So I’ll start with this; I’ve felt pessimistic about the future of Warhammer since the End Time began. The quality of rules writing was clearly worse than that of the middle and end of the 8th Edition army books in terms of game balance and for a primarily competitive gamer like myself that spelled trouble. Combine this with trend with all the rumours we had about Age of Sigmar (many of which were false, many which had hints of truth) and while I might not have ran around screaming the sky was falling, it’s certainly how I felt. Has the sky fallen? Absolutely, Warhammer 8th Edition is dead, while there is talk of creating nethammer, Warhammer 8,5 etc… I see these largely as pipe dreams. There will be no new players, the game has already been stagnant for 15 months and the NZ scene is currently ill anyways.
I am absolutely gutted about this. Since I took up WHFB in 2012 I have made so many friends, had great times and traveled to cool places to play a game I love. It was the right kind of competitive and social to take up massive amounts of my spare time and money and I have no regrets. I desperately would love for it to stay alive or to find a replacement. It’d be easy to rage at GW, but I’ll try not too.
So along comes Age of Sigmar, and despite not liking any of the rumours or the look of it I’ve always stated clearly I would judge it on its own merits as a wargame. This means two things to me.
- I do not hate it for coming from GW and being the alternative product that killed my beloved 8th Edition WHFB.
- I do not give it any credit for coming from GW or working with models I already own (they are a sunk cost)
As such last night my mate Caleb and I gave AoS a go. We decided that we would use our usual 2400 point armies (myself DE and him WoC) as we knew them to be two relatively equivalent forces and we intimately understood the tactical dynamics of that match-up. We also decided that measurements would be base to base as we didn’t relish the idea of trying to measure model to model and the rules are to vague upon from where things are to be measured.
So forces chosen we cracked on and set out terrain as per the rulebook/sheet/pamphlet and ended up with a single piece of generic terrain per 2′x2′ block and actually ended up having one of each type of terrain. So far that’s fine, but it’s disappointing that the generic terrain doesn’t greatly interact with the game in terms of movement (except trying to avoid it).I get that there are warscrolls but it’s a good example of how much simpler the game is. We then deployed our units similar to how we would in WHFB but quickly realised most of our reasoning was no longer valid. I had 1/3 more models than Caleb so he had a sudden death victory condition of killing my unit of 6 Shades. Of course he actually had more wounds on the table.
I have to make a note that the Warscrolls genuinely only give rules for models that they make. Therefore there are no rules for DE heroes on Pegasi or Dark Steeds and other similar issues. My Peg Riders had to be used as Dreadlords on Cold Ones with the Fly special rule which actually made them relatively slow.
I won the roll for first turn and off we went, I moved forward to max range for my shooting weapons and opened up causing some casualties. My magic was pretty ineffective this first turn as all my casters were too far away to cause any real damage. So I’d argue in AoS that the first turn alpha strike is not so meaningful. Then the WoC rushed straight at me and in their magic phase summoned a unit of Tzeentch Horrors who in turn summoned a second unit. Oh shit, these horrors used their shooting to target the bolt throwers. Now Bolt throwers are relatively hard to kill, so Caleb just shot the crew (who are basic elves but get -1 to hit against if they are within 1″ of the Bolt Thrower) thus rendering the Warmachine inneffective. He then charged nearly his entire army into me as I was only 16″ away and the Daemons had been summoned well forward.
And then we rolled dice… Well not really there is decision making to be done in terms of deciding who attacks first in the sequence. It is bizarre having no initiative. Anyways we fight it out and he actually doesn’t kill much and neither do I. Combat is not terribly brutal and due to him being largely single models and me having good bravery battle shock does little.
Now shit gets crazy. It’s my turn again and most of my units are locked in combat. I see no point in retreat so I throw the rest of my army into points where I think I can achieve annihlation. Then my entire army shoots in and out of combats like madmen, causing a great deal of damage. Then we fight combat again and I start getting the worst of it as a lot of my effort is going into killing Daemons who hadn’t even been around initially. Also my heroes hit like bricks but both our Heroes take wounds very quick due to low saves (4+). In contrast a Dark Rider has a 5+ save but can re-roll 1′s and 2′s. Also Dark Riders horses are better at attacking than the dark riders on top (in fact this seems to be a theme, horses are amazing in AoS). So at this stage I’m thinking I’m going to pull it off as I can shoot even when in combat.
Caleb continues to summon more Daemons (maybe another 20 and a Keeper of Secrets) and I end up being attrited much quicker than I can stem the tide with my left flank and center collapsing. At this point we call time and find that due to the Victory conditions I have still won (if you’re reading this Caleb we did it wrong, we measure how many models were killed as a percentage of starting force, so I did get credit for all the horrors). This is all well and good but it sure as hell is a Pyrrhic victory and what is interesting is that if we hadn’t called time there is no doubt Caleb would have gained a total victory. Even looking at the Sudden Victory most would have been hard to achieve at that stage. Furthermore the Sudden Death Victory conditions are problematic at best. If you start with 1/3 less models and summon more on is Sudden Victory still an option. If you have 1/3 less at some point in the game past rounds 4 or 6 could you autowin by choosing the endure or seize ground option? These were just a few of the many poorly written and difficult rules we encountered. The other is re-rolls occurring before modifiers are applied. Say you had -1 to hit but re-roll misses and hit on a 4+. Any 4′s you rolled wouldn’t be able to be re-rolled as they are technically hits before the modifier is applied. Genius.
Afterwards we talked through how we felt about the game and we were both pretty disappointing. Despite our best attempts it had turned into a dice slog fest in the middle of the table and it all felt pretty meaningless without a points system. Even the balance issues aside the game lacked flavour. Most of the game we were bored due to pure lack of options and decisions to make.
So the verdict? This is a sub-par game and if anyone but GW had brought it out and if it wasn’t ready made for models I own (though just how much effort was put in was doubtful) I wouldn’t give this game a second glance. My key gripe is the lack of meaningful choice. I can pick whatever I want to put on the table, but without trying to work within a set system my choices feel meaningless. I can no longer spend hours tweaking character builds and unit combinations because those options don’t exist and the game frankly doesn’t have that level of nuance. The lack of not just army composition rules, but points is a disaster. You can’t even determine how to create equal forces due to the vagaries of victory conditions. I read talk of using wounds as the new points (not all wounds are equal), of using warscrolls (not fixed variables and see issue with wounds) or limiting triplicates of warscrolls (so I can’t take 3 units of 5 spider riders?). I fail to see how it could work, in order to balance it you’d have to somehow derive a points system from first principles and then somehow correctly point for synergy across every possible combination. Screw that.
Moving on though. My favorite part of WHFB was the movement phase. This is where I felt I’d win my games, through manouvering my forces into the right spots. This no longer happens in AoS. Manage to sneak to the rear of something? It turns around and charges you. Hold up a key shooting unit in combat? It still shoots you. The game lacks any of the depth that WHFB had in terms of movement. There is limited ability to block movement using your 3″ bubble but it just causes a sprawling combat to ensue a turn later. The key decision in the game is what order to attack with units, colour me unimpressed.
All in all I fail to see any merit in this game. It most certainly is not appropriate for tournaments and I don’t fall into the camp that equates unbalanced and random with fun. Caleb and I were left with no real desire to try the game a second time. I’m gutted as it would have been great if the successor to WHFB had been a good game, but I genuinely believe it is not. That said I encourage everyone to at least have a go, the rules are free so all it costs you is your time. I for one will continue to play 8th even as it dies its slow and inevitable death while moving onto X-Wing as a competitive game and getting my hobby fix by painting random models and Space Wolves. Should I be wrong and AoS be a gem that I can’t see I’ll give it another go, but for now at least I’m out. Furthermore I will be putting all but my Dark Elves up for sale in the near future so watch this space.