Age of Sigmar - First Look

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Introduction

Fourth July 2015 saw pre-orders become available for Games Workshop's brand new game Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I say brand new because, despite having both Warhammer and Sigmar, the name of a deity in the Warhammer background, in the name, this is not the expected 9th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle but rather an all new skirmish game.

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
Taylor: Planet of the Apes

Those of you who have played Warhammer for a number of years and either bought of followed news of the recent Warhammer End Times campaign books will know that at the end of Archaon, the final End Times book, the Old World got sucked into a rift and took pretty much everything with it. The Age of Sigmar (AoS) picks up a few millennia after the events of the End Times and looks set to bring in new factions and possibly "squat" some of the existing well-loved Warhammer Fantasy armies.

This article is going to look mainly at the game aspect of AoS. While I'm not averse to reading Warhammer fiction for me the game is the thing. The background can be the best thing since sliced bread but if I don't enjoy playing the game then what's the point of all the time spent cleaning up, assembling and painting the models?

First I have to declare that as a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Age of Sigmar was not what I wanted or expected. While I'd followed some of the rumours over on the Warseer forum, there was part of me that was still expecting/hoping AoS to be an introductory game designed to ease new players into the full Warhammer experience. For me, the thing that defines Warhammer, despite some list building trends seen in tournaments, is ranked up units fighting it out on the table. Fundamentally that's not what AoS is about, although you might still see ranked up units on movement trays on the table (more on this below).

The Rules

The main rules for Age of Sigmar are four pages long. No, that's not a typo, a whole four pages. Compared even to the mini rulebook that came with the Island of Blood starter set for Warhammer 8th edition, never mind the hardback rulebook, that's something that will be hard for many Warhammer players to take in. Even considering that all special rules and spells are now defined on unit cards, known as Warscrolls, rather than in the core rules, that's still a massive drop from the 100 or so pages needed to play the game previously. Furthermore, rumours on the internet suggest that there are no advanced rules coming shortly in a separate rulebook - the four pages are it.

It's clear from just this point that AoS is going to be a much, much simpler game than Warhammer.

Where does this simplicity come in? Well let's start from the beginning of the AoS rules. First up, there are no army construction rules or points for units, you and your opponent just bring the models you want to. At the moment this is one of the biggest sticking points for existing Warhammer players as there's no way to balance out the game unless both players are using exactly the same force. While players may have grumbled in the past about some units being under- or over-pointed, at least having a points level gave you a starting point that could be tweaked depending on the match-up.

Now, however, there is no balance. I have seen some video battle reports on YouTube where people have attempted to balance armies by having an equal number of wounds on each side only to find one side hopelessly outmatched by the other. I've had a GW store manager tell me I don't need to worry about game balance because "You just bring what you want to the table". Well thanks. I wanted a fun game. I don't want to turn up and crush/get crushed by my opponent just because one of us brought units that completely outmatched the other's without either of us knowing that was going to be the case until the game was in progress.

At the moment it's hard to know how many models you should use in any circumstances. As the new models all come on round bases it's clear that this is supposed to be a skirmish game, so logically you don't want too many models otherwise your movement phases will take forever as you move each model multiple times each turn.

All unit information is now on what GW are calling Warscrolls. Whereas in the Warhammer army books each unit had a characteristic profile with nine different characteristics used in the game, a unit's Warscroll entry has four characteristics for the model and then profiles for each of the weapons the unit has.

The four characteristics are Move, Wounds, Bravery and Save. The first three are analogous to the Movement, Wound and Leadership characteristics in Warhammer while Save is essentially the armour save a model would have had in Warhammer, although thus far it does not look like saves below 3+ are about without being boosted by spells. The weapon profiles, split between Missile Weapons and Melee Weapons, specify the range of the weapon, the number of attacks conferred by that weapon, the To Hit and To Wound rolls, possibly a Rend value (similar to Armour Piercing from Fantasy) and the Damage the weapon does.

Again, a key thing Warhammer players will notice here are that there's no more Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength and Toughness being used to work out the roll required to hit, wound or modify armour saves. There are also no more template attacks; instead, war machines now have a To Hit roll when making shooting attacks.

As you start looking through the Warscrolls something you will notice is that some characteristics and entries in the weapon profiles have an asterisk. Where this is the case there will be am additional table on the Warscroll that gives different values for the characteristic or profile depending on the number of wounds the model has suffered or crew who are within 1" of the model and so on.

Another big change from Warhammer is that all measurements are made between the closest points on models, rather than the bases. As a seasoned Warhammer player I foresee this causing a number of problems. First off, I can't be the only person who, while trying to find the closest point between units when playing Warhammer accidentally nudged one or both units backwards - how much more is that going to happen with individual models that lack the extra weight and resistance. Secondly, I predict a lot more in game breakages as fragile extremities are used as the measuring point rather than the more solid base of the model. Personally, I would not be surprised if experienced Warhammer players stick to measuring from the base. Another factor likely to come into play is modelling for advantage, as players try and ensure their models have the maximum possible reach.

While this is a skirmish game, the rules do not specify a minimum distance between models, only that models in a unit must be within 1" of another model in the unit. For Warhammer old-timers wanting to play it may not be the time to throw away your movement trays just yet as using them in AoS should significantly speed up the movement phase.

As with Warhammer there are rules for setting up terrain on the table and for seeing what type of scenery it is. Those of you who dreaded the note-keeping involved with a vast away of mystical terrain in Warhammer will probably skip this roll as there's no such thing as mundane terrain, it all has to have one of the six properties from the scenery table.

Having set up the table the time comes to deploy units. It's an alternating process familiar to Warhammer players, although without the points restrictions you had previously you can keep going until you run out of units or space to deploy them. As there are no army restrictions you could even find that you have run out of units to deploy while your opponent keeps on deploying more and more on their side of the table. Units have to be set-up more than 12" from the enemy's territory.

Where the last edition of Warhammer specified that units had, in most situations, to be at least 1" apart, there's no such rule in AoS, the only stipulation being that you cannot move within 3" of an enemy model. This raises the prospect of friendly units all getting mixed in and some players pushing boundaries by models mysteriously moving between units of the same type as suits their situation.

Once all units have finished being deployed each player has to nominate one model to be the army general - of note to Warhammer players is that there is no stipulation that this model has to be a Hero or have the highest Bravery characteristic, unlike Warhammer where your general had to be either the eligible Hero or Lord character with the highest Leadership characteristic to be general.

What used to be called "Turns" are now called "Battle Rounds" and "Player Turns" are now called "Turns", presumably to help clear up the wording. Turn order is determined by a dice roll at the start of each Battle Round, potentially meaning a player could have two turns in a row.

Once who has the first turn is determined the game can start. Compared to Warhammer with its four phases, Age of Sigmar has six phases. First comes the Hero phase, where wizards can cast spells and Hero models can use any special abilities that occur in this phase as well as assigning their Inspiring Presence.

Magic is now a 2D6 dice roll when casting or dispelling, although to dispel you have to beat rather than beat or equal the caster's roll. All wizards now know two spells by default: Arcane Bolt, what in Warhammer 8th edition terms would have been an Direct Damage spell and Mystic Shield, which would be an Augment. Any other spells they know are specified on the model's Warscroll. Unlike Warhammer, where as long as there were enough power dice left to cast spells wizards could try and cast all the spells they knew, most wizards can only cast one spell in Age of Sigmar, regardless of how many spells they know

Next up comes the Movement phase. Models can now move in any direction they want to. The only real restrictions are that you cannot move any part of the model more than the Move characteristic and that you cannot move within 3" of an enemy model. Needless to say there are a couple of exceptions to this. First, as with Warhammer, flyers can move over enemy units as long as they land more than 3" from an enemy model. Second, any models that start within 3" of an enemy model have the choice to either stay where they are or retreat, in which case they have to end up 3" away from an enemy model.

While there is no march move in AoS, units can run in the movement phase. This adds D6 to the unit's Move for that phase but with penalties later in the phase.

After Movement comes Shooting. If your unit has missile weapons, and hasn't run or retreated so far in the turn, it can shoot. The targeting restrictions are similar to Warhammer in that the only models that can shoot are those within range of enemy models and that can see them. Models in the same unit as the shooter are ignored for determining visibility. Models get to attack with all missile weapons they are armed with.

Once you've got Shooting out of the way we get to the Charge phase. As with Shooting, only units that have not run or retreated so far in the turn can charge. Additional requirements are that units must be not be within 3" of the enemy but must be within 12" of the enemy as when you charge you roll 2D6 to see how far your unit moves. When charging, the first model moved must finish within half an inch of the enemy, otherwise it is a failed charge.

When you have made all your charges you fight Combat. Any units that charged or are within 3" of the enemy can fight, with the player whose turn it is getting to choose a unit to attack first. After selecting which unit to attack, all models in the unit can be moved up to 3" towards the enemy model closest to them in what is known as "Piling In" in order to bring them within range of their close combat weapons. From my flicks through the Warscrolls thus far it appears that most melee weapons have a 1" range while spears have a 2" range. All models within weapon range of the enemy make their attacks using the profile of their melee weapon.

Aside from having preset To Hit and To Wound rolls, the process of attacking proceeds in a manner familiar to Warhammer players until you come to the working out the damage of a weapon. Unlike in Warhammer where, outside of magic items, special rules, spells and shooting attacks, one attack generally resulted in one wound, attacks can now result in several wounds being taken. Having taken a quick look through a couple of Warscrolls, while most rank and file troops' weapons appear to do one wound, some characters' and monsters' weapons do two wounds while D3 wounds can also be seen about.

When you have worked out how many wounds have been caused by a unit's attacks the owner of the unit being attacked gets to allocate the wounds to the models in the unit, allocating wounds to a model until it is slain and then moving on to the next.

Once one unit has attacked the player's opponent then gets to nominate a unit to attack and so on until both players run out of units that can attack.

At the end of the turn comes the Battleshock phase. Each player has to test all their units that have lost models that turn, starting with the player whose turn it is.

To make the test the player has to roll a die and add the number of models that the unit has lost this turn to the result. For each point by which this number exceeds the unit's Bravery characteristic another model is lost. A player can add one to the unit's Bravery characteristic for every 10 models in the unit when the test is taken.

With Battleshock tests marking the end of a turn you then go on to the next unless a victory condition has been met.

In the rules we have so far there are three ways you can win the game. The first is to completely wipe out your opponent, which grants you a major victory. Next up, you can achieve a minor victory if you have lost a lower percentage of your starting models than your opponent. In this case summoned models, to be found in the undead, Daemons and Lizardmen factions, count for the number of models lost but not towards the starting total. The third way is sudden death. If a player's opponent outnumbers them by a third more models after deployment then the player can choose an objective from the sudden death table which, if achieved, will win them the game. These objectives include killing a particular unit type, slaying a unit with more than four models, having one model left at the end of the sixth battle round or having a model within 3" of a terrain feature in enemy territory at the end of the fourth battle round.

Key Differences

So, as I stated right at the start, this is a completely new game. While there are concepts in there that will be familiar to Warhammer players it's clearly going to play very differently. While I haven't managed to get any games in yet myself, from a few readings of the rules I have noticed the following that are going to take a bit of getting used to as a Warhammer player.

Firstly, units are no longer locked in place in combat until one side is wiped out or flees. The ability to retreat means that, unless your unit is surrounded by enemy units, it should be possible to withdraw a unit, although you will need some way of getting another unit between them and the unit they were fighting if they are not to be charged by the enemy in their next turn.

Something a bit mind-bending for current Warhammer players, barring Skaven players that is, is that, as the rules are written at the moment, you can shoot into, out of and during combat. There are no restrictions, other than line of sight and weapons being in range, in this regard. In fact, missile units can now move, shoot and then charge, potentially allowing them to soften up the unit they want to charge before they get into combat.

Combats could potentially get confusing too as you're no longer restricted to fighting with all units in a particular combat before moving on to the next. The rules merely state that you and your opponent alternate picking units to fight between you. This is means that players will have to carefully decide the order in which units are activated to attack, especially where there are many combats taking place. It will also mean keeping track of which units have fought as the order of attack to ensure units that can do attack and those that have already attacked don't do so again.

I think combat is also going to result in a lot of arguments about what models are actually in range with their weapons. The rules state that the base is only there to stand the model up, which implies that when piling in you're going to have to agree with your opponent how many models would actually be in melee weapon range once the base is ignored. Frankly this is rather inelegant and I can see people coming up with solutions based around how many models are touching bases and how deep the unit is for working out attacks.

Player Reaction

Martin: I wouldn't like it.
Frasier: Oh Dad, how do you know if you don't try it?
Martin: Well I didn't have to get shot in the hip with a .38 to know I wouldn't like that.
Frasier: Season 1, Episode 3 - Dinner at Eight

There's no beating around the bush. Age of Sigmar is not what a lot of Warhammer players wanted. If you were invested in the game and had more than just a tournament size army Age of Sigmar is very bad news. While at the moment looking at various blogs and videos on the internet it appears a number of people are trying to just use their normal Warhammer army, I cannot see that being the way the game is played long term. The number of models will just make movement and pile in moves too time consuming to work out.

For once I understand GW's current policy of silence around forthcoming releases. After all, if the Warhammer community had known in advance precisely what was going to happen to the game, how many Warhammer players would have been buying any Warhammer models in recent months? I know I probably wouldn't have bothered buying the models I have for the units I was working on until recently.

Myself I've got several thousand points of High Elves in my army most of which I'm still trying to get built and painted. Even if I do decide to play Age of Sigmar, a lot of those models will probably never see any use now as I can't see the model counts that the community settles on for AoS being all that high.

The annoying thing is that some of the rule mechanics introduced in AoS are things I would have been happy to see introduced if Warhammer had gotten a 9th edition. Things like war machines (especially cannons) having to roll to hit or having the combined profiles for characters riding monster while still having separate attacks for the monster and rider.

The Models

I suppose I shouldn't write this article without at least a quick mention of the models from the starter box and the leaked pictures I've seen online of forthcoming Stormcast Eternals.

To be honest, I'm pretty uninspired by the models in the starter box. The Chaos models look like the same old, same old, while the Stormcast Eternals just look like blander Space Marines, with the leaked picture of the archer unit making them seem incredibly monopose. Frankly I'd expected better given the importance of this release for Games Workshop.

The Future?

So what does the future hold? Will Age of Sigmar sell? Well probably. After all, Games Workshop have their avid fans for whom the company can seemingly do no wrong and who will buy anything the company releases. Plus, the Stormcast Eternals' similarity to the space marine range cannot be ignored as a potential source of parts for conversions for 40k players.

Will they haemorrhage existing Warhammer players? Undoubtedly. One poll I saw while writing this article suggested that two thirds of those answering the poll had no intention of playing Age of Sigmar. Granted that's only a small section of the player base but would Games Workshop really want to risk losing even half as many of current Warhammer Fantasy player base?

I've seen people suggest in forums that Games Workshop don't care about existing Warhammer Fantasy players as they didn't buy enough models. I'm not sure that's true. If they don't care about the existing player base, why produce Warscrolls to allow players to use their current models in AoS? In fact, why make any pretence that the background of AoS is related to Warhammer Fantasy at all if that's true? Games Workshop were clearly going to alienate a large proportion of the player base with this move, so why not make a clean break of it and introduce a new system unrelated to Warhammer Fantasy, or no new system at all? No, Games Workshop still want the custom from their Warhammer players, they just don't know how to go about increasing it.

It will also be interesting to see what continues to be released for free in terms of rules. What will be key is whether and how much GW charges for future rules and expansions to the core rules. It is rumoured that the background for AoS is to be an evolving story and there will be campaign books released to facilitate this along with any new model releases and I suspect that the digital editions of these will in time have a small cost to them rather than being free of charge.

Overall it's a shame that Age of Sigmar is controversial in all the wrong ways as there have been some noticeable signs of GW finally catching up with the modern age. Not only have they released rules eBooks, not just Apple i-device only versions, specifically laid out for phones and tablets but they've also shown an awareness of the Warhammer media by providing free copies of the starter set to several podcasts. Hopefully this marks the start of more community engagement by GW, not just a desperate act by someone in the company who was aware of just how negative the community was feeling.

For me, the future is unclear. While I'm going to try and get some games of Age of Sigmar in and might play it from time to time, I will probably be picking up Kings of War and playing that or Warhammer 8th edition for as long as I can.

Links

The links below are to other overviews of Age of Sigmar that can be found on the internet.

Note: The Wargame Tournaments Website takes no responsibility for content hosted on external websites. If you object to the gratuitous use of foul language you may not enjoy some of the items linked to below nor want your children to read/watch/listen to them.

Description Format Link
Canhammer 59 - AOS, Comp and CCBB Podcast Link
Dimensional Cascadle 20 - The Fall of the Hammer Podcast Link
The Dwellers Below 51 - Age of Sigmar Podcast Link
Facehammer 10 - The Rage of Sigmar! Podcast Link
Garagehammer 124 - Welcome to the New Age Podcast Link
Heelanhammer 132 - The Age of Sigmar Podcast Link

About the author

cerebros

cerebros has been back into Warhammer since October 2008, since which time he has failed to finish painting any units in his army. It was his tactical genius that David Moyes based Manchester United's 2013-14 season on.