And to think that only a year ago I was concerned about putting my ghouls on regimental strip bases, just in case they went back to being a skirmishing unit in the next edition of Warhammer. Ha!
I was going to hold off on this post until the weekend, but the full rules and some of the warscrolls for the units in the starter set have been leaked online, and I'm tired of repeating the same thing in forums, chats, and on Facebook, so I'll just get into it here.
First, I'm going to point out a few good things about the situation, and then point out the things I don't like, and then close with something positive. A "compliment sandwich," if you will. The positives are the bread and the negatives are the meat in the middle.
|This week's rant brought to you by the Carnegie Deli! 7th Ave at 55th Street in New York, home of the best and biggest corned beef sammiches you ever saw! (Temporarily closed for building code violations.)|
First off, the models in the box look just fine. Everyone can shut up about how terrible they are. GW's miniature engineering, tooling, and plastic kits are beyond reproach. Every company has good sculpts and bad sculpts, but the quality of GW's plastic kits is always there. I think the Chaos models are particularly nice, and will fit into an existing Chaos army as Khorne-marked warriors or Marauders. That Hellbrute-looking thing could represent a Chaos Spawn, or could be converted into any of the other giant monsters in the Chaos bestiary.
The Sigmarites (we now know them to be called Stormcast Eternals) do look a bit like the Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard– Actually, holy crap... they look exactly like the Sanguinary Guard, right down to the golden masks and halos! (And the wings on some of the other models.)
I know GW has certain recurring design elements across their entire range of models, but I mean, come on! Otherwise, I think they are nice models. Balthasar Gelt wore a similar golden mask and halo, so it's not entirely out of place.
But I think some of the backlash over the appearance of the Stormcast can be attributed to recent rumors claiming that the starter box would contain Empire models. Even when we heard that they were called "Sigmarites" that sounds like they belong in the Empire. If the rumor had just said the starter contains a completely new faction, and no other information, maybe the shock wouldn't have been as severe. Other reports had spoken of models that looked like "anti-Chaos," and "good guy space marines," models wearing unique armor like nothing we've ever seen in Warhammer, so those were pretty accurate.
At the end of the day, this isn't something for my army, and I don't plan on collecting any Stormcast Eternals, so it doesn't affect me. Technically, they're an entirely new army, so it really doesn't affect any existing player. If you don't like the way the new army looks, don't collect that army. (I've never been a fan of the elven models, hence I don't play them. Simple, right?) But if you like the idea of Sigmar's demigods arriving from the heavens with flash of lightning, to smite the forces of Chaos and Undeath but don't like the models, you can convert them to your liking or or substitute them with a different model that looks more appropriate. (In past years, I have never liked any of the Warhammer necromancer models, so all of my necromancers are converted from other figures. That's the nature of the hobby.)
The New Core Rules
Before I go any further, there still seems to be some uncertainty online as to whether Age of Sigmar is the 9th Edition of Warhammer or a stand-alone game, or if there will be a "proper" 9th edition rulebook in the coming months.
There have been multiple reports from retailers speaking with their GW sales representatives, who have assured them that there is no 9th edition coming. Ever. Age of Sigmar is not a "side game" to play until the "real" game gets updated. This is Warhammer now. The End Times happened, the Old World was destroyed, and now this is where we are. Even though White Dwarf 74 saluted the history of the previous editions, the game itself hasn't defined itself by edition. The books don't have numbers, whatever the newest rulebook or army book is, is the book. So, Warhammer is now Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
This new rules format seems to confirm something I had considered some time ago: That GW would eventually merge 40K and Fantasy into the same rule system. The Age of Sigmar turns are broken down into phases:
Hero Phase– Characters use their command abilities, spells.
Movement Phase– Units move, and can run an extra D6 inches.
Shooting Phase– Units shoot.
Charge Phase– Units charge into combat.
Combat Phase– Engaged units fight in close combat.
Battleshock Phase– Units that suffered casualties test their Bravery or suffer additional losses.
That's very close to the 40K turn sequence, and would work perfectly for both Fantasy and 40K with no changes other than swapping words like "spells" with "psychic abilities." All of the 40K models could get their own warscrolls (called datasheets) that would give characters their own command abilities and special rules. In fact, I would bet money that GW is going to adopt this same core rules system for 40K.
So, you heard it here first: I predict that Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 will eventually use the same 4-page core rules with the "fantasy" and "sci-fi" flavor added via the models' stats and abilities. I don't think the intention would be to be encourage playing Fantasy vs. 40K games, or mixing and matching Fantasy and 40K armies. It's just the obvious step going forward. It would certainly be less of a shock to the system for 40K players because they already use loose formations and employ the "move, shoot, charge" order of actions.
When I originally thought of this scenario, I was still thinking in terms of rulebook editions, and figured it might happen as 40K's editions were released faster and Fantasy's slower, with both of them converging somewhere around the 10th edition. Warhammer X, if you will. I also didn't consider how much shift needed to happen for the two to come together.
Now, as for my opinion of the rules themselves, Age of Sigmar looks like a perfectly playable game. But it's not Warhammer. It's not what I want in a game of Warhammer, and I'm not particularly impressed with the new setting and renaming of everything so far. (Are skeletons really going to be called "Deathrattlers?" I guess we'll see when the warscrolls become available this weekend.)
|"You maniacs! You blew it up!"|
So, Why the Change?
That's the question on everyone's minds. Why would GW ruin a perfectly good setting and game? Obviously to increase sales and attract new players.
There seems to be two types of gamers: People that want to play a competitive game people that want a fun, casual game. This applies to the kinds of tournaments we see, ranging from win-at-all-costs, no painting requirement tournaments geared at hardcore gamers, and tournaments where "soft scores" like painting, army composition, and sportsmanship, that factor in as much as a player's generalship. Gaming groups also range from casual players to hardcore "Math-Hammer" players. Often, the two overlap to some degree. Myself, I play games to win them, but I'm of the mindset that the experience should be enjoyable for both players.
And there are two types of hobbyists: People who like painting and playing with toy soldiers, and people who like the idea of playing with painted toy soldiers. I want a game that looks nice. The entire point of playing with miniature and scenery is to create a sort of "moving diorama with rules." And that takes a lot of work. Players who only see their models as three-dimensional tokens in a strategy game, are more likely to be put off by the costs of a model than someone who gets as much enjoyment out of building and painting a model as they do playing games with it.
I'm not trying to turn this into a discussion of painted vs. unpainted or how important winning should be. But it goes toward the debate over barriers to entry into the hobby. Those four factors form a sort of venn diagram, and everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum.
Anyway– All this gets to the gaming community at large and why people do or do not play Warhammer, and how or why it was failing and needed such a radical shift to get it back on track.
–Incidentally, if there was any question as to whether GW is a game company or a miniatures company, I think this confirms it. For the record, I've always been of the opinion that they make miniatures that you can play games with, not games that are played with miniatures. (See the difference?) The best example of this was Inquisitor. I was working for the company back then, and the opinion around the offices was that the game is essentially an excuse to make beautiful 54mm models. Anyway...
Here are some of the more prominent reasons I keep hearing for why not enough people play Warhammer. (I'm presuming these are based on the point of view that a person actually wants to play Warhammer and doesn't harbor a deep-seated hatred of GW and everything they stand for, and doesn't play for reasons like the following.)
"The models and books are too expensive."
"It's too much to collect or paint to be able to play a game."
"Games are too large and take too long."
"The game is unbalanced or outright unplayable."
"GW updates the game edition and changes rules too often."
"Armies or models get dropped from the game."
So, if the idea is that existing Warhammer players aren't spending enough to support the system, and the community isn't attracting enough new players for the reasons I mentioned, I don't understand how scrapping the rules and creating a completely different game is supposed to solve any of those problems.
Cost and Game Size Issues
Prices aren't going down. Models are going to cost as much as they ever did. Not having to buy books helps, but that's missing out on the source of the richness of the Warhammer world that also helps to attract players and inspire people to build their armies and gaming terrain.
Players don't need to buy as many models to play the game, so GW has gone from current Warhammer players only buying a few models here and there, to attracting new players who only buy a few models here and there, and disgruntled veteran players potentially buying nothing. To me, that seems like a net gain of zero where sales are concerned. More players with fewer models = Fewer players with more models.
It would be nice to have both options (and veteran players definitely do have both options). People can play Age of Sigmar if they want or continue playing 8th edition/ End Times. The problem is that only veterans can play "classic" warhammer; GW has pulled all the books, so they don't acknowledge that as a viable option. It certainly won't attract many new players to that format when the only way to get old books and rules is through the secondhand market.
Then there's the issue of games requiring too many models to be able to play (being too expensive, and requiring too much work to get "table-ready"). Now people can play with as many or as few models as they want! But they could do that before. I don't think anyone starts playing a vast miniatures game by spending thousands of dollars on hundreds of models. If they do, of course they are going to suffer sticker shock and burnout. This is a hobby, it needs to be built up gradually. One starts off playing small games with a unit or two, gets them painted and then expands. People don't decide they like football and then sign onto the NY Giants with a Nike sponsorship. They play street games with five or six people per side, no referees or penalties (hardly NFL regulation!) And then maybe they play high school or college games.
But nope. Gamers need instant gratification. They expect their first game to be with a competitive, tournament-ready 2500 point list. Unfortunately, that's not how a hobby works. But, if so much of the community thinks that the game sizes are too big, to the point that it's cited as an entry barrier, then they should organize events that cater to smaller games.
The community reaction to Age of Sigmar seems to indicate that a lot of people are going to get into it because they can play smaller games. But there was literally nothing stopping them from doing that before. And exactly what is the new standard size going to be for a game of Warhammer? 10 models? 50? A 50-model game is still going to cost $250.00 at Dark Elf regiment prices. And that's not 50 infantry models; there will be large monsters, cavalry, and mounted characters in there, each one more expensive but still counting as only one of the 50 models. So we're back where we started, except that now players have an "official" option of playing with just a handful of models.
Now we come to the center of the shrubbery maze!
Hard-core tournament players want a balanced game system. Well, I don't think this is it. One of the most prominent complaints besides cost is the horrific unbalance (even complete unplayablity!) of the rules and that's why they don't play (or quit playing) Warhammer. Never mind that there are plenty of people who manage to play 8th edition games, both casual and tournament, with little to no issue with the rules. Do I think the rules have problems? Yes, but not to the point of making it a bad or broken game. It's mostly things that work just fine but could be done in a better or more streamlined way.
I can't imagine people who find 8th edition Warhammer "unplayable" finding this system any better or more balanced. Easier to play? Yes. Balanced and consistent? Maybe not so much.
I'm definitely going to be trying the Age of Sigmar rules and seeing for myself how it works but, from what I've read, I can't imagine the opponents of GW's way of writing rules thinking this will work in a tournament system as-is.
First of all, there are no point values for models. Nothing seems to indicate that there ever will be; there are no points on the warscrolls, nothing in the reported conversations with sales reps, nothing in White Dwarf, nothing in the core rules. It all goes by model count. One goblin is one model and Nagash is one model. That's a balanced fight, apparently.
|"Squeek! This hardly seems fair-balanced."|
Age of Sigmar accounts for this by using the "Sudden Death" rule: If one player outnumbers his opponent by more than a third, the outnumbered player gets a special victory condition to win the game, rather than basing it solely on casualties.
The system should work fine for friends getting together to play some fun games. But if someone's trying to play strictly competitively or in a tournament format, yeah, it's easy to break. Even the outnumbering mechanic has its limit: simply deploy one model short of outnumbering your opponent by a third. You'll have the numerical advantage and no sudden death for your opponent.
So, without points, there are no army lists. You and your opponent simply get together and deploy models until one player stops deploying. The other player can continue deploying as much as he wants. That allows people with different sized collections to play each other and the Sudden Death addresses the balancing.
But can't deployment quickly turn into a game of chicken? "If I stop deploying now, is my opponent going to be a dick and put out 5 Bloodthirsters?"
On the bright side, I'm intrigued by the concept of not having to compose an army list. That was one of the things I simultaneously enjoyed and dreaded. I could spend hours pouring over the options, calculating points, and re-thinking everything. To just be able to show up and start putting models out might be a nice change. It also eliminates the possibility of arriving for your scheduled game, with your list all ready, only to find out that your opponent hasn't even started his list yet.
Is It Too Simple?
It certainly appears to be. I find the elimination of Weapon Skill vs. Weapon Skill and Strength vs. Toughness to be really off-putting. I liked the idea of my skeletons being able to hit and wound goblins easier than they could a dragon. To Hit and To Wound is now based solely on the weapon of the model making the attack. So, since every model is still viable, I guess Stormcast Liberators can wound an Empire steam tank on a 3+. Maybe skeletons will wound on a 5+? If the skeletons can only wound the steam tank on a 5+ then that means they'll only be wounding other skeletons or goblins on a 5+ as well. Maybe the steam tank could have a special rule that states it can never be wounded on better than a 5+ or that the a weapon's Rending modifier can never modify its armor save below 3+? We'll see, but the concept of a static "To Hit and To Wound" was one of the things that turned me off when I read the first edition Kings of War rules.
Engineered Power Creep?
One thing I noticed was the rules for the flying Stormcast Prosecutors. Normally, a model can only charge into combat if they are within 12" of an enemy, and they roll two dice for the charge range. The Prosecutors have a rule that allows them to charge if they are within 18" and they roll three dice for the distance. Sounds like a nice, simple rule for all flying models to have. Except that the rule isn't called something sensible like Flying Charge which could appear on the warscrolls of any flying models. It's called Heralds of Righteousness. I can't imaging my Fell Bats having a rule called Heralds of Righteousness. Maybe a rule called Death From Above that has the same effect.
But that got me thinking about how GW is writing the rules, and that they have set it up so there doesn't need to be any consistency from warscroll to warscroll and they don't need to keep track of any existing rules. There is no longer such a thing as a generic rule like Killing Blow that multiple models have. In the past, before giving a model the Killing Blow special rule, the model's points, stats, and place in the army would need to be considered. Now, GW can just make things up on the fly without any cross-referencing what's already in play. Two different flying units could have flying rules that allow one to charge further than the other. There's no comparing similar units because the only thing that matters is what the special rules for that particular unit state. It can create situations where it seems like an obvious rule might have been omitted, but could eliminate situations where the seemingly same rule functions differently for two different units.
Basically, GW has eliminated their responsibility to balance anything. Especially since there are no point values to compare one model as being more powerful than another. The model simply is more powerful (or valuable) because it has better rules. But both models are still equal as far as model size is concerned, because they are each one model. So if you are concerned about models becoming obsolete, it seems like that's going to be happening a lot as new models come out with better rules and there's nothing to balance them against inferior models. Rather than army book power creep, get ready for individual unit power creep. If you plan on playing a 10-model game, why would you ever have any skeletons, when you can field 10 Terrorgheists? I guess maybe because you can't afford 10 Terrorgheists. But whoever can, wins.
Now, this could be a stroke of genius on GW's part. By having such egregious balance issues, maybe they are forcing players to adhere to the social contract required to play a miniatures game. Having conversations with your opponent about the kind of game you want to play could become the wave of the future. Or maybe this will actively repel new players where issues of balance were their entry barrier.
For everyone who cited GW's frequent rules changes as their reason for not playing, this kind of proves their point, doesn't it? GW is not afraid to make radical, sweeping changes. If any of the people who dissented on the basis of edition fatigue starts playing Age of Sigmar, aren't they just going to feel like they got "suckered in" if another big change comes along? What if Warhammer goes back to being a large-scale game in a few years (lets say with Age of Sigmar's inevitable 2nd edition)? Shouldn't they have seen it coming?
I guess I have to put a lid on this compliment sandwich. At the end of the day, Age of Sigmar looks like it could be a fun, fine game system. But it's not what I want out of a miniatures game. It's not Warhammer. It's a completely different game that you happen to be able to play with your Warhammer models. I just picked up White Dwarf 75, and I've got my Stormcast Liberator. I guess the free model is supposed to "liberate" us all from that game we love– wait, I'm supposed to be positive here...
As I said before, it's a really nice miniature. If anyone hasn't seen it, here's a close look. It's worth pointing out that he's not a "snap together" model like the ones in Space Hulk or the Dark Vengeance boxes. And that is, indeed, a 40mm base.
Here's how the Liberator sizes up against a Space Marine terminator and a human-sized skeleton. He might actually be a little taller than the terminator.
The system should work fine for friends getting together to play some fun games. But if someone's trying to play strictly competitively, or in a tournament format, yeah, it's easy to break. Even the outnumbering thing: just deploy one model short of outnumbering your opponent by a third. You have an advantage and no sudden death.
it's almost like deployment is a game of chicken: "If I stop deploying now, is my opponent going to be a dick and put out 5 bloodthirsters?"
I mean, I guess you could just have a conversation with your opponent about the kind of game you want to play, but who can be bothered.