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View Full Version : Age of Sigmar -- End Times, or the Beginning? A Column



dooms33ker
02-07-2015, 08:22
I have been away from WHFB for the past 3-4 months, but recently, a few days ago to be exact, I visited the rumor sites and Warseer after the leaks of Age of Sigmar hit the internet, if only to see where my old friend WHFB was headed. Having read about AoS in the rumor threads and then eventually read the rules myself, I was left at first with ambivalent feelings, like many were. Then I ruminated on the rules for a while, on GW, on what has been revealed, and on what has not, and I've written a column about what I think this game is and where it will go.


Rules make a game worth playing, they are perhaps the most important thing when you look past a game's beautifully painted miniatures and its background fluff. We in the wargaming community have discussed this ad nauseam time and time again, dissecting the games, the companies, the meta. Warhammer Fantasy Battles is broken, it has been said, the game is rock paper scissors, that it's complicated overly nuanced, and that the fixes given by the community make it exceedingly more so. Accounting for the core rule book, the various army books, the official FAQ/Errata and the various unofficial FAQs, erratas and tournament packs, there is enough material to build a semester's worth of graduate school classes around learning the ins and outs of WHFB. It was often unmanageable, sometimes frustrating and always required more commitment than any other miniatures game I've tried. And I dare say there was fun to be had. To be sure. For the right person in the right group with the appropriate mentality, WHFB was greater than the sum of its flawed and inconsistent parts. At best of times it was the apex predator game in the wargaming world. But at worst of times it was a massive time sink and an exercise not in cognition, tactics and management, but in faux legal analysis and bitter community discourse that most folks outside gaming would likely endure only to get elected into the US Congress.

I speak of the game in the past tense because a few days out of the official release of Age of Sigmar all signs point to there being no official return to WHFB in the future, the game we both love and hate. Something had to change, and drastically, because WHFB's at first slow but increasingly more precipitous decline, not only in our hyper local gaming communities but in communities across the country and abroad, tournament communities, and virtual communities on the internet, has necessitated Games Workshop to go back to the drawing board, to start from scratch. Four pages of rules. One starter set. A nebulous cloud of possibilities for future expansion. A concession in all but a formal PR release that nuanced balance and tournament level competition is not the company's coda. Warhammer Fantasy needs more than just a shot in the arm and a face lift, but complete reconstructive surgery. The Age of Sigmar starter set is likely the first in a series of procedures to revitalize GW's sagging fantasy business. After swallowing my initial gut reaction to the the designers' bloody evisceration of the rules I spent many full moons to learn and take advantage of I now see potential for the new rules to bring in more players and give those interested in exploring skirmish scale strategy a compelling reason to do it in the WHFB universe. There is a caveat. There always is. It will depend on how much more change the company is willing to commit to in the coming months.

GW built 8th edition almost seemingly with the intention of creating a steep learning curve for the core mechanics in the core rule book, an encyclopedia of detailed rules and examples, and then tapering off the complexity in the army books; it is a commendable effort for the tournament crowd to whom standardization, regardless of complexity, is more important than accessibility, but also a thick, see-through fiberglass barrier to those attracted to enjoying a bit of strategy with in a warm and open community while playing with ornate and fantastical toy soldiers.

I once gave my significant other the Warhammer 8th edition core rulebook to read after she showed a passing interest in learning the game. She diligently read through the first few pages of the introduction, glossed over the rules for movement, combat and magic, and promptly put the book aside. It was too much. A few years later, Malifaux was better, the rules still a bit too convoluted for a beginner, but the transition from memorizing core rules that govern the entire game to reading the relevant rules off individual unit cards was enough of an improvement that we actually managed to get through enough to play a few games. The 2nd edition of Malifaux further simplified several mechanics and made for a better experience overall. Still, the game was a bit too complex, even with the revisions, for us to play on a regular basis, and so it was shelved.

When I told her about Age of Sigmar a few days ago, she shot me the usual sort of apathetic response, 'yet another Games-Workshop game, complex, convoluted, a waste of brain cells.' But when I explained that the entire core rule set is four pages long her interest immediately spiked. That's precisely the sort of reaction GW is looking for with this new game. A piqued interest from a casual gamer of course does not necessarily translate to financial success and an expansion of the community, but it's a good sign and a fantastic start. How does that work for us, though, we who don't mind poring over details a little bit more? What I see in AoS is incredible potential for bottom up game design by leveraging the short, digital nature of the rules to respond to the community's concerns, which is the key to it becoming a good skirmish game in the future. Skeptics will cry foul at any mention of GW doing anything resembling good marketing strategy or community involvement, but here is some silver lining for the game in the coming months:

1) Free rules (for the time being, at least)

This is an unprecedented step for GW. Rules expansions and test-trials notwithstanding, GW has aggressively priced and sold ever-increasingly lavish rulebooks to buoy the bottom line amidst declining miniatures sales, even taking a page from the video game industry in their releasing overpriced collector's copies. These books invariably needed fixes and revisions, something that either happened at a small scale or not at all. With free, digitally accessible rules GW can amend stats and rules on the fly without worrying about devaluing the work of their authors and invalidating pages upon pages of printed material. If the first wave of rules meets stark backlash and dislike by the community then GW does not have to wait an entire army book cycle to make corrections in the next book. The can do it in a matter of weeks and release and or/update digitally. The company has to this point shown no predilection for this style of rules writing and distribution, but given the immoderate changes to their new Fantasy game I can definitely envision them potentially pursuing this course.

2) The eventual release of premium, more detailed rules

Rumors of GW holding on to a release of a big rulebook version of Age of Sigmar have been denied by a few forum posters who said they spoke to independent shop-owners, who in turn allegedly have spoken with GW representatives. Take this like a Cup -o -Noodles soup, as extremely sodium rich. GW representatives have a primary goal in their relationship with FLGSs to sell as much product as possible, not elucidate company strategy or speculate on products in R&D that may or may not be on the horizon or even in the pipeline. There very well could be an expanded set or rules in the works that is pending feedback of the free rules being released with the starter set. Precipitating a financial self-defeating prophecy for a better future version of the product being offered now would do little but invalidate purchases and undermine their nascent strategy on the eve of its launch. It would be utter marketing suicide. To tie in with my theory of the bottom-up financial strategy we can look at the core AoS rules as a bedrock test for how effective simplification on a grand scale can be at selling a miniatures game. Alternatively we can consider the possibility that...

3) Age of Sigmar might be a self contained release

Again, the rumormongers have rejected this claim on the grounds of reports by FLGS owners and their conversations with GW reps. Rumors from any source, I feel compelled to note, rarely show any semblance of accuracy prior to at least a few months before any sort of release. We could be months out of any major rules release after AoS hits store shelves. Keen readers will find exceptions, of course, but by and large simply browsing through past posts on the GW rumor sites confirms that most rumors are complete hogwash. AoS can absolutely be a limited-run game.


GW's history of releasing limited-runs for certain products is a well documented part of the company's credo -- the limited edition Sanctus Reach 40k starter set being a notable example, as are the Space Hulk and the ill-fated Dread Fleet. If AoS is also a limited release, perhaps not limited in the very scarce quantity of the aforementioned sets, but to a lesser extent, then GW can further expand and refine the core rules to keep them simple, effective, and most importantly fun for the next release. And if the game's sales don't match expectations the company can just as easily go back to the drawing board. It is much easier to re-release a four page pamphlet of rules, even expand it by a few pages if need be, than it is to re-do the rules and army books GW has released in the past.

In essence, building the core of their next game from the bottom up by removing one of the most prominent barriers to entry aside from cost, complexity, is a strong way, even an essential way, I would argue, for GW to introduce new players to this hobby while innovating in the increasingly more competitive miniatures market. It's a risky move that can incense what remains of the WHFB fan base, and the forums seem to suggest that this is in fact what has happened after the rules were leaked, but adding additional, better content is easier than taking away or issuing long errata documents. We have a skeleton rule set on our hands out of the box. Most of it innovates at a core level, while some of it is just too ambiguous for us established gamers. It needs some tender love and care. And given time the issues and questions may be hashed out as we receive further announcements and subsequent releases. The important take-away from the game as designed is how malleable it can be compared to the previous iterations of rules, and how different the marketing strategy is that GW is using in relation to what it has done the past three decades. It is about time. Change is good, especially if it can be followed by more change if need be, and that is certainly the case for Age of Sigmar. It is in Games-workshop's hands to capitalize on it now.

GrandmasterWang
02-07-2015, 10:42
No one has posted yet so I will be the first to say I read all of that and it was a good post

Sent from my GT-I9505 using Tapatalk

dreamspirit
02-07-2015, 12:28
thanks for the write up, I hope you are right :D

ChargeAndDie
02-07-2015, 12:39
Finally something sensible rather than the endless whining (gw doesn't do marketing, fantasy was dying etc) I think a lot of people will adopt and wait and see approach. I'm just glad that it's not 40k for the next couple of weeks or months.. There is still a lot we don't know yet..

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MiyamatoMusashi
02-07-2015, 12:42
I wouldn't dispute that GW needed to do something.

I would strongly dispute that they needed to do this.

HelloKitty
02-07-2015, 12:54
From a marketing standpoint, I think this is exactly what GW needed to do.

As a fan of Warhammer Classic for the past twenty years it breaks my heart.

I do know that the guys here that are 40k players are now looking at playing fantasy for the first time in forever while many of the old fantasy players are angry, but were not spending money anyway on new models.

Gorsameth
02-07-2015, 13:13
From a marketing standpoint, I think this is exactly what GW needed to do.

As a fan of Warhammer Classic for the past twenty years it breaks my heart.

I do know that the guys here that are 40k players are now looking at playing fantasy for the first time in forever while many of the old fantasy players are angry, but were not spending money anyway on new models.
Doesn't help if the 40k people just spend a portion of their money on fantasy instead of 40k. GW needs to gain more NEW customers then old ones they are losing and I'm confident in saying this system will never accomplish that.

Ol'shas'ka
02-07-2015, 13:35
I do know that the guys here that are 40k players are now looking at playing fantasy for the first time in forever
I count myself as one of those people but, ironically given GW's apparent intentions, one of my main points of interest is that Age of Sigmar would allow me to spend, say, 80 on a few Tomb Kings models that I like as opposed to easily spending two-to-three times that on starting Necrons. It's very likely that they would be getting more of my money if they hadn't rebooted Warhammer.

Greyshadow
02-07-2015, 13:38
Excellent post, well written and insightful. You are right, there are positives. You may have persuaded me to at least give the game a go with some of my existing models.

Denny
02-07-2015, 14:16
But at worst of times it was a massive time sink and an exercise not in cognition, tactics and management, but in faux legal analysis and bitter community discourse that most folks outside gaming would likely endure only to get elected into the US Congress.

Great quote and overall a very good post. :)
I am a big fan of simple rules that beget complex tactics/strategy (look at chess)
I don't know if Age of Sigmar will achieve this, but I appreciate the intent behind it.

Guess we'll see . . .

HelloKitty
02-07-2015, 15:02
Thats true and something i also need to take note of. Complex rules don't necessarily correlate with deep tactical games.

nosebiter
02-07-2015, 15:16
A nice write up, and I can agree with alot of what you write.

But for all its potential GW has f..... Up in one critical area, that in the world we live in today will hurt them alot.

A complete and utter lack of communication of any sort. The damage being done to the wargaming community is severe, and by the time Gw's plans for the future of warhammer comes to full fruition, it might be to late. As too many gamers would have walked away.

They have also failed in another area. To make those 4 pages of rules ironclad airtight.

MiyamatoMusashi
02-07-2015, 15:26
Thats true and something i also need to take note of. Complex rules don't necessarily correlate with deep tactical games.

This is true. But so is the converse: concise rules are not necessarily elegant.

Or even functional.

Inquisitor Kallus
02-07-2015, 15:29
Doesn't help if the 40k people just spend a portion of their money on fantasy instead of 40k. GW needs to gain more NEW customers then old ones they are losing and I'm confident in saying this system will never accomplish that.

Ah Eldrad, that's where you've been hiding :p

Nice write up OP, it will be interesting to see how it does

nosebiter
02-07-2015, 15:33
This is true. But so is the converse: concise rules are not necessarily elegant.

Or even functional.

As proven by the AoS rules. And that is sad. All they neede was the rules for movement to be a bit more clear, take stand on basing and have included some form of army constructions system.

Work that could hardly have taken more then a week or two.

The_Real_Chris
02-07-2015, 16:45
Rules make a game worth playing, they are perhaps the most important thing when you look past a game's beautifully painted miniatures and its background fluff.

That is where you and GW part ways. They have made enough public statements to show the games come a poor second to the models.

Shandor
02-07-2015, 16:50
Well im not sure if the way from "To complicaed rules" to "no real rules at all" is a good way.

Sir_Turalyon
02-07-2015, 19:44
This post reminds me of another franchise I've used to love, namely Warcraft. After some 6-7 years I've spent on Warcraft and Warcraft 2, getting both into gameplay and good storyline it had, with spirits high after excellent first Starcraft, Blizzard decided to go in complitely different way, first with (from where I was sitting) an abortion of RTS with saturday cartoon storyline and not so good mechanics, misnamed Warcraft 3, then followed with abomination called WoW. These games brought much more money than a proper continuation to Warcraft/2/BtDP would bring... but not from me.

Looks like GW intends to replicate this success.

dooms33ker
02-07-2015, 20:15
A nice write up, and I can agree with alot of what you write.

But for all its potential GW has f..... Up in one critical area, that in the world we live in today will hurt them alot.

A complete and utter lack of communication of any sort. The damage being done to the wargaming community is severe, and by the time Gw's plans for the future of warhammer comes to full fruition, it might be to late. As too many gamers would have walked away.

They have also failed in another area. To make those 4 pages of rules ironclad airtight.

Yes.

For AoS to work, they need more community input, like what Wizards of the Coast and Privateer Press have been doing for ages. Focusing on producing finely sculpted minis obviously has not been enough to keep Fantasy afloat, so we know that a simple, well done game at the center of their business will be the only way forward. Worst case, you use the free rules with your current collection and lose nothing while another company picks up the ashes of a mass movement Fantasy game sometime down the line. I still think it's too early to tell definitively.

The_Real_Chris
02-07-2015, 22:54
You will know they are desperate when they link to the lists mantic is making for their models :)

Flipmode
02-07-2015, 23:31
As proven by the AoS rules. And that is sad. All they neede was the rules for movement to be a bit more clear, take stand on basing and have included some form of army constructions system.

Work that could hardly have taken more then a week or two.

What needs to clearer about moving? The vertical part?

Whirlwind
02-07-2015, 23:42
What needs to clearer about moving? The vertical part?

There's a whole topic on questions relating queries with the game and some of the abstract oddities that occur (like being able to both shoot and melee in the same turn when you have charged etc).

The one thing I never really got is the rules were complicated for WFB claim. They were long yes, but complicated no - but then I did an astrophysics degree and after that not much is complicated so maybe I'm biased!

Spiney Norman
02-07-2015, 23:44
What needs to clearer about moving? The vertical part?

The most retarded bit I can see about moving now is the 'measure from the model, not the base' part, that is going to make all measuring a complete nightmare

Flipmode
02-07-2015, 23:54
Ah, right. As long as facing is not changed you can measure from any part. Should be alright.

Overlapping bases will be annoying on some models, that will probably require a friendly environment to agree what is actually going on without trying to (physically) balance things.