Age of Sigmar: First Impressions

For once, I wished the worst of the worst rumors of the Bubbleverse were true; Even that would be better than what we’re getting.

So, first to get the positives out of the way: I love that they are releasing all of the rules for free, and that they’ve simultaneously pared their bloated ruleset down to 4 pages. Even if the rest of Age of Sigmar is an abject failure, which it is shaping up to be, I applaud them getting onboard with this concept at the very least. Warscrolls are the smart business move I hoped they would go with earlier, not outright squatting anything but making sure any purchase can always be useful.

Secondly, I actually do enjoy the aesthetic for the models. It’s busy, to be sure, and their models remain ludicrously overpriced, but I highly enjoy and appreciate whenever they distanced Warhammer Fantasy from the appearance of “generic” fantasy, and this continues in that vein. The Stormcast Eternals in particular are cool-looking casts, and if I ever find a set on 75% markdown, I’ll probably pick up a box or two.

Thirdly, despite several gaping holes I’ll mention below, the rules do have some really nice aspects right off the bat. The immediate existence of lite rules for campaigns (With getting a bonus for winning a Major Victory in the previous battle) and Battleshock seem like really good changes to the previously-stagnant ruleset of Warhammer Fantasy of editions past. I also enjoy that melee removes the need for Initiative, and once again ensures that getting the charge lends a major advantage no matter how slow (In terms of initiative) your troops were.

Lastly, before the claws come out, I’m ok with what they’ve done with the fluff. They’ve screwed up a lot of stuff, to be sure, and my not being a Brettonian player or a Lizardman player probably helps a lot too, but they changed a lot of stuff that needed to be changed in order for any semblance of plot advancement or rebirth to occur. Plus, the Stormcast Eternals seem to be setting the stage for the idea of them being space marines lost in the warp, and since that lets my headcanon pretend that the new Sigmar is a lost Primarch, then all the better.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten the saccharine bullshit out of the way, onto the nit-picking and outrage.

The biggest elephant in the room is the absolute laughable lack of anything remotely resembling a balancing metric of any sort besides shrugging your shoulders and gritting your teeth. “Use an approximately equal number of models” is ridiculous nonsense, and even in the Warscrolls displayed so far this is unsurprisingly inadequate. A Lord-Celestan is more than a match for any single model seen thus far, and even among the weaker infantry there are still inequalities: A Liberator vs a Prosecutor isn’t even close to a fair fight.

In addition, there are no rules to prohibit one person simply bringing more and/or better models than their opponent. The Sudden Death rule is ostensibly included to try and limit this, but several armies I’ve seen proposed, such as cramming your table half with Cannons (If they go off of the current Empire model, have <4 models and in sufficient numbers they can devastate anything) would render those extra objectives superfluous or unachievable. Before the full images were leaked, I had though Sudden Death was brilliant, and was triggered when your opponent outnumbered you by 3:1 or better, enabling a last-minute victory-grab for a horribly-outmatched force, but that’s not the case now that the full rules can be seen.

There are other issues to be sure, such as the unwanted inclusion of Mysterious Terrain, something I have never heard someone ask for or talk about in a positive light, and the lack of rules for Difficult Terrain are notable as well. Battleshock also starts to encourage absurdly huge blocks of troops, although I don’t think it would approach anything nearly as bad as last edition’s Steadfast would. However, all of that is small potatoes compared to the gaping chest wound of a lack of army organization or composition.

It’s rather stunning that this large of a gaff would be present in this comprehensive of a brand revamp, but at the same time the various retailer stories about talking with GW reps about this lack of army construction rules and being given a mild shrug and a “Sorry, that’s it” is certainly not encouraging that this was just a simple, single error. The one bright light at the end of this tunnel is that the rules and warscrolls being entirely online means that GW can certainly change and include this information on the Warscrolls without having to spend thousands on reprinted codices, so hopefully the public outcry will affect this change, and soonish.

I’ve been talking with OnePageAnon from the One Page Rules about what their rational could be for this, and he suspects that it was simply omitted because they didn’t have enough time to balance Warscrolls before they went to press. While I agree that this is a strong possibility, I personally suspect that such a balance was included up until relatively late in the design process, but then word-of-god from management required them to remove any sort of model number limitations, and they didn’t have sufficient time to create an alternative. In either case, the game is in deep trouble unless they can cobble together some sort of more concrete game system ASAP, because otherwise I think Age of Sigmar will be left in the same popularity boat as Dreadfleet and Inquisitor.

In any case, there’s a Page of Sigmar revamp OnePageAnon has whipped together, along with some updated Warscrolls floating about somewhere with hard unit number caps. Players play using equal numbers of Warscrolls, which is how it feels like Age of Sigmar was designed to be played in the first place. Hopefully this ruleset will become unnecessary as GW releases actual, not-shit rules for army composition, but in the meantime, this may be the best we’re going to get.

Here’s hoping that GW has a stroke of clarity and remembers that, oh yeah, the “eh, just throw whatever on the table, balance is for weenies” players only exist in the fevered minds of their management, and not in 99.9+% of their playerbase. If they do manage to turn this around and get functional composition rules out swiftly, Age of Sigmar may be a game-changer in the skirmish wargame arena.

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