Fantasy Battles – Age of Sigmar

I promised a long, long time ago to try out Age of Sigmar. Jen really wasn’t interested, but my old Warhammer buddy has gotten into it and offered to show me through it.

We played Wood Elves vs Warriors of Chaos (with a few Skaven thrown in) but I suppose in the new jargon that would be ‘Aelf Wanderers and Sylvaneth’ against… something else? We used Warscroll Builder to come up with 2000pt armies, and since I haven’t read more than the four-page rulebook (and dozens of pages of warscrolls for my two elf armies…) I don’t know if it accurately reflects all of the points options available. Compared to old Warhammer, there are far fewer options. I suppose it’s on the same sort of level as Kings of War – pick a unit, choose small/medium/large and off you go. But I’d have to see the Age of Sigmar supplement that describes pointed battles to understand it properly.

Headline response? I think I’ll try it again, but it’s definitely not hooked me yet. It wasn’t that hard to pick up, although I didn’t really get to learn how to use each unit well. The game played out strangely – because I had managed to get near an objective and that unit didn’t die fast enough, I scored a couple of points and technically won. However, I lost almost my entire army and what was left was too far away to do anything if we’d played longer. Compared to our Kings of War game this one took 3 hours to finish 3 turns, and that took under 2 hours to finish 6 or more – with roughly comparable armies.

Comparing to both Kings of War and old Warhammer, this game is more fiddly. Every model moves separately. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why it took so much time to play, since the other two games both involve pushing around whole trays of models that fight as a tight formation.

It also feels less tactical, although I suppose the tactics have just changed. I used a battalion rule that let me ambush and come on at any table edge to sneak in behind the enemy lines and start shooting. However, in Age of Sigmar turning around is impossibly easy, the combination of moving and charging means everything is a little bit closer and for bonus points, there is no benefit to flanking your opponents units. It looks like the game needs you to be smarter about which match-ups you get into or what support your units have (since combat no longer prevents you from shooting into or out of combat), and not necessarily smarter about how you move around the battlefield. The absence of any tactical movement rules like fleeing from a charge go along with this.

I’m not sure I like the new tactical direction. I liked the feel of drawing a unit somewhere it didn’t want to be and then hitting it in the side for maximum impact. Since I’ve almost always used Elves you need to be able to maximise their effectiveness with ganging up or gaining some sort of advantage, but there’s no major benefit to either of those in Age of Sigmar. It won’t matter where my Elf unit engages the Chaos Knights, they are screwed unless there are absolutely loads of them – and even then Battleshock will take care of the rest even if they win.

I do like Battleshock as a rule. I didn’t dislike fleeing and pursuing, but Battleshock is one area of the game that just goes faster and still does it’s job. It also keeps units in the fight so you’re not looking at all your fleeing units and wondering if you’ll be able to rally them in time to do something useful with them. The downside is when you realise that your units shouldn’t be in that fight in the first place, and you’d really rather they fled somewhere safer (although having ambushed right along the back line, my units had nowhere to run anyway…)

Another thing I liked was the individual melee weapon ranges. It’s a bit fiddly, the sort of thing that would go down well in Mordheim or Necromunda better, but the idea of a Treeman being able to reach over two models to hit a guy further back whereas swords are pretty much ‘base contact’ is really neat. I noticed that the spear wielders could still attack in two ‘ranks’ if they were bunched up together.

Overall, there are things I think I need to try again to see if I can get the hang of it. I almost feel like 2000pts is too big for a game where you’re moving individual models, measuring 1” ranges to see if they hit in combat (2” for spears) but I’ll try it with the Dark Elves (‘Aelf Exiles’) and see if they get on any better.

Fantasy Battles!

Big news in the world of Fantasy Battles! Warhammer is dead, long live Warhammer!

Warhammer as I know it and love it has been scrapped entirely, and replaced with a new game – Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I’ve been playing Warhammer to a greater or lesser extent since 4th edition, and it went out on 8th edition. Unfortunately, I only managed to get a few games in of eighth because of time and friends who play dwindling and children making it more and more difficult for Jen and I to set up the table and get the armies out for a game at the weekend.

Not only was the game replaced by Age of Sigmar, but it went out with a five-part series which introduced all manner of game-breaking rules, while the story progressed ever more apocalyptic until the world itself was destroyed – utterly. And I have come to terms with the reasons for this. The background was seen as “too difficult” for new players to get into (I disagree, but we’ll let it slide), the rules were seen as much too complicated and the entry price to the game was too steep. I agree that the rules were complex. Although it was what players like me enjoyed about the game, it gave it tactical depth, it’s not exactly the easiest learning curve for beginners. And the starter price of an army was somewhere in the region of £250, sometimes including books and sometimes not. To have more options or a bigger game, you were obviously adding a whole bunch more to that.

Now, the core rules are free. And a ‘get you by’ set of lists to use the old armies in Age of Sigmar are also free. There are a few big differences though:

  1. Simple rules, only four pages long.
  2. No points costs, balance is decided between friends.
  3. Old armies are not coming back; these are a sticky plaster for old players.

The downsides of these things are:

  1. No tactical depth; there’s no point to manoeuvring.
  2. Balance between friends will be a matter of trial and error; balance between strangers is impossible.
  3. I love my old armies!

Balance is the big thing. I understand that balance is now a matter of “don’t be a dick” but in reality, my mate and I will need to play a few games to determine what is fair between us. Then we’ll go to a club and either get walked over for being totally useless (maybe our opponent has decided something else is fair with his regular opponents, maybe he’s a dick, maybe he’s trying out something new and doesn’t realise the disparity) or we’ll get thrown out for bringing an unstoppable power force and not playing fair.

Having read the rules, and some reviews, I have come to a few conclusions. It will be a smaller, possibly faster game than old Warhammer but it will not scale well. Every unit plays differently, with different special rules. Very few cross-cutting rules, and very little that can be cross-applied, and since units no longer move as units it will take more time to move things across the table. It will not take as much manoeuvring as the old game, it will be more a matter of “push it forward”.

I am planning to be fair to it, and give it a try. If it is quicker, maybe we’ll have time for a game in the evening when the kids have gone to bed, and it’ll be nice to use the old armies. On the other hand, the game isn’t the same style as I had, doesn’t have the background I loved, and it sounds like they want to rely on scenarios (read: future purchases) to introduce balance and purpose to games. If the rules depth I want isn’t there, and the background I want isn’t there, and my armies won’t be an ongoing part of the game… what’s in it for me?

On the other hand, Kings of War is on its way too. The rules are also free. And it is also faster and just as tactical as old Warhammer. I’ve been meaning to give it a go for a while, and this will be the push. Having read through that this last week, it is very big on manoeuvring. Getting into an opponent’s flank is devastating, getting to the rear is absolute murder. The game is focused on units rather than models, so pushing things around is quicker. It also doesn’t have the background that I have grown to love, but at this point that’s no longer a concession – and they are also planning on army lists to match the old GW ones so with any luck, my Dark Elves will have a place. Having read through, I could probably use my Wood Elves as “Elves” or as “Forces of Nature” and with Undead Jen is pretty well set in any Fantasy game.

So my plan is to try out both of these games, then report back on how they went and which one we’ll move forward with. Wish us luck!