Every dice-wielding table warrior seems to have an opinion on what Age of Sigmar is. Apparently it’s a mass-ranked skirmished game which does and doesn’t scale, is a deeply tactical child’s game, and is/isn’t suitable for tournament play. All at the same time. Impressive.
One thing our overlords at Games Workshop HQ in Nottingham are actively pushing is the narrative element. The supporting books (fluff) follow a story, the events at Warhammer World tend towards narrative campaigns, and battle plans that give you a reason to play are in abundance. Narrative is the recurring theme and the one which resonates most with me (narrative, casual gamer and hobbyist, non-competitive).
Balance is a bugbear to get your head around. How do you know you have a fair fight on your hands? We have a history of points values which have always guided us, and plenty of heavyweights in the industry have thrown out their opinions on the merits and evils of these. Experienced players might know that a Chaos knight and a goblin with a pointy stick don’t equate to the same thing, but beginners have a harder time. So far, I’ve mainly guessed. If we had no idea, we would use the number of wounds and a cursory glance over the stat line as a vague guide. It’s not perfect but then points have never been perfect. Surprisingly, guesswork has worked well in my games so far, with only one game drastically out of balance (which we learned from). A whole bunch of fan-made balancing systems are out there now which can give even further guidance if you want it.
Sure, the rules don’t deal with balance for you, but a simple application of Wheaton’s Law should deal with most eventualities. When someone says, ‘There’s nothing stopping me fielding 18 bloodthirsters against you,’ (and I’ve actually heard variations of this), put 5 goblins on the table, congratulate them on their overdraft, and go play someone else. Chances are, you’ll have a more enjoyable game against someone who doesn’t have that attitude.
Sounds Like Hassle – Why Bother?
Like everything else, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Play it through. It’s quick and simple. Age of Sigmar is full of cinematic moments, made easier to achieve by removing restrictions. Having your choice of bases gives hobbyists the chance to create interesting scenes and dioramas. The change of format gives you even more options for terrain. Expect to see busy boards, city streets, dense forests, even dungeon-style setups. It’s a hobbyist’s dream. Nothing is stopping you from using rank and file with movement trays if you want it, you just don’t get a bonus in game (unless you choose to add one). Removing list building restrictions allows you to play out themed forces. So many of the gripes that caused such rage at the release are simply opportunities to the savvy gamer. The alternating combat system ensures that you’re not waiting an age for your turn (exception noted below), and adds another tactical element in which order you choose to perform your attacks. If you want balanced competition, many tournament organisers publish their comp systems online. Use them (Holy Wars Army Building Guidance).
Those are just some options. Chances are your experience will be different depending on the type of games you want (narrative/competitive), where you play (friends, club, events, random pick-up games), and how open-minded you are to a change of system. If you want a fun, easy game and are interested in the narrative, the war story, you’ll likely have a blast. If you’re more interested in abusing cheesy mechanics to stomp your opponent and drink the tears of their shattered hobby, this probably isn’t the system for you. We live in a golden age of gaming with more choice than ever. Don’t like the system? Choose another!
A non-competitive game is a social contract. Sure, play to win, there’s nothing wrong with that, but never at the expense of your opponent’s enjoyment.
Of course, the system has a few quirks that I’m not particularly fond of.
Rolling for initiative every turn – meaning a player can get two consecutive turns – goes right at the top of my list. In a system where activations work on a unit level like Frostgrave, this seems reasonable, but when dealing with the whole faction at a time it can swing the game and leave a player feeling powerless and bored that they’ve gone a while without being able to do much. For example, a shooty army may never get to actually use their ranged weapons before the opponent is on them, or with two consecutive turns of shooting the other army may never get there. Not fun for either player. I usually let an opponent decide whether we bother playing this rule or stick to the old way of alternating turns.
Summoning can be another swing. Perhaps it’s a legacy of thinking in terms of points, getting free units during a game quickly throws things out of balance. Despite playing undead, I’ve never used a summon in game. That said, it is a scenario-based game and I may revise that opinion should I use/build a scenario based around summoning, e.g. stopping a necromancer who fights behind waves of skeletons, a zombie apocalypse, or an alliance taking down Nagash. Another option that suits the undead is that you can only summon back what has already been killed, potentially in reduced numbers (shattered bones?).
Shooting while in combat strikes me as strange. No matter how skilled the archer, I’m sceptical about them firing their bows at some abstract enemy while Khornate lunatics are swinging axes at them. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to remove this with a house rule, i.e. just don’t use your bows while you’re getting hit.
These are hardly insurmountable. As a rule of thumb, if the rule sounds daft, don’t use it! Unless you’re in a tournament, they’re guidelines, and that applies to Age of Sigmar and any other game.
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