Why Age of Sigmar isn’t for me

In one of my plans for 2016, I mentioned fantasy models, especially for Age of Sigmar, probably weren’t going to get a look-in, and hinted that the subject was worth a blog post in its own right.  Its a very contentious issue, so first, let me spell out a few things.

These are just my opinions.  You may love the game and models, or hate them – thats fine either way!  I’m quite happy whether you play or not!  In addition, I’m not really a fanboy type mentality – you can hate rules, but love the models, or love the game but hate the fluff.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Finally, get over Warhammer Fantasy – I loved that game, but it’s pretty much defunct except for occasional games with mates.  Loving Warhammer Fantasy Battle doesn’t mean you have to love or hate Age of Sigmar – try to see it as a new game.

I see a game as being built from 3 main pillars.  You have the background, or fluff.  You have the rules for the game, and finally, you have the actual quality of the pieces or models.  For a game to work for me, you need to have at least 2 of these (and often one spills over to another).  I’m afraid that from my perspective, Age of Sigmar doesn’t pass that criteria.

First, the background and fluff could have been systematically designed to leave me cold.  I’m a fairly traditional fantasy chap, and love the standard old races – your hobbits, wood elves, high elves and so on.  In addition, I like magic to be something rare and unusual to your average citizen, rather than high magic settings where everyone is infused by power x from god y or artefact z.  Everything in Age of Sigmar is superpowered – from god warriors of sigmar to god warriors of the chaos powers, through star demon lizards and elemental fire infused dwarves.  It just fails to grab me.  I’m fully aware this is a matter of personal taste, and I suspect those who grew up with World of Warcraft rather than Lord of the Rings will absolutely love it.  The silly names, all clearly designed for copyright purposes, don’t really work for me either.

Second, I’ve tried the game more than once, and I really haven’t enjoyed it.  The rules only cover 4 pages, but lack clarity, and lots of rules need specific knowledge of specific “war scrolls” or unit cards.  Its a lot harder to get a feel for the overall game.  The lack of points costs is something I’m a bit ambivalent about, but it doesn’t feel like there are many options apart from some scenarios to replace them.  Its bloody difficult to work out what should be a fun game sometimes unless you’ve a lot of experience playing AoS or use home-brew systems.  And the simplistic combat rules just leave me cold.  Multiple groups of fast elves gang up on some slow dwarves, and just queue up to take turns hitting?  Erk.  I was hoping for a fun, simple skirmish system, and to be honest, it probably is.  But people use it to play army encounters, and that gets sluggish and not really fun for me.  So while I understand that some people enjoy it, and see the simple rules as a great way to introduce people to gaming, it doesn’t work for me.  Its OK, I’d play a game if someone really wanted to, but I’d rather play something else.

And then finally the models.  Age of Sigmar has, in theory, some utterly amazing models.  For me, the problem is that they follow the fluff and all tie into the super-powered theme.  So while I might grab an individual model here or there, I haven’t seen anything that makes me think “I want an army of those”.  To put it in context, I think I can field 750-1000pts minimum of pretty much every 40K force (except the recent admech).  And thousands of points of my favourites.  I’m really their core audience for army buying, and I’m just not excited enough to even pick up the starter set.

So yeah, I fully understand why people love it, and the models are gorgeous in detail and design.  But the underlying theme leaves me cold, and the rules aren’t good enough to counter that.  Honestly, there are a fair few flaws in the 40K ruleset.  But the fluff, theme and models are cracking, and carry my enthusiasm through the few games that get derailed by odd rules issues.  That enthusiasm isn’t there for AoS, so it makes it much harder to get excited.

Of course, when they finally release Aelves, I’ll probably change my tune.  I love pointy ears!

Age of Sigmar and Kings of War – simplifying fantasy battles.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle is dead!  Long live … Well, what is the heir to WFB’s crown?  2 games really stand out – its replacement, Age of Sigmar, and it’s competition, Kings of War.

Age of Sigmar is the new approach taken by Games Workshop.  It focuses on individual models, to a much greater extent than Warhammer Fantasy Battle ever did.  Indeed, it goes further than 40K does, and that was always more of a skirmish feel than Fantasy ever was.  Individual base shapes and sizes don’t matter at all, allowing individuals to have fantastic bases and poses.

Kings of War is the fantasy battle game produced by Mantic.    It focuses on units, to a much greater extent that Warhammer Fantasy Battle every did.  Each unit is largely governed by the base size.  Individual models don’t really matter, not even being removed as casualties (which allows a unit to have great fixed dioramas and poses).

Both games are designed to run significantly faster with streamlined rules compared to the classic WFB model.  In my test games, Age of Sigmar seems to play better with smaller forces than a traditional WFB game, while KoW scaled up better – the system stayed elegant, while AoS got increasing clumsy.  On the flip side, AoS gets more interesting as forces shrink, while KoW doesn’t scale down well – the use of units as integral models stops being effective with one or two units on a table.

Tactically, the war of manoeuvre that was present in Warhammer Fantasy Battle is much more present in Kings of War.  Flank or rear attack an enemy unit, and you are truly going to cause some damage – facing doesn’t really matter in AoS at all.

On the flip side, the presence of mages and heroes are much more vibrant and present in AoS (to the point where many wonder why its worth taking a unit!)  Spells, powers, there is a real range and uniqueness to the individual characters – in KoW, heroes and mages are pretty limited.  Units and warmachines are kings of the field – much more like historical gaming with Roman or Greek armies.

At the end of the day, I think it really depends on which aspects of WFB you enjoyed most. Mass army tactics?  Kings of War is probably your choice.  Varied models and more fantasy magic and powerful heroes?  Then there’s a lot in Age of Sigmar to enjoy.

Both system offer core rules for free – Kings of War has slightly limited army lists but the points system makes pickup games and tournaments easy to play, while Age of Sigmar seems to rely more on scenarios for balancing games, and you’ll need to invest in books to get these.

I am fascinated by the two opposed approaches to simplifying the game of playing out a fantasy battle.  The model, or the unit?  Magic, or strategy?  I do like the original WFB editions … but I remember how long a game could take.  I think simplifying the core rules is the way forward, and time will tell which approach was correct.

There are lots of other games out there, but few are in direct line to succeed WFB.  Warmachine and Hordes are amazing games, for example, but they are definitely more based around skirmish level encounters, and individual models, and focussed on a tight tournament play style.  They aren’t an obvious replacement to WFB using similar minis.

Age of Sigmar – whats the fuss about?

Uncertainty.

Its as simple as that.   We’re at the release point where rules for all the old WFB models have been released, as have the core ruleset … and we still don’t really know how the game is pitched, and are relying on rumours and extrapolations.

Let me give a few examples:

  • The warscrolls for the old WFB miniatures contain lots of funny rules and a light hearted touch.  The warscrolls in the starter set are quite serious.  Is it a light hearted beer and pretzels approach to the game, or a light hearted farewell to the history of Warhammer, and a serious game going forward?
  • What will the miniatures look like?  The aesthetic from the new box set is much more like 40K.  40K minis sell, so that makes sense, but is this new high fantasy approach going to run through the whole line?  If so, what will beloved races like Elves look like?  Are the older models effectively obsolete in anything but the very short term (especially in light of the first point?)
  • Is the game pitched for scenario play?  Or will there be army building rules?  At the moment, neither option is really covered in any depth.

These will all settle out, but not having any formal indication or roadmap on how things will go is definitely worrying people, especially existing WFB players.

I understand the need to protect IP, but the names of the races are just a bit silly.  I’d have been more impressed if GW had just said “We do the best models in the world.  We don’t give a damn if someone else makes a Ork on a Dragon.  Ours looks better.” rather than calling them Orruks, which sounds more like a burp.  And honestly?  GW minis generally are the best in the world at 28mm.

In addition to the uncertainty, though, there are 2 very polarised views dominating the shouting.  We have the “I am excited for the new game, so I will not hear any word of cynicism at all”, and we have the “I loved WFB, this is different, the world is ending, Rage Quit, Rage Quit”.  I think most people actually sit in the middle, are cautiously optimistic but are aware there are a lot more game options available these days, so aren’t going to buy in blindly.

Honestly, between the two views, I have some sympathy with the latter.  The Old World was part of my hobby since I was 10.  Destroying it entirely for a fresh start?  Well, that hurts a little.  Of course, it belongs to GW, they can do what they like with it.  But it feels like the Queen decided to rebuild Buckingham Palace as a glass skyscraper and demolish the historical building.

I think people would be less polarised for the new game if it was genuinely new.  Why Sigmar?  Why not a fresh rising god?  Its totally different anyway, and people would have fresher eyes.  The same with Nagash ruling the Realm of the Dead, for example – why?  Powerful worldly beings are now rising to the level of the Chaos Gods or above, and from a broken world?  Why not start fresh, and use Chaos as the linking theme?

I’m sure a lot of this will be explained as the fluff begins to expand beyond the basic introduction in the White Dwarf, but again … its uncertain.

I can also understand people being upset at being saddled with armies that have little real world value now.  Before, if I got out of the hobby, I could sell off my Dark Elves and recoup a reasonable chunk, maybe 50% of my investment.  Now?  I’ll be lucky to get back 20% of the value at best.  Its less of an issue with 40K with a more thriving social gaming scene.  With WFB, I’d generally have to play in store, or in a tournament – both options that will be vanishing with the loss of the old system, so the refrain of “Well, you can still play the older edition!  Your books are still there!” doesn’t ring quite true.  Its particularly upsetting if you’ve followed the advice from enthusiasts to hang on to your army until you see what happens.

I’ve tried the game myself, if only briefly, and you know what?  It’s genuinely fun.  It plays well and smoothly, though I have a few quibbles with the initial release rules:

  • Everything is measured model to model.  I hate, hate, hate people prodding my carefully painted minis with measuring sticks or tape measures.  The old base measurements avoided that.  I think it avoids a lot of game problems, but heck, my paint!
  • The older models, especially those on flying bases, are just not designed for the new game.  I’m excited to see the new approach (I suspect we may see multi level bases to change flyer levels), but the older models have some issues.
  • Although you roll off for who goes first in a turn, you still do everything in a game turn, then hand off to your opponent.  Game systems where you have alternative activations at a unit level keep both players more involved, though the apparently intended skirmish size stops this really being a problem.
  • The rules seem more designed around the new models.  If I field night goblins against dark elves at the moment, the dark elves will probably get sudden death advantages against troops they could quickly stomp anyway.  Its a nice mechanic, but aimed at planned scenarios or models in a more even playing field.

These are just quibbles, and almost everyone is solved by newer models coming out, and playing small games rather than massed armies.  The game is fun, and I’m cautiously optimistic, though I probably won’t buy into it until I see my beloved Aelves!  Is it fun enough to get people playing this instead of Malifaux?  Or Warmachine/Hordes?  I must admit, At the moment I could see myself playing this with my brother over a few beers.  I don’t see myself going down a club to play it – I’ll get my Warmachine or Malifaux out.  But I have high hopes for a complex scenario structure and more serious warscrolls going forward making it much better for pickup games.  I can understand why some people who were more invested than me in WFB being upset though.