Age of Sigmar – Thoughts & Tournament Results

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It’s entirely possible that that ‘Sigmar’ is Reikspiel for ‘Poor Stewardship.’

(Gonna give my now-informed thoughts about Age of Sigmar first, then talk about the event itself afterwards, since I expect the former is more interesting to the rest of y’all.)

I got in five games of Age of Sigmar at NOVA, which means that I’ve now played five games of Age of Sigmar total.

I’ve tried pretty hard to keep an open mind about it: actively avoiding the crushing negativity about it around CGL and reserving any and all judgement about it until I actually got the chance to play several games.  Now, I think I have an informed opinion about the game.

It is not a bad game, nor is it a good game.  It’s an exceedingly bland game.

The analogy I kept coming back to whenever someone would ask me what I thought of it was: it’s a rice cake.  You can eat a rice cake.  If you have nothing else to eat, it’s better than eating nothing.  But it’s not very filling or satisfying, and there are thousands of other things out there that one would rather eat.

There’s maybe a useful engine for resolving or organizing a game in there somewhere, but it’s insufficiently baked. If you look at it and think, “That is entirely too simplistic a game,” you are correct.  GW’s actually packed a lot of complexity into the warscrolls, however: and that’s not a good thing.  It means that the game is ultimately overly-complex while resting on a jellied, unset foundation.

Standard bearers don’t work the same.  A Standard in this unit does A, and a Standard in that unit does B.  On one hand, this is a mechanism by which they communicate flavor… on the other hand, it’s confusing.  I had two units of troops on Saturday, and my opponents kept getting turned around on how each one worked.  It drives me up a wall that shields don’t work the same from army to army.  That just doesn’t make any sense.

Some units are even worse: Plague Monks have full command, but none of them work close to what the other Skaven units’ command does.  Instead, each (Champion, Standard Bearer, Musician) gets to choose one of two options, each of which involves more rolling and more rolling and… doesn’t really change anything.  It’s a lot of extra effort for next to no payoff.

A lot has been said about the lack of points: it is indeed the problem it appears to be.  Friday’s event was “Six Warscrolls.”  Saturday’s was “95-100 wounds.”   Most of the players had more models on the table Saturday than Friday.  I had nearly 50% less.

There are fixes for the lack of points: counting wounds is the most common.  It’s crap.  There is no planet on which a Pegasus Knight is equivalent to 4 Clanrats. At the Clanrats’ optimum numbers, 30, there’s no planet on which 8 Pegasus Knights are equivalent to 32 Clanrats. It took one game with both Stormvermin and Plague Monks to know that the former is 1,000,000,000 times better than the latter.

Ultimately the closer you get to some way to make the game playably balanced, the farther you get from what’s their unambiguously clear design goal… which, increasingly, convinces me that it’s a shit design goal.

Every game I played ended in a tabling or would have had it not ended to time (the game plays fast, but pretty much everyone there was learning it).  There were scenarios, and they were generally interesting enough… but didn’t come up often because someone was too busy choking on their opponent’s block of troops to be able to worry about them.

That said: it was such a limp, loosey-goosey game system that we all had a good time.  It was impossible to take it seriously, so there was an excellent mood around the games.

My prediction: AoS is gone and dead within two years.  This thing is too baroque and top-heavy with too-skinny legs and knees of jelly to survive.  Hopefully, we’ll see a Warhammer 9E shortly afterwards; the alternative is tragic.  (There’s a discussion to be had, somewhere, about GW’s stewardship of Warhammer and 40K.)


Wow, that ran long.  Longer than I’d planned, for sure.

The tournaments themselves were a good time.  Like I said: it’s such a weak system, it’s impossible to take it seriously.  Getting competitive about Age of Sigmar would be like attempting to write a critical dissertation on Mighty Max.

Friday was two games: six warscrolls.

I ran:

  • Warlord – Warpforged Blade & Shield
  • Grey Seer
  • Clanrats x30 – Sword & Shield
  • Stormvermin x30
  • Plague Monks x31 – Book of Woes, Contagion Banner, Bale Chime
  • Plague Furnace

Game 1 was against Sean, who’d come down from New York, running Dwarves.  I believe I won that game, but it was long enough ago (three days!), I’m less than certain.  It was also my first game of AoS, so it hardly counts.

Game 2 was against Tim, who’s local, running Bretonnians. Bretonnians, as it turns out, really did get a lot better.  I was tabled very, very quickly.

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No really: I actually did have a very good time.  I’m entirely confident that everyone there did.

Saturday was three games – some more complex comp rules but basically 95-100 wounds per player.

I ran:

  • Warlord – Warpforged Blade & Shield
  • Ikit Claw
  • Warlock Engineer
  • Clanrats x30 – Sword & Shield
  • Stormvermin x30 – Shields
  • Hellpit Abomination – Warpstone Spikes
  • Warp Lightning Cannon
  • Warp Lightning Cannon
  • Plagueclaw Catapult
  • Warpfire Thrower
  • Warpfire Thrower
  • Poisoned Wind Mortar
  • Poisoned Wind Mortar

Plague Monks are gone because they’re trash.  I don’t care how limp and noncompetitive the game might be, when you’re as well off taking them as you are just playing 30 wounds down: you don’t.

War Machines & Weapon Teams with ‘Warp’ in the name are very good.  The mortar & catapult are trash.  If I took 33 Warpfire Throwers and placed them all 3.5″ apart, I would probably win every game ever.

Anyway:

Game 1 was against Tim again.  He’d loaded up on more Knights.  I still lost, but less badly than the night before.  We ran out of time, though: it’s possible he’d have tabled me if we’d kept going.

Game 2 was against fellow CGL’r Eric, with his spectacular Dwarves. He went all in: he rebased his Dwarves on round bases.  He also had more bodies on the table than I did.  I managed to table him, but I’m not sure how.

Game 3 was against Sean again.  Despite an enormous blunder early on, incautiously shoving my block of Stormvermin down his throat in such a way that almost his entire army was pulled in, I managed to table him.

Like I said above: there was a lot of tabling going on.


In the end, I won Best General – One massive win, one solid win, and one moderate loss was apparently enough to put me in the lead on battle points. Eric won Best Appearance, and Norbert (who I did not play) won Best Overall.

It’s also important to point out that Aaron (local-ish) and Brian (from Boston) did an excellent job given the circumstances.  It went smoothly, and everyone had a great time playing: I would be surprised if the same thing could be said of any other event there.  Given the system is what it is, I think that’s especially notable.


So: do give Age of Sigmar a try so you can have an informed opinion about it.  Do expect to be disappointed.  Do give anything Aaron or Brian run consideration.  Don’t ever take Plague Monks.

  • Sean Parker

    IT saddens me you didnt find AoS to your liking. I’ve been playing Fantasy since 3/4e and I love the new rules. I find not having points very liberating, the simple rules refreshing, and the over all quicker games much more fun. I know as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for complex rules is waxing thin… I know it doesnt seem to be for everyone though. I’m quite happy with it. I’ve actually had more fun with AoS than I did with the last two editions of WFB…

    I think you are underestimating the lowly Plague Monk. Monks armed with paired Foetid Blades get two attacks and reroll failed hits. Blade and Staff are making 3 attacks (two for the Blade, 1 for Staff). On the charge they are even better with 3 Attacks and reroll, or 4 attacks. Dont discount the staff either. When piling in, not all are going to be in range of their Blades, so more can attack with the 2″ reach of the staff with more 1 attacks. Blade and Staff isnt a bad combo. Also remember that Icon Bearers and Harbingers are “Models”, plural. If the unit has more than one option, then you can take another Icon Bearer and have both in the unit, i.e. both a Icon of Pestilence and a Contagion Banner. Same for the Gong and Chimes. This really adds to their deadliness. Their one weakness is no save, but they potentially can cause damage even when dying. Something to consider anyway.

    • I see the appeal of simple rules: I played a demo game of Flames of War on Thursday and the mini rulebook for that is 4x the length of 40K’s mini rulebook. But: although simple can be better, too simple is not. Otherwise we’d be playing Checkers.

      And I challenge the notion that Age of Sigmar is simple. The core rules? Sure. 4 pages, whatever. But every unit has its own set of rules that range from straightforward to the complex… and because they’re not a consistent set of standard special rules, I’d argue that in that sense, AoS is more complicated than Warmachine. Shunting complexity out into the warscrolls doesn’t remove it: it just shifts it.

      And a lot of that complexity is for very little payoff. What’s the reason behind a Dwarven shield letting it’s bearer reroll failed saves when a Skaven shield makes your save better except when it doesn’t? Is that complexity important enough to include?

      Or the Plague Monks: the Contagion banner. For every 6 you roll to wound, roll another die and if that rolls a 6, you do an extra wound. So, you’ll get 1/36th more wounds out of that unit, thanks to an extra rolling step. Whew! Better be glad it’s a one use only item!

      (On the topic of taking multiple icon bearers and multiple musicians: I think I’ve expressed my concern elsewhere that clearly you’re intended to be able to take more than one but how many is too many? Why can’t I take 6 of each one-use item? Then they’re not!)

      Every unit has too many special rules that are too distinct from those of other units for the claim that Age of Sigmar is “simple and not complex” to hold any water.

      And the editing is awful. The Hellpit Abomination is less effective as it takes wounds: a lower Rend, fewer attacks, higher To Hit. What happens if it has only 9 wounds, though? 8’s clear. 10’s clear. 9 is anyone’s guess.

      Simple is good. Saga is a great example: Saga has points like Sigmar has War Scrolls… but they’re actually an effective balancing tool in Saga. Saga has straightforward rules, modified by the complexity of the battleboard: but it’s managable, unlike in Sigmar.

      Anyway: if you like Age of Sigmar, good. There is nothing at all wrong with liking it. I actually don’t think it’s a bad game; I just don’t think it’s a good game. Play what you like!

      And you were missed at NOVA, dude! I’m really sorry you’re having such a shitty summer.

      • Sean Parker

        Yeah, I wish I could have been there too, thanks. Been dealing with Shingles and Bell’s Palsy since July… I wouldnt have been able to make it this year anyway, with trying to get declared disabled so I can claim SS, and now on food stamps, things are pretty rough. They make it so hard for those that need help to get help… It’s just been a shitty year…

        eh, sorry… didnt mean to ramble, its my birthday today, so I am extra maudlin than normal.