Positive Age of Sigmar Post. Internet Implodes

Age of Sigmar has certainly had its share of controversy. The gnashing of teeth and claims of the “death of fantasy”. In the midst of all this rage there was something that was often missed. Games Workshop actually made a good game. They saved a game system that would have otherwise been discontinued due to lack of sales.

Luckily it’s not last year at this time, because I’m fairly sure I’d have been hunted down with torches and pitchforks for even making that last statement.  I have the benefits of hindsight to take a look at the last year and what kind of game we actually ended up with. Which really came to fruition with the release of the General’s Handbook.

AOS1

I began my miniature wargaming hobby with Warhammer Fantasy 6th edition.  I was the proud owner of a wood elf army which I painted with WAY too many thick layers of paint.  Washes were a foreign entity to me, and drybrushing was the height of my technical skills at the time.   For a brief moment in time, Wood Elves were a fairly competitive army which was able to dash about the board firing arrows and perform a lot of bait and flee style tactics.  This all changed with the arms race that became 7th edition (thanks Matt Ward!).

As my collection of armies grew, the Wood Elves sadly found a back seat. They just couldn’t compete the way my other armies could.  This continued into 8th edition as well, which sadly became the edition of massive spells that would just remove units wholesale (at least in my neck of the woods).

8th edition, while loved by many, was the near death of our fantasy gaming community.  A few diehards remained, but tournaments were lucky to have 8 people attending, and regular weekly game nights sometimes had only two to three players attending.  This is in a community where in 7th edition, Warhammer Fantasy tournaments would fill to capacity and had more players than 40k!

treemanancient

Luckily my painting at least improved somewhat between wood elf armies

 

It became nearly impossible to draw in new players due to the cost of starting an army. Trying to explain to someone that they needed multiple boxes of core troops to even play a small game was a pretty hard sell.  40k Had completely taken over our FLGS along with Warmachine.  I was at the point where I was only playing 2 games a month, if that, from 2-3 games a week. This is when Age of Sigmar dropped.

I was one of the people who actually looked forward to this release. When I saw the four page rule pamphlet however, I was pretty shocked. Up until now, I was used to the “Big Red Book” of fantasy with complicated rules which interacted in strange ways at times.  In comparison, this new system was extremely simple.  Even though I was rarely playing and wanted a change-up, I wasn’t prepared for this level of change.

We gave the new edition a try. We found that the lack of a point system was difficult to wrap our heads around. Every system we had ingrained within us was point based, so getting out of that mindset was difficult.  The flow of the game however, was fantastic!  No more getting bogged down in a huge rulebook trying to find some obscure rule.  The answers to pretty much any question we had was right there in the four pages, or on the Warscrolls which added that depth and complexity we wanted to make units unique.   In addition, Games Workshop released full rules for everything right out of the gate. So, we could try anything we wanted.

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moshpitI had heard the whole “big mosh pit in the middle” arguments which claimed AOS had no tactics; however we quickly found that there were many ways to counter this. Chiefly how you charged changed everything.  By flank charging with two units in two different angles, you could determine how units piled in; as models have to go towards the closest models and maintain coherency.  The alternating activation of units to resolve combats became vitally important to ensure victory as you needed to determine both what can survive to strike back, and who must get their strikes in first or be essentially useless.

Battleplans again changed the way the game was played. As a tournament organizer I love custom scenarios, and it seemed like every release had more to choose from.  This satisfied the casual gamer in me as well as the narrative battles were a refreshing change.

Interestingly enough, the lack of points and Battleplans were the best ways for me to get new players involved, especially kids. We’re a generation of gamers in my family. My 22-year-old son, my 13-year-old son, and my 7-year-old grandson can all play Age of Sigmar together. We didn’t need points at all to play with the younger ones, who really only found the whole point system to be a barrier anyways.

In our gaming community, things were growing and new players were coming to play. However, some of our “old guard” of fantasy players left and did not come back.  The lack of an official point system was just too much. They’re some great guys who I hope eventually return and I think the release of the General’s Handbook will help this.

In our regular gaming nights and tournaments, we were using fan made point comps.   We began with the Stat Damage Keyword (SDK) comp system. We switched to the Project Points Cost (PPC) comp system when SDK was discontinued. That was mainly due to its similarity and the fact that PPC supported Battlescribe.   Things were going quite well, we were having fun, and the game appeared to be quite balanced.

During this year the releases were rapid fire, beginning of course with the “not-space-marines-we-promise” Stormcast Eternals. At the beginning I will say that the Battletomes seemed kind of uninteresting to me.  I know that they had to establish the fluff for the new realms and lay out a blueprint for the way forward.  I just didn’t want to pay $60 (Canadian) a book for it. Especially when I could get the Warscrolls free and the formation rules with a quick Google search.  Even though some players really enjoyed them, the Battleplans and fluff alone just didn’t warrant it for me.

sigmarine

This changed with the Sylvaneth release. For those that haven’t seen this book, it took the Battletomes in a new direction that really made it worthwhile to pick them up.  Not only did you get the fluff and Battleplans, but you also now had an expanded formation structure, a new spell lore, command abilities and magic items. It was very much like getting back the army books of 8th edition, which I for one really enjoyed.  I’m quite excited for what lies ahead for Battletomes and will be definitely picking up more.

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The models that have been released have been amazing sculpts. This began with the starter set, which was also picked up by a few local 40k players as well for true-scale space marine conversions and the great Khorne models.  Games Workshop has just continued to impress in this regard.

The one thing I would recommend though to any new player to this system is go with the starter set and start collecting boxes.  Games Workshop has priced their individual kits pretty high.  When you’re getting a 30-50% discount on a start collecting box or character set, it makes little sense to buy more than a unit box or two unless you really want that special weapon (and can’t source or convert it yourself).   Stormcast Eternals in particular are extremely easy to convert. You can get a lot of mileage out of starter set models with a few individual kits for options.

pointsThe General’s handbook for me seemed like we finally got GW’s vision of what Age of Sigmar can be as a game. With the narrative, open, and matched play options, it really feels that this game was intentionally designed to be inclusive of all gaming styles.

To the criticisms that say “why didn’t they just release this at the beginning?” I’m not exactly sure it would have worked.  They had to break the mold when it came to Warhammer Fantasy and rebuild it from the ground up.  It just wasn’t selling at all, and all reports have confirmed that.  It was just too difficult to get new players involved. Between the astronomical cost of starting a new army, and the overly cumbersome rule set, it was hard.  The recent financial report states that Age of Sigmar is outselling Warhammer Fantasy’s numbers from the last several years. I can certainly see why.

This has been quite a ride for the past year, that’s for certain. I’m glad I stuck with it thus far. I opened up my horizons on what Warhammer could be if I just let go of what I thought it SHOULD be. I think GW has a success on their hands, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.

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  • Great article, and welcome aboard.

    Fantasy needed the reboot. As you said, the alternative was the game vanishing entirely. It had to change drastically because, obviously, the format they had was simply not working. Of course people loved it, and those people were/are upset, but not enough loved it, as sales showed.

    I think people often mistake an easy to learn game for a simple game. Having a ruleset that isn’t a bible you need to carry around does not make it a bad game. Hell, Blood Bowl is (at least the last ruleset I read), only 17 pages, and it’s arguably one of the best games GW has ever put out.

    Easy to learn, but hard to master. It’s not a new philosophy, and I feel GW made the right move with AoS. The game is more inline with other current games of its size. GW needed an affordable, easy to get into game that’s fast to play. They nailed it.

    That Treeman looks great. I’ve always liked those models, but they just look like a nightmare to paint.

    • jack shrapnel

      Thanks a lot! When I started with Age of Sigmar I knew that I had to rebuild my wood elf force of old (because it was not exactly stellar being my first painting attempt ever!) and I’m a huge fan of the treelord models. Have the ancient, treelord and spirit of Durthu all painted up!

      • The autumn look is just awesome on these guys.

  • Very nice article!

    I were very skeptical towards AoS from the start. I’ve never been into WHFB very much (not really into fantasy as a genre much either). I did get a couple of half finished armies during 7th and 8th editions but didn’t play it that many times.

    That said, I was very positively surprised by AoS when I got around of trying it out. The only thing I didn’t really agree with was the lack of a point system and now with the General’s book that’s not a issue anymore.

    I definitely want to try it some more with the new book to see how it works now.

    • jack shrapnel

      The General’s Handbook is a fantastic resource, and really seems like the full vision of how the game was meant to be played, with open, narrative and matched play. (plus it being such an inexpensive purchase makes it far more accessible than previous rulebooks – that can’t hurt!)

      • I definitely need to read it and try it out. I’m also curious about the campaign system to see how it works.

      • I recommend the Handbook, even if you aren’t playing or plan to play AoS. It is one of the best publications from GW in a long while. Check it out!

  • Beasts of Nurgle

    Cool article, especially like the bit about playing with your family, although that doesn’t mean the rules are childish! Just accessible.

    AoS allowed me to build a large chaos army which I’ve just “completed” exactly a year since it was released! It’s extremely mixed, with all three classic chaos factions represented equally, plus 6 clanrats…

    I’d never really have been able to do this in 8th! As I’m mainly a modeller / painter rather than a gamer these days, I think AoS is particularly good in getting the juices flowing creatively!

    • jack shrapnel

      One of the great parts of having kids (and in my case even grandkids) is that you can pass down something you love to do and keep the hobby going.

  • I’m pretty sure that the “no points” thing was intended to be the way to roll until Rountree came in and made them start listening to customer feedback. That’s been one of Jervis’s big things for quite some time now, and I think he doesn’t understand how hard it can sometimes be to get a good experience like that when you don’t have 30 years of experience as a game designer.

    I’ve been kind of on the fence about it from the start. Mostly just because keeping up with 40K is pretty much stretching my hobby resources to the limit these days, and that’s always been my main game. It does look really cool, but I just tend to go all or nothing, and I’m not sure I can do “all” across two systems. We’ll see if 8th Ed 40K trims things down similarly and makes it easier. I am going to get some trial Games in; a couple of the other guys around here are interested now that the General’s Handbook is out.

    • Turkadactyl

      I put all my eggs in the 40K basket for years. I’m the same with the all or nothing. That’s why my 40K armies are bigger than they probably should be, well at least according to my wife ;). I didn’t want to learn two different rules and collect twice the amount of rules. Plus I didn’t like a lot of the mechanics of Fantasy.

      AoS was released and it didn’t affect me much. I didn’t play Fantasy and free rules was not enough to inspire me to start AoS.

      Then I saw the new Sylvaneth models and that’s when I threw in the towel. There was a limited edition box set still available so I bought it not knowing what the rules were like. I wanted to paint me some trees and add the new Beetlejuice model to the collection.

      The rules are super easy to learn. I am not bogged down with multiple books. There is hardly any time lost looking for rules. I realize now playing AoS that I am fatigued with all the books I have to bring and the rules I have to remember (which I can’t). I keep telling myself I will restrict my AoS collection to Sylvaneth. Time will only tell if I hold to that.

      Get the trial games in. It may be a pleasant surprise. It has been for me. It has been a refreshing change.

      • I figure I’m gonna give it a try with my Daemons, since they work just fine in AoS, and see where it goes from there.

        • jack shrapnel

          Daemons play very well in AOS. Skarbrand is just a beast. If you enjoy the greater daemons and other monsters of chaos, one of the dynamics that I think AOS just nails is how monsters work. Skarbrand being the exception (he powers up as he gets hurt and angry!) monsters begin to weaken in their abilities as they become damaged. They are very strong for certain, but once you start actually hurting them, they become less effective.

          • I’ve been reading about it and following the news for a while now. The way big monsters are affected by damage is one of my favorite things that I want to see ported into 40K. Hopefully gonna get a trial game in next weekend.

  • I like your take on AoS. I wrote about some of the problems with Fantasy when it was clear GW was about to drastically break it in the End Times. With AoS, they solved my two biggest issues (and why I spend more time in 40k): creating a reason why army A would ever even see army B in the old world, and being able to create your own army story, history, and style.
    While I liked the big block style of fantasy, the smaller skirmish is much easier to get into. It’s clearly working at growing the business and community and any old world fans can always still play 8th (or what ever).

    • jack shrapnel

      That’s very true, those who still enjoy the old world and that style of play still have all the material to keep going, and there are active 9th age and oldhammer communities out there.

  • Turkadactyl

    I wholeheartedly agree. AoS will always have its fair share of haters. I don’t think I will understand why. Playing previous editions of Fantasy was a chore. I have a friend who let me use his armies but I was never able to get into it. To each their own though. I just started my first army and I am really looking forward to finishing my Sylvaneth models.

    • jack shrapnel

      I agree for certain. Trying to get someone to try WHFB was so difficult, between the huge numbers of basic infantry required and the rules being so complicated. New players seem to be the ones reacting much more positively to the system.

  • iapedus

    Great article, nice to see some positivity about AOS for a change. In my neck of the woods there is a lot of sneering and sniggering whenever anyone mentions playing AOS (WHFB was surprisingly big in Hong Kong) which has been a major turn off. However, having read this I think I will give it a go and pick up the starter box.

    • jack shrapnel

      The starter box is just tremendous value for what you get in it, it’s a pretty small investment for two people to play the game and get a feel for the mechanics. The general’s handbook I’d rate as a must buy if you really want to get a flavour for the game and all the different ways to play.

  • Thanks for writing this article. I never really liked Fantasy, much due to the enormous costs associated with building an army. I wasn’t really into the rank and file thing either. So when they blew up the Old World and introduced AoS my interest grew. I started picking up random kits, just because I like the models. I never did that during Fantasy.

    Free rules, no points (great with kids, I agree), great support and brilliant models – yeah there is much to like. And with the release of the General’s Handbook they continue to impress. The introduction of points as one out of three ways to play is great. I got the AoS bug, no doubt. So here we go, I’m getting myself a Death army.

  • Gemma Moore

    Hello! Great article, but I am curious if you know what paints you used for your spirit :)

    • jack shrapnel

      thanks! for each of my tree spirits I did a separate, but related scheme. For this one I did a base of mournfang brown, followed by an earthshade wash, then drybrush mournfang again, followed by two successive lighter drybrushes (I believe it was gorthor brown then baneblade brown to finish). Eyes were warboss green and highlight moot green. mushrooms were ushabi bone with the earthshade wash again, same as the loincloth. for the leaves I first painted the individual leaves with various fall colours, two different yellows, oranges and reds alternating. Then I got a couple types of “fall foliage mix” from a local train hobby shop. Mixed it together, then put on watered down PVA glue and just mixed the foliage over it and onto the base. base also included rocks, twigs etc. from outside. And some crushed up herbs as the dry fallen leaves.

      • Gemma Moore

        Awesome! Thank you for the information :D it is a beautiful model although a pain to put together haha.

        • jack shrapnel

          yeah for certain – and I’ve had to reglue bits constantly (especially Durthu’s sword) even transporting in foam. So many fiddly little parts!

          • Gemma Moore

            Oooh that is nice to know. I’ll make sure to keep glue with me :D

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