Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Age of Sigmar - Intial Thoughts

The short tumult of the Age Of Rumour is now but a memory, swept away by the all destroying tidal wave that heralded the  Age Of Rage.

As the survivors gasped for breath and strove to regain their balance in the wreckage of the Age That Was, battle lines were immediately, instinctively, and bloodily drawn. In the Age That Is patience is heresy, debate is perversion, declarations are infrangible, immediate gratification and satiation are the only acceptable outcome.

Of course, it will surprise no scholar of the modern 24-hour-news-cycle consumer, social media obsessed, attention-span deficient, social validation-seeking and intellectually moribund world to realise that all these Ages took place in a matter of maybe a fortnight.

As all but those who have accidentally ended up on this page (perhaps looking for pictures of sneezing kittens or, let’s face it, naughty pictures that get past the office’s security protocols) will know (the title is rather a giveaway, I’ll grant), these are my initial thoughts on the new game released all of two weeks ago by Games Workshop – Warhammer Age of Sigmar.

Self -evident caveat: these are early days, everything is liable to change!


Previously On…

A lot of my thoughts on the backdrop of all this has been communicated in the past.

WFB was a dying game. People like to blame some impossible-to-define “great evil” that GW did in the past decade or two that made this come to pass. Popular tropes here are: models too expensive, lack of some ethereal “community engagement”, the increase in one-man stores, 7th edition Daemons, 8th Edition, Elves, Dwellers and plenty of other incorrect points.


All these views have, of course, some justification in being ‘bad’ in the eye of the beholder. Personally I will never forgive them for a) no longer supporting Epic and b) no longer selling me products by weight like they did when I worked there. These are not, however, the reason the game was doomed.


A game of mass armies is a real struggle for a company like GW with its extensive retail presence. The entry cost for the game was too high in this day and age (not in the cost of the actual models, but in how many of them you would need). Other competing games, including GW’s own, quite simply need less to be playable – be it an X Wing in… X Wing, two squads and a character for 40k, some lumps of misshapen lead for warmahordes, etc. Note, this is “to be playable” – not “to play competitively with”.

Retail presences means they have to pay significant stock and associated costs just to sell this stuff. If you are an online retailer it’s easy to use kickstarter for everything and make fun on your website. Both business models are viable of course, the realities and the requirements for the two are however markedly different.


A good point was brought up on the Heelenhammer podcast recently (though, as with most good points, it is something I have been pointing out for months, naturally ;) ) – how much do the public face of WFB, the “tournament” regulars, *actually* spend on GW every year? Honestly, I would expect the majority of the top 20 in the rankings (to use as a random sample), have spent less than… £200? £300? £400? On actual GW models in the past year or so… This is not a good sign for the viability of a business!


And Now…

So – big gamble time!

How do you change everything up in the hope of driving new players to your game and future proof as much as possible?

Reboot everything and start from scratch!

It’s weird to read the (frankly rather pretty) new AoS book and see how they have really changed everything. I think, and from the majority of people I have spoken to about it who have been able to put aside the Old World, they have actually done something pretty cool here. I am biased of course – Nagash is in it, of course I like it ;)

The game though – that’s what the modern masses are actually obsessed with (though I honestly find the idea that someone whose one love in the hobby, above all else, is a highly competitive game plays anything other than Chess or Magic the Gathering (though I hear Blue is broken or something… it’s all Klingon to me) bizarre to begin with).

Ranked units don’t work when you also have to maintain your edge in model production quality. So ‘skirmish’ was, in hindsight, inevitable. Interestingly, from what I have seen the game scales up very well.

Now… there are some well publicised silliness in the rules, and some which are just bad game design. The shouting/acting up rules are meant to be harmless fun (though it is funny how some (interestingly mostly colonial – maybe it’s a mindset thing ;) ) people seemed to find these actively insulting) and silly. By and large they don’t have much of an effect, and can easily be fixed with, as they like the say in films about filmmaking (a rather specialised niche), “with one line of dialogue”. Big deal it is not.

Measuring to the model rather than the base is bad game design though. It’s just unwieldy.

By this I mean – it’s actually perfectly normal and fine, but when exposed to the rancid world of competitiveness-obsessed, RAW drooling idiocy that is the internet, the issues are obvious. Once again – one line of dialogue and no longer an issue. Big deal it is not.

Some aspects of the game do feel weird though – I am not sure about the whole ‘being able to shoot whilst in combat’ thing – to the point I actually think it is an oversight. This may be me holding on to preconceptions from my 20+ years of gaming, I get that, but that feels weird in that it is the one thing that clearly breaks the cinematic sweep of the game. This is interesting because, love it or hate it, GW have been driving the ‘realism’ angle hard since 7th made way for 8th.


Other parts verge from the good to the simply brilliant:

The combat system seems very simple, which has caused some people to hate it.

But when you consider that a good player vs a bad player will be able to do things like pull unwary units into combat or remove powerful enemies from combat before they get to swing (amongst many other things) the levels of complexity over the system that was in existence before is self-evident (and no, putting up character walls to protect units has never been skilful).

The synergies are actually very impressive here. Just within the starter box if you look at the way the various Chaos key words interact, transforming the basic warrior into a real killing machine, it is impressive, and opens the door to a lot of potential. We have only touched on this thus far, and the signs are that GW will be able to have some real fun with this. This is a new thing for GW, and a very welcomed one.

The debate from the ‘certainty’ of 7th to the ‘randomness’ of 8th was never fully settled. The consensus around me (perhaps unsurprisingly so, given the ones that disagreed probably stopped playing) was that the risk mitigation of 8th was actually far more of a ‘skill’ than the ability to guess the distance between two abstract points on a table that was 7th. Extrapolating from this I *think* I like that the turn order is not set in stone. It gives you more variables to ponder and for me this is a Good Thing.

Other little things I like include how the magic system is at the beginning of the turn, so you have to plan accordingly, and how terrain has a *massive* impact on the game. Significantly, the scenarios also seem to be very very cool.

I should note that my thoughts on the new game are deliberately focused on using the new stuff as much as possible to try and get a view of what they are looking to do rather than focusing on the old units.


There is, however, a stalking walrus in the room, an enigmatic giraffe in the cupboard, and an irate dodo in the shadows….


Dodo be angry

Army selection…

Regardless of whether I think this is a fixable issue or not (and honestly, I think it is a very easy fix), the lack of an army selection mechanic of *some* type is perhaps the single most imbecilic, stupidly naïve and the singularly inexplicable decision Game Workshop have *ever* made.

I get the general thinking. An article from the old days currently doing the rounds by Jervis Johnson raises interesting views on ‘points’ and the pitfalls of ‘tournament style’ games that are largely in sync with my views on the subject, from a high level conceptual point of view. At some point, and for some reason that is hard to pinpoint (maybe the rise of professional MTG and computer games, maybe rise of the internet per se, maybe people are just dull now, who knows), points efficiency became the be all and end all – to the point you only normally see notably points inefficient units in specific situations: in the hands of very good players who can make anything work, in highly tailored lists to make the unusual work, in weird themed lists or in the hands of people who don’t know any better.

The point the article makes that really hits home for me is the perceived ‘need’ for balanced games. Almost all of the games I have enjoyed the most have been unbalanced for some reason – those backs-to-the-wall situations are far more memorable than the many hundred games of battleline I have played in the past four years.

All this is fundamentally true for me. If cut throat competitiveness and supposed air tight rules are the thing for you, GW was never the company for you. The cinematic (for want of a better word) aspects have to be at the core – the game just builds on that.

That being said though – the stupidity of the way GW has done this is that it makes casual games much harder.
It’s stupid.
Very very stupid.
[Add suitable metaphors for stupidity ad infinitum]
It’s bizarre.

This can be fixed with a further release of course, but they have to do it as soon as possible. Momentum is key with a new game, and I am not sure they are going to react in time…


The issue is not so much for the competitive scene – interesting army building systems are already around that work for the competitive scene – an hour or two of thought and its easy enough to do for anyone (so why don’t GW?!). It’s the casual person in a game shop/club/kitchen table that I worry about.

The lifeblood of a game is not the internet-totting tournament gamer (as much as we all like to tell ourselves we are important), but the casual players – and they are the ones that will walk away from this.

Timmy buys AoS. Plays with stuff in the box with his dad/brother/other. Timmy thinks its cool. Timmy then buys a couple of addon boxes. Timmy loves playing this game. Timmy pops down to the local GW store/club to play…. And the whole thing completely comes crashing to a halt.

How big a game? Such a simple question. And it’s the simple questions that will kill you.


In the madness of the modern world some simple guidelines takes the initial awkwardness out the exchange with a new acquaintance….


Hopefully they sort it out…

On the competitive side of things – the mechanics are good, it’s fast, bloody and fun. The packs are looking good. I am hugely optimistic that if people gave it a chance they would actually like it a lot.

As has been mentioned elsewhere – GW not putting points on things is actually a godsend for the competitive scene – it lets the scene keep a living document of awesome gaming awesomeness.

We shall see how they work out in the long term.

It’s the short term that needs sorting to allow a long term to exist…

I have been called many things for taking my positive “wait and see” attitude to things (most notably being called a paedophile apologist…). I make no bones about trying to keep a positive view on most things (that are not the England cricket team), instant negativity is cheap and easy. Cheap and easy leads you to need to visit the doctor… you have been warned.

An interesting thing for me was the people that ragequit before the game came out, that was amusing (from an academic/observational point of view). Unsurprisingly I think you could have predicted with over 90% accuracy the people who turned out to absolutely hate it, and the scenes that have followed suit.


Generally speaking, if the pinnacle of WFB for you was 7th, you don’t like this game. I could go on at length about the *many* aspects of 7th (and 8th to be fair) that were far more stupid than on-the-table issues with AoS, but people like what they like, that’s cool – I’m in the Voltaire school of such things. Other players can’t get over the list selection issues – some of these are on the ones that take pleasure in ‘breaking’ list writing mechanics, others just drew the lines there. Tack on smaller scenes around the world where a couple of loud disgruntled voices have immense sway and you could almost predict to a man those who claim to be out of the hobby now. Sad, but it happens. I just wish they had given the game a few months first.

The future?

Well, I don’t think there is a long term future in a community 8th project – new blood is key to keep things going. AoS seems, to me, to be mechanically very effective as a tabletop game. I hope the community and/or GW come up with some widely accepted army selection system and this thing thrives…

If not… well we shall fall off that cliff when we get there, though spoiler: whatever happens… it won’t be Warmahordes.


So yeah… I remain cautiously optimistic.

The game is very good. Its simple really.

I remain worried that the ball may be fumbled though…


We shall see.



Until next time


  1. Having not read the rules, I have a question.

    Why would I choose to play AoS rather than any other skirmish game? Why AoS over 40k, for instance? Warhammer effectively had a monopoly on massed fantasy wargames rules, AoS doesn't have that luxury.

    1. For me its perhaps not the most logical of reasons in this day and age - brand loyalty is enough for me to at least have a go.
      Have played WFB on and off for over 20 years, and have liked (to a greater or lesser degree) every game GW have put out). That is enough for me to try it - will it be good enough to keep going? Who knows at this point?

      Also "skirmish game" is a loose definition. The rules seem to work decently (more testing ofc required) with larger forces than you normally associate with "skirmish" games. Easy, for instance, for armies at Clash to have over 150 models under that comp system.

  2. Sorry, I should have been clearer. By skirmish I was really referring to the loose fighting formations and lack of unit facing, rather than a number of models thing. To me, that's the big fundamental change in game type that I find off-putting.

    1. Ah, yeah, that.
      For me I always, deep down, expected that to go I think (though actually was expecting some War Of The Ring type hybrid). Biggest thing for me is that whilst models on round bases generally look nicer than on square, units of them don't.
      Clearly its hard to make tight formation games work - think there is only KoW left doing it? And I have never enjoyed Alessio's rules writing.

      I am not sure I will be happy in the long term to be honest. In the short term I thankfully have ETC to occupy my mind, then will give it a few months...

  3. Very interesting read Raf....thanks for posting.

    I'm in the "wait and see" camp as to how this develops. In six months it may be more fully formed. I'm like Andy in that the appeal of 8th was that it was a ranked battle system (which made it an oddity compared to the prevalence of skirmish games). It is taking me awhile to determine whether I "want" the chance.

    The other thing that annoys me - and you touch on it in your post - is that the game has fundamental holes - the most important being a balancing mechanism. I constantly hear the refrain that "GW is a model company not a games company" as if that is somehow an excuse. My view is that it is incredibly lazy for an industry leader to release an incomplete rules set.

    Yes the community can fix it, but why should they have too? If this was any other company I'm not sure people would be as obliging.

    1. Thanks man.
      I think the line "GW is a model company not a games company" is the biggest bullsh*t spouted on the internet these days. What that actually means is that is where the company knows it makes its money. It is also well aware people buy the models to play the game. Hence, they care about the game/setting etc.

      My worry is momentum. I honestly think the best/most balanced points/balancing mechanism that could exist would be a living document done by the scene. However, by the time such a thing is developed I think the game may have sunk itself by not having an 'easy-in' option for pick up games.

      It's extremely infuriating, because the game itself seems pretty good.

      I knew they should have made me CEO...

  4. 8th edition was dying from GW's point of view as they didn't sell enough, but at the same time you could say the game is more popular than it ever was: events in the UK sold out in a matter of minutes(situation in Belgium is a bit different I have to say), and there are more participants at the ETC than there ever were. Maybe if GW was closer to the community it wouldn't have come to this? Or do you think it was a problem with the game itself?

    1. Ah, but that is a classic issue of believing ourselves to be important.
      Popularity of 8th events =/= 8th being healthy. I believe the average spend of experienced tournament gamers on GW models is actually (relatively) tiny.
      The problem is they have to sell models for it to be worth it. Between tournament gamers tending to buy little (normally already owning stuff, and using a lot of alternate models etc) and a new joiner to the game having to spend a lot of money and time to get involved (depending on the army). Add in the growing popularity of other games like X Wing that have very simple rules to learn, in addition to being cheaper to get into, and the 8th business model is hard to justify.