Last week, I spoke about how A Song Of Ice And Fire is due to fill the aching void that Warhammer Fantasy left in rank-and-flank wargaming. While Age of Sigmar won't scratch your rank-and-flank itch, the latest edition offers the most visceral and tactical sword-and-sorcery tabletop warming experience the hobby has ever known.
The first iteration of Age of Sigmar had a mixed reception, to say the least. Launching with the now infamous four pages of rules, the game got off to what was arguably an expectedly rocky start, especially as far as developer Games Workshop was concerned.
The original Warhammer Fantasy had an admittedly dwindling following. With an antiquated rules set, a huge buy in, 30 years worth of lore and a community largely populated by old hats, the game had several barriers to entry which prevented newer players from getting into the game.
The decision to literally blow up the world and end the game (done stylishly, with The End Times story event), was a gutsy one.
Naturally, many Warhammer Fantasy players rejected Age of Sigmar, both for its new setting, lore and what they viewed as an insultingly simple rules set which many argued had not been playtested or properly balanced.
In the years since its release, Age of Sigmar has come into its own. While with the new edition, the rules have expand from 4 pages to around 12, supplements like The General's Handbook (the Age of Sigmar equivalent of Warhammer 40,000's Chapter Approved), expanded on the base experience to allow for three different types of play, including a living document of points values.
While the core rules of Age of Sigmar remain simple, this is not a detriment. Game rules don't need to be complicated to be tactically interesting, or be littered with decision points.
In fact, the simplicity of the Age of Sigmar core rules allows for a quicker grasp of the game, and new players will be able to begin thinking tactically sooner than if they had to spend most of their time making sure they were moving their units in accordance with the rules, or constantly flipping between pages to view various damage tables.
This tactical acumen is coupled nicely with a series of matched play scenarios with a hard focus on playing the objective.
Gone are the days of the 'pitched battle', where your primary focus was to destroy everything on your opponent's side of the table, and #TakeTheirToysOff.
Age of Sigmar rewards tactical withdrawal, outmanoeuvring, holding the line, and creative use of spells and special abilities to seize an objective for your army and accrue points toward victory.
While it's argued that a player winning the game despite the fact their army is totally destroyed is a loss of flavour - it's my favourite thing about the game.
There are plenty of wargames you can play if you just want to simulate utter destruction of your opponent, but Age of Sigmar hold its players to a higher standard, asking them to think about why they are fighting, rather than just how.
A wide variety of objective-focussed missions means that players are forced to build an army list that can react to many different situations. You can't just rely on taking the most powerful units and expect to win. You're forced to think tactically abpout the make-up of your battle force before your models even hit the table.
For example, the humble searaphon 'Skink' unit is pretty average when it comes to combat, but at up to 40 models, they're extremely good at camping out objectives.
I spoke with Sam Morgan and Chris Cousens of The Dwellers Below Podcast about their foray into Age of Sigmar over the past year.
'The Australian community is developing,' said Morgan. 'There is a really big community -we just had a 196 player event-, and there are active pockets with big clubs in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Geelong and Bendigo- but it's still relatively new. It's not the same standard of play or cut-throat attitude of other, more mature systems.'
'Armies are gorgeous, with competitive painters having some of the best models in the world to work with.' Cousens said. 'Trying to capture objectives is lots more fun than trying to exterminate the enemy, and so often leads to engaging games.'
Over the January 26th long weekend, players from all around flocked to our nation's capital for CanCon, and the annual Age of Sigmar tournament, which this year boasted nearly 200 players.
'[CanCon] was a brilliant experience,' Morgan said of the con. 'Terrific to catch up with “internet friends” from far and wide, metting people from Zimbabwe, the UK, United States, New Zealand and Tasmania was clearly the highlight of the weekend.'
'CanCon was great.' Cousens said. 'My games were all fun, but more importantly, the atmosphere and camaraderie was second to none. It doesn't matter what the game is, I'll sign up for that kind of weekend any time'
'All six of my opponents were friendly and welcoming,' Morgan added. 'I'm already planning my trip for next year.'
A hobby like Age of Sigmar can be daunting for new players to get into, especially when it comes to painting (but we have some helpful advice to get you through your first project). The Dwellers Below had a bit of advice for new players as well:
'Check out the amazing AoS Shorts website-' Morgan said. 'There are great club rundowns and a tournament calendar. Get into your local game night.'
'Start with the hobby side of things. You'll probably end up spending more time painting than you do playing the game itself, so it's worth making sure that you enjoy it.' Cousens said. 'Then find some people to play with - either your current friends, or (as is usually the case), making new friends by playing games against them. The social side of tabletop gaming is what sets them apart from video games, and so leaning in to that is really important.'
'And if you're in Australia,' Morgan added, 'sign up for the next Smorgancon event at Good Games Melbourne.'