Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - some thoughts

I stopped playing warhammer at the end of last year.  A major reason was not the game, but the company.  I do not like the business strategy that GW has adopted, and do not wish to support them in it.  I finally realized that this meant a bit more than just not giving them more of my money - playing their games was also supporting them, if indirectly.  This is much the same reason why I decided to support (and eventually become a pathfinder for) Mantic Games.

However, having played Warhammer for almost fifteen years, and seeing three editions, I do feel I have some basis for an opinion on the game.  I want to be honest and give it as much of a chance as it deserves.

First is the models.  The pictures I have seen are all top quality, and I keep seeing how high quality GW plastic kits.  I'm not sure if they are the best I've worked with (the kits from Wyrd may be my absolute favorite - they made the switch from metal to plastic for Malifaux with fantastic models).  I don't care for the styling however - the new models all look like 40K space marines (or chaos space marines) to me - without the bolters.  If I wanted to play with 40K models, then I'd play 40K.  Some people love them, but they would not have ever attracted me to the game (unlike the models did 15 years ago).

But more than the models are the rules.  One of the big things they are touting is that the rules are only 4 pages, and available for free.  Well complicated rules are not always better, but simpler rules are not better either.  I believe you should make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.  For these rules they have gone too far.  (I'll try not to restate any rules to keep this a little shorter)

The armies - you can use your entire model collection.  The more you use, the longer the game will be.  You have units, now defined in warscrolls instead of army books. All existing armies have their warscrolls downloadable for free from their website.  My first time reading this sections I was curious what it meant about using all your models.  Otherwise this seemed like a good change - no more $75 rule books and $50 army books - a great thing.

Measuring is interesting as it is from the model, not the base.  Intuitive, until you get spears and whips and pistols and tentacles and claws and legs sticking off the base.  So that pikeman is really measured from the tip of the pick sticking out an inch from the model?  Bases don't matter - they just keep the models from falling over.  Yeah, I see no arguments with this AT ALL.

The battlefield - a table to roll on for each 2 foot square, generating 0 - 3 pieces of terrain.  It feels like it could be a little crowded for a mass battle game.  Then you roll for EACH piece of terrain to determine it's what random special feature it has.  I REALLY hated this rule in 8th edition for woods and rivers - now it is EVERY piece of terrain?  It always felt like a huge amount of bookkeeping to track not only your army but every piece of terrain on the table.  It looks like there should be 10-12 pieces of terrain on a standard 6'x4' table - each of which you now have to keep track of their effects.  I have found in many games with only 2 mysterious woods that we forget the effects of them as the game gets going.  Now you need to track all of them.   Another strike against this.

Set-up.  Divide the table, pick a half, start deploying your force.  I try to find where the rules for army composition are - I go through it several times but there are none.  Take whatever models you want - a dwarf cannon next to a unit of goblin archers - no problem.  How are you going to balance games?  Maybe this is in the warscrolls I think, but no.  There is no balance of forces - it is take what you want until either there is no more room to deploy a unit, or you decide you are done.   Finishing first does give you the first turn.

Glorious Victory - you win by tabling your opponent.  Wow, my least favorite type of game.  The best games I've played have been close fought battles, where neither player was sure until the points were counted who had won.  The worst games involved one side being tabled - and that is now the standard victory condition.  Minor victory is based on the ratio of killed models to originally deployed models.  Summoned models only count on the killed side (if they are).  Better, but still not ideal (especially since you have hugely powerful models with 12 or more wounds that, in this case, count the exact same as a meager goblin).  Oh, but if you have a third fewer models, then you can pick a sudden death victory condition.  While I feel this was meant to balance things - it really seems to give precedence to elite armies with smaller units of more powerful warriors, against horde armies whose power is the sheer number of models.   I have a huge goblin army and you have 4 bloodthirsters, so you get an advantage.

Triumph - now the previous game has an effect on the next?  Nice idea for a controlled campaign - but how am I supposed to know who you played last and what the result was.

So let's look at the actual game phases:

Hero Phase - I actually don't have a problem with this.  Different but ok.

Movement Phase - round bases, no facing, so move in any direction.  Boy it will be fun moving units of a hundred zombies individually!  Except for the large units of multiple models - again seems straightforward for a skirmish game - though it is interesting if you are already close to the enemy you can't move unless you retreat, and if you retreat you are out of combat completely because you can't charge.

Shooting Phase - if you have missile weapons, you shoot.  Pretty simple.  What king of targeting restrictions are there?  Penalties for moving and shooting - None.  Shoot into combat - no problem.  Shoot and then charge - no problem.  Cover - all this does it add +1 to the models save.  Characters - no penalty there either.

Charge Phase - now you charge if you have a unit with 12".  Even it you shoot.  The only restriction on charging is the first model you move has to end up with 1/2" of an enemy - the rest of the unit just follows on.  Your charge distance is random though - 2D6.  I didn't like random charges in 8th, these seem the same but with less certainty.  However it does end up that if you move, then charge - your charge distance is exactly what it was in 8th edition (2D6 + movement) - it just feels more complicated by being broken out.  However it allows you to shoot before you get into combat!

Combat phase.  First you pile in.  So movement, then more movement, the more movement.  Why is this in three separate steps again?  Then you fight with all your weapons, so long as your model is within the weapons attack distance from an enemy model.  Some models have a lot of attacks now, while others - not so much.

I don't like the enemy unit has no effect on either hitting or wounding.  Hitting I can see - the table and calculations from 8th are a bit unwieldy, especially for new players.  but always wounding on the same value regardless of whether you are hitting an goblin or chaos warrior really seems strange.  I guess the save for every model is supposed to make up for that.  Mortal wounds seem really dangerous though - no hit, wound or save rolls on these.  Also the idea that  you alternate fighting with units, but are not restricted to a given combat does add an interesting tactical (gasp) aspect to the game.

Battleshock.  Interesting that it only applies if you kill a model in a unit - so single model monsters and characters will effectively NEVER break.  Also if you have a unit of big nasty models and they fail, it looks like it can hurt.

So when I read the rules, overall, while different, I did not think they were, overall, horribly bad.  Very different.  And to me they are actually fixable.

Two things really, really bother me though.  First is bases.  Not that they went to round bases, but that bases don't matter, all measuring is done from the model.  I believe that for a good game, the actual models should be irrelevant to game play.  You should be able to play the entire game with empty bases and all the mechanics work.  This then frees up both the manufacturer and player to make as cool models as they like, and it doesn't matter how they physically fit because everything is defined by base.  Here bases don't matter - so spears sticking out, tentacles, arms, wings - all count.  I just see lots and lots of issues here.  Even more so when you have a model that doesn't stick out over its base - the base could actually prevent it from being able to get as close as it needs to.

The second is army composition, or in this case the lack of it.  I can see how GW wants you to buy all the new models and be able to use them.  I have a few models that I've painted and never used because I never finished the rest of the army.  Not a fan of mixing all the factions, but I could live with that.  Not having any balancing factors - specifically points, well that just doesn't work for me.  There are people who will bring all dragons and greater daemons.  Or hundreds of goblins.  Model count does not help balance this at all - a dragon can probably destroy a unit of a hundred goblins.  And the rule if you have fewer models you get to pick a sudden death objective - a huge advantage.  Armies made up of lots of models feel like they will be gone now - it will all be bigger monsters and heroes.

These are just my thoughts from the rules.  This has gone on long enough, I'll save the warscrolls for another post.




2 comments:

  1. Interesting comments. I'm sure if I want Age of Sigmar or not.

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  2. It doesn't sound as if its the game for me, but I would like to at least try it.

    I wish it well and hope it works for it's target audience. If it fails it will probably have a knock on effect for the whole hobby.

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