Greetings true believers, this will be a departure in a bit as I’m going to be talking about a game system that was just recently released and what we can learn from it from a design perspective. I was never a Warhammer Fantasy Player I was firmly in the pew pew laser 40k camp until I fell of love with GW business practices and found other amazing games. Most notably malifaux, now that doesn’t mean I don’t keep up on the old 2 letter network. Or have interest in additional games, as many know I have many systems I enjoy and I love looking at design choices.
So Age of Sigmar (AoS) is honestly a design route I never thought I would see GW go. Not just burning the old World and old Fanbase to the ground, but from the business decisions involved, many of which I actually agree with I know shocking. The big one, the rules are free both the base games rules and the army updates for all existing armies from the previous game. So GW who found a way to charge you for a water cup, are giving the ability to play this game to anyone in the world who has access to an internet device completely free. As you could simply put down bottle caps or scrapes and paper and play through it, or use your existing miniature collection to play the game without GW receiving a dime. Again same GW that wanted 8 bucks for a water cup, free rules for what is a brand new game to replace fantasy.
Okay so know we have to ask the question, Why would a publicly traded company who’s very business is the production of miniatures and accessories for those miniatures and by extension rules to play with those miniatures give away and again just going by say 8th editions prices US give away to every person on the planet $600+ dollars in rules for free? That is a business decision that I’m sure was heavily debated inside the board room and I’m sure that several had heartburn over. So we come back to why? The reason lays in the fact that understands it has to win an audience for the first time in 25 years, the move is an acknowledgement of market pressure and the first self assessment of the company that may show some true positive change within the company in the last 15 years. The advantages to a free ruleset are first and foremost to broaden market exposure for your product. People are more likely to try something if there is :”no cost” to them. AoS is free to try for anyone veteran or brand new player, or and perhaps most importantly a person that owns some citadel miniatures of the fantasy variety. That hasn’t been engaged with a GW product in years, that has openly complained about business decisions, and that has complained about rules costs. The barrier to entry for AoS simply isn’t there on the surface, GW is saying here are some rules to play with these miniatures if you like them we have plenty of more stuff for you to buy and enjoy.
Age of Sigmar is GW first wholecloth rules set since Lord of The Rings. A system they developed separate of their long standing IP and traditions within each game. Make no mistake if you suddenly removed Tanks from 40k and massed shooting it is no longer 40k, just as if you removed Giant blocked infantry formations and flanking you no longer have traditional fantasy. AoS is also the first ruleset GW has produced since major competition has existed in the marketplace for them. GW has very much woke up in a world as Microsoft where another major and several minors companies have been eating share and while still the general default option for gamers their is real choice within in the marketplace now. GW realized it could no longer continue to patch the same game, and instead had to create a new ruleset to help it better compete with “modern” game design. Age of Sigmar was the result.
So the Positives of AoS, yes I believe there are several gems in the design. Age allows someone to field what they own no restrictions. Now I already hear you screaming at the keyboards “thats not balanced” correct it isn’t balanced but no where in GW ruleset did it say x makes for a balanced game. This lack of restrictions isn’t for the long time Warhammer player, or the tournament player, this is a specific design choice that is about allowing a brand new hobbiest to play the game from their first purchase to their last purchase without having to make a choice. This is what I call a little johnny rule, its the getting started is easy anything you buy you can play rule. To really understand it you have to go back in time to the first time you discovered miniature tabletop gaming. Maybe you walked into a GW store like I did in a mall, or you had an older cousin or brother that showed you this game with all this cool stuff that they had acquired over time. And maybe you got super excited for the game and you bought some stuff and you got it built and you started painted it and you came back to find someone to play and the first thing they said to you was how many pts and you added up all your stuff and it was 614 pts of tomb kings and the other person was like the game isn’t even playable til 2000pts. So know as little johnny I’m no longer excited for this game, your telling me I have to buy almost 4x as much stuff to even play this game I was all excited for this is dumb and little johnny goes and plays something else. Or little johnny waits and keeps saving and building till he hits that 2000 pt mark only little johnny isn’t little anymore and instead of getting johnny hooked early and feeding that addiciton by giving him fun games he can play. You’ve made him wait til he gets that full army and your opening yourself up to a lost customer. AoS solves that problem, if you like something you can buy it and field it. Awesome for new players a horrific rule for power gamers but its design intent is to allow new players to grow with the game naturally and to allow for diverse model sales it is not designed as a balancing mechanic. AoS is not intended to be a tournament game out of the box, you can’t view the game as a 9th edition, AoS is an entirely new operating system that happens to use Citadel models from their old fantasy range while they build up the range of his new game.
Other positive mechanics AoS has streamlined combat for faster resolution and more consistent resolution. Gone are the 2 hit and to wound charts and the armor stacking. instead the rolls are right on the scroll what the unit needs to hit, what they need to cause a wd and if they reduce someone save. Also on the card is what the basic save is of the unit. This makes for very rapid combat resolution and for very easy rules explanation. Additionally the rules for Shooting and physical combat are the same you just read your stat line and go no real math involved. Again this lowers the barrier to entry for a new player to miniature games in general not just GW style games. Movement was also simplified along with the removal of ranks and flanks again lowering the barrier to entry for this game. Rules that lower barrier to entry typically are strong rules. They updated all the rules for previous released models those that didn’t receive direct rules upgrades were given a rule that they counted as again all available for free.
Negatives of AoS it seems on the surface to be a 4 page quick start ruleset without calling itself that. That’s not to say I think you’ll see rules that one would recognize as a 9th edition fantasy with flanks, and ranks and wheels. But I think AoS is a ruleset screaming for scenarios, a way to balance army construction for veteran and more competitively minded players, and perhaps most importantly a suggested game size. The very same positives are also major negatives for previous fantasy players simplicity to what was always hailed as the thinking mans game of GW I can see where players are upset by it. The calls of how dare you 40k up my game and such I get I understand.
But I’ll leave you with this. I am a former GW player I never played fantasy, the barrier to entry were too high for me. AoS has me for the first time in 8 years wanting to give the game a go, and because of the free rules I can at no cost. I may hate it, I may love it or It may be a hmm that was nice don’t think I’ll play it again. I’ll have some more thoughts with a game or 2 under my belt.
But as far as army balance and construction, I think what you’ll see is those will come through the battalion scrolls. Essentially GW has taken the concept of theme lists and put them into the game. For those unaware a theme list is a list that contains a certain set of specific model choices, if those choices are selected than you receive additonal rules bonuses. This is exactly what the battalions scrolls do, they give you a shopping list of models and say if your army contains all of this, you get these bonuses. To me this is the ideal way for GW to balance the game going forward. GW saying yes you can take whatever you want, but if you play exactly this set of models, you get additional synergy that taking something else doesn’t give you access to.So they incentive you into making certain list choices and purchase choices. This also limits the number of model interactions they have to monitor within the game from a balance perspective. And they can do that very simply if they come out with a tournament pack that essentially says all official Gw tournaments you select a single battalion formation as your army. Now from a balancing standpoint they just have to make sure each battalion formation is on more or less equal footing with the other formations. Its a lot less work to balance say 5 set forces for each army than the bliions of combinations that would exist outside of those predetermined lists. The side benefit to battalion only tournament design, is you can make sure every model in your range is part of at least one battalion force again forcing model sales through the design, again that is one of those shareholder benefits not exactly benefit to the player.
More to come as I delve into Orgors in the AoS