Warhammer: Age of Sigmar looking into the future

This Saturday will mark the beginning of a new era for Games Workshop. This is because on that day Games Workshop will release the starter set for their new game Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. We already know quite a bit about Age of Sigmar. And based on what we know we can only conclude one thing: Age of Sigmar breaks with Warhammer Fantasy in one of the most dramatic ways ever been seen in a large gaming franchise or even the game industry in general. The only comparison that can be made is the shift from Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 to D&D 4.0, a change that torn the D&D community apart and saw the rise of the Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

A similar division is also occurring in the Warhammer Fantasy community. In fact there are quite a few (or should I say a lot) of people who are not happy with the new direction that Warhammer has taken. Gone is the large scale combat and unit focussed approach from previous editions of Warhammer. Instead we now have an easy to learn, fast playing ‘beer and pretzels’ game that has more in common with party games like Muchkin or Fluxx, than that is has with mass miniature games. Still even though many gamers have vented their discontent online, the launch of a new starter set is for any miniatures game something special.

There is still a big question concerning Warhammer: Age of Sigmar though. Because even though we know most details about the first ‘wave’ of Age of Sigmar content, there is still little known about the future of the game. In this post I’ll try to look into that future. Based on known facts, rumours and some educated guesses based on information from the Age of Sigmar book and ruleset I would want to make a couple of predictions. And to spoil the surprise: there could be quite some exiting things coming up…

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar starter box contents
Gone are the Old World armies, and here are the new styled armies: Sigmarines known as Stormcast Ethernals and Chaos Warriors aka Khorne Bloodbound. – Image by Games Workshop

What do we know?
We already know most important aspects of the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar game. The rules for Age of Sigmar have leaked two weeks ago, followed by an official, online release of the rules last weekend. Rules that I have delved into in my previous blog post. The same weekend GW released the so called ‘Warscrolls’. These Warscrolls can be seen reference sheets that detail the abilities and stats of models and units that you can use in your games of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, something we already And though it appears that GW has put quite some time and effort in designing these Warscrolls, there are a few rules that have upset the Warhammer community. Especially the ‘funny’ Munchkin style rules – like getting re-rolls if you have a more impressive moustache – have been received pretty sour.

Besides the ‘official’ parts of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, we have read about Age of Sigmar in the last two issues of the White Dwarf. These issues detailed, although briefly, quite a bit of the background story, the miniatures and the world in which you’ll be fighting your battles. Finally, we have information leading up to the Age of Sigmar through the End Times books and ‘unboxing’ videos of the Age of Sigmar starter set.

Based on the background information we know that, after the Warhammer World was destroyed, Sigmar discovered a new world. A world that is divided in nine different realms, each bigger than can be imagined. These realms are based on the original eight Winds of Magic and each of these realms has a unique character, look and feel. When Sigmar discovered these realms, he brought the ‘light’ to the people living there and the survivors of the ‘fall’ of the Old World. A new Golden Age started and people of all races, living or undead, tall or small joined in benefitted from the prosperity and wonders that Sigmar accomplished (anyone has an “Emperor and 40k feel?). But this all was not to last, because in the Ninth realm and last realm – the Realm of Chaos – were the Chaos Gods plotting and scheming. Planning for the fall of Sigmar and the end of the Golden Age brought by Sigmar.

A Stormcast Ethernal fighting with a Khorne Khorgorath (Chaos Troll like creature) - Image by Black Library
Sigmar’s alliance faltered and Chaos gained the upper hand, the Age of Sigmar had ended. However, planning from the closed gates of the Realm of Heavens, Sigmar unleashed his immortal Stormcast Ethernals to take the fight back to Chaos. This is where the new Age of Sigmar begins and we can be fighting with Stormcast Ethernals and Khorne Khorgoraths (Khorne Chaos Trolls?) – Image by Black Library

As time progressed, fractures started to appear in the unlikely alliance that Sigmar had forged. Nagash wanted to rule all, GorkaMorka’s warrior spirit drew the Orcs and Goblins away in a clash between the savage and the civilized. And against the will of Sigmar, Lord Tyrion unleashed an attack on Slaanesh that resulted in the capture of this Chaos God. The time had come for the remaining three Chaos Gods to start their attack. And in a devastating war that Sigmar and his allies were losing, Sigmar retreated to the Realm of Heavens to plan on a re-conquest. Here, Sigmar created the immortal Stormcast Eternals to fight the horrors of the Chaos Gods. Something that is now happening with the attack on the Realm of Fire and the Khorne warriors that defend this realm. The Age of Sigmar has gone by… But with the launch of the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar starter set and your help a new “Age of Sigmar” could just start again.

What can we expect
This is a family friendly game: Slaanesh is out
Slaanesh is probably the most ‘child unfriendly’ Chaos god in the Warhammer (40k) universe. And on quite a few websites there was speculation about what would happen to the range of models for the god of lust, pleasure and sadism. With a suggested ‘from’ 12 years and older for the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar box, Slaanesh and his female like deamons are not really what the target audience and their parents would want to see. This might also have been a reason why Slaanesh, unlike the blood god Khorne or the god of decay Nurgle, has seen relatively little attention in terms of new miniatures.

Based on the text in the Age of Sigmar book in the new starter box, with Slaanesh captured by Tyrion, it seems likely that Slaanesh is out of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. At least for the time being. This idea is reinforced by the fact that there are no images of Slaanesh models inside this new book. Khorne and Nurgle are widely portrayed, even Tzeench gets some attention, but Slaanesh seems out of the way. And by getting rid of Slaanesh, a ‘hurdle’ for some parents might have been taken away also.

While I can understand the reasoning behind this move, it is a shame for me as a long time Warhammer veteran. Over the years Slaanesh has already seen quite an overhaul, with the models getting more ‘covered’ in clothing and the more ‘naughty’ parts of his background and iconography being removed from more recent armybooks and codexes. Still, Slaanesh was for me large a part of the Warhammer universe as Khorne, Sigmar and the Lady of the Lake were, and seeing this naughty Chaos god being ‘scrapped’ is a bit of a shame.

Warhammer 40k Slaanesh Deamonettes
Deamonettes of Slaanesh are not the most ‘child’ or family friendly models in the Games Workshop range. – Image by Games Workshop

Expansions: The discovery of new realms
As I said in the rules review before, the rules of Age of Sigmar are for me still in their infancy. They form a solid foundation for a nice game, but there are still questions to be answered (with balance probably the most important issue). However, both the rules and the information from the White Dwarf suggest that their will a lot to discover in the new Age of Sigmar game.

First of all there is the description of the nine different Realms that make up the world of Age of Sigmar. And while I will miss the Old World, with its recognisable layout, high fantasy tropes and real world references, this new world does offer great opportunities for a unique setting. In fact, the White Dwarf suggest that the Age of Sigmar starter box is just the beginning of an exploration expedition through the nine realms of the Age of Sigmar.

The starter box represents the discovery of the first realm: the Realm of Fire or Aqshy. These are a realm of passion untold and volatile landscapes. A realm where aggression is born – which explains why you face a Khorne warband – and is carried on the hot winds of fire. I would imagine this realm as a realm of lava flows, with vulcanos rising up into the sulphur filled clouds and where castles are build from black granite builders. A realm where your units will suffer from the heat in the air, inhale poisonous fumes from the geysers and lava streams. Where spending too much time will raise your aggression levels until you turn against your friends and give them a good beating.

It is suggested that Games Workshop wants to ‘exploit’ and explore these realms through the means of expansions. Each expansion introducing new units (and warscrolls), terrain, campaigns and stories. With the different expansions being only available for a limited time. This would make business sense, as one of the reasons why Warhammer Fantasy was killed, was because people were buying too little miniatures. By introducing new and compelling worlds, new armies and special rules and new narrative driven campaigns, people would stay involved and compelled to buy new figurines so they can play these new stories.

Fire world in Super Mario 64
The first realm we’ll be discovering is the Realm of Fire. A do suspect though that the Realm of Aqshy will not bear much resemblance to the magical fire worlds that Nintendo has created… – Image by Nintendo

Narrative based play
This bring me to the second point. One of the biggest complains about Age of Sigmar is the lack of a balancing mechanism that allows for ‘drop in’ games. However, when the game is build around narrative based battles this suddenly becomes less of an issue. In fact, when the campaigns and narrative driven battles prescribe the units and models that you’ll be using in certain battles, we may assume that these armies are balanced by Games Workshop.

While one of the best parts of Warhammer Fantasy was the fact that you could make your own stories. Stories based on the accomplishments of your army. In Age of Sigmar, this is less likely to be the foundation of the game. From what I’ve read and heard about the Age of Sigmar book included in the starter box, there are quite a number of narrative battles described in the book. And these battles form only the beginning of the campaign through the realm of Aqshy (or Fire).

When we take this approach as a starting point Age of Sigmar suddenly becomes more of a Dungeon Crawler game like the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Boardgames or the Descent: Journeys in the Dark games. Like the scenarios described in the Age of Sigmar book, these games are also based on ‘stories’ or adventures with preset models appearing the game (Descent more than D&D but still). And both Descent and the D&D adventure games are high on my list of great games.

I suspect that Age of Sigmar will follow a more narrative based approach. This is something I'm quite excited about as narrative based games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark are high on my favourite list.
I suspect that Age of Sigmar will follow a more narrative based approach. This is something I’m quite excited about as narrative based games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark are high on my favourite list. – Image by http://www.theboardgamefamily.com/

The good thing about narrative driven scenarios and games is the fact that you have the feeling that you are part of a greater story happing in the world. And Warhammer is no stranger to these ‘greater’ story games based around story telling battles. In fact, during the 1990-ies Games Workshop released quite a few ‘campaign’ expansions that allowed you to play through a set of narrative connected battles. And the large campaigns like Storm of Chaos and Eye of Terror are also based on that idea.

I for one look forward to playing these scenarios, as they would make Age of Sigmar a unique experience in an increasing crowded marketplace for Skirmish fantasy style miniature games. In addition, these narrative driven games would take away all my fears surrounding the balance issue. Yes, these games would not be suitable for more competitive play. But with the right people and the right setting, playing a pitched battle would still be possible in these new rules. And let us not forget that ‘Oldhammer’ is still an option. So let the story begin and get involved in the new setting, so we can experience new stories and new and exciting battles based on these stories.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar ruleds Banner GW
Let us start discovering the Age of Sigmar and the first battles against the minions of Khorne – Image by Games Workshop

Realms to discover: Loads of scenery
Because it appears that Age of Sigmar will be based on a more narrative driven approach, we need the scenery to set the stage, look and feel for our battles. Based on the images we have seen thus far, it does appear that Games Workshop is taking scenery rather serious this time. Of course, some of the kits we have seen, have already been sighted in the Triumph and Treachery expansion for Warhammer Fantasy.

The images sighted today (depicted below) are some of the finest fantasy themed kits I’ve seen thus far. One of the reasons might be because of the fact that there are many Sci-fi kits available on the market, but there are fewer fantasy kits available. By this I do not mean all the excellent medieval styled resin buildings and castles out there, but I mean the modular kits that allow you to combine different sets into almighty and impressive buildings. It is this that the new kits seem to be: modular kits in the style of the Cities of Death terrain for 40k, but fantasy flavoured. This is something I really get excited for.

It is a shame however that Games Workshop has removed all existing scenery kits for Warhammer Fantasy, including the generic but GW styled forest! It is my hope that these kits will return into the stores soon, and that they are currently being repackaged to fit into the new Age of Sigmar packaging line with a Warscroll added to the kit also (and getting 20% more expensive ;-))… Based on what I’ve seen of the kits that are coming, the old kits would not look out of place. Compared to the great relief and ‘stonework’ on the new kits, the Watchtower or Chapel might be a bit bland and skully, but why cancel a piece that is awesome and can be sold to many non Warhammer players also?

What I am missing up until now is some scenery that is truely themed around the different realms: kits like the arcane fulcrums for Storm of Magic. It is these kits that could be produced in more limited quantities to support and enhance the feel of the different realms: from flowing lava rivers in the Realm of Fire to super sized ‘trees and treehouses’ for the Realm of Life. GW has done such limited run kits before with the Void Field Generator – although I have to admit something quite a few people were unhappy with – that would only be available while the ‘current’ realm is being explored. Taking such a step, in addition to more ‘generic’ kits like they seem to be releasing in the coming weeks, would not take that much extra shelf space AND be an option to differentiate Warhammer: Age of Sigmar from other products on the market with a unique look and feel.

Limited edition scenery Void Shield Generator Warhammer 40,000 as example for limited run scenery for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
Scenery available for a limited time – such as the Void Shield Generator- could open ways to offer great and unique terrain pieces. It’s just that there should be more available than a mere 1000 pieces. Image by Games Workshop (White Dwarf Magazine)

Tournament play: will it be possible?
Based on the latest rumours (and suggestions by GW representatives) we can expect a system coming out that makes it possible to balance armies in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. This should make the system suitable for tournament play. Then, today a small letter ‘leaked’ where people suggest that this comes from Games Workshop. According to Bell of Lost Souls – who claim to have checked it with GW – this small piece of paper is indeed the direction that GW is planning.

However, even with this basic leaflet, there are still vast balancing issues. In addition, a GW representative has said that the new balancing rules will only apply to the new armies for Age of Sigmar. Which by the way are only two armies at the time of writing: Sigmar’s Stormcast Eternals and Khorne’s Bloodbound barbarians. More armies are said to be coming: the Orruks (Orcs in normal non trademarkable language) and Aelfs (Elves or Elfs in real language) and some more should all appear one day. The big question is when? It seems that GW is first expanding the range for the Stormcast Eternals, and we can only expect them to be followed by the Khorne Bloodbound.

So, the question if Warhammer: Age of Sigmar will ever be balanced for ‘select your army, pick up and play’ games remains questionable. I wouldn’t hold my breath if you want to wait for ‘balancing rules’ for your precious Lizardmen, High Elves or Ogre Kingdoms armies. But I do expect some form of balancing to arrive for the new Age of Sigmar miniatures, and of course balanced scenarios for the earlier mentioned narrative games.

Piece of paper with balancing rules for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar by Games Workshop
This leaflet should help balance Warhammer: Age of Sigmar… And according to Bell of Lost Souls this is indeed something coming from GW! It has to be seen.

New armies: Lovely models
My last prediction is also my easiest prediction: even if Warhammer: Age of Sigmar turns out to be one big pile of **** Games Workshop will be sure to make some pretty darn awesome miniatures. We’ve already seen the models in the starter set and those models are some of the finest starter kit models I’ve seen from GW. Whether you like that the new models are supersized minis – even compared to the supersized superhuman soldiers from Warhammer 40k – or you like the new aesthetic, there is some pretty fine craftsmanship going on behind the scenes to produce these miniatures.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Khorne Bloodstoker and Stormcast Ethernal Liberator
The models for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar are well designed and look pretty darn awesome. Especially considering these are ‘starter set’ miniatures. – Image by Games Workshop (White Dwarf Magazine)

The first signs that the quality will only improve is already there as the second wave for Age of Sigmar will include models for the Stormcast Eternals that are more dynamic and will have even cooler weapons and details. From what I could see in the White Dwarf images that appeared online today, there are Stormcast Eternal Liberators with some kind of super awesome looking bows, and Stormcast Ethernal Prosecutors with excellent detailed halbards and shields. Both recall an ancient Greek feel to me, which as a historian I appreciate, while still being so over the top that they fit GW’s design ethos and general ‘Fantasy feel’.

I’m very curios what else is coming. I’ve the impression there is only that much that you can do with an army of Khorne and ‘styles’ and units. But maybe GW will surprise me, the Khorne Bezekers without boltpistols are sure nice, and the Battle Standard Bearer with supersized banner top is one of my favourite models in the starter set. Who knows what the future will bring, one thing is sure is that it will be filled with finely detailed miniatures that are top of the line. We will also probably know that these miniatures are also at the super premium end of the price scale.

So what do you think about my predictions? When looking at Warhammer: Age of Sigmar in this way it doesn’t sound all that bad right? I’ve love some narrative wargames in the style of Descent or D&D adventure games. There are exciting propositions for the realms to be discovered and based on what we have seen there will be very cool looking scenery and models. I for one am sorry that GW killed of one of my favourite games, but the more I look into Age of Sigmar, the more interesting it becomes. Tomorrow will be the big day though, as that day I will pick up my starter box. I’ll keep you informed…

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