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.
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!
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
The 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.