Thursday, 15 October 2015

Scions of Warhammer 2: Warhammer Age of Sigmar

I found myself idly musing something whilst finding myself in one of those deliciously precious moments when I had literally nothing better to do (namely, whilst trying not to inhale the armpit of the commuter next to me on the Northern Line).
Whilst I may have never made a secret of my view on this point, I have probably never expressed it fully. When considering players of that (relative) cultural colossus, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and the things that were written and said immediately following it’s cancelation, (inarguably the most despair-inducing event since Fox killed Firefly) one thing keeps coming back to me:

Not only do I not understand people who neither have respect for, or are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to, Games Workshop - I find their stance somehow insulting and it undeniably makes me respect them a lot less.
A reasoned viewpoint? Probably not, but the beauty of the human condition (as opposed to that of, say, a giraffe whose every act (if perhaps not its appearance) makes sense) is that we are fundamentally nuts. Heck, I am told some people actually like beetroot, have nonsensical political views, engage in physical violence somehow connected to the sporting team they support or actually enjoy the recent movies of Adam Sandler (OK, I made that last one up, no likes those). This madness is part of the never-ending fun that will probably culminate in the end of the world – what a ride!

My particular branch of madness is a deliberately old fashioned approach to a number of things – predominately those related to manners and associated human actions. I actively despise the immediacy of the modern consumer culture and the short-termism best illustrated by the 24 hour news cycle and its implications. I also don’t think easier (or cheaper) is always better, nor do I demand perfection in a product, often liking something specifically because there is something wrong with it.

Flat out Old Skool right? (Though you’ll note, being august readers of this rambling discourse that I spelt ‘School’ with a ‘k’, and am therefore edgy and down with the kids).

Why have I lead the dear reader behind the curtain to the machinations of my own particular brand of madness?

I have tried before to articulate why I was always going to give Age of Sigmar a chance, and this is fundamentally why (or as much why (or fundamentalism) as I can come up with in the morning waiting for my coffee).


As with all my thoughts on the various games in this series my views and impressions will be coming from an incomplete data set, and probably never more so than in this particular case.

Once the excitement of initial the leaks died out, the Great Schism of 2015 had finished destroying international friendships based on initial impressions of a set of guidelines on how to best use plastic toys and the game *finally* came out it was time to explore and reflect upon what my initial impressions of the game actually were.

There is something I only fully appreciated for the first time when I embarked on this self-imposed odyssey – there are different ways of releasing a new game. I should clarify, as this is self-evidently apparent at face value. My point is that the different approaches to releasing a game can have a fundamental impact of my appreciation and enjoyment of them on a visceral level. This gut feel will be tempered with the real world business filter I like to apply to such things, but it is no less real for that.
What am I actually talking about? Namely, how armies are presented and sold (and fluff implications there within).

My view on this topic has actually changed considerably upon contact with the real world (I know, this lack of steel in my poorly conceived convictions makes me terrible at Winning The Internet). In theory I liked the idea that you could be given a small nucleus of information on a faction and the rules for their “core” units in one place and then new units could keep coming out with rules in the box/future publications. This allows for better “living” games after all.

It shocked me to discover (SPOILER for my views on Malifaux and X-Wing) that I *HATE* this with a passion.

It is easy to say that, but really, it’s a red-filtered, enunciation-altering, fist-quivering inducement to anger that descends upon me when I pause to consider it. Either that or my triple espresso has finally kicked in.

As with most things that I hate, I do *get* it. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer, it means the cost of the entry products can be cheaper, it is easier for lil’ Timmy to get involved, it gives the company in question full flexibility on direction and makes it easier to protect their intellectual property.

It does lead me to the first of my two main problems with Age of Sigmar though.

Disclaimer (I’ll wedge this in here because why the hell not): I am pretty much ignoring the release of the PDFs with the rules allowing for backwards compatibility that GW very kindly released the week before release (directly leading to the Great Schism of 2015). Those were cool and all, and allowed us to play straight away, but have little correlation to the future shape of the game.

Problem One: (Fluff/Package/Cost related)

The hardback rulebook for Warhammer Fantasy Battles was a brilliant resource. Sure, in this modern age paying however much for just a book becomes a harder and harder sell, but the truth remains. Sure, the rules were there, but the really cool thing about it was the background on all the races.

This section worked to give you a feel for each of the armies you could one day play in the game. An idea of their driving aims, their narrative drivers. There were hooks here and you could love the idea, long before you worked out whether or not they played accordingly or if you liked the models.

This is obviously easier when updating editions of an existing game than when releasing a whole new one, but it remains annoying.

Armed with the box game and the first hard back book they released I start to get a picture for the new world they have thrown us into. And I absolutely love aspects of it. I love the way they have split the Ages, I like the cameos of some of the known and loved characters from eons past. I’m all about having gods directly interacting in the world of mortals. I enjoy that they are telling the story in a building narrative. I’m excited with the flipping of the normal conventions, introducing us to this setting as Sigmar launches his long-awaited counterattack upon the forces of Chaos.

All very cool.

The lack of information the other races infuriates me. Narratively this is all dealt with well enough – it is simply not known what has happened to the Aelfs for example. This would be fine, but it completely hampers forward-looking enthusiasm. If you don’t fall in love with the Stormcast Eternals or the forces of the Blood God (both rather one dimensional armies after all) what have you got to grasp onto? Not much unfortunately.

GW have since released some further materials (and tie-in novels), of which I hear good things, but their existence does not invalidate my annoyance on this point. Even if I were to take a two year break and come back when, one assumes, there was a lot more information out and about for the various races, how many resources would I have to buy to get a basic understanding of the players in this universe?


Problem Two: (Game related)

The elephant in the room, as Krylov would have noted, is a big one. It is probably the major cause of the Great Schism of 2015 (well, that and rectangles. Seriously, it turns out people love rectangles, who knew?). I refer, of course, to the lack of an army selection mechanic within the game.
I’m not going to go on about this – it’s just too obvious to bother with.

I fully understand the initial view from GW on this topic – players are forever changing the army selection criteria they create/communities will be better at devising one for their own needs/it has an impact on people playing cool scenario games/freedom is good/USA! USA! USA!/ahem…
These are all real and true (USA definitely is, I used to live there and everything). The conclusion drawn, however, is asinine.

As has been covered, the people that really suffer as a result are the casual pick up gamers, the new blood they are working to bring on board. It’s so infuriating it makes you want to scream.

Of course, personally it is less of an issue. It is a self-evident truth that a community of some amount of critical mass will always be better than any company at keeping points (or points equivalent) balanced. In every game there are units that not seen because other options are better for their cost. Sometimes, as with X Wing, the manufacturers try and retcon in something to make older stuff better, but the very fact this was needed proves a lack of balance.

A framework or high level overview of what a game should look like is quite simply something that is needed.

This is a big black mark on the game’s report card.

These two (major) issues aside, there is, it turns out, a hell of a lot to commend GW on in relation to this game.



It is probably not surprising that the fluff is turning out to be good, I would argue background materials are what GW is best at in comparison to its peer group. I like the vaguely Asgardian feel to it, and the mysteries being unveiled as the story progresses. Sure, plenty of it is pretty out there, but when you compare it with the general tropes of the genre (and the Old World that preceded it) it is a welcome shift away from the “here is a continent split into x parts, the various nations are at war/neutral/in uneasy alliance with each other” that is the Tolkenian-inspired norm.

My issues with how it is being presented aside, I am actually quite impressed. Tasked with creating a new world to that was unique (and protectable), I am not sure they could have done anything cooler.



The mechanics of this game are (obviously) very different to its predecessor. Thankfully a comparison is not our mission here today – I started on an article on that and could never quite finish it. That said – the fact that a) I struggled to come to a conclusion, and b) that I liked 8th a lot (though in all honesty I was bored with it by the end) will allow the sharp minded sleuth the ammunition to make an educated guess as to my thoughts.

Putting aside the aforementioned army composition problem (which, as I mentioned, is not *that* much of a problem for a scene – heck the whole of 9th Age is community written, army composition is incredibly simple in comparison) I think that, in many ways AoS is more fun than 8th edition, and the rules application on the table top quite often felt more natural as well.

The flow of the game is good, and things like the infamous “double turn” threat adds to the cost benefit analysis at the heart of any good game.

Crucially for me, the limitations imposed by the (much beloved) rectangles we have been used to playing with are no longer a thing. I understand that movement skill was a big thing in 8th edition, but the idea you could not attack someone because they are standing four feet to the left of you and your regimental comrades is, obviously, so ridiculous that it takes you out of the game.

I’ve touched in other places the things I have enjoyed about the mechanics of the game, so I will leave it there. For me, it seems like a very solid ruleset.

An aside: there is a particular (and in my opinion peculiar) mindset that holds that tweaks to a game are, to put it one way, a big deal. For me, something along the lines of “let’s measure from bases” is, as they would say in the film business, dealt with in a line of dialogue. No big deal.

That all said, you can’t give this game full marks in this category yet. The lack of variety of armies (and to an extent company-let army criteria) means that you don’t get that delicious day dreaming about how you can possibly get your perfect combo of 634points of characters into your 600point allowance, or sweat over how to make your “core tax” as effective as possible.

This is, of course, a by-product of the newness of the game, but it is real nonetheless.



I think this is the strongest category for Age of Sigmar. Not only are the models that GW produces simply aesthetically and technically brilliant, the game, in my opinion, looks great on the table.

I can’t remember who it was who said it about AoS, but I agree that the game feels like a 1:1 representation of a battle, unlike games using our (beloved) rectangles. If we look at WFB as an example, 5 or 10 models ranked up shoulder to shoulder makes no ‘real’ sense. Regimented close formations only make any sense with a degree of mass (it being, after all, the whole bloody point). Kings of War, to a large extent, could be played with blocks of wood for unit representation, in the style of military history maps (note: this is in no way a criticism, I quite like that). There is something about they look of AoS on the table, the way models interact with the terrain and the level of carnage therein somehow looks and feels right.


Well, it’s hard to say until more stuff comes out. There are some things to consider though:

The starter set is incredibly good value

Assuming a lot of things will remain backwards compatible will save a lot of time

The follow on models do seem pricy

The piecemeal releasing of the fluff definitely ramps us the cost, and I have pointed out my issue with it

In short though, this game is too young (release wise), for me to be comfortable about making proclamations on this subject. Hopefully by the time I wrap up this series there will be more clarity here and I can revisit the point.



I’ve highlighted my significant issues with how the game is bundled for sale. It almost goes without saying that what have available for purchase is stunningly beautiful and, from what I have seen so far, absolutely industry-leading in design and quality. There are elements to micro-transaction-itis I hate, but that is the modern way.

So yeah, what there is stunning, but am not a fan of how it’s been sold.



So. I’ve loved the games I have played, and enjoyed the ones I have watched. That being said, I have obviously not played/observed a mathematically significant number of games.
It occurred to me when discussing this with someone that if you took notes of my last 50 games of WFB 8th edition I would be surprised if more than 5 of them could be unequivocally described as ‘fun’ (and even those would be largely down to my opponent rather than the table top action), and at least 20 would, if used to demonstrate to a complete beginner what Warhammer was, have cost the hobby a potential gamer. I bring this up because I still consider WFB to be ‘fun’ despite this.

I guess it comes down to the overall experience, and is largely a gut feel (for a change…). For me, Age of Sigmar is currently a cautious ‘yes’ on the fun quotient.



Well, this one is both impossible and easy. I have only been to one event thus far, and they were all people from the WFB scene in the UK, which was brilliant (we even allowed some Australians to take part).

Unfortunately for the scene in these fair isles there has been a big gap between Clash (and an event in the land of the skirt-wearing freckled Northmen) and the next established event for the system. There are a couple of reasons for this – a traditional gap in the diary twinned with the aforementioned Great Schism of 2015. I can’t imagine either of those have helped with numbers. Time will of course tell, and the success of the likes of Blood & Glory and SCGT will be key.

A large part of this will be thing underlining theme we keep coming back to – new stuff is needed to be released, or if not released (I understand you have to let the 40k gorilla have a go as well), gamers have to have a visibility of what is coming out. This current phoney war has just confused the situation. A lot.

All this said, it is obviously too early to tell fully. The fact that, one assumes (assuming stuff is safe right?) there will be a lot of shared DNA with the previous scene is a plus.

The fact that our European colleagues have turned their back on this game is not a good thing and, if not quite an elephant, is a cat in the room – it doesn’t necessarily affect most people, but to those who are, it’s a real pain. The ETC was a fantastic experience and I would love to return. If I were to get into the team again I would be forced to play as much 9th Age (at the expense of the likes of AoS) as possible, meaning I would miss out on friends still in the scene. If I am unsuccessful in my application I would probably end up missing out on friends who made it in as they focused on 9th at expense of whatever I am playing (unless that’s 9th of course)... Either way, not ideal.

For now though, a cautious positive on this count – I have heard great things from the events I recall reading/hearing about and enjoyed the one I attended. By the time this series wraps up I’ll have a better view on this.



So, there is my swift run through of initial my impressions of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. It was rushed because I have already written and said plenty on the subject, I’d apologies, but you’re probably over it already. I have deliberately not touched on several aspects of the specifics, as they could fuel essays of their own.
I’m looking forward to exploring new games and how new (to me) manufacturers go about their business – should be fun.
When it comes to the final instalment I will review all my pluses and minuses, and allocate some weighting – but for now:



Game (on the table)

Game (army selection)





I have a broadly positive feel about this particular adventure, but a bad feeling that things could go very, very wrong. Sensibly I should have done this one last of all, but it is what I was thinking, and one has to do something with the odd hour or so of free time in a working morning (when work itself simply will not do).
Anyway, I am looking forward to exploring the new crazy world of other games in the coming weeks.


Until next time




Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Scions of Warhammer 1: The King is Dead

The future is here. Just what the hell is it though?
Awakening from the clichéd post-ETC hobby slumber, I rub my bleary eyes and am confused...
Even Back to the Future doesn't seem to have the answers…


As everyone even remotely connected to the dark and crazy world of tabletop gaming will be aware, the summer of 2015 saw a seismic shift, leading to destruction on levels not normally seen outside of a disaster movie. There have been some parallels in history I’m told, but even I am too young to remember those. I guess it is almost with a sense of privilege that we got to experience first-hand a truly historic and terrifying event.

Sure, like any slowly dying aristocracy, the signs where there for all to see. The Persian rugs were threadbare, the ancient tapestries depicting momentous events were sun bleached and hanging limp. A slight layer of dust clung to the books in a library that remained the envy of the world. Even then, when, upon careful consideration, you could tell that the household staff had been diminished in numbers and that some of the prize silver had been hawked off to keep the lights on, there was an air of quiet dignity to the scene. The end may have been inevitable, another memory ground  under the pitiless wheels of progress and modernisation to be forgotten by an increasingly unenlightened world, but this was true royalty, and it was going to do things properly.

After all, when the end is all there is, the manner of it matters a great deal.


Yes, the behemoth that was Warhammer Fantasy Battles, that eclectic Tolkenian tabletop adventure that accounted for years of people’s lives (and fortunes from their wallets) from a time when most players were not even a thought in their pubescent parents' minds - before household computers were the norm, before there were more mobile phones in this country than people, and *way* before internet rage became a vocation,  through to this very year – it saw the rise and fall of nations.

In the modern day when immediate gratification is a right and patience a largely alien notion something like this should really make people pause and reflect.

The king is not only dead, his kingdom has been torn asunder and the ashes spread to the corners of the world.



WFB had many (seriously, *many*) issues with it. But that was part of the fun in many ways. We all lived through it, and, a lot of people agreed, it kept getting better and better (slowly, like a maturing oak). The imperfect balance of the game was also its own draw (imperfect balance is important in the longevity of  a game). Most of us who have played for more than five years have seen the rise and fall of armies. The stories accompanying these added to the actual DNA of the game. The library of fiction that accompanied the game was rich and varied – from the metal early days with content definitely not aimed at children through to the more modern times with the now standard fantasy tropes.

A large part of it was not only the monopoly of presence – GW after all are the only company of their type, establishing a strong retail presence and priming the pump for the wider tabletop/modelling scene – but the sheer unparalleled scale of it. The sheer number of armies and supporting materials is something no other game has ever come close to matching (even its big sister game largely relies on different flavours of vanilla ice cream). All this meant that collective decades, if not centuries, of time were spent idly pondering one or more of its innumerable aspects by people across the world.


And then it died.


Like the fading glory of empires before it, its demise was inevitable.

The investment (in time and money) to get into the game was simply far too much for the modern world of Candy Crush, cardboard crack and pre-painted star ships. The cost of sustaining over a dozen unique armies was simply too much in a world where the average gamer rarely added to their collection in truly real significant numbers – the price of the laudable continuous backwards compatibility of their product.

The writing was on the wall, and I, for one, will always be thankful that GW chose to see off the world with a big bang, rather than a hard cut to black.

Like the death of any close friend however, the inevitability of it all did not make it any less painful to experience.



As is the nature of society in this day and age, the body was not yet at room temperature before the 24 hour news cycle got round to the “what next” question that had been sitting, all cute and elephant like, in the room for some time.

For many, normally those with limited amount of time in the hobby, the question was (relatively) easily answered. Find a game that was challenging, ideally not *too* expensive to play and with a decent number of players playing it locally = winning. For others the search was on to find something that filled the much wider hole left by the departure of a large part of their lives


 Just as Europe could not stay united following the death of Charlemagne, the eventual fracturing of the tournament scene (at the heart of things for many of us) was inevitable.



So, just what should take its place?

I should note, this is all about me, people will play all sorts of things for their own crazy reasons ;)


There appears to be several serious pretenders to the throne, though it appears unlikely that any one of them will have the power to recreate the true glory of what was lost:


Warhammer: Age of Sigmar

This appears to be the natural successor, coming from the loins of the company with the world’s longest and strongest track record of tabletop games. The lack of rectangles (turns out this is a *major* deal) and the inexplicable lack of an internal points system immediately torn the old scene asunder. Many veterans of WFB have flat out refused to play it, decrying its many flaws became a hobby in itself. Strong sales point for the game seem to be the models, backwards compatibility of armies and a (probably) deceptively complex ruleset with very low entry requirements.


Kings of War

The little game in the corner we all used to laugh at with her braces, silly hair and truly terrible models. Now she’s grown up and is striking in her own sort of way. A *key* thing here, it turns out, is rectangles. The game has never made a secret of its aim to tap into the existing GW fanbase and they moved to reap the whirlwind. Strong sales points were (by all accounts) simple, balanced rules and compatibility with existing GW armies.


Privateer Press (Warmachine/Hordes)

The quintessential (and almost clichéd) standard refuge for those fleeing GW and all it stands for. Exploded into the public consciousness with the advent of Warhammer 8th edition as many players fled to its eager embrace. Strong sales points are (I am told), incredibly clear & tight rules, low cost of entry and made-for-tournament design.



The ‘other’ established skirmish game alternative to Warhammer. The scene has been “there” for a while, though no one outside it has any real idea of the scale. Seemingly a quirky mix of Western, Steam Punk and bizarre nightmare things. The models have certainly improved over the years as well. The strong sales points seems to be mission-specific force selection, solid rules set and cards instead of dice.



The new kid on the block. This is not a tabletop hobby in the same way as the others – this is strictly a ‘game’, with everything coming prepainted and ready to use. Low model count and (by all accounts) tight rules, in addition to a rapidly growing scene would be the big sales point here. But its not. The big sales point is that its STAR WARS! Enough said really.


Star Wars Armada

Seems to be similar to the above, but with fleet based action, rather than space dogfights. Looks cool, though , from casual observations, it seems far less popular.




I honestly know very little about this. Science fiction skirmish game doesn’t really fit in the “fantasy” setting of the above options, but it certainly has exploded in popularity. Seems to have an anime type look.

Dropzone Commander

Similar in look, in many ways, the much loved Epic games of yore. Models have a hit-and-miss aesthetic in a world that seems pretty solidly set up.


Seemingly a historical/fantasy mashup skirmish game with, one hears, very solid rules. Beautiful models.


Magic The Gathering

People love it. I have so far resisted it… It scares me.



Fan-Made options


In the seeming vacuum that followed the death WFB two notable fan-made options quickly laid claim to the hearts of gamers the world over. The driver here, understandably, was the ETC scene.

There is an event to go to in August next year, and people wanted to know what they would be playing – the costs and time associated with that adventure are not inconsiderable.


On the one hand “internet celebrity” Furion went to work with a design brief to tweak 8th edition to eliminate the need for comp.

On the other an assortment of games, who, it is fair to say, largely disliked 8th edition, armed with extensive community feedback, set about more serious root and branch re-writes to create '9th Age'


Following a vote of the teams 9th Age was the winner – winning on the basis of its mission statement one assumes. It is now the game that will be played at the 2016 ETC in Athens.


9th Age

A re-write of WFB. Compatible with all existing armies with constant community input to make sure issues are promptly addressed. Main selling point appears to be that the ETC will be using it next year.





So, these, broadly speaking, seem to be the options.

Where shall I be investing my hard earned money and non-existent free time?

That, as Cumberbatch is paid to say, is the question.


What do *I* look for in a game?


With an almighty twenty seconds of reflection I would probably sum up the key things for me as:



“Fluff” is a terrible term in my opinion (I’ve long ago stopped trying to be humble ;) ), by implication it is classifying this aspect of things as somehow “lesser” than the rest. The thing that got me into WFB in the first place was, after all, the background setting (and its Tolkenian vibes), not any game mechanics you can point to. A rich, easily accessible, background setting that has that impossible to describe ‘hook’ that advertisers and film makers are always looking for is worth a hell of a lot in my eyes.



Once we have a setting, how the game plays is obviously fundamentally important. Does it flow? Does it seem to appropriately recreate what is happening within the rules? Is there scope for pouring endless hours of thought into ‘solving’ list-writing? Does it balance on that knife edge of indepth and fun?



Does the game “look” right? Obviously models are important here. More importantly, in many ways, is how units and the armies themselves look. Is it a cinematic representation of carnage (akin to aspects of 8th edition), or is it all about the minutia of measurements that epitomised the dark sides of 7th? Quite simply, would it be fun to watch two other people play this game?



Nothing good is free. Heck, I live in London, the expectation is that everything is expensive. ‘Cost’ is more than financial though – and no one *wants* to spend a fortune. Is it going to take a vast amount of time to learn enough to play the game? Do games themselves take ages, or can I easily fit one in in an evening?



How is the game sold to me. Is it a hefty tomb spilling with knowledge and possibilities? Or is it but an introduction into some endless micro-transaction iWorld? How hard will it be to get everything I could possibly need to play this game?



‘Fun’ speaks for itself really. It is, to one extent or another, why we do all this. And the things that can contribute to this aspect are in many ways unquantifiable. Like judging any form of art, a lot of it is gut feel.



This is the most important one in many ways. People not ‘in the know’ will assume this is a by-product of an overly competitive mindset (or an insatiable desire for alcohol). That is missing the point. The social aspect of this hobby is why we spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a year travelling around the country (an internationally), to push plastic around. People may be despicable Skaven-pushers, or collect Dwarfs, but away from the table they become friends. There are other scenes of course, but a scene that is as close as possible to the one we have all loved would be fantastic.
Now that was a party!

Away from this, perhaps unattainable, dream a scene of scale and variety (I prefer not every event to be in essence the same – have never understood how the Poles played ETC comp all the time) is the ideal – if the people are not twats that would be great too.

So, with these loose criteria (and any others that occur to me as I go) I am going to take a look at my options and try to work out what the hell I am doing.

It’s going to be an arduous, though hopefully enjoyable, journey of exploration – I’m quite excited really.

Until next time