Why I Like Age of Sigmar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Warhammer at its most fun and, I very much think, the way the designers intended for it to be played.

 

The Storyline

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).

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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.

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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.

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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?

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19 Responses to “Why I Like Age of Sigmar”

  1. twllind Says:

    Your blog seldom (as in, never) lacks for inspiration, my friend, but you have outdone yourself this time.

  2. Peachy and Danny Says:

    An excellent round-up, and makes me want to play more Age of Sigmar. As more of a painter than a gamer (although I manage about 1/10 of your prodigious output!), I’ve enjoyed the freedom to buy and paint any models I like, knowing they can all mesh together into an army.

    Although I’d also agree with the above comment – one of the big appeals of Age of Sigmar is the inspiration in this blog!

    • poisontail Says:

      Yeah, I feel this is one of the strongpoints of the game too, with a similar approach to the hobby. I bought a few units of Sylvaneth – I feel satisfied with that, although its only around 1000 points. In WHFB / 40k it sort of *needs* to be double that.

  3. Marc Says:

    in the small world context of miniatures gaming I am very heartened to read this opinion piece.
    you list positiveily just about all the features I want from this hobby / activity – the irony being that it’s Games Workshop providing the vehicle (I am no fan of the Ansell ‘workshop’ and what it did to the first wave RPG / fantasy gaming scene in this country.
    anyhow, might post again at greater length (I don’t blog myself) here – but hope what you’re saying resonates with others and that the more non-competitive elements of AOS remain central to its development.

  4. Tony Melander Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! Very much like “Black Powder” stressed that to fully enjoy the game, you need to be a true gentleman – it’s even written into the rules (God, I love those “Black Powder” rules!), Age of Sigmar is about the very same thing. The easy and simple (not to be confused with childish) rules emphasize that to have fun with these rules you have to take a nice approach to the game and to your opponent. That is truly fantastic! That is something that should be the aim for every ruleset! And playing cool and “unbalanced” games is a rewarding experience… it’s cool to tell a story… because that is what it’s all about, in my opinion.

    And this blog… I have read the most fantastic battle-reports and seen unbelievable painting projects finish very rapidly and the the models take part in the fantastic story you tell. You are an inspiration! I have started a campaign of my own, The Mosswastes, here in Uppsala (Sweden) and there our own piece of history in the Realm of Life is written. There are so many stories to tell and we have just begun…

  5. Stephen Says:

    70% of my games have had me bored to tears, with players throwing their toys out of the pram when some surprising combo goes off.
    I want to enjoy AoS. I just can’t.

    Everyone in my local area doesn’t play AoS at all, moving on to King’s of War, 9th or 30/40K.
    So now I can’t play AoS at all even if I tried.
    I’m sorry, but AoS’ arrival has decimated my local hobby.

    • elgamers Says:

      “with players throwing their toys out of the pram…”

      Sounds like it was the local player base was self defeating. I suspect that your boring games were due to the attitude that had them throw their toys.

      I really enjoy both KoW and AoS, having great fun with both against friendly opponents. What has your experience been? Have they been … fun?

      Cheers

  6. SleepingYeti Says:

    Thanks for the write up. I wish more people had that mindset. I myself found that matched play is what saved the hobby in my area. The no points left us with everyone dropping the game.

    • poisontail Says:

      We started out using different models for counting “points” for models, we couldn’t shake loose from that. For us the Gen’s HB helped too, apart from points it has a lot of different game “modes” to try out.

      That said, it has helped open our minds a bit to more freestyle approaches.

  7. poisontail Says:

    Well written post! I mostly agree with you, and I must say you have been very inspirational to follow during your AoS journey! Thanks!

  8. Zeuso Says:

    I’ve been a regular follower of your blog for a while now and this is possibly your best post yet! The sheer variety of your output is testament to your dedication but also the flexibility of AoS.

    I find myself constantly dreaming up new armies (sometimes small warbands, other times huge battalions) and it’s a struggle to resist buying them all.

    Watching you paint from every Grand Alliance has helped me to stay focused and been a huge inspiration. Keep up the great work.

  9. Jarrett Lee Says:

    One question I have is about the random initiative roll each turn (meaning: players getting double turns)…on paper that seems like it would break the balance and be a negative experience for the player who faces two turns in a row by their opponent. What has your experience been? I know you like AoS but have you seen it come up during play in a negative way?

    • altsain Says:

      It makes the game – Age of Sigmar would be a lesser experience without it.

      In terms of ‘fluff’/story, it represents the enemy stealing a march on you and unexpected events on the battlefield.

      In terms of gameplay it is a major part of the tactics in Age of Sigmar, in that you not only have to plan/cater for it, but you can _predict_ it. And that is important.

      Remember, it is not a roll to see who goes first in a round. It is a roll to see who chooses who goes first. That is a big difference.

      Imagine I am playing you, and it is the second round, so our units have just begun to engage in earnest. I win the initiative. Now, I can just leap in and start doing damage, but if I do that then there is a 50/50 chance that next round, you will get a double turn – so, I need to make sure I give you a right bloody nose if I choose to go first in order to counter that.

      If I instead choose to make you go first, I need to weather what you dish out before I can strike back, but here is the thing – I now have that 50/50 chance of the double turn but, just as important, if I do not get it, I _still_ have that 50/50 chance in the round after and you _don’t_. We can keep rolling over the subsequent turns with you winning the initiative and stopping me from double-turning, but at some point you will fail and the double turn will come my way, and all the while I _know_ you _won’t_ be double turning.

      So, the whole idea of initiative is now covering a series of rounds, not just one.

      In terms of games design, that is quite clever 🙂 For example, you can start influencing when you are likely to get a double turn to best effect – not much use on rounds 1 and 2, but could be extremely helpful on turns 4 and 5 when you are making your final push…

      If you see people questioning the double turn in Age of Sigmar, they likely a) haven’t played it (such as yourself, Sir) or b) do not look at a game beyond the next turn – they do not see the full spread of a battle.

      I would advise you to give it a whirl. It really does add to the game.

  10. searchingfordragonsblog Says:

    I have a large High Elf and Dark Elf army from back in the day. I’m noticing I cannot find minis that used to be on GW’a site. Are they about to unveil them? Seems like wood elves finally got some love. Would like to see all elves get it. How difficult is the transition? I haven’t played fantasy since Mordheim was out.

  11. ben_ Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It really is hard to find some in depth descriptions of “the state of Age of Sigmar” like this, especially if you’re not part of an active Community (like me, hehe).

  12. Taoist-Water Says:

    Such a good write up! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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