There are some who do not like the new Warhammer – and that is just fine, there are plenty of games in the world, not everyone has to play the same one.
However, I have seen several posts on several forums where people have said things like ‘armies cannot be balanced because there are no points’, or ‘we tried playing, but everything just ends up in a big mosh pit in the middle of the table’, or sometimes ‘there is no background to this game, it seems very light and/or dull’.
It becomes apparent that there are some players who have expressed an interest in Age of Sigmar but, for some reason, it just has not ‘clicked’ with them. Now, there are lots of ways to play Age of Sigmar – some people favour a competitive/tournament-like approach with various comp systems, others are pursuing ideas of a dungeon crawl game (which is actually a very good idea, I have had similar thoughts myself). Age of Sigmar is, at its core, a simple foundation onto which can be layered many types of gaming through the use of Warscrolls, Battleplans and Time of War sheets.
You can approach the game in lots of different ways but I am going to go through, step by step, how I got into it. This may get something to click with you, it may be nothing more than an interesting read – hopefully you will at least not find it a complete waste of time.
Step One: Get the Starter Set
The starter set for Age of Sigmar really is a very good deal. For £75, you really do get two full forces (you will want to add to them, natch, but they will take you a long way into the game).
Once you have the models, get them painted up, and then play through the starter scenarios at the back of the rulebook. These scenarios do not just teach you the game, they introduce you to the background setting as well, specifically the moment Sigmar unleashes his Stormcast Eternals upon the Mortal Realms.
By the end of these battles (which will take you perhaps a long afternoon to play through), you will not only know the rules but have a good idea of what the Stormcasts are about and just how nasty the Bloodbound are.
Step One A: Grab The Gates of Azyr
This is an optional step, but a cheap one and worthwhile to further sink into the background of the Age of Sigmar.
Get yourself a copy of The Gates of Azyr from the Black Library. This was the first fiction release for Age of Sigmar and being just novella length it is both cheap (even cheaper on a Kindle) and quick to read. If you played through the starter set scenarios in an afternoon, you will get this read during the same evening.
What this book will do is put what happened on the tabletop into context. It will show you just how the Stormcasts arrive into battle and the types of people they are – it will also demonstrate just how vicious Khorne’s followers are!
Importantly, it covers exactly the same events as the scenarios in the starter set, showing how they link into a wider stage, setting you up for future exploration of the Mortal Realms.
Don’t be tempted to skip these battles if you are a ‘veteran’ gamer. You are not being introduced to just the rules here, and the events that take place during the ‘training’ scenarios do have an effect on the background behind Age of Sigmar.
Step Two: A Small Expansion
If you are a fairly rapid painter, consider expanding the starter set forces, but only slightly. The last battle of the starter set suggests you can add more units to both sides, and I would encourage you to take advantage of that – but do so in a slow, reasonable manner. Just add one unit to each side.
The key here is not to go mad and start reaching for the Bloodthirster and Celestant-Prime. They have not appeared in the storyline yet, and you have plenty of time to bring the big stuff in later!
Instead, go for smaller sets. One unit of Judicators would make for a good addition to the Stormcasts, giving them some ranged firepower without too many complicated rules or unbalancing weapons. For the Bloodbound, you have quite a choice. However, a unit of Bloodletters, Bloodcrushers, Blood Warriors or Bloodreavers would all be suitable choices and will keep the two starter set forces balanced against one another for most battles.
Play the last scenario in the starter set with these expanded forces and watch as Lord Khul and Vandus Hammerhand really go for each other!
Step Three: Pick up the Age of Sigmar Hardback
The next stage is to grab the Age of Sigmar hardback.
This is quite pricey at £45, but you do get a big, heavy book for your money, and one with gorgeous artwork throughout at that. However, do not expect lots of rules and army lists – if you go down the path I am suggesting here, that is not what Age of Sigmar will be about!
Remember the storyline that began with the starter set and The Gates of Azyr novella? This is where it continues – in a nutshell, you will get to see what happens next.
The starter set/Gates of Azyr showcased what happened when the Stormcasts did their D-Day-like invasion of the Realm of Fire and captured a Realmgate in order to create a beach head. This book shows how their invasion spreads across the Brimstone Peninsula as they fight to defeat the Goretide, a Bloodbound force commanded by Lord Khul.
This is done through a series of Battleplans, which are the formalised way scenarios are handled beyond those in the starter set. The first represents the first battle the Stormcasts had after the Gates of Azyr had been secured and they started pushing into Khorne-held territory.
Step Four: Learning How to Balance Forces
It is at this point you will discover the training wheels have been taken off. After you leave the starter set, no Battleplan will have set forces – it will be up to you and your opponent to decide what to field!
There are two keys here that I have found useful when deciding which armies are going to be used in any given game.
First off, remember you are not trying to grind your opponent into the ground to earn a trophy – you are exploring a storyline defined by the Battleplan. Those few pages of ‘fluff’ before the Battleplan starts in the book are important! You can also use it to get an idea of what forces should appear.
For example, the first Battleplan, Hold or Die, showcases what happened when Lord-Celestant Goldenmane led his forces in a rather brash attempt to earn glory. So, you might want to think about picking up the model of the Lord-Celestant on foot. The story also mentions Liberators and Judicators, so they are in too.
For the Bloodbound, there is no mention of Lord Khul, so leave him to one side (in fact, in our games, we left all the Khorne characters from the starter set to one side and had a newly purchased Exalted Deathbringer leading them – not mentioned in the storyline, but it fitted very well). The Bloodreavers and Blood Warriors, along with the Khorgorath, you already have in your collection work perfectly. But you may well have several new models at this point, so how do ensure the two armies will be well-matched?
The second key is this: Totalling up the number of Wounds that all models have on each side works, to an extent. You will find that you will need to adjust things for one side or the other, but due to the nature of Age of Sigmar, there is a lot of wiggle room.
For example, we have found that if you total up the number of Wounds in the Bloodbound army, reduce that figure by about a third for the Stormcasts. That alone pretty much balances Stormcasts and Bloodbound.
If one force has a significant number of monsters (and I am talking about the big stuff here, like Treelords, not the little Khorgorath!), then reduce that force’s Wounds count by about a third as well.
There is nothing too hard and fast about this but, and here is the big secret behind the Age of Sigmar, you don’t need anything set in stone. You will find there is so much that can happen in a typical Age of Sigmar battle, such as the Stormcasts gaining reinforcements, Chaos forces gaining daemonic support, other armies summoning new units, and so on, that things can balance up between fairly disparate forces and you will not feel you are completely outmatched.
Follow the (very loose) guidelines above, and you will very quickly develop an instinct of what will work and what won’t.
Step Five: Build Forces Alongside the Story
The next Battleplan is The Watchtower, and the story adds a couple of new things of interest. First off, it heavily suggests that the Bloodbound were aided by Khorne daemons. If you grab yourself a unit or three of these (Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers work best here), you will not only have forces representative of what actually took place in the Age of Sigmar ‘canon’ but your Khorne force expands a little without too much effort. It will also mean you have some daemons to call upon when using the Legions of Chaos rule in the Time of War sheet that you saw a couple of pages before this Battleplan (and I would wholeheartedly recommend you always use suitable Time of War sheets for the battles you are fighting – they always add an extra dimension to your fights).
You can use almost any piece of scenery as the Watchtower itself, but I would recommend you consider grabbing a Skull Keep – not only is it a good looking terrain piece but it will also be the start of a complete Dreadhold further down the road…
Step Six: Continue the Story
The fight for the Brimstone Peninsula ends with The Ritual, which should be a big fight – bring on every model you have painted up so far for both Stormcasts and the Bloodbound!
You might also want to consider picking up the War Storm novel.
This tells the story behind all the Battleplans in the hardback you have, and starts getting into the nitty-gritty of the Mortal Realms. The Gates of Azyr will never win any great literary awards and is more of a taser, but War Storm is where things start getting very interesting. I would seriously recommend this one.
Step Seven: Make the Story Your Own
While following the story line and Battleplans of the hardback, you should not be afraid to make little alterations that reflect what has happened in your own battles.
For example, imagine a Hero in one of the forces was completely mobbed by an enemy unit and was removed as a casualty. What happens to him?
You can simply decide that he picks himself up, dusts himself off, and then strides confidently back into the next fight, perhaps with the intention of getting revenge on those who laid him low last time. This is perfectly acceptable, and probably the best thing to do with major characters such as Lord Khul, Vandus Hammerhand or Lord-Relictor Cryptborn.
You might instead, however, decide he is somewhat injured and ‘retire’ him for a battle or two.
Or, of course, you could decide he has met a more permanent end. While such things do not really happen for daemons and Stormcasts, you can certainly imagine even one of those might take too long to recover to take any further part in the current story line (maybe they will appear again later on).
When you start to get really comfortable with the game, you might even start creating your own Battleplans to play out events that cropped up because of things that happened in game, or to play out battles that are hinted at in the background but do not have their own Battleplans.
This is an important point – make the game your own!
Step Eight: Eternal War Across the Realms
At this point, you will not need any more help from me – you will know enough to be able to experiment and figure out what will be fun and what just plain will not work for yourself.
The Ritual is the last battle set within the Brimstone Peninsula (for the moment), but there are campaigns set in two other Realms in the hardback, and I would recommend playing through the Realm of Life – by the end of it you will have a Sylvaneth force to fight alongside the Stormcasts and a healthy (?) army of Nurgle Rotbringers. As before, don’t try to do everything for these forces all at once, just add a few units at a time (and remember that eBay can be your friend in acquiring armies at reasonable prices!).
You might also like to explore the Battletomes as they often have Battleplans that can link into the main storyline. For example, the Stormcasts Battletome has a Battleplan that basically replaces all the scenarios of the starter set with one, big, meaty fight. The Bloodbound book has a Battleplan set immediately after the starter set scenarios, before Hold or Die. They are not essential to the storyline, but they are fun to include.
You may, of course, decide you want to depart from the official storyline and create your own – and that would be brilliant! There is certainly enough room in the Mortal Realms for your own story, and you might find you want to explore not the huge city0smashing conflicts of Archaon and the Stormcasts. Perhaps you want to discover what happens when a small tribe of Goblins moves into territory claimed by a small warband of Skaven who have already been battered by everyone they meet!
As I said, at this point, you will have all the tools to fly by yourself in Age of Sigmar. This style of play is not for everyone, and it is heavily reliant on a deep liking of the background and stories within the worlds of Warhammer. However, if that sounds like something that would appeal to you, a lot of fun battles await…