Age of Sigmar Review
Hello and welcome to this Age of Sigmar review! I have been a 40K player for the past 5-6 years but I have grown tired of the horrible imbalance, confusing mess of formations and the overall meta. I was never interested in Age of Sigmar or Fantasy but with the latest releases (Sylvaneth and Point system) I decided to really try get into it. What I found was I didn't need to 'try' get into it, it's actually fantastic and I never thought I would say that. I hope you enjoy this review/analysis and I can convince you to try the game!
I should also mention that I am a very new player and there are many people with far more knowledge on the game than me. This is just an honest review from my personal experience and a way to convey my excitement and optimism towards the game.
If you are reading this Age of Sigmar review, you have probably heard all the hype about the game online or from your friends. Age of Sigmar is growing and gathering momentum at a tremendous pace, but what you may not know is that the game had a very poor start.
Age of Sigmar is a fantasy, turn-based tabletop wargame created by Games Workshop in 2015. It was created in an attempt to revive the dying Warhammer Fantasy line, which created a serious backlash from the hardcore community. Age of Sigmar was designed to be far simpler and more accessible than Fantasy which much like 40K, could be an absolute headache to even harbour the rules.
The main issue with this was the removal of the point system which basically completely eliminated balance and the competitive scene. Age of Sigmar instead used 'wounds' to create an army list which could be grossly imbalanced. This and other factors caused most of the current player base to completely quit and some even started up their own game, The 9th Age, as a way to play with the old rules.
Skipping ahead, Games Workshop realised the mistake they had made and almost a year later have created the The Generals Handbook. This book comes at a very modest price and contains all the points and rules needed to create a competitive list. This release has caused an incredible amount of hype and it makes me very excited for the future of Age of Sigmar.
The game is set in a fantasy world which consists of nine different realms, each sort of representing an element. For example Azyr is the realm of light or the heavens, Shyish is the realm of death and Aqshy is the realm of fire. This setting was created after the Warhammer Fantasy world was completely destroyed by the forces of Chaos.
These realms are continually fought over by 4 main factions. Order, Chaos, Death and Destruction. You can look at these factions as sort of the ‘father’ factions as each one divides into many different sub-factions all united under one banner.
The different realms are all interconnected by realm gates which are the front of constant warfare and struggle. Controlling a realm gate gives a faction a huge amount of power and leverage.
Chaos are the main antagonists in the story line. Having pillaged, burned and destroyed most of the realms Chaos were the ultimate faction. They basically completely bullied and beat the crap out of everyone else in existence. However having just about wiped out everything, a subfaction of Chaos - Khorne, then turned on their allies and created a massive civil war. This gave the forces of Order the chance they needed to regroup and fight back.
This is basically where the Age of Sigmar story currently sits. Chaos have faltered at the last hurdle and the other factions have taken the opportunity to regain strength and fight back. There is a huge amount of lore and if you’re interested you should check out the wikipedia page or the wikia page.
How the Game Plays
Age of Sigmar plays very differently to both Fantasy and 40K. The rules have been simplified to around 4 pages, you can now easily get your non-tabletop gamer friend to enjoy a game of Warhammer in about 15 minutes of rule explanation. Your friends will no longer stare wide eyed in horror at the monstrous bible of a rule book you thrust before them.
Within these rules there is a HUGE amount of strategic depth available. When considering all the different armies, units and battalions (which I'll come to) there is a vast amount of room to create your own play style and strategies. This is becoming even more apparent as Battletomes (which I will also come to) are becoming more in-depth and unique starting with the Sylvaneth release.
The best way to get a feel for how the game plays, apart from playing it, is to gain a good understanding of the different phases. The phases have been re-worked and are all very clear cut.
This Age of Sigmar review will break down the core phases below. They are all very straightforward, and easy to understand.
You can check out the full rules pdf for free here.
In this phase, you can cast spells and use abilities units in your army have. Your general can also use 1 command ability. Command abilities are special moves a hero can use to either buff allies or damage the enemy. Every general has the Inspiring Presence ability. This allows him to pick one unit within 12”, that unit becomes immune to battleshock (explained later).
Here is a command ability Arkhan the Black, (a powerful commander from the Death faction) can use. If you have other casters in your army, this is extremely powerful. Use this ability first in the hero phase and then use your spells with an added 6” range!
So as an example, let’s say we also have a necromancer in our army. He can now cast his spell from 6” further away, extremely valuable considering his poor armour save and slow move speed.
Another thing to note is how spells are manifested. The casting value, in this case 6, is compared with a number rolled on 2D6. If the number rolled is the same or greater than the casting value, the spell is successfully cast. If the opposing player has a wizard within 18” of the caster, they can attempt to ‘unbind’ the spell. To do so, the player rolls 2D6. If it is greater than the number rolled to cast the spell, it is unbound. You can only make one attempt to unbind a spell.
Every wizard in the game has access to 2 default spells as well as their unique spell(s). These are Arcane Bolt and Mystic Shield. Mystic shield increases the armour save of a friendly unit by 1 and arcane bolt can cause mortal wounds which we will come to further on. Both are very useful and strong spells.
There isn’t a huge amount to say here however I will mention one thing I really like. In 40K there is set movement distances for infantry, tanks etc. But in Age of Sigmar the distance units move varies depending on what they are. For example a unit of skeleton warriors can only move 4” as if they are slowly shambling forward, while the nimble skinks race forward at 8" per turn.
I should also mention that running is done in the movement phase now. You simply roll a D6 and add it to your movement instead of waiting and doing it in the shooting phase like 40K. If you choose to run, you cannot shoot or charge later in your turn.
The shooting phase again is simple and straightforward. Just pick elect a unit that is within range of an enemy and consult the unit profile.
So the Kurnoth hunters would pick a target once in range, roll 2 dice EACH because they have 2 attacks. Anything on a 4 or higher hits the target. Then we roll again and a 3 or more wounds the target. The opposing player would then roll their armour saves to see if any models take damage.
One thing you may be wondering about is the Rend and Damage profiles. Rend is a really cool new mechanic. Not all models have a rend characteristic but in this case we can see a -1. This means that when the opponent rolls their armour save, they have to roll at a -1 modifier. So for example, the Kurnoth hunter hits a Chaos Warrior. He would normally roll and make a save on a 4+ but since the bow has a -1 rend, he now needs to make a 5+ save or take the wound.
Now if we look at the Kurnoth Greatbow damage characteristic we see D3. Most models will have a set number but in this case we need to roll a dice to determine the damage we do.
If you don’t know what a D3 roll is, you simply roll a dice 1/2 = 1, 3/4 = 2, 5/6 = 3. The result becoming the number of wounds done. So let’s say we hit the warrior, he fails his save roll and we roll a 3 when determining our damage. A 3 is equal to 2 wounds which outright kills the warrior who has 2 wounds.
This is a very cool mechanic but what I really like about it is you can kill multiple models with a single blow. Let’s say our Kurnoth hunter fires into a squad of skeleton warriors, they fail their save and we a roll a 6 when determining damage. This would be 3 wounds meaning our massive harpoon-like arrow shatters through 3 skeletons, obliterating them! I absolutely love this mechanic, it means elite infantry bogged down by a horde can cleave their way through them.
Fairly self explanatory, this is where we start charging into melee combat. As long as our unit is within 12” of an enemy, they can attempt to charge on a roll of 2D6. The unit must finish the charge within 1/2" of the enemy to successfully complete it. There are some units which can charge further or have special rules. Morghasts for example (insanely cool models), get to charge on 3D6 because of one of their abilities.
When you take into account the fact they can also move 9”, they have a terrifying threat range. Another thing I actually really like is that after we roll our charge dice, we can charge at anything we want! So you don’t have to pre-select a unit you want to charge, you simply roll the dice and charge at whatever unit you wish.
The combat phase has had a massive revamp and is vastly different to Fantasy and 40K. First I will mention that after the charge, charging units can make a 3” pile in move to get closer to the enemy. There is no initiative characteristic anymore, instead the first attack is determined by which players turn it is. So if we charge our skeleton horde into a group of chaos warriors, we get to go first. But here’s where it gets really cool and very tactical. If we have multiple units in combat you go unit about with the enemy and can attack anything that is within range. You don't have to attack the unit you charged!
As an example let’s say our skeleton warriors have a Wight King with them and we have charged. We choose either the warriors or Wight King to attack first. The Chaos player then attacks back and crucially he doesn’t have to attack back at the skeletons, he can target the Wight King as long as he’s in range! Let’s say the Wight King survives the Chaos attacks, it would then move back to our turn and we attack.
Attacking works exactly as I described in the shooting phase but obviously in melee combat. Unlike 40K there is no difference between shooting and melee when rolling to hit, wound and save. One thing I have yet to mention though, is the terrifying 'mortal wounds' mechanic. Basically a mortal wound is damage that requires no roll - it just automatically goes through. This is absolutely deadly. Lets take this Terradon Rider special ability as an example
So let's say we fly over a blob of Orks with 3 Terradons. We roll and determine 2 of their boulders hit. Now we roll D3 for each hit and determine that 4 mortal wounds go through. The opposing players simply removes 4 of his Orks, no checking for wounds and no armour saves. They are simply obliterated.
Overall you can see decision making and target priority has become extremely crucial in the combat phase. The players who win tournaments will be the ones who think steps ahead and know where to place their attacks efficiently.
So now we have this entirely new phase called the Battleshock phase, it replaces the morale system. Battleshock occurs after combat has taken place and can be quite scary, particularly for low morale hordes of rabble. The best explanation for how it works is of course in the pdf rulebook:
At first I thought this was an awful and potentially game breaking rule but in practice it’s not nearly as bad as it first seems. It’s actually very 'realistic' in that low morale hordes start to flee and panic as they get wiped out. It takes a while to adjust to but you begin to see the beauty of it and what an interesting dynamic it is as you play more. Remember every general has a command ability which makes one unit immune to battleshock, potentially game changing when used right!
Let's create a scenario where a unit of 10 Bestigors have just gotten their ass kicked by a unit of your choice - they lose 4 models. Looking at the profile below we have a bravery of 6. We roll a dice in the battleshock phase and get a 4. Adding the models lost to the dice roll we get 8 which is 2 higher than our bravery, so we lose 2 extra Bestigors totalling up to 6 causalities.
When I first looked into Age of Sigmar I couldn’t get my head around the armies/factions, everything seemed to be all over the place and the names had all changed from the Fantasy Days. Here is what you need to understand - as I mentioned earlier there are 4 main factions: Order, Chaos, Death and Destruction. These factions are called Grand Alliances. They then break down into the armies you know and love from fantasy. So for example Order contains the Seraphon (Lizardmen), Sylvaneth (Wood elves), Stormcast Eternals (the Space Marine equivalents) and many other sub factions.
The armies all have very unique play styles and are aesthetically distinctive on the table top. Games Workshop are starting to stylize the models to be more ‘40K looking’ which is fantastic in my opinion. Some of the models they have come out with recently are absolutely incredible and I’m really excited to see what they come with next. The models no longer use square bases, they all use circle bases in the same manner as 40K. This makes the game feel more loose, skirmishy and overall free flowing.
I strongly suggest you head over to the Games Workshop page and browse through the armies to get a real idea of how they look. If you want to get a feel for their playstyle, head over to Youtube and watch some battle reports on the faction you like. You will quickly come to realise that different factions have very unique strengths and weaknesses, this makes the game hugely interesting to me.
Battletomes are simply the codex or army book equivalent. They contain all the unit profiles, battalions, and special rules for the faction. The recent Sylvaneth release has caused quite a stir and excitement in the community because it contains faction specific bonuses. The battletome comes with Sylvaneth specific command abilities, artifacts, traits and spells. Check out this video it explains it all for you.
Basically the hope is that the battletomes in future releases will all be like this, giving players a huge number of options to customize their army loadouts. One thing I should mention - and this is my favourite part - is that the spells can now be chosen. You can actually specifically choose which spell a wizard takes from the battletome. One of the things I really didn’t like about 40k was that the spells were randomly generated, it meant you couldn’t fully strategize, you just didn’t know what spells you would get.
There are two options when purchasing battletomes. You can either buy the Grand Alliance books which cover all the unit profiles for every faction in the chosen Grand Alliance. For example the Grand Alliance Chaos book will contain all the warscrolls for every faction within Chaos such as Skaven, Khorne, Nurgle etc. These books are great value and cover a lot of ground.
The other option is to pick a battletome belonging to a specific faction within a Grand Alliance, like the Sylvaneth one described. These books are more specialised and contain battalions and unit profiles just for that specific army. The Skaven are within the Grand Alliance Chaos, but we can specialise and buy a Skaven specific battletome containing all their battalions.
I know I have already expressed this but I am super hyped for future, specialised battletomes. The Sylvaneth release really is a MASSIVE step forward and if Games Workshop continues in this manner great things will happen. You can check out the full range of current battletomes over here.
So battalions are basically Sigmar’s version of formations from 40K. To those new to Warhammer, basically what happens is you can take a specific group of units in a specific number to gain bonuses. The best way is just to show you an example. This is a Brayherds (Beastmen) battalion from the free PDF.
You can see on the left the units that you must take to use this battalions and on the right the bonuses you get. We will be seeing more and more of these as faction specific battletomes are released.
Age of Sigmar has introduced a points tax to battalions in matched play. Basically the more powerful a formation the higher the points you pay. This is something that I think would hugely benefit the 40K scene and I fully expect it to be implemented in the next edition.
Points are finally in!
So this is the only reason I am writing this review. If Games Workshop didn’t decide to create a point system (in the form of the Generals Handbook), I simply wouldn’t have come to this game. I am a casual gamer, I don’t compete in tournaments BUT I do like evenly matched competitive games with my friends. With the introduction of the points this game can finally become the game it always should have been.
For those who don’t know what the point system is, it’s basically a way of balancing the game by assigning point costs to models. So for example a huge horde of lowly skeleton warriors might cost roughly the same as a handful of elite Stormcast Eternals.
The General’s Handbook gives the points costs for all the models in the game. It comes in at a very fair price of £15 or $25. It comes with many other features as described in this list.
With points finally in the game, Age of Sigmar now has a real chance to flourish, attract new players and grow a competitive scene. Check out this great review of the General's Handbook by Spike Bits. It covers it all beautifully.
Everyone knows Warhammer is an expensive hobby, however in all fairness Games Workshop have really tried to make Age of Sigmar an accessible game. They have done this by (finally) sensibly pricing their book releases and also creating ‘Start Collecting’ box sets. The start collecting box sets are also being released for 40K and really are amazing value.
With a Start Collecting box you can actually quite happily get stuck into a game with your friends. So thats £50 or $85 and you are pretty much ready to go. You can find all the unit profiles free online and the starter sets each come with their own unique battalion formation.
If you like the game you can then go on to invest more by creating a bigger army, buying the Generals Handbook and getting a battletome for your faction. You will also need to get paints to really make your army look awesome, these can be quite expensive direct from Games Workshop but if you hunt around there are cheaper alternatives.
Overall the pricing is absolutely fine in my books. You are paying for incredibly detailed, high quality models. A lot of people say wargaming is expensive but what hobby isn’t? I’m a guitarist and if you want a semi decent guitar you’re going to be paying around £350-400. Then you need to buy an amplifier, cables and learning material.
Wargaming is seen as expensive because it consists of plastic models but what really matters is the value you are getting out of it. I have had so many incredibly fun and intense nights of Warhammer with my friends. The amount of fun and entertainment I have gotten from the game makes the cost utterly insignificant.
To sum up, you and a friend should get a starter box each and if you love the game (I bet you will) you can invest further. If you don’t, so what? It’s only £50 and you can sell your models if you want! Honestly just give it a go, Games Workshop really are making this as accessible as possible so take advantage of it!
- Simplified, streamlined version of Warhammer Fantasy
- Clear, concise, uncluttered rules
- Very accessible and newbie friendly (start collecting boxes)
- Evolving at a rapid pace with new battletomes and army releases
- Surprisingly vast strategic depth with the combat system and new battletomes
- Absolutely beautiful models (the best in my opinion)
- More importantly - it’s amazingly fun
- Too simplified for some hardcore tabletop gamers
- Can be expensive
- Player base is small compared to other games like 40k (but it’s rapidly growing)
I have tried (pathetically) to remain un-bias throughout this review but the truth is the game is really bloody good and I want you to experience it. Games Workshop are investing a lot of resources and time into making this game something special. If you are on the fence just grab yourself a starter set and give it a go with a friend. If you think it’s crap that’s absolutely fine but at least give it a go, I bet you will enjoy it.
Anyway I hope this review has helped you out and you found it of value. This website is new and will be updated regularly, stay tuned for more!
Full credit to Games Workshop for the images used.
Start playing Age of Sigmar with these amazingly good value starter sets! Click the images for a 15-20% discount.