A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the new version of an old favourite. The publication of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, the latest incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, marked a radical departure from what had gone before. Its makers, Games Workshop, pretty much ripped everything up and started again. But have they thrown the baby out with the bathwater?
If you’ve read my original piece you’ll know I have reservations about this brave new world, but I had to concede I hadn’t played the new ruleset. It’s had its detractors, but in the comments section of my original piece lots of you spoke of how it made the game playable again. Better still, it was particularly accessible for younger children. This being GeekDad, I thought I ought to put this to the test. Many thanks to those who commented; you’ve inspired me to dig out my models and play my first game in years.
A game that was a resounding success.
The best thing the new rules have going for them is that they are free. If you have some models you can play a game. All the old races are available to play using “Warscrolls” which are freely available.
For our initial game, I thought we needed to go simple. My son is 9. He has a good attention span, but I wanted gameplay to be quick and to the point. We chose thirty models each, in three units of ten. I represented the Empire, with some archers, “Greatswords,” and men at arms, whilst my son controlled the forces of evil; Black Orcs, Chaos Warriors, and Beastmen. We didn’t use any special characters, just had a standard leader of each unit, one of whom was designated the general.
The ensuing battle was simple to play, remarkably close, and excellent fun. It also took place on an alarming, chaos tainted, fruit patterned vinyl tablecloth. Possibly a first in the gaming world.
Set up is easy. I opted for a small board with a couple of items of terrain. A hill and a forest, made out of table mats and kitchen towel. In the new rules terrain has a randomly generated property. In this case we had a Snow-Covered Forest of Bravery and the Snow-Capped Mountains of Certain Death. This precipitated a tantrum in my nine-year-old because he’d rolled “deadly” on the scenery table whilst I’d rolled “inspiring.” Proof that when you play with young children, it’s best to expect the unexpected.
We printed off the relevant pages of our Warscrolls, three each, set up our armies, and off we went to war. Movement is via ruler or tape measure, as in the days of yore, though movement rates have increased and double moves are common, making it much quicker to get into the action. Combat is very different. There are no longer opposed rolls. Hit and wound rolls are all governed by the scores on your Warscroll.
The new game seems to require the rolling of fistfuls of dice, which is great fun and led to interesting conversations about probability. Why was that roll of all 4s, 5s, and 6s lucky? The game is educational and fun!
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Much has been made by those who’ve played the game about the stacking of bonuses, and how certain types of troops or heroes work really well together. This is a nice idea, adding a new tactical dimension, but it’s not without its problems. If you’re playing with children, you pretty much have to keep track of all of this yourself (or at least I did on the first game) and I did make mistakes, which caused a few issues, and some rapid backtracking to avoid tears. Admittedly, I was also trying to deal with “help” from my six-year-old, and the occasional “hail of dice” spell cast by a truculent preschooler, which does break one’s concentration.
We only played a simple game. I can imagine that it could quickly become hard to keep track of everything. There are various ways you to manage this, but, much as with D&D 4th Edition, what looks good on paper can become unwieldy to play. If you can’t play a game without aids, it might suggest the mechanic is flawed.
In the end, due to my canny use of the Snow-Capped Mountains of Certain Death (which are hard to charge into), we had a very close game. It took about an hour and a half all together. My son had a blast and was really fired up about the game afterwards. That’s faded a bit now, but it has certainly piqued his curiosity.
I think the Warscrolls worked well. They are very much like the pilot cards in X-Wing, with all the information on them you need to use your unit. Each newly produced unit will have a Warscroll that comes in the box, and magazines such as White Dwarf will also carry new variants, giving the game some extra flexibility. In order to keep a track of all this, Games Workshop have produced an app (available on iOS and Android) which will be kept current with the existing freely available Warscrolls. (There are to be some pay-to-use ones that will tie in with forthcoming Age of Sigmar publications.) I’m impressed with the app. It’s user friendly and built with Games Workshop’s usual high production values.
So has my scepticism been set aside? Well, I have to say, I am now far more optimistic about the new game than I was. From the point of view of playing, it was like going back 25 years. It didn’t feel any different. I have huge reservations about the new world-building aspects of Age of Sigmar, but they were irrelevant in this game. I was back in the Old World with my Empire figures, trying to hold back the ravening hordes.
I have to hand it to Games Workshop, if you’ve got the figures this is a fully playable game. I know players are finding issues with balance, but even that, on reflection, harks back to the bygone era of wargaming. Ruthless competition play takes the fun out of gaming and destroys its community aspect. A cursory search on the internet brings up all sorts of homebrew rules, discussions about how the game might work better. I can see that this can be annoying, but it’s how RPGs and wargames used to be, or at least it was when I played them. Pages of impenetrable numbers and tables worked around by groups of friends sharing a common passion. In Age of Sigmar the basics are clear and freely available. All you need are some figures and some friends and a world of fantasy battles awaits.
Thanks again to everybody who commented on my original piece. You inspired a thoroughly enjoyable GeekDad afternoon.