Review: Warhammer - Age of Sigmar


Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is the spiritual successor to the old Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and came out back in 2015. If you were unaware, the latter has been discontinued now; the days of pushing massive regiment blocks of cavalry around the table and engineering flanking manoeuvres and all that good stuff are well and truly over in the Games Workshop world after a solid 20 years on the go. Essentially, it didn't make enough money. Warhammer accounted for about 10-15% of sales compared to Warhammer 40,000, and only 1-2% of those people actually played the game, yet it still made up 50% of most of the shelf space in stores and development. It was immensely difficult for new players to get started with, thanks to a 300-odd page rulebook. As such, Gee-Dubz decided to shitcan it and release something entirely new that was more appealing to all. This sparked huge outrage amongst many that their complicated game had been annihilated, but the new version is much better so it's all good. I'll explain why.

Interesting. What is it?

Age of Sigmar (henceforth known as AoS) is a fantasy tabletop wargame, similar to but still distinctly different to Warhammer 40,000. It has a rulebook that is 4 pages long, and it is very, very simple to play. It is easier than Warhammer 40,000, yet just as enjoyable in its own right. Even better, all the rules for all the models are available for free, in a form known as warscrolls - these contain all the information about a unit or model for you to use it in a game. You can get them through the Age of Sigmar App, through the various army books, or from the Internet. Simply look at a unit/model you like on the GW website, click on the rules tab and download them. Easy.


An example Warscroll.
The old complicated system of Weapon Skill, Ballistic, Strength, Toughness and all the rest are now gone. Instead, you have your Move characteristic, the amount of Wounds a model has (i.e. how much 'health'), an Armour Save roll, a Bravery rating, and then a list of its weapons with fixed To Hit and To Wound ratings. It's very simple. Again, all of these are available online for free.

Great. How do you play the game?

You start by choosing your army, building it and painting it. You then find an opponent, and decide what type of game you're going to play. Games Workshop release yearly a book called the General's Handbook, which contains an absolute wealth of information on different ways to play, these being Open Play, Narrative Play and Matched Play. The annual game update is a great addition. Open is just chuck stuff on the table and go for it. Narrative is re-creating story driven battles. Matched Play is designed for competitive, more balanced play, and used points. The points system for AoS is greatly simplified compared to Warhammer 40,000, you just pay a fixed amount for a fixed amount of models, regardless of what weapons you give them. 10 Black Orcs, for example, is 180pts. Once you've chosen what, how and why you want to play a game, you can get stuck in and deploy your forces. You roll a dice to see who deploys a unit first. You then alternate deploying a unit at a time, until you both finish. Whoever finished deploying first gets to choose who goes first.

The game itself is divided into five phases. First, is the Hero phase. Any 'special' ability a unit has can be used in this phase, such as casting spells, or using a command ability. Each model able to cast spells has access to specified spells, which have a cast value. You roll two dice, if you equal or beat the value, you cast the spell and immediately resolve or apply its effects. Command abilities can be used if the model using it is your general. All the abilities, what they do and how to use them will always be printed on the Warscroll, so you never need to look it up somewhere else.

Once you've done all that business, you move on to the Movement phase. Here, you can move all your stuff up to its specified move value. You can choose to run, which adds D6" movement but means you can't shoot or charge later in that turn. You can move up things, down things largely as you please, unless you and your opponent specify something is impassable. You cannot move through another unit, nor enemy units, unless there is sufficient space to fit your models through. You cannot end your movement within 3" of the enemy, as that counts as you being in combat. If you're already in combat, you can move out of it, but it counts as a retreat and you can't shoot or charge later that turn.

Once you've moved around a bit, it's time to lob arrows and other projectiles at each other in the Shooting phase. Any unit that has a missile weapon can shoot, unless it retreated or ran in the previous movement. Any unit can shoot at any enemy unit, even if you're in melee range of the enemy already. You can still shoot. You can shoot at a unit other than the one you're fighting, you can shoot a unit that is already engaging your own troops, you have pretty much free reign. You need to be able to see the unit you want to shoot, however. Units that are entirely on a terrain piece count as being in cover and get +1 to their save (a 3+ becomes a 2+, etc).

Now stuff has died to arrows/rocks/trebuchets/cannons/muskets, it's time to charge in and beat stuff up in the Fight phase. This starts with you declaring charges. You don't have to declare a target, you roll two dice for an eligible unit, and the result is how far that unit can charge. If your intended target isn't in range but another one is, you can charge that instead. It's not fixed, like in 40k. Once you've declared all charges and moved all units their charge distance, you pick a unit to start fighting with. Once you've picked a unit, the models in that unit can all make a 3" 'pile-in' move to get them closer to enemy models to attack. You resolve your attacks, and then your opponent gets to pick a unit to attack with. Pile-in, attack, and then you get to choose. This alternating factor makes it very difficult to choose which unit you begin your attacks with, as your opponent will respond somewhere else on the battlefield by smashing up a unit you just charged with. To fight, you add up all the dice for all the attacks you have, roll to hit, roll to wound, and then your opponent makes an armour save. The attacking weapon's rend characteristic affects this save. A 3+ save getting hit by a -1 rend will instead be saving on a 4+, -2 on a 5+, etc. If you fail your save, you take the specified number of wounds that weapon causes. Remove the dead and put them to one side, same for your opponent.

Once everyone has had a punch-up, you enter the Battleshock phase. Any unit that has taken casualties throughout your turn is subject to a Battleshock test. To take the test, you roll a D6, and add the number of casualties that unit suffered. For every number over that unit's Bravery value, you lose 1 model, regardless of how many wounds it has. For example, a unit of 20 Chaos Marauders loses 3 models to enemy shooting, and then loses another 2 in combat for a total loss of 5. In the Battleshock phase, I roll a 4. Marauders have a Bravery of 6. 5+4=9, which is 3 over my Bravery. I remove another 3 models from play, who either flee from the fight or panic and are cut down by the enemy.

That ends your turn. At this point, your opponent gets a full turn, and then that is the end of the battleround. You now have to roll to see who goes first in the next turn - it's not always you again! It is possible to 'double-turn', and some people actively bank on this occurring. They will opt to go second in the first battleround, banking on winning the roll off to mean they get two consecutive turns. It certainly makes things interesting.

All sounds fairly manageable. Is it any good?

The game, I hope has become apparent, is very simple, but really is good fun to play. The range of miniatures are arguably some of Games Workshop's very finest, with a wide range of armies, and thanks to the yearly balancing of points and warscrolls in the General's Handbook, there are very few 'death star' lists that trainwreck everything. The game can be played in so many different ways, and utilising the Open War cards set (£8 from GW) to quickly generate a game, objectives and an interesting twist can mean you don't need to trawl through a book to generate a scenario.

Sweet! Is the boxed set worth it, and what's the best way to get started?

Games Workshop have created 4 entry points to the game, essentially. It's a very clever tactic. The picture at the top is of the full Age of Sigmar boxed set, which I think is £75 currently. You get about 800pts in each army, but it's more in the favour of the Stormcast (the gold ones) by a fair distance. There is a £50 option, called Thunder and Blood, which has about 3/4 of the models from the above sets, with a little game board to play on and the box doubling up as scenery and dice and all that good stuff. There is also a £25 option, containing a handful of miniatures, shown below.

The fourth way of playing is to buy the Age of Sigmar Skirmish book, which is £6 from Games Workshop. Using the Skirmish book, you can literally buy a box of any models you like, and build a skirmish warband out of it. If you fancy it, you can pick up a hero model too, but it's not essential. The Skirmish supplement is works by itself, follows the same rules, but each model is its own unit, you don't need to move them around in 'squads', and you pay for them individually points wise. The scenarios in it are great, with a little storyline to follow and ways of upgrading your warband between each battle. Games of AoS Skirmish take anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on the size of the warbands.

The cost of getting started is literally the cost of a unit and the Skirmish book, so £25. Alternatively, the small set shown above with the Skirmish book for £31 is plenty good enough for some decent intro games. Obviously if you're wanting to create a 2,000pt army designed for AoS in its grandest form on a 6'x4' board, you're looking at ~£200-300, but there's no pressure to play at that level straight away.

Finally...

Age of Sigmar is probably my favourite tabletop wargame at the moment, even though the new Warhammer 40,000 edition is great. It's simplicity of play and wide ranging, interesting game types make it hugely enjoyable whatever the game size. The miniatures are great, and each army feels unique and has interesting ways to play it, with nearly any army composition being viable, and Games Workshop are putting a lot of time and effort into supporting it. A shame all the lore from the 'Old World' was cast aside, but as for the game itself, it's a lot better than its predecessor with a much greater player base.

 

Trashman

War Hero
Sorry to disagree, but it's crap.

It's basically a bigged up skirmish game aimed at kids. In and of itself not a bad thing (new players are always needed!), but they used it to replace the old game. They also didn't revamp the old game, as has been done before, they literally destroyed the world. All the history & backstory binned overnight. The new fiction based in it isn't up to much so far either.

Only now they can copyright all the race names. (Orruks instead of Orks). Cynical, moi?
 

LmH

Old-Salt
Thanks for the review as I've not been exposed to AoS.

A major thing going for it, and something which is an integral aim of AoS being released over the discontinued WFB in the first place, is AoS's simplicity both of play and of entry. It seems, pretty convincingly, easier to get into than many other games, including 40k. Variety and simplicity are important and were difficult in WHF, because of the length of effort required to collect a fantasy army and that the complexity of the rules was a barrier.

What seems to be turning people off is that AoS seems to have bastardized the original fantasy setting which it has replaced. WHF had/has historical veracity and an established lore - its background was/is a legacy setting.

I think AoS should remain distinguishable as a skirmish game, both because it has been designed as one, and that classifying it like this reminds people that it isn't trying to be something it isn't.

I might try it in the future but the following factors make me reluctant:
- I don't really like GW as a company
- AoS looks overly artificial, like it has been designed too forcefully...and for 8 year olds.
- AoS lacks veracity (see above) partly because the names of everything have had to have been awkwardly changed (aelfs, orruks, ogors). This just seems really uninspired and 'grulshy' and typical of something that would come out of GW.
- WHF has been continued through the '9th Age' project.

On the other hand, many new models look interesting (certain stormcast eternals) and you can use existing ones (dryads etc).
 

LmH

Old-Salt
They also didn't revamp the old game, as has been done before, they literally destroyed the world. All the history & backstory binned overnight.
The newest releases I remember where High elves and a few others in 2010. The latest Dark Elf corsairs, cold one knights, and High Elf phoenix guard were really good. Much of the game was a hodgepodge of models (and aesthetics) years apart in release cycles. I would have loved to have seen them consolidate the miniature design (modernize everything and avoid making it parodial) and rules and then work on balancing everything.
 
I have to say I was curious having seen it and went into a games workshop (im not calling it the warhammer shop) and I didn't like the underlying fluff of the new game. I understand why they needed to bring new guys in but a simple underlying skirmish game in the old world with the old system as the next step for those that want to progress (and keep the old guys in) seems like a much more sensible idea. The idea that the amount of space things take up in the shop is a problem is silly when you can keep such things minimal and order stuff in that people want!
 
The lore is probably the biggest downside to AoS, and in my opinion they should have kept in the old setting but remade the game. The new stuff is, however, getting a lot better and a lot more interesting. The setting is still in its infancy, yet the newer novels based on the Realmgate Wars are actually pretty decent by all accounts. Equally, the fluff in the various books I have is steadily getting more and more in depth.

It was a move that needed a lot more planning, but it appears it was the big 'dip the toe in the water' test for the planned re-vamp of Warhammer 40,000, which went infinitely more successfully. As for the models, it really is down to Games Workshop's preferred painting schemes at the moment that make them look so... fluffy. If you go for darker tones, you can make them looks as grim as you'd expect - even Stormcast Muhreens.

The new dude in charge of Games Workshop really has made great strides to be less shit than the last bloke. Old specialist games are returning, and there are a lot of sets offering real discounts, some of them substantial. As such I'm less reluctant to part with my cash, though I still mainly go through external retailers offering a further discount.
 
Sorry to disagree, but it's crap.

It's basically a bigged up skirmish game aimed at kids. In and of itself not a bad thing (new players are always needed!), but they used it to replace the old game. They also didn't revamp the old game, as has been done before, they literally destroyed the world. All the history & backstory binned overnight. The new fiction based in it isn't up to much so far either.

Only now they can copyright all the race names. (Orruks instead of Orks). Cynical, moi?
It's funny you should say that, as myself and everyone I know was of the same opinion when it first came out. It was just... shit. Boring, and shit. You just ran a load of models to the middle of the table and rolled buckets of dice until enough stuff died. No tactics, no thinking, just.. bleh.

Anyway, after a year of it doing crap and all the old players refusing to touch it with a barge pole, they released the General's Handbook in 2016 which... fixed it, basically. Introduced points, matched play scenarios for tournament organisers (actually designed by tournament organisers, that Games Workshop listened to) and it's now, another General's Handbook later, a much more complex game than its first iteration in many respects and at times more complicated than the new 40k. You'll find that now, if you're a kid and wanting to play a properly designed and thought out army, it's going to take quite a while to understand what your army does and how it does it, much like the old edition but for different reasons. The layers of complexity are slowly being added with each new army, and in its current form it really is a good game.

Of course, if you're a die-hard WFB fan, then it's never going to live up to your expectations the same way that 9th Age will. They've done a great job with that. But they're different games, you're right in that AoS is a giant skirmish game at heart, but it accepts and embraces that to good effect.
 

Trashman

War Hero
Anyway, after a year of it doing crap and all the old players refusing to touch it with a barge pole, they released the General's Handbook in 2016 which... fixed it, basically.
That's good to know. GW listening to people is also a first!

I feel like they kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater when they made the change and it sounds as if they're slowly reinventing Fantasy Battles (the skirmish edition) without any admission of a screwup. It's slightly damning that it sounds like it's taken two upgrades (handbooks) in two years to essentially fix the game - by taking out a lot of the simplicity that was the big selling point on launch.

I was always more of a 40K man, but I loved the fiction and backstory to both worlds.
 

Sadurian

LE
Book Reviewer
Bit of a thread necro (which is entirely appropriate as you may see below), but I rarely delve down into this part of the forum.

First I'll say that, whilst I have seen AoS played, I have not played it myself. My impression was that it is simply a scaled-down, one might say 'austerity' version of WHFB with awkwardly altered race names to hang on to IP. The game I watched could easily have been a new WHFB version in terms of the rules being employed, there were no radical new concepts or imaginative new mechanisms.

My history with GW goes back to when they were a games company selling gaming materials. I bought things like RPG floor-plans from them, and I also bought the first version of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles game in 1983, the one in the thin box. Before I discovered Games Workshop, I had been buying the early Citadel Miniatures, then a separate company.



When Warhammer updated in 1984 I bought the new version. A few years on and they updated again. I bought that version. Five years later and a new version, followed by another a few years later. Every four or five years another update was released. Buying a new version was not really too bad, even though they packaged the rules in large and expensive boxes with plastic figures and other peripheral stuff. I didn't even complain as rules were being streamlined so that they appealed less to old gamers and more to newcomers (i.e. children who had the 'pester-power' to get relatives to regularly buy them new figures).

No, what annoyed me was that every new update meant that my armies were suddenly obsolete. Those units no longer existed, that unit is now a 'must have', and the rules have been changed for this unit so that it no longer acts as you before.

I put up with this for many years and finally stopped when the Army Books got updated again just as the varnish dried on the last unit of my lovingly-crafted Vampire Counts army. Like so many before me, I dropped WHFB and found that I could find better Fantasy wargames elsewhere. GW were, by now, the enemy. I had bought many expensive GW games over the years that were never supported and got dropped almost as I threw out the shrink-wrap. People here may remember titles such as Battlefleet Gothic, Man O' War and [Advanced] Heroquest (the boardgame).

I have had many experiences and heard many stories that reinforce GW's new negative image. From gamers at conventions being publicly told by GW employees that they are liars and cheats because they produce copies of old GW/Citadel catalogues to prove that the models they are fielding are discontinued GW/Citadel (the accusation in question being that it had been photoshopped), to GW shop managers telling me that they have to charge higher prices to keep their string of shops going (a disconnected logic if ever there was one). I was a hobby manager myself, and knew of a local rival shop who GW refused to deal with (and removed all their advertising from the shop) because he dared to discount GW products. In my own experience, GW insisted on their displays being more prominent than anyone else's, even products that were unconnected with gaming. Insisted to the point of withdrawing support if their stand didn't dominate. There are more, but I don't want to fill the entire page.

From a company run by gamers to support gaming, GW became a bloated money-making machine, gleefully sucking in new victims as it crapped all over the old ones. GW became a gaming watchword for corporate greed and indifference to gaming as a whole. The new management at GW saw what had happened and have tried to recover the loyalty of the old days, but I have a feeling that it is too little and too late. The brand is toxic and new firms have emerged to rekindle that spirit of fun gaming that GW threw out in pursuit of mega-profits.

Age of Sigmar is a rather desperate attempt to keep GW in gaming, but it is just another fantasy miniatures skirmish game in a market now boasting several good fantasy miniatures skirmish games. The likes of Otherworld, Malifaux, Wargods of Olympus, and Frostgrave all offer alternatives to AoS, and GW are now having to fight to establish themselves in a crowded market.
 
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