Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Age of Sigmar - One Year On

It’s been just over a year since the drastic change of direction of Warhammer Fantasy by Games Workshop with the release of Age of Sigmar (AoS). After the culmination of The End Times, The Old World, or The World That Was as it’s known in AoS was no more. Now the eight realms are the focus as Grand Alliances of, Order, Chaos, Destruction and Death battle for supremacy.

So with a year gone since players started battling over the mortal realms I thought it would be good to have a look at the previous 12 months and see the State of Play for AoS. This isn’t going to be a really in-depth look but brief overviews and my rambling thoughts of the game and the direction it’s heading.

I know I’m not the only one who’s felt this, but it’s felt like the past 12 months has been non-stop continuous releases for AoS, I’m sure 40K players will agree that the majority of weekly White Dwarfs this past year have had Age of Sigmar releases. Having White Dwarf weekly has definitely kept the rate of releases and news constant and believe me I’m not complaining at all…well apart from not having the time to get/read everything!

So what has been released in the last year? Deep Breath….

    • Daemons of Khorne
    • Daemons of Nurgle
    • Greenskinz
    • Skaven Pestilence
    • Skeleton Horde
    • Malignants
    • Seraphon
    • Slaves to Darkness

    • Stormcast Eternals
    • Stormcast Extremis Chamber
    • Fyreslayers
    • Sylvaneth
    • Seraphon
    • Ironjawz
    • Flesh-Eater Courts
    • Everchosen
    • Chaos Dreadhold
    • Khorne Bloodbound
    • Skaven Clan Pestilence 

Yeah so quite a bit, I’ve probably missed a whole batch of things but as you can see GW has been completely committed to creating a brand new world and story straight away. They could’ve easily given players the box set and then drip-fed them lore and new armies every other month while also supporting 40K, but with such a change it’s obvious they knew they needed to keep the releases constant and substantial as the game kicked off.

There is no denying Stormcast Eternals have been the focal point for AoS since the game launched. A brand new force which drew a lot of divided opinion when they were first revealed, many a wargamer dubbed them Sigmarines, and yep I’ll even admit I did at first. I mean they did resemble big bulking armoured good-guys; initially these seemed like GW took Space Marines and threw them into the Fantasy environment, but as the weeks rolled on and we got a more diverse selection of characters and units then the comparisons soon dwindled, well apart from the AoS haters who like to make sure everyone knows they still don’t like the game. But we’ll just ignore them!

The miniatures are great for modellers, the big open armoured panels give new players a great starting place to learn how to paint, while there is enough detail to really give veteran painters the ability to create some stunning paint jobs. You can spend as much or as little time painting these up and still have an army that looks really great on the table, hell I painted up a whole army over the course of 3-4 weeks and felt like I did them justice.

By creating this new faction in the form of the Stormcast, GW have given themselves the opportunity to expand outwards from the faction with different Chambers. We’ve already seen the Extremis Chamber which followed a few months later from the initial release and brought big bulking Dracoth cavalry and the stunning Stormdrake Dragons. In the Stormcast Battletome there is mention of numerous Chambers which haven’t been touched on yet, the Extremis was the first, but there were at least another three. I think next year, and this is me just purely speculating at the moment, we might see another Chamber maybe around the same time as the next batch of books are released following on from the Realmgate wars.

We’ve seen some great battletomes in the past year, a brand new faction of Duardin Fyreslayers came out with a whole range of new models, though I’ll not be the first to say that I feel GW missed a chance with Fyreslayers. Throughout the book and the novels the Slayers are described as mercenaries who will work for anyone as long as the ur-gold is flowing, there’s even a moment in one of the novels where the Fyreslayers turn on the Stormcast because Chaos offer them more ur-gold. Though in the battletome and their keywords they’re solidly aligned to the Grand Alliance Order. GW could’ve definitely done something very cool and allow the Fyreslayers to either run as their own army or be a part of any Grand Alliance. I’m sure any general would’ve like the idea of running some mercenary Fyreslayers along with their main army. 

Seraphon was another release which suffered from being one of the first books released. No new models came with the launch, and the rules in the battletome quickly made the Seraphon very tough to play against. Everyone in the tournament scene knows the joys that Lord Kroak, Bastialadons, Temple Guard, Ripperdactyls, bring to the table… rather than having one punchy unit that defined the army, the Seraphon were max out to difficulty 10. And you have to feel sorry if you’re running Chaos Daemons against that army, they suffer more on the board against them than anyone. By all means they’re not impossible to defeat but they are a rock hard army.

The best thing that GW did though was the release of the Grand Alliance books. These covered all of the different factions in each Alliance giving snippets of what new factions we can expect to see down the line, and best of all they were released at a really affordable price point. The Order and Chaos books were amazing value for money and are full to the brim of full colour warscrolls. If you’ve not got them all yet I whole heartedly recommend them, even if it’s just to have them as big catalogues of the different models from Age of Sigmar. I constantly find myself picking one of them up and instantly my hobby juices start flowing as I look at different factions and look at the different synergies available if I pick units X, Y and Z.

Talking of Synergies, it’s one of the great features that encompasses Age of Sigmar. Sure you can play an army of lots of different units across a Grand Alliance but if they don’t have those Keywords that work together you’re not going to be getting the buffs and bonuses AoS thrives upon. For example when you look at the different Khorne units and heroes with the extra movement and attacks they can stack across the army, it’s phenomenal and can easily make units charge on their first turn. Likewise the Stormcast have numerous heroes and units that can buff and support each other in ways that a Stormcast hero and Freeguild unit couldn’t in the same situation. It opens up the joys of list-building for your army, giving you that decision of either having a mixed arms force or tailoring your army to do one specific thing as long as all your abilities and spells go off correctly.

Games Workshop has made a great start of re-imagining current models as their own sub-factions. As mentioned the Grand Alliance books takes whole armies and splits them down into smaller factions, a teaser as you may, of future releases. The Flesh-Eater courts from the Death book was an amazing example of this and was an tremendous release, there were no new models, bar a kitbashed unit of current models, but used all the Ghouls, Crypt Horrors, Ghoul Kings and the Terrorghiests and made them their own army. The battletome gave the force their own intriguing lore explaining how they see themselves as a Royal Court and instantly gave this faction a brand new lease of life. The synergies between all of the Flesh-Eater Courts such as giving them extra attacks, re-rolls to hits and wounds, among other bonuses really allows the player to just play that mono force. 

The Ironjawz was another release that got a lot of people excited, so much so that Twitter was full of everyone pre-ordering these miniatures. These new Orruks, got a whole range of new models including a big centrepiece dragon model, nicknamed by many as the grumpy cabbage. It was the first release that genuinely seemed like everyone wanted to pick up and play. Again Games Workshop repacked the old Black Orcs as Ardboyz and made them the not so small ‘grunts’ of this army. I’ve played a few of these Ironjawz forces on the table and they’re stunning to look at, big imposing Orruks with mammoth sized boars and that massive Maw-Crusha. It’s a stunning new army on its own or a great addition for current Destruction players.

The most exciting thing in the past year is the current Summer Campaign that Games Workshop is running. Players can submit their battle reports, painting jobs and more to affect a global campaign that will purposely shape the future of the Age of Sigmar storyline. Specific battleplans are being released for the campaign which I think is going to be great to see how the battle gets more in-depth the further we go into the campaign. This is a tremendous way to get players involved and make them feel a part of the story; feeling like they have a chance of making their faction or Grand Alliance a much more prominent role in the future of the game. With the campaign only affecting the Realm of Life, I hope this will be the first of many campaigns as more of the realms are properly unveiled and focused on in the future.

It seems like the future of Age of Sigmar, gameplay wise at-least, is already beginning to take shape. Games Workshop is about to release the General’s Handbook on the 23rd July. This book with over 160 pages in, will give players many different ways to play, including the main thing that a lot of people complained about when the game first released….points. Yes ‘Matched Play’ as it’s being dubbed is being released to give players a much stricter way of playing the game and introducing a competitive aspect of the game to be used in conjunction with tournaments. They’ve worked with the guys from the Age of Sigmar South Coast Grand Tournament (Dan Heelan, Wayne Kemp, Russ Veal) and Bad Dice Podcast Ben Curry to produce something that can be used in tourneys in the future.

It’s good GW has listened to the feedback from people about wanting points back in the game but for me it’s neither here nor there. The tournament scene has already got its own ‘points’ system that works really well and at the moment is constantly updated as new factions are introduced; my fear is now GW is publishing points these current systems are going to become redundant and we’re not going to be having as constantly updated points cost of units like we’ve had in the past; this can potentially result in certain powerful units which might’ve been under-costed being the go-to units each and every time meaning the ‘net-list’ creep for factions could return again. Realistically it’ll probably be down to tournament organisers to make changes where needed and the General’s handbook does encourage house rules, they’re dubbing the Matched Play as a guidelines rather than the letter of the law. 

I also hope tournaments do not use the force organisation chart, for me the joys of the tournaments since Age of Sigmar was released is seeing the quirky and unique lists, Ben Johnson’s 5 Stardrakes at SCGT for example. I’ve mentioned it on the podcast but I really want to do a Troll Hag, 5 Giants and River Trolls for Blood and Glory in November, it’s a crazy army that won’t really be that competitive but all of those big things running forward would be a great sight on the table, but with this new army build structure the whole list is illegal and unusable.

But enough about Matched Play, the section of the General’s handbook that I’m really looking forward to is the narrative play. The ability to have a set structure of playing out a campaign is something that really appeals to me. I like the fact there are numerous different types of campaigns you can play too, rather than just being given one way and that’s it. The one which really grabs me at the moment, again this is purely from the leaks, is Path to Glory where you start with a leader and a small warband and grow your force over time into a massive army, gaining bonuses and items along the way. If it works as well as it looks like it does then it's going to be great to play with friends at a club or at home where you all battle to become to the biggest general there is. I know me and a friend are planning a campaign when the book drops and we’ll be recording our progress on here for everyone to see as our generals become bigger and more powerful.

Outside of the General’s Handbook it’s the newly released Sylvaneth Battletome, which has got a lot of attention from the Age of Sigmar community. Games Workshop has added so many new features into this book it really shows the change of direction of where AoS is heading. Returning for the first time is special specific magic lores for Sylvaneth wizards, artefacts (magic items) to equip to your heroes and also arcane items for your wizards. Along with these we also see Allegiance and Command Abilities where you only get these features for fielding an army solely of Sylvaneth keyword models. Again you’ve still got the option of mixing and matching across the Grand Alliance but these extra rules and abilities are really rewarding players for sticking to one faction. 

Hopefully all future Battletomes will also be featuring these to give each faction their own distinctive flavour, we talked about it on the podcast on Episode 3, but imagine a Moonclan Grot Battletome where they have crazy big spells that can dish out lots of mortal wounds but also damage yourself at the same time. I’m really interested to see how the new Bonesplitterz Battletome (Savage Orruks), which is rumoured to be up for pre-order on Saturday, lines up and whether we see as much depth with abilities and items as what the Sylvaneth received this month.

So what else can we expect to see in the upcoming future? Well a brand new Realm of Battleboard has been teased for months now, it was first seen in Warhammer Visions back in April saying Coming Soon but we’ve yet to see it released. I love my current Realm of Battleboard but it is very much set for the old world. However from the grainy pics I’ve seen so far of the new board it’s going to be a great setting for AoS and hopefully we’ll see some more terrain pieces released to expand on the first batch we received when the game was released. 

As mentioned Bonesplitterz Battletome should be revealed on Saturday in White Dwarf and if leaks from the General’s Handbook is anything to go by, then the Beastclaw Raiders (Ogors on Thundertusks and Stonehorns) should be following just around the corner with more units and a specific Battletome too. I imagine with the warscrolls of those beasts, that Battletome is going to be fluffy and tough as naills. Apart from that, I think we can expect to see a little bit of a lull in regards to new factions until the Summer Campaign is resolved and the future of the AoS story has been determined by us. Then it’ll be onto the next series of books, a new storyline and the next batch of Battletomes for release. So that begs a question…

Now the Realmgate Wars are over, what war in the Mortal Realms begins now?

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