It has been nearly 18 months since Age of Sigmar was released and, for some, there has been some heartache and a lot of confusion on the way.
Round our way though, things have been bright and sunny, or at least as much as they can be in the Mortal Realms where war stalks the lands. We have played an awful lot of games (more than we did 40k or Fantasy Battle before Sigmar was released), we have got through four big campaign hardbacks, and I have painted way more miniatures in that space of time than I ever have for any other game. Ever.
There are reasons why…
Every Game Different
Just about every game we played of Warhammer Fantasy was drawn from one of the six ‘main’ scenarios in the rulebook (we did at one point substitute one of them for a Storm of Magic scenario, but that was about as adventurous as we got). 40k was no better, rolling on the mission table for every game, drawing from the same six missions.
Now consider this.
Since Age of Sigmar came out, we have played nearly 70 games in the grand storyline campaign featured on this site, plus a few Matched Play games and some events at Warhammer World.
Aside from a few games at those events, we have never played the same Battleplan twice.
That means you could forget about tweaking your army or getting hold of new units (and we do plenty of both), every game is still different. There are over a hundred Battleplans for Age of Sigmar right now, and you can be sure many more will be coming next year when the new campaign books start appearing.
If you find yourself repeating games in Age of Sigmar, you are doing something very wrong.
Smaller Armies, and More of Them
Once we broke away from the rigid ‘must have a 2,000 point game or it ain’t Warhammer’ mindset, we found it easier to spread the love between different forces – no longer was an army a year(s)-long endeavour where every possible variation of units was put together, then followed by doubling down on the most effective units. Instead, we could explore lots of areas of the Warhammer universe, focussing on those forces that held the most interest, but giving each at least a little time in the sun.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the forces built over the past 18-odd months have grown, well, fairly titanic – in the display cabinets I have 4,500 points of an Extremis Chamber alone, and the Bloodbound probably come to more than that. However, you would also find an Aleguzzler tribe, all clans of Skaven well represented, the Devoted of Sigmar, Spiderfang Grots. I even have an Eldritch Council on the way.
Multiple armies multiplies the fun, and the set up of Age of Sigmar (once you move beyond Matched Play) encourages you to explore them.
No Argument, No Fuss
I really cannot overstate this one.
When playing 40k or Fantasy Battle, at some point the game will stop as one of the players opens a rulebook or Codex up. Maybe the players will start chatting or debating the rules. Maybe an argument will start. It does not matter how many years you have been playing these games (coming up to three decades, myself!), there will always be some rule somewhere that gets read wrong or understood badly or, worse, a player will intentionally try to get a bad reading of a rule working in his favour.
Either way, the game has just ground to a halt.
Since playing Age of Sigmar, there have been no rules debates in our group. None. Nada. Zilch. And here is the funny thing – I cannot think of one cropping up during events at Warhammer World where you are playing against strangers.
I will even go as far as saying that I cannot recall the last time I looked at the main rules for Age of Sigmar – it has been months since I so much as glanced at them.
Age of Sigmar simply works.
It does not pretend to be some grand tactical simulation where great minds engage one another in a mental duel akin to Grandmasters (and if you think you are demonstrating your mental abilities when you win a game of Fantasy Battle or 40k, well, it may be beneficial to take a step back and consider where your life is going).
Age of Sigmar is about getting cool models on a good-looking table and seeing what is currently happening in the Mortal Realms. That is all it is aiming for, and all it needs to do.
The core rules for Age of Sigmar are so simple they effectively become invisible during play, with only Warscrolls (and the occasional Time of War sheet) popping up.
Simple, easy, does not get in the way.
That is not to say they are not without their subtleties. To give one example…
In Fantasy Battle, siege games were a bit of a deal, and required special rules, a special set up, and you could end up hunting around for a decent set you were happy with, plumbing the depths of previous editions for something suitable.
Age of Sigmar does not need any of that. In fact, you don’t really need the Warscrolls for the Dreadhold to play a siege game. They just add some fun rules for specific parts of a fortress. All you require is a castle and the assumption that the units attacking it are equipped with some basic siege gear – ropes, ladders, spells of levitation, whatever you fancy.
It is not until you are actually assaulting that fortress that you start to see how clever the core rules are and how they handle siege assaults.
You see, for the average soldier, enemies on the ramparts are untouchable (they are further than your weapons can reach). However, if the enemy is completely strung out along those walls (or, at least, the section you are attacking) you cannot move onto them to reach him, and you cannot charge him because his models are blocking your movement – you cannot move through his models, and so you cannot place your own on the wall, even if there is room behind the enemy.
This means that to take a Dreadhold, you must:
- Clear the walls first with missile fire or magic.
- Use something big enough to literally reach over the wall and clobber the enemy.
- Use flying units.
- Or, if you have one, push open the Malefic Gate (not an easy job; I have managed it a grand total of once over the past 18 months)
Which are all solid tactics in a fantasy world. But here is the thing: at no point have any ‘siege’ rules been added to the game. This is all done through the core rules.
Simple. And brilliant.
Play the Game, Not the Rules
This one leads on from the last.
Once you find yourself in the happy position of never, repeat never, consulting the rulebook, you find yourself free to enjoy the game.
There is no looking up of the rules (during play or afterwards) in an attempt to leverage every ounce of advantage from them. There is no ‘pushing’ of rules over common sense, where models start doing things that are technically legal within the rules, but would never happen in the real world.
Instead, your focus is on the actual game – whether your Stormcasts can roll up the flank of the Skaven with a full force of Prosecutors leading Retributors, not whether you can squeeze another +1 from the combat resolution. Whether your Blightmage can finish off the Necromancer with a well-timed Arcane Bolt, not whether you have the right magic item to give you more magic dice.
Warhammer at its most fun and, I very much think, the way the designers intended for it to be played.
The odd Matched Play aside, the main driving force behind our games has been the ‘official’ storyline, as laid out in the campaign books and Black Library novels.
And you know… it is actually quite a good story!
This background material gives battles on the tabletop a depth that, up to now, has been somewhat lacking in games, even given the (very) rich background of the Warhammer universes (you can see the format developing in the End Times books which, rules aside and with a great deal of hindsight, do seem to be Age of Sigmar in a different guise).
We have charted the fall and rise of the likes of Lord Khul and Torsun the Redeemed, not over a few battles, but over continuous games across 18 months, and there does not seem to be any sign that their stories will end any time soon.
We have seen the assault upon the Eldritch Fortress and watched as the Grand Congregation of Nurgle discovered the Athelwyrd, triggering the Exodus of Alarielle. We witnessed the arrival of Archaon, Grand Marshal of the Apocalypse, into the Realmgate Wars, and the unleashing of the Chamber Extremis in response. Heroes have risen (such as the brave veteran Liberators who faced down Valkia the Bloody) and the craven have fallen (Bloodsecrator Threx failing to recover Lord Khul when wounded then retreating to a Skull Keep to avoid his master’s wrath, only to find he had put himself in the path of the main Stormcast attack).
These were not abstract events that happened in some background piece in a Codex or the pages of a Black Library novel. We saw them take place, on our tables, as we rolled the dice.
And that is a whole other experience.
A Lot Goes on in Age of Sigmar
We once had a game of Age of Sigmar that lasted just two turns.
What we found was that a huge amount had still happened during the game.
In Fantasy Battle, it would have been quite a disappointing match – by turn two, you might have a couple of initial charges, but more likely just some sporadic bow fire and the odd wizard flinging a spell (or immolating himself with a miscast).
In Age of Sigmar, there is always a lot going on, and it happens in multiple layers.
- Even basic units can often do something a little out of the ordinary, and damn near every Hero has funky rules that let them take special actions on the battlefield.
- You have to go long and far to find a Battleplan that does not add something to the depth of a game, from new General Abilities that, perhaps, do something as minor as allowing units to re-roll wounds, to big battlefield-wide events that open up chasms under the feet of units or drop daemons from a spinning vortex in the sky.
- Time of War sheets are the cherry on top, adding more events, spells, and special rules.
The point is, from round one, something is always happening in Age of Sigmar, and that keeps things interesting.
A side benefit of this, but one not to be overlooked, is that while I can predict what will happen and when during a game of Fantasy Battle as soon as deployment is complete (and figure out who will win – how boring is that?), I often can’t tell who is going to claim victory in Age of Sigmar until the last turn!
A Teenager Again
When Age of Sigmar first came out, we played with no points – you did not have a choice in the early days.
I could say playing games without points became a revelation but, really, it was a rediscovery – after all, this was how we used to play these games when we were kids. And you know what? We had fun doing it!
As army lists came out back then, with the likes of Chapter Approved: First Book of the Astronomican, and then new armies (like the Eldar) appearing in White Dwarf, we buckled down and conformed to what became tournament play.
But, you know, there is more to games than tournaments and, as much as I might sound like a social worker, more to life than winning.
Not that I lack the competitive spirit. You face me in Fantasy Battle or 40k (or Matched Play with Age of Sigmar) and I’ll take you down. I’ll do it quickly, efficiently, and without mercy. Turns out I am a little bit good at competitive miniatures play.
Take the points out and, frankly, I could not give a damn who wins. I really cannot stress that enough. Could. Not. Care. Less.
What I am looking for is a fun time, rolling dice and pushing models around the table (with absolutely no arguments brewing) as cool things happen on the battlefield.
I don’t care if this battle means I will have beaten you a dozen times in a row and it represents an unbroken line of achievements (it just doesn’t). I want to know if my lowly Grot Shaman is going to safely guard the entrance to the egg nest on his own against your Chaos Warriors. I want to see the (truly majestic) sight of the full Extremis Chamber riding down the enemy horde, a tidal wave of armour and scales. I want to see Aleguzzler Gargants get so drunk they cannot even stumble their way towards the enemy.
Competitive, tournament play still has its place and I enjoy dipping back into it (I am going to one in a couple of weeks at Warhammer World). But, and I have said this before, if you find yourself continually playing games that would not be out of place in a tournament setting, ditch your competitive spirit for just a game or two, find some like-minded people and play Warhammer like (as I have said), I am pretty sure, the designers do.
It really is okay for you to do that. Jervis has given you permission.
So, those are just a few of the reasons I have been enjoying Age of Sigmar. What has been your excuse?