Saturday, 11 July 2015

A game of Age of Sigmar

The battle begins
I was sad to see the old Warhammer world destroyed. There's been a lot of commentary made around the web, on both sides of the argument. I think the comment that summed up my feelings best - it felt like an act of vandalism. Having said that, we still have over 30 years of creative output to play with, which is far more than most other games can claim. It's a rich world that we can continue to enjoy, through previous versions of Warhammer Fantasy, or using other rulesets. And of course we have free warscrolls for our existing armies to use in the new game, Age of Sigmar. With this in mind, I got my high elves out of the glass cabinet and arranged a game with a long standing Beastlord gaming buddy. I told him upfront what I would be using and asked him to come up with something roughly equivalent. It wasn't a case of winning or losing, it was more an investigation of how the game played. It certainly was good to get the old elves on the table, some of these figures I painted about twenty years ago!

Straight away, we hit what is surely a common problem around the world. The two armies lined up, and it seemed that the elves had come expecting a nice little tea party and a chat about the good old days, while the beasts were intent on cramming in as many participants as possible and causing serious carnage. No points values means some kind of contract between players, but even between us old time friends I think somebody got a little carried away. I cannot imagine how this would work in a shop, I bet the poor guys behind the tills have had a few stressful days of late.

The thin white line
Having read the rules a couple of times I was fairly confident that the game would swing along at a good pace. There's a few grey areas that can be easily overcome with a common sense approach, but I failed to appreciate how much all the special rules would have an impact. While the basic game rules are easy, we spent a lot of time rifling through our printouts to check what special rules each unit had, three or four each on average. To be fair, a lot of these were similar, and after a few games we would probably have these mostly memorised. Like many a simple ruleset, these special rules are where the flavour of the army shines through.

At first, the game settled into a fairly familiar pattern. The elves held back and shot as much as they could. The archers took advantage of their special rule and loosed a storm of arrows (double attacks for one turn only), and combined with shots from the bolt thrower and reavers they brought down most of the advancing minotaurs. The reavers had a nice rule that allowed them to shoot, then move away, in classic fast cavalry fashion. They also had a basic two shots each, which increases to three per model if they stay more than three inches from the enemy. So they turned out to be a very potent force and kept the right flank under control for the whole game. 

The thicker, beefier brown line
The beasts ran across the board as fast as they could, then attempted multiple charges, most of which fell short, allowing the elves to strike with their bows once more. At this point I should really have withdrawn and then shot, there is no penalty for moving then shooting and there's no risk in hanging right back at the edge of the board, as nothing ever flees. But inevitably these things are forgotten in the thick of battle and the forces came to blows. Centigors butchered archers and were in turn wiped out by swordmasters. Both chariots found it impossible to resist infantry blocks. Magic was practically non-existant, a mage bolt dealt the killing blow to a doombull, but in return the beast shaman conjured a monster from thin air.  

Combat tended to be extremely brutal. Casualties mount up very quickly, then the crap shoot that is the batteshock test invariably adds a few more. My units of 15 spears melted away in one single combat, the beastly blocks had far greater staying power. There was no need to outflank or manoeuvre for position as there is no real advantage to orchestrating combined charges. Units fight in alternating player turn, so it can be easy for a unit that has been charged to strike first and remove the charging bonus of the enemy. 

A fine spectacle, but how does the game play?
After three or four turns we wrapped up. As expected, the armies had met in the middle and destroyed each other. It felt a little predictable, a little flat. I had come to dislike WHFB 8 because everything died, in Age of Sigmar this is turned up to 11 (though magic is strangely less important). The outcome may well have been different if the sides had been more equal, I reckon my army was around 1500 points whereas the beasts were packing 2000+ points. With a little more planning we could probably have a better experience, just using the points values from the old books would be a starting point, though clearly units have changed in their effectiveness. There's no psychology whatsoever, no real need to move carefully, very little in the way of tactical planning. All in all, I was a little disappointed that a once fine game had been reduced to a not very subtle dice rolling exercise. I really did no want to write this, there is far too much moaning on the web about the game, but the experience was a let down. Maybe there will be future expansions to refine the rules, but at the moment I would rate it as the poorest version of the game I have played.

To end on a positive note, it was good to see the elves on the tabletop after all these years - I will certainly not be burning them! We will be returning to these two foes in future games, the first of which we will fight using an even simpler set of rules - Lion Rampant. Our initial task is to thrash out army lists for the elves and beasts. We will probably also try out some of the other rulesets on offer, perhaps Saga, Hail Caesar or Kings of War. The struggles of the Elves of Ulthuan will continue.....


Anonymous said...

Dragon Rampant is on the way. Rescue is at hand. :)

Natholeon said...

Thanks for actually taking the time to play the game and show us what we all suspected. I'll stick with Dragon Rampant and the LotR rules for my fantasy gaming I think.

Kieron said...

It was interesting to read the account of somebody who hadn't made their mind up either way beforehand. Sadly, it looks like you've found what many are suspecting.

Our group is making the jump to Lings of War, but it will be interesting to read of your adventures in other systems. I look forward to it.

knobgobbler said...

I'm an Oldhammer player so not too many tears too shed but I sympathize with all the folks who've felt the shaft.
Dragon Rampant interests me because it's not locked to one company's figures... and I've also been reading Ral Partha's new again Chaos Wars rules. I'm kinda hoping this shake up will lead to a bit more diversity in what fantasy gamers are willing to play.

Minijunkie said...

I wonder if part of why it was just "go to the middle, fight, die" in this case could be the terrain setup? Looking at your photo, it seems as though there wasn't much terrain and/or not much between the two armies to force any sort of maneuvering.

Nord said...

Possibly the terrain does not matter, beasts have a special rule that allows them to run straight through it. We were also keeping the board fairly clean to purely assess the rules.

The fight and die bit comes mainly from the strength of the forces. Many troops have two attacks, which can be buffed beyond this by a special rule of their own or from a commander. Every model fights, not just the front 2 ranks, due to piling in. If you cause 10 casualties on a unit, then roll for battle shock, chances are you will suffer another 5 or 6, or even more, depending on your bravery level. So yeah - pretty brutal stuff. If you and your opponent play with units of 10 or 15 you might have a combat stretch across an extra turn, but every single one of ours was over in just one round! And we took "nice" armies.

Anonymous said...

AoS is simply the ''stupidification'' of Warhammer.

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