Mar 12

Age of Sigmar: Gaming Experience So Far

Every dice-wielding table warrior seems to have an opinion on what Age of Sigmar is. Apparently it’s a mass-ranked skirmished game which does and doesn’t scale, is a deeply tactical child’s game, and is/isn’t suitable for tournament play. All at the same time. Impressive.

One thing our overlords at Games Workshop HQ in Nottingham are actively pushing is the narrative element. The supporting books (fluff) follow a story, the events at Warhammer World tend towards narrative campaigns, and battle plans that give you a reason to play are in abundance. Narrative is the recurring theme and the one which resonates most with me (narrative, casual gamer and hobbyist, non-competitive).

Balance is a bugbear to get your head around. How do you know you have a fair fight on your hands? We have a history of points values which have always guided us, and plenty of heavyweights in the industry have thrown out their opinions on the merits and evils of these. Experienced players might know that a Chaos knight and a goblin with a pointy stick don’t equate to the same thing, but beginners have a harder time. So far, I’ve mainly guessed. If we had no idea, we would use the number of wounds and a cursory glance over the stat line as a vague guide. It’s not perfect but then points have never been perfect. Surprisingly, guesswork has worked well in my games so far, with only one game drastically out of balance (which we learned from). A whole bunch of fan-made balancing systems are out there now which can give even further guidance if you want it.

Sure, the rules don’t deal with balance for you, but a simple application of Wheaton’s Law should deal with most eventualities. When someone says, ‘There’s nothing stopping me fielding 18 bloodthirsters against you,’ (and I’ve actually heard variations of this), put 5 goblins on the table, congratulate them on their overdraft, and go play someone else. Chances are, you’ll have a more enjoyable game against someone who doesn’t have that attitude.

Sounds Like Hassle – Why Bother?

Like everything else, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Play it through. It’s quick and simple. Age of Sigmar is full of cinematic moments, made easier to achieve by removing restrictions. Having your choice of bases gives hobbyists the chance to create interesting scenes and dioramas. The change of format gives you even more options for terrain. Expect to see busy boards, city streets, dense forests, even dungeon-style setups. It’s a hobbyist’s dream. Nothing is stopping you from using rank and file with movement trays if you want it, you just don’t get a bonus in game (unless you choose to add one). Removing list building restrictions allows you to play out themed forces. So many of the gripes that caused such rage at the release are simply opportunities to the savvy gamer. The alternating combat system ensures that you’re not waiting an age for your turn (exception noted below), and adds another tactical element in which order you choose to perform your attacks. If you want balanced competition, many tournament organisers publish their comp systems online. Use them (Holy Wars Army Building Guidance).

Those are just some options. Chances are your experience will be different depending on the type of games you want (narrative/competitive), where you play (friends, club, events, random pick-up games), and how open-minded you are to a change of system. If you want a fun, easy game and are interested in the narrative, the war story, you’ll likely have a blast. If you’re more interested in abusing cheesy mechanics to stomp your opponent and drink the tears of their shattered hobby, this probably isn’t the system for you. We live in a golden age of gaming with more choice than ever. Don’t like the system? Choose another!

A non-competitive game is a social contract. Sure, play to win, there’s nothing wrong with that, but never at the expense of your opponent’s enjoyment.

Some Grumbles

Of course, the system has a few quirks that I’m not particularly fond of.

Rolling for initiative every turn – meaning a player can get two consecutive turns – goes right at the top of my list. In a system where activations work on a unit level like Frostgrave, this seems reasonable, but when dealing with the whole faction at a time it can swing the game and leave a player feeling powerless and bored that they’ve gone a while without being able to do much.  For example, a shooty army may never get to actually use their ranged weapons before the opponent is on them, or with two consecutive turns of shooting the other army may never get there. Not fun for either player. I usually let an opponent decide whether we bother playing this rule or stick to the old way of alternating turns.

Summoning can be another swing. Perhaps it’s a legacy of thinking in terms of points, getting free units during a game quickly throws things out of balance. Despite playing undead, I’ve never used a summon in game. That said, it is a scenario-based game and I may revise that opinion should I use/build a scenario based around summoning, e.g. stopping a necromancer who fights behind waves of skeletons, a zombie apocalypse, or an alliance taking down Nagash. Another option that suits the undead is that you can only summon back what has already been killed, potentially in reduced numbers (shattered bones?).

Shooting while in combat strikes me as strange. No matter how skilled the archer, I’m sceptical about them firing their bows at some abstract enemy while Khornate lunatics are swinging axes at them. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to remove this with a house rule, i.e. just don’t use your bows while you’re getting hit.

These are hardly insurmountable. As a rule of thumb, if the rule sounds daft, don’t use it! Unless you’re in a tournament, they’re guidelines, and that applies to Age of Sigmar and any other game.


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Mar 05

Age of Sigmar: The Introductory Wars

Excuse me, sir, do you have a moment for the word of Sigmar, Lord of the Storm and Bulwark against Chaos?

It’s been months since the sky fell The Old World ended and Age of Sigmar began. In that time we saw the Internet at its finest, Mantic Games had to suddenly ramp up their production capacity, and uttering the name Warhammer had folks hounded from social media by mobs wielding flaming brands and pitchforks. Now that the ash of burning toy soldiers has settled and the unprecedented rage has cooled at least a little, how do you break through the negativity and introduce a new player? Points for guessing how many times you’ll see the word ‘narrative’.

While getting into the system and its story myself, taking it as an opportunity to do the undead project that I’d wanted to do since time immemorial, I had the opportunity to introduce Age of Sigmar to other players. Some were genuinely intrigued, others had entrenched opinions formed from the Internet rage of the game’s detractors.

I’ve approached this in different ways with different players starting by playing through the missions in the starter box. For a new player without the starter box, we ran a pitched battle kept as simple as possible to get used to the system. I also ran a demo game with another experienced player while interested parties watched to see how it played. We added a battle plan because, well, why are these factions fighting? With a little thought and background you have a narrative instead of just toy soldiers and dice.

A battle plan works like a scenario. It gives you some background to the game, an idea of sides and objectives. There are some in the books accompanying the game through the starter box and campaign supplements or there are others available online:

Clash of Empires Battle Plan

Starter Box

This is ideal if one of you wants to play Stormcasts and another Chaos. The box is excellent value, gives you a narrative, and balances the armies for you. The special battle plans showcases different ways to play, from elite warriors fighting off waves from a horde of cultists to flying troops fighting their way through to secure reinforcements from a realmgate, even duels between mighty heroes. This should serve to show you just where you can take the game – it’s not just about pitched battles of equal forces.

Narrative Events

I learned to play at one of the narrative campaigns at Warhammer World. The atmosphere was very relaxed and the focus on fun rather than competitive. When playing another beginner, we learned together. When playing someone experienced, they helped balance the armies and stepped through the process. Having scenarios written specifically for the event added to the experience, making it more engaging. I highly recommend these if you’re within reasonable distance from Nottingham.

Pitched Battle

While it doesn’t really make the most of the narrative possibilities that Age of Sigmar offers, a basic pitched battle can remove complications if you just want to get your head around the rules. Try not to go too big. A hero, a couple of units of basic troops and something fancy like a monster or heavy cavalry  should do the job nicely.

Demo Game

Running a demo while others watch lets the onlookers dip in and out without having to commit to the time of a full battle. They can watch a couple of turns and get an idea of how it works. In our case, we used Death against Stormcasts at about 60 wounds a side. While large enough to provide a spectacle, in the post-battle review we decided that we’d used too many heroes. These complicated things for the onlookers due to synergies and combinations triggering all over the place. I suggest a maximum of 2 heroes each – enough to show how useful a simple synergy can be but not so much that onlookers can’t follow what’s going on. Remember it’s about showing how the system works at this stage, not pitching the tactical minds of Hannibal against Napoleon. That comes later.

Closing Thoughts

When introducing a new player, or learning for yourself, my best advice is to start small, start simple, and use a battle plan for the narrative. Look at the terrain you have available and build your battle around it. Focus on the simplified system, the cinematic moments and narrative possibilities that it offers. With the right perspective, Age of Sigmar offers endless opportunities for gaming in the gaps and water-cooler moments. Thoughts on the game and its mechanics in a later post.


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