A few people have said that they’d like to give Age of Sigmar a try, but starting from scratch with the game is a bit daunting. 4 pages of rules sounds great … but that means you just have 4 pages of rules, without all the examples and pictures you often have in a full rules book to help ease people in … and to be honest, while I love Games Workshop games, they aren’t great at being able to pick up and play. They are a bit more aimed at gamers of previous editions or other games who can take some of the basics for granted, or for store demos (and sometimes the massive enthusiasm of the staff can be a bit daunting).
I’m not a big AoS player, which in some ways helps putting this sort of guide together! I take less for granted, and I still double check the rules in the same way another new player does.
Now, before we get started, I think I need to say what we AREN’T going to cover! That may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but if you are here to find out about X, Y and Z, and I’m not covering Y and Z, lets not waste time!
This is a genuinely simple introduction to the core mechanics of the game. its not going to cover things like points values and how to pick armies. Its not going to cover deployment for missions in any sort of depth. Its not going to cover multiple units and how bonuses and buff can add synergy. Its all about understanding the basic rules of the game.
Its going to go through a basic turn with a single, iconic model on each side. Those models are going to be limited to close combat types, not ranged weaponry too.
What do we need
So where do we start? First, lets make sure we have enough basics for a demo! Well, a few miniatures, some normal, six sided dice, a tape measure , and at a bare minimum, you’ll obviously need the free rules! You can find the free rules and the original war scrolls for the WFB armies here:
Now, the introductory war scrolls were a bit of a silly farewell to WFB. They have some odd rules and aren’t tremendously well balanced compared to the newer forces like Bloodhound, Stormcast, Ironjawz Orruks, and so on. Ignore them and just grab the free rules! We’ll look at a very simple turn with a single Stormcast and a single Bloodbound- models available in the standard starter sets and are pretty straightforward.
We’ll look at a Stormcast Liberator – one of the iconic chaps with a hammer and shield.
As a note, you can pick up these lads in a snap fit 3 for £10 box, in the Storm of Sigmar mini starter, in the £75 Age of Sigmar box, or get one free in with the “get started with Age of Sigmar” magazine.
As his opponent, we’ll look at a Blood Warrior! The counterpart of the Stormcast, imbued with the power of the dark gods.
You can find the rules for them in a PDF here
As a note, you can also pick up these lads in a snap fit 3 for £10 box, in the Storm of Sigmar mini starter at £20, and in the £75 Age of Sigmar box, so its a good set of rules to know to begin!
Before we start going through the rules, lets take a look at one of these war scrolls.
Lets break down how these war scrolls work. Some of it might not make too much sense right now until we start playing and go through the main rules, but if we know this stuff, the rules themselves make much more sense, and looking at models on the GW site makes more sense in terms of their effectiveness. We have to start somewhere.
At the top of the war scroll, it has the name of the unit, followed by a quick description of what the unit are like in the fictional Age of Sigmar universe. It doesn’t have any impact on the game directly, but I get very excited about this sort of thing – I like the stories we tell with the game, and these fictional elements bring it to life – you’ll often hear this referred to as the “fluff”!
Now, lets look at the information inside the black circle. This is all the key information that describes how these models are going to behave on the battlefield, regardless of what weapons they have. These statistics (or stats) are an abstract way of describing how strong, how tough, how well armoured, how fast, and how courageous they are.
- Move is how far the model can move each turn in inches. You’ll need a ruler or a tape measure for this – you can get quite ornate measuring tools in the game, but a basic tape measure is fine. In this case, the model can move 5 inches a turn as standard.
- Save is a representation of how well armoured the model is. In this case, the model is pretty well armoured, and the stat is “4+”. Where you see a + after a number like this, it refers to a dice roll on normal six sided dice, the same you’d roll for monopoly, risk, or snakes and ladders. A “4+” means you need to roll a 4 or more. For a save, that means if you roll a 4 or more after your model has taken a hit, he can ignore it! The armour “saved” him.
- Wounds are a representation of just how tough the model is. How many times can they take a hit from an enemy that their armour hasn’t absorbed? In this case, the blood warrior is a tough cookie, able to take two lethal hits through his heavy armour before he collapses.
- Bravery represents the morale of the unit of troops, really. How likely are the troops likely to run away if a battle isn’t going there way? How likely will they be to hold their ground if a terrifying demon approaches? In this case, the value is 6 – we’ll cover how effective this in later in the rules.
Now that covers all the more passive stats – they only affect the model. How does the model interact with other models on the battlefield? Well, its a battle! With their weapons! To the right of the black box you can see a section listing the weapons available to the models in the unit. In this case, there are just Melee (or close combat) Weapons. Our Blood Warrior has a Goreaxe. Incidentally, if the names like Blood Warrior, Goreaxe and so on are putting you off already, I’d give up right now. That sort of motif runs through the entire game!
The Goreaxe has a range of 1″, meaning you need to get your model within 1″ of the enemy model to be able to hit them! In the basic game, we measure from the actual model itself and bases are just decorative. Because of all the time and effort people put into making the models though, you’ll find a common rule for courtesy is to do all measurements base to base – thats particularly true for tournament play, and is mentioned in the General’s Handbook which covers all the more detailed ways to balance armies and play more competitively.
Our Blood Warrior has 2 attacks with the Goreaxe, so he’ll get 2 chances to deliver a hit.
His roll to hit is a 3+, so with each of his 2 attacks, he’ll roll a dice and hope for a 3 or better! You can think of this as his skill with the weapon – is he accurate enough to land a blow on the enemy in the confusing ebb and flow of a battle? Whenever you see a dice roll (indicated by the +), remember that the lower the number, the better the statistic, as you need to roll that number or better. You have 5 chances to roll a 2+ – 2,3,4,5 and 6. You only have 1 chance to roll a 6+ – a 6!
His roll to wound is 4+ – you can think of this simulating his strength with the cursed axe. He’s landed a blow past the enemy defense, but can it cause some damage or is it just a glancing blow?
Rend is a interesting one. Some weapons are naturally better at tearing through armour than others (or rending it apart). The Goreaxe doesn’t have a value here – it doesn’t affect the armour save. This value is what we call a modifier, though, and you’ll see it as as something like a +1 or -1. If the + or – is in FRONT of a number, its a modifier, and we add or subtract the number from another dice roll. If you look at the Goreglaive (a special weapon for one man in a whole unit of these blood warriors), it has a value of -1. Any successful wounds caused by this weapon mean the enemy’s armour save to avoid them has one subtracted from the dice. Remember our Blood Warrior had an armour save of 4+? Normally that means roll a 4 or more. If he was hit by a Goreglaive, though, he takes one off his dice roll, so a roll of four would only have a value of 3 – it wouldn’t be enough! As you can image, the bigger the negative value for rend, the worse the enemies chances of making an armour save are!
Finally, we have a Damage statistic – this is the number of wounds that the weapon causes after a successful hit and roll to wound. The Goreaxe will cause one wound, which is pretty standard. Only really big or magical weapons generally do more than that.
You are probably starting to get a little feel for the rules already as we are going through these stats! You know we’ll be measuring in inches to see how far the model moves, and you’ve got a feel for how when combat starts, we roll a number of times based on the number of attacks to see if you hit. Depending on the number of times you’ve hit, you roll to wound. Each successful roll to wound causes the a number of wounds based on the damage statistic. And your opponent gets to try to save those wounds by rolling his armour saves. You may not hit at all! You might cause 2 wounds, and they may both be saved – or you might cause 2 wounds and cut down your opponent easily!
Its going to feel very random for this one on one example. As you play with bigger and bigger numbers, though, the randomness isn’t as much of a factor. If you have 10 blood warriors in a unit in battle against 10 stormcast, you’ll roll 20 rolls to hit. Statistically, the 3+ dice roll to hit will mean you’ll generally see around 66% of those pay off – around 12 or 13. It doesn’t mean you can’t be lucky or unlucky, just that the odds are much more in favour of the numbers coming out around the averages when you make more rolls. With just 2 dice, its pretty easy to get a couple of low or high rolls!
Now, we’ve actually covered all the basic statistics on the war scroll that you’ll see again and again. How they move, how armoured they are, what weaponry they have. But that’s not the whole story. A wizard may have no armour save at all. He may have nothing but a dagger as a weapon. But his special abilities may be more potent than 10 blood warriors! We need to look at the smaller text under the main stats to see what really unique things this unit can do.
You’ll usually see a Description entry as the first thing under the main stats. This is rather important, as it isn’t the fluffy description like the one under the top of the page – rather, it describes how we can field this unit. How many models can it include, which of the weapons listed can they have, and in what numbers. In this case, it says we should field 5 or more blood warriors, 1 in ten can carry a goreglaive, and the unit can either have 2 goreaxes or a goreaxe and gorefist.
Its particularly important to pay attention to the description field when putting your models together. If you assemble 10 blood warriors with 2 gore glaives, for example, you aren’t going to have a valid unit – you can only have one gore glaive for every 10 warriors. Its probably to too much of an issue with mates or if you just want to paint them … but if you want to play a game in a tournament, or just a pickup game in a GW, having a “legal” army stops a lot of problems.
In a classic moment of “do what I say, not what I do” though, I’m going to ignore the description field in this example. I’m going to go through things with a single warrior on each, not the minimum 5 blood warriors, for example!
The Chaos Champion and Icon Bearer entries are pretty specific to the followers of chaos. You’ll usually see an entry for a leader of the unit (the Chaos Champion in this case), and any special rules like different weapons – its most common that they will get an extra attack. The chaos champion would get 3 attacks, not 2 like a normal blood warrior. You often see an entry for some sort of standard bearer option (or Icon Bearer in the case of Chaos), and if you have a standard, it normally makes your troops a little braver – you add one to the units bravery statistic if you have an Icon Bearer and he’s still alive!
There is then an Abilities section, and this is the stuff that really makes a unit unique and gives it its own character. In the case of blood warriors, that unique character is those of frothing lunatics like norse berserkers … and their abilities reflect that! No Respite means that if an enemy unit has attacked and killed one of your men … he hangs on long enough to have a go attacking back before falling dead on the ground. If the blood warriors are armed with a Goreaxe in both hands, they get to roll again if they roll a one to hit. It’s worth noting on that sort of roll again bonus, you only get one roll again – if you roll a 1 the second time, its just a fail – you don’t get to keep rolling again! Otherwise games could go on with nothing but rerolls forever! Finally, (and this one is how our lad is kitted out), if you have a gorefist you do something a bit odd when you make your saving throws -for each saving throw you make, you roll another dice! on a roll of a 6, you cause a “mortal wound” back (as long as the enemy are close enough, and not shooting you with bows or something). Mortal wounds are a bit brutal – you don’t make hit, wound or saving throws for mortal wounds! They just cause damage!
OK! We’ve almost covered the whole Warscroll! There is one more entry, which are “Keywords”. For a one on one battle like this, Keywords don’t make much difference. Often Abilities rely on keywords though. A blessed weapon might cause double damage against an enemy with the Daemon keyword, for example. A Chaos Lord might inspire all those with the Chaos Keyword within 6″. For a particular scenario, you might only be able to pick chaos forces with Khorne as a keyword. Often keywords are used to help build forces that match the narrative particularly well. That’s beyond the scope of this introduction though!
Lets start a game!
OK, lets look at the free rules now, and kick something off! The first page is all about setting up a bigger game, and covers setting up the table (without much exact guidance). We’re going to run a very small table for our two lads -24″x24″ , and not worry too much about the rules for terrain or cover. A big game is normally done on a table that is 4′ x 6′ – the free rules say that it can be any size, and the amount of scenery doesn’t matter, but it will actually alter the game dynamics quite a lot. If you use a smaller table, you are making it much harder for troops with bows to make more of an impact. If you have no terrain, you can’t hide from ranged weapons. If you have lots of terrain, its hard to actually shoot things at a distance. A smaller table also means fast troops can get into combat quickly, but it also makes it harder for fragile fast troops to avoid getting caught by slower enemy troops as they have no where to run. That’s where you need to start looking at more advanced tutorials and looking to see how seasoned veterans set up their tables.
In this case, we want a simple example and we have 2 close combat chaps who want to get stuck in! So we make it simple and ignore the first full page of rules! Onto deployment!
Deployment is easy in this case! Both players roll a dice. As an example, I rolled a 1 for the stormcast, and a 5 for my Blood Warrior! The blood warrior divides the table into two halves, and then the stormcast picks their half. Its a nice way of avoiding the terrain favouring people – if you pick a very biased split for the two sides, you opponent will pick the better half! With a barren 24″ x 24″ table, though, it doesn’t really matter!
The Blood Warrior deploys his one model first, at least 12″ away from his opponents side of the table in theory. Of course, that wouldn’t give us any room at all on our small table, so we’ll make it 8″ for the demo.
The stormcast then deploys his one model in his side of the table, again officially 12″ away from his opponents side of the table (so there should be a total 2′ buffer in the middle). In our smaller game, we’ll have a 16″ buffer. Both lads are setting up as close to the middle as possible! They want to get stuck in.
As a note, you deploy troops unit by unit, until you don’t have any more units to deploy! All models in a unit have to stay within 1″ of each other.
Technically, you now pick your general! The general gains a special ability to inspire others around him, and it can activate certain general abilities on the war scroll. Killing the enemy general is one method Age of Sigmar can use to balance otherwise unfair games too. In this case, with one man each side, we’re going to ignore generals.
Each Battle Round comprises of a turn for the first player, and a turn for the second player. Unlike many games, it isn’t always player 1, then player 2. At the start of most Battle Rounds, you roll a dice each, and roll again if its a draw. The highest roll decides who will get to go first. If you want a mostly close combat enemy to advance into bow range, for example, you may choose to go second!
For the very first turn of the game, the player that finished setting up first (the blood bound in this case), gets to choose whether to go second or first. This is a really neat idea – it means a small elite army who has finished deploying earlier gets to choose how the game starts, and makes up for being out positioned by the chap with loads of units in his army.
There are six phases to each players turn in age of sigmar.
- Hero Phase! This is for the really funky bits that your uber heroes and generals can do. Inspire troops, cast spells, that sort of awesome stuff. We have two basic troops, so the hero phase won’t be a worry for us.
- Movement Phase! We’re happy with this! The player gets to move unit by unit up to the move value on their war scroll. Each model in the unit can move up to that distance, and has to be within 1″ of each other in the same unit. For both of our guys, that’s 5″ and they don’t have any mates in their units to have to stay near. Simple! If you aren’t going to shoot or try to charge into close combat, though, you can run here instead – you roll a dice, and add that many inches to your move this turn. If you do run, thats it! Your chap can’t do anything else. You can’t move within 3″ of the enemy unless you are charging. If you start within 3″ of the enemy, you can either stay where you are, or retreat – its like a run move in that you can’t do anything else if you bugger off!
- Shooting Phase! Not a problem for us, as we don’t have any ranged weapons! If they did, you can fire weapons model by model at the targets of their choice. The whole unit doesn’t have to fire at the same thing, so you can pick and choose your targets. You don’t have to split your fire though! Crush your enemies tactically!
- The Charge Phase! This is where you can try to charge a unit into combat at a unit within 12″. You get to roll 2 dice (known as 2d6), and add up the total to find out how far you can run. The first model you move has to be able to get within 1/2″ (thats a half inch) of the enemy, or the charge has failed, and the unit can’t move at all. Units within 3″ of the enemy are locked in combat already and can’t charge anyone! As mentioned already, units that ran or retreated can’t charge either. Once you have decided to charge all of your eligible units, its over!
- The Combat Phase! This is really a bit odd in how it works, so I’ll cover this when we get to it in our demo!
- Battleshock Phase! This won’t be a problem for us! Essentially, we roll a dice, and add one for every person killed in that unit this turn (in both the shooting and combat phases) – lets say 7 people had died, and we roll a 6, for a total of 13. If we had a 10 man unit of blood warriors (now down to 3), with our bravery of 6, there is a difference of 7 – so another 7 people run off in terror (and are removed as if dead!). As there are only 3 left, the unit would be gone! Big hordes of units like goblins add 1 to their bravery for every 10 men left – so if they lost 3 men from a unit of 60 (leaving 57), they’d add 5 to their bravery value. Its all a bit mathematics for this, but its actually pretty easy, and generally its not a worry for most units unless they lose more than 2 or 3 men or roll 5 or 6s on the dice. Its not a problem for us as with one person on each side, if we lose a person, its game over! No testing morale in the gladiator pit! To the death!
One note on the battleshock phase – all units who lost men that turn have to test on BOTH sides. Not just the current player.
The Combat Phase
I’me covering the combat phase separately, because its a bit weird, to be honest. You move troops. Both players get a go, even in the other players turn! Its generally the hardest phase to get your head around, though it’ll be easy in our example with only one combat to deal with.
Basically, the player whose turn it is picks a unit within 3″ of the enemy. They may have just charged in there, or it might be a combat lingering on from a previous round. He can move each model in that unit up to 3″ towards the closest enemy model. He then picks targets for each of his models. This is a bit tricky. You aren’t too worried about picking individual models as wounds are allocated to units as a whole, but if there are different enemy units – like a hero and some troops within your melee weapon range (1″ for our example lads), you can choose who to attack, or even split your attacks if you have more than one. Once each model’s attacks have been allocated, you can start rolling the dice for each set of attacks. We covered the process when we looked at the war scrolls – roll all the hit rolls for each type of weapon to find out how many hit. roll all the wound rolls to find out how many cause damage. look at the damage rating for the weapons that wounded to find out how many wounds have caused. The other player then makes armour saves for those wounds (with any rend modifiers for the weapons)! Wounds are then allocated to a model by the player commanding the target unit. Once that model is dead, he starts assigning wounds to the next model in the unit, if any are left. Wounds have to be assigned first to an already wounded member of the unit. Phew!
Now comes the tricky bit! The second player picks a unit within 3″ of the enemy to attack back! That might be the unit the first player just battered … but it might not! It might be another encounter entirely, where player 2 is getting the jump on his enemy. It can make the combat phase very tactical, as your choices determine the order of strikes. Some players absolutely adore this – it lets them make the decisions on who to sacrifice and who to prioritise.
After that attack, it goes back to player 1, and so on, until all the eligible units have attacked. At that point, the turn is over!
One quirk we haven’t covered, and doesn’t apply to our example game – if you have a unit already in terrain, you often get a +1 bonus to armour saves. They are hunkered down, defending a wall or behind trees. Defending a fixed point is a definite advantage, and can be worth staying put rather than hurtling forward!
One note – while shooting happens every player turn if in range, effectively once close combat starts it happens in both the player turn and the other player turn as well! The hurly burly of melee is lethal, and you’ll find lots of casualties.
Right! Lets finally start our example game, if you’ve managed to stick with me!
Battle Round 1 – Blood Warrior turn!
The Blood Warrior had deployed first, so he gets the choice of whether to go first and second. Given the close combat nature of the two, and the distance, the smart move would be to pick second. He’s a frothing maniac though, and so its the player – he’s going to go first and try to chance a long distant charge!
Hero Phase – doesn’t apply!
Move phase – our Blood Warrior moves his maximum 5″ straight towards the Stormcast. We deployed 16″ apart (and you can now see the reason for the standard 24″ buffer!) so that means he’s in a potential charge range of 11″! Its a long shot, but possible, as the 2 dice rolled for a charge give a range of 2-12″.
Shooting phase – doesn’t apply
Charge phase – praying to Khorne, the blood warrior rolls the dice, and gets a mighty 10″. That’s good, but not good enough – he’d still be an inch away, not within the half inch needed! He doesn’t move any further.
Combat phase – no units are within 3″ of each other. No combat!
Battleshock phase – no casualties, no battle shock!
I’ll skip mentioning the irrelevant phases going forward, but remember them for your own bigger trial games.
Battle Round 1 – Stormcast Turn
Move Phase – equally eager, the stormcast moves 5″ straight at his enemy!
Charge Phase – The stormcast prays to sigmar, but doesn’t roll as high as the Blood Warrior did, getting a 7. However, he’s 5″ closer – only 6″ away now! That lets him charge within the needed 1/2″
Combat Phase (Stormcast) – The stormcast has only one unit to pick, so he selects his newly charged liberator. He has 2 attacks, needing a 4+ to hit with his warhammer … and gets a 4 and a 5! 2 hits!
He now needs to roll to wound. As he got 2 hits, he rolls twice, needing a 3+ with his warhammer … and gets a 1 and a 5 – that causes 1 wound with a warhammer.
The Blood Warrior rolls his armour save, and gets a 4! He passes! And as he made a saving throw, he gets to test his gorefist special ability. He rolls a dice, and gets a 6! The stormcast suffers a mortal wound, taking damage without any chance of a save! First blood to Khorne!
Combat Phase (Blood Warrior) – the Blood warrior player can now pick a unit to strike back, and obviously only has the one choice! He needs a 3+ to hit, and rolls a 2 and a 6! Thats one hit! He now rolls to damage, needing a 4+ and gets a 5! Thats a wound! It’ll finish the stormcast if he doesn’t pass his saving throw!
The stormcast rolls his save … and gets a 1! Its all over … except for the Liberator special ability with the shield. He can reroll armour saves of 1! And when he rolls again …. he gets a 6! He’s OK this turn!
Battle Round 2
We now have to see who gets the choice of first and second turn this battle round. The Blood Warrior player gets a 5! But the Stormcast player gets a 6! He chooses (unsurprisingly!) to go first!
Battle Round 2 – Stormcast Turn
Move – the players are locked in combat within 3″. Unless one side retreats, moving is not an option!
Charge – again, in combat! No charging!
Combat (Stormcast) – With only one option, the stormcast player picks his liberator. The two models are right next to each other, so no pile in moves of 3″ needed. The stormcast needs 4+ to hit … and gets a 4 and a 6 with his 2 attacks! He now needs 3+ to wound with his warhammer … and gets a 3 and a 5! Two wounds!
The Blood warrior still has two wounds, so only needs to make a single save to strike back … and if lucky with the gorefist might even finish the stormcast now. But he rolls a 2 and a 3! Two wounds! It finishes him! The battle is over!
I hope you have a feel for the game, enough so the rules and war scrolls make a bit more sense. The game is pretty straightforward – the complexity builds as you add more and more troops with abilities that start to interact. A wizard might be able to cast a spell that adds a bonus that stacks with a bonus from a nearby hero, turning run of the mill troops into legends. But if you get the basics understood, it all makes more and more sense, and expanding into more complex narrative and matched play games makes sense too.