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.

Dark Elves …. redux! And alternatives!

Well, after over 10 years, I am revisiting my Dark Elves!  I have a battered collection from some time ago (the late 90s, in fact!) consisting of mostly GW models, though there are a few from another range at the time.  Though some of the bigger war machines and creatures are destroyed, there’s still the nice core of an army, and reinforcements from @thee_other_matt of era appropriate elves takes it up to a really nice little force.  I’ll see if I can snap some pics soon.

Given my typical over the top enthusiasm, I am looking at expanding the force, but its difficult to get enthusiastic with some of the current GW prices, and the fact it looks like they are killing WFB – it means the need to have a “pure GW” force for tournaments and stuff is a lot less important!  £35 for 10 Witch Elves is a bit on the high side, though they are gorgeous minis, and their heroes are at the same level and better quality than most alternatives.  I have some early doors alternatives already, too, so having some models to complement them isn’t bad either.  Mind you, some of the GW boxes are great value!  £15.50 for 10 corsairs is great, as is £20 for 10 dark elves you can assemble as swordsmen, crossbowmen, or spearmen.

So with that in mind, I set out to find what is actually available!

Avatars of War

Avatars of War have been my star discovery, especially as I love Witch Elves, and generally powerful female hero types, which tend to be lacking in GW’s range a bit (with the exception of sorceresses!).

Although now out of stock, they do some lovely looking Witch Elves (or Vestals), for around £30 for 20, or £1.50 each.  Compared to £3.50 each for basic troops at GW, that’s quite a saving for some loving looking models!  If you are lucky enough to find the preorder boxes, you get another 10 elves in there for free, and many places also do a 10% online discount, making it simply superb value!

Avatars of War - Vestals.jpg

You can only get male assassins from GW – there are 2 female options from Avatars.

Avatars of War - Assassin 1.pngAvatars of War - Assassin 2.png

There are no female heroes in the GW Dark elves line outside of Sorceresses either, with 2 strong contenders as Dark Elf Princesses in the Avatars of War line.

Avatars of War - Princess 1.pngAvatars of War - Princess 2.png

The GW Sorceresses are all pretty great models anyway, but there are 2 more options here.  Ones a bit too scantily clad for me, but the other one is a really great model.

Avatars of War - Sorcereress 1.pngAvatars of War - Sorcereress 2.png

Finally, there is a male hero in the line (again, with so many great ones in the GW line its a bit redundant though).  He’d make a cracking dreadlord or fleetmaster.

Avatars of War - Prince 1 (Corsair).png

Raging Heroes

Raging Heroes are amazing for strong female miniatures.  They have several lines of futuristic female troops coming out at the moment, and several more (and fantasy ones under development following a kickstarter.  At the moment, they have a small but solid range of Dark Elf types available.

In terms of troops, there are some cracking Blood Vestals or Witch Elves.  At about £15 for 5 basic troops and £16 for the command squad, they aren’t cheap, though they still clock in £4-5 cheaper than the GW equivalent.

Raging Heroes - Vestal Command.jpgRaging Heroes - Vestal Troop.jpg

As a Dreadlord or Sorceress alternative, Asharah is a brilliant option, with arms to allow physical or magical gear.

Raging Heroes - Asharah.jpgRaging Heroes - Asharah 2.jpg

As a Dreadhag or maybe Hellebron alternate, Skaryaa the Blood Mistress looks awesome.

Raging Heroes - Skaryaa.jpg

In the future, this range is going to expand massively!  Its going to be an amazing line of mostly female Dark Elves, so well worth checking back on.

Mantic Games

Mantic games is surprisingly disappointing when it comes to Dark Elves (or Twilight Kin)! Their line is basically the Elf range with metal conversion parts, which means they are much more expensive than most of the Mantic models (generally £18 for 10, so for most troop types you may as well go GW at £20 for 10 anyway – the normal mantic cost for elves is £15 for 20), and the plastic/metal combination is hard to work with.  No witch elf equivalents either!  They have a gorgeous sorceress model, but apart from that, they aren’t worth looking at until the line is refreshed!

Mantic - Sorceress.jpg

Gamezone Miniatures

Gamezone has been my surprise win for Dark Elves, particular spearmen!  At around 25 euros for a unit of 30, and good looking infantry at that, its by far the best value core troops available for Dark Elves.  In contrast, GW’s dark spears are £20 for 10.

Gamezone - DE Infantry.gif

They do a reasonable unit of cavalry for a similar price, but with GW’s dark one riders at 5 for £20, its not really cost effective!

Gamezone - DE Cavalry.gif

They also do “Predators” or Cold Ones.  Far more expensive than GW’s, they also look much better, in my opinion.  Real brutes of dinosaurs!  These could be worth it for heroes!

Gamezone - DE Cold One Hero.jpg

Finally, they do a small but solid range of individual characters and metal crossbowmen and harpies.  The gem is probably the equivalent of Morathi on Pegasus.

Gamezone - DE Sorceress on Pegasus.jpg

Others

Mirliton do an old school range of Dark Elves, but I think they’ll look a bit dated and small, even against late 90s GW metals.

Reaper Miniatures do a wide range of models, but its more aimed at the skirmish scale or D&D collections, with some cool individual models, but not really army forces.  Definitely worth exploring for some cheaper models to bulk out armies, or for variety in your heroes though.

2014 – A Quick Review of Major Gaming Changes

Well, it’s been a major year of developments for the wargaming hobby, with lots of new systems or updates that have shaken things up a lot.

Warhammer 40K

Warhammer 40K has seen lots of revisions over the last 12 months.  The latest 7th edition was released in May this year as part of an absolutely frenetic release schedule.  Almost every codex has been updated by at least an eBook release, and a new format of “campaign” box sets, aimed at experienced gamers, has tied in to campaign books and novels.  White Dwarf has gone weekly, while the monthly magazine is now just a simple model showcase.

Its generally a really brilliant time to enjoy the 40K hobby, though the pace of change is currently hard to keep up with.  If you are challenged for time, maintaining awareness of the releases can be exhausting.  In addition, the incorporation of major tanks and war machines into the standard game as “lords of war”, especially after the 6th edition  aircraft changes, has been off putting for those who really enjoy a more tactical combined arms approach.  There is an element here where those who can afford the newer releases are more likely to win.

Fabulous models and a cracking universe keep it the champion sci-fi war-game on the market!

Warhammer Fantasy Battle

While no new version has been released directly, the series of “End Times” books with awesome combined armies (I’ve been tempted to get out my Dark Eldar and add some High and Wood Elves!) have really shaken up the game, and made it much more appealing.  Tomb Kings and Vampire Counts?  That’s how it rolls!

Its a huge gamble, with major characters being killed and areas of the world being destroyed, but seems to be paying off – the general enthusiasm for the game is higher than I’ve seen for years!

Infinity

I’ll hopefully be doing a complete review of the new N3 rules for @docbungle, but the new book is gorgeous, and the upgrades to the rules fantastic.  The biggest change is that the rules and universe are much more accessible – much more care and attention has gone into  the language.  Its going to really gain popularity, especially with the starter set – Operation Ice Storm, and the continuing high quality of the minis.

Malifaux

Although hardcore fans will disagree, I’m sure, Malifaux has stayed reasonably static this year, after a major update in Oct 2013.  That’s no bad thing – lots of new mini releases have come out matching the 2e rules, and its been a tremendous year for playing – there just haven’t been the huge shakeups we’ve seen elsewhere.

X-Wing

The new Scum and Villainy faction announced in August really opens up X-Wing to a very different approach, with lots of unique ships and the prospect of more complex multiplayer battles!  Having the option to play rogues and pirates, rather than just Rebels and Imps is great.  Continuing releases have been fascinating, though for me TIE fighters, X-Wings and Y-wings are where its at!

Open Combat

A new skirmish game released this year, Open Combat is great fun.  The rules are mini independent, so you can roll up those historical models with your mordheim gangs for some mixed up fun!  A great game, and my surprise hit of the year. Check it out at Second Thunder!

What’s GW doing right, and how can they improve?

You probably already know that GW posted lower profits and revenue this half year, and as a result lost 24% off their share prices.  There are lots of rumoured and confirmed changes too:

  • White Dwarf is changing significantly -going to a weekly release, and monthly Warhammer Visions is going to be more models. #confirmed
  • WFB is losing about 4 army lines #rumoured
  • GW are hiring a 2 year consultant to reinvent the customer experience #confirmed
  • Lots of stores and HQs are changing or closing #confirmed
  • Imperial Guard Catachan and Vostroyan lines are to be axed #rumoured
  • Finecast is being axed #rumoured

Before we start jumping up and down, lets look at the facts.  Last year GW released 6th Edition of their flagship product, and the year before was their 25th anniversary of the same.  This year?  Well, its business as usual.  Sales were always going to drop, especially on the back of a tight economy and increasing competition.

They are still pretty profitable, and for the first time seem to be shaking out of their complacency, changing their legal counsel after some embarrassing moves and hiring someone to improve the experience in their stores.  The strength in their value tends to have been more in solid dividends than their growth in value, so I don’t think this drop will see any major changes in who holds their stock (I think – don’t quote me on this!).

In terms of model lines, they have some difficult decisions to make.  As a company, you don’t produce goods that lose money and stay in business …. unless that actually gains you more money elsewhere.  In addition, current model sales of a line don’t necessarily reflect future sales – new rules and new models can totally invigorate an army.   Having said that, the current vogue in fantasy fiction is a fairly good indicator of the popularity of a line – and heroic knights and wood elves aren’t that popular right now.  Its gritty fantasy which suits most of the Warhammer world down to the ground.  Brettonians and Wood Elves don’t quite fit, especially with the LotR/Hobbit lines sucking away anyone interested in more heroic fantasy.

In terms of 40K, Cadians sell by the bucket load.  Catachans have a dedicated, but small fan base.  Vostroyans?  Even smaller.  I have a load of Valhallans and they’ve been largely ditched despite a very popular series of books (Ciaphas Cain) featuring them.  Only keeping Cadians, and possibly selling a few conversion kits would make sense, even if its not popular.  Its not good for people with those armies … but its possibly a very smart move for GW.

Axing Finecast is a bit of a U-turn, but actually a very good move.  Individual plastics have been very successful, while problems with Finecast models must cost them a lot – I know people who have had 3 or 4 of the same model before receiving an adequate one.  I feel they though they had resin casting resolved for a larger scale … but they discovered they hadn’t!

The main strength of GW is in their rich intellectual property, which is pretty ironic in many ways, given the way they grabbed so much from so many sources when they first created Warhammer and 40K, especially from authors like Heinlein, Moorcock, the 2000AD lines and so on.  Years of evolution have led to a solid and pretty unique mythos, and their work with the Black Library breaking into bestseller lists has improved it further.

Other areas are the sheer quality of their miniatures, particularly plastics, and the range of hobbyist options, particularly Forge World – which seems to have become the bastion of the dedicated adult hobbyist.  Their paint range is fantastic, and their people generally are some of the most enthusiastic gamers around.   In addition, their electronic line is doing fantastically well, with seriously reduced production costs.

Thats a pretty strong base to start from, so why the doom and gloom?

The single greatest problem they have is customer engagement.  I think we can summarise the major complaints here as:

  • Staff in store are too aggressive for sales, pushing new stuff, especially expensive options.
  • Prices are too high, and don’t reflect the manufacturing costs. It feels greedy, especially international costs in the USA and Australia.
  • Costs of a standard starter army are so high its very difficult to enter the hobby.
  • Lack of long term support for models and armies – models are axed to increase sales or remove competing models from other manufacturers, which is very frustrating.
  • The games system is “broken”, especially the points system.
  • White Dwarf is just a sales catalogue

I hear very few complaints about the experience of playing the games, the quality of the models (with the already discussed fine cast exception), or support from GW with any issues with the models or internet orders.

It still seems a pretty strong position – I’m curious about Dropzone Commnder, Infinity and Malifaux … but I love 40K enough that I’m not likely to drop it.  Can they improve?  Obviously.  I think the fact they are altering White Dwarf is potentially very positive!  Hiring someone to improve the Customer Experience, reporting to the CEO?  Well, thats potentially brilliant and in a position to enact some real changes to many of those gripes.  Having WD available weekly in your FLGS?  If they start reaching out to third party sellers more, instead of forcing people purely to their own stores, well, thats good too!

From my perspective, the GW world isn’t ending.  They’ve had a wakeup call, are actively working to make changes, and its a strong position.  Some of the moves might be unpopular with lines that don’t make money in the short term.

I’d like to see:

  • Cheap starter sets and gateway games.
  • A way of supporting lines that aren’t making money – reducing the lines into a “mercenaries” or combined “old world” book, supporting them through WD or electronic only formats or even (shock/horror) formally licensing “wood elves” out to someone like mantic to produce and accepting them at GW events.
  • Restructuring points to focus on unit effectiveness, not box shifting
  • Rewarding staff enthusiasm – perhaps include online sales from an area around stores towards a stores profit/loss, for example, and reward positive feedback outside of sales figures … which in turn would lead to a less aggressive focus on box shifting (probably leading to more long term sales!)
  • More working with third parties, instead of treating them like a necessary evil at best!

I think its actually a very positive time for GW – they’ve had a wakeup call, they’ve shown they’ll make changes, and they have a fantastic line.  I think they can still throw it all away if they go on with  just business as usual … but it very much feels like its down to them to throw more opportunities away rather than a desperate last stand.

Warhammer 40K – Is it fun, competitive, or both?

Someone on twitter (The Eternal Wargamer) asked a fantastic question:

Here's a question: why do some players want to try and play 40K & Fantasy competitively when even GW say they're not designed that way?

Well, I’m not a particularly competitive player – still no flyers in any army, for example (though thats more down do smallbabyitis interfering with hobby time!), but it did make me think quite seriously  about the hobby.  I haven’t played fantasy in over a decade, so this really refers to 40K!

40K is, in many ways, a broken game.  I find it fun and entertaining, absolutely love the models, and really enjoy playing it if I get the chance with friends or at the Overlords gaming club.  It’s still pretty flawed though!  It relies on a point system to match up armies as standard, and the point system is a nonsense, really.  If I pick 1500pts of close combat Tyranids, and my opponent picks three flying heldrakes with flame weaponry for anti-infantry work in their army, the two lists are not equivalent.  I can’t hurt some of his troops at all!  1500pts will not give an equal match against 1500pts, unless both lists are pretty much identical.  Some armies, particularly marines, end up with identical units costing different amounts.  There’s an argument that the synergies within an army are taken into account when costing individual units to explain this, but a large part of this is down to the lists simply favouring newer models so GW can sell more!  Its solid business practise, even if it doesn’t help the game in the longer term.

Now, for a friendly game down the club (or in my case, with Leonidas or Saint Aidan), thats not a problem.  You can take that into account and work out good match ups, or build custom scenarios that are supposed to be unbalanced (like a small force of marines holding a pass against a Nid horde, which was fun after watching 300!).  But competitively, that can’t work particularly well.  If someones out to win, they won’t give up an advantage to make it a more fun game.  One problem is that all it takes is one person in a group being a little more competitive, buying the latest models for advantage rather than just liking them, and you end up with anyone who plays him losing … unless they buy the latest models and work out a competitive list too!

Its not even as cut and dried as that – as an example, Saint Aidan loves heldrakes.  Not for advantage – he loves the model, loves assembling them, loves it soaring over the battlefield.  I don’t have flyers – so I’m playing at a bit of a disadvantage.  Asking him not to use his favourite models is taking the fun out of the game for him!

Some people start to get a bit confused here, talking about fluffy lists, and competitive lists, and how you can have fluffy competitive lists.  A fluffy list, to me, is simply one that follows the rich background that surrounds 40K.  Its a list where an Imperial Fist force is geared towards a siege assault, or an Iyanden force is largely made of ghost warriors, or a Farsight Enclave force that doesn’t include ethereals and limited tanks.   Of course that can be competitive – it often isn’t.     I don’t really care about the fluff in this analysis (I love the fluff in 40K, don’t get me wrong – its the main reason I read so much Black Library and stick with the game!) – I’m just looking at the difference between those who have to create competitive lists, optimising their armies effectiveness, and those who play for fun, with models they particularly like or lists based purely on the background rather than worrying about effectiveness.

Essentially, unless we’re willing to rewrite chunks of the game through custom scenarios, house rules, or are pretty relaxed about losing regularly, the very game system forces us toward newer models and a competitive nature – and most people hate to lose ALL the time.

If the question means why do we play GW at a tournament level, well, I don’t, really!  But I understand why people would – if you are competitive, it gives you an opportunity to show how good you are.  If you aren’t, its an opportunity to meet other gamers, show off your models and painting, and have a fun, hobby based day out.  Either way, you probably don’t want to spend the entire day being thrashed, so a reasonably competitive list is pretty much going to be needed.

Is a little competition bad?  Not if it forces us to excel.  I’m lucky that I can just enjoy my gaming with the models I have .  I don’t think I’d like to play with someone who feels that the real fun is the win, not the game.  Still, without fixing a very broken points system for match ups – Warhammer is never going to be a good vehicle for genuine fair competition.  Fun, yes, but all a competition will show is an element of guessing from rock, paper, scissors style armies (and unit types), and a fair chunk of money to field the latest models, with some tactical skill to use them.  It won’t show the better general.