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:
12 Skeleton Archers
Corpse Cart with Balefire
5 Dire Wolves
Herald of Khorne (General)
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.|