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Warhammer has finally died its slow death. The game has limped on for too many unproductive anti-innovative years. It is finally gone, taken off the life support it was on for far too long.
In its place we have Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. This is Games Workshop’s chance to retake the ground it has lost to its rivals over the past decade, and make a fantasy battles ruleset that will attract new and existing players alike. They have already shown themselves prepared to jettison an entire setting in order to salvage… something. Age of Sigmar is that something.
Early signs are encouraging. A four page truncated ruleset as been made available as a free download. Also available are a dozen or so sets of ‘warscrolls’ that show players how to use Warhammer models in Age of Sigmar games. I’m not looking at the warscrolls as part of this review though.
The rules are straightforward and simply expressed. The first page explains warscrolls and units, and gives you an overview of how to use dice in the game. This may sound obvious, but a good ruleset makes no assumptions.
After that we come to the battlefield and it’s clear the designers don’t want a passive tabletop. Every piece of terrain will have one of six special rules randomly assigned to it at the start of the game. A special prize for whoever comes up with token for these effects, players will need them. The effects are simply enough, but can have a major impact on the game. This is an interesting new feature, and will (Id hope) inspire some interesting terrain building projects.
Set up is another area where GW take a new approach. One player simply divides the table into two even halves however they wish. It’s not simply a case of fight along the long edges. As long as each player has an equal amount of table area to deploy in, it’s fine. Creatives, start your engines!
The default way of achieving victory in Age of Sigmar is to reduce your opponent’s army to 0 models. The rules suggest there may be other reasons to end the game, but give no suggestion to what that might be. Timed rounds, perhaps? In this case, only a minor victory can be achieved, by whoever has the most of their original army remaining on the table.
If your army is outnumbered by model count at the start of a game, you may additionally choose a sudden death option. If you achieve this, the game immediately ends as a major victory for you.
Age of Sigmar is divided into a series of battle rounds. A player moves through each of 6 phases, then their opponent does the same. This constitutes one battle round.
The rounds allow you to cast spells, use heroic abilities, move, charge, fight, or shoot.
The sixth of these phases is interesting. Any unit that has lost models during the turn must test for battleshock, and may lose yet more models in this last phase. Both players take these test each battleshock phase if any of their units have lost models. Attrition is definitely a thing in Age of Sigmar.
As a preview, these four pages do a good job. I meant what I said about the rules being truncated as a few things are yet to be explained, mostly around army construction. The first pages makes reference to choosing a ‘realm’ in which your battle takes place, but gives only one example – the realm of fire. Presumably there are others.
My pain came right at the end of this booklet, and cast a cloud over the rest. It was the oft-repeated statement that if you can’t work out how the rules work in a given situation, roll a D6 for it and move on.
One factor that has never worked in Games Workshop’s advantage is their sloppy, amateurish approach to rules writing. The rules of a game are supposed to cover all aspects of a game. This kind of sentiment leads to lazy, poorly thought through design, since the so-called designers give themselves this lazy man’s excuse.
Other (successful) companies gave grasped the nettle and managed to write rules which serve to enable gameplay without disrupting it, or causing massive breaks in play for reading. This is what rules are for. They provide a foundation on which to play the game, but otherwise stay out of the way while you have fun.
Poor rules or worse, contradictory rules, break this down, interrupt or halt the game, and are never good. If the floor of your house were 50% polished wood board and 50% manure mixed with straw you would not receive many complements for your flooring. Saying “but the wood is high quality!” is not going to change anyone’s mind either. Games Workshop will produce a better gaming product when they abandon this attitude.
A new Age
Age of Sigmar has potential. Games Workshop have not been afraid to take account of other games and progress made in wargaming with this new approach to the tabletop. If they can keep a tight ship rules-wise, I’d say this will fly.