Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – A Review

gw-rules-bannerI leave the hobby alone for five minutes!

A lot has changed during my hiatus. There’s bat shit crazy amounts of new stuff for X-Wing. There’s whole new armies for 40k and yet more re-released rulebooks. Spartan Games has landed a Halo fleet game (soooo getting that!) and it seems the entire Warhammer World has been destroyed. Careless.

Now I must be honest, I wasn’t living in a hole in the ground, I was aware that 9th Edition Warhammer was looming. I was also aware of the End Times books and the bonkers models but as I couldn’t give it any time I didn’t give it any thought. Oh what a mistake that was. It was a mistake because 9th Edition Warhammer isn’t 9th Edition anything. Warhammer ended with 8th Edition. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, 1st Edition, however has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Well I was unsuspecting so sod the rest of you.

If I’m honest, for the interests of this review, it’s actually a good thing I didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. It’s kept me far more objective than someone that’s been in the hobby as long as I have has any right being. Because it’s changed. A. Lot.

The premise is basically this: everything is fucked. No really. The Warhammer World as we knew it has been destroyed. Archaon decided to blow everything up. Just coz. The result was Chaos running riot over the world and the fabric of reality unravelling like a sweat shop jumper. There are now multiple plains on which the various forces of order, chaos, death, destruction and candy floss duke it out for…well, I have no idea what for because there’s nothing left worth holding on to. It’s a Chaos wasteland. Not to be confused with a teenage wasteland, that would have more cider cans and used condoms I suspect.

The problem is most of that information was explained to me by my brother Sunday evening because I haven’t read the End Times books and without them you don’t have a clue what the background book is banging on about. Whoever wrote it tried to follow a similar mythical vein to Warhammer 40,000 but falls so woefully short of the mark that it’s just a confused, vague, mess. I have no idea how new gamers are supposed to understand the first thing about the world when the writer clearly didn’t.

And it’s not just that it’s vague, it’s poorly written. The word vengeance is so heinous in its overuse that I gave up keeping a tally. The number of ways they’ve tried to cram the word Sigmar into places, items and objects is embarrassing. There is only one, maybe two, references to other races in the game and there is nothing remotely scroll-like about the warscrolls, but on to those later.

On the upside the book is beautiful. It’s nicely put together and the artwork is amazing. The layout is broken down into logical sections allowing new gamers to absorb the information (and they’re going to need to!) before moving on to the next. I suppose that’s the point of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, it’s not aimed at old wargaming dinosaurs like me. It’s for a new and far younger audience that have grown up on a diet of Pokemon, Adventure Time and copious amounts of Capri Sun. The book bludgeons you over the head with heroes and villains. Of vengeance and slaughter. It’s kinda like sitting next to the weird chatty person on the bus. After a while you just tune out.

The reason I’ve spent 600 words complaining about the background, or lack thereof, is because I’m a fluff gamer. It’s the background that kept me into the various Games Workshop systems all the while my wallet begged me to leave. The fact that it was always five minutes to midnight, at the very brink of annihilation, is what made it compelling. The small glimmer of hope, the nobility of sacrifice, the feats of heroism and all supported by a rich and vibrant history. Boy is it history now. So much so it’s only referenced as the time before. The Games Workshop have hit the big red reset button of destiny. Warhammer is dead. Long live Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

And speaking of the hammer wielding God-King: his gold clad Fantasy Marines, also known as the Stormcast Eternal (no really) are really quite awesome models. I mean seriously cool. Side stepping the quite shameless attempt to waggle them at young gamers shouting ‘hey these are like those Space Marines you like but with big hammers’, they are quite excellently sculpted. The detail on them is not just impressive but cleverly incorporated into the design. And us old buggers will inevitably draw comparisons to MkI Thunder Armour.

They’re big too. Bigger than a Terminator big. They feel substantial and look every bit the vengeful (fantasy) Angels of Death you’d want them to be. Plus all the hammers look amazing. Considering it’s a bit of a gimmick, they actually do a good job of making all the various hammers look distinct yet fit for purpose. That purpose being vengeance. Apparently. The styling is very close to that of the Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard which will no doubt spark a deluge of highly groovy conversions although I certainly wouldn’t want to try to get the comet sigil of all the surfaces.

Truth be told, I don’t have a problem with their being a Space Marine style army in Warhammer. It’s been lacking for years. If you wanted to do an elite army your options were either Warriors of Chaos or some super wanky army list that made you lose friends quicker than acute halitosis. Or something so achingly characterful that you’d lose all the time. So hooray, big armour clad (vengeful) heroes for everyone.

WHAgeofSigmarBoxENG01

Equally the Khorne models are awesome. Some of the poses are a little flat with the time-honoured brandishing weapons to the side poses, but the detail is there in spades and considering it’s Khorne it doesn’t get too daft. Apart from Bloodstoker, he’s shit. Even the icon bearer, Bloodsecrator (no really) doesn’t look preposterous. The icon itself is fantastic and would have made a stupendous battle standard-bearer for 8th Edition – and he still might sports fans. You’d think the spinal column he has for a ponytail would be eyebrow raisingly silly but actually it just works.

I’m side stepping Khorgoraths model because whilst it isn’t bad, it doesn’t wow me either but it’s such a shameless rip off of the Slaughterbrute from 40k that it pretty much has the same pose. Tisk tisk.

The Blood Warriors are my favourites though. Effectively the equivalent of the Chaos Space Marines in the 40k boxset the level of detail on them is impressive and they’d make fantastic Chosen warriors in the 8th Edition army. As would the lower level Bloodreavers to be honest, they’re that hench.

But on to the game itself. Now, a lot has been said about the lack of points and such and one must assume the Games Workshop has something up its sleeve on this topic because if it was simply a case of ‘I have 20 blokes, you have 20 blokes’ why are the number of models you get for each side in the box different? There’s clearly a balance there which suggests, at some point, there will be a system for selecting your forces.

I deliberately didn’t use the word armies there because you can’t take them any more. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is very much a detachment level game like 40k is/was. Whilst the rules have been streamlined to near collectible card game levels of simplicity, the multiple wounds for every model on the board would make it impossible to play a large game. More on that shortly.

It’s been widely publicised that the rules have gone from a big beast of a book to 4 sides of A4. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest barriers to entry for any kind of wargame is the size of the rules. Stripping it back to little more than a pamphlet is a very brave move and a clear signal from the Games Workshop that they want as many people enjoying the game as possible. I’d like to point out it probably would have been less hassle just to make the models cheaper but there we go…

If I were to cast my mind back to the distant past of the early noughties when I worked for the Games Workshop Warhammer was by far the hardest game to get younger games psyched about. Not because the world was lacking, far from it (*cough cough*) but because the intricacies of deployment and movement were lost on them or seemed like too much hassle compared to the board next door which had blokes running around in every direction blowing one another’s faces off. When a game went well it really went well and Little Jimmy would toddle out of the store having spent all his allowance as well as his father’s booze fund for the month. But for every 3 Warhammer starter sets I sold, I’d sell 9 40k’s.

Under the new rules the longest section, by a mile, is the battlefield section. This actually makes a great deal of sense as one of the big draws for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t just the new shiny models – although they are – but the mad as bat shit world those models now inhabit. Because it’s all a bit mental boards can be as varied as those used in games of Warhmmer 40,000. And because the models are now on round bases the boards can be used almost universally.

This is a shrewd move by Games Workshop. It encourages the hobbyist to go all out on a board, buying up all the things, knowing that they can use it for either system (more or less). The logic is that gamers were put off purchasing because they knew they were going to do have to build a board twice. Two large hobby projects that don’t involve armies would put off just about everyone except Lee of The Chaps. But the cost remains. Now a daemon world board, for example, is now good for both systems.

The rules for movement are largely unchanged. You have a value, you move the value etc. Shooting and combat are now so aligned in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar that they may as well have written one long section called ‘Twatting Shit’. Again, this isn’t a criticism but to highlight how surprisingly elegant they’ve made the rules. All weapons have a range. You may raise a cynical eyebrow but it makes sense. A bloody great big hammer has a longer range/reach than a regular hammer. It’s logic lifted straight from the pages of Inquisitor and that was a great game.

It’s weapons and not the man that do the heavy lifting in W:AoS, which has more irony  than perhaps was intended. The profile of the model has been stripped right back to Movement, Wounds, Bravery and Save. And because of how the weapons work it stops characters from becoming complete monsters like they could in 8th Edition thanks to the heady cocktail of weapons and items available to them. They’re still as tough as old boots but due to the way some weapons can inflict multiple points of damage they’re not invincible either.

But the system is simpler because there’s no charts any more. A weapon has a number of attacks, a required roll to hit, roll to wound and will inflict x number of damage points/wounds. It also has a rending value which is the fancy new name for the save modifier.

Indeed the fact that some weapons can inflict multiple wounds is just as well because most models have multiple wounds now which is gonna mean lots of record keeping. Which would have been a nightmare under the old system with so many models on the board. And that’s really the biggest thing I had to reconcile with: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is not a game of big fisty-cuffs any more.

Again, this isn’t a complaint as such. Big games of 8th Edition Warhammer took forever to play depending on your army and rules knowledge. It’s a huge barrier to entry. Throw in the precise set up and movement and it’s little wonder Games Workshop had such a hard time not just drawing in, but keeping younger gamers. Granted, there’s an argument to be had for the game being for the seasoned gamer but how commercially viable is that?

You can now get through a game similar in size increments to 40k in an evening and still have time to tell smutty jokes to your mates. This, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is a good thing.

I really like the rules. It makes life so much simpler. I hate the stupid names they’re trying to give everything but you can’t win them all. And some of the special rules included in the book are a bit iffy but overall, they’re pretty strong and, perhaps the biggest thing, they’re quick!

Where it gets let down – and I’m by no means the first person to say this – is the army structure and points system. In that there isn’t one. You can literally take whatever the hell you like as long as the forces are equal. Which is impossible to determine because there are no values.

I understand the logic – if you take a wanky army no one will play you so take a balanced army. Games Workshop has woefully underestimated the sheer volume of beardy, smelly, friendless tossers that prowl games clubs and infest tournaments looking for some poor unsuspecting (and usually novice) gamer to absolutely destroy. I’ve known dozens of them over the years. I’m willing to bet that everyone can think of at least one at their local hobby store or club as well.

Moreover the people with the biggest model collections will win. Not because they’re using the most models but because they can pull out the unit that will best counter the army of someone who is just starting out. The whole idea relies on people being good and decent which isn’t impossible, just very hard with no guidelines on how to balance your forces.

The daft thing is I could take a starting army of Chaos Lords. Under the rules I can summon a Slave to Darkness unit per model per turn on a 4+. So for every Lord I take I can attempt to summon anything in the army which has the Slave to Darkness special rule. Chaos Warriors come in units of at least 10. And I may be getting this wrong but I think I could summon more Chaos Lords too. Who in turn can summon more on top. It’s just mental! Again the counter argument is ‘but no one would play you’. 1. That’s just not true and 2. the argument should never ever take place. Points limits, unit limits and army organisation was never and is not a bad thing. It was far easier to spot a power-gamer before. Now everyone has the potential to be one.

And as I’m on the subject of the warscrolls – three things.

1. It’s an utterly stupid, deliberately commercial, name aimed at Generation I Choose You!

2. It’s awesome that Games Workshop have made warscrolls available for all the various armies for free. I have no idea if these are just place holders, whether or not new books will come out or if it’ll stay digital. That’s not for here, it’s just cool that we got something for free. However…

3. Whoever wrote the warscrolls was either high, mentally deranged or has utter contempt for those that would use them. There are special rules within the warscrolls that demand gamers to grunt like animals, shout Waaagh or lay on some form of amateur dramatics if they want to get the most out of certain special rules or spells. Seriously.

Now I’m the first to admit to inciting a Waaagh of a Sunday morning with a table full of beginners. But they were 10. And even they felt like twats. How is a seasoned gamer in his 40’s or 50’s supposed to feel about shouting Waaagh in his dining room or, worse, a games club if he wants to use his army properly? It’s insulting.

It’s insulting because Games Workshop are either so woefully out of touch that they thought it was a good idea or they wanted to stop people from using certain units because they’re being phased out and it would soften the blow. I can’t accept that someone woke up one morning thinking that it would be a valuable and worthwhile addition to the rules to have gamers cavort for the amusement of others.

So what of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Well, if you hadn’t guessed: I’m a bit mixed on the whole thing. The models are stupendous. I mean really top-notch. A little bonkers in places but that’s hardly a new direction for Games Worksop, or indeed most wargaming companies.

The background is mess. Not poor as such, just poorly written (there’s a difference) and very confused. It needs seriously tightening up if there’s going to be a second edition Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I honestly didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on until I got the summary from my brother. And this is bad because it’s obviously aimed at a new and much younger audience who probably wouldn’t have read the End Times books.

The rules are actually very good. Super slick and whilst pixie dice will no doubt be needed it’s a significantly smaller commitment in time. Throw in the fact that you need fewer models for a good-sized game and the impact of hobby time shrinks as well which means more people will complete projects. And when I say people I mean me. Huzzah.

The army lists/warscrolls/post-it notes of power/whatever are stupidly named but nicely laid out and, more or less, pretty clear in their intent. But some of the free to download warscrolls have some utterly maddening rules in them so I strongly urge you to take a red pen to them.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t 9th Edition no matter what anyone says. It just isn’t. It’s a totally different beast living in a totally different world. Actually nine of them. And you know what? It’s fine. Overall it’s a reasonable attempt. It’s a good game let down by the simple fact that the majority, if not all, of the lore keepers, who wrote the really strong stuff, departed years ago and the heavy lifting is now done by the Black Library writers.

I freely admit that I will continue to play 8th Edition. For me it was the best, and as it turns out, last version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I will complete my Warriors of Chaos army as best I can and enjoy 8th Edition the same way I do Mordheim: as a finished game, forever unchanging.

But I can also see myself playing Age of Sigmar in some small way. It’s a good game. But the departure for me is that I won’t be invested in this world the way I was the old one. 26 years of hobby experience aside (shut up I started when I was very young), the world just isnt’ as rich and it won’t be for a little while yet I fear. Which is fine as long as I know going in.

Should seasoned gamers pick up Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Yes, they absolutely should. Firstly, the models are awesome and have fantastic hobby potential. Secondly, t’s a great game and should be enjoyed as such, just leave your memories at home next to your shattered innocence.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is available from Firestorm Games priced £63.75.

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2 thoughts on “Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – A Review

  1. Great to have you back, Phil. And good to hear that I’m not the only one feeling this way about AoS.

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