There have been all sorts of leaks and previews of the new Age of Sigmar hardback book, so I am not going to do a straight run through the book. Instead, I will run through a list of what it is and what it is not.
It is Not Warhammer 40,000
This is important. There has been a lot of talk about Sigmarines, 40k-like gameplay and direct parallels about the two settings in which there is only war/an age of unending war.
Yes, certain themes are carried through Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar. It is, after all Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. Certain things have to be present or else it would not be Warhammer. However, once you go through the background, it becomes very apparent that something that has been taken for granted in the past is missing.
There is no grimdark.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a nasty place, where humans live under an oppressive regime that is yet their only slim chance of survival against a galaxy that wants to kill them all. Age of Sigmar is not like that at all.
Its predominant facet is hope.
The whole premise is that Chaos has dominated nearly all the realms and that this is the time where Sigmar and his Eternals strike back. You could use the analogy of the Great Crusade in 40k’s dim history, but the idea is that, true, there is a lot of nasty stuff out there – but we are going to damn well do something about it. Let slip the dogs of war, and clobber anything that stands in your way.
The overall impression of the book is not dark and moody but, well, something shiny.
It is a Completely New Game
More or less. I started approaching Age of Sigmar with the idea that every model that had come before would be swept aside in favour of new casts, End Times models aside. Looking through the book, it seems as though things are not quite that severe – Dryads and Treemen are certainly in, and there are other models from the existing range that make an appearance (such as Ghouls and Hexknights for Undead, for example).
However, there is not a dwarf or elf in the entire book.
It is going to take time before we see how everything shakes out, and that is true for not only the background but also the nature of ‘balance’ in the game and the mechanics of the game itself.
Incidentally, orcs (orruks) do not seem to have changed much if at all. I do rather like the idea that wherever you put an ork, be it in the Warhammer World, the Mortal Realms of the 41st millennium, he will always remain an orc (ork/orruk).
It is Not a Game for Dicks/That Guy
Before I read this book, I had wondered whether the various Battleplans would have (more or less) set forces like those in the starter set. They do not. You are free to take whatever armies you like for them.
This will cause a problem for some.
There are two views I can see for this. First off, the combination of deployment and Sudden Death rules are a balancing factor. I am not saying they are the best or even good, but they are a factor.
I’ll give you an example. You start facing off against That Guy. You were expecting a nice, quiet little game and he starts laying down massive phalanxes of daemons, skaven, or whatever, intending to bury you with the sheer weight of his army. Because armies are not chosen before the game starts but as they are deployed, you can clock what That Guy is doing and deploy something tough (and preferably manoeuvrable) and go for the Endure Sudden Death objective – buzz around the table, hit weak units and just survive for six turns.
He could attempt the same of course, and simply turn up with a Bloodthirster, or something equally nasty. In which case, you are now free to keep on deploying any units you like, which will be ones directed at smacking his killer unit(s).
Now, so long as neither player is an absolute lunatic, there is something of a balancing mechanism there. However, it will also lead to players trying to outwit/trick one another during deployment and that… I am not so keen on. Really, I just want to turn up, push some toy soldiers around on the table and roll some dice. This would be part of a ‘meta’ I don’t really want to engage in.
So, we come back to bringing ‘reasonable’ forces, which is going to boil down to not being a dick. That might actually work for 90% of gamers out there – but we always have to cater to the 10% in society.
It is Not Finished
I am fairly certain we have not seen everything in terms of how this game can develop and what it will end up looking like. There have been rumours of tournament rules appearing, and I think many people will leap upon those as the ‘default’ method of play – which I am also pretty sure is exactly what the GW design team do not want (this game has a distinct whiff of Jervis about it – which is pretty high praise, however you look at it).
I did speculate that this hardback would not have all the magical answers, and that it would be the first army book/campaign book that would begin to show how the game would grow and develop.
So, if you want a definitive answer from me about what this game is like, you are going to have to wait (and it really is okay to reserve judgement until we actually know what is going on!).
It is Worth a Look
However, if you pressed me for a half-time judgement… I would have to say the game is at least worth a look. The core mechanics are solid, and the more time I spend with them, the more I can see little nuances popping up all over the place. This game will have the tactical depth you are looking for.
The models are extremely well done – whether you like their form and feel is a matter of judgement, but the quality is beyond doubt. I have just finished painting up the Stormcast Eternals (piccies coming very soon!) and am about to start on the Chaos guys. And I like them. I like the Eternals a lot.
The background is also nicely thought out and will serve as a decent foundation for the future. More importantly it is not only not 40k, it is in some ways an opposite and may serve as an antidote if you spend too long in the 41st millennium (we all burn out now and again).
So, the final verdict: A good start, let’s see more before we think about sacrificing our first born to fully dive in.