It’s the first game day blog of 2016, so it’s time for something particularly exciting – we’re taking a look at the Age of Sigmar! I got to play my first game yesterday, and despite needing to call time because the store was closing, it was truly an amazing gameplay experience!
It’s been pretty well-covered by the internet since its inception back last July, how Age of Sigmar replaced 8th edition of Warhammer Fantasy. I’m not going to cover all of this, but instead want to focus on the actual game, and my own thoughts on it. It’s probably worth mentioning, though, that I never played Warhammer Fantasy, because there seemed like too many rules that got in the way of having a decent game. So yeah.
Obviously it’s a tabletop wargame for two (or more) players, where you collect, build and paint an army of little people to battle. I’m guessing that, if you’re reading this blog, then you know all of this stuff – I’ve been on about this stuff since July last year, after all! With regard to building armies, you can pretty much field whatever you want – I think most people, certainly anecdotally around me, are still interested in fielding specific armies. In my local area, people have really embraced the narrative aspect of the game, and as a result have really fluffy armies that focus more on telling a story and having a great time. Which I think is the true spirit of the game. Of course, there are no points costs in the game, which means armies are potentially unbalanced, but most people have quickly adopted a system based on wounds, with additional restrictions such as no more than three monsters/war machines, wizards can’t summon wizards, etc. I’m all for thematic play, being a roleplayer at heart, so adding such things doesn’t really concern me, as I’d love to just play a really fluffy kind of thing regardless of wounds or types.
There is an infamous four-page rulebook that outlines the six phases of the game: hero phase, movement, shooting, charge, combat, and battleshock. In this respect, I find it to be extremely similar to Warhammer 40k, which I have played once, so felt not entirely like a newbie. There’s a really great flexibility around nominating your general, who can literally be anyone, and who automatically benefits from at least one “always on” command ability. You no longer need to have a specific character model to lead your army, but rather, you can have anyone lead it. For instance, I have a fairly large (100-ish wounds) Stormcast Eternal army, but the Lord-Celestant on Dracoth model isn’t properly painted yet, and the other Lord-Celestant model I’m not happy with, so I decided that the Liberator-Prime is now my general, and it’s fine.
So in your hero phase, you get to cast spells with wizards and activate abilities that can benefit your guys. You then move, which is fairly obvious, and also have the option to run – if you run, ordinarily you can’t later shoot, or charge into combat. Any models with ranged weapons can then shoot at enemy units within range, before models then get to charge if they are within 12″ of an enemy unit. You may be within range, but you still have to roll 2 dice to find how far, in inches, you actually charge (though the Prosecutor models roll three dice).
Combat is pretty intense as, once all movements and charges have taken place, combat is fought back and forth between the players, so you can’t fight with all of your guys in one go. This is partly where the strategy comes in, because if you charged in with three units, you fight with one, but then your opponent will fight back, and can choose any unit locked in combat, not necessarily the one that was attacked but another. So you can set it up so that your opponent doesn’t fight you back but instead goes for one unit, or anything really. It can be really intense because, as the attacker, you don’t know if all of your units will make it through to attack… lots of stuff to take account of!
Attacking can be a bit of a drudgery, if I’m being totally honest here, and does kinda come down to blunt mechanics. Special rules (more shortly) do make this more interesting than it could be (for instance, 40k) but it is still a little bit meh. Basically, you roll dice equal to the attack value of each attacking model, aiming to roll the “to hit” value of the weapon. Any of those dice that were successful, you then roll again, aiming for the “to wound” value. The defending model(s) then get to make a save roll, deducting any “rend” value of the attacker, and if they succeed, then the wound is deflected; if they fail, then they take a wound – often, this is enough to kill a model. It’s actually kinda clunky, but long-time wargamers are no doubt more than fine with it.
Finally comes the Battleshock phase, where units may try to escape the battle depending on how many losses they took that round. This can be catastrophic, especially if you start to see models haemorrhage. There is an argument to have large units, as for every 10 models in a unit you add 1 to the battleshock roll, but this can obviously become unwieldy. In my first game, I was attacked by a unit of Beastmen Gors and the unit was so large it wrapped around two of my units of Liberators!
Age of Sigmar is a tabletop wargame, but more than anything, it’s a scenario-driven game. Of course, you can play it so that you’re basically trying to kill your opponent off, but everything that has been published for the game so far has come with at least three scenarios to play through, which have special rules to alter gameplay, special abilities for each side, etc. The game really seems to come alive here, as you’re trying to hold back the horde, or recover lost relics. It’s still a fight between two (or more) armies, but there are some truly wonderful opportunities for roleplaying, and telling the story.
I had my first game yesterday at my local GW, where my Lions of Sigmar faced off against the savage Beastmen in the “Retrieve the Relic” scenario from the Stormcast Eternal battletome. It was really great, despite the learning curve. I mean, the basic rules are fine, you’re just doing the basic moving and attacking, but it’s where the other stuff comes in that really gives this game depth. So many people have criticised the rules for being too simplistic just because they’re four pages long, but pretty much each and every unit available for the game has its own specific rules that add that depth, allowing for all sorts of shenanigans to go on and really alter the game.
Each unit has at least one weapon, obviously, and most have a selection of special rules, which are pretty much thematic to the unit, or the faction, and can allow for some truly epic storytelling moments. For example, the Retributor models have a special rule that allows any to-hit roll of 6 to basically do two instant wounds to the enemy. This became so good (weirdly, I was able to roll 6s when rolling for them!) that they became a specific target, but kept surviving, and became the battlefield legends!
Age of Sigmar seems to finally be seeing more reasonable reactions, following the storm over the summer. I guess the people who were really annoyed by the loss of 8th edition have ranted themselves hoarse and, for the most part, moved on to other systems (or just stuck with 8th). The most recent round of releases for the game – the Everchosen before Christmas, and now the new dwarf Fyreslayers – seem to have less instant-dislike reactions, even on sites like Bell of Lost Souls. It seems like the game may finally have found some breathing space, and we’re seeing people take it on board for what it is.
It’s anecdotal, of course, but my own meta seems to be overwhelmingly positive for the game, with late night game Wednesdays being absolutely packed affairs at my local store. While I appreciate that the game might not be universally popular, it’s certainly something that I’m really glad to have found, and really looking forward to playing more of this as the weeks and months roll on.