WNW: Age of Sigmar first impressions

Wednesday Night Warhammer: Age of Sigmar…

AgoeofSigmarLogo

Hello Dearies and welcome to another installment of WNW! This week we have a crack at the polarising (more on that later) Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, Games Workshop (GW) have released the latest rules update to the Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WHFB) system, with a two player starter set due out this Saturday 11th of July. It’s more than just a standard tweaking of the 8th edition rules, it’s a completely new system; almost everything you knew about WHFB has changed.

I’ll start off by simply explaining what’s happened in the background of WHFB for this transition to occur (contains spoilers for those who haven’t read the End Times books):

  • So, WHFB recently went through the End Times saga. Big battles against Chaos and Skaven, fighting for the very survival of the planet.
  • The good guys lose ‘cos no one beats the Chaos Gods… they ARE Gods after all.
  • The 8th Edition WHFB World is enveloped by Chaos and disappears.
  • The good guy God, Sigmar, floats about in nothingness while holding the Sigmarite core of the Old World and ends up creating a bunch of realms for people to live in with the help of a super dragon.
  • Chaos eventually finds these realms, takes over a bunch, Sigmar retreats to his Heavenly realm, consolidates an army and tries to reclaim what he’s lost.
  • Warhammer Age of Sigmar (AoS) begins.

That’s basically it in a (probably inaccurate but you get the gist) nutshell.

What does that mean in game terms? Large, mass-ranked unit battles have been replaced with smaller sized, skirmish battles.
Why the big change? Probably because WHFB sales have declined and GW needed to do something drastic to reinvigorate the system and introduce new players. That’s my guess.
How do I feel about the change? Torn.

On one hand I love new stuff. I like that Fantasy is getting more attention from those on the outside and those who’ve never tried Fantasy before. I also agree that something needed to happen, something needed to change for GW to increase Fantasy sales.

On the other hand I dislike the complete destruction of the former Warhammer World. I dislike that the rules for AoS are simple in comparison to 8th ed Warhammer.

But that’s enough drama for one paragraph, let’s get into AoS and how it plays.Righto, so as I mentioned in the beginning, GW have released the rules for AoS already. They are free (!) to download from the GW site as are all factions’ unit details, named Warscrolls, for the new system.  That right there, is fantastic. Already that’s a good start for AoS… free rules and updated unit entries / Warscrolls for all the previous 8th ed army books.

The upcoming boxed set contains a 96 page book with background story on what’s been going down in Sigmar town, two notched bits of plastic to use as rulers, dice, the four page rule pamphlet and a mass of figures… which are very nicely sculpted. Up there with the best plastic miniatures I’d say. From my inspection, there was very little in the way of mould lines, the details are all nice and crisp and they look like they are easy to assemble.

The two factions included are:

  • Chaos – The antagonists of the game in all their spikey, skully, axey goodness
  • Stormcast Eternals – The new faction created for AoS. Sigmar’s chosen in highly polished, chunky armour wielding hammers, Sigmars’ signature (Sigmarture?) tool of choice.

 

All the things

All the things

 

Now I’m not sure what I think of the Stormcast fellows. New stuff is good, yes, but to me they lack a little something… I dunno, imagination maybe? It doesn’t help that the poses of the infantry are fairly static. We’ll have to see what GW brings out to give them some pizzazz but until then it’s a resounding “Meh” from me.

With the boxed set out of the way, let’s get to the most important topic: how it plays.

My opponent for the evening was WNW regular, Huw. We had both read the rules a couple of times beforehand, and printed out the collection of Warscrolls we were using for ease of reference. I was using my tried and tested 8th ed army, the Orcs and Goblins, which are being renamed in AoS to Orruks and Grots FYI. Huw was running his undead.

Following the rulebook we set up a board which was four foot by four foot. We could have used the standard 6′ x 4′ size but seeing as we’re just learning we both agreed that smaller would be better. We rolled off to see what terrain was going to be in each quarter of the board then rolled to see who would get first turn and deploy the first unit.

I’ll mention now (seeing as it didn’t really effect the game later) that all basic terrain no longer has a variety of rules applied. If your figures are in a piece of terrain, be it on a hill, pond or in a forest, they get a bonus to their armour save by 1.

The rules also state to determine what realm your dudes are fighting in (based off the 8 winds of magic from 8th ed), but as there are no rules to differentiate the realms, there wasn’t any point in choosing… so we played in the realm of grass mats on foldable tables.

So, Huw popped his first unit down and then I did the same. We alternated in this fashion until we either didn’t have room to deploy, didn’t have enough figures or just didn’t want to put anything else down.

Yep, no more army construction or list building, just use what you want. There are minimums for unit sizes but no maximums (not that I could see on any of my Warscrolls). The rules also state that if one player has more figures on the board than their opponent by a third 9f their total model count, the other guy gets a special objective to complete. This is called a Sudden Death objective and it ranges from killing a particular enemy model to making sure you have at least 1 of your figures on the board by games end. This is GW’s way of balancing the two sides.

In our game, Huw stopped deploying before I did so I popped down a few extra units to give myself an advantage, but not enough to grant the Sudden Death objective for Huw. Seems a little dodgy but that’s only because it is.

With both armies on the board we rolled to see who started. That’ll be Huw then.

Let the battle… begin!

 

Two forces battle in the realm of grass mats

Two forces battle in the realm of grass mats

 

As AoS is in the mind of changing everything in Warhammer, the turn sequence has also been reworked. First, players begin by using the Command abilities of their general or cast spells with their mages. This is called the “Hero” phase.

Command abilities usually power up a unit (or all units in a certain range), for a turn.

Huw’s command ability from his hero “Krell” (undead dude from 8th ed) gave a unit extra attacks. My command ability from my hero Skarsnik (remember him? :p) allowed a unit of goblins to attack twice and not take Battleshock test (more on that later).

In Huw’s hero phase, his mage attempted to cast a couple of spells and managed to summon a unit of knights. Let me explain the way magic works:

  • all wizards know 2 generic spells: a damage dealer and a buff spell to increase armour. They also know a unique third spell.
  • They can only cast 1 spell a turn unless their Warscroll states otherwise.
  • Some Warscrolls allow you to summon a new unit of that type eg (undead knights let you summon undead knights, skeletons let you summon skeletons etc.). You need that Warscroll on the board for the mage to know the spell.
  • You cast a spell by rolling two dice and equaling or beating the casting value on the spell description (usually 5 or 6).
  • If an enemy wizard is within 18 inches and can see the caster, they can attempt to unbind 1 spell a turn by rolling 2 dice and beating the caster’s roll. Some casters can unbind more than once a turn.

That’s it. No more lore’s of magic, generating a pool of dice which you use to cast spells and no more miscasts. Just 1 spell a turn and 2 dice to cast.

As my wizard was out of range I couldn’t attempt to unbind Huw’s’ summon spell. No biggy, I had a tonne of figures that could smash ‘em up in combat.

Next up? Movement. Units move up to the distance described on their Warscroll and can run further by rolling a single die and adding it to the move characteristic. Those units that run cannot charge in the charge phase (unless otherwise noted). Units can’t end their move within 3 inches of an enemy unit either. If a unit happens to be within 3” then they can either stand still or move away (retreating).

That’s it for moving. Nothing fancy.

Huw couldn’t do much in the movement phase so just moved everything forward.

 

The result of the first combat: Now you see them, now you don't!

The result of the first combat: Now you see them, now you don’t!

 

Shooting was up next. Units armed with missile weapons can shoot at whatever they can see. They can also shoot into and out of combat using the details as noted in the Warscroll and away you go. Easy.

We’re really flying through the basics of these rules, huh?

No shooting for Huw and the only missile weapon my force had was being held by Skarsnik and only had a range of about 14 inches.

After shooting, charging!

So generally if a unit ran in the movement phase they can’t charge. Everyone else can charge if they’re at least within 12 inches of the enemy. Roll 2 dice and that’s how far the unit moves. If they don’t end their charge move within a half inch of the enemy then the charge fails and they don’t move at all.

Again, simple. There seems to be a theme with these rules…

As Huw was either too far out to charge or had made run moves with units, he couldn’t charge.

We’re almost done: Combat.

The combat phase is the most complex of the rules in AoS but don’t be fooled, it’s still really easy to get a hang of.

Firstly, the player who’s turn it is chooses a unit to fight with. This is called activating a unit. Most of you readers may already be familiar with this style of alternating activation play (the best way to play and a long overdue mechanic to be introduced to Fantasy IMO). Activate a unit, play out their attacks and once finished that unit cannot do anything until the next turn.

Each figure will be armed with a weapon, which you choose at the beginning of the game (hopefully the figure is representative of that). These weapons have a range, usually 1 or 2 inches depending if it’s a bog standard hand weapon or spear. All figures in range of an enemy can attack as described in the Warscroll.

Before dudes strike though, everyone in the unit (as well as other units who’re no more than 3 inches away) gets to “pile in”, moving up to 3 inches towards the enemy so they can have a hit.

Hit is as easy as looking at what the Warscroll for the attacking unit states. Eg. To Hit 5+ means I need a 5 or more to hit, To Wound 4+ needs a 4 or better to wound. The opponent makes an armour save in the same fashion and then removes whatever models he likes in the unit depending on the amount of dudes killed.
No more chart checking for hitting and wounding… just follow the Warscroll for great success! Simple.

 

A couple turns in and it's looking grim for the undead...

A couple turns in and it’s looking grim for the undead…

 

So the “skill” of this game is determining which units to activate and in what order as well as setting up units to maximize the “pile in” move. More dudes in combat, better chance to bop the enemy on the head.

There are a few other small details to think about such as which units to remove when you take damage and when to retreat, but that’s all stuff you get used to when you play a bunch of games and not worth mentioning in this intro game.

Last phase of a turn is the Battleshock phase. This replaces psychology and break tests from WHFB. Essentially count up all the models that died this turn for each unit, roll a dice and add that to the body count and if the total exceed that units’ Bravery statistic (as marked in the Warscroll) then the difference equals models that suddenly flee the battle. So say I lost 4 dudes, rolled a 5 = 9 and the units’ Bravery stat was 6, 9 is higher than 6 by a difference of 3 so 3 models flee the board, never to be seen again. *sheds a tear*

That, my friends, is all the rules as I read them. Not to mislead though, every Warscroll in the game has its own special rules, independent of the other units. Some have a couple of extra rules while others have a half dozen. Seeing as Huw and I were starting out, we needed those Warscrolls on hand else we’d take forever to finish.

Speaking of finishing, how’s this game that I started to talk about go?
Well allow me to continue from where I left off, before I so rudely interrupted myself:

Huw had a fairly uneventful 1st turn, something that I wasn’t planning on having. So with my little pump wagon and unit of 6 Fanatics, I pushed dead ahead in arms reach of the newly summoned knights.

My giant and Squig hoppers trundled forward and I fanged the Mangler Squig I was toting as far as I could toward Huw’s large knight unit (2nd unit of knights). Now if this was WHFB, my fanatics probably would have killed themselves as they crashed into terrain and each other. Not so in AoS! Now I can choose which direction they propel themselves without fear of injuring my own units.

 

The Mangler is unstoppable!

The Mangler is unstoppable!

 

With 1 spell going off doing a small amount of damage, units having moved and almost no shooting to speak of, I ploughed into the charge phase. That’s something you didn’t often see in WHFB, a turn 1 charge.

My fanatics charged the knights successfully, and the mangler Squig did the same to the large knight unit. Everything else was too far away to consider a charge.

During the combat we see how unbalanced some Warscrolls are. My Mangler Squig for example managed to take only a couple of Wounds (it has 10 as opposed to 8th ed’s 3) and deal 3d6 worth of hits. These hits needed a 4+ to hit then a 3+ to wound and ate through the knights armour, causing a bucket load of wounds. The results was one wiped out knight block.

The same thing happened with the fanatics. Each inflicts 1d6 worth of hits. Multiply that by 6 fanatics and you have another wiped out unit of knights.

I almost felt like there was nothing Huw could have done save shoot my guys off… except he had no shooting. It really didn’t seem fair at all.

I will admit though, the scene on the board looks a lot more cinematic, with figures crowding around a monster trying their best to hack it to bits. Compare that to 8th ed’s blocks of troop neatly arranged in front of a monster.

 

... oh wait. They stopped the Mangler :/

… oh wait. They stopped the Mangler :/

 

And that was pretty much game. Even though we played for a few more turns, it was all very similar: Huw charged into my fanatics, Mangler Squig, giant and Squig hoppers the next turn, didn’t cause many wounds to me (except the hoppers… his varghulf wiped a few out and the majority fled during the Battleshock phase) and I returned by demolishing Huws unit.

It wasn’t until the last turn of the game that Huw managed to kill the mangler, only to be charged by the remaining fanatics, giant, Warboss on hopper and pump wagon…

…and this is why I’m torn on AoS. There is no doubt that I really enjoyed the game against Huw and we both laughed a lot but I feel like I didn’t need to do anything more than have a couple extra units above Huw to win. I certainly didn’t need to think about what I was doing… just push it forward and let my fanatics and mangler do the work. Having only 1 caster made for a very light magic addition (1 spell a turn, really?!). Maybe I needed to take a few more to get some sort of satisfaction.

I can only imagine how devastating missile troops would be in the game, as getting the chance to shoot into and out of combat is huge, at least it would have been 8th ed.

I want to like this game but I keep thinking “Is this it?”. This game really needs work, which I believe GW is doing, for me to take it up as my main miniature war game. Choice and balance are the 2 key ingredients that are absent from the current ruleset but I guess something has got to give when you’re taking a tome of a rule book which 8th ed had and condensing it down to just 4 pages for AoS.

In its current form AoS is an easy-to-learn, fun, quick, leave-your-brain-at-the-door game.

It’s a hangover game… something to play on a Sunday morning after a big night out and you want to take it easy but still play a war game.

If AoS were a movie, it would be directed by Michael Bay.

It is a game that I WILL play a few more times just to see whether my first impression was correct or not. If it isn’t? Great, I’ve a new game to build upon. If it is? Then it’ll be played every now and then when I want a quick, fun game without having to think.

So yeah, take what you will from what I’ve said. I’ll revisit AoS over the next few weeks and report back my feelings, if you’re interested to read them that is.

I apologise if I sound down on the game, I don’t mean to, but I can’t help feeling the way I do.

What I would love is for you to try lift my spirits. Let me know, what are you most excited for in the Age of Sigmar? Can you get me pumped about this new era of Warhammer?

You could be a Warhammer veteran or completely new to the franchise. Either way, let me know why you’re excited.

HobbyStarterSet*** COMPETITION ***

Tell you what, the two comments that get my hobby juices flowing the most will score themselves either a Games Workshop Hobby Starter Set or a Starter Paint Set, all thanks to ATGN.

Leave a comment with your answer below to be in the running.

Competition is open to Australian residents only.  Competition closes the midnight of Saturday the 18th of July 2015.  Winners will be notified in the comments field of this article and via email.  Entrants are allowed to enter more than once but we do ask that you use common sense and don’t ‘Spam’ the comments field.

 

Until next time dear readers,

 

-Bensome

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