So Warhammer Fantasy Battle has been replaced by Warhammer Age of Sigmar in the last few weeks. This is a whole new system with a shiny new boxed set and a new core book that is only tangentially related to what has come before - more on that later.
So did we go buy the big new box? Oh no - In a stunning move, GW has released the rules for AoS on their website for free, along with (even more shocking) army lists for all of the current armies in the game! I was shocked, surprised, and very happy to see this as it's been a long time since Games Workshop has taken this approach to any of their games, and they've never done it for one of their "main" games. Maybe someone there finally gets it!
Given the rules and army lists and given that we already have several fantasy armies floating around the house we decided to give the new game a try. Apprentice Red brought out his Wood Elves while I dusted off my Chaos Warriors. After re-skimming the rules again and choosing our actual units we got started.
This won't be a long report.
On the right I took a mounted chaos lord, a chaos sorcerer on foot, two units of chaos warriors, and a unit of chaos knights.
On the left Red took two units of glade guard, a unit of waywatchers, a unit of dryads, and a wizard.
The one mistake we made was using the special terrain rules as written. That meant that every piece of terrain on the table had some kind of extra effect (tracked via the red die in each one) - out to radius of 3"! We quickly dropped the radius effect and just applied the effect to units inside the terrain. Even that meant that two of Red's units and one of mine were paralyzed for half the game because of bad rolls. Also, with the terrain effect being random (and with some of them being random every time a unit touches them!) it's difficult to plan around them or use them in any way. This is not a desirable situation and we will be altering it the next time we play.
On my right the elf guards and the wizard moved up but were out of bow range on their turn. This would be very bad for them as it meant that on my turn (Red went first) they were within charge range of my chaos knights.
So ... yes - Chaos Knights work pretty much the same way they did in prior editions of Warhammer.
The knights and dryads locked up for two turns after this, mainly because they were too close for me to charge and backing off to set up another charge just does not seem like the chaos knight way of doing things.
Over on my left the infantry advanced with some protection from the chaos wizard, but he could not stop the Khorne warriors (the red ones) from being ensorcelled by the !#@$@#$% hills for two turns. Fortunately the elves were having some similar problems and only got two turns of shooting off during my advance. It hurt because wood elves have some nifty shooting abilities but Chaos Warriors are 2-wound troopers so it didn't hurt as much as it could have. I lost 3-4 men out of each unit.
Once they close in of course, it's a pretty short fight. Chaos warriors also still work about like you would expect them to based on prior editions of Warhammer.
So, what do I think of the new game after one session?
- It plays fast - we ran through first time setup, selection, and 4 turns each in about 2 hours and I would expect that to be faster if we played again
- There are not a lot of "fiddly bits" - the rules are 4 pages long so there's not much need to look stuff up so the focus does stay on the table and not in the "book"
- Free rules and free army lists is a great choice - multiple thumbs up for this!
- Terrain rules are overdone and too variable. There are some good ideas here but it could be a lot better.
- There are not a lot of the nitty-gritty tactical decisions left from prior editions of Warhammer. From how to size up your unit, to formations, to maneuver, most of that is gone. It does speed up the game, but it removes a lot of the "weight" of the game too
- Most of the unit customization from prior versions of Warhammer is gone too. There are a few choices on some units, but tooling up a chaos lord is nothing like it was before.
My biggest positive impression is that it's much easier to grab some sheets, set up some units, and start (and finish!) a game now that it used to be. That's a strong feature and in my experience it's the way a lot of games are going nowadays. Simpler & faster is beating out detailed, tactically rich, simulation type games. Presumably because most players are willing to make that choice. and prefer it. It works for me for now, and I have the older versions of Warhammer (and a bunch of other fantasy rules) to use if I want to get more crunchy again.
Short version: this is the DBA version of Warhammer and I predict it will spark a revolution and a new following much like DBA did years ago in the ancients world.
My biggest negative impression is that when you take away all the unit customization, character customization, magic items, and consistent terrain rules, you take away a lot of both the pre-game and in-game strategy and tactics and turn it into a card game where it's mainly my unit stats vs your unit stats. No more angling for a flank charge, no more setting up to use a one-off magic item, no more screening one unit with another, and no more chance for an otherwise intact unit to flee with a failed leadership roll means that unit stats (and the die rolls) determine most of the outcome of the game.
The Big Controversy:
The internet has been aflame with the lack of point values and how it ruins the game. I don't think it does. Again, card games work just fine without point values and that's kind of what it feels like. I think there may be some kind of structure needed for a formal tournament and we are already seeing limits on the number of wounds etc but I wonder if a simple limit on spamming things wouldn't solve the problem. Something like "no more than three of any single unit" should do it, combined with designating certain special types as "unique" so we don't get three "Galrauch the two-headed dragon of chaos" units showing up in one fight. I think that would be enough of a limit to keep the game interesting for everyone.