Why Age is Sigmar is Interesting (Part 1: The Core Concept)

Games Workshop has, whatever your opinion may be of this most divisive of companies, made a very bold move with the introduction of the latest edition Warhammer. Traditionally, Warhammer has been a game of massed fantasy battles, with models on square bases neatly ranked up into regiments and pushed around a table. This is how it has always been.

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Now, Games Workshop have hinted for a long time that major change was coming, branding their latest Warhammer offering as “The End Times” and really pushing the idea of a world-shattering apocalypse that would fundamentally change the Warhammer World. Well, they delivered on that promise with Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

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Even at first glance, it is clear that this is not just a new edition of Warhammer, but a completely new game. Gone are the square bases and neatly regimented… well, regiments. Instead, we see round bases, in the style of the more popular and successful Warhammer 40,000 game. We also see a shift from the more realistic renaissance/fantasy look of the Empire to a chunkier, more heavily armoured and heroically proportioned style that is, again, more reminiscent of Warhammer 40,000’s Space Marine range – again the most popular range that Games Workshop produces. With these changes alone, particularly the ditching of ranked-up units of troops, Games Workshop have not created a new edition, but a new game.

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This realisation becomes starker still with the release of the rules for this new game. Gone are the pages upon pages of rules, conditions, examples, exceptions and the like, and we are instead given a four page document that outlines the core rules of the game. They can be obtained for free from Games Workshop’s website, or by clicking here. That same page, by the way, also contains the army lists – or ‘compendiums’ – for each of the armies from the previous edition. This will allow players with existing armies to adjust to the new system. It is the first time that Games Workshop have released a set of makeshift army lists like this since Warhammer 6th edition, which revolutionised the game, but still not to the same extent as these most recent changes.

I like that they have shortened the rules so severely. A game should be simple and easy to get into, yet still give opportunities for tactics and depth of play. I think the new rules do that, though there will be significant FAQs released in the very near future, if they are not already out. As an aside, although there aren’t many rules in the core… well, I hesitate to call it a book, but you know what I mean, booklet, there are more involved rules for each faction within the compendiums. So there is more crunch than you may at first realise.

But why make such changes at all? Bluntly put, Warhammer was dying. When Warhammer was first released, there was no real competition. Games Workshop was the only game in town – quite literally so when you consider that most hobby shops in the UK were Games Workshop stores which, naturally, sold only Games Workshop products. That is starting to change now, with a revival in board games, a plethora of new and exciting miniature games and the ever-popular card games like Magic: The Gathering allowing small retailer to survive in the face of GW’s previously quite polished offerings. On the miniature front, Warhammer has a lot of competitors these days. Here are a few of the major ones. In each case, click the thumbnail to get a better view of the image:

It may be a little unfair to list Warhammer 40,000 as a direct competitor to Warhammer, but it is. Games Workshop produce two major miniature games (plus Lord of the Rings if you are that way inclined) and there is no doubt that many look at the two games, whether from an aesthetic point of view, or from a competitive perspective, and choose Warhammer 40,000. Is it the better game? I don’t know, but its certainly more popular. To reinforce this, I present the quarter 4 2014 stats from ICv2, giving the top 5 non-collectible miniature games by sales:

1. Warhammer 40,000
2. X-Wing
3. Warmachine
4. Star Trek Attack Wing
5.  Hordes

Warhammer took up second place in 1012, fourth in 2013 and is not off the list completely. I’ve heard tell that Warhammer make up less than 10% of Games Workshops sales figure, and if that is even close to true, you can understand their perceived need for fundamental change.

Many people have said that Warhammer now looks and feels more like Warhammer 40,000 with the round bases and looser formations, but I think Warmachine and/or Hordes (should they really be distinct entries on the list when they are fundamentally the same game?) are a more apt comparison, with their lighter rules and looser play.

I’m going to come back to this topic to have a look at some of the potential I see in this system. Specifically, I want to outline some of the opportunities to create really cool, tightly themed armies.

As an aside, there is one company that comes out of this change very well, and that is Mantic Games. Mantic produces a fantasy battle game called Kings of War. It’s a good game, even if the models are a little bland, but it was always seen as an alternative, simpler, friendlier version of Warhammer, so people often used their Warhammer armies to play the game. By my reckoning, if Kings of War is not the only remaining fantasy wargame using massed ranks of troops, then they are certainly by far the highest profile one. If they are smart, and I think they are, they will take advantage of this shift and really try to pick up as many disillusioned Warhammer players (and there will be many) as they can.