Age of Sigmar!

Posted: February 8, 2016 in Gaming
Tags: , ,
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Can we play Mr Guy? Of course you can, because there are no points values any more. Yippee! And so the latest band of greenies is added to my horde.

Morning. Here it is then, why I like Age of Sigmar so much, as promised. There’s a lot of “people think, but are wrong” coming at you, just so you’re warned. You know, in case you’re one of the wrong ones.

As I have said so many times here on this blog, I used to hate The Lord of The Rings Battlegame. I played it once or twice, and wrote it off as “whoever rolls the highest dice wins. Rubbish.” Years later, having fallen in with a bunch of gamers who loved it, I grew to appreciate the complexity that arose out of its seemingly basic nature, and still love it to this day.

I approached Age of Sigmar with a more open mind because of this experience, and I am glad I did. What, when viewed through the lenses of grief and suspicion, looks like the Thomas the Tank Engine Wargaming Rulesset, is just as complex, involving and rewarding as any wargame I have played, if not more so. And I have played a lot. Here’s my justification.

The rules

The rules are easy to learn, quick to reference, and free. When taken with the warscrolls, battleplans et al, the game is not that much simpler than old Warhammer. By abandoning “top-down” rules design and shifting the detail out of the rules and onto the warscrolls, it allows greater variation.

The way it looks

This is not a skirmish game. I’m going to say that again, not a skirmish game. I too made this mistake. When I was originally shown the models, I said, “Oh, I love skirmish games!”. Much shaking of heads and “Nononononono, not a skirmish game,” was the immediate response from various GW bigwigs.

And it isn’t. You can play it as one, because the game is designed to scale. But it’s at its best when you have hordes of models pounding across the table. No longer are units restricted into overly formal, somewhat absurd Napoleonic-era blocks of troops. AoS battles look like battles from epic fantasy movies, and that is damn cool.

No points

I had some kind of nerd-related panic attack when I heard points were going, but oh my god it is so liberating. “What about balance, what about fairness, how do we know who has won?” Screw all that. POINTS VALUES WERE NEVER BALANCED. They were actually unfair. Warhammer devolved into an exercise where power-mad dice chuckers would spend every waking moment breaking the latest army book. “Well, the points are equal. Therefore it is fair,” they would say of their latest hell-combo, when quite patently it was not fair, and what they really meant was “This arbitrary system of points attribution provides a cloak of legitimacy to my frightening need to prove my validity as a human being by winning at toy soldiers.”

So these guys are the ones who now MIGHT just turn up with fifteen Kairos Fateweavers (or fifteen coke cans masquerading as Kairos) “because the rules say I can” and that means the game is broke! Nope. I didn’t like playing them before, and I won’t play them now. I’d rather game this chap with the lovely themed army.

And when armies are mismatched, a little gentleman’s discussion, and we can add or take units away. It works better than points values. BETTER.

I had one competitive gamer say to me “Every single game we play, we can say ‘If it weren’t for this or that, then the other side would have won.'” That is exactly like the old Warhammer then.

There is a gap for people who do want to play “competitive” Warhammer, I admit. I’m sure at some point someone will come up with a way to give that illusion of balance so that the power-gamers can get happily back to breaking that system and fixing it so they can break it again. Then we’ll all be happy.

Tons o’fun

The fun in the game comes with the delightful way all the various abilities work to enhance your troops. That the abilities come from heroes encourages gamers to indulge in heroic, movie-style duels of champions to knock out enemy buffs.

I can add whatever I want to my army, whenever I want. That’s fun too.

Tactics

Despite what the detractors say, there are tactics, they are merely different to the old maths-hammer style gaming. Ability combos, battalions, troop numbers and so forth mean army selection still has its role. Outmanoeuvring your opponent is still important. What isn’t important is trawling the army books for weaknesses in the rules.

That’s my take on it, anyway. I love it. Give it a go if you haven’t yet. It really is loads of fun, and that it is surely the reason we spend so much time on such a peculiar pursuit in the first place.

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Champion of Mars still 99p/$1.50

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Comments
  1. morvael says:

    Please post another article, in which you try to convice people like me, why AoS fluff is something to be liked. My main gripe with AoS is not the system, the rules, but the killing of a bit generic and low fantasy old fluff and replacing it with a more copyrightable and high fantasy new fluff. AoS naming scheme and miniatures style is something that puts me off, a Warhammer fan since 1992. I really like your books, and I have bought all of them, except the AoS ones, so it could be worthwile to persuade me (I guess there may be more people like me) 🙂

    • guyhaley says:

      I could do that. But in short, I’ll say that the fluff is still developing. When Warhammer originally started out, it was paper-thin and unconvincing, and very much played for laughs, far more so than the new AoS setting. It takes time for a new world like this to bed in. I could and probably will write a post about this, actually.

      • morvael says:

        Thanks, I will impatiently await that post. Is it really something despicable to still desire to battle the skeletons of von Carsteins from Sylvania with swordsmen and knights of Elector Count of Ostermark, rather than send Fyreslayer Vulkite Berzerkers to crush Bloodbound Skullgrinders and Slaughterpriests on the floating islands of the Shimmertarn? Does it mean I am too old to change/adapt? Does it mean the high fantasy setting will never grow on me, or do I just have to wait until it will be expanded enough to rival the depth of Warhammer Fantasy?

      • guyhaley says:

        The latter I think.

      • morvael says:

        Ok, you’re a writer, and I trust your judgement. I wonder what a new, nearly blank slate, allows to achieve as a writer, as a games designer, or as a miniatures designer, that the old setting didn’t allow to, and thus had to be replaced. Warhammer itself went through high and low fantasy periods as well, so it couldn’t be just that it didn’t allow for a more heroic setting. Or was the new one breaking all limits imposed by the Old World? Wouldn’t it be possible to justify the addition of Stormcast Eternals to old Warhammer?

      • guyhaley says:

        Trust me… I’m a writer! I’m not more worthy of trust than the next man, it’s just my opinion. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for doing what they did, and I only have a rough idea of them. As a writer, I will say that Old Warhammer’s setting had become very restrictive to tell stories in. You could never change anything. The sort of things that happen in the real world weren’t possible. After every major event, everything had to go back to how it had been to preserve the background and relative positions of the factions. Technology never moved forward. It was stuck in aspic. And that used to bug me, as much as I loved it.

      • morvael says:

        The same can be said about 40k. Wait! It means it can be AoSed as well… Or maybe it won’t, and the current way of filling the blanks between early days and present will be maintained. Why couldn’t that be applied to Warhammer Fantasy? New unit types were added all the time. I guess you would invent ways to advance global plot without destroying the world. I can imagine it, but I’m no writer. I’m sure your version would be better and more plausible. But it was doable.

      • guyhaley says:

        Not in the same way. The universe of 40k is huge. You can invent an entire sector and blow it up and no one bats an eyelid. You can invent an entirely new faction for 40k and have space in the environment to place it. The Warhammer World was just very crowded.

        Anyway, this isn’t the main reason the game started from scratch. It’s just my writerly take on one disadvantage of the old setting.

      • morvael says:

        In terms of WFB that would be a village, small town or castle, and a local tribe or noble family. I understand blowing them up is less spectacular than destroying entire star system 🙂 So I’m back to the drawing board… Need to protect IP is my number one then.

    • Banhammer says:

      It was killed off? Let me check my collection of Warhammer Fantasy Battle Rule sets, novels and army lists. . . . . . . . . .Nope they are still there, still readable, hmmm
      My only gripe about the AoS fluff so far is that too me it seems a little disjointed, each book seems very self contained, no need to read the other books, which is both a good and a bad thing.
      To me it seems to me the only people who have the whole story of what happened between the Ending of the old world and our “entrance” in to this new are the authors and game designers. There really needs to be a Book “0” which covers that and I think that might settle a few gripes.

  2. After the game me and a friend had yesterday my oppinion of the game could be condensed into ‘meh’. Lack of points didn’t affect us, we quickly agreed on what we thought were balanced armies. I dugout a scenario that worked for our two armies and there were a few very amusing moments when certain scenario events were triggered. We played two games and both were very quick (second one had only one round) so solely on speed you could call it a skirmish game. There were a few rules we weren’t sure if we interpreted them correctly because they were a bit ambiguous but that’s nothing new when it comes to GW rule books. In the end this didn’t affect us as much because we quickly agreed on one interpretation, although this produced a ridiculous amount of dice (at one point I was throwing 60 dice for 10 models). Some rules seem to be missing altogether or I’m just failing to find them on 4 pages of rules. Overall I see this game as a perfect excuse to get those few models I like in a particular faction and have a way to use them.

  3. John says:

    Personally I’ve nothing against the game itself, it works nicely and the points you make are good ones.

    But I miss the old Gothic setting, with its pseudo- late medieval/renaissance Germany, the main human faction not being medieval French people with English names was kind of unique and nice.

    And Skarsnik of course. Can’t do anything but miss ol’ Skarsnik.

    But yeah, the game itself is absolutely fine and in many ways an improvement.

  4. Iain Compton says:

    To me AoS seems schizophrenic. It wants to be a skirmish game but, as you point out, it’s actually a mass battles game complete with huge centrepiece models and mighty heroes. Except that it uses a skirmish movement system. There are few things less fun than moving a big blob of Clanrats one at a time over and over again.

    Then it’s a stripped down system. Which is good! Except it’s not really stripped down at all. The core rules are simplified (to the point where they don’t actually work as written without having to house-rule almost everything) but there is extra complexity and redundancies added to the units. Why is the roll to wound a characteristic of the attacking unit instead of the defender? Why is there a roll to wound at all other than for legacy reasons? Why are there multiple rules that achieve the same mechanical effect but are worded differently and with different names? It’s cargo cult game design without any thought to create a cohesive and internally consistent whole.

    The game can be almost an auto win for one side – even without resorting to the 15 Kairos or 12 Screaming Bell nonsense. It’s entirely possible to come with a fluffy, thematic army and find that you actively have to decide not to win on your first turn. Pretty much any army with a lot of archers and the assassination sudden death victory condition has this problem.

    Unforgivably for a miniatures game, it encourages (mandates in some cases) that you reduce the spectacle of the medium. I have a lot of painted miniatures of which I am very proud. When they are arrayed for battle against another well-painted force, it looks good and attractive battles are a great way to showcase our hobby to new players. AoS as written however requires that you pile your figures up in a big, unsightly mess. You can refuse to do this, but them some figures can’t actually attack. You can houserule it so that bases are once again where all measuring is done from but the rules as written explicitly say otherwise. Some models are best with their backs to the enemy because they have big cloaks or similar and that’s the only way that they can actually get into combat range. Chariots and big warmachines are best off charging sideways. The rules work against the aesthetics. Which is an odd design decision to make for a company that considers itself a miniatures company first and foremost.

    Finally the setting, I expect that you are right and that there will be more to come and flesh out the universe, but right now there seems to be no dramatic tension at all. One of the things that was great about the Old World was that it was constantly on the precipice and it was a thin line of ordinary folks who fought and bled to keep it from collapsing. Now there are Sigmarines that respawn endlessly fighting Chaos forces that respawn endlessly and other races fighting over little reality bubbles. I don’t feel that I need to care about this conflict because there isn’t any sense of risk. Nothing is at stake. It’s the Halls of Valhalla, where every one fights all day then gets up for a big feast in the evening. It’s a fun day of aerobic exercise but it’s not a conflict.

    All of the things you mention as good points about AoS have always been available in every edition of WFB. If you wanted to get together with a friend and fight with whatever eclectic mix of figures that you had, that has always been possible. Except now there’s no common framework for people who don’t know each other well to understand what’s acceptable. If the meta I’m used to with my friends is different to the meta you are used to with your friends then one of us is in danger of being ‘that guy’ just because. Yes we can sit and talk about it beforehand, but why should we need to spend half of our afternoon negotiating what’s acceptable in a published game? You are correct when you say that points weren’t balanced, but the solution to that seems to be to make a balancing system that does work rather than throw your hands up and concede defeat.

    I have been very disappointed with AoS; from the legacy viewpoint as an inheritor to the WFB system, as a game designer attempting to deconstruct the design decisions that informed the rules and as a fan of the Old World seeing the messy termination of a well-loved IP. Even if it weren’t a Warhammer game however, it would still be mechanically and systemically poor. There is a good game to be made from that design brief but AoS isn’t it.

    • guyhaley says:

      Ah well, I’ve had nothing but fun with it.

    • guyhaley says:

      And I shortcut the move! I measure the front rows and back rows of my huge mobs of Orruks/orcs, move those models, then just plop everything else in the middle.

      • Iain Compton says:

        “Ah well, I’ve had nothing but fun with it.”
        And that’s fine. I’m certainly not going to tell you or anyone else what to like. Things don;t have to be well made to be entertaining. I’ve had good times watching bad movies, reading bad books and playing bad games. I never tried to convince myself that they were good however.

      • guyhaley says:

        We’ll have to disagree there then, as I do think it a good game. Horses for courses.

      • Iain Compton says:

        But what is the course that this particular horse is designed for? Unlike fun (which is entirely subjective), design *can* be assessed objectively. It is possible for a game to be objectively good or objectively bad. The design of AoS is not coherent, the rules don’t work as written and the game requires players to paper over the cracks if they want to have a playable experience. Those are not the hallmarks of a good game. As a professional game designer, I spend a lot of time deconstructing games and thinking about how systems can either control or frame an experience. AoS doesn’t have the clarity of purpose to do that.

        Simple games are actually harder to design than complex games because you have to make fewer rules do more. Each rule needs to be crafted far more carefully as a result. AoS rules are often vague, often arbitrary and regularly inconsistent with each other. The game is a mess. It might be possible to have fun while playing it but for me those reasons have little to do with the game itself.

  5. Gorillaman says:

    Let me say first and foremost that I have been a avid Warhammer fan and player ever since I was introduced to the game about 10 or so years ago. I thought it was great reading the backstories and making themed lists to go with the fluff. In that respect, I believe that AoS has done a great job in giving people total freedom in making whatever themed armies they’d like.

    Fantasy and AoS are both completely different games and a game without the rigidity of Fantasy’s list building system would have been welcomed with open arms.

    Not only was a setting that I loved sloppily destroyed and my beloved faction (Dwarves) get used as a punching bag for the plots of what the writers of the End Times series decided were the preferred characters, but now I feel actively pushed away by articles such as these. For all of the inclusiveness and “do whatever you want” mentality that articles such as these stress, there is a complete aversion to any sort of competitive play.

    Despite any reservations and thoughts on Fantasy, at the end of the day, it had many loyal customers that played it competitively. I have trouble finding a place in the new climate, where there have been what I feel are obvious attempts to break the game for any sort of competitive play. People who take advantage of the rules and do things like, as in your article, bring multiples of the same special character shouldn’t be played with, but where does this line end? If I want to play a Nuln-based army with lots of artillery, couldn’t someone come to the same conclusion that my army is just as “gamey” as the multiple Fateweaver list?

    I find it very concerning when a game system and setting that lots of people invested large amounts of money in is destroyed and replaced with something new and almost the exact opposite, only to be told that the way I was enjoying the game was wrong and I either need to accept the new way or get out of the hobby.

    Why did Fantasy have to die for AoS to live? AoS could have thrived in the old setting as well as being a more casual, narrative-driven alternative to the rigid, competitive Fantasy.

    Also, are you not worried about the tone of your article? It comes across as “My fun is more superior to your fun and if you don’t like *my* fun, go to another game”. Lots of people choose to play miniature games for the social aspect of it as much as the modelling aspect. Encouraging people to shun players who’s armies they don’t like seems incredibly toxic for the community.

    • guyhaley says:

      I’m not saying anyone should be shunned. I’m not saying my fun is superior to your fun (and man I hate that attitude). There are different kinds of fun, all are valid, but they don’t always mix well. There is a “fun mismatch” here of competitive versus narrative play. That mismatch stopped me from playing WFB for a long time. I did say the system is lacking for people that like to play Warhammer competitively. I don’t. I never have. For me, it was usually a zero fun experience. In the end, I chose not to play people who do play competitively, even very good friends, as our expectations of the game were so radically different. I do the same with 40k now.

      AoS suits me far better as a hobbyist, that is all. I understand the more competitive players are angry about the change, but as I said, it is only a matter of time before someone finds a way around that.

      • Ben says:

        Any well designed system can be played competitively, and games as part of their nature involve elements of competition. Excluding groups of your existing customers from a game and telling them that they are playing games wrong by attempting to win seems massively counter intuitive for a games company.

        People who do like to play games casually are cut out of AoS because it doesn’t support casual or competitive play. AoS as a hobby activity, where you make and paint models, is the same as it ever was, though the design direction taken with the CAD modelling is not great in places (one of the fyreslayers being in just a T pose, the lifelessness of many of the models) but while most of the old GW minis are still being sold you can get round this. I’ve collected dwarves for years, but the fyreslayer stuff is just off to me, from the poorly rendered musculature to the mirrored beards, there is little organic about the models.

        However if modelling is all people are interested in there are, again, much more detailed and challenging kits out there.

        People have found a way around Age of Sigmar. To be fair AoS has been great for AoS as a hobby because of the explosion of other games. X wing, Infinity, Warmahordes, Kings of War, Batman, Frostgrave, etc have all exploded as people leave the GW hobby. It hasn’t been great for retailers stocking a lot of GW product, but that is what bargain bins are for and I’ve seen AoS starters selling for below wholesale price.

        AoS as a product and launch is something I’d compare to the Ratner effect. Ratner openly expressed such contempt for his customers that his business suffered and failed. AoS tells the customer that GW is not bothered about the quality of the rules product they put out.

        I’d asked if it was playtested, but how would you playtest a game with no balancing mechanism where actually winning is seen as rude?

  6. Ben says:

    To be fair, having done some game design in the past as well, I’ll say what I said to my local GW manager when the rules game out.

    ‘I would never have put out something in the state that is in.’

    Elements of the rules are ambiguous. Are you meant to be able to shoot out of combat into a different combat, and then fight in combat? The rules say yes, but common sense says no. Simple and concise rules are good, but the have to be clear. Moving the rules bloat to the warscrolls instead of having universal rules just confuses players, who then have to constantly refer to different scrolls as shields have different rules on different units.

    What mass battle system uses individual movement and has you move three times in a turn?

    What game has a turn system where it is entirely possible that your opponent sits there while you take two full turns and he just rolls the occasional saving throw?

    It is nice to see someone from GW admit that they don’t know how to balance games (and the current state of 40k is an illustration of that), but it is something that designers should then seek to solve rather than just give up on.

    I was going to preorder a copy of AoS when it came out. I wanted a Warhammer skirmish game where I could collect half a dozen themed forces from various races (heroes or big monsters and their retinues, a band of grizzled dwarven adventurers, etc). Then I read the rules and I didn’t.

    The use of The Prisoners Dilemma as a balancing mechanism is a very poor design choice. If you take an ‘unbalanced’ army then people will shun you, because you are ‘that guy’. Shouldn’t games reward players who know how to play them? Or design well thought out and themed forces which have synergies?

    What is ‘unbalanced’? Should you buy a Glottkin or Nagash or Bloodthirster and lovingly paint and model them, or would people say you were being cheesy? It’s a very bad idea to sell expensive and large miniature kits and then encourage your players to shun the people buying them.

    Using threatened ostracism of players (when there are a limited number of GW players out there) is basically poison to a community, and encourages people not to play it. ‘Balance’ isn’t defined anywhere, and how many players also have a background in game design? Very few. What if you accidentally take an ‘unbalanced’ force? Will you be able to play a game again if you win? It encourages people not to play to win.

    There is no means in the rules as written to play a fair game where player skill and a little luck decides the winner, because there is no rules mechanism to provide a fair game. This kills club play. I know I can rock up at the gaming club I go to with 100 points of X wing and get a game. Age of Sigmar requires complex negotiation ahead of time so everyone feels, and that is subjective, that they are being treated fairly.

    Which is why I’ll be playing Dragon Rampant instead. It is also a short rules system, and I can easily adapt it, but there is a balance mechanism provided that I can build on.

    AoS needs GW to honestly look at the feedback they are getting and to decide whether they want to publish a fantasy game. Both Lord of the Rings and Warmaster are excellent games, and while the studio doesn’t have anyone left of Rick, Andy, John or Alessio’s stature, the studio could be rebuilt to produce great games again.

    AoS is an online rules set, and has been out six months now, but there hasn’t been an FAQ, or designers notes, or clarifications. It could be taken to a second edition very easily, and needs to be. A skirmish game in the Warhammer background would have staying power, whereas we know that a lot of places AoS is just dead.

    The new Specialist Games studio sounds very hopeful, and I hope it delivers great games that people want to play. I’ve played GW games for 25 years now, starting with Space Marine 2nd edition, and I want to see GW pull itself out of the spiral it is in where sales drop 4 or 5% year on year, year after year.

  7. Luke says:

    First time poster here.

    Gonna have to agree with Iain on a couple of points. Namely:

    “There are few things less fun than moving a big blob of Clanrats one at a time over and over again.” This is further compounded by the way the units are excepted to attack not from base to base but actually have to touch. It is very awkward when playing large games. And frankly it’s not fun.

    “Pretty much any army with a lot of archers and the assassination sudden death victory condition has this problem.” We just house ruled that out because it kept happening again and again and just was just boring after a while. We have a lot of models we’ve been playing since the mid 90’s and a friend has 6 daemon princes it’s not fun having to face that in addition to whatever else he is bringing.

    Don’t have a super attachment to the old world that much but I loved the rules actually being a reflection of the fluff. Seems like AoS has the opposite of this.

    Would love to know what the design process was and how much play testing was done. If it was a living rules system that had community input it would be a serious investment in giving the game longevity.

  8. morvael says:

    I admit I am less focused on playing games, thus rule changes that AoS brought concern me less. Even in the past we house ruled or even invented own rulesets as we saw fit, so that’s why I’m not so worried about AoS as a game. I do understand people who went to tournaments or to clubs, they have lost a lot. AoS really only works in an environment where people know each other and/or can quickly come to compromise and set up a framework before each game. From my perspective it is how majority played, but I may be mistaken. But I loved the world and that’s why I bought all rulebooks, army books, compendiums, and expansions from 4th Edition to 8th Edition, as well as RPG stuff for 1st and 2nd Edition of WFRP, plus some early Black Library fluff books like The Witch Hunter’s Handbook, Life of Sigmar, The Loathsome Ratmen, and Empire at War. You can imagine my trouble with accepting this world is now dead, with GW only partially admiting it ever existed. Nothing makes me happier at this time than the upcoming release of Total War: Warhammer, I guess you understand why 🙂

  9. bittermanandy says:

    Hi Guy, please forgive the lengthy point-by point response; at the end of the day, if you’re enjoying it, more power to you, it’s your time and of course you should do what you like with it. But from a game design point of view, it’s an abject failure:

    The rules – “easy to learn and reference”, BUT ALSO spread out across dozens of warscrolls, with twenty-plus different kinds of shield and where the same bow on two different models can do two different things? Most of my experience of AoS was spent shuffling through sheets of paper.

    The way it looks – skirmish games work fine when moving figures individually as there’s only a couple of dozen of them. When you’ve got (as the rules recommend) 100+ individual models per side, “the more the better” apparently, and you’re moving each of them individually up to 3 times per turn, it’s just slow and tedious.

    Oh, and while we’re on the subject: the biggest problem the old Warhammer ever had was IGOUGO, where in a big game you can stand and watch for an hour while your opponent takes his turn. AoS has somehow contrived to make that situation even WORSE by, 50% of the time, letting the same player have two turns in a row (and 25% of the time, three turns out of four). You can easily spend more time standing around watching your opponent kill your army in AoS than in normal IGOUGO, which is quite an impressive achievement in some respects. (The only mitigating factor is the combat phase, which has alternating units, and which was the only part of any of the games I played that so much as raised a smile, or presented any interesting decisions. Why stop at just one phase, then? Why not make the whole game work that way? It works in other games, like Bolt Action!)

    No points – points serve a much bigger purpose than just allowing competitive players to be arses. (Granted, points never *prevented* that). They also provide guidelines, to help players make a fun game. My first game of AoS, I put down a hundred or so Dark Elves, my opponent put down fifty or so Ogres. It looked roughly even? We guessed? Halfway through turn two, my entire army was gone – obliterated – and he’d lost four models. What we both thought would be a roughly evenly-matched game, turned out to be horrifically one-sided. Neither of us enjoyed it – who enjoys such a walkover? And the worst thing was, he had fewer models on the board (and thus got the “underdog” bonus) even though his army was vastly more powerful! It was the least satisfying game I’ve ever played in 25 years of wargaming. Now, we *could* have started again, and again, taking off more Ogres each time until we ended up with a halfway even game… but why would we waste our time doing that when we could just play something better? Points aren’t a panacea, but they’d have saved us a lot of bother by making it much easier to judge even armies. I never had such a one-sided game in the old Warhammer, even on those rare occasions when I did get matched up with a hardcore tournament player. (They’d inevitably have built a more powerful army than mine, because points aren’t perfect and they’d have worked out how to get the best bang for their buck; but never like that).

    Not every game needs points, of course. Many historical games don’t have points – Black Powder, for example. But (a) historical games tend to be humans versus humans, so the discrepancies are minor and it’s easier to judge an even battle than with Ogres versus Dark Elves, and (b) most such games also have a GM, which AoS doesn’t.

    Tons o’ Fun – to each their own. I can’t argue, if you had fun, only report that my experience was different.

    Tactics – no flanks and no rears; model position makes no difference, only distance does. Missile ranges barely further than melee range. Missile units that not only suffer no penalty for being caught in melee, but are actually *better* in melee than dedicated melee units (because they get to both shoot, and fight in melee, in the same turn). Terrain does practically nothing. There might be tactics in this game, in the form of “tricks” of the rules (you can, for example, place a model close enough to an enemy that they can’t move either away from or closer to it, but it’s out of their melee range); but any such tactics are dissociated from the battles that a “war”game is ostensibly supposed to represent.

    Once again, if you enjoy it, I can’t possibly tell you your personal opinion is wrong. And it’s not like I don’t recognise the deficiencies of the old Warhammer, nor the economical need to change it. For me, I just can’t think of a single reason to play AoS when I could play practically anything else. (Once upon a time, I stuck with Warhammer, for all its faults, because I still loved the Old World. Even that reason is gone!)

    I’m not angry. I’m just sad.

  10. Thomas says:

    First things first I will say that in the last year or two of fantasy battles I was a competitive player, I still play at 40k events. My perspective on this will undoubtedly be influenced by the same factors that made me enjoy competitive WFB and continue to enjoy competitive 40k.

    You made a number of interesting points here, several of which I agree with completely. The rules of AoS are solid, the 4 pages are not the extent of the rules as so much has been moved onto warscrolls. The core system is basic but it works and I think one of the big problems people have, when approaching AoS, is that you need a good practical understanding of the core rules before you can start to see how different armies might tactically interact in a game. It took me a while but once you get there and play a few games it becomes as complex and interesting as any other game I have played.

    The area we would disagree on would be points. There seem to be a lot of assumptions made about points, many of which you have listed in your piece. I do not think I have ever heard a player claim that equal points make equal armies, particularly competitive players. If you hear someone use phrases like “value for points” or “get their points back” then they understand this as well; neither concept can be squared with points representing an absolute parity of forces. The idea that points were ever supposed to represent a perfect balance strikes me as more a straw man to tear down than anything else.

    There is another argument you put forward that I have heard a number of times before but I think doesn’t stand up. Most people have a guy in their group who fits the “15 Fateweavers” archetype, fundamentally their problem is a social one rather than rules based. Importantly, they are not competitive players, competition requires the ability to compete from both sides. However, they are not wrong to say that the rules allow them to do this. From that point our reaction to them is our own, some people will just not play them but others will be put off by the simple fact that it is a possibility. That is a problem with the rules, in that there are no rules to stop it so the weight of doing that is transferred to players. Is the solution to people behaving badly to have less regulation, I think that is something we have recently tried in another sector without a great deal of success.

    Now the natural counter to this is to point out, as you have done, that all this can be solved with a gentleman’s agreement before the game or some quick and easy house rules. The issue I see with this perspective is that it assumes one has a gaming group with whom these options are conducive. If your group is made up of people you have known for a while, who all have the same outlook on the game then this works but it begs the question, why did you use points to begin with? The option to not use the built in army guide had always existed in WFB, if you have a group that can make it work then there has been nothing stopping that for the last 30 years. The issue comes for people who do not have the luxury of such a cohesive and competent group; these are the players who need some kind of points system. It is the support system that allows for people who do not know each other to come together and play a game.

    I have already seen, in my area, the effect this has had on the social side of the hobby and it is not good. Groups become more insular as it takes more time to bring people into the fold, to understand the internal logic of the group. It throws up barriers between groups and forces people to commit to one or the other as the army they build up for one is considered unacceptable to the other. When the game released a good sized group of us decided we would stick with it. Only one or two people of a regular group close to 10 WFB players quit at the launch. However, the game is difficult to balance, there is not even the starting point of points values. You have to add time to the beginning of a game to discuss what used to be built into the rules. Over the next few months most other people joined the first 2 and now there are only a couple of us left. It is not better, it is exactly the same, if you are in the privileged position of being a veteran gamer with a group of friends who all hold the same viewpoint. If not, you are going to have a hard time.

    There is an element that I have already brought up a couple of times. We saw this phenomenon with the advent of unbound lists in 40k, that actually the people who adopt the low regulation way of playing probably just needed a nudge in that direction, who needed the option to be there in the rules. Most of them were playing all sorts of house rules already. I have never seen an unbound game of 40k played because I don’t know who I am going to be playing on club night, nor do the other people there. We need to be able to pick out a selection of models, bring them along and play them sight unseen against the same from another player. AoS means we can’t do this easily or without additional time allocated and certainly with little hope of consistency. Again, this does not mean that AoS is bad but there are negative consequences to thee changes.

    The final thing I would say on points is that for a good number of players the game itself is the part of the hobby they spend the least time on. The rest of players hobby time has historically been broadly split between painting ad modelling on the one hand and list building on the other. This has been aptly demonstrated by the success of the various list building apps available. Without points there is no theory crafting because you can just take everything. One of the biggest issues I find is that I don’t really think about the game very much any more. It used to be something my mind would drift to but there is no longer enough there to drift to.

    Having now opined for almost as long as your initial post I will bugger off and leave everyone in peace. I hope this doesn’t come across as too accusative, as I said in the opening mechanics wise it is a great game. I think for me there are just better options, other games that provide what AoS expects me to do myself. It feels like we have come full circle to the early GW days where they made D and D minis. AoS is a good full battle scale RPG, unfortunately, for my money Warhammer is no longer a tabletop war game.

  11. Chris Rose says:

    Great blogpost Guy. I have been a hobbyist for nearly 30 years and played warhammer since 2nd edition. I like most others panicked about the death of the old world and on initial play through with just the 4 pages of rules was dubious.

    Six months later I have shaken the old mind set of playing 8th edition and now finally “get it”. We used to push everything forward and the game was over in two turns and now at the end of turn 5/6 it has still been a bloody game but still plenty left. I have played different ways and there are ways to play “points” with the clash of swords comp and SCGT comp newly released for all those people who feel the need for “balance”. I have enjoyed the scenarios in these packs too as I am sure the majority have written off the game playing just the 4 pages of rules.

    Fluff wise I have moved on. Most of us who have been with GW a long time have learnt that things change with models and rules and even fluff. Granted this is a huge change and I loved the old world. Been reading as much new fluff as I can and the audio books have been excellent with a certain vampire.

    I have found most of the hate is moving on but some are still finding it hard to let the old world go. It was a great setting but as you said very restrictive and was becoming stale. How many times would chaos attack and be repealed once again? The new realms allow so much more opportunity and we just need to wait for this new world to grow.

  12. Banhammer says:

    Personally I am enjoying the Age Of Sigmar game right now, I love Skirmish type games and to me AoS is an up-scaled Skirmish game. Each box of miniatures I buy can be used right out of the box as a complete unit and so far has felt balanced just doing so. Yes I have met a couple of people who insist on putting down a force on the table that is 3 times the size of models mine is, as the need to win at the expense of fun seems over riding.

    As for the Age Of Sigmar fluff/back ground stories, I am enjoying the fact that I am at “Ground Zero” of the creation of a new world, new background, characters and environments. However if I have one major gripe it is that I’ve not seen (personally) any decent explanation of what has happened between the End Times and the First Stormcast foray into the realms to capture the Realm Gates. There brief (well I think so) explanation from the book in the AoS boxed set does not go far enough in detail for me. However I will fully admit that I have not read everything (you know Bills tend to get in the way of the books I wish to buy) and would be happy to be pointed in the right direction if there is a book that will explain it all.

  13. morvael says:

    Good to hear there are people who enjoy AoS. To each his own. I hope there is more of those like you, than those like me, so that GW can thrive for years to come, producing more of those things I enjoy, like Guy’s 40k and HH books (by the way I see this site is not updated to showcase them all).

    Meanwhile Guy no doubt celebrates record number of comments thanks to this post 🙂

    • guyhaley says:

      No! I’ve not put up Pharos, or my two Dreaming Cities books. But neither of them are out properly yet. I only put books up that I’ve written a large part of, so collections and the like are out. Otherwise I’d be doing that all day rather than writing. I’ll do it tomorrow.

  14. morvael says:

    I think it would be good to list e-shorts, novellas, and audio dramas, if you don’t like to advertise anthologies in which your story is listed. Gav Thorpe for example lists them all. You have a lot to be proud of, don’t be too modest 🙂

    • guyhaley says:

      Well, there is a full list under “fiction” at the top of the page, though it is a little atomised. It’s not modesty, it’s a simply matter of presentation and of time. I can’t list them all on the front page. There’s too many! My website needs work now. It’s been going a long time. I mean. But I do it all myself and I have a lot on looking after my boy. So, modesty really isn’t a limiting factor here. 🙂

  15. morvael says:

    It never occured to me to think of the “Black Library” entry as being an article itself. I considered it to be only a menu and never clicked it 🙂

  16. Paul says:

    The way i look at it is, think about the resons you got into fantasy and 40k in the first place…. go back 15 , 20+ years when you first saw those models on the shelf and the artwork on the box. I remember picking up 2nd or 3rd eddition 40k box set as a young kid opening it reading over a small set of rules and then each army had a piece of card for it’s weapons etc. What happened….. the world went crazy for warhammer, you could buy the army you wanted a thin paper codex, go home and start playing. Did anyone even consider playing competitively? I know i didn’t, it was the love of the models and shooting my friend across a pool table with cardboard scenery.
    Now think about kids today of the same age, with the same passion…. They can’t do it in either 40k or fantasy, I’ve even dropped 40k because of the relentless money pit it has become. You need huge expensive rule books, an expensive codex, then the models. Then there’s teaching someone new how to play the game and hope they are still listening by the time you’ve finished explaining.
    Age of Sigmar goes back to that time you could pick up a model just because you like it and play, this is eventually going to start bringing in alot of new players into the game which is great.
    So imo GW have made the right decision. Yeah ok some rules may be a little weak but nothing imagination wont fix.
    I can speak openly about my opinons on all 3 games, Fantasy, 40k and AOS and i can honestly say Age of Sigmar has rekindled my love for table top gaming and reminds me why i started in the first place. It’s a game we can play with our kids and imbed into them that same love we had as kids the first time we went into a GW store and saw a live campaign happening.
    I also play AOS competitvely with friends and we have a great time and has resurrected old rivalries.
    AOS for me is a game changer and i’m glad about it.

    • morvael says:

      Sure, there is place for games that are easy to explain and quick to play. I also found Warhammer too heavy and too complicated in its last few versions (perhaps because I can no longer devote entire weekends or entire summer to play it). AoS core rules show that promise, but they should be revised by this point, especially that it costs nothing to post updated PDFs. Refering to dozen war scrolls is less beginner-friendly though, and I wish more units would share common rules from the core ruleset, so it would be easier to memorize them and all individual stats (to hit, to wound) should fit on one page per army instead. But you can’t pretend AoS is not designed to be money sink as opposed to old Warhammer. GW needs revenue, so it wants more players spend more money on it, and I guess that was the goal of the change (bring new bloods who would buy a lot, get rid of the grumbling veterans who have amassed huge armies and no longer buy as much if it can’t be avoided – for a net gain). Both games are/were intended to be money sinks, but since the old one no longer worked, they devised AoS. My problem is that I think it was actually possible to do it in a way that would not alienate as much old players as it did, but still bring new bloods. I think those who focus predominantly on the rules and competetive play were harder to please, and maybe it was unavoidable to see them go, since the game had to be made simpler for new kids. But I think it was perfectly possible to retain Old World, maybe with come continent-spanning changes, but not planet-blowing ones, and keep as customers people like me, who cared more about fluff, not rules. Old World could accomodate Stormcasts without any problem.

      • guyhaley says:

        Of course they want people to spend money. I’ve spent loads of money on new models since AoS came out, going from zero expenditure on fantasy to far too much, and I’m already eyeing my next purchases. I’m not alone. Virtually all my gaming buddies have bought a fair few new models. I don’t think referring to the war scrolls is any less friendly than referring to an army book. Especially seeing as most units in Warhammer and all units in 40k have some special rules. The trick is to have them all in one place, either through the app, or by printing them out.

      • morvael says:

        Yes, I printed warscrolls, and if you assemble only those you need they will be easier to manipulate than thick army book and thick rulebook. But I wonder if the game really needs several special rules for each warscroll, even when it deals with lowly troop units. And it’s a problem when similar items (like banner) work differently in each unit type, there is a lot to memorize if you want to play without looking at the scrolls all the time.

        I don’t find the huge high fantasy heroic constructs attractive, but I know many do. Always great to see happy gamers.

        My question still stands: was is possible to achieve all this, and add all those new models while retaining most of the Old World? Without making parting shots at the old armies by publishing rules with jokes inside, that quickly lose their appeal and are not good for gaming itself? Without making those armies deprecated, obsolete from day one? With some respect to 30 years of lore? I guess restarting WD from number 1 was a sign that heritage does not count for GW. But I think this could be something they should be proud of, as this differentiates them from companies started in 2000-s or 2010-s. Or differentiated, as they discarded it.

  17. sception says:

    Cheers for the article. I’ve also enjoyed AoS more than I’ve disliked it, and in particular appreciate the shift in rules complexity from the core rules to the rules for individual units, allowing most units (or at least most units I’ve played with in the Death camp) to do something interesting mechanically to help bring their narrative to life on the table.

    But the core rules themselves are vague and lacking, and lead to a lot of un-fun situations on the table top (character sniping in particular is even more of a nightmare than it used to be). I can certainly see where some people legitimately don’t like the game. And I don’t like the characterization of everybody who used to enjoy going to the store and getting in a quick game with a fresh opponent without having to go through more preparatory hassle than ‘hey, you want a game?’ ‘sure, how many points?’ as some sort of jerk with an inferiority complex. I didn’t think Warhammer Fantasy was so popular a game that the new replacement could afford to deliberately alienate any meaningful chunk of the prior fan base, nor is it particularly graceful for game designers, when confronted with the fact that their balancing system wasn’t very good, to throw up their hands, say ‘nothing’s perfect’ as though that erased the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘good’, and give up altogether, calling their player base a bunch of beardy, win-at-all-cost jerks for wanting any sort of balancing mechanic in the first place.

    AoS is a game I enjoy well enough, but it’s mostly a game that I see potential in, the first draft of a game that could be great in a second edition, but I’m not at all convinced it’s going to survive long enough to get one. I’m hopeful, but recent rumors about the coming fate of the Tomb Kings has me feeling considerably less hopeful than I did last week.

    • guyhaley says:

      The whole points thing is a lack, because it does alienate a proportion of the player base, and that’s not a good thing. But I think it’s easier to play pick up games now. No need to spend an hour making up an army to play with. No one mentions that time.

      Also, I’d go easy on the games designers. Decisions like this aren’t made by them, any more than the direction of White Dwarf was decided by me when I was the editor. They’ll be creating a game to parameters dictated to them by a business plan.

      • sception says:

        I can see it being a benefit to players who didn’t like noodling with lists, but I personally loved that part of the game. It was a way to engage mentally with the setting and my army when away from the table, which mattered a lot to me during extended periods when I wasn’t able to actually play the game much.

        Then again, I played vamp counts in 8th edition, and they had, whether by skillful execution or happy chance, quite possibly the best faction rules GW has ever printed. Very good, though admittedly not perfect, internal balanced, so you could pick the units you like or that fit your army’s fluff without too much worry, neat special rules that let most every unit bring their unique narrative to life on the table, interesting unit interactions and mechanical synergies, external balance that was also very good – they went from what was, at the time of its release, the most overpowered book of 7th edition (later overshadowed by daemons and dark elves), to a book that was middle of the road when it came out and stayed middle of the road for the rest of the edition.

        Again, it wasn’t perfect – red fury a bit stronger than it should have been, the black coach a bit weaker, but all in all it was very very good, with lots of thematic variety, and units whose points costs and mechanics fit their narrative place, so list building was fun instead of frustrating. You’d set out to build what you thought made sense in a 1000 or 2000 or 3000 point list, and lo and behold, it would just fit on its own.

        It was a joy to tinker around with 8th ed vamp counts army lists, at least in my limited subjective experience and opinion.

        By contrast, trying to force a fun list out of the CSM codex in 40k has been like pulling teeth for me. And as much as inappropriate points costs for the actual mechanics of many of the units are a PART of that, removing points from 40k altogether wouldn’t fix it, because the rules for the CSM units as they are just do not bring their narrative to life on the table. If they were all half their current points, they’d be ‘stronger’ mechanically, but they still wouldn’t capture the spirit of the narrative elements they represent.

        I don’t mean to harp on a product I don’t like – after all, the same lead writer for the current CSM codex wrote that 8e Vamps book that I loved so much. Everyone stumbles once in a while, and I prefer to focus on the positive, I’m only bringing it up as an example of a set of faction rules that just aren’t great, where removing points from the game altogether would do little to improve them.

        I think unit design has, on average, been better and funner in Age of Sigmar than it was in a number of WHFB books over the last few decades (my beloved 8e vamp counts not withstanding), but I’m not ready to attribute that to the lack of points costs. Rather I would attribute it to the shift of rules complexity from core rules to unit rules giving those individual units room to breathe, and a complete break from the old mechanics framework forcing each unit to be redesigned from the bottom up, rather than merely ‘tweaked’ from existing rules that may or may not have worked, or worse left to languish unchanged as the game shifts around them.

        That’s one of the reasons why I’m very troubled by the recent trend in 40k codex update philosophy where instead of redesigning any existing units, prior rules are left as is and new formations and units are simply pasted on top via campaign supplements. That might work for a book like Tau that mostly functions reasonably in its current state, arguably anyway, but it isn’t going to fix the underlying conceptual problems with something like the CSM book.

  18. guyhaley says:

    I used to enjoy making up armies too, but as I’ve got older and my responsibilities increased, I’ve found it harder and harder to find the appropriate amount of time on army selection. Anyway, my point is it takes as much time to select an army, if not more, than having a chat before the game. I like that part of it, it adds to the social aspect, and draws you into mutual storytelling with them. I am holding my peace on the 40k rules! Thanks to you and to everyone else for all your comments. I’m really pleased with the amount of discussion this post has provoked.

    • Lenoon says:

      List building time is, at minimum, a one time expense. You could build a list, turn up to any GW store, or any LGS, or any gaming club and say “want a game?” And then you’re playing. So that time expense lasts you every single game until you next want to fiddle with your list. Every time I’ve played AoS, I’ve had “that conversation”, and sometimes it’s been quick, and others it’s been an extended discussion of exactly what to bring to the table that game. At a game store, sometimes I want to turn up and just play – depending on someone else to agree that your conception of what is or is not fair is dependent on other people, and that’s great – sometimes – but is also shitty – sometimes.

      As far as “avoiding power gamers” goes, I turned up to a GW to play a game of AoS when it first came out. I played my chaos dwarves, no idea of relative power ratings, and won. The manager in charge said “you know, we play this game for fun here…”

      Great. Great attitude to foster in your players!

      • guyhaley says:

        Jeez, that’s pretty poor on the manager’s part! I hope you put him straight. I don’t agree list building is a one time activity, especially if you lose as much as me. I tend to do a new list for every game, to try to win, or to try new things. If I don’t get time and use an old list, often I’m dissatisfied. And like lots of hobbyists, I’d build a list to paint towards. I’ve nothing against list building. My point was that lots of people complain about the lack of balance in AoS. But there is no balance on points either. There’s two pertinent opinion a here – firstly, AoS suits my style of hobby. Secondly, some of the things people say about it aren’t strictly accurate. But you know, it’s all just my opinion, and it is as valid or not as the next goblin fancier’s.

  19. Tomas says:

    AoS is like oversimplified Warmachine/Hordes. There are just too many similarities. Warmachine has melee weapon ranges (0,5″ and 2″ for REACH special rule), weapon stats, rules for units that are printed on cards (you know, like warscrolls but actually playtested and streamlined), warjacks and warbeasts are getting weaker as they sustain damage, and is scenario-centric – just to name a few things that Privateer Press did way since before destruction of WFB. Even quick start rules for Warmachine/Hordes offer more depth than 4-page ‘full’ rules for AoS and don’t require some serious homeruling to be usable ‘out of the box’.
    Also, WM/H ruleset doesn’t require you to spend precious time debating over what you could and couldn’t in your army. I can just pick up list (which is btw much simpler process than in WFB) and get a game with anyone, be it friend or stranger, because there’s a point system.
    AoS looks like someone tried to copy good ideas from other games and failed horribly.
    Some people like it and that’s ok. For me and my group it’s exact opposite of what we want to play. Since it dropped we started playing 9th Age and Frostgrave. We also left 40k (which was doing pretty well here before) for Dropzone Commander and Infinity. We’re also warming up for Beyond the Gates of Antares as our new, main s-f game. GW lost another gaming community.

    • While I’m no more than partially interested in Warmahordes (bought a bunch of Circle, never done anything with them) the list-building thing is a valid observation. A 25, 40 or 50 point Hordes list takes just moments to put together – the limitations of a 2000 point Warhammer list were becoming more and more obvious over time (who really wants to waste time deciding whether to spend 0.05% of their points on a shield for a hero, then painstakingly adding up all those minor decisions?).

      In fact, I’m shocked that the otherwise-excellent Gates of Antares (a truly wonderful set of game rules, with sadly disappointing models and fluff) stuck with the “1000 points is a standard list” idea. Make it 50 or 100 and let me add it up in my head, it’s just quicker, and no less likely to be “balanced” – the difference between a 262 or 263 point model or squad is negligible, just call it 26 (or even 13) and adjust the other units accordingly.

      Even in 40K, almost everything is a multiple of 5 points nowadays, so I’m not really sure why they don’t take the obvious next step (well, there’s probably a few reasons, not least of which is a reluctance to invalidate codices, but since they’re recycling so fast nowadays anyway…).

      X-Wing works off 100 points, Imperial Assault 40, Lion Rampant 24, Saga just 6 (I think!?), to name but a few… and they all work fine, albeit some of them being simpler in scope and abstraction than others. 40K / BtGoA sticking with 1000-2000 definitely seems to be an outlier, and I’m not really convinced they benefit from it much.

  20. […] talked much about this, for reasons. But, given that the final chapter is out, and Gav Thorpe and Guy Haley seem to be making this a thing, I figured it was time. I mean, given my last commissioning […]

  21. “POINTS VALUES WERE NEVER BALANCED. They were actually unfair. Warhammer devolved into an exercise where power-mad dice chuckers would spend every waking moment breaking the latest army book. “Well, the points are equal. Therefore it is fair,” they would say of their latest hell-combo, when quite patently it was not fair, and what they really meant was “This arbitrary system of points attribution provides a cloak of legitimacy to my frightening need to prove my validity as a human being by winning at toy soldiers.””

    So have you heard that GW’s adding points to Age of Sigmar?

  22. Matthew Walker says:

    I just don’t like moving my 100 zombies 1 at a time 😦

  23. steve says:

    Thing is, Kings of War is much better, and you can use your old miniatures, so just why bother with AoS?

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