Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In defense of Age of Sigmar and its hidden depth

I’ll admit that when Games Workshop destroyed the Old World and released Age of Sigmar I was one of the fiercest opponents of the move both verbally and on the web.

I had to step back and finally ask myself however why I stopped playing Warhammer Fantasy in the first place. The answer was simple: it stopped being FUN. 

Back in the day I was ALL in on Games Workshop products. Rampant price increases, poor treatment of employees and a mightier than thou attitude that they were the only game on the block slowly turned me off of them and their products. Also their rules writing had gotten more and more atrocious over the years. It got to a point in Warhammer Fantasy that it became a game of marching forward and clashing in the middle with badly written vague rules and a drawn out magic system.

Besides that point I was a skirmish guy. I liked round bases, gangs and the ability to move and shoot freely. So when GW announced that they were turning Fantasy into a skirmish game I was happy. I was not however ready for the WAY they did it.

In my mind GW went off the deep end. Taking all the established lore they had for the Old World and tossing it out the window is a super bold move but lets face it: GW needed work. Sales were horrible, they were TRASHED by Kickstarted upstart companies, their prices were drumming them out the market and their stores were closing left and right. The few zealot neckbeards that still clung to a clunky Warhammer Fantasy battle system had ruined most of the tournament scenes with power lists and a hilarious 23 page FAQ just to straighten up the foundation of the rules mechanics. The game was stale, boring and GW was losing money hand over fist due to the high entry factor of the game. 

So what had to be done to allow existing players to STILL play yet turn this thunderous bore of a game into a skirmish title? Firstly alliances had to be fixed. The current system was a joke with its percentages and regulations. Drop all that. Make it side based and lump people into categories and remove all this neutral garbage. 

Secondly magic had to be made better. Requiring a second book was a thing of the past. Cards should be a thing of the past. Make it simple. Pick a unit, cast a spell, maybe have it blocked and move on. Allow races to still be unique by embedding spells on a racial warscroll.

Movement needs to be made faster. Army construction needs to be simpler and the number of models needs to be reduced. All the things a skirmish game is known for. The old lore had become tired and disposable. The only way to solve it was to…and you guessed it…blow it all to hell. 

The lore is readable all over the web on how they did this. I am not here to discuss lore even though it is a great read to see how everyone went out. The NEW LORE however, while a bit … odd… can lead to some interesting gameplay and story telling possibilities. Essentially there are now multiple realms where multiple civilizations of people are leading their daily lives with the exception of one problem: Chaos has conquered all of them but one. And that is where the Sigmarites come in. 

In order to make a skirmish game and have all the old miniatures be viable you would have to redo all the stats of pretty much every miniature in the Warhammer Fantasy world.  Doing this would rule out “army books” and GW knew they had to keep this game accessible and lower cost for entry

To stay competitive you would need to make the rules short and for the most part free then also cut back on the need to buy 50 dollar books to use your army (something 40k STILL hasn’t learned as it constantly breaks its own rules system).

So taking a page from Fantasy Flights book of sales GW has done just that.  Each army now has units that you can buy in a box. Yes…it is the same boxes we are used to however now a key difference exists: GW has inserted slips of reference sheets called Warscrolls that sum up the units abilities and how they act in the game. They also made the smart move of letting you open the box and play it right away as opposed to the old days when a unit would require 5 but a box would have 3, forcing the purchase of two boxes.

 If the older box does not have the Warscroll simply go to the GW site and get it for free or use the awesome new GW Age of Sigmar app on your mobile device

What GW has done is open up a world of possibilities for Alliances as well. Gone are the days where every army acted independently. Now they are categorized as we would expect: Order, Chaos, Death, Destruction. They pretty much fall in line with what races you would expect. There are some surprises however such as Dark Elves being lumped in with the forces of Good aka Order. 

This leaves all the miniatures you have free to ally with one another if they are part of the same alliance which is a brilliant business move. The best part of all that is that it allows to play armies you may not have been able to afford before. For example I can take my old High Elves and now maybe a unit of Wood Elf Glade Guard.  I don’t need to buy a 2000 point army to see how Wood Elves perform.

If you look closely at any Warscroll GW further added depth by adding trading card game like KEYWORDS that further allow you to synergize your armies on the table.  For example you may have a General that can give effects to all “AELFS” and in this case that would encapsulate Wood Elves and High Elves. 

So as you can see the depth of army creation goes a lot deeper than the people that complain and make fun of Age of Sigmar without doing their research. On the surface 4 pages of rules seems scant but the game truly has myriads of rules hidden within every unit you field. This is quite brilliant in a Hero Clix sort of way as fixing these units would simply require a GW PDF update to the mobile app or website.

“AH HA but wait!” you may yell at your computer screen

“GW HAS released 50 dollar army books they are just called Battle Tomes!”

Not so fast. Lets back up and take a look at these Battle Tomes and your feelings that you need them to play the game.

 The Battletomes are great yes however many will contest that that the price is just not worth it. I can agree with a bit of this. IF you are a lover of fluff and want to know the entire story of what is happening with the lore then these books are a must buy. They also include the latest update to date stats on all your units as well for that specific race. Also there are many scenarios dealing with your army as well as something called Battalions. This is another way GW has added more depth to the game. A battalion is basically a simple way to balance the game.

The way they work is easy. Build the force listed on the battalion and your entire army gets the benefits listed on the battalion sheet. For example in the Fyreslayers Battletome is a battalion called GRAND FYRD. If you build this exactly as shown (1 Lord of the Lodge, 2 Warrior Kinbands and a Forge Brethren) your ENTIRE army gets to subtract 2 from battle shock results as well as other things.  This encourages people to use these battalions thus ensuring a non cheesy force and balancing the game INTERNALLY with no points needed.

 Yet half of the people ripping on AoS and the fanboys of the now defunct 8th edition overlook these things or do not know about them. A lot of this is also caused by GW’s shoddy marketing and their inability to sell their own games systems as they still live in 1995 apparently.

Are the Battletomes expensive? Yes. ARE they needed? No. The app has everything you need. Now the Battalions are at a price (of course they won’t give away book contents) but the price is meager at $1.99. By the way all the unit stat info for the models is FREE. If you are into artwork and the lore then by all means snag the Battletome. I was also impressed that the new DEATH Grand Alliance book is only $20 dollars. 

So as you can see the complaints and the trolling by angry 8th edition fanboys goes largely unjustified and is due to their own ignorance. It was my hope that this first article can give you more than plenty enough ammunition and shut them down in internet trolling arguments. There is depth but GW is not the best at explaining these things. The myriad of options for army building are hidden layer by layer depending on what army you take, the scrolls and the Battalions if you want to use one.  

More later on Age of Sigmar.