Episode 78.7: My Thoughts on the New Age of Sigmar (Sponsored by PopNerdTV)

This post is a joint venture between myself and PopNerdTV, a site where I sometimes post my Battle Reports and do other reviews for. Check them out at http://popnerdtv.com!



 Age of Sigmar is a miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop, the company behind Warhammer 40K, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings wargames, and the popular predecessor to Age of Sigmar, Warhammer Fantasy. The game is set in a high-fantasy universe where the previous world has been destroyed and what remains of the mortal races such as Humans, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, and more have been changed from what they once were to adapt in a world where magic rules supreme.

Fans of other army based wargames will have some immediate familiarity with Age of Sigmar as it is primarily played between two participants with each helming a visually and thematically distinct army. These armies can be comprised of an individual Faction, such as the lightning themed Stormcast Eternals or ghostly Nighthaunt, or built under one of the great banners of Order, Chaos, Destruction, and Death. This allows a player to build an army that caters to what they like in game or visually with free mixing of armies as long as they fall under the same ideology.

Long time readers of my work will know that I came back to the miniature wargame genre with Age of Sigmar, shortly after the first General's Handbook came out. This tome provided more rules for the game including a traditional point system for making armies as well as Scenarios and army abilities to make individual factions more unique. Although I eventually left the game for Warhammer 40K I've kept a close eye on the Mortal Realms since then and with a new set of rules, a new General's Handbook for 2018/2019, and even more armies the game looks to be better than ever! Or are there perhaps problems that still lurk within the game? Here are my thoughts on the matter.


Before exploring the present I think it's important to touch on the past. Age of Sigmar is still a fairly new game, being birthed from the remains of Warhammer Fantasy which itself lasted through eight editions. Warhammer Fantasy was a much more traditional rank and file army game that took place in a low-fantasy world that would be familiar to anyone with an interest in fantasy fiction. At some point, likely due to lagging sales, Games Workshop decided to end the game and replace it with Age of Sigmar, a continuation of the setting but with many, many changes.

On launch the game itself was not well received. Many Warhammer Fantasy fans were and are completely die hard for not only the setting but the gameplay itself as rank and file games have slowly died out over time. Even worse the game launched with no rules for Matched Play, a method of bringing an agreed upon army size for the purpose of a balanced play experience. Instead the game was billed as "Bring what you want" and had very simplified rules both for overall play and for the armies themselves. As even casual players seem to prefer some system where they and an opponent can agree on a size for the game, Age of Sigmar was relegated to a very small fanbase and alienated the existing player base.

Over time it became clear that Games Workshop had to make an actual game out of Age of Sigmar so they created the General's Handbook, a yearly publication that includes rules for Matched Play as well as the other two styles, Narrative and Open. This provides a way to play for everyone on top of Scenarios, expanded Army Rules, and the ability to balance points and rules for those who enjoy a more competitive experience. This is where Age of Sigmar started to come into its own as exploitative rules were smoothed over and fans of traditional wargames could finally play the game without using ill-fated fan made balance systems.

Games Workshop has billed Age of Sigmar as their introductory wargame and it fits the bill. The rules are very simple compared to most other popular games which makes it a great experience for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. Models are able to move, shoot, and fight in combat via static values that are featured on each model or units rules, called a Warscroll. This allows for fast play as the person playing will know what they need to roll on each dice for success at whatever task they're attempting. The original ruleset for Age of Sigmar fit on just four pages in totality, although this was expanded a bit with the General's Handbook.

A New Edition

While Age of Sigmar has seen steady growth since the General's Handbook, with new armies and rules coming out at a somewhat steady pace over the last year, the game still suffered from problems. The most obvious issue were the so called "Rules of One" which started in the first General's Handbook and were then expanded in the 2017/2018 offering. These rules limited certain abilities to one instance. Notable examples are not being able to use the same Artefact, magical items commonly used by Heroes, as well as limiting attacks which themselves generate more attacks and potentially result in an endless loop.

The Rules of One were contained to the General's Handbook which could confuse new players that began the game with one of the many Start Collecting boxes, or the Two-Player introductory kit that serve at gateways into the system. New players would be unaware of these additional rules which could lead to confusion or a poor initial play experience and disinterest towards the game. Another problem was the integration of "old world" armies, those that existed in Warhammer Fantasy, with the new game. Initially Games Workshop published free to download Battle Tomes for these armies as a way to bridge the gap and incentivize the old-guard not to jump ship, sadly these were often poorly balanced and not maintained.

With the new edition of Age of Sigmar, dubbed Age of Sigmar 2.0, its clear the designers set their sights on issues brought to their attention by the community as well as further, more radical changes. All the Rules of One have been baked into a now expanded set of rules, still only clocking in at 18 pages. These rules remain free to download on the Games Workshop website and are also available for sale, rewarding physical collectors with expanded lore, art, and model showcases. This will hopefully make for a smoother learning experience as the game continues to attract new players while preventing a complete shock to the system of existing fans.

Age of Sigmar 2.0 is also bidding a bittersweet farewell to many of the old armies, relegating them to a system called Legends. Legend armies will receive no further rules updates and will not be featured in the General's Handbook Matched Play rules, effectively cutting them off as viable armies for most groups. This is likely for the best as Legend armies are comprised of models that Games Workshop no longer sells so starting such an army forced a player towards online second hand shops or generic fantasy models made by third-party companies. To compensate for this more and more new armies have been created for Age of Sigmar, expanding the options that players have without having to resort to picking up old and outdated models.

While the rule set for the game has largely remained the same, there are other tweaks that should spice up strategic play. Command Abilities, powerful effects that only a General could use, have been expanded so any Hero can now use them but at a cost. Command Points are a new addition to Age of Sigmar, lifted from Warhammer 40K, which give players a resource pool that they can expend to use Command Abilities from their Heroes or a few generic ones that any army has access to. This should allow Heroes to have a bigger impact on the game and fulfill their roles as respected leaders or feared tyrants. Heroes also get a defensive bonus when being attacked by missile weapons if they're near friendly models, an effort to curb the damage ranged attacks could do to armies built to rely on synergies.

Magic has also been changed with the generic spells that each Wizard is afforded nerfed while the range to Unbind, that is cancel a spell with a friendly Wizard, was increased. As magic is a primary method of Mortal Wounds, a powerful ability that cuts through any armor, the developers clearly wanted to reign access to that in. Certain armies have also received access to Summoning through various means, this allows them to bring extra models to the battle by fulfilling certain criteria. The followers of Khorne receive reinforcements as units are destroyed while the enigmatic Seraphon must channel the energies of their Wizards, creating new troops instead of casting spells.

Moving down the list the Terrain rules for all types of play were also altered. In Age of Sigmar Terrain pieces are assigned a random property before the game begins such as making your units braver or your Wizards more effective. Previously a few of these results were very impactful on the game to the point where one army getting certain bonuses made them nearly impossible to defeat. All of these have been toned down while retaining the flavor of the abilities, it's likely they'll now have an impact but will no longer be the deciding factor in games.

The final two changes are some of the biggest for fans of competitive play. For one units with shooting attacks may now not shoot out of combat, previously models with bows or guns could shoot whatever they wanted as long as they were within range, this made missile attacks the dominant strategy in the game. Now these units can still shoot while engaged in combat but may only shoot the models they're engaged with, this increases the viability of fast models as well as units that can appear from table edges or even closer. On top of that piling in, the action of moving models closer to enemy models in melee, was changed to allow big units to more easily bring their models into the fray. This looks to be an attempt at bringing Age of Sigmar to a more melee focused game instead of a war between ranged armies as it previously was.

Moving Forward

Having read over the new rules and followed a lot of the online forums for Age of Sigmar the consensus seems to be that the changes solve more problems than they create. It's likely shooting armies will still be very powerful as they don't lose their offensive capabilities entirely but have lost some punch. In particular shooting at Heroes should be toned down although certain armies, such as the Human Free Peoples, retain the ability to put out accurate shots that can remove such models.

Magic has been both greatly bolstered and reigned in. While casting spells is now less sure as enemy Wizards can have a go at Unbinding with greater ease there are also new spells that can be added to a player's army or taken from the Realm that the game takes place in, such as the Realm of Fire or the Realm of Life. It remains to be seen if these Realm spells catch on with the competitive crowd but they're certainly something to look out for in more casual play.

So far the Summoning changes have created the most confusion and concern as many veteran players of many different games will note that being able to add "free" models can break a game quickly. While there are restrictions on Summoning such as how the points to summon models are obtained and what models can be purchased with them only time will tell how the game will be impacted.

Overall I rate the changes to Age of Sigmar as immensely positive. Relegating old armies to the shelf was something that had to happen eventually but gets easier as new armies are produced to replace them. Summoning will hopefully create an interesting balance between one player trying to meet certain goals in order to unlock their free units while the other person tries to deny them. Magic is more interactive and puts a higher priority on taking a diverse selection of Wizards since the baseline spells are now much weaker.

Personally I would have preferred that Age of Sigmar stole some rules back from Warhammer 40K such as Heroes not being able to be targeted by missile weapons unless they're the closest model to the firing unit. Being unable to shoot when engaged in combat also seemed like a no-brainer as it makes thematic sense (especially in a fantasy setting without automatic weapons!) and would have placed a much higher premium on good positioning, solid use of screen tactics, and given things like Cavalry more of a place in the game.

While hype for the rules seems to be high, Age of Sigmar isn't without issues. The game still suffers from a lack of new armies as very few were added during the new edition launch for Warhammer 40K. The two newest Battle Tomes will be for Nighthaunt and Stormcast Eternals, two factions that have already received a lot of attention while others suffer in obscurity. There's also rumblings in the community that the new General's Handbook for 2018/2019 doesn't address a lot of the issues certain armies have while worsening the problems of yet other armies. Again, it's a bit too early for accurate comments on those changes as it will take time for the competitive community to make what they will out of them.

In my opinion these are the same issues that most wargames have, balance problems with points and abilities that need to be hammered out over time. As an avid Warhammer 40K player I've seen what Games Workshop can do with the new edition of that game and everything is the most balanced and fun that it's ever been. It remains to be seen if Age of Sigmar can achieve this same level of success, or if Games Workshop even envisions the game as a competitive game that deserves the same level of attention. But I think there's reason to be hopeful and if competitive play isn't your bag then Age of Sigmar has certainly never been better.

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