Age of Sigmar: The Review - The good, The bad and The very ugly.

So let's start with what is probably the most important thing to remember about Age of Sigmar. Forget everything you remember about Warhammer 8th edition, it will do you no good here. This game is a totally different beast and it needs to be approached as such. Games Workshop have decided to reboot their fantasy line before but this is the most drastic reboot that I can remember.

As pretty much everyone is aware now, the sales for Warhammer Fantasy were not great and so GW have taken the decision to create a new system with a "cheaper" and easier to understand entry point. For me looking in that is what Age of Sigmar is, an entry point for this new game. There is not enough content available for this to be a full release and I would fully expect to see further releases that will develop the game beyond the four pages of basic rules that were released yesterday.

This release is clearly important to GW with the amount of effort they are putting in to pushing it with the community. There have been pre-release copies sent out to websites to review (unfortunately we were not one of them) and a free Stormcast Eternal model is being included with this weeks White Dwarf. Additionally, all of the rules and warscrolls are being provided to the community free of charge. I don't think I have ever seen GW provide this much free stuff with any release so they must really want this game to be a success.

So as we have mentioned the free rules let's take a look at what we have received. We will discuss the armies, units and everything that that entails a bit later, as there will be quite a bit to discuss, so I will move onto the first section "The Battlefield". The battlefield that you are fighting on now has some significance. The reason for this is that different realms can provide boosts to certain armies and abilities and it adds an interesting tactical wrinkle if you are playing a story driven game or campaign. There are seven mortal realms available to choose from based off of the old winds of magic from WFB from what we can tell, these aren't detailed in the rules themselves.

Additionally, there is now a handy dice table to help you with the amount of terrain to set up on your table, splitting the battlefield into 2 foot by 2 foot squares. A D6 table randomises what each piece of terrain on the table does, ranging from causing wounds to boosting bravery. This could result in some interesting games of cat and mouse as players attempt to hunt down those elusive characters for victory conditions which we will cover later.

There does not appear to be a limit on the number of battle rounds in a game any more, so if you and your opponent have an endless supply of models then one would assume that your battle could go on for time immemorial. However, at the end of a battle such as this (yes it can end if you run out of time or someone has to leave) then you can claim a minor victory if you have lost a smaller percentage of your starting army, those models that started on the table, than your opponent.

Another way to achieve victory is through the use of sudden death objectives, however these are only available if your opponent has a third more models, or more, than you. These sudden death objectives, assassinate, blunt, endure and seize ground, attempt to balance out an unbalanced game but giving you only one target to achieve while your enemy must destroy your entire army.

Assassinate is pretty straight forward, you must pick a single hero, wizard, priest or monster to kill and regardless of what else happens in the battle if you kill this model you win. Blunt works similarly, although this requires you to kill a single unit of five or more models rather than a single model in the previous objective.

Endure and Seize Ground are two objectives that make reference to a number of battle turns, six and four respectively, and therefore suggest that in later editions of this game we may see a limit on the number of rounds in a battle. Endure requires you to have one model, starting on the table, survive until turn six at which point the game ends. This model can be anyone from Steve the skeleton to Karl Franz and GW leave it up to you to forge the narrative regarding their importance.

Seize Ground only requires you to hold on until round four. Picking one piece of terrain in enemy territory you need to reach it and have one model within 3" of this piece of terrain by the end of the fourth round. This could be anything from a vital bridge, a la Saving Private Ryan, to a monument or group of trees, Wood Elves (Ed. -Aelfs of the Deep Woods) love their trees.

Of these objectives I imagine that Assassinate will be the most popular as it should be the easiest to achieve with a smaller army. Although GW may be aiming for more narrative games with the other objectives, ultimately players are competitive and they will be likely to pick the objective that is most likely to see them win.

With regards to battle rounds, you are now required to roll off to see who is going first in each round. This should result in a more balanced game as you will not necessarily have the advantage of going first or second in each round. Battle rounds are also split into 6 different phases, Hero, Movement, Shooting, Charge, Combat and Battleshock, in that order.

The hero phase replaces the old magic phase of 8th edition and this time dwarves are not left out. The reason for this is that you do not only cast magic in this phase, you can also use the command ability of your general to boost your troops for the turn ahead. Command abilities only require you state that you are using them, while spells require you to roll two dice and beat the stated score for that spell. No more winds of magic, no more dice pool, just two dice for each spell and beat the required score. It is possible to dispell your opponents magic, this is called unbinding. To do this your wizard must be within 18" of the caster and have line of sight on them, you then roll two dice and try to beat the other players roll. This system is far simpler than the previous incarnations of magic in Warhammer but it does also take out a lot of the tactical nuances that this phase used to have.

Movement and shooting are practically the same, although you no longer have to declare charges in the movement phase. The charge phase basically acts like the beginning of the assault phase in 40k. You nominate a target unit between 3"-12" of your unit and roll 2 dice, if the result leaves you within half an inch of the target unit then you have successfully charged. A key point to make here is that you  measure distances from model to model, so if your opponent has a model with their sword outstretched you are measuring to/from the tip of that sword, not to the base. This does seem to be open to abuse and I expect you may see some players build models that are stretching out for dear life.

The combat phase now has an additional tactical layer to it. The player whose turn it is gets to pick which unit attacks first, but once they finish attacking their opponent gets to pick one of their units to attack before the first player gets to do their second attack, and the rest of the turn continues like this. This is actually one of the best additions to the game that Age of Sigmar has made as it keeps both players fully involved even if it isn't their turn. You also have to pick which units attack carefully, it's not as simple as just completing each separate combat any more. Instead you can try to knock out a unit that is buffing another unit at that time, or you can knock out a supporting unit to try and save your general if you are playing a sudden death game.

A key point to remember is that every unit within 3" of a combat can also pile into that combat, although it cannot do this if it failed a charge. This is a good way to keep every unit on the battlefield involved and you will also need to keep a close eye on your movement to make sure you can take advantage of this, while also stopping your opponent from doing the same. Unfortunately, a downside to this is that combats can become messy with multiple units getting drawn into a fight and then being stuck there for the rest of the battle.

Combat resolution now has its own phase, Battleshock, that works like the crumble rule for the old Undead armies, although both sides have to take the tests so there is no benefit for winning combat any more, besides killing off more of your opponents units. In the Battleshock phase you take the number of men lost in that particular unit and roll a dice adding the result to the number of dead for a total. If this total exceeds your bravery (leadership) then you remove that many models, they run away or die. You can improve your bravery by 1 for each rank of ten models you have, I use the term rank loosely as you do not need to keep them in ranks and can just try and get everyone piled in in a great big bundle.

Another simplification that has been added to the game is the fact that you no longer need to refer to table to see what you need to roll to hit or to wound. These have set values that you need to roll to successfully hit or wound your opponent. For special units, such as heroes or monsters, these values can change based on the number of wounds they have taken. This doesn't overly simplify the game and should speed up the phases it affects, it also makes each combat important as you no longer have an untouchable unit in combat, Steve the skeleton can kill Karl Franz if he gets a lucky swing (or thunderers can kill Teclis as we found out in our game). Save rolls work the same, and can be improved by some magic, but rather than relying on a strength table to figure out how much you reduce their save by you instead get a rend value which makes their save more difficult by the stated value (-1 turns a 4+ save into a 5+ save etc).

With most of the changes to the rules now discussed it is time to turn to the models, and GW have done a very good job with these. The sculpts are impressive and the models are very easy to put together so younger gamers should not struggle too much, which was the case with a number of the end time releases. The new models do look an awful lot like some of their 40k counterparts (stormcast eternals = space marines with stormshields, prosecutors = sanguinary guard, blood warriors = khorne beserkers) but this should take away from the fact that, when well painted, they will look pretty awesome on the battlefield.

Additionally, it is great to see that GW are still supporting the older models with the new warscrolls, although we may see some of these older models phased out for new models that fit the Age of Sigmar theme. The fact that these are available for free, and you no longer need to carry around 3 or 4 books with you just to fight a battle is a great selling point for the system although I get the feeling that this may change once the new system has settled in.

Looking above there are a lot of positives to take away from the Age of Sigmar release but we also need to look at the other side of things. Firstly, GW have thrown out an awful lot of the lore and history that the long time gamers loved from WFB. There is no way around this, what we know and love has gone and it doesn't appear that it will be coming back any time soon. It is a risky proposition to completely reset a system and because this is the direction GW have decided to take they will know that a number of their long term supporters will turn away and not come back, they will just have to hope that the new fans that the system generates will be enough to offset those that leave.

Furthermore, because this is an entry level system with only four pages of rules it really has been simplified, or dumbed down as others have dubbed it. You can't argue with this and it does feel like this release has been solely aimed at the age 5-10 bracket. While some parts of WFB were overly complex and reliant on an agreed interpretation of the rules, Age of Sigmar has run right down the opposite end of the spectrum and made everything so simple that even some board games will prove more complex than this new system.

Unfortunately, GW also seem to have missed a trick if this is to be an entry level system as they have priced too high for what appears to be their target age bracket (£75, $125). Seeing as the Bank of Mum and Dad will have to fund this purchase it seems a bit of a high price tag to put on a new boxset when most parents will know that kids do not necessarily have the longest attention span. I can't see too many parents happy to fork out that much money for a new release when they can spend £20 on a set of 10 space marines with 40k, or a similarly priced set of models from the older fantasy range. Add the fact that the rules are free to download and there doesn't appear to be much going for the new set apart from the book with a bit more background information for the game, but that is pretty much available on the internet already.

The new system also completely lacks any realistic way to scale up the battles to the larger encounters you would see at a more competitive level, and by this I mean anything outside of a friendly game with some mates. I expect we will see something to address this but I also expect that we will have to pay for it and as the system itself doesn't seem overly strong right now, for the competitive scene, I am not sure how many people would actually pay for the additional rules.

If GW fail to address this issue then I can see a lot of the more competitive environments reverting, or in a lot of cases sticking, with the old 8th Edition ruleset but maybe adding some house rules to address the issues that GW should have addressed themselves. And it is this level of gameplay that GW should have been aiming to keep interested in this new system. Yes a new entry point was needed to bring fresh blood into the game but you shouldn't discard the long time fans as they are the ones who will keep the system going once the new crowd, mostly, get bored. And believe me, they will get bored.

The funny rules for some of the characters are amusing early on in the game but by the end of turn two they are becoming tiresome. Even a young child will get bored of talking to their models to get a +1 bonus, or trying to guess which hand someone is holding their dice in, and no child will have a luxurious moustache. These rules were clearly added to entertain children and make adults smile but there is no way that their entertainment can last for any prolonged period of time, they just become boring and tedious.

So this is where Age of Sigmar leaves us in terms of gameplay. It is probably something that would be good fun to sit down and play with friends and family on a Sunday evening but after that you pack it away and probably don't look at it again for a while. There are the opportunities to build campaigns and narrative scenarios, GW have even added some rules for such events, but I don't see this game being capable of holding a crowd for a period long enough for this to take effect. The overly simple rules are good for bringing in the new crowd and getting them set up at the table quickly, but unless you have some level of challenge and competition in the game there just won't be the longevity that GW should be targetting with a new release. The free rules and warscrolls are in place and may appease some gamers and help to bring in some of the new blood, but it is not the cure for a poor system. It addresses the early symptoms of the problem, but doesn't deal with the underlying cause of the issue.

A nice little starter, but the main course never arrived.


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