Stop the press. We've got our hands on a copy of the new Age of Sigmar starter set, which isn't out before next Saturday. We'll take a close look at its contents, the miniatures, and the gaming materials. Click "more after the jump" for this exciting review which marks the beginning of a new era of Warhammer Fantasy.


The contents

When opening the box, you will find 5 large sprues of models (1 sprue is included twice), bases (not shown on the picture above), a 4 page rules sheet, a 100 pages softcover background and hobby book, assembly instructions, 12 dice, a ruler, and a small sheet of transfers.

The models are composed of as few as possible parts and are not posable, but are no push-fit models and require glue.

Sprue 1, front (this sprue is included twice)

Sprue 1, back

Sprue 2, front

Sprue 2, back

Sprue 3, front

Sprue 3, back

Sprue 4, front

Sprue 4, back

Click on the picture for a closer look!

The models – Goretide

Included in this box is a Mighty Lord of Khorne (a Chaos Lord and his Fleshhound); a Khorgorath (the monster / Chaos Spawn thing), a Bloodstoker (the beast handler), a Bloodsecrator (the standard bearer), 5 Blood Warriors (the Chaos Warriors / Chosen type models), 20 Bloodreavers (the beefed up Marauders). The infantry models all come on 32 mm bases, the beast handler on 40 mm, the Lord is on a 60 mm base and the monster on one of the new oval 50 x 90 mm bases. Each Bloodreaver sculpt is included twice because of the duplicate sprue, so 10 different sculpts in total.

All the models have a strong Khorne theme going on. As you would expect, the sculpted details are phenomenal. The design is evil and twisted, and in line with recent Chaos Space Marine and Warriors of Chaos releases. All the models are large and bulky, and fit the style of the End Times' Wrathmongers very well. I can't see how any Khorne or Chaos fan would be unhappy with this set of models.

The models – Stormcast Eternals

For the warriors of Sigmar, you will find 1 Lord-Celestant in this box (the hero riding a Dracoth), 1 Lord-Relictor (the priest with the huge skeleton icon), 3 Prosecutors (the winged guys), 10 Liberators (the guys with hammers and shields) and 3 Retributors (the heavy armoured guys with great weapons). All of them come on 40 mm bases, except for the Lord-Celestant, which is on an oval 50 x 90 mm base. 4 of the Liberators' sculpts are and one of the Prosecutors' sculpts are included twice because of the duplicate sprue.

The Stormcast Eternals are as well sculpted as the Khorne models, full of lavish details. Their design is a matter of taste, really. As they are completely new, it takes time to get used to them. Especially as they radically depart from the aesthetics of the Empire as we know it. Clearly they are meant to be the Fantasy equivalents to Space Marines – an elite army, huge warriors clad in full body armour with large shoulder guards. As you can see, the models are very bulky. Heroic scale turned up to eleven indeed.



The rules

There are only four pages of rules in the boxed game (the same in this weeks White Dwarf and free to download on the Games Workshop website). I can't tell you much about the gameplay, because I'm not a gamer. The core mechanics of Warhammer have been changed a lot. For example, each model’s statline now consists of movement, wounds, save and bravery values only. Rolling to hit and wound has become part of the weapon's profile. There are no toughness or weapon strength profiles, all that matters is the profile of your own weapon, not the qualities of the model you are fighting (except for the save). Bases are not important in Age of Sigmar, which means you can take your square based models and play right away.

One thing that has become pretty obvious, even to a non-gamer like me, is that brevity of the rules. This leaves a lot of questions unanswered and loop holes to be exploited. For example, as ranges are measured from the model itself and not the base, does that mean that models on large bases can never be close enough for close combat? Or that bases can overlap? Also, there are no illustrations or pictures apart from setting up your army. I feel this isn't very intuitive, especially for people who haven't played a tabletop game before.

All the unit specific profiles and special rules are on Warscrolls, basically like Warhammer 40,000 datasheets .With such a short rule set, naturally there is a big emphasis on the Warscrolls themselves. You can find the Warscrolls for the model in this box set in the corresponding book, and Games Workshop has promised to publish free Warscrolls for all the existing Fantasy models to download. There are also Battleplans (scenarios), and Warscroll Battalions (formations).

There are no point costs now when you build an army. Warscrolls allow you to even pick as many models or unit upgrades as you like. The rules sheet also makes it clear that you take as many models as you want for a game. The free Warscrolls for the existing armies are the same. There is a ‘sudden death’ table that gives the outnumbered player some additional win conditions. However, they appear to be easily exploitable by players with a deeper understanding of the game's mechanics.

The book

There is a ton of new artwork in the accompanying book. The quality is very high, better than in the recent lot of GW publications in my opinion. It is repetitive though, as it only features the models from the box set (and some other Chaos models such as a Bloodthirster). There are also lots of atmospheric, Warhammer Visions style model pictures.




The book covers the new background for Warhammer. The focus is on the factions included in the box, and thus you only learn a little about the fate of the others (covering the first 18 pages). Then there is more information about the characters represented by the models in the box, illustrated with large model pictures (22 pages).



Next up is the hobby section, which includes basic painting guides and alternate paint schemes for Liberators, Blood Warriors and Bloodreavers (10 pages). Basic hobby advice, such as working with tools, how to build a gaming table, or a battle report is missing.


Next up is the campaign, five scenarios (called Battleplans) including a page of fiction each (14 pages). The first four Battleplans use only the models in the box, while the fifth one encourages you to use more models. Again, there are no more restrictions, other than take what you like and what you have in your collection. Finally there are the Warscrolls for all the models, and two Warscroll Battalions – formations that grant extra bonuses like in 40k.



There is also advice how to expand your collections (hint: buy another copy of Age of Sigmar), by boosting the models in the box to the size of a medium sized Warhammer 40k army (6 pages). Then we finally get a glimpse of the other armies. There are 4 pages with battle scenes, depicting Deathrattle Legions (Skeleton Warriors/Vampire Counts), Nurgle vs. Stormcast Eternals, Khorne vs. Beastclaw Ogors (Ogres), and Skaven vs. Guardians of Sylvaneth (Dryads/Wood Elves).. Notice the new names for some of the factions, more about this later.


Last but not least, as I've been given the German version of Age of Sigmar, I noticed there are even less english terms translated than in the last couple of Games Workshop books. For example, the statline with terms like "wounds" or "bravery" is completely kept in English, as are the weapons' profiles with terms like "melee weapon", "to hit" or "torture blade". It's also noticable in the background, where terms like "Celestial Realm" or "Great Drake" remain in English.

The setting

The material detailing the new lore is kept rather short, so there definitely must be coming more at some point. I'll try my best to give you a short summary.

When the Old World was destroyed during the End Times, Sigmar clinged to the core of the world and escaped Chaos somehow. On his journey, he met the Great Drake Dracothion, who showed him the way to the Mortal Realms, and the Age of Myth began. It's a world made up of eight realms/sub-worlds, each one aligned to one of the eight winds of magic, connected by so-called realm gates. There he ruled along with the other gods (incarnates?), mentioned are Gorkamork, Tyrion and Grungnir. But as the gods eventually became at strife, Chaos gained a footprint in the Mortal Realms, and enslaved all the sub-worlds except for Azyr, the Celestial Realm. There Sigmar barricaded himself with the refugees of the Old World, rallying his strength in its capital Azyrheim. He created the Stormhost Eternals, warriors filled to the brim with the holy magic of heaven. Immortal and of super-human strength and build, they are clad in armour of Sigmarite and capable of shooting lighting bolts with their magical weapons. His army of Eternals is said to be vast, and now the time has come to free the other realms from Chaos once and for all.

Of the other races, little is known yet. There are two pages describing four great alliances.

Order – Sigmar and his forces, the Duardin (Dwarfs), the mercenary Red Slayers (Dwarf Slayers?), Aelfs (Elves) and the mysterious Seraphon (Lizardmen?). Empire and Brettonia are not mentioned, apart from the "refugees of the Old World" wink before.
Chaos – Warriors and Daemons of Chaos, as well as "brayheards" (Beastmen) and Skaven.
Death – Deathrattlers and Deathwalkers are mentioned (Skeleton Warriors and Zombies?), as well as Soulblight Vampires and Nagash himself.
Destruction – Orruks (Orcs), Grots (Goblins) and Ogors (Ogres), also hints about all sorts of other beasties.



Notice the new, copyright friendly names for some of the old factions.

Conclusion

So, what do I think. Well, first things first, the models included are absolutely fantastic and prove why Games Workshop makes the best plastic soldiers in the world. You can like the aesthetics or not, but the wealth of details, the sharpness of the casts, and the clever way the parts are laid out in the sprues are miles ahead of the competition. I also like the new lore. It is new and unfamiliar, and unlike the old setting. But to be honest, it’s just as crazy or silly as the 40K background. I think it will grow onto people. As a designer, I can also understand the need to take generic Fantasy names and turn them into something of your own (apart from obvious IP protection measures).

When it comes to the game, I appreciate the freely available rules and especially the backwards compatibility. It is great to see Games Workshop engaging the hobbyists this way. It could show there is a lot at stake with this release. This theory could also be reinforced by the fact we’re getting a free Sigmarite with White Dwarf and also sending Tale of Painters a review sample, free and completely unrequested (!).

But I ask myself, who does this game cater to? A lot of die hard Fantasy players are probably unhappy that the Warhammer they love has been killed off. People who never played a tabletop game might have a hard time because of the unintuive presentation of the rules and the lack of pictures that show you how to actually play this game. The price tag of 75 pounds/100 Euro, while providing decent value for the contents to veterans of the hobby, might seem a high entrance fee to new players when compared to adult boardgames, the starter set of the highly successfull X-Wing game or video games in general. People who enjoy other tabletop games like Warmachine or Infinity, might be put off by the lack of structured play that points costs brings.

I think Age of Sigmar is lacking modern, reactive gameplay, that keeps both players occupied no matter whose turn it is; decent intern and extern balancing; a tight yet intuitive ruleset that provides a slick gaming experience no matter whether in casual pick up games or competative games .

Modern, reactive gameplay, that keeps both players occupied no matter whose turn it is; decent intern and extern balancing; a tight yet intuitive ruleset that provides a slick gaming experience no matter whether in casual pick up games or competative games – all of this can't be found in Age of Sigmar. It appears to me that Games Workshop has lost the sense of what people's expectation from a tabletop game of today.

Instead, it’s a bring all you got, free for all, like playing 40k unbound without caring for point costs. I've never seen anyone play a game like this honestly, apart from maybe 12 year olds. It seems to me that one of the iron laws of tabletop gaming is to bring two even armies to a battle. Age of Sigmar breaks with that rule, and while a tabletop game is always a social affair, and you are encouraged to have a chat with a potential opponent before a game, it can create all sorts of problems. Not only does it seem that you might spend more time discussing the army selection with your opponent, than actual gaming. How can you ever be sure whether a game is fair or not? I'm sure, the lack of point values alone might be a deal-breaker for most people who already have experience with other tabletop games.

Age of Sigmar might struggle to find its place in today's tabletop industry. The lack of communication from Games Workshop has left existing Fantasy players in the dark about the future of their system, even now they still don't know, whether this box is it, or whether there will be more or expanded "expert level" rules, or where the journey will go for Age of Sigmar. Maybe the next couple of White Dwarfs will shed some light. They better do, before people lose their interest and move on.

This copy of Age of Sigmar was kindly provided by Games Workshop.

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