Hello, TechRaptor readers. Now that the initial furor around the release of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar has finally settled, I’d like to take deeper look at the game to see how it’s been fleshed out over the past few months to see what Games Workshop did right, what they did wrong, and what I’d like to see in the coming year. If you need a brief primer on the game, go take a look at my review here.
The best way to summarize the initial launch of the game is the simple phrase “What did you do!?”
The first hints of the drastic path Games Workshop was going down came in August of 2014, with the release of Warhammer: Nagash, the first book of the End Times series that would ultimately culminate in the complete and utter destruction of the Old World at the hands of Mannfred von Carstein’s sabotage in Warhammer: Archaon released in March of 2015. Warhammer Fantasy fans were in a state of limbo for the next four months wondering if their collections that had taken years, if not decades, to build and paint would be utterly worthless. Games Workshop was, as usual, utterly silent on the matter.
On July 4th, 2015, the initial pre-orders for the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar starter set were announced, and everyone was introduced to the worlds of the Mortal Realms and the titanic battles held therein. The announcement came with a free copy of the base rule set and rules for existing armies to allow players a chance to try out the replacement for Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
The player response was … less than enthused, to say the least. And here is where we come across Games Workshop’s first big mistake. No, Age of Sigmar was not their first.
The free rule set contained the bare essentials to play the game, including maps and terrain setup. It did not, however, include a single battleplan. Most players went over the new rules and tried them out with a traditional battle line mission: each player sets up their armies on opposite ends of the table, runs towards each other, and whoever is still standing at the end wins. And to be completely frank, the game simply doesn’t function properly when played this way. The entire game quickly dissolves into a muddled pile of models bashing away at each other in the middle of the table with little coherency or structure to it.
Players were understandably frustrated with the game, quickly and vehemently letting their frustrations and disgust loose upon the Internet at large. Forums were inundated with thread after thread and post after post decrying Games Workshop for “dumbing down” their game and leaving veterans in the proverbial dust. One former Warhammer fan even went so far as to record a 20 minute screed of a YouTube video filled with so much teenage angst I could feel my fingernails getting a coat of black nail polish while Linkin Park played in the background, culminating with the guy arranging a sizeable Dark Elf army neatly in his back yard and setting it all on fire. It’s all kinds of cringey to watch, but it’s a surefire way to get you into the right headspace to fully enjoy something like Hatred. The fire starts at about 8:40.
Had Games Workshop included a handful of battleplans (or even one, for that matter) that highlighted the more narrative-driven aspects of the game, this response would’ve been severely lessened. As it stands now, however, that bad first impression left a bitter taste in people’s mouths and drove them into the arms of their competitors. The biggest recipient of disaffected Warhammer Fantasy fans migrated over to Kings of War, who happily embraced their new customers and quickly went to work adding rules to allow them to use their existing armies in Kings of War games. I’ll be touching on this in an upcoming review in the near future.
A week after the release of the starter set, we got the first of the Realmgate Wars, further expanding on the worlds of the Mortal Realms and giving us more scenarios to enjoy. The battleplans, in my opinion, are what really make the game. While each one is written to follow the narratives from their respective books, the rules specifically state they can be used with any army, offering a great deal more in mission variety than Warhammer Fantasy ever did. It also helps explain away some of the more strange match-ups you’d see in your FLGS. It was unheard of to see an army of Wood Elves fight off a Tomb Kings force in an arctic wasteland in the lore, for example, but not in the FLGS. In the world of Age of Sigmar, however, it could happen quite easily. It goes a long way in handling incidents of ludonarrative dissonance and brings the player more into the story that’s unfolding on the tabletop.
Future releases also continued the saga of the Mortal Realms in a way completely unheard of for Games Workshop. And by “unheard of,” I mean “at all.” Yes, Warhammer 40K, I’m looking at you and your “2 minutes to midnight” timeframe you’ve been stuck in for the last 25+ years. Each campaign book added in new armies, new units, and moved the story along. It also showed some problems with the way warscrolls were handled.
For starters, every single unit that was mentioned either in the storyline or the scenarios has a warscroll entry. Makes sense, right? At first it does, but not when you consider the fact that many of these same warscrolls were already added in previous books. This just leads to wasted space in the already pricey books, but also added in the additional complication of having some warscrolls updated with new weapons and stats as well typically following the release of models bundled with the starter set, creating the potential for confusion for gamers in the store and tournament organizers trying to decide which warscroll from which book to use. The updated warscrolls are available from the Games Workshop site for final clarification, but it does increase the amount of bookkeeping players have to do both on and off the battlefield. Having to jump between book and tablet/phone/Internet connected device to find out the rules for either your or your opponent's unit slows the game down.
Another area where Games Workshop stumbled in regards to Age of Sigmar is the world (worlds? dimensions? multiverse?) of the Moral Realms and precisely how they’re laid out. Are the Mortal Realms individual planets in the same star system? Are they physical manifestations of the winds of magic? What exactly are they? And where are they? A simple map showing the overall layout seems like a no-brainer, but it’s conspicuously absent thus far. While it can be easily explained away with the “writers don’t want to lock themselves down so early with so much creative freedom” bolthole, even a basic map showing where the major landmarks are would be a long way to bringing more people into the game universe and getting them invested in the storyline.
As to what we can expect in the future, it’s hard to say without venturing into the chaotic wilderness that is the Games Workshop rumor mill. It’s all too common for people to either purposely invent tales of future releases and accompanying rules simply to troll people, or for a wish list of what a player would like to see be taken as near gospel by opportunistic clickbait bloggers eager for more traffic and ad revenue. That’s the main reason why I don’t post any rumors here on TechRaptor; the signal to noise ratio is atrocious.
My guess is that Games Workshop will continue to build upon smaller groups within each race and build them up to give players even more choice in just how they want their army to look and feel. We saw this with the releases of both the Sylvaneth and the Fyreslayers, and I don’t see any reason for this trend to stop. I just hope Games Workshop gets around to the Death faction soon and gives me more cool undead models like, say, a unit of all-Vampire infantry. Get on it!
Overall, however, I think the changeover from Warhammer Fantasy to Age of Sigmar has been for the better. The game is quick and easy to play, quick and easy to teach people, and requires a much smaller investment of time and money to get into and enjoy. As the current generation gets older and life begins intruding more and more into gaming and painting time (I absolutely and unequivocally refuse to use the word “hobby” as a verb like too many people in the Warhammer scene are wont to do) this becomes a serious factor. There have been some stumbling blocks, to be sure, but I’m excited to see what the next year brings.