Games Workshop decided to unleash the new iteration of Warhammer (the fantasy kind not the 40k kind), Warhammer: Age of Sigmar on a semi-unsuspecting public over the 4th July weekend. The new starter set went up for pre-order and the new rules were revealed and then released.
Then all hell broke loose!
To say Age of Sigmar is a big change to Warhammer is an understatement. It has polarised the existing player base with the competitive play hobbyists being the ones with the most rage against this new direction. Personally though I think that it takes all the things that make Games Workshop games appealing and enhances them while taking away the problems that make Warhammer so impenetrable for new and lapsed players. It is taking everything back to the core the gameplay loops and inherent appeal of crafting, then fielding an army of your own design. This is a new system that Games Workshop are organically building to make Warhammer something everyone can play, quickly and easily with whatever miniatures they have to hand. Most importantly though and the key thing that has gotten me very excited is that the Core Rules for play are now only four pages long.
I think I may finally jumping back on the Games Workshop train after so many years of being on the outside looking in gently caressing my Blood Bowl miniatures! Age of Sigmar is the game for me it seems. There are competitive elements to it but the main focus of it, the golden rule of Sigmar’s concise gameplay is that both players should be having fun at all times, no matter the size of the army they are playing with.
That is what I have always wanted!
The huge and daunting 100+ page rule books of old are a thing of the past. Warhammer is now open and available to all. For free. (I feel like I need to keep repeating that the rules are FREE!) You can now learn to play it in fifteen minutes. Then spend forever experiencing and adding to it. For a company that has been bringing war gaming to the masses for generations I am surprised it has taken this long. It feels like the start of a new, modern Warhammer for everyone. I can and will be teaching Age of Sigmar’s rules to anyone who will listen. Hell I don’t really have to teach them I can just sit there for fifteen minutes prepping my army while the other player learns the game.
The game designers at Games Workshop have looked at the state of Fantasy Battle as a hobby and have decided that it needed a huge shake up. In part to make it unique once again and (more importantly) to bring in new and lapsed players. They have also looked at the more serious dark fantasy focus that Warhammer has been leaning on for the past decade or so and have thankfully decided to inject some humour and craziness back into the proceedings. The game acknowledges the inherent absurdity of people pushing around hand painted figures to simulate a fantastical battle and plays around with it perfectly. Players should be talking about the crazy and silly things that happen during a game. They should be crafting legends and funny tales around the figures in their armies. They should be doing the silly player actions to unlock extra abilities and re-roll dice. They should be laughing. That is so freeing to see from a company more recently known for a focus on Grim Dark and everything being overly serious all the time.
Games Workshop have also seen the current rise of tabletop gaming in genera, seen where the market is going and are jumping in on the action, finally. A simple base product with potential to expand in size, scope and complexity is clear push to bring in some of the people who love playing board games. The four pages of rules (did I mention that already?) make the game easy to get up and running for new players so they can at least give it a go without being overwhelmed by a bombardment of competing rules, mechanics and systems. The overhead of starting in the hobby has also been greatly reduced. While you can go all in and buy the very nice looking starter set for £75 + an extra £20-£30 for things like paint, brushes and glue. You can also just by a £20 box of Dwarf Warriors and the tools needed for assembling and painting them and you are ready to start playing! Or if you are like me, blow the dust off some of the older miniatures you got as a kid and give the game a go.
Age of Sigmar is being positioned as a starting point for a new line of Warhammer products. The concise and modular nature of the game also supports the idea that it will grow over time. You have the four page Core Rules then the War Scrolls that deal with the individual rules for the various races, units and scenery. They add to those four pages in a simple but elegant way. It is perfect. I read and leant the Core Rules and the War Scrolls for all the dwarf units on my morning commute on Monday. I have never been able to do that with a Games Workshop product! Usually the learning process is a long one made up of multiple days of reading and analysing the rules then having a small game by myself to get up to scratch. With Age of Sigmar I can start playing it right now with my friends using my Blood Bowl and assorted random Fantasy Battle miniatures as substitutes until I build up a proper army. I am technically already an Age of Sigmar player and that is great!
Overall though I am just excited to play with a new Games Workshop product again. It something that hasn’t happened in well over a decade. It is an amazing feeling to experience again after so long. I love Blood Bowl and I have been enjoying playing that with some friends recently but that game has stopped growing and changing (for now anyway, *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*) so it is great to be able to get in on the ground floor of this new streamlined version of Warhammer.
I can however understand the frustrations of the established player base for Fantasy Battle have, to a point. You get used to doing a thing a certain way and it becomes hard to both accept and embrace change. Particularly change as big as Age of Sigmar’s. A cursory glance at the internet reveals that there is a lot of rage, anger and venom filled blog posts and rules reviews out there at the moment. A lot of it geared around perceived balance issues and rage at the inclusion of comedy focused player actions that can affect the game. It is mainly hyper competitive rules sticklers not quite grasping the malleable nature of the new rules though. Also that you are meant to talk to and agree on what troops you will be using with your opponent before play begins.
There are also lots of angry blog posts about people being able to steamroll players with smaller armies due to the removal of the points system for units. A valid concern until you realise that any player with a brain would say no to an overwhelming match up unless they really wanted to try their hand at a true suicide mission of a Sudden Death Victory. (Which would make an awesome story actually! Why not give it a go?!) But hey this is the ingrained nature of competitive Warhammer players at work. They need to win at all costs. For the longest time the rules for Warhammer have been there to be exploited and min/maxed to secure those all important victories. Fun times and competitive-co-op story telling be damned!
Still like I said Age of Sigmar has a modular design, Games Workshop know what they are doing. This initial wave is just the start. Once everyone has built up a small army and played a few skirmish games the next set of figures and rules expansions will be released. They could add more complexity, they could be new and updated armies, they could be new ways of playing. The game has been built to shift and change around the players, what they like and what they want. Things can and will be bolted onto those four pages of Core Rules. This could include super detailed and restrictive competitive play rules for those who want them. So just relax a bit and have a Age of Sigmar skirmish or three between your games of Fantasy Battle.
At the end of the day this is a concerted effort by Games Workshop to bring new people into the hobby. To make the barrier for entry as low as possible while keeping Games Workshop’s high level of quality intact. The figures in the starter set are beautifully crafted things full of life and detail. The other factions are going to get this lavish attention detail applied to them in time and I cannot wait to see the results. For now though I will be happy grabbing a few extra pre-Sigmar Dwarf figures and messing around with the rules a bit to learn the game and have a bit of fun.
That starter set does keep whispering sweet nothings to me though….Does anyone have a spare £75?