty solid as well. It hits on 3 fury and deals 2 damage at a range of 1.
When Overcome, Lupan’s threat range jumps to 8 due to his bump to move 5. The more interesting aspect of his kit however is that he counts double supports as successes in both offense and defense. This shores up the fact that he is on 1 dodge because this now effectively means he is on 1 block in terms of the math. This also makes him the most accurate fighter in the warband at base line.
Now while I really like his beast mode, I think Lupan shines when inspired. His Longcut attack now hits on 3 smash, his melee attack gains grievous 1, and he bumps to 2 dodge. The icing on the cake however, is that he gains the Beast Guide ability in which he counts as supporting each friendly beast.
Now since Kheira and Gorl will almost always be Overcome (in my opinion), he now adds half supports to their offense and defense. That is incredible. Spinehammer becomes even harder to hit while Kheira would be surprised if she actually missed.
Lupan is perhaps the most interesting fighter in the group in terms of his varied options. He is good when both Overcome and inspired and it is really up to you on what abilities you think suit you best. I do think the accuracy augmentation he provides is well worth it, especially when you consider how accurate Hexbane’s Hunters are when they gain a support with their hounds.
I believe him to be that he’s the one of the more impactful members of the warband and he’ll definitely win you games. He’s a solid force multiplier who packs solid offensive output. Man, I love this guy.
If this is your first time, we follow a pretty basic review system.
- A: the card is very powerful and should almost always be included in your deck builds.
- B: means that the card is strong and will usually be included, but not always.
- C: the card can be good in certain situations but will usually require extra support.
- D: means the card is on the weaker side of things. It doesn’t mean that it is inherently bad but perhaps can be considered hard to use or counter intuitive to prevalent strategies.
- S: insane. Clear candidate for the FaR list.
Oath of Fortitude: Oaths are back! If you aren’t familiar with how they work, they were introduced with the Godsworn Hunt warband. If you reveal this card to your opponent(s) at the start of your first turn in a round and then manage to score the card, you gain an additional glory point. For this card specifically, this one is pretty solid because it offers you the adaptability to score this in both the early and late game. Early game, you can score this because you should have 3 or more friendly fighters. If things are looking grim, you can still score this by having at least 1 fighter alive as long as you started the round with only 1. I do think there is a world where maybe you don’t reveal this in the mid-game just to help cycle, but the 2 glory is very tempting. One of the fun things about Oaths is that you can just reveal them even when you aren’t planning to score them because then this may force your opponent into a line of play that maybe they weren’t planning on making. The mind games with these cards can be worth it alone in some cases.
Oath of Ruin: Our first surge! I like this one quite a bit because it allows you to gain 2 glory for playing power cards that let you remove an objective, so you can score this in the power phase. There are 3 ways to do this in the faction itself so this translates well in Rivals and Nemesis, too. I do like the back up option as well. Taking an enemy fighter out of action in enemy territory is what this warband was designed to do. If you reveal it in that scenario, you’d gain 3 glory if you the bounty into account.
Oath of Slaughter: This card is insane. When revealed, it is a 4 glory card. Oh, and it’s a surge. Reveal it, take 2 fighters out (worth 2 glory) or a single large fighter (worth 2 glory), and laugh your way to the bank. Important thing to note, it doesn’t say the enemy fighters have to be taken out due to attack actions, so you can use lethal hexes and gambits to make this more reliable.
Oath of the Hunt: This is actually interesting. I think this is the weakest oath of the bunch. While I do believe you can do this quite reliably, even in the early game due to your insane movement when Overcome – except Gorl, I think it’s a better late game card. The more interesting thing is that I’m not sure if you do reveal this card because your opponent can counter this one the most. And again, Gorl is slow.
Rapid Raid: This goes hand in hand with Oath of the Hunt (above) but again I don’t know if I like cards like these. I don’t like being forced to position my fighters a specific way, especially when I don’t have to be the aggressor. Being able to score it without rolling dice is nice though. In Rivals, I think this is great. In Nemesis and Championship, I think this card starts to drop off.
Rating: B in Rivals, C in Championship & Nemesis
Raze and Pillage: This is a great 2 glory end phase card. You only need 1 fighter in enemy territory to score this as the fighter holding the feature token can also be the one with the upgrade. You’ve got the movement to get there. Heck, even Gorl can just jump onto a feature token, give him a defensive upgrade, and he’s most likely not moving.
Return to Ruin: I like how all the warbands have 3 glory end phase cards but they tend to be the hardest cards to score. A lot of how you score this card depends on you outsmarting your opponent during the objective token placement phase in the game. However with objective tokens being face up now, I foresee horde warbands like Grymwatch and Thorns making a comeback, which means it’s going to hard to jump on those.
Savaged: Awesome card. Very easy to score as it is a natural part of your game plan and excellent in all formats.
Shocking Raid: Dice dependent surges can be frustrating when the dice don’t work out. However, hitting 2 attacks in a round is doable, especially with the accuracy that Lupan provides. I am generally down on cards like this but given how many range attacks you have access to, and with Kheira’s scything attack, I think this decently solid.
True Selves: This is awesome. The path to inspiration involves becoming a beast and you should be overcoming your fighters the moment the gamer starts. Sure there are niche situations in which you might need to hold an objective, but 99.9% of the time, you should beast mode it out. Late game, same thing. Your fighters will be inspired, overcome, or dead.
Well Rewarded: This card is amazing. The important thing to note is that this card doesn’t say that the third upgrade needs to go on in the same turn or phase. Whenever you play your third upgrade, you gain a glory in the power phase. That’s great. Especially when Blackwing and Kheira will be your upgrade stacking targets.
Worthy Deed: I love how this is similar to [A Worthy Deed]. They are technically named differently, but the theme is the same. It is possibly the weakest surge in the deck, which is saying something given how this is still a solid card. All 4 fighters can punch above their weight class and you can definitely take out fighters with an upgrade. The changes to grievous allow this to be decently attainable. Kheira in particular can spike quite highly if you stack that crit damage.
Rating: B in Rivals and Nemesis, C in Championship
Dulling Venom: It’s accuracy that requires a bit of set up. It’s not bad though, considering you can keep attacking after everyone has charged on your end. The re-roll is nice but I think the utility might be a bit more interesting. Since you can’t delve when staggered, this could hamper enemy scoring.
Fierce Competition: This card, at base level is [Determined Effort] which isn’t bad, especially in Rivals and Nemesis. When Lupan is inspired, he’s providing a ton of accuracy through Beast Guide. Even then, you can position this to get the +2 dice and it means your attack will most likely hit given you gain the benefit of half supports as well. Pairing this with [Ferocious Bite] makes me want to throw up.
Rating: A in Rivals and Nemesis, B in Championship
Hasty Pillage: I like the idea that you can deny enemy scoring in niche cases. It helps you score Oath of Ruin as well. With the addition of the Plunder special rule, I think the benefit of objective removal isn’t as powerful as it used to be. The charge token isn’t also much of a factor as most of the time, you’d use this in conjunction with a charged fighter. It’s a tech card.
Rating: C in Rivals and Nemesis, D in Championship
Hunting Aspects: I love cards like this because options. Now while this card is telegraphed, it doesn’t matter as much as long as you have 2-3+ fighters up because it’s going to be very difficult for your opponent to counter all the options here in the power step. Healing Gorl, your most tanky fighter, is great. Kheira pinging someone after an attack, insane. Lupan getting even more accurate, great. Sarrakar going to wizard level 3, awesome. You need Blackwing to be on the board, keep that in mind. I dislike this a bit more in Championship if only because that format is dictated by the best universals. You’ll need slots for those and I don’t see this card as an auto-include.
Rating: A in Rivals and Nemesis, B in Championship
In Control: This is a multi-push as long as you have a fighter who is not a beast. I think this is great early game because you can activate 3 fighters, then play this card since your final fighter won’t be a beast yet. In the mid and late game, the pushes can be game winning since Blackwing and/or Lupan will most likely be inspired.
Self-Comand: Playing this means you will inspire a fighter in the following inspire step. That’s pretty solid but not sure if that is necessary given how flexible and attainable the inspire condition is. I guess if you really want to get Blackwing and Lupan online as soon as possible this is solid. Worst case, this is put a fighter on guard which is good for your 2 defense fighters.
Rating: A in Rivals and Nemesis, B in Championship
Spurred Onwards: The interesting thing is that I don’t think this warband needs to the movement help, aside on Gorl really. I guess he’ll usually be a beast so giving him a move of 5 is compelling. I just think there may be better options out there in more advanced formats.
Rating: B in Rivals, C in Championship and Nemesis
The Binding: Our first and only spell. Healing is solid, especially on Gorl. Since he’s mostly going to be a beast, and you can keep giving him Spirit counters when you activate him, this could be a decent late game heal. For anyone really, but Gorl and Blackwing being on 4 wounds means they can take the most advantage of it innately. Keep in mind that you can’t use this as a way to simply remove Spirit counters because you have to do the heal and a fighter can only be healed if they have at least 1 wound counter. I think it is best in Rivals and drops of the the higher up in formats you go.
Rating: A in Rivals, B in Nemesis, C in Championship
Vicious Blow: I think you’ll often get the +1 damage on this since there’s a clear split, to me at least, on who you want as a beast or not. In the mid to late game, this is fairly attainable. Again, early game, you can use this to spike damage before activating all your fighters because fighters only become beasts when you chose to activate them. I used to not be a fan of cards like these but after playing Crimson Court (they also have an in-faction card similar to this called [Mighty Strike]) I see the value of these kinds of cards. Helps you score stuff and take enemy fighters out, what more do you want?
Violent Transformation: Your second objective removal gambit – it’s good if you’re trying to score Oath of Ruin or are attempting to deny enemy end phase scoring. The stagger is unfortunate but it makes sense. I don’t like the un-inspire because you have to do give this to a fighter that is holding an objective, which Overcome fighters cannot do. I guess you could try it with a push before activating a fighter in the first round. Otherwise, you un-inspire for glory denial and maybe score 2 glory via Oath of Ruin.
Rating: B in Rivals, C in Nemesis and Championship
Brute Resilience: Holy cow, this is amazing. Great Fortitude and Great Strength are pillars in this game, and they also happen to be the 2 of the strongest. Bumping up Kheira and Lupan to 4 wounds early is beneficial, too.
Denbreaker: The third and final way to remove objectives. I will say, I like how there are 3 ways to get it done if you’re gunning for Oath of Ruin. That makes it pretty reliable. Breaking the card isn’t a downside since, again, I think you only take this if you are trying to score the aforementioned objective and because Plunder is a thing.
Rating: A in Rivals, B in Nemesis, C in Championship
Envenomed Spurs: Makes sense that this can be given to a beast. This works like a wolf attack from Rippa’s Snarlfangs, or even Kloq-Trak’s bite reaction, in that you can do this after you make a regular attack action. Unlike that attack, this profile can benefit from modifier. So for a example, a fighter equipped with this, Ferocious Bite, and Great Strength will hit for 4 fury and deal 2 damage. When the attack comes for free, it is a really nice to have. Having to spend an upgrade on this makes me question on whether or not you really need it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really good but when compared against how accurate your warband is, coupled with their damage output, not sure if you need this redundancy. I like the idea of it, especially on a fighter with a bunch of upgrades.
Preternatural Senses: Re-rolling a die on defense is neat but not sure if it is needed, too much. Ignoring cover is very cool as you get risk of that pesky double-support on defense, but since cover isn’t everywhere anymore, I think the efficacy of this card dips. Again, the re-roll is nice on defense but I think it drops off in Championship.
B in Rivals and Nemesis C in Championship
Raging Companion: Another reaction type attack, this time for Sarrakkar. I think your leader’s best attack is his staff attack so this might not come up as much. Also the benefit of your spell attack action is the safe distance from which you can conjure the spell. You give up security for another attack. Granted that attack can be modified and improved upon via upgrades, but I think I might look for other upgrades for Blackwing.
Rating: B in Rivals, C in Nemesis and Championship
Surfaced Instinct: This card’s stock gets better the more defensive dice your fighters have. Blackwing, an inspired Lupan, and an Overcome Gorl will enjoy this card when facing against specific opponents. That being said, I’m not sure how much better the immunity is when compared to general improvements to dice, including re-rolls. This feels like a meta dependent card and in those situations, it will do well. Otherwise, I feel okay about it. It’s better in the more basic formats though because accuracy and defensive buffs are hard to come by.
Rating: B in Rivals and Nemesis, C in Championship
Trophy of Fortitude: All the trophy upgrades have the same reaction which allow you to equip this to a fighter after they’ve taken an enemy fighter out of action. You can still equip them the traditional way. Being on guard is great and fighters like Gorl, Blackwing, and Lupan, when they’re at 2 dice on defense, will appreciate this. Keep in mind that once you charge, you lose the bonus. Due to that, I think it is best of your leader because he has consistent, and powerful, ranged attacks.
Trophy of Strength: This card is incredible. +1 damage in-faction means these guys will never be hurting for damage. 100% auto-include in all formats, especially the limited ones. I mean the fact that you can sometimes equip this for free is just excessive icing.
Rating: S in Rivals and Nemesis, A in Championship
Trophy of Vision: Getting Blackwing to wizard level 3 is pretty cool – that makes his range 3 attack hit on 3 dice. However, the spell pool in Championship and Nemesis isn’t very compelling at the moment. In Rivals, there is only 1 faction spell. I think if your game plan revolves around Blackwing dealing a lot of range 3 damage, then this is great. This does open you up to being more likely to take backlash damage. Again, I think your leader’s best attack is the range 2 attack and I’ll probably build around it rather than the spell attack. Ignoring blocked hexes is cool but not crazy.
Wily Hunter: This is effectively [Duellist’s Speed] but in-faction. That’s a good card, really good on range 2 and range 3 attacks (Blackwing) as the fighter can ping pong up the board. Also pairs very well with Cursed Boarding Pike for the other fighters. I dig it, it’s good but not an auto-include.
Rivals and Nemesis:
Every card in this deck is designed with one purpose in mind: eliminating enemy fighters in enemy territory. And you know what, this warband is really good at doing that. From a Rivals perspective, I think this one of the stronger decks in the format. It’s an excellent deck that teaches players target priority and positioning. It also hits very hard given the fact that is has a bunch of accuracy. Also a built-in +1 damage and +1 wound is incredible. They literally have everything they need. The only downside is that they are always going to play the same way so there may be match-ups where they could suffer, but I think a couple key dice rolls can still win them the day.
In Nemesis, I think this warband is still going to perform very well. In terms of deck pairings, I think Tooth and Claw provides the most obvious synergy. They’ll perform great in Deadly Depths and Illusory Might as well given how strong their faction card are.I expect to see these guys a lot.
I think this warband is really good. They’ve got solid fighter cards, great objectives, and strong power cards. Regardless of the format you’re playing, I think you’re going to see them everywhere. And I’m really happy about that. Chaos, as a grand alliance, hasn’t had the most success. Aside from Spiteclaw’s Swarm and Dread Pageant, you don’t really see Chaos at top tables. I think that’s going to change now. This might be the strongest Chaos warband to date and I am all about it.
The standout fighter in the warband is obviously your leader. Sarrakkar Blackwing is everything you could every ask for and he’s going to be very scary once he starts getting some upgrades. That being said, I do think all 4 warbands are very good. Let that be known, they’re all solid.
In terms of objectives, I love that the Oath mechanic came back. Being able to score 2+ glory on a bunch of your surges is very powerful. They’ve also got some solid end phase stuff. Gambits are great too because they provide a lot of accuracy and maneuverability. The upgrades are just incredible if only because they have an in-faction Great Fortitude and Great Strength.
To me, they feel like the perfect aggro/flex warband. You’re going to have to think, a lot but it’s going to be rewarding. It’s effectively everything I love about Crimson Court but with perhaps more flavor and even more options.
I cannot wait to play them and experience them in all 3 formats, but Championship specifically.
Check out our Gnarlwood main article to check out our other reviews.
As always, best of luck on YOUR [Path to Glory]!
If you think this warband would make an excellent addition to your collection, be sure to head on down to your local Warhammer Store or FLGS to order yourself a copy of the Gnarlwood box set. If you prefer to shop online, check them out here this Saturday (later today at time of posting).
Thank you again to Games Workshop for this free, preview copy.