In Defence of Age Of Sigmar

I can see this blog being controversial to say the least. So some of you may just want to skip this just based on the title alone.

Are the rest of you still here? Not preparing the burning brands or sharpening the pitchforks? Good – so here goes.

I quite like Age of Sigmar.

AOS

You may remember during my overview of Games Workshop that I did a few months ago, I briefly remarked upon the fate of the Old World, the setting of its miniatures war game Warhammer Fantasy Battle. WFB was a mass combat system of regimented units, monsters and magic that survived 8 different versions of the game – seeing various rules tinkered with and altered in a number of different ways. Then in 2015 GW killed it.

And when I say killed it, they did it in the most spectacular way possible. The Old World that had been in existence since 1983 was torn apart in a catastrophic war between the forces of Order and Chaos, with only a few of the characters making it out alive (sort of). And the game as we knew it went with the Old World. And from the ashes arose a new game: Age Of Sigmar.

Gone was the thick hardbound book of numerous rules describing the ways blocks of troops could wheel and march about the battlefield in a strict military fashion. The long charts of magic spells and lists of enchanted items also went the same way. And instead the players were given a free set of rules that fit onto 4 pages. You can hear the howls of fury echoing to this day.

But here is my point – this was not necessarily a bad thing.

At the end of Warhammer 8th Edition I was done with the game. I had been playing since 3rd Edition and had seen constant shifts and changes in the rules. I had seen poorly designed army books that unbalanced the game. The rules had shifted between varieties of different iterations. Model that were once good were changed to be barely useable. In the end I was really sick of it and several more dedicated people than I ended up with a great deal of my stuff via the wonders of ebay.

And when Age of Sigmar was released upon the world, I was also cynical. GW did post up rules for all their existing miniatures on their website, which started to get some people even more concerned by the appearance of “joke” rules (for example – one models gets better if you have a more impressive moustache than your opponent).  Althought these rules did get filtered out with new releases, I stayed away.

One day I had an idle lunch break and I popped into my local GW store.  I saw the new starter set on the table for the first time and was persuaded by a staff member to give it a quick go. I was given an intro game and found that it wasn’t that bad. Everything flowed pretty well and I was able to get a hang of rules quickly. The models, unsurprisingly, were very nice. However, it still was not enough to make me really involved though.

Box

Then my gaming group started playing it and slowly I was properly introduced to the game.

Yes – the rules are short, but they are also streamlined. They are a framework within which the real meat of game sits – the warscrolls that describe each unit. For every single model within the game, there exists a single page upon which all the rules you need to use it are printed. Unlike 8th edition, which had pages of special rules to cross reference, here you will find them waiting for you. What’s more, the rules are provided with the model when you buy them, or for free on an app you can download on Android or iOS.

Hammer

There is also much more depth to a game of AoS that is initially granted to it. Youcannot play thig game like you would a previous game of Warhammer. Veteran players will remember the situation of setting up multiple charges over the course of a single turn and sweeping away an entire battleline. You cannot do this anymore, as the combat phases see you alternating between units to attack. If you charge with two “glass cannon” (traditionally damage dealers with no staying power) units, then be prepared to lose a unit before they get to attack. Models need to be maneuvered around the table in a much more intelligent pattern than simply running towards each other and meeting in the middle. Timing when to charge, when to withdraw and when to fight especially in conjunction with warscroll rules has taken me some getting used to, but suggests there is much more here than first thought.

Combat itself, whilst much more simplified (there is no cross referencing Strength and Toughness to see how easy it is to wound a creature), actually feels more like a swirling melee than previously. Models are no longer locked in rank and can make pile in move to drive further into an opponent’s formation. Removing casualties and using these moves can also be used tactically, in order to keep other enemies from attacking, or even drawing other combatants in.

Mini

Common complaints are the lack of interaction between models – your hit and wound rolls do not reflect what you are attacking. True – but a unit’s resistance to damage is now measured by its armour save and number of wounds, which have been increased across the board. This has also allowed the game to make allowances for gradual weakening of larger creatures – the more wounds it suffers, the slower it moves and the less effective its attacks become.

Yes – the magic system has been much simplified and I do miss the Faustian nature of the old Winds of Magic. What I do not miss, however, is the possible game changing impact of getting a single spell successfully case. Magic is still very damaging, often causing mortal wounds (damage that armour cannot save against), but it is limited in its impact.

Perhaps one of the biggest complaints I saw about Age Of Sigmar was the lack of a points system, meaning that people had no idea of what armies were roughly equivalent to one another. In all honesty, it wasn’t that much of a concern to our group and reasonable people should be able to work out what is about right. At the beginning of the blog I defined gaming as a social contract. Well this is a perfect example of this.

However, recently GW gave us the General’s Handbook that gave a variety of means to play including a point value and army structure system. This could potentially be the biggest shake up since Age Of Sigmar was introduced and it as seen the game starting to be considered more of a valid tournament system again. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you. Personally it has very little impact upon the way I intend to play.

But what all this discussion misses is what makes Age Of Sigmar a game I will quite happily come back to. The game is fun. It’s a light wargame with valid tactical choices that can normally be completed with an hour to an hour and a half. Perhaps is not the game you want to play, in which case there are plenty of other products on the market for you. But I know that for my friends and I, this one suits us down to the ground.

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