I met up with my buddy Chris Walton this past weekend and we played a game of Age of Sigmar. He's a veteran of Warhammer like myself, and is getting back into the game with a new Khorne Bloodbound army. I brought out my Vampire Counts, and we played a "by the book" game, the only change being that we measured from the models' bases, rather than the models themselves.
I think the biggest challenge was trying to find a balance between the forces. Chris was limited by what he had brought, while I had my entire collection to pull from (and a new Nagash, if I wanted). Chris thought my initial force might be a little under-powered, so I added a few more units. The game was a lot of fun, but the armies were definitely not balanced.
We each had settled on our "army lists" before deploying, and I think that may have contributed to the lopsided battle. If we had simply taken turns deploying, I could have made a determination of our armies' capabilities as we went, and then deployed more if it looked like I was outmatched.
At that point, the deployment phase is almost a game unto itself. Whereas, in a traditional game of Warhammer, the players would be deploying their predetermined battle line so units supported each other and reacted to what was across the field, in Age of Sigmar, the players would be building their armies as they deployed.
There are plenty of comp systems, point values, and pool choices that tournament organizers and gaming groups have put together. I'd like to try out those some time, and see if that makes it easier to put together an army and a balanced game.
The Khorne Bloodbound:
1 Lord of Khorne 1 Bloodsecrator 1 Bloodstoker 20 Bloodreavers 20 Bloodreavers 10 Blood Warriors 3 Skullcrushers 3 Khorgoraths The Vampire Counts:
1 Vampire Lord 2 Necromances 3 Wight Kings (one with the army standard) 5 Dire Wolves 5 Dire Wolves 5 Dire Wolves 42 Skeleton Warriors 12 Skeleton Archers 30 Grave Guard 3 Bat Swarms 1 Corpse Cart 1 Terrorgheist
The Bloodbound army was outnumbered by more than a third, so Chris chose "Endure" for his Sudden Death objective; if he could keep any of his models alive until the end of the sixth turn, he would win by default.
We rolled for the scenery rules, and the haunted crypt came up as "Arcane," meaning it would give any nearby wizards a bonus to their casting rolls.
For the scenario, we set up six grave markers along the center line. One of the graves contained an artifact that the armies were trying to recover. A unit could search one if it moved into contact and did not run. A dice roll of six would mean that they had found the artifact. If a six had not yet been rolled by the time the final grave is searched, the final grave will automatically contain the artifact. Once the artifact was recovered, the unit had to bring it back to their own table edge.
Our armies moved forward trying to secure the objective. I must say, this felt a little more like a game of Warhammer, with the two forces closing across the battlefield.
My Dire Wolves on the right flank (just out of frame in the above image) were the first to search, and I rolled a six, so they dug up the artifact (although I think they may have been more interested in the bones).
Kind of anticlimactic to have the objective uncovered immediately without anyone else getting a chance to search. I thought about it a little afterward, and maybe it would be a good change to say that the item can't be in the first place searched. There's a definite strategy there: As the players race to get to the objective markers, whoever gets to search first can decide where they don't want the objective to be. For example, you can choose to search an objective where you will be quickly outnumbered with no reinforcements nearby, knowing that you won't be handing the objective over to your opponent.
Back in the battle, my bats charged into the Bloodreavers...
...and the Grave Guard formed up to receive the charge from the Blood Warriors. Chris charged them into the Grave Guard and the two units began grinding away at each other.
On the left flank, my Necromancer had summoned a Varghulf, and sent it after the Khorgoraths, who made quick work of it. The Bloodcrushers and Khorgoraths then attacked my Skeletons.
In the bottom of turn two, the Bloodreavers disengaged from the Bat Swarms. Chris then won the roll for turn initiative, and got to go first in the third turn, which allowed to Bloodreavers to charge the wolves and surround them with pile-in moves before they could get away with the artifact. If I had gotten the initiative, the wolves might have gotten away completely unmolested (which wouldn't have made for a very exciting game).
The Grave Guard finished off the Blood Warriors and moved over the fence (leaving two of their number impaled on the spikes as they moved across). The Grave Guard had taken significant casualties, but their banner allowed them to resurrect a few models each turn. The Bats also moved in to help out the Dire Wolves, and I had the wolves retreat as soon as they could. The route that would get them the furthest away was forward, toward the opposite table edge.
Back on my left flank, the Skeletons were holding their own. I didn't go crazy with the summoning, choosing instead to buff the Skeletons with the Vampire's Command Ability and the Mystic Shield spell, giving them an extra attack and +1 to their save rolls. The Skeletons finished off the Skullcrushers and were slowly chewing their way through the Khorgoraths.
One of the tactics we got to see in practice was removing casualties to get units (in this case my Wight King character) out of combat. I was attacking with the Skeletons first, and inflicting enough damage to kill a Khorgorath. Chris would pull out the one closest to the Wight King, which meant the Wight King was no longer within three inches of an enemy, and therefore not eligible to make a pile-in move and attack. In retrospect, I was definitely making the correct choice to attack with the Skeletons first, taking advantage of all the bonus attacks I was getting from their numbers and denying Chris all the attacks of one of his monsters. The Wight King, by comparison, would only have contributed four attacks.
The Terrorgheist made it around to the fight, and the final Khorgorath was eliminated. I had summoned a Wraith who, with the aid of some Dire Wolves, kept the Lord of Khorne tied up. My Skeleton Archers finished him off with a volley of arrows.
By the end of turn four, Chris was down to his Bloodsecrator and Bloodstoker.
TheBloodstoker made a last-ditch attempt to kill the wolves running away
with the objective, but failed all of his attacks. At that point we
called it. He wasn't going to be able to kill them before they got
away, and I had most of my army closing in. They certainly would have
finished off the two characters before the end of turn six.
The game was a blast, and we learned a few things as we were playing:
One thing we were both surprised by (and I don't remember this coming up in my previous game with Jay) is the sheer volume of dice the players need to roll. My skeletons, for example, have one attack each. They gain +1 attack for 20 models in the unit, or +2 attacks if they have 30 models. The Vampire's Command Ability was granting them another attack. So, a unit of over 30 Skeletons gets four attacks per model, and almost all of them were in range of something to attack. That's around 120 attacks per combat phase, which is just ridiculous. Both of us were rolling multiple handfuls of dice every time we attacked with our units.
Something else that's a little tedious is having to roll for every unit when it runs. It's not terrible, it just adds another step that could otherwise have been streamlined. It also gets fiddly shuffling models around with pile-in moves every time a unit attacks in combat. There's definitely some strategy to the positioning– For example, going back to the point I made above, a unit of large models might be able to limit the number of attacks coming in by positioning themselves in a way that prevents large units of infantry from surrounding them.
There are definitely tactics to explore. I don't know if Age of Sigmar can be considered any simpler than Warhammer Fantasy. If anything, it offers the same level of play. What we gain in freedom of movement and being able to more easily interact with terrain, we trade for needing counters to mark what those terrain features do in each game, and having the game bogged down with literally thousands of dice rolls. I anticipate that keeping track of which units ran (and therefore can't shoot or charge), and which units have already fought in each round of combat, and how many casualties each unit has suffered over the course of the entire turn has the potential to either get very confusing, or clutter the battlefield with tons of tokens and counters to keep track of everything.
Otherwise, I was able to condense most of the Vampire Counts warscrolls. After trimming out the superfluous text and turning paragraphs into a short notes near the stat line, I could fit four scrolls onto a single page. I brought 20 pages of material down to 8, which will at least make flipping through rules much easier when I play again.