Hello, TechRaptor readers. Today we’re going to jam our heads in the Internet wasp nest that is tabletop wargaming and talk about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. If you’re allergic to horrific wasp stings or nerd rage in comments sections, I’d highly advise you to turn away now. It may get … messy.
For those of you who aren’t terribly familiar with the Warhammer franchise, I’ll offer a quick overview. The term “Warhammer” refers to the franchises of tabletop wargames created by Games Workshop during the lost ages of antiquity often referred to as “the 1980s.” The version I’ll be concerning myself with today is the lesser-known and less popular of the two, Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
Hush, you! I know what you’re going to say. I’m getting there.
Warhammer Fantasy Battles is a 28mm tabletop wargame featuring large armies comprised of humans, elves, dwarves, and many other staples of the fantasy genre battling ultimately for control of the world. Throughout the rich story that has been developed throughout the years with the various editions, campaigns, and novels from Black Library, are tales of treachery and heroism, cowardice and nobility, greed and selflessness. This is all set against the backdrop of a nigh-inevitable descent into terror, madness, and ultimately oblivion at the hands of the Dark Gods of Chaos. The game made its first appearance in 1983 and has been played and adored by fans the world over for decades. A dedicated global community sprung up amongst its fans over the years, and many people have made the pilgrimage across states, countries, and oceans to pit their legions against other players in tournaments around the globe.
About one month ago, however, the game was officially dropped and replaced by Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
Why did this happen? If the game was so loved by its fans, why was it scrapped? What madness has befallen Games Workshop to take so drastic a measure? This isn’t an easy question to answer, as in my opinion, there are a myriad of issues that contributed to the ultimate downfall of the game as a whole. I may delve into this topic at a later date, but for now, let’s talk about the new kid on the block.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, like its predecessor, is a 28mm tabletop wargame featuring fantastical armies of various types squaring off against each other and the forces of the Dark Gods of Chaos for control of the Moral Realms. There are several key differences that separate it from its predecessor that both make the game better and worse.
Before getting into the details of the new game system, let’s take a minute to talk about what you’re actually getting with the new starter set. The starter set comes with:
-A four page ruleset
-Twelve d6 dice
-Two range rulers (I have yet to use these in any game)
-Transfer sheets for the Stormcast Eternals models
-A 96-page book detailing the lore and background of the Mortal Realms and the Age of Sigmar
And last but definitely not least, 47 models featuring the new Stormcast Eternals and Khornate Bloodbound.
The models themselves are outstanding, even for Games Workshop. The Stormcast Eternal models, commonly referred to as “Sigmarines” due to their resemblance to 40K’s Space Marines, are exquisitely detailed and give off a very angelic and paladin-esque vibe. The Prosecutors in particular remind me a great deal of the Archangel Tyrael from Diablo 3. The models are also unique in that they fall somewhere in between the push-fit, no glue required versions from previous starter sets like 40K’s “Assault on Black Reach” and the standard models available. They have many more characters available to them than most starter set models but lack the customizability of the regular model range. This issue will affect new players less than veterans looking for bits to loot and add to their existing models, but it still exists. My only main complaint with the Stormcast Eternals is the fact that every model thus far is wearing a helmet. While this may seem like an odd complaint, it does have two big effects.
First off, it takes away a degree of connection the player has with his force. With everyone wearing elaborate helms, the army overall feels a touch more impersonal than most. It’s common for wargamers to mentally put themselves in the shoes of their commander and evoke a sense of being on the battlefield yourself. This degree of disconnect between the player and their force as a whole tends to dampen this feeling to a degree. It’s a silly thing, yes, but it’s still true nonetheless.
Secondly, the other issue is that it can be a bit difficult to find your unit’s sergeant on the battlefield, as there’s usually a small difference between him and the regular troops in his unit. It’s quite common to make your units’ sergeants stand out a bit more to keep track of where he actually is amidst a swirling melee of steel and bone.
The Khornate models are also top-notch, including one particular Blood Warrior with far and away the most epic beard in GW’s entire product line.
The models themselves have a very unique look that not only fits the motif for the Lord of Skulls perfectly, but also hearkens back to the previous game’s Warriors of Chaos in multiple ways. The Bloodreavers look a great deal like the beloved Chaos Marauders of old, while the Blood Warriors look like they could work equally well as either Chaos Warriors from Warhammer Fantasy or Khorne Berserkers in 40K with a bit of extra modeling work. My only issues with these models is the Bloodsecrator’s utterly ridiculous name reminding everyone of a serious lack of a thesaurus currently being suffered by the GW design team, and with the hulking monster called the Khorgorath. The model has a somewhat … off-balance look due to the ridiculous-looking head of the beast that consists of a normal-sized human skull nestled inside what appears to be the mouth of some oddly-limbed insect.
The models themselves, while gorgeous, also can prove to be a bit of a hindrance for new players who feel their painting skills may not be up to the task. I felt this same trepidation myself when taking a close look at them for the first time. Fortunately, YouTube is not far away. You’ll be able to find painting guides, tips, and tutorials for almost every model imaginable in almost every style imaginable. GW also does excellent painting videos on their YouTube channel, with veteran Duncan Rhodes offering helpful advice for newbies and old hands alike, which makes the task of painting your new minis to seem much less intimidating.
The fluff book contains the background on the new setting, complete with running the words “Sigmar” and “blood” into the ground. The story starts off from the ending of the previous world. It details Sigmar’s journey through the void, clutching to the last remnant of the World That Was made of sigmarite, the discovery of the Mortal Realms, the building of the city of Sigmaron, the invasion by the forces of Chaos, and the start of the Age of Sigmar. The largest part of the backstory covers the formation of the Stormcast Eternals, and the start of a new war against Chaos, a war to free the Mortal Realms and the people suffering under the yoke of the Dark Gods.
The setting is a radical departure from modern fantasy settings, which adhere to a more grounded and realistic feel than Age of Sigmar. The Mortal Realms look and feel like a conglomeration of every power metal album from the 1970s smashed together with healthy bits of heroic high fantasy tossed in. My biggest concern with the new setting is the obvious name changes many races went through in an effort to protect GW's precious copyrights and stymie the efforts of third party model studios. Zombies are now deadwalkers, dwarves go by the new name of duardin, and the generic humans of the Empire and Bretonnia are now the Free Peoples. The absolute worst change, however, was going from Elves to Aelves. The name smacks of utter laziness and makes me think that three entire armies have now become different flavors of denizens of Melmac.
If you're too young to understand that reference, please go ask your parents. I'll be sitting in the corner trying to avoid feeling old.
The fluff book also contains several scenarios designed to introduce new players to the new game system by introducing units one or two at a time detailing the Sigmarines’ first assault against the forces of Khorne in Aqshy, the Realm of Fire. The final scenario depicts the final grand battle between the two forces, bringing in all the models offered in the starter set to give players their first full game and send them off into their new hobby. Please restrain the urge to quickly send a thesaurus to Games Workshop, I’ve already got it taken care of. With any luck, it will get some use in future books.
As far as the game itself goes, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar has several big advantages over Warhammer Fantasy. First off, the rules are much simpler and easier to grasp for new players. The rules section for WHFB was easily 200+ pages with detailed rules for everything from moving across the battlefield to how attacks were carried out to the mind-boggling myriad of special rules for each individual army and unit. It came in a hefty tome costing around $70 USD that also included hundreds of pages of everything from the lore of the world and its inhabitants to basic guides on building and painting models to special scenarios to play out if the normal scenarios grew too stale. The army books for the various armies ran about $50 and included everything you needed to know about that specific force. The army books wouldn’t be updated on any set schedule, with certain armies getting updates while others languished in an odd limbo of hefty FAQs and outdated models.
Age of Sigmar, however, scraps this system entirely. The rules section for Age of Sigmar is a total of four pages and is free to download from Games Workshop’s website, as are all the rules for every single unit in the game both old and new. Models for the new system can now be released at any time without waiting for an army book as well. We’ve seen how this works with the releases for the new army of Stormcast Eternals, with the rules for these new units available to download either from GW’s site, the Age of Sigmar app available on many phones and tablets, and in print via White Dwarf. For a new player, this makes the system much more available to pick up, and new players are the lifeblood of gaming systems.
Setting up a game is also much easier with AoS than in WHFB, by far. Gone are the days of building lists that fit into specific categories and trying to shoehorn in that one extra magic item into your lord’s point budget without sacrificing too much from the rest of your army. The new rule is “bring what you want to bring, play with what you want to play with.” Many large and impressive models that rarely saw much use on the tabletop due to points cost are once again viable in any game. Detractors claim this system is easily abused by power-gamers looking to get a win by any means necessary. And while this is true on the surface, external factors play a strong part in mitigating these occurrences, the most obvious being that almost nobody will be willing to play against this person in the future. This has proven to be an effective deterrent at my local gaming store, at least, and I’m sure many others will agree.
With a four page ruleset, the gameplay is obviously much simpler. Rather than comparing dice rolls to various charts to determine what attacks hit, did any damage, and so on, the dice rolls are compared to flat values that may or may not have small modifiers depending on the unit’s rules. For example, my unit of Stormcast Eternal Liberators attack a group of Khornate Blood Warriors. The Liberators hit on a roll of 4+, and cause wounds on a roll of 3+. The Bloodreavers can try to reduce the number of wounds caused, and models removed from the table, by rolling an armor save of 6+.
That’s it. No charts to determine which attacks hit based on weapons skill, no charts to determine which attacks wounded based on strength and toughness. There are a small number of additional rules that can affect a fight like this, but not many. Due to this simplified ruleset, games are much quicker and much more fluid than before.
My second game of Age of Sigmar was much more back-and-forth than any game of Warhammer Fantasy I’ve played to date. The game finally came down to just two models, both with a single would left, and a single armor roll. While some people will decry this as an indication of too much randomness involved in what is ostensibly a strategy game may be right to a degree, but it also makes wargames like this so much fun for everyone involved. By the end of eighth edition Warhammer Fantasy, the victor of a large number of games could be determined during the movement phase, if not during the army list creation. With this lightweight system, the outcome of the game is less predictable.
I don’t want to delve too much into the differences between Age of Sigmar and Warhammer Fantasy in this review, as it’s supposed to focus on the starter set itself rather than the game as a whole; I’ll leave that for a different article in the near future. What I will say, though, is that the Age of Sigmar starter set is a high-quality product that does an excellent job of introducing new people to the game and gives people a great starting point to building a new collection. Technically, everyone is new to Age of Sigmar, but that’s just pedantic nit-picking.
As far as the game itself goes, it’s a serviceable wargame in itself. The rules are simplistic, yes, but they are functional. And Games Workshop has stated that future campaign books will contain a large number of scenarios with specific rules to build on the framework laid out here in the starter set. Until more of these books are released—two of which have been released as of the writing of this particular article—a large number of people will stick with the barebones system in the box and available for free online. There is a great deal of debate going on in the tournament scene regarding the game and how to adapt the ruleset, but nothing has been set in stone yet.
The biggest issue I’ve had so far, and that a lot of people seem to have, is that it doesn’t feel like the Warhammer we’re used to. Age of Sigmar has more in common in play style with 40K than it does with Warhammer Fantasy, which has proven to be a point of contention in the community as a whole. Most of Warhammer Fantasy’s fans liked the game specifically because it didn’t feel and play like 40K. In their eyes, the game had a much more strategic feel to it due to the additional restrictions and rules in place, unlike the seemingly haphazard style of 40K. Movement is a critical phase in WHFB, as you’re controlling rank-and-flank regiments in precise movements to avoid terrain and set up for the all-important charge against your opponent’s juicy flanks. It took me quite some time to get out of the Warhammer Fantasy mindset and get into the Age of Sigmar mindset. Once it happened, however, everything clicked and I ended up having a great time with it. It’s not Warhammer Fantasy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fun nonetheless.
If you’re new to tabletop games and are looking for a strategy wargame with some excellent models and an easy to learn rule set that allows for casual games, this is an excellent, if expensive, option. Age of Sigmar is a great gateway drug into the hobby as a whole and can also serve as a lightweight alternative to some of the more complex games currently on the market. If you’re a veteran wargamer looking for a deep, intense game to fully test your generalship, this isn’t going to scratch that itch.
-Easy to pick up rules
-Free rules for game and models
-Scales fairly well (I haven’t had a chance to play a large game yet, but I don’t see many issues with larger games thus far)
-Cost ($125 USD for starter set, does not include glue, tools, paints, etc.)
-Rule set feels a bit light in areas and leaves room for abuse from power-gamers
-Lacks a lot of tactical and strategic depth of modern tabletop wargames
The copy of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar used for review was purchased by the Author. All images come from Games Workshop.