Yesterday I looked forward to the new miniatures included in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar box, delved into the new aesthetic direction that GW is taking for this game. However, any gamer will tell you that it is not the components that make a game a good game, but that the rules for a game are the most important part. Because let’s face it, even if the components are top of the line, there is no joy to be found if the rules for a game are broken or boring. Today I’m looking forward to the leaked rules for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar that have appeared online.
Lean, mean and cheap rules
The latest rumours come from Dr. Caligari, and he (or she) has stated that the rules for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar will only be four (4!!!) pages long. A rumour that has been confirmed through various other sources, including ‘marketing material’ from Games Workshop self. Considering that the last editions for Warhammer were fatter than a medieval bible, this is an almost unbelievable shift in focus. In addition, all the rules and stats for your units will be available online for the magical fee of nothing, zero, null Euros, Pounds or Dollars. Yes, GW has announced that the rules will be free and that – for your convenience – the rules will also be published in White Dwarf 75.
This is a change in thinking that I would not have expected from Games Workshop. But it also is a change that is very welcome indeed. After all, it makes accessing the hobby a lot more budget friendly. In addition, GW will release ‘Warscrolls’ – reference sheets on which all the special rules, stats and maybe even some background information are described – for all existing miniatures. This means that you will still be able to use your current collection in this new incarnation of Warhammer.
Less rules does not mean a worse game?
Some people might argue that by changing the rule set this rigorously, and by slimming the game down this much, a lot of tactical depth might disappear. But I may have to remember you on the fact that many excellent and deep board games have rule sets that are not much bigger or smaller. Indeed, some of the board games I like most (such as Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride or Flash Point) have really lean and mean rules. And the fact that they have so few rules does not make these games bad. In fact, I’d argue that because these games have so few rules, they are all the better for it!
I might also have to remind you that, even though Warhammer has always been a game with an extensive rule set, that the 5th edition starter set of Warhammer Fantasy, you received a reference sheet that was only two sides of an A4 piece of paper. And using this reference sheet, you had almost ALL important information available. Special rules or buffs were not included, but the general rule set (from movement, to combat and psychology) were all included on this single piece of plasticised paper. All in all, it appears that GW is taking Warhammer a bit back to a more simple time.
Delving into the rumours
According to the rumours from Dr. Caligari, the new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar game is build around six phases: hero, movement, shooting, charging, combat and battleshock. This turn setup roughly follows the current phase, where the hero phase can be seen as a modified form of magic phase and the battleshock phase is the last part of a turn in which you test for psychology and so on. This means that – based on these rumours – I could argue that the game order has not changed that much.
It is when we delve deeper into the different turns that important changes become apparent. The hero phase now include so called ‘command abilities’. By which I’m guessing that this will be similar to the command options of Warcasters in Warmachine and Hordes. In other words, you use your hero models to boost your troops, gain extra abilities and maybe cast a hex on enemy units. And as this phase also includes magic spells, this guess doesn’t seem all that exotic. This phase seems to streamline the magic system AND might add some cool extra’s also.
The movement phase also seems to get quite an overhaul. It appears that units will have a more ‘standard’ movement of 5 inches, a system that seems comparable with the unified 6” movement in Warhammer 40.000. In addition, units can run an additional D6” (just as in Warhammer 40k) instead of marching at double movement. Also, units cannot get within 3” without charging which also seems similar to Fantasy’s grim dark futuristic brother.
This is a bit of a shame in my opinion. I never was a big fan of the unified movement in Warhammer 40k as I thought it took away some of the charms of ‘different’ armies and abilities. In addition, the fact that running is ‘random’ also does not really appeal to me. It makes tactical decisions seem less important, as march blocking is no longer an option, and the benefits of sacrificing the ability to shoot to get an extra move based on ‘luck’ seems a bit unfair in my opinion…
Shooting seems to get minor changes: the rumours point into the direction that hitting and wounding follows the ‘normal’ Warhammer fantasy rules. And as is now also the case units that marched – I mean ran – cannot shoot. As I thought the shooting system worked rather well, even though it was a bit clunky, I can understand they haven’t changed a winning team.
Charging has seen quite a few changes in the last edition, with random movement for units wanting to get into combat instead of double movement. This random effect for charging is kept in place, and if you are within 12” of an enemy unit, you can charge this unit by rolling 2D6 dice for movement. If your movement ends within half an inch of an enemy model, your charge is successful and you can start hacking and bashing your enemy in close combat.
Again, this is something I’m not a big fan of. For me, Warhammer was won in two phases: deployment and movement. By using a good setup and some clever outmanouvering of your opponent, you won the game. Good shooting, proper fighting and snazzy zapping of enemies would help you in your battleplan, but generally these elements would not decide whether you’d win or not. For me, the random charge distance in 8th edition was kind of a downer. I liked that the Dwarfs has a bit more of a chance to get a charge, but somehow it did not fit what I considered a tactical challenge of ‘dancing around your opponent’ using clever manoeuvring. By making movement, marching and charging even more random, a lot of the appeal of the rather unique movement in Warhammer Fantasy has diminished for me.
The combat phase also has changed quite a bit from what we know from Warhammer Fantasy. Gone are the comparisons between units Weapon Skill. Gone are the plus and minus modifiers for special weapons or rules. Instead, you’ll have to roll better than the ‘fighting skill’ (or whatever it may be called) on your warscroll. This makes it a lot easier to know what you have to roll, but at the same time it negates the benefits of having highly skilled troops fighting lowly minions. The same goes for the ‘to wound rolls’ which no longer compare Strength and Toughness, but are based on the abilities of the weapons that your model or unit is carrying. Again, this makes it easier to understand, but in return you also lose some of the detail and charm of having strong units fight weak units.
All in all it appears that combat has been simplified, both for the better and for the worse. Based on the rumours available, it is apparent that combat is much more smooth than before. Because of this, combat will likely be a lot faster, with less downtime for your opponent. However, the new system also implies that many detailed aspects – aspects that made Warhammer compelling to me – have disappeared and because of that a more ‘unified’ approach is taken. I’m not entirely sure if I like this, on one hand do units that are good in combat still have benefits (they likely hit on lower values, and also cause wounds easier), but the benefit of having a slightly better unit fighting against another slightly worse unit are gone. All in all, I’m not sure if I like this or not…
Instead of psychology tests, combat is now resolved in a way that will be familiar to Undead and Chaos Deamons players. Based on the available information, units will no longer flee when they loose combat and fail their break test, but they will lose models based on the difference in combat result. This means that combats can take a longer time than before and things like stubborn, unbreakable etc are off the table (for now). It also is a system that resembles Mantic’s Kings of War in some way – although in Kings of War units are totally removed after a certain threshold is met and models are not removed during fights –.
Again, I can see the merits of this new system. It was quite disappointing to see your tooled up super unit run from the battlefield after a bad dice roll. But that also was a bit of the charm of the game and could cause some epic moments during games. What I also like is that units get more ‘brave’ when the unit is bigger, a system that is similar to the special rules that Skaven units have in the current incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy. So in conclusion I see the benefits of this new system, but even though I’m not sure if it fits ‘my’ vision of Warhammer Fantasy, it makes the round up phase of a turn a lot easier and probably faster as there are less factors to take into account.
Conclusion for the moment
When looking at the rules, I can conclude that Warhammer: Age of Sigmar has little in common with the latest version of Warhammer Fantasy (8th edition). This is not a bad thing however, a lot of fat has been trimmed and excess weight has been lost. This results in what seems a faster, easier to learn system. A system that is more accessible to newcomers and, because GW will release ‘Warscrolls’ for existing models, can also be interesting for current players.
What I do miss is the fact that movement, the most important and interesting phase in Warhammer, has lost most of its appeal. Gone are the flanks and rears you need to protect, gone are the different movement stats for varying units and gone are the tactical plans you had to make to gain an advantage over your opponent. Instead we get a more random system that seems to have lost quite a bit of depth. I have to admit that this has already been changed in 8th edition of Warhammer, but that was a change I did not like either. The fact that all models have 360 degrees Line of Sight, something we know from games like Warhammer 40.000, also contributes to this. Even though it is logical as models are now on round bases which makes determining Line of Sight harder (though not impossible as Corvus Belli’s Infinity proves).
All in all it appears that, like Warmachine, Games Workshop is taking the variation between units as the main differentiator. On the warscrolls you can find all the elements that make a unit unique. These rules are included in the boxes and thus with the models you buy, just as Warmachine/Hordes. You can also find these warscrolls online so all information you want is freely available, ready for you when you plan your new army and next purchase. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is therefore a totally new system, a system that should appeal to new gamers more than old veterans. Games Workshop seems to know this, considering the fact that they plan on making all the old armybooks available for free.
Only time will tell if this new system is fun enough and different enough from other systems to see if it is viable for GW. The 4th of July we will know more when the Warscrolls and rules will go online. I look forward to it, change can be a good thing, but if I will invest further into Warhammer: Age of Sigmar remains to be seen…