Reassessing Age of Sigmar

A scene. Peter excitedly tells me that I get my Christmas present early. He drops a whole bunch of big boxes on the table in front of me. It's a full Ironjawz army for Age of Sigmar. I really like the miniatures, but my face is betraying a hint of confusion and, yes, just a little disappointment.

"We don't like Age of Sigmar. We've both played it, we've both discussed it, and we've both decided. What is happening?"

As it turns out, we were both wrong, though Peter figured that fact out before I did, which is why I got a whole bunch of Age of Sigmar miniatures for Christmas. But it's important to understand the whys of that wrongness before the rightness of the game now makes sense.

Alright, so first off, I'm still sore about the death of the Old World. I have, at this point, written about that death in three, maybe four, articles, one of which was directly, explicitly about how wrong a decision it was with the others making mention of that but not as a focus. My heart hurts when I head to a Total War: Warhammer board and see someone ask where they can play that game, with the ranked miniatures and coherent story.

So let me be really clear when I say that I think two things: it was still a mistake to kill the Old World and the new Age of Sigmar world is and has been slowly shaping up into something cohesive and fun. Flatly, most of the fiction in the earlier books sucked. I don't think that's down to individual writers on the payroll, but rather there was a sense that the overarching creative design was to bog the reader down in so many trademarkable words that it would just transport them to a place of the uncanny--what is a fyreslayer? Oooooooo who knows but it sounds weird.

A Planescape level of extraplanar weirdness requires a dedication to actually making sense of shit. It requires more elbow grease in communicating the world, not less. That's simply something which Games Workshop didn't do at release. Slowly but surely, that's been changing over the past year and a half or so. Crucially, the Age of Sigmar team has been picking individual slices and explaining them, making coherent armies and games of those tidbits. Shadespire, Games Workshop's attempt at a small scale skirmish game crossed with eurogame mechanics and deckbuilding, has a really cool background and a significant part of that is that they took a tiny chunk of the Age of Sigmar world, detailed it, and made it make sense.

I was slowly warming to the background as I read some of the shift in emphasis and tone, but the actual game itself wasn't working for me. Our friend Phillip was a true believer and insisted that it would work, but I kept playing him to no avail. It just didn't click. Combat was annoying and the tactics felt incredibly limited compared to Warhammer Fantasy Battle's flanking, duels, and magic system.

Part of the problem is that Phillip and I were playing it without scenarios. The best way to play Fantasy Battle--and I'll never be convinced otherwise, except in sieges--is to do pitched battles: rank your troops up on the long edges, fight.

So that's naturally what Phillip and I did. Except Age of Sigmar sucks when you play it that way because it's not meant to be played that way. Scenarios and oddball victory conditions aren't some sideshow from the main game in Age of Sigmar, they're the entire point. So of course I hated it. The game felt wrong because it was.

More than that, however, is that Age of Sigmar requires a very different way of thinking about wargaming than any other game I've played.

Every wargame I've played other than Age of Sigmar is about your units being in various states of being. That unit is in a state of combat, this one is in a state of fleeing, etc. This makes the terminology and thinking very neatly compartmentalized: am I in combat, y/n, if y then x, if n then y.

Age of Sigmar eschews this. There is, of course, a combat phase and combat, but at no point are you in combat as you are in most games; you are within 3" of an enemy unit or you are not, and if you are then you can fight, pile in, etc. This doesn't sound like a big difference, but it's massive in how you think tactically. You aren't trying to get in combat, and a unit is not in combat with another unit, but you're trying to win a war of maneuver.

As it turns out, once we figured out that we were fucking up, we all had a massive amount of fun. We did a three-way battle, which my Ironjawz won as Phillip's Greenskins and Peter's Sylvaneth ganged up on me to no avail other than to feed me victory points, while Peter stomped me handily in a one on one.

We did houserule the measure from models and not from bases thing for the sake of simplicity, something which is sure to get me in trouble when and if I ever play with anyone outside my core group. And I'll maintain that the Old World was better and I prefer Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

Despite those preferences, I've warmed remarkably to Age of Sigmar. The miniatures are great and despite missing all those ranked troops on the table, I have to admit that the round bases and allowed distance makes for a dynamism that looks and feels cool on the table. All things considered, if they had to make the change to this style of game I'd rather it still be in the Old World. But Malign Portents is really clicking for me and, well, who am I to argue with actually having fun?

We're getting ready to do a Path to Glory campaign, which we'll share some pictures of next month when it starts in earnest. I've already settled on my army: my Ironjawz Megaboss, Guldakka, on his beloved Maw-Krusha, Goldie Horn, with three big, nasty boar riders alongside him.

Goldie Horn and the Three Boars.