Sunday, 19 July 2015

First game of Age of Sigmar - a few thoughts

I actually tried out Age of Sigmar for the first time yesterday, digging out my dwarfs and Chaos Warriors.

The Dwarfs brought

1 Dwarf Lord
1 Rune Lord
10 Hammerers
10 Warriors
10 Miners
10 Thunderers
10 Quarrelers
1 cannon

While Chaos had
1 Chaos Lord
1 Chaos Sorcerer
10 Chaos Warriors
2 units of 10 Marauders
5 Chaos Knights
5 Marauder Horsemen
1 Giant


I had no idea if these would prove to be balanced, but they seemed roughly right at the time. Having played the game, here are some observations.

1. It plays very quickly, The whole game was done and dusted in 2 hours, not including setting everything out and packing it up again. A similar sized game of Warhammer 8th edition would probably have taken a good hour longer, and that's with me knowing the rules backwards. I had never played Age of Sigmar and had the rules down in minutes with only a bit of checking backwards and forwards.

 Chaos take heavy casualties from Dwarven missile fire

2. It is in some way like Epic 2nd edition, in that the basic rules are very simple, but just about every unit has its own special rules. In practice, a lot of these rules are fairly generic. The rules for musicians and banners tend to be shared across whole armies. These could have been summarised at the start of each army list, but the plan appears to be to make sure that all rules are included on the units war scroll. Like Epic, I could see the game getting increasingly unwieldy the bigger it gets. The rules say a game with 100 models a side should last "an evening" which is a pretty open-ended statement.

 The miners tunnel there way onto the battlefield to assist the Thunderers who are still holding their own against the Chaos Knights

3. You can't use previous editions of Warhammer to judge how units will behave in AOS. There isn't nearly as stark a difference in the combat performance of different units. Take the Chaos Warriors and Hammerers, for example. Both have the same saving through, but the Warriors have two wounds each. Both have two attacks each and hit on 3s, though the Hammerers wound on 3+ while the Chaos Warriors wound on 4+. The big difference is that the Hammerers have a rend value (saving through modifier) of -1, while the Warriors don't. In fact, the whole Chaos armies is short of rend values, which means they don't hit very hard against dwarfs who are quite well armoured.

 Having dispatched the Dwarf Lord, the badly-wounded Giant lurches towards the Dwarf lines

4. Individual heroes can be very vulnerable against units and large monsters. Because they can't join units any more, I made the mistake of treating them like units in their own right in the same way as Kings of War. If you do that, they can be swamped by larger units, especially as units can now hit and wound a Chaos Lord exactly as easily as a Goblin. The only thing that makes characters tougher is that they have more wounds, which makes them behave like an elite unit of 5 or 6 models.

 Having defeated one unit of Marauders, the Dwarf left flank finishes off the Marauder Horsemen

5. On the other hand, monsters can be lethal. The Giant was comfortably the second most dangerous unit in the game, because of the sheer number attacks he could bring to bear. He swatted the dwarf lord aside in one combat round. If he hadn't been killed by the cannon (the most dangerous unit because of the amount of damage it did), he could have rampaged through the dwarf lines.

 The Miners and the Rune Lord bring down the giant (taking some damage when it fell on them) and turn their attention to the Chaos Lord, who has summoned Marauder reinforcements.

6. Combats can become bogged down. The crucial fight between the Hammerers and the Warriors lasted for most of the game. Morale is no longer a decisive factor in combat. In now works by rolling a single D6, and adding the number of models killed this turn. If this beats the units bravery, they lose a number of models equal to the difference. This means the morale is only likely to wipe out a unit if they have already suffered significant damage. Combats last longer, but it also means that a good unit is unlikely to be wiped out by an unlucky roll.

 Despite serious wounds, the Rune Lord defeats the Chaos Lord (who also suffered damage from cannon-fire)

7. The order in which combat is fought can be crucial. There are no initiative values in AOS and no priority given to charging units. Instead, the player whose turn it is selects a unit to fight, and the other player selects one. There is no need, and usually no advantage, to choosing a unit in the same combat. This meant that the Chaos Giant was able to kill the Dwarf Lord before he had a chance to fight, but this meant giving the Hammerers the first strike against the Chaos Warriors.

With the Chaos Warriors defeated, the Hammerers turn their attention to the last unit of Marauders

8. Ranged units are a little odd. There is nothing to stop them shooting when they are in close combat and, technically, they can shoot a unit they are not in combat with, though this is difficult as enemy models block line of sight. What this means is that ranged units are not as vulnerable in close combat as they used to be. In fact, thanks to some lucky or unlucky rolling (depending on your point of view), the Thunderers were able to beat the Chaos Knights, although it took them most of the game and only one Thunderer survived.

9. There are a lot of aspects of the rules that feel quite "gamey". Which is to say, they don't seem to represent anything in the real world. Hit and wound rolls being the same, regardless of the opponents abilities, that you can shoot in and out of close combat without penalty and that the order in which combats are fought is crucial. It's hard to translate any of these into any "real world" situation.

Overall, the rules are quick and easy, albeit with a few uncertain rules that could be clarified. In theory, it would be good for quick pick up games without too much planning, but the lack of points values complicates this, because you end up having to do more work to set up a balanced game.

The rules seem to have been written with novice players in mind, keeping the basics as simple as possible and adding additional rules only as you introduce new units. On the other hand, a refusal to introduce proper points values works against this. If the idea is to produce an uncompetitive game, I don't think refusing to provide guidance for army building will do it.

Although I will probably try the rules again, if only to see how well it plays with different models, but although I like the simplicity and speed of the rules, I don't like having to spend time working out balanced games.


  1. I came up with a wonderful solution for the lack of points. One player picks the army lists and then the other picks the army they want to play; this forces balance because you don't know which army you're going to get.

    It won't work, because of many, many reasons, but it seemed like a neat solution at the time.

  2. My issue is less with whether players try to bring balanced armies and more about knowing if they are or not in the first place. It's easy enough to tell that a Bloodthirster is a lot better than a goblin, but is an Orc better than a human? Having played the game, I'm still not sure if the two sides were roughly fair, which makes it more difficult to sort out future games.

    Given that the major selling point of the rules is how simple they are to play it seems odd to make army selection so much harder.

  3. From what I can tell the game is supposed to be scenario-based, so you pick a scenario and it comes with its own army lists; a simple battle isn't supported as such.

    That said, there aren't many -- if any -- of those scenarios available, and that seems to be a bit of an oversight if that's the way the game is supposed to work.

  4. From what I have seen of the scenarios (from what a GW employee was willing to show me from the book, plus the preview pages online), they don't actually give you much guidance regarding the size of forces. Plus, without any points values, there isn't any real guidance they can give beyond specifying a number of models or units. Which isn't much use when some models are much more powerful than others.