Back in an Age of Myth (2015), I wrote this about Games Workshop’s brand new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I wasn’t entirely happy with the changes, but then again, I wasn’t really in a position to comment, having not played the game since before having children. Age of Sigmar felt like the last throw of the dice for GW’s fantasy strand. It was a lightning bolt to the failing heart of the game. It was either going to kill it dead or spark it back into life. The arrival of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Soul Wars (AKA 2nd edition) is proof that the shock worked. Warhammer is dead. Long live Warhammer.
What is Warhammer: Age of Sigmar 2nd Edition?
It’s the realizing of the full potential of the Age of Sigmar base game. Much of what was missing from the original edition has now been included. Subtitled Soul Wars, this core set introduces new players to the game. It will probably entice old fans to part with their money too, for it is a gorgeous beast. This new incarnation pits two forces against one another as they vie for supremacy of the Mortal Realms. Once allies of convenience, the Lightning Warriors of the God Sigmar, the Stormcast Eternals, must now do battle with hordes of ethereal undead, the Nighthaunts.
But is it the best way to play?
If you are keen Warhammer player you probably already have this box (it was released in June) or you’ve decided its not for you (and there are good reasons for feeling like this). If you’re new to the game, then Games Workshop has several different options for you to consider. The aim of this post is to try to break them down to help you work out which box might work best for you. I’ve mostly assumed you’re reading this because your children have expressed an interest in the game, and you’re not quite sure where to start.
When considering plunging into the world of GW, cost should definitely be a consideration. Whichever box you start with, if you (or your children) take to the game, somewhere down the line, there will inevitably be some heavy investment of time and money. That said, Games Workshop produces premium components. You pay for that quality, and the components are second to none. Its miniatures are consistently the best in the world, and these are no exception.
What are the core rules?
All of the sets below contain a copy of the “core rules.” These are the rules of Warhammer in their simplest form. The core rules are available online if you want to take a look before you buy. There are a few small but significant changes from the first edition rules, but the emphasis is still on playability and keeping the game moving.
Before I launch into my description of the options available for beginners, do consider checking out the official Warhammer: Age of Sigmar website. It has a number of videos and pages dedicated to learning the game.
Storm Strike: For Absolute Beginners
If you have never played Warhammer and want to try the game, but aren’t quite ready to stump up the cash for a full Soul Wars set, then the Storm Strike box is for you. Retailing at $40, this small box contains 15 push-fit miniatures, a copy of the core rules, dice, a ruler, and a campaign booklet. There is also a playmat, giving a surface that’s more interesting than the dining room table to play on. This instantly makes the game more inviting. To add a third dimension to the game, the Storm Strike box has printed sides and bottom. Turned upside-down, it becomes a ready-to-use building.
What are push-fit miniatures?
So you can start playing immediately, the Storm Strike miniatures come in two distinct colors (gold and blue/green). There’s no need for paint. After assembly, get stuck in and play. But what about assembly? All the new AoS models included in the new starter sets are “push-fit,” which means after being cut from their sprues, the pieces fit together without glue.
This is an amazing feat of plastic engineering. That such detailed models can stay together so firmly—without glue—feels a little like magic. Along with good quality assembly instructions (Citadel has upped their game in this department in recent years), it makes the models much easier to assemble. Providing you use a safe method to cut the pieces out, it gives younger hands the possibility of building their own models, which is more empowering than having a grown-up do it for them. I highly recommend using a pair of sprue clippers to do this, as they’re much easier and safer to use than a modeling knife.
It’s worth noting that the Storm Strike miniatures have interesting molded bases, which is something of a rarity for Warhammer minis.
What can you do with Storm Strike?
Once you have assembled your minis and laid the playmat on a flat surface, you’re ready to play. The Storm Strike book, after a brief hobby-related preamble, has a series of “battleplans” that will take you through the basic mechanics of the game. (All of which are covered in the Core Rules). There are 6 battleplans in all, each one introducing a new game concept and giving players the chance to see how it works. Note: My experience of these introductory games is that the Stormcast player is likely to lose out. Something to bear in mind if you want your opponent’s first Warhammer experience to be a winning one.
Further note: After a slightly more in-depth game, we realized utilizing all the abilities given on the units’ Warscroll cards, the Stormcast perform much better.
What’s a Warscroll card?
Every unit has a Warscroll card. It’s essentially all the stats and special rules required to use that unit in a battle. Although the core rules are simple, quite a lot of extra information and rules are included on these cards. In a game with lots of units, things can become complicated, but more on that later. There are cards for units that aren’t included in the Storm Strike box to give you a flavor of what might come next.
Tempest of Souls: Big, Bigger, Biggest
The Tempest of Souls set offers three alternatives, each one bigger and arguably better than the previous one. The smallest version (retailing at $80) contains the same basic materials as Storm Strike (dice, ruler, battlemat, Core Rules, and Warscroll cards) but has more miniatures: 32 altogether.
This set adds an extra unit type to the Stormcast army, a “wizardly” character model, and a ballista too. The Nighthaunts can field an extra character model and an additional horde unit of ten models.
The box, again, contains a softback book, with an introduction to the Warhammer universe and battleplans that will teach you the game. This book has an extra 16 pages in it to that included in the Storm Strike set. Other than those 16 pages the books are the same. The Tempest of Souls book has extra information about how to paint its extra models (with a few additional, more advanced, techniques), more flavor text for them, and two additional battleplans to help learn to use them.
Build and paint!
Those looking for a complete hobby introduction might wish to consider the Tempest of Souls + Paint set. This is the same Tempest of Souls set outlined above, but it has an extra hobby layer that contains almost everything you need to start your journey painting Citadel miniatures. The box retails at $120.
It comes with an additional 13 paints, a pair of quality sprue clippers (well worth having), and a small mold line scraping tool. There’s also a single paintbrush to get you going. The brush seems to be better than previous incarnations of Citadels “starter brush,” though if you intend to be serious about painting, you’ll soon find yourself needing extra brushes. GW have their own range but do check out this link for these excellent alternatives.
The paints in this set are exactly the same as the pots in the Citadel paint range, which is an improvement on earlier introduction sets I’ve reviewed. Previously, cut down, shallow versions of the pots have been provided, but these ended up drying out very quickly. It’s worth noting that if you want to pick up the paint set at a later time, it is available on its own, and the combined price of the buying the paints and Tempest of Souls separately is exactly the same as being the single box version.
Note: I have had issues with GW paints drying out (and I myself have moved to Vallejo, as they come in dropper bottles). Be sure to close the lids firmly and store them in a cool place if you’re not using them for any length of time.
Further Note: This box contains no primer for your models. You can paint directly onto your models, but all veterans of the game would tell you to use an undercoat. These can either be applied as a spray or painted on with a brush.
A bigger box?
The third incarnation of the Tempest of Souls Box is the “Command Collection.” This has all the paints and models of the previous box but also adds two impressive command models, one for each faction included in the box. Again, at the time of writing, these are both available separately and can be picked up later at no extra cost, so I’m not sure you need to go the big box route unless you’re fully committed. At $200 for the box, you’re going to need to be!
What about Age of Sigmar: Soul Wars?
With the wealth of options available above, it’s easy to forget that none of the above are the full base game. That honor belongs to the Soul Wars box. This comes in at $160. It contains the most miniatures (52) but has no painting or modeling equipment. There’s also no play mat, nor does the box function as a building. Some of the extra cost of this set is for its imposing 320-page rulebook.
What’s in the Soul Wars box?
- 320-page hardback rulebook
- 32-page Battle of Glymmsforge booklet
- 16-page core rules booklet
- 8-page start here booklet
- 13 Warscroll cards
- 1 dice pack
- 1 range ruler
- 52 Citadel Miniatures in two factions Stormcast Eternals and Undead “Nighhaunts”
What are the components like?
The “rulebook” is a thick hardback of some 320 pages. Enough to make newcomers blanch, until they realize that much of this book is not actually the rules.
Most of the book is dedicated to the setting of the game. A detailed description of the events that led up to and define the “Age of Sigmar.” The game takes place in the “mortal realms” and much of the rulebook is given over to describing the various realms where battles can take place.
The level of detail is similar to that given in the new Warhammer 40,000 rulebook last year. It sets the lore and tone for battling in the Age of Sigmar. This level of detail is not required to play the game, and depending on your mindset, you could easily do without it. My kids, for example, are currently completely uninterested in this book, so we don’t use it all that much. The book does have additional battleplans with which to vary your gaming experience from the basic set up given in the core rules.
Brave New World
These second edition sets are proof that the Warhammer fantasy setting has evolved, adapted, and survived. If the first edition felt like Games Workshop’s last roll of the dice, this feels like it came up sixes. Much of the first incarnation felt thrown together. There wasn’t much investment in setting. Why flesh something out if it wasn’t going to be around? There was (rightly so) a strong link back to the pre-existing races. Gradually, since then, the old has fallen by the wayside and players of the game have wholeheartedly embraced the new. These second edition sets are physical proof that the transition from a more traditional rank a file game to a faster, more dynamic set of rules has been a wholehearted success.
But who is the Soul Wars box for?
I’m not entirely sure how to answer this question. Die-hard fans already bought this box the day it came out. For those with limited cash or a tentative interest, is the Soul Wars box a good buy? On the one hand, yes. On the other, no. Which, I concede, is not terribly helpful.
First up, the box is good value (even though it’s not cheap at $160). You get a good haul of figures, plus that chunky hardback, which will set you back $60 on its own. But, if you already have your army from the previous edition, do you want these new models? I mean, yes, you want them—they’re gorgeous—but do you need them? Possibly not.
You might be better off with a General’s Handbook and the core rules.
What is the General’s Handbook?
The General’s Handbook is an annual publication that contains, among other things, all the points values for the Age of Sigmar miniatures range. It’s something no competitive player should be without. It does have content for narrative and open play too, but most people buy it for those all important points lists. Note: Games Workshop seems to use the General’s Handbook to maintain balance in the game. Points values can go up and down on the release of a new handbook. This shifting of the goalposts is not always popular, but, perhaps, inevitable, considering the number of moving parts the game has.
You can get a flavor of what army list building looks like using the Warscroll Builder on the Games Workshop Community website.
Do beginners need Soul Wars?
With Storm Strike and Tempest of Souls, arguably not. The only thing your gaming experience is lacking with the starter sets is additional battleplans with which to vary your gaming experience. There are more subtle alternatives to the classic pitched battle contained in the core rules. The core book adds rules for objectives and area control, giving rise to battles where strength plays less of a part in determining victory. Dogged defense of key points on the board may lead to victory despite being almost completely wiped out. If you play at club or game store, you will probably be able to discover these battleplans without having to have your own copy of the rulebook.
One other consideration is, do you (or your children) wish to play with the two armies that come in the starter sets. If the answer to this question is “No,” then the value of the miniatures is something of a moot point. You may be better off choosing which army you want to play and then picking up the usually very good value “Start Collecting” boxes. You can then pick up a General’s Handbook or the full rules further down the line.
Is there anything else you need to know?
Let’s make no bones about it: playing Warhammer is an expensive hobby. Whichever set you buy, you’re going to need more figures. There are a host different armies to choose from, and a wealth of options within each army to keep your wallet empty for a very long time. On top of the General’s Handbook, you may also want to buy a “battletome.” Battletomes are books specific to particular armies. They’re filled with lore and rules for each of the unit options for a particular faction, and, usually, have additional special rules to make your army even more effective.
Beyond that, there’s a new Malign Sorcery boxed set, which introduces the concept of “Endless Spells.” These are a new addition to the game that look amazing and are probably essential if you’re going to play competitively, but certainly not required for beginners.
Questions of time and space.
On top of the outlay for models and books, there’s the question of scenery. You can buy amazing scenery these days or make it yourself, which is more time consuming but much cheaper. Teenaged me loved the scenery I built. It was terrible but it was mine. Whichever option you go far, you have an additional problem of where to store your stuff when not using it. Scenery and painted models don’t stack easily!
The game itself requires quite a large area to play on. The only place in our house is our dining table. If you grow your armies, you will soon outgrow the battlemats provided with Storm Strike and Tempest of Souls. You’re probably going to need at least a 6’x4′ area to play on. Playing on the floor is definitely an option, though you do run the risk of models being trodden on, and it’s not as good a playing experience as playing on a table. Again, if you use boards you have to find somewhere to store them. I can highly recommend a roll-up neoprene mat as the basis of your board. They’re easy to store and instantly make your games look better. (Again, playing at a club helps with this, as they usually have all the scenery and boards you need to play the game.)
The biggest barrier for my family to playing Warhammer is how time-consuming it is. For a full game, you’re looking at around 3 hours minimum, by the time you’ve factored in set up and put down time. This takes a big chunk out of family time and probably decommissions one room of the house for at least an afternoon. It’s not impossible to work around but it needs careful planning. On top of playing time, the painting and modeling aspect is a time absorber too. It’s great to get the kids doing something creative, but it does come with the flipside of taking up time and space.
If time and space are an issue for you, do consider some of GW’s smaller games. Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire in a fantasy setting and Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team, a brand new skirmish game set in the far future. (Look out for a review on GeekDad soon.)
Simple, but not simple.
One of the Age of Sigmar’s selling points is its simplicity, but it’s my feeling the game is not as simple as it pretends to be. In isolation, the core rules are simple, but the way the game is designed things can become complicated quite quickly. The army building side of the game is predicated around synergies between the units you choose. Certain heroes work well with certain units and similar types of units work well in tandem together. As a design concept, I love it. It promotes the building of a cohesive force and allows strategic thinking when compiling your army. (There is an argument that the entire game can be won before you even arrive at the table, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
The way these synergies work is that some models/units will “buff” units they are close to. These are generally in the form of additional dice modifiers (such as +1 to hit, meaning you can add one to the number you rolled) or the opportunity to roll failed dice rolls. Which is great until you realize how many possible buffs there are.
Alternative weapons, heroes being present, number of troops in a unit, artifacts in the unit, your general’s command abilities, spells, and permanent spells all might have an effect on your dice rolls. Your opponent’s forces may have a few counter buffs of their own too. And if that wasn’t enough, if you’re using all the rules, the scenery you’re standing near and the Realm type you’re playing in might have an effect too.
In isolation, this isn’t too bad, but when playing with several units, across 5 turns, when the modifiers shift and change, it becomes hard to keep track of, especially for beginners. It’s all too easy to forget when a modifier applies and accidentally disadvantage or advantage yourself. And frankly, it’s all too easy to cheat because it’s hard to ensure your opponent has done their bookkeeping properly. This can cause problems for competitive siblings. I know from experience that it’s easy for the older one to forget stuff in their favor!
This is not a deal breaker for the game, but its something to be aware of.
Can you have too much knowledge?
All the above words were written by 45-year-old-me. Twelve-year-old me wouldn’t have read them much beyond the first paragraph. He’d have thought “this game looks entirely cool,” purchased whichever box he could afford, and taken it off into the corner and got on with it.
When I look back at those days and the sheer amount of fun I had with little or no clue as to what I was doing, I can’t help but wonder if knowing something about a hobby can almost be a barrier to helping people enjoy it. If you trawl many forums you’ll see many people espousing their approach as the right way to play. I have set ideas about what makes Warhammer great, but I should let my kids find out what works for them.
Back when I played, the rules were barely formed, and even when they were, we got them wrong half the time. Battles were horribly one-sided, but it didn’t matter because we were having a great time. Lots of Warhammer discussion centers around army points and game balance. To the uninitiated, I’m not sure this matters. Similarly, all my worrying about confusing modifiers is irrelevant in the face of child-led enthusiasm.
Whichever of the new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar sets you choose, they are of the highest quality. The figures are amazing and the game has been created by a company with a wealth of experience, that is (after a few years in the wilderness) dedicated to making its games as fun as accessible as possible. Through the Warhammer community website, there is a wealth of support for gamers old and new, young and old. There’s possibly never been a better time to battle in the Age of Sigmar.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.
Disclosure: I was sent an AoS: Soul Wars, Storm Strike, and Tempest of Souls box in order to write this review.