The latest campaign book in the Realmgate War series came out on Saturday, and I have spent the weekend going through it. So, Balance of Power – is it any good?
By now, any player of Age of Sigmar will be aware that you do not buy these books for the rules. So, this review is going to focus primarily on the storyline and the Battleplans that run alongside it (if you are desperate for rules, there will be a short section at the end for you!).
Back to the Realm of Life
Well, at the end of the last campaign book (Quest for Ghal Maraz) Sigmar may have got his hammer back, but things had all gone rather sour in the Realm of Life. The Athelwyrd had been breached by the forces of Nurgle, and Alarielle was forced to flee.
Balance of Power kicks off with the exodus of Alarielle, accompanied by her Sylvaneth and the Hallowed Knights – the events covered by the Wardens of the Everqueen novel, incidentally. Alarielle conjures the Cascading Path which allows her dwindled force to cover a huge portion of the Realm of Life, but Nurgle’s forces (led by Torglug the Despised – keep an eye on this chap) use Skaven gnawholes to keep pace. Gnawholes are an alternative to using Realmgates that the Skaven control, allowing them passage across and between realms…
Torglug catches up with Alarielle at an ice sea and the first Battleplan, On Thin Ice, depicts their initial clash. An ice sheet covers the sea, but it can be smashed with large enough attacks (minimum Damage 2), sinking entire 2′ x 2′ sections of the table! This can drown enemy units of course (a lot of enemy units!) but gives Alarielle’s forces a chance of escape.
There is a new Time of War sheet for this region of the realm, with new triumphs, ice-based magic (four spells available to all wizards), and an ice storm table that can seriously stuff up your plans!
Torglug is not so easily dissuaded though, and while Alarielle manages to put some distance from him, the Nurgle Lord catches up with her again in The Hidden Artefact.
Alarielle, by this time, has expended all her energy and has become, literally, a seed pod. The Lady of Vines is now carrying her and must get to a good place to plant the goddess (I am parsing a lot here!) where she can adopt a new aspect (I am thinking later this year we will see a big miniature of Alarielle Unleashed, as it were). In this Battleplan, an artefact must be carried across the table, while the attacker both pursues and sends units forward to encircle the fleeing force.
So far, so normal – don’t worry though, there are some seriously cool Battleplans coming up. These two form a nice introduction to the campaign, and the storyline behind them sets things up nicely for some major events in the Realm of Life. But more on that later.
The Realm of Fire
The book then leaves the Realm of Life briefly for a look at events in Aqshy. If you were expecting to see the Fyreslayers in Balance of Power, this is where they first pop up. Skaven have tunnelled up under a Fyreslayer lodge and stolen a whole bunch of ur-gold and one of the Runesons, the latter of which is the object of rescue in Consumed, the next Battleplan. This one has shades of The Ritual, but there will be an actual model on the table (the Runeson) that you will be trying to rescue before the Skaven can complete their vile rites.
There is a Burning Catacombs Time of War sheet here with a Fyreslayers-only Command Ability (allows you to recycle units), weapons that can magically start glowing white-hot, and Realmgates that can spew out lava.
The Stormcasts then appear and manage to avoid getting their heads taken off by the Fyreslayers, and bargain for their services. The Stormcasts are off to nobble a Khorne-held fortress (quite a big one, as it happens), and they dangle enough ur-gold in front of the Fyreslayers to get them to act as guides and escort. However, the Skaven have not finished with the Fyreslayers just yet, and Uneasy Alliances is a four player game of Stormcast and Fyreslayer, matched against a Skaven and Bloodbound ambush.
Realm of Death
The story then hops to the Shyish, home to Nagash and friends. After a brief background on events with Nagash, the book focusses on Neferata and her city of Nulahmia, which is currently under siege by a massive Slaaneshi force.
This is covered in the Home Ground Battleplan, though the story goes somewhat beyond the events of the scenario. The Stormcasts show up and start helping to push the Slaaenshi guys back, as they want to see if Neferata will help them reach Nagash – for her part, Neferata sees the Stormcasts as a potential ally who will increase her own power.
Unfortunately, Nagash turns up right at the end, though we do not see the results of that.
This section is the odd duck of the book, as all the other battles link to one another in some way, even if they are in different realms (as you will see) but this one stands alone. I get the feeling that it is setting things up for the next campaign book more than anything else.
However, there is a Time of War sheet covering the city of Nulahmia, giving us the first peek of rules suitable for the Realm of Death.
Realm of Life Returns
The book switches back then to the Realm of Life, and here we get the first real curve ball in the storyline.
Alarielle runs and Nurgle pursues, but he is not the only Chaos god watching things. Khorne fancies a bit of that Life Goddess action as well, and he is not messing around – he sends Skarbrand down.
However, the Seraphon have been watching events too, and a Slann Starmaster moves to intercept in a battle that only has a sideways mention in the Wardens of the Everqueen novel, but makes a lot more sense now!
Raging Fury is the Battleplan that covers this, pitting Skarbrand (alone) against a Seraphon army that cannot have any monsters! This is on a 4′ x 4′ table, so there are not many places to run, and the Seraphon can try to tempt Skarbrand into a portal that will fling him back home rather than try to kill him outright (which won’t be easy with a bunch of Saurus Warriors and Skinks!).
The next Battleplan covers the Battle of Blackstone Summit, the final confrontation between Torglug and the forces of Alarielle. Once again they are battling over the artefact (Alarielle’s seed pod), but while Nurgle sends a Great Unclean One (or three), Sigmar sends the Celestant-Prime, guaranteeing some high-powered action!
This is most certainly a pitched battle, where the forces of Life can pass wounds inflicted upon the artefact carrier to other nearby units, but have to travel across what is effectively an 8′ table to do it.
The result of this battle will determine the fate of the Realm of Life!
To the Hot Place Once More
With the Realm of Life resolved (for now), Balance of Power takes us back to the Realm of Fire, where the combined Fyreslayer and Stormcast force is trying to bust into the Bloodkeep, a mighty fortress of Khorne.
This Battleplan is The Dilemma, and is another interesting one. On the surface, the Stormcasts get the Fyreslayers to tunnel up inside the courtyard where they can launch their attack.
However, the Bloodkeep is where Skarbrand is normally kept – he seems to have disappeared for now, and so they want to break into his prison and steal the Brass Chain, the artefact that keeps Skarbrand in check. If they can swipe this, then Sigmar can keep Skarbrand chained up, removing a powerful weapon from Khorne’s arsenal.
The problem? Skarbrand (and a whole bunch of other Khorne followers) returns halfway through the battle.
The dilemma of the Battleplan’s title is whether the Stormcasts try to push forward to the Brass Chain to get a major victory, or try to leave to get a minor victory. The trap is trying to do both and achieving neither…
This Battleplan suggests the use of an Overlord Bastion and a Magebane Greatwall, giving your Dreadhold a decent work out.
In the story, the Stormcasts are indeed driven back, but not before they bust open the Bastion, freeing a magical sigil which flutters off into the sky.
A bit mysterious? Well, that leads us to the last part of the storyline in Balance of Power…
War of Lost Time
This is set in Chamon, the Realm of Metal, and that means Tzeentch forces!
These battles take place in a weird place – inside a kind of moon-sized ball of metal where really weird things happen with both gravity and time (there is a Time of War sheet for all of that). It also serves as a prison for a very powerful Lord of Change (model coming in time for the next campaign book? Maybe? Please?) who has been working to get free – that sigil that got loosed in the Realm of Fire? That would be the last bit he needs, and it is winging its way back to him right now. Sigmar sends the Stormcasts to stop this happening.
Now, there are a lot of Tzeentchian shenanigans going on here, but the short of it is that a Gaunt Summoner has found a way to make Archaon his bitch (again, I am paraphrasing here), and his plan is about to reach completion.
That is when Archaon turns up.
To his credit, when the Everchosen shows up, the Gaunt Summoner’s first reaction is to try to blackmail him, which works about as well as expected.
So, the first Battleplan is Path of Retreat, which features the Gaunt Summoner running away from Archaon (literally) while both throw forces at the other to try to slow their prey/pursuer down. Looks like a good one!
Incidentally, there is a tiny hint in this section that as Archaon was once a good man, he could become so again. Now, we might dismiss that but, well, there is a bit of a twist at the end of this book that may make you think twice. But we’ll come to that.
The final Battleplan is Never Give Up, and it is a big mosh pit of Stormcasts versus Chaos of all stripes, led by Archaon – and this is portrayed as nothing but a last stand for the Stormcasts. In the storyline, the Stormcasts get wiped out to a man, with Vandus Hammerhand himself getting torn apart by Archaon (and there is no clue as to whether this might be a permanent death, which it well could be).
The Stormcasts can ‘win’ the Battleplan by either killing the enemy general (that ain’t gonna happen, as it will be Archaon and he effectively gets a 3+Ward for this fight) or by just having models left after six turns.
So, this book is a bit Empire Strikes Back, as it ends on a sour note for the forces of Order.
However, on the very last page of the story section of this book, there is something of a twist. I am not going to spoil it here, but if you have been following the storyline (and especially if you have been reading the novels) this may come as a genuine surprise. There is a tiny, tiny hint of it in Wardens of the Everqueen, but you don’t get to see exactly what happens, even if you are a clever sausage who spotted it on your first read through.
Anyway, page 226. But try to resist flicking forward.
Rules and Stuff
We have a bunch of Warscrolls, of course, but there is literally nothing here you have not seen before, especially if you have Grand Alliance: Chaos and Battletome: Fyreslayers. Some Stormcasts and Undead are thrown in for good measure.
The Battalion Warscrolls are unique and have not appeared before. It is good to note that they are all very much rooted in the storyline too.
For example, Torglug’s Foulblessed turns a ‘normal’ Lord of Plagues into a ‘named’ character, with an appropriate boost. Much the same happens for the Sylvaneth, Stormcasts, Fyreslayers, Skaven, Deathlords, Slaanesh, and Tzeentch.
As I say, they all tie into the story in some way – remember that Gaunt Summoner who honked off Archaon? Well, The Watcher King’s Horde is what he tried to use against the Everchosen as he ran for his life…
I like this book a lot, and for two reasons. First, once you get beyond the first two battles, there are some nice curved balls in here, in terms of both storyline and actual Battleplans. The one featuring Archaon chasing down a rogue Gaunt Summoner is a great idea, and I cannot wait to pit Skarbrand against a horde of Seraphon (my money is on Skarbrand!).
The second reason is that the storyline behind Age of Sigmar is building up nicely. As I mentioned before, there is a feel of the Empire Strikes Back to this book, the dark second act where everything goes wrong. The Stormcasts get smacked silly more than once, and now Archaon is loose and up to mischief. However, the seeds of a comeback may have been planted (literally, with regards to Alarielle).
If you have been enjoying the official storyline behind Age of Sigmar, I thoroughly recommend this book. If you have been on the fence, this may be the tome that pushes you over the edge.
For my part, I am looking forward to part three!