Monday, 6 July 2015

Initial reaction to Age of Sigmar

By now most people around the world have seen the extent of the full release of Age of Sigmar.Games Workshop have rolled it out worldwide and we can now take a closer look at what WHFB has become.

First up the presentation of a new logo which looks aesthetically like a wink to the late 80's incorporating a little of the old Chaos 8 pointed star. Although retro styling aside, it comes across as a little dated, almost a step back even from what we had. Its got some unique style ques, like the right representing Chaos and the left a nod to the new Sigmarites. Its been presented in a heavily edge highlighted style such as Games Workshop currently paints their miniature range. 

The new story revolves around realm gates

The new box art, predictably is excellent. Games Workshop has never disappointed with artwork, whether it is some artwork in a magazine or the cover of the latest codex. This time it features both the Sigmarite forces and the Khornate army clashing in epic battle. We have come to expect nothing less and GW continue to deliver.

Inside we are presented with some cheap dice and measuring sticks. I really wish Games Workshop would move on from supplying such basic components,as I find it really cheapens the overall feel of their products. Its mismatched with the other contents. Some 16mm dice and a proper tape measure would not go amiss here, and are both inexpensive items. 
We also get a colour print of the new 4 page rules (more on that later), alongside a 96 page background and hobby book, some assembly instructions and a sheet of transfers.

The 96 page booklet does not offer a lot of depth to the new fantasy setting, and includes several scenarios, dioramas and more beautiful artwork.
Normally in previous editions, this booklet would have included all the rules as well, but in this instance the 4 pages have been separated, which is a move I like.
Overall the presentation is high if not the content somewhat thin.

Now to the models. As per usual the quality of the sculpts is second to none! There is plenty of personality in each of the sculpts and from a technical standpoint the models and frames are up to the usual standards. Games Workshop has arguably the best reputation in the industry when it comes to production values. However, and this is purely based on individual opinion as only it can be, I am undecided on the change in the aesthetics. They are growing on me the more I see them painted. I especially like the silver painted ones. The new Sigmarite faction has a quasi Greek Hoplite/MTG Angel type style, whilst the Khornate faction continues down the angry red armour route. It is refreshing to see no sculls on the forces of order for a change. But one cant help but identify the Sigmarite's as simply Space Marines in a fantasy setting...

Now to the rules. Oh the rules. Four pages are all we are presented with. Now initially you may find them lite, but that is until you realize that the additional warscroll's provided for each of the models available have all the special rules included on handy reference sheets. I find this a very good step, but it is not new nor revolutionary. Many games use reference cards or unit sheets to provide detail and rules for individual units. It is however a positive move for gamer's. 

The rules themselves after reading through them feel very brief. Not a lot of depth or detail, and very little in the way of examples. They come across in a very haphazard fashion, but at least follow a logical path of beginning to end of the game. There are basically 2 pages of setting up the table and starting a game, followed by 2 pages of core rules. Existing players will feel like they are in very foreign territory, and with very good reason, as this rule set is very different to anything that has been produced in the past by Games Workshop.
Gone are the standard model profiles shared across both main GW games, and replaced by a very simplified success chart. And thats the best way I can describe it. The profiles are more charts which provide the success roll you need to achieve, despite what your interacting with. There are no longer tables to reference between models abilities, rather replace by a threshold that must be achieved. GW have removed interaction between models. This dosn't feel like simplified rules, it feels like a complete dumbing down of mechanics, and, whilst the previous 100 page tomb of reference was indeed a barrier and needed addressing, it appears the executioners axe has shaved too much out of the complexity of the game. Some of the magic is gone now that your opponent and terrain have nothing to do with how well your troops preform.
Whilst that is by far the biggest change in mechanics, I must also mention psychology, or the lack thereof. No longer are their effects from fear or terror, no break tests or reform, replaced with a simplified version of 8th edition crumble. 

The other major downside to the rules is the obvious one, no more ranks, no more formations. Now this was one of the great features of the game. The effect that numbers and ranks would have on the game was immense, the layers of strategy that formation movement added and the complexity of placement and deployment is gone. Replaced by loose formations, or skirmish units with only passing mention to formation bonuses, handing units with appropriate numbers bonuses like +1 attack or re-rollable saves. 

Now to address the elephant in the room... There is to date, no points values or similar balancing mechanic for selecting armies. This, by far and above all other things is the biggest disappointment. There is no rational reason to not attempt to introduce a mechanic for building an army. Now I acknowledge that Games Workshop tries to sell itself as a model company that happens to have a game attached. But that just demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of their customer. The companies name is GAMES Workshop, not model workshop. The core of their market is creating a gaming environment to enjoy the amazing array of miniatures they produce. They continually use rules creep as a way to sell new kits and talk openly about great new rules in their published magazine. While this is not the entirety of the market,it is a significant part. I would liken there are 3 loose groups:

Hobbiest & Gamer

Simply put, there are people who just like to hobby/paint, there are those who just want to game and are not interested in the hobby side, and then there are those who want to do both. I would liken the proportion to a cassius bell curve. The orange segment represents both groups of people. 

With this rule set, it appears that Games Workshop is pushing well into the red side, and at the same time alienating the vast majority of customers. I can't fathom why the largest tabletop gaming! company wouldn't be trying to cater for as much of the community as possible. By writing a good tight rule set that scales, you don't effect any pure hobbyist's, and at the same time give the gamer's an enjoyable experience. 

I would like to say they came so close, but they didn't. I would argue there was no need to throw out a winning formula completely and start from scratch. The attempt made in Age of Sigmar appears to have been made half halfheartedly. They have systematically removed player interaction from the mix, reduced model interaction purely to chance, and taken several layers of strategy out of Warhammer only replacing them with mild mannerism. Its hard to actually identify the target market of this game. The rules wont appeal to anybody who wants some depth to a game, and the high cost will put off a lot of kids parents purchasing. The outstanding detail in the models will appeal to the painter but there not the type that will buy huge amounts of models, more likely one of each. Its like they are trying to tap the casual board gamer market but with a product that is far more expensive with hobby aspects they don't want. The whole expansion nature of Warhammer tries to engage people to continue spending money on their game, but the game offers no reason to invest as it currently has limited replay value.

So to sum up, I would say the following

Models 9/10
Art 10/10
Background 7/10 (need to see more)
Rules 1/10

If you are looking for some nice models to hobby with then this is worthy of consideration. If you just want a game for a lark this might be for you. If you want anything more than an opportunity to roll some dice over a beer then look elsewhere. I don't think this game is for you.

One comment hits home really true:
"if this game was released by company X rather than Games Workshop, would anybody even be looking at it?"

And therein lies the problem. This game is not marketed at existing Warhammer fans. 


  1. Mate, your review is excellent. thank you.

  2. Replies
    1. Yeah, just the 3 games so far. More planned.

  3. Excellent summary Joss. We have become superfluous to GWs marketing plan. The old hands will not bring in new money. All we will do is let WHFB limp along. The 40K model, simplified will bring in the sales.