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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Age of Sigmar, The Best Edition of 40K Yet!

Flippant title aside, in my last post I made the prediction that GW would soon be adopting the Age of Sigmar rules system for Warhammer 40K. After playing a game, I think Age of Sigmar will be perfect for 40K. But I'll get to that in a minute...


My buddy Jay and I got together to play a game the other day. I fielded my Vampire Counts, and he used his Chaos Daemons. Thanks to Jay for the pictures he took during the battle! 

 

We brought the following forces:

Necromancer (General)
Cairn Wraith
20 Zombies
25 Skeletons
12 Skeleton Archers
Corpse Cart with Balefire
5 Dire Wolves

Herald of Khorne (General)
10 Bloodletters
Skull Cannon of Khorne
Herald of Tzeentch
10 Pink Horrors
Burning Chariot of Tzeentch

 

 

I'm not going to get into a full-blown battle report, but here it is in a nutshell:


Jay had the Sudden Death option and chose the large rock on the left as the scenery piece he needed to take at the end of round four. My skeletons wiped out the the bloodletters on the right. The wolves killed Jay's herald of tzeentch and damaged the chariot enough for my zombies to get in and finish it off. The skull cannon moved forward and killed my corpse cart, necromancer, and archers. The zombies pressed forward into the pink horrors, who summoned a new unit of bloodletters. With my characters dead, my units lost a lot of their fighting bonuses and eventually dwindled to nothing.


Jay was unable to take the objective, but eliminated my forces in round six. The whole battle lasted about three hours, but we were referencing rules and flipping through warscrolls. If we were more familiar we probably could have played in half the time. We each summoned a new unit, and my undead regiments were replenishing their losses, so each of our forces grew beyond their starting sizes.


As I suspected, the game rules play fine, but they do not deliver what I want from an army-scale, regimental wargame.


On The Subject of No Point Values


The fact that models do not have any point values is a shock to be sure. Rumors abound that there is a large rulebook coming, and that it will have a way of organizing and balancing armies. Other rumors claim that there will never be any points. Games Workshop plans projects years in advance. If they were planning a big rulebook, they would have been working on it before Age of Sigmar even went to press.


If the book in the Age of Sigmar starter set doesn't refer players to a large rulebook, or even mention it, I'm confident that I can call B.S. on the rumors of a formal rulebook. We may see a campaign book, and it might have scenarios with specific army lists for the scenarios. It may contain more battlescroll formations, but even those don't offer any balance because they only list what units are in the force and in no way address the size of those units.


So, where does that leave us? I guess gamers need to have a conversation with each other before every game about the size and, more importantly, the type of game they want to play. But I don't yet see any way to balance it. Model count or total wounds aren't viable because five Skeleton Warriors is not equal to five Skaven Jezzails, when the Jezzails can potentially inflict 10 wounds from 30-inches away in a single round of shooting.


With regard to how victory is counted: You need to completely eliminate every enemy model to claim a major victory. If the game runs out of time (as will be the case more often than not if people play in timed settings), you can count a minor victory if you suffered a lower percentage of casualties than your opponent. Here's the problem with that:


Models added to your army through summoning and such do not count toward your total army size, but do count toward your percentage of casualties suffered. So, if Army A starts with 10 models and summons 10 more, it only needs to suffer 10 casualties in total to have lost 100% of its starting number of models. If his opponent, Army B, began the game with 20 models and didn't summon any more, and loses 19 models over the course of the game, he wins. Even though Army A has 10 models still in play, and Army B only has 1, Army B wins based on how the casualties are calculated.


Perhaps this is intentional to help keep summoning in check? It seems really skewed, though. Another example would be taking a powerful model like Nagash. And only Nagash. He will presumably be outnumbered by a third, and will have the Sudden Death option of simply staying alive for six turns, summoning other powerful models to fight for him. Now, if the game runs out of time, Nagash will lose if the enemy has managed to kill one model (100% of Nagash's starting size). Even if Nagash has eliminated 90% of the opposing force.


The game that Jay and I played was, I think, nicely balanced. Knowing what I know now, I could have played a little differently and pulled out a victory (I had forgotten to run in some of the earlier turns and should have focused more attention on his pink horrors). Neither of us were trying to "game" the system, and that resulted in an enjoyable gaming experience.


I think the way that the rules are written, they will work just fine for friendly games or games where the players set up a specific scenario. If people want to play a hyper-competitive game, not so much. Or at least, the competitive circuit will get out of control really fast. GW's Most Important Rule needs to change from "roll a dice to resolve rule disputes" to "don't be a dickhead."


I perceive the lack of points as being the most problematic issue with setting up and playing a game. Gone are the days of calling up your friend for a "2000-point" game, writing your list and simply showing up ready to play. I much prefer having a standard by which to build an army, rather than bringing my entire collection and letting deployment determine the size of the game.


On Warscroll Rules


I think the rules in the warscrolls look pretty solid. I haven't read them all, but I gave the Vampire Counts a good look over. I like the way the skeletons and zombies are differentiated by how their attack bonuses add up. Skeletons get more attacks in larger units, and zombies get better hit and wound rolls in large groups. And both gain bonuses for being close to a character or corpse cart. Multiple zombie units can merge into a single group, which is kind of neat. I think the flavor of the Vampire Counts has been maintained, but I wish the characters had more options available to them. Other than the Strigoi Ghoul King, it seems that the variety from the different vampire bloodlines is all but gone, which is disappointing from a rules standpoint, but I can still model my vampires to look like whatever bloodline I imagine them to be. I'm not forgetting the lore, even if GW has.


I'm not going to comment on the "wacky special rules." If anyone doesn't already make "pew pew" and explosion sounds, and have their models scream in agony when they die, they're doing it wrong. I do agree that that sort of stuff doesn't need to be codified in a formal rule, but we're all adults here; I think we can come to a rational consensus when we're playing with our little toy men.


Many of the units have options for command models: standard bearers, musicians, and champions. Where in the past you might leave out a musician in favor of spending those points on another trooper, now there is literally no reason to not take full command for all of your units because the command options cost nothing. That's fine; I've often considered units without full command to be nothing more than rabble anyway. And to people who think that they should take units of only one model so that the model can be a champion, and never take Battleshock tests, I say that you can't take very many units of a single model. Which leads me to my next point:


On Game Size


Last time, I mentioned how the consensus seems to be that Age of Sigmar is supposed to attract players because of the low model count. I don't know how accurate that's going to turn out to be. Most of the units have minimums of five or ten, and some get bonuses for having larger sizes. Skeletons, for example, gain +1 attack if the unit is 20 or more, and +2 attacks if the unit is 30 or more. So, players are encouraged to field large units if they want all the bonuses.


In addition, every army has the option to summon more models to the battlefield. So even a game of 20-30 models can find itself with 50 or more models in play. If players were attracted to the game because they don't need to buy more models, they are going to find themselves missing out on tactical advantages unless they buy more models.


So, GW has created a game with no balance and a situation where whoever spends more wins. Which is... exactly what dissenters of Warhammer have been waiting for?


Model Posing and Movement


It's been said that you should model your miniatures with arms outstretched so they get extra reach, or leaning back to make it more difficult for them to be charged. Measurements are taken from the model, not the base, so positioning doesn't really play into it when measuring. The front of the model is the front of the model whether it's the model's torso, arm, or sword. You are always measuring from the same point. Some people seem to think that you could move your model up and then turn it so its outstretched weapon is closer to the intended charge target, gaining a bonus of a few inches when it comes time to measure the model's charge distance. That is simply not the case because, as the rules state, "no part of the model may move further than the model's move characteristic." Which means, that sword can't have moved more than the model's move value.


However, that means turning a model at all can be problematic. This wolf, for example, can move straight forward, measuring from the tip of its nose. If it turns to the side, however, the tail will have moved too far. If players want to move and turn a model, they need to measure from the back, and the total distance at the front of the model will be shorter than its total move value.


Imagine the white line represents the total move characteristic for the model.

 

But turning a model really doesn't matter because models no longer have any designated front or arc of sight. So a model can simply move or charge sideways. How someone models their miniatures isn't going to give them any advantage when it comes to measuring movement and charges, so it's really a non-issue.

 

 

The model's facing is completely unimportant except for aesthetic value. But it can lead to situations like this, where long models are better served advancing down the field sideways. This corpse cart, for example, can have more range to buff the units around it, and a wider area in which to charge enemies in front of it if it's positioned sideways.

 

 

When it comes to weapons, this is where an actual modeling advantage can come into play. Models with long weapons (as Jay and I found with the gigantic swords on his bloodletters) can reach between their comrades when determining who is in range to attack enemy models! In fact, modeling spears angled forward, rather than vertical, allows the back ranks to be within melee range after piling in to attack. (Spears have the added benefit of being able to attack enemies within two inches of the model. In this case, that's two inches beyond the tip of the spear.) These melee rules also make it a little awkward to see and count how many models are actually in range to attack since a random sword, arm, or hat feather might make all the difference.

 

 

Welcome to the age of truly modeling for advantage. With this regard, and with regard to measuring when moving models we'll really need to refer back to the new Most Important Rule: "Don't be a dick." I can't tell whether GW is actively trying to discourage or attract power gamers.


To Tray Or Not To Tray


People have asked about keeping their regiments on movement trays, and you certainly can. But there are no rules for moving in a block, and there is no such thing as "ranks" anymore. In my game I discovered that trays are fine for deployment, but become useless the moment the unit gets in combat:

 

 

As soon as the unit piles in for its melee attacks, it spreads off of the tray to envelop and get as many models as possible within striking distance. (Look, we can "lap around" again!)

 

 

Then, the enemy piles in when they attack...

 

 

Once the fight is over, the unit doesn't reform in any way, so it's spread out and scattered. Movement is based on the individual model, so in order to maintain forward momentum, the unit stays scattered unless you hold the lead models back and let the ones in the rear catch up and reform using their actual movement.

 

 

That may seem more realistic from a movement standpoint, but it makes for games that are a cluttered mess. Here's a shot of our game, somewhere around turn five:

 

 

Remember the 6th or 7th edition rules where Skirmishing units moved as a "clump" of models in whatever shape you wanted? In Age of Sigmar, every unit moves like that. Even if you try to keep them ranked on trays, they will end up in a loose formation, as I described above. Warhammer was always a nice looking game. Even if people played with unpainted models on crummy terrain, the game still looked neat and clean. Not so much anymore.

 

That's not my casualty pile in the corner, that's my army.  In play.


Something else I noted is that GW has managed to eliminate the use of unit fillers– those scenic blocks some players use to artificially bulk up their regiments. Where it would be fine to have a 60mm base with a miniature diorama creating a scenic graveyard element in the middle of a unit of skeletons, that scenic piece isn't really a model. So, what used to count as a 25-man regiment, is now only playable as the 16 actual skeleton models around the perimeter. Very clever, GW.


On The Rules and Gameplay


All this is not to say that the system is without it's advantages. There are a lot of things you don't consider until you try it in practice, offering new tactical challenges:

 

For one thing, units can adopt square formations, or zig-zag formations. Remember the dreaded scenatio of units being "drawn into combat" because they were too close to the charging unit? That's back because any models within three inches of an enemy get to fight. A unit with spears could be formed right behind a softer unit in front, like archers.The spearmen will be within three inches of the enemy in front of the archers, and so will be able to fight.


Models are never stuck in combat. During movement, a unit can freely move away from enemy models (called retreating, if they start their move within 3 inches of an enemy). The unit cannot retreat and then shoot or charge another unit, but it does allow players to get a unit out of combat (if it's an important character, or is outmatched) and get one of their more "killy" units in there instead. This also means the end of the traditional "tarpit" unit, since nothing can ever be stuck in combat.


One Idea I had was regarding my dire wolves, who get a bonus on turns when they charge. I could have a couple units of wolves, charge with one and then, in the next turn, pull them back and charge with the second unit of wolves. That would keep a rolling charge bonus going as the dire wolves took turns tearing apart whatever they were fighting. This would work out nicely if I get two turns in a row. (You heard correctly: You roll to see who goes first in each battle round, so you could potentially go second in round one, and then first in round two getting two actions from all of your units. Sounds great, right?)


Magic has really been simplified. A Wizard simply rolls two dice to beat the casting value of his spell. An enemy wizard can unbind the spell by beating the casting roll with his two dice. And that's it. But, in order to unbind a spell, the dispelling Wizard needs line of sight to the casting Wizard. So, by keeping your wizards hidden behind buildings, they can cast completely unhindered. They won't be able to see any enemy wizards to dispel their spells, however.


Models can now shoot at enemies in combat, and can shoot even if they are in a combat themselves. They can also shoot, then charge into combat. I think that change works really well for creating the illusion of Space Marines firing their bolters as they rush across the battlefield and into hand-to-hand combat. It also addresses the question "why can't my marines fire their bolters at point-blank range in combat?" Well, now they can. Or at least, they will be able to soon.


The Verdict


I think the Age of Sigmar rules– while not appropriate for Warhammer– will be great for Warhammer 40K. I read the 7th edition Warhammer 40K rules, and they just seemed unnecessarily convoluted with regard to how to remove casualties and calculate cover saves. I think getting into a transport is covered in three separate special rules, rather than just one special rule that scales for model size. Fliers, snap shots, rapid fire... Ugh.


A rule set doesn't need to be complicated to be enjoyable. I'm not at all put off by a 4-page rule set. I think these rules work just fine, and the unit rules on the warscrolls aren't bad. I don't even mind the loss of comparing Weapon Skill, Strength, and Toughness. Most of the time that boiled down to a 4+ anyway. But these rules are clearly more appropriate for 40K than they are for Fantasy.


I'd be curious to know what a 40K player thinks of the Age of Sigmar rules being applied to that game, and the codices being replaced with datasheets. (I think we'll all know what they think soon.) Other than streamlining things, I don't think the game would really change that much. That would get me back into 40K.


I'd like to try a few more games of Age of Sigmar before I completely write it off for Fantasy. I'm finding myself thinking of strategies, and list builds (such as they are) that I'd like to try in that format. But it just can't replace the splendor of a ranked mass-battle system. I'll have to stick with 8th edition for that or hope something better comes along. I don't really participate in tournaments anymore, or get many (or any) pickup games at the local shop. But I would like to someday and, if my gaming group and other groups all migrate to different systems, that seems even less likely to happen.


I guess traditional Warhammer is now officially a historic miniatures game– set in a finite period of time, with a set of house rules, played only by people with a particular affinity for that setting and rules. The consolation is that the setting spans the 2500+ years of the Old World. The armies and battles can take place anywhere in that world, any time.


I still have a lot to explore with the Legion of the Infernal Skull– Marduk has only just returned to the realm of the living. Nagash is barely reconstituted. The armies of the Tomb Kings of Baltizzar have yet to awaken, their land has not yet been scoured from the earth and conquered by Nagash. Nieman Kimmel and Korak the Grim are ascending in power. And none of it will be going on round bases.


'Til next time!

9 comments:

  1. It's refreshing to read a review of AoS without so much 'instant hate' as in other sites. I'm 100% agree with you.

    After a couple of games myself, and think this system has potential. Definitely it's not warhammer, but it's cool nontheless. The first thing it came to my mind at the end of the games was "you can't play AoS against an opponent, you have to play it with friends".

    Btw... GW's Most Important Rule needs to change from "roll a dice to resolve rule disputes" to "don't be a dickhead." - This sentence is gold! xD

    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks! :D That's a great point, too: Don't play AoS with an "opponent" play it with a "friend."

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  2. Nice review. I agree with most of your points. For whatever reason, I stopped playing Warhammer Fantasy about ten years ago. I didn't even buy the last few versions. I've now played three games of Age of Sigmar and I honestly don't remember the last time I had as much fun with a GW game. I used my 3rd edition armies and really just fielded what looked right. The lack of points doesn't bother me because I play with friends with the intent of having a good game.

    GW did itself a disservice with the army building section of the 4-page doc. They could have spent a couple of paragraphs saying 'don't be a dick' in much more PC language rather than simply saying 'take anything you like until your deployment zone is full.' That left them open to days of rediculous comments like 'what if my opponent brings 100 Bone Giants?' For me the obvious answer would be go ahead and play the game once, and never play with that guy again. I don't think anyone would do that anyway, and if they would you probably wouldn't enjoy the broken, spam list they could manage in a point driven game anyway because then they could looks at you and say, 'this is legal in my codex.'

    On the movement and range thing, we simply measured from the bases as always. Any difference you might encounter between round and square or whatever the concern was is minimal compared to the shenanigans you could encounter as you illustrated above.

    Anyway, there's a lot more going on than it first appears in AoS. People need to play a few games to really get the feel for it. For the first time in a decade, I am considering building a new fantasy army for the current GW game.

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    1. Measuring wasn't an issue in our game either, as Jay and I are both sensible adults. The situation with spears and long weapons is a viable tactic, I think. Maybe they shouldn't have also given the 2-inch reach of the weapon on top of it. Suddenly, how you build your spearmen (spears up in a marching stance, or spears down in a thrusting pose) determines how the model functions. The exact same model, posed two different ways, suddenly has different rules.

      It never works when they try to take wargames with posable, but ultimately static models literally. True line of sight. Measuring from the actual model, all change based on how the hobbyist build the mini. A fair amount of abstraction is required to keep things from getting out of hand.

      It does however alleviate the situation where models can't physically get into base-to-base contact because they all have weapons sticking out. But that's never really been a problem, because we just assumed the charging unit's position was aligned with the front of their target unit. Then when the unit breaks, you scoot them up a little and measure from that point. Abstraction. It works.

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  3. "I guess traditional Warhammer is now officially a historic miniatures game– set in a finite period of time, with a set of house rules, played only by people with a particular affinity for that setting and rules."

    Welcome to Oldhammer, friend.

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  4. As a mostly 40k player, I personally think 40k would have benefited more from having certain fantasy mechanics, like to hit and armour save modifiers etc brought over, rather than 40k mechanics going to fanatsy.

    Streamlined can be cool, but I think they have possibly taken that principle a little too far here. No variation in to hit or to wound depending on opponent in combat just feels dull. The lack of customisation of characters feels limited and a bit unfun. The struggle to try and think up a way to balance the thing for a game feels awkward. All this adds up to a less compelling and immersive game (for me anyway).

    I personally hope 40k improves in the years to come and for me that would mean it not becoming more like AOS than it is already.

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  5. As a 40K player I hzave to admit that I like the streamlined rules very much. I played a couple of games and without the S/T and WS/WS comparisons it flows really smooth. I personally would love to see this system used for 40K. (Current setting preferred I think)
    As for balance: I think we have to wait and see what happens. I really hope that there will be no "Gargantuans" or such in AoS. I am personally opposed to the Titans and such in 40K too. They just don't feel fitting for the games size.

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    1. I don't think we'll get new "Gargantuan" or "Super Heavy" types in Warhammer. We already have that, more or less, in the form of monsters and the large monster-characters like Nagash and Greater Daemons.

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