Monday, 6 July 2015

Thoughts on Age of Sigmar - Rage, Optimism and the Uncertain Future...

Well this has been an interesting few weeks. After the demise of the Old World we finally see what has come to take its place and the emergent Age of Sigmar has divided the community. Here I will attempt to gather some thoughts from across the internet as well as throw in a few of my own ramblings with regards the new release. More than anything this is for posterity's sake as I think it will be interesting to look back on the dawn of this new era of Warhammer in the months and years to come.

I will address the three core aspects of the game (as I see them): the models, the rules and the fluff followed by a lengthy conclusion. Throughout I will attempt to include both the positive and negative   though I forewarn you I shall probably tend towards the latter though I try to keep some optimism. 

The Models

I don't think the quality of the models can be called into question, this is GW's casting at its cutting edge with insane amounts of detail. Personally I quite like the models. Whilst they may be ludicrously over the top I feel they achieve an epic vision that has so often appeared in the art, particularly the chaos stuff which follows in the vein of recent End Times releases and arguably the Chaos aesthetic presented in the Dark Vengeance box as well, particularly the Chosen models. Not so keen on the monster but otherwise the starter contents are fairly technically impressive if a little overly-insane.

I actually think the Stormcast Eternals look quite cool and are visually impressive as an army; a host of these guys would look great together on the tabletop. I was quite surprised by their scale though, being roughly as big as Space Marine terminators and on the same base. Apparently a huge golden Stormcast Eternal statue has been erected outside GW headquarters in Nottingham. I haven't seen a picture of it yet but it would certainly indicate how much they are willing to push these guys as the poster boys of this new game.
The heroes Warhammer need?
The Stormcast Eternals have attained the dubious moniker of 'Sigmarines' in the community and I have already seen quite a few cool conversions of the free Liberator that came with the White Dwarf into various forms of Space Marines. The most successful I have seen thus far being an Adeptus Custodes and a Blood Angels captain. I must admit I was planning on getting that White Dwarf and converting it into a 40k Cardinal in Terminator Armour to lead my Witch-Hunters alongside my Lord-Inquisitor. I can see the comparison and I understand why GW has done it. I also realise that an order-aligned version of a Chaos Warrior was destined to look something like this but I think elements like the death mask and scrolls could have been toned down to prevent closer comparison to marines. As it stands I could assemble a sizeable terminator (deathwing or grey knight) army straight out of the starter box with little to no conversion work. The Lord-Relictor could even be a terminator Chaplain. The Khorne stuff could equally work well as the basis of a Chaos Marine or Daemonkin army with plenty of cultists and some berserkers/chosen. 

Random note: if standard Warhammer 'hatology' still applies then this guy will be the real MVP of the starter box. His headgear gets even more ridiculous when you look at it in 360 view. I look forward to seeing if a model for mighty Sigmar himself will get a hat able to rival that of Nagash.

Deathmask? Check
Lion-helm? Check
Lightning Halo? Check
Mini-Ghal-Maraz Crest? Check
Huge plume coming out top? Check

The Rules 

Small model count for easy access: Great!
Updates for every army: Great!
Free rules for everyone: Fantastic!

Unbalanced, nonsensical rules simplified to childish levels: not so good. The rules thus far have proven to be the biggest sticking point for most people, myself and my friends included. 

How simple should simple be? The main rules are only four pages long and stat-lines as we knew them are gone completely. Rather than a range of charts we have static to-roll values for most things. Many have argued that this is too simplistic, that it opens up many logical inconsistencies and fails to account for a range of possibilities. I would tend to agree as now as you roll to wound a goblin the same as a bloodthirster which under the old rules would have been vastly different circumstances. Overall I like the idea of easier to learn rules, however the direction that should have been taken was one of streamlining rather than simplification.

Simplification may however prove to be a small blessing as combined with low model counts the barrier to entry for the game has been significantly lowered. War scrolls being rules in the box and free rules online as well are excellent ideas. I for one have downloaded everything (then again I usually download anything GW or FW put up in fear they could disappear one day). Steps in the right direction at least and I will be interested to see if this helps tempt new players into the hobby. 

I have heard that it can be quite an enjoyable game if played casually though requiring some effort to get right (largely due to balance issues). I think most importantly the issue is that this is a wholly different type of game, it is not a game of massed formations doing battle. It is a skirmish game that has been argued to lack the tactical depth of manoeuvre that defined the previous incarnation of Warhammer. It is not therefore what fantasy players wanted nor asked for. 

Arguments for the lack of restrictions and greater freedom seem to be the bastion of those defending the rules. However others have argued that the lack of points or other system of balancing armies is a seemingly disastrous move. Tournament and competitive play will be far more difficult to organise without a simple arbitrary system to ensure roughly equal armies do battle. I am no tournament player so I will leave that discussion for the more knowledgeable. Even with points it could at times be difficult to accurately match-up units, now it is quite impossible and 'bring your whole collection' sounds a terrible idea. Points really has been a sticking issue as it is a change to a fundamental basis of wargaming common to nearly all games, its abandonment has ultimately been seen as a very poor choice due to the effect on the practicality of having a game in the first place. 

Also bases don't matter anymore and instead you simply measure from the model itself. Whilst this means people don't have to rebase their entire collections it does open a huge can of worms with the potential for certain base sizes and weapons to give unfair advantages. I should hope we don't see ridiculous modelling to win but there will be at least one or two people that do. 

With regard the compendiums for existing armies, the rules presented for them seem ok; a token gesture which is the least they could have done to prevent a total implosion of their player base. Invalidating everyone's collections in one bold stroke would not have sat well. I do have a bit of a problem with the 'fun' rules they seem to have put in (See Kurt Helborg, the Bloodwrack Medusa, Gresus Goldtooth, Konrad von Carstein, the Masque of Slaanesh, Settra the Imperishable, Brettonia and probably a few others). This totally bemuses me, the intent was probably a flight of fancy that overtook a games designer or two but at the end of the day I think was just silly and in a way quite insulting to veterans. Apparently we will not be seeing rules like this for new models. Make of that what you will.

Perhaps we shall see updates to what has been said to be a 'living ruleset' that will bring marked improvements over the next few months. Physical rulebooks of one form or another, most likely expansions and campaigns, have been rumoured to be on the horizon and may bring some more aspects to the game. Rules for massed battles and some form of balancing mechanic would be warmly welcomed by a currently sceptical community. How soon we see these we will have to see should they materialise at all. 

The Fluff

The fluff is still as of yet largely unknown to us. What we do know seems to hold promise but is an entirely different beast to what we had previously. This is high fantasy as high as it gets. I am worried that in a quest to make this as epic as possible we will lose some of the down-to-earth grim darkness that was the heart and soul of the Old World. In a way the hopelessness of the common man in both the fantasy and 40k settings is what defined them and made their heroics all the more emotionally satisfying. The appeal of armies like the Empire and Imperial Guard Astra Militarum was the struggle of the everyday man against the forces that sought to destroy him. Age of Sigmar however has given the forces of Order a fighting chance but I hope they don't take it too far and remove the humanity we can empathise with.

I will be really interested to see where they go with the setting. If anything can get me into this game it will be the fluff behind the models. I first got into the hobby through Lord of the Rings and later branched out as I discovered armies that I enjoyed the fluff for. Hell, I am one of the dozen people that play Sisters of Battle because I love their background. If the exceptional models continue and are backed up by engaging fluff I may be tempted to buy something. 

Also, there have been many awkward name changes in an attempt to make things more copyrightable. I largely don't have too much of a problem with this though I think a few of them are a little silly. Ogres becoming Ogors seems daft. Lizardmen becoming Seraphon is actually just weird as that was the name of Malekith's dragon.

On a random note I expect the Realm of Metal to be as awesome as its title infers. 

The art looks top notch as well. Unsurprising given the End Times art which was fantastic. There are as of yet few example of art from the Age of Sigmar out on the internet, what we need is a big book of some form full of artwork to ogle at. I have been somewhat disappointed at recent 40k artwork, much of which seems uninspiring and bland compared to what you can find in third and fourth edition codexes (a topic I will be addressing in depth in a month or twos time). I hope that the artwork for Age of Sigmar continues in the same vein as we have seen thus far. 


I think this was a golden opportunity to breathe fresh life into the game and I think they missed the mark. Already on many of the big internet forums vocal portions of the community are unwilling to support Age of Sigmar. There are some, equally vocal, people willing to give it a go and have already reported positively regarding the starter box as a whole. 

What is interesting is that Age of Sigmar is starting to be marketed outside of GW itself. Game Informer have run an article on it with a positively glowing review. I wouldn't be surprised to see GW push this in ways they haven't previously used for their miniature games so it is possible we will see new players enter the fantasy scene. It will be interesting to see how many new players come into the  hobby as I can imagine we are about to see a massive haemorrhaging of the existing player base as people reject this new era of fantasy. In many ways this product seems almost wholly geared towards attracting new players with only token thought given to existing fantasy customers. Perhaps a wise decision seeing as in the fantasy range has been losing profitability for a while now and GW cannot trust veterans alone for revenue. 

Rumours and reports from GW reps seem to indicate that GW are willing to go as far as they need to in order to promote Age of Sigmar. There have been indications that whilst rules will remain free books are coming with background, scenarios and narrative campaigns. Apparently more modes of play will soon be supported and some form of balance for tournaments will appear at some point. However, at the moment we don't know specifics and given how insanely inaccurate rumours about this game have been over the past few months I will believe nothing until I have these products actually in front of me. 

I have sufficient fantasy and 40k projects to keep me busy until Christmas. If GW don't do something to impress me between now and then I will not be spending my money on Age of Sigmar. The models are good but not so exceptional I desperately need them, the rules appear to be a mess and I barely know anything about the fluff. In fact unless they give Sisters of Battle some cool new models and a proper update I can see my GW spending drop dramatically in the next year. I have by the way heard good things about Mantic's Kings of War and I have always fancied a bit of historical wargaming or Malifaux....

Many long-term players like my fellow writers on the blog and I will now enter wait-and-see mode. This could grow into something great, in a year or so I might be posting about how much I enjoy the system and showing off some freshly painted Aelfs. There are rumours and indication of things developing and getting better. What we have for now may be too early to really tell what the grand plan for Age of Sigmar is. We shall have to see what comes to pass in the following months but for the wider community this has not been a wholly good first impression.

This is the end of an era and the beginning of a wholly untrodden path. Success or failure; this new game will have a profound effect on GW and the industry as a whole. The future is uncertain and it is up to us to decide if these strange new paths are ones we will have faith walking down.

Doombringer out.

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