Much has been made about Games Workshops (GW) latest release, their shot at reinvigorating the failing fantasy battle scene, Age of Sigmar.
Heralded as a clean slate with a new background and progression of the time line. We receive new units, new models, new factions and a new set of rules.
Just how do these rules stack up? Do they capture the feel of Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WHFB) of old, or are they something else altogether?
In order to better answer these questions we decided to take the new release for a spin. Seeing as a number of us are long standing WHFB players with large armies, we chose to use our existing miniatures with the newly released WHFB warscrolls (army lists).
A couple of caveats before we get into it:
- We were using the Warscroll released to cover the old WHFB armies, not the new new Age of Sigmar (AoS) faction lists, as such we had 50 to 70 minis a side,
- We are long standing WHFB and 40k players, we wanted to know if AoS would allow us to use our existing miniatures in a decent game,
- While our gaming experience goes well beyond GW games, we are very familiar with them. I would like to think we have a well rounded exposure to rulesets,
- We realise we are probably not the target audience.
Age of Sigmar the Pointless game
What does Age of Sigmar present? 4 pages of free rules covering all aspects of play along with some freely available army lists. These lists cover the newer AoS specific factions along with the old WHFB armies. These weigh in at about 30 odd pages each and convert about 90% of the old units to the AoS system.
What are the basics of the game? Hero Phase, Movement, Shooting, Charging and Close Combat. These are pretty basic, self explanatory and familiar to anyone playing Warhammer 40k or any other GW game. Instead of going through the rules step by step, I would point you here to the rules download. What I will try and do is give you my opinions on how the game plays and how the old WHFB armies are represented.
The first thing I noticed was that for a fast play system there were some peculiar irregularities and some very time consuming rules. I say fast play because a game with 4 pages of rules is most likely about streamlined mechanics and ‘just getting on with it’ as opposed to intricate detail on a model by model basis. In theory this should stop any hold ups due to excessive referencing of rules. My main thoughts on the the rules is that even as a small document, attempting to be streamlined, there are some confusing and odd rules that were decided to be left in place.
Let’s start with Cover and Terrain. Cover works if you are in the area of cover, or on top of it, but not behind it in the case of a wall (for example). As written, you need to stand on walls to get cover. I realise this is a very literal interpretation and is a bit nitpicking, but either this is a typo and wasn’t corrected or someone agreed this is how it should be played. Either way it sounds like it may lead to some interesting or absurd situations.
Following on, in games Cover usually is found in areas of difficult terrain. So how do we handle this? Umm. We don’t, there are no difficult terrain rules. I don’t mind the simplicity of measuring vertical distances to climb, I do have a problem moving unimpeded through jungle, swamps or rubble.
One very explicit rule is that bases don’t not count as part of the miniature, do not count them at all. Not considering bases led to weird things happening in our game, mostly stacking of minis and overlapping bases. I can’t say I am a fan of this. It looks like like a giant mess on the table and the risk of damage to the miniatures increases. Adding to this is the requirement to measuring from the model itself. It felt weird measuring from the tip of an outstretched Axe, to the tip of a wing, to see if someone was in range. Whilst the reality is measuring from model or base matters little, a base is a nicely defined area to measure from and too. It removes and lot of ambiguity.
Another element of confusion for me is the idea of melee weapon ranges. Adding this to the ‘bases don’t count’ rule and I found I had to make weird arrangements on the table if I wanted to get the maximum models into close combat. The idea of needing to be outside of 3″ of an enemy model to declare a charge, but then move to within 1/2″ of an enemy model to have successfully charged (all whilst measuring model to model), but have any other miniatures be eligible for combat if they are within 3″ of an enemy and didn’t charge is simply non intuitive and inconsistent. Add melee weapon ranges and it becomes and time wasting nightmare…
For example, my Orc Boyz are outside of 3″ of an enemy model so are eligible to charge (if they were inside 3″ I couldn’t), I roll 2d6 for charge range and as long as one model makes it to within 1/2″ of the enemy model, not counting bases, the charge is successful. The first combat step is then to consolidate another 3″, THEN I check which models are within Melee weapon range (normally 1″ for most weapons and 2″ for longer weapons). I can then count and roll dice to hit. This is absolutely convoluted, and sucks the life and flow out of close combat.
Then we get to the big one, a point-less system. The complete lack of points for any units is a huge break from regular GW games which historically have been all about army construction. No lack of points or an army building in itself is not a problem, there is no other way to balance the forces. The army selection rules are simply take models until you want to stop, or your deployment zone is full. That is a lot of models…
Apparently rules will be made available, with hundreds of scenarios, that provide balanced battles. I am not sure we have seen them yet, but they will need to be very good to provide some level of balance. If they do work as hoped, then great, the foray into pointless armies will be successful. I haven’t gotten my hopes up though.
Bravery as a rule is borderline for me, I would need to test it more. The fact a model needs to be removed before bravery is tested leads to some interesting scenarios with multi-wound, multi-model units. I can see the idea of representing some staying power to larger sized, but smaller model count units. I think I would have preferred wounds lost to have been used. As it is single models are essentially immune to bravery tests. The idea that units lose numbers as they flee, as a result of failing a bravery test, instead of the unit itself fleeing is okay.
The new stat lines I quite like. They are much more streamlined and FINALLY get rid of the triple dip, where a unit can have high toughness, armour and wounds making them exponentially harder to kill. The splitting off of the To Hit, To Wound, Rend (armour penetration), and Damage as a factor of each weapon is neither here nor there. It works but isn’t elegant.
I didn’t mind the Hero Phase and Command abilities. That worked.
The pile of special rules is still there, but has moved from the rulebook to the army list. I found I still needed to reference just as much, it was just a different book.
To be completely honest, the miniatures ARE excellent quality. They will suit a lot of people and a lot of great work has been done on them. However for a Fantasy game, they sure look like Warhammer 40k miniatures (can anyone say Sanguinary Guard and World Eaters).
Maybe I should cut GW some slack, after all the rules are free and people have said I really shouldn’t complain. How many other free rules are there, what effort do they put in to checking their work and making their game as balanced as possible? Oh wait… whats this? Infinity, Kings of War, Full Thrust, Stargrunt. Need I go on… The simple fact is, free rules should not mean rubbish rules. Too many other gaming companies provide free rulesets of amazing quality.
What does the game feel like? Well I honestly feel like it is a cross between Warhammer 40k and Kings of War, however in taking the best aspects of both games they sort of took the worst. They used the same phases as 40k, but made close combat too convoluted whilst making the other phases too simplistic.
So, how was the game in the end? Well, I really don’t have much desire to cover it. It was rubbish. The telling part, we were so bored that we agreed to call the game before half way through Battle Round 3. That was two and half hours into the game. We were both just too polite to mention it earlier. I have posted some pics of the battle at the end of the post. It is worth noting after one attempt at following the Close Combat rules to the letter, we gave up and just guestimated how many models would be in combat range, leaving the units in formation.
In our opinion, AoS did NOT do a good job or giving us playable WHFB armies. King of War (or any other ruleset at this stage) does a better job. It feels like the WHFB Warscrolls were done as an afterthought, to try and throw a bone to WHFB players. It is obvious the rules are made for the new miniatures, and that is fair enough. Better in my mind that WHFB was just done away with rather than making ill fitting lists with a plethora of silly (funny?) special rules.
That being said, maybe AoS WILL be a better game when played using just the new stuff, with a smaller number of miniatures. The rules mention playing with armies of around 100 miniatures, I sure wouldn’t want to try it.
The lasting comment that stays with me is that it plays more like a board game. That is true, the rules are simple, defined and once you know what the rules are you can play a game within those confines. It is abstract like board games as well.
I’ll leave you with a few dot points:
- Free rules are nice, as are free army lists
- Great looking minis. Well designed and striking.
- Amazing art (see here)
- Progression of storyline
- No points system, or worse any balancing system
- To many nonsensical or convoluted rules
- The streamlined attempt has just made many rules overly simplified
This is the future. AoS is a test run, if it works expect 40k to be redesigned like this in the coming edition (Warhammer 40k: Age of the Empraah. You heard it here first!). That is my bold prediction. GW has chosen their new way forward, it allows anyone to show up with anything they like and put it on the table. Expect warscroll crossovers between AoS and AotE. Perfect for a miniature making company, and perfect for GW stores.
So what will we do with our miniatures? Well there are a lot of good systems out there to put our minis to use. What will I suggest we try?
Skirmish Rules: There are so many options, with more being released each day. Again some lend themselves more readily to Fantasy miniatures than others. I am happy to list out some ideas if people request.
Failing all of that, simply play and older version of WHFB (Oldhammer is growing in popularity), or Mordheim.
Finally, I realise this isn’t a glowing review, but please remember this is purely my opinion, stemming from the types of games I like to play. I am NOT calling you bad if you like it. I do realise that people will like AoS. To them I say, play on and enjoy! This game is not for me, that isn’t to say it’s not for everyone.
EDIT: I DO think AoS could be salvaged if there was a second edition, and the rules stretched to 5 pages. Seriously, the basics could be good if they just tidied it up a bit, got rid of the rubbish and kept it streamlined.
What are your thoughts on AoS, and the future of both AoS and Warhammer 40k?