So, maybe you’ve been interested in this Warhammer thing for a long time, or maybe with Age of Sigmar changing things up and gaining momentum you’ve decided to give it a try.
A lot of things have changed from the Warhammer we all new and (maybe) loved from the past, but a lot of things stayed the same.
Luckily one of the things that is notably different is the cost of entry into this game. Long gone are the requirements of having scores of rank and file troopers just to be able to play a basic game.
So, with the entry costs down and rules up for free – it’s a pretty good time to get started! But how?
Well first thing’s first for any aspiring General. You better figure out what side you’re on!
Age of Sigmar is organized into four grand alliances, which basically make up what “side” you’re on by and large. Order, Chaos, Destruction and Death.
Assuming you’re starting from scratch here, I’ll look at a brief overview of these grand alliances and subfactions, and give a few suggestions for cheaper entry into the game. Part one will start with the largest of the grand alliances:
Grand Alliance Order
Well these are the good guys for the most part and are the heroes of the story. This is also the largest collection of sub-armies in the game, so it has a very large variety of models to choose from.
More than anything else, you want to pick an army that you like the aesthetic of for painting purposes as well as the play-style. Order gives you a lot of choice for certain!
Within the subfactions you’re permitted within the rules to mix and match units however you’d like so long as you keep with the main grand alliance Order. If you choose to stick with one subfaction only, certain units become battleline (think troops in 40k).
Now, all the subfactions can get sort of weird to sort through, so I’m going to try to organize things by general types of armies and then put the subfactions underneath this to give a bit more detail.
The free form nature of Age of Sigmar means that you are free to mix and match any of these units into your force of Order. You gain some benefits sticking to one subfaction or another, basically in terms of what units count as battleline, however unlike the allies matrix of 40k you are free to mix and match whatever suits you.
Elves, humans, and dwarves can all hang out together with no real restrictions beyond the minimum number of battleline (troops) you need to bring for each respective point value.
Those basic normal people in the human population have been largely Chaos’ all you can eat buffet for the history leading up to the Age of Sigmar, but there are enough of them left to make an army at least!
With the humans you have a pretty basic statline, some magical support, knights and some pretty basic rank and file troops.
If you like the look of the old Empire and Bretonian style miniatures, and want to have a force where you can do a quasi-historical style of painting, these might be for you!
This is a pretty small subfaction, and you would include these units as part of a larger army rather than on their own, as it’s only battlemages (on griffon or on foot) and the wizard chariots: The Luminark and Hurricanum.
So basically human mages of some form that you can add to an army for a little magical boost. You are free for example, to add mages to your dwarves. Yes, that can be a thing.
Devoted of Sigmar
These include flagellants as your rank and file troopers, and the traditional war priest empire characters and the war altar.
Much like the Collegiate Arcane, this is not really a subfaction that would be effective on it’s own, but is more part of a larger combined arms force.
Here is the bulk of what was traditionally the Empire line of miniatures for classic Warhammer.
Basic foot troops such as archers, handgunners, crossbow men and freeguild guard are your main battleline troops. Elite greatswords are hard hitting foot troops, horse riding pistoliers and outriders are harassment flankers and Demigryph knights are your heavy cavalry.
The free peoples are lightly armored and somewhat fragile, however they make up for it in numbers.
All of the elven races in Warhammer are all together on team good-guy now (yes even the dark elves), and give you a distinct style for your army regardless of which you choose. You can certainly mix and match amongst all the elven races.
Note – Sylvaneth will be treated separately from the elves here as they are not really made up of actual elves!
For the Elves, you’re generally looking at fast, agile specialists who are pretty fragile. They combine powerful magic and deadly close combat and shooting.
Dark elves are not exactly what a lot of people think of when they think “good guys” but elves of all types are part of Order now.
The Darklings covens let you add a sorceress (on dragon or not) and the traditional rank and file troops of the dark elves. Executioners are particularly deadly in combat and a very good hammer unit. They add a close combat source of mortal wounds and are greatly feared.
Feel free to paint their banner with a “shoot me first” on it. If this unit hits combat, it has the potential of taking out some of the biggest threats your opponent may have.
Daughters of Khaine
Continuing with the dark elf models we have basically the female rank and file models through the witch elves / sisters of slaughter and the mounted doomfire warlocks.
The cauldron of blood kit is quite impressive and makes for a great centrepiece model. Unfortunately, Games Workshop has really priced this subfaction disproportionately high. Witch elves are $70 for 10 small infantry models. Sure it’s not genestealer cult price point at least, but it’s getting close!
These units are the epitome of a glass hammer, and really susceptible to shooting casualties.
This subfaction is again fairly small and would be very limited to build an entire army upon. Swordsmasters are your only unit choice (and are battleline only if you are solely Eldritch Council), and you have loremasters and archmages to choose from. The archmage can also be mounted on a dragon which is pretty high on the cool factor at least. Eldritch council is part of the big elf alliance and are traditional High Elf models.
The Spire of Dawn boxset (formally Island of Blood) is a very cost effective method of obtaining high elf models in general (and skaven as well!), and include swordsmasters and the archmage on foot. It’s also the only way to get the high elf on griffon model.
This subfaction is rather puzzling in that it is literally ONE unit – white lions.
For some odd reason the white lion chariot is currently in the phoenix temple section of the GW site, which I can only assume is an error.
Game wise, the white lions have a very similar role to swordsmasters as an elite close combat unit, with their special ability is a modicum of shooting protection to cross the board (reroll saves of 1 in the shooting phase).
Only slightly bigger than the lion rangers, we have the Order Draconis, however I would lean more towards expansion than removal of this small subfaction in that it includes one of the most iconic high elf models – the dragon rider.
Dragon blades are included as well for heavy cavalry support and have solid armor and rerolls to saves in both combat and shooting. Their lances wound better on a charge and they are a pretty cool kit.
The dragons are… well they’re dragons. They eat stuff in combat extremely well, and breathe fire to toast units with mortal wounds.
These are the reptilian units that were part of the dark elf force, and have a great sinister looking aesthetic.
Raptors, being ridden by elves or pulling a chariot, add some hard hitting flanking units. The war hydra is an extremely survivable monster, in that it heals each hero phase three wounds! You’ve also got access to the black dragon rider as well, which serves a similar role to the Order Draconis one, however in my humble opinion the sculpt is much better.
One of the most recent High Elf kits to be produced before End Times blew everything up was the phoenix, which comes in two varieties – the flame spyre and frost heart.
They’re both deadly monsters who are very fast. The hot variety burns enemies it flies over and the cold version debuffs units in a radius around it. Phoenix guard are essentially the most elite high elf infantry unit. They have a good armor save, and an additional feel no pain style extra save versus wounds and mortal wounds, while having the same hitting power as swordsmasters.
Phoenix guard are a very solid unit and definitely one to consider.
Do you like elves? Do you like pirates? Well do I have a subfaction for you. This is comprised of a chariot that is fairly lackluster, a light combat/shooting unit that are pretty terrible shots (perhaps the eye patches get in the way of accuracy) and the dual build of the hydra kit – the Kharibdyss (just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?).
Unfortunately, the big monster is just inferior to the hydra both in damage output and survivability. Plus the alternative sculpt is kind of odd for lack of a better word. This would be models you’d field more for the models themselves rather than their ruleset.
I find it hard to recommend any of these elves over their competition in the faction however, based on their rules.
Well here is another puzzling two unit subfaction (seriously Games Workshop how could I build an army of these?) with an assassin and dark riders.
Dark riders are great fast harassment units and the assassin is hidden in another unit, and jumps out to smack heroes around, even if it’s your opponent’s turn to choose a unit to attack!
Both are solid units and well worth considering.
This subfaction is made up of both a ground and a flying chariot which add some pretty fantastic mobility, especially the skycutter. Plus, it’s a flying bolt thrower pulled through the air by an eagle. That crazy concept alone merits consideration.
The shadow warriors are deadly archers, and become extremely accurate when shooting from cover.
Okay, this is the last of the elves, promise!
The wood elves from Warhammer have been split in two – with the new Sylvaneth being the “trees” and the wanderers being the “elf” part of the army.
The sisters of Avelorn and glade guard are the primary “shooty elf” (think Legolas – especially the characters). The eternal guard and wildwood rangers are the close combat elves for the subfaction.
This is more a model choice than any other, as they are still lightly armored combat units that generally pale in comparison to executioners or phoenix guard. Shooting, however, is the wanderers’ strong point.
The wild riders provide some medium combat cavalry, but they tend to bounce off of anything with armor. The sisters of the thorn are a unit that can use magic (one spell) and shooting on a very fast mount. They are the stronger choice game wise out of the dual kit with the wild riders.
Short, slow and grumpy, the dwarven subfactions are pretty much everything you’d expect from a fantasy dwarf army.
This faction’s downside is in mobility, which can make grabbing objectives difficult at times, so it’s a good idea to invest in some of the few mobile options available such as the gyrocopter.
These are your traditional armored dwarves and are made up of slow moving, well armored infantry with various ranged and close combat weapon options.
Of note is that the traditional dwarven artillery is grouped in it’s own subfaction, this is more the “boots on the ground” approach. These units make solid anchors for your battleline and can hold backfield objectives well. Just don’t expect them to be crossing the board to your opponent’s objectives very well.
If you’re familiar with the warhammer of old, these are your “slayer” style dwarves put into a faction of their own.
From a model standpoint, there are some pretty cool sculpts, however if you were going to build an entire army out of this subfaction you are truly limited by the number of kits you have to choose from. For units you have two – the hearthguard (two versions) and the vulkites.
The Vulkites get what is essentially a feel no pain roll after suffering a wound, which increases with greater numbers. The Hearthguard are your more elite units, but their durability is fairly low for that role.
The standout sculpt is the magmadroth – a big walking fire lizard with a crazy half-naked dwarf slayer on top.
I’m placing this under the “Dwarf” heading, however it’s truly a mix of both dwarf and human artillery pieces.
The gyrocopter / bomber kit is here, and is a crucial unit for objective grabbing in a dwarven army due to the lack of mobility of most of the units. Long range artillery is a mix of the dwarf cannon and organ gun, and the free people’s hellblaster and rocket battery.
In addition, the steam tank is one of the iconic empire units that would serve as a fine centrepiece to a mixed free people and dwarf army. It really bridges the two factions together well.
It’s rare to see a dwarven army without some form of artillery component to go with it, otherwise there is no actual reason for your opponent to advance to engage you!
The new golden boys on the block, these are most definitely not-space marines. Honest. Okay, they’re pretty much space marines.
They’re tough, with good armor and multiple wounds (even basic guys have two wounds each). They get a special ability which is totally NOT space marine deep strike. Honest. Okay fine, it’s basically no-scatter deep striking which gets around the fact that many of the stormcast do not have very good mobility with the exception of the Prosecutors (the flying angel guys) and Extremis Chamber (the little and big dragon riders.
If you like playing tough, well armored space marines foot knights, who also have zero magic presence, these guys might be for you!
If you know someone who’s into Khorne (you can spot them by their collection of skulls) the starter set is a good way to split sets and grow each other’s army pretty cheaply. The character pricing is a little high, but much like space marines – conversions are a pretty easy endeavor with this army.
Focusing on the lightning strike ability can alleviate some of the mobility issues with this army when it comes to crossing the board, grabbing objectives, and engaging in close combat – which most of these units rely on.
One of my pet peeves with how Games Workshop handled this initial release is that they put out a battletome (think army book) for the stormcast eternals. Then within a few months they released ANOTHER battletome which added a grand total of TWO sculpts to the army: The stardrake and the dracothian guard.
Sure it’s mostly fluff, and that’s great and all, but they could have certainly included stardrakes and dracothian guard into the regular stormcast battletome in my mind.
Thankfully, they also put up all the rules for free for all these models, so I guess these battletomes are optional purchases. There’s really no cheap way to add these models into your army unfortunately. The stardrake is an extremely pricey model, as are the Dracothian guard.
Realistically, I think the Extremis Chamber are models you add to an existing stormcast army rather than try and make one solely out of these units. However, they are powerful models to add to a force – especially the stardrake.
The Seraphon are a very distinct faction in the lore, models and gameplay and can be very strong. They also have the best money saving start collecting box, where you essentially get an entire unit of infantry AND cavalry for free!
The Seraphon are an all-in-one large faction with no subfactions available. There are some themes, however, in their army construction.
You have access to the most behemoths of any faction in the game with the Carnosaur (an impressive dual kit!) Troglodon, Stegadon, Bastiladon (two versions), and the Engine of the gods. The Bastiladon in particular is incredibly deadly versus chaos (2D6 shots doing 3 damage each vs. chaos daemons!) It’s survivability is the highest of any 8 wound behemoth in the game.
This is a strong competitive choice, especially if you commonly face chaos opponents.
The infantry dinosaurs range from the small shooty skinks, to the midsized combat infantry of saurus warriors and elite saurus guard. Large Kroxigors are your Ogre equivalent models (multiple wounds, hard hitting), and Salamanders and Razordons are solid shooting units able to deal multiple wounds with rending.
One area that this faction truly shines is with magic ability. The Slaan are the most powerful and versatile wizards in the game. They are also unlike the human or elf wizards, much more survivable with a higher wound count and good armor.
Finally, this army relies on synergy to be at it’s most effective. Various army buffs through spells and hero abilities mitigates some of those inevitable 1’s that pop up with dealing or surviving damage.
For a new player, Seraphon is a solid choice in that they offer impressive looking models. They are easy to paint (drybrushing is your friend) and look good on the tabletop, while having some solid rules to back them up.
Our final subfaction for Order is the newest kids on the block, the Sylvaneth.
Formerly part of the wood elf army for Warhammer, the trees now have an army to themselves, which is not only powerful rules wise, but has some great models as well.
Sylvaneth also marked an evolution of the battletome for Age of Sigmar. Before this book, battletomes were primarily lore with some battle plans and the warscrolls for the units and that was pretty much it. Sylvaneth saw the introduction of faction specific relics and command abilities, as well as an entirely distinct spell lore.
It also included not only formations, but formations within formations (think 40k Decurion) for additional benefits.
Sylvaneth also introduced a faction only ability where the units have the ability to move between specific terrain pieces – the sylvaneth wildwood – which is included as part of the army, with more that can be summoned through magic or items.
The rank and file of the Sylvaneth are dryads and revenants. They tend to do most of their work in numbers, count as your battleline, and generally are running for your objectives due to their greater mobility.
The mid-sized trees are your ogre-equivalent multi-wound models of either the close combat or shooting variety. In my opinion the shooting variety of Kurnoth hunters is the superior build, due to the lack of other long ranged options.
Behemoths are included as well with the Treelord, Treelord Ancient (a wizard) and the Spirit of Durthu. If you’re thinking Treebeard from Lord of the Rings, you’re pretty close. Giant trees that hit very hard, and are resilient to damage. Spirit of Durthu in particular is one of the scariest close combat monsters there is, especially near a Wyldwood.
I also need to mention the showcase model for the faction Alarielle the Everqueen. Showing that even elves don’t skip on leg day, this character combines survivability, close combat damage and potent casting ability in one model. The model itself is massive and a great centrepiece for any Sylvaneth army.
Well that went a little longer than I thought it would. There is truly a lot to cover in this faction, and I probably could have went on longer!
The big take away is you are spoilt for choices in Order and you can truly make your choices in army building around what you feel is the most rewarding theme and models to use.
The freedom that Age of Sigmar brings to the army building process, while still remaining well balanced, is one of the most exciting aspects of this game.
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Simple Guide to the Grand Alliance Order for Age of Sigmar
I've been pushing little plastic people around the tabletop since 2004 and have long since sacrificed my disposable income to the Games Workshop Gods. I readily admit that I am completely addicted to 40k and Age of Sigmar (and WHFB before that).
I currently collect Stormcast Eternals, Sylvaneth, Ogors, Tyranids, Chaos Daemons, Khorne Daemonkin, Salamanders, Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Necrons, Space Wolves and Eldar. (I have a bit of a problem!)
I'm a converter of anything that strikes my ADD addled mind therefore my Eldar are Star Wars, my Salamanders Squats, my Space Wolves Angry Marines and my Ultramarines are quite understandably Smurfs.
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