Monday, August 24, 2015

Age of Sigmar: First few games

It has been about a month since Age of Sigmar burst onto the gaming scene, like the burning radiance of Ghal Maraz.  With the freely available rules, new models (Space Marines in fantasy!), and a complete lack of point values for units, it was an exciting, if not slightly bewildering, time.  Now that the initial excitement has died down (likely due to the slow trickle of singular releases each week), and I have had a chance to play a few games, I decided it was a good time to tell you my current impressions of Age of Sigmar as a game.

The first thing that really struck me about Age of Sigmar is how much they have simplified things.  This is reflected in the fact that the entirety of the rules are covered in the space of 4 pages (and one of these is largely dealing with mysterious terrain that I could see many people not even using).  Gone are the complex statlines, replaced with a stat wheel (of sorts) which only has 4 values, movement, wounds, save, and bravery.  To Hit and Wound tables are gone, replaced with fixed values that depend on the weapon in question.  This minimalistic approach to rules can be both liberating and off-putting in equal measures as you play though the game.  The dramatically streamlined board setup and deployment rules allow games to start much quicker, but when a rules question comes up, an answer is often simply not present.  It is clear they are tailoring the game to a more casual audience, people who are quick to use a die roll to settle a rules dispute.  But even as a player who considers himself primarily a casual one, it can get a bit tiresome always questioning the rules and feeling like you might be breaking them (this is especially true when it comes to list building, because even if you mean to field a comparable list to your opponent’s, it can be challenging without any real guidelines).  Ultimately, while the game does simplify a lot of things, it still requires a lot of consideration and strategy to do well; it just requires emphasis in different places, since the rules are so divergent from Warhammer Fantasy.

Some Space Mar... Stormcast Eternals are facing off against some Night Goblins.

The game is played in a series of Battle Rounds, each of which is broken up into two turns.  These turns are governed by six phases (1. Hero 2. Movement 3. Shooting 4. Charge 5. Combat 6. Battleshock).  While this general structure should sound familiar, one of the most interesting changes to Age of Sigmar is that at the start of each Battle Round, each player rolls a die, with the winner taking the first turn of that Round.  So instead of simply taking turns back and forth, there is a possibility that you might be able to take two turns back-to-back.  This makes for some incredibly tense rolls, and adds a level of uncertainty and excitement to the start of each turn.  This potential of taking sequential turns might seems broken at first, but a few other rules changes from Warhammer largely make it work out.  The primary one is that when it comes to close combat, each player just goes back and forth selecting a unit to fight, since there is no Initiative anymore. This prevents someone from really taking advantage of sequential turns (and presents a new element of strategy, determining the best order to have your units attack).  The only thing that I found that could create some bad experiences for this turn roll off comes if you are facing an army with an extensive amount of ranged weapons.  Since ranged weapons can now be fired both into and out of combat (without penalty I should add), it can feel a bit wrong when your opponent fires his entire army at you, including those in combat (i.e. within 3” of an enemy unit), fight in close combat with all those units, and then fires his entire army at you again, before you can respond because you lost the turn roll.

Some of my Thunder Hammer Storm Shield Terminators where an adequate stand-in for Retributors. 

The first phase of each turn is the Hero phase.  It is here that your spell casters use magic (Wizards), Priests invoke blessings, and Generals use Command Abilities to buff other units.  Spells in the game have really been toned back from the last edition of Warhammer, but are still very powerful, something I found out the hard way from a few Night Goblin Shaman high on madcap mushrooms!  Spells have a casting value that needs to be equaled or exceeded on 2D6, but can also be dispelled by an enemy Wizard if their roll is beaten.  The Stormcast Eternals have Priests that function much like Wizards, however their prayers cannot be dispelled, nor can they dispel Wizards' magic spells.  Playing a few games with the Stormcast Eternals, their lack of Wizards to dispell magic was a pretty major weakness (many Eternals where laid low by the evil magicks of Gork and Mork).  Many of the heroes have special Command Abilities, that can be used if the model is selected to be your General.  Many of these abilities are quite powerful, allowing units within range add 1+ to their rolls in close combat, reroll 1s to hit, or make them unable to flee the battlefield regardless of how many casualties they  have taken.  These abilities have been one of the neater elements in the game for me, allowing a lot of synergy between certain units.

A Lord-Relicator (Asmodai) gets ready to face-off against a handless Giant!

The Charge and Combat phases are reminiscent to other GW games, but have some important differences that present themselves in interesting ways.  Like before, a unit that is charging rolls 2D6 to determine their charge distance, but interestingly, you never have to declare a target for that charge.  Instead you just move the models forward, and if you are within 0.5” of an enemy model the charge is successful (allowing you to charge multiple units).  After any charges are completed, each player goes back and forth selecting a unit to attack in close combat.  Interestingly, any unit that is within 3” of any enemy is considered to be in combat, even if they were not specifically charged (again because you don’t actually choose target units to charge anymore).  Before you make your attacks, you get to move each model in the unit up to 3” and then measure to see if your weapons are in range.  Now every weapon has a effective range, including melee weapons.  This was included because they have essentially removed models’ bases from the rules, and require that you measure directly from the model themselves.  Not needing to have your models in base to base contact for combat takes a little getting used to, but it works just fine.  And honestly, I often found myself just measuring ranges from a model’s base, because I find it easier to be more consistent that way, and most models have bases that are sized appropriately and occupy the entire base.  It is interesting to note that the rules state that you can use all the weapons present in a unit profile when attacking.  This is actually not really always the case, however, since some units actually are carrying multiple weapons, while others need to select which weapons they have.  Surprisingly, which of these is the case is not always that clear, and often requires you to sift through the unit description to determine if the unit actually has all the weapons listed or if you have to chose one.

Some lowly Night Goblins are getting slaughtered at the hands of a Lord-Celestant (old Emperor's Champion) and some Retributors.

Gone are the days of Leadership, moral, and break tests.  The entire concept of Psychology in Age of Sigmar is simplified into the Battleshock phase.  At the end of each turn, every unit that suffered casualties in that turn (friend or foe) has to test their bravery, which amounts to rolling a D6 and adding your casualties to it; you then lose models based on how much that sum exceeds your Bravery characteristic.  It is a simple system, but since it is based on casualties and not individual wounds, it tends to hurt large units of single wound models.  Also, because it is based on casualties, heros and other single model units can never flee.  Furthermore, since there are no rules allowing heroes to join other units and let them benefit from their higher Bravery, the characteristic is virtually useless for single model units.  I suspect there will be certain units that may be able to take advantage of another unit's Bravery, but up to this point, I have only seen one, Araloth, a Wood Elf Special Character, that allows other units to share his Bravery if he uses his Command Ability.  Large units do get some benefits, however, with the units Bravery raising by 1 for every 10 models in the unit.

A surprisingly deadly Night Goblin Shaman taunts the Stormcast Eternals.

One aspect of the game that impressed me quite a bit is their Age of Sigmar phone app.  It is a free application that not only includes the base rules, but also includes all of the Warscrolls detailing the rules for all Games Workshop’s Fantasy models.  It can be narrowed down to particular armies, such that you can look at all the Wood Elves, for example.  Each Warscoll can be downloaded to your device with a click, and can even be saved into a separate section (My Battle section), such that you can collect all the Warscolls you wish to use for a particular game.  It is really refreshing to get rules from GW for free, particularly when they released all of the Warhammer armies at once, rather than trickling them out army by army over the course of many months.  Likewise, having everything in one place makes it easier to explore all the available units to craft armies.  It can get a little annoying at times to constantly be clicking back to check the stats of units during a game, but that is more due to not being familiar with the game, rather than a flaw with the application.  Despite allowing you to collect units together into the My Battle section, there are no additional restrictions or list building guides.  You simply play with whatever models you like.  This lack of guidance, through point values or other restrictions, makes it difficult to play balanced games with an opponent.  And while many decried this as awful because people might start fielding whole armies of heroes or other powerful units, I feel most people who are going to be playing Age of Sigmar will not try to take advantage of the system.  Despite good intentions however, I feel a lot of one-sided games will be played without either player knowing for certain until a turn or two into the game, due to the lack of points and peoples’ unfamiliarity with the new rules.

These Chaos Warriors had not taken to the field in over 7 years; it is good to have them back!

At the end of the day, I have really enjoyed the few games of Age of Sigmar that I have played.  It has been fun to pull out my random collection of Warhammer models (and some 40k models, after all the Stormcast Eternals do look a lot like Space Marines…), and play some games with them.  The system is simple enough that I was able to read over the rules in a few minutes, and then put some models on a table and start playing, reading the rules for each unit as they became necessary.  While I would have never decided to play a game of Warhammer on a random weeknight (because of the need to wade through all the rules and army lists, only to forget the specifics a week later), I have already played a few games of Age of Sigmar in this fashion.  It might not be as deep or tactical, but in all honesty, I am just enjoying actually using some of these models I have spent so many years working on!

-Eric Wier


  1. Great to see more people having an open mind for AoS, I've yet to play a game, focusing on building up a AoS specific army first. Would be good to see some fantasy models by you!

    1. Good to hear you are working on an army! I hope to slowly start to add some models to my collection. Currently I have only got the Lord-Celestant on foot (should have a post on him soon!).

  2. Cheers for the write-up Eric :) will you continue into the books playing the battleplans (scenarios) with the Time of War rules next? I've got both books and though I felt the first ones narrative was a bit lofty and grandiose volume 1 in the Realmgate Wars (Quest for Ghal Maraz) was a great read and really motivated me into getting into the narrative. So much so that I've expanded with a Thunderstorm Brotherhood in addition to my Skaven so I can play both sides of the conflict.

    1. I would love to start playing some of the battleplans, as focusing on narrative always tends to make more enjoyable games. I have not gotten any of the books yet, but from what I have been hearing, including your recommendation, I think I might have to get Quest for Ghal Maraz. I am pretty excited about the prospect of getting more into the universe, so I can follow it as it evolves!