Age of Sigmar – Fantasy 9th Ed in Disguise?

Quick note on this article before you read! I’ve received more hits to this article than any other in the history of my humble little blog. It looks like it’s been cross-posted to a few sites. I’m really happy that people are enjoying it and that it is sparking some conversation. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to sell anyone on this game. I’m not even sure how I feel about it at this point. I happen to own a bunch of Fantasy models that I haven’t used in a while and am trying to approach this Age of Sigmar thing with an open mind. I’m sharing what I find as I go. Nothing more. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy. On with the article!

Now that we have the preamble on Age of Sigmar out of the way, let’s move on to more in-depth thoughts on it. I played my second game last night.

It’s still very early days with this, so I’m not going to start gushing just yet – but I think GW might have just snuck something clever in right under our noses. It’s entirely possible that my gaming partner and I are just dense, but during our second game, we noticed a ton of things about the rules that we played wrong in our first game that add quite a lot of depth to Age of Sigmar.

It’s funny. The rule set is a big departure from the old one. When you’re learning a new game that shares similarities with an old one (and, indeed, is produced by the same company), there is a tendency to make assumptions about rules instead of playing them as they are actually written. Well, we paid close attention to the rules for Age of Sigmar on our second go round, and when you play them as they are actually written and not as you assume them to be based on what you know of GW’s other games, there are some pretty cool little easter eggs in there.

I’ll go down a list of things that we played wrong in our first game, what the new rules actually are, and what it means for the game.

Combat between units does not take place simultaneously.

What we assumed: Each player takes turns choosing a combat to resolve. For example, Player 1 elects to resolve a combat involving his Greatswords vs his opponent’s Chaos Warriors and Khorne Lord. There is no initiative mechanic in AoS, so we assumed that all units involved on both sides resolve attacks simultaneously in any given “combat”. Then the next player chooses which combat he would like to resolve. This seemed like the “makes sense” solution based on what we knew of GW’s other games. This is incorrect.

What the rule actually is:  The player whose turn it is picks a unit to attack with, then the opposing player must attack with a unit, and so on until all eligible units on both sides have attacked once each.

This means exactly what it says. You choose one of your units to attack with. It attacks. Your opponent does not get a chance to respond to this with an attack of his own until you are done. You may kill five of the models from your opponent’s unit with this attack. Those models are dead where they stand. If they did not already attack this combat turn, they will never get to attack. This adds a very tactical dimension to combat. Instead of combats being resolved according to some arbitrary Initiative statistic, you need to make some tough decisions regarding which combats are urgent and which are not.

Let’s say you just charged some Chaos Ogres with a full-strength unit of Empire Knights who get some nice charge bonuses and you want to make sure you get all of their attacks in. On the other hand, you have a combat going on over on the other side of the table involving a unit of three Greatswords against three Chaos Warriors. You have a dilemma. Which do you attack with first? If you attack with the charging Knights first, they will do a great deal of damage before the Ogres have a chance to blunt their charge by killing models. However, if you do that, it’s possible that your opponent will choose to activate his Warriors and kill off your Greatswords before they even have a chance to attack. Which do you do first? Tough decision.

You are not “locked” into combat.

What we assumed: Once your unit has charged or been charged, or once your unit has come within range of an enemy and made an attack, it is then “locked” in combat and may do nothing but fight until the bitter end.

What the rule actually is: This will require slightly more lengthy explanation, but the idea here is that nowhere in the rules does it state that you are not free to move in your own movement phase simply because an enemy is nearby or you are “locked” in combat. In your own movement phase, you are free to move as you please. Here are the rules regarding moving when you are “locked in combat”:

Units starting the movement phase within 3″ of an enemy unit can either remain stationary or retreat. If you choose to retreat, the unit must end its move more than 3″ away from all enemy units. If a unit retreats, then it can’t shoot or charge later that turn (see below).

Disregard whether you were charged in the previous turn and whether or not your unit participated in combat. That is immaterial. What this rule says is that if your unit begins the movement phase within 3″ of an enemy unit, it has two options. 1) Stay where it is. 2) Move as it pleases. If it moves, this is treated as a “retreat”. If it retreats, it may not then shoot or charge in those subsequent phases this player turn. Hello, flee mechanic! We thought you were dead! I see. You just got a facelift. One that makes you look much better, I think.

Check out what happened in our game last night.

Apologies for the poor pics. Notice the large unit of Greatswords looming at the top of the table and also the Empire Knights off to the left. They didn’t have enough movement to make the charge against the Chaos battle line this turn, so in the Empire player’s turn, the Pistoliers charge the Warriors to tie them up.

In the Chaos player’s phase, a unit of Khornate Knights comes around the flank and charges the unit of Empire Knights, tying up that charge threat and also gaining the nice charge bonus for their glaives.

Well, look at this. Because the Pistoliers aren’t “locked” into combat, they’re free to simply leave. And in the Empire player’s movement phase, they do just that. They run (add D6 to their move) to the other side of the battlefield where they are needed – but of course they cannot shoot or charge this turn. Meanwhile, the Greatswords move in to charge range. Notice the Khorne Lord standing slightly forward of the Chaos Warriors. This is kind of important.

Now, the rule says specifically, pick an eligible unit and roll two dice. It doesn’t say anything at all about declaring a charge target. The Empire player wanted to charge the Warriors, but, as it turned out, his roll was just short of them. However, because of my careless placement of my Chaos Lord (red circle), he was able to fulfill the requirement the first model you move must finish within ½” of an enemy model by moving to within half an inch of the Chaos Lord. “When you pile in, you may move each model in the unit up to 3″ towards the closest enemy model”. There are no restrictions on movement during the charge phase other than that you must end the move within half an inch of an enemy model. So he arranged his Greatswords in such a way that the Warriors would be “the closest enemy models” during the pile in phase, and then he piled into them. Voila. Chaos Warriors charged. If you leave your nose out like I did, you may be leaving yourself open to a charge you didn’t want.

But the point of this is: Tactics! Age of Sigmar has them! This little charge, counter charge, flee, counter charge game is something that would have taken place in Fantasy. I personally find this system a lot more elegant, streamlined, and flexible and it produces the same (arguably better) result. No more being locked into combat until the bitter end is a great thing and opens up a lot of really cool options.

Flank charges exist

What we assumed: Combat is just a willy-nilly 40k style scrum in the center of the table in which you “pile-in” wherever you like and everybody gets to attack everyone and it’s just a big dumb giant love fest and this rule set is so dumb and GW is totally dumbing this game down for the dumb kids like everyone has been saying for the past 80 years.

What the rule actually says: “When you pile in, you may move each model in the unit up to 3″ towards the closest enemy model.” Oh. Hello again. You’re very clear and straightforward, aren’t you? You are saying I can’t just run around any which way I like in a mad dash to strangle my enemy. I have to… follow a rule. In addition, looking at the rules for Moving, it says “[A model] can be moved vertically in order to climb or cross scenery, but cannot be moved across other models”. Hrmmm.

ohaider flank charge! Nice to see you! We thought you were dead, too. Granted, this is kind of a weaksauce flank charge here with only one knight, but you see the implications. The “closest models” to the three Chaos Warriors on the right are the Greatswords. They cannot pull away from the Greatswords to help their buddy who has been charged in his side. They’re stuck where they are. Now just imagine if my warriors were… gasp! ranked up…. and… oh my. They got charged in the side by three or four knights. Think this through in your head with me, ponder the implications, keeping in mind you may only move toward the closest enemy model in a straight line and you may not move through other models, friend or foe. It’s just as much of a question mark for you as it is for me. I will have to play a few more games to get a better feel for it. But the scenario in my head plays out an awful lot like a game of Fantasy.

Also, if you’ve ever played Warmaster, you know that the primary benefit of a flank charge is the asymmetric nature of the attack. You are able to apply more of your units against less of your enemy’s. Just because you don’t get a “+1 to combat res” doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.

ohaider again flank charge! Now I’m really glad to see you because this time it’s me flank charging and it’s with a giant! Oh, how I missed you. (And in case you are wondering, yes, these same four Chaos Warriors survived like, a million turns of combat)

Here is another implication of the pile in rules
(Again, sorry for the crummy pics). The Khornate Knight circled in red here is stuck behind his three buddies fighting against the Empire Knight circled in blue. To pile in, he has to move toward the closest enemy model and he isn’t allowed to move through models. He can’t reach the Empire knight without violating one of those rules. He is stuck here. At least until one of his buddies dies and he can move up to take his place. I should have thought of that when positioning my charge!

(Post-publishing note on the above – I agree with some who say there is a lack of clarity surrounding whether the rule works this way or not. At the moment I’m about 80% in favor of the “directly toward” interpretation and about 20% in favor the “end movement closer to the closest enemy model than you were” interpretation. I do concede that it is unclear enough that GW should probably FAQ it at some point because it does have a huge effect on the way the game is played. In the meantime, come to an agreement with your opponent before you start playing or dice off for it)

It’s almost like how things were when… units were ranked up in formations… on movement trays. Hey, wait a minute! Or… maybe I could have positioned my knights in a wedge formation… and the lead guy could have come within half an inch of an enemy on the charge… and then the other four guys could pile in three inches, and none of them get into each others’ way. Huh. Formations? Tactics? What sorcery is this?!

I had this inkling that the game still played more or less like Fantasy in my first skirmish size game. Now I really feel like it plays like Fantasy. I dunno. Take a look at this picture and tell me, does it look like a game of Fantasy to you? With battle lines and all that stuff?


I found myself wishing I had movement trays…

That leaves us with the question of balancing games and the absence of a point system and all that… I have a lot of thoughts on that which I would like to save for another post, but, the long and the short of it is – I think it’s brilliant. It allows you to play the game as casually or competitively as you like. Think of the Magic: The Gathering model. Think of Warscrolls as cards. Now think of the different restrictions in place for the various Magic tournaments. Restrictions on deck size, the number of copies of the same card you can take, sideboard, etc. Think about how often someone will bring their four million dollar uber-meta-tailored deck against a new player or someone just looking to play casually. Not so often if he wants to keep finding people to play with, right? Now also think about how even the best decks will still have a bunch of commons in them. Now you’re getting an idea how Age of Sigmar will work going forward.

More on that later.

9 thoughts on “Age of Sigmar – Fantasy 9th Ed in Disguise?

  1. Kyrell

    Yeah there is a lot more manoeuvring in AoS than is first apparent. With pile in moves it is possible to move in such a way other enemy units become wishing 3″ for example, or you can manouver to get some extra targets. Quite cool and very dynamic.

    1. xenocidalmaniac Post author

      Indeed. You are correct – it simply states “pile in toward the nearest enemy model”, which may be an enemy that is totally uninvolved in the combat. Your 3″ move toward that enemy unit may cause it to start its movement phase within 3″ of your unit, meaning it either needs to pile in or “retreat”. As you can see on my blog here, I play a lot of Epic, and the compulsion to “counter-charge” the nearest enemy model creates very interesting tactical situations. Careful placement of your own units before a charge can severely restrict your opponent’s options in dealing with your assault. Hard to explain without pics, but I think you get the idea.

      1. Kyrell

        Yes. Friend played a game tonight and his pile in move brought models within 3″ of a non engaged (previously) unit. Lead to a lot more attacks against him than he anticipated. Lol.

        We are also noticing that sometimes the free upgrade some heroes get to a horse isn’t always worth the “free” lol. A few time being that little bit higher has lead to a cannon ball to face (or solar beam thing from the Basildon)

        Liking it a lot so far, and people who had no interest before are jumping in with both feet.

  2. Stewart Burnett

    Thanks for the post. I’m liking Age of Sigmar and agree that it’s deeper than first appears. GW has always suffered from unclear writing, unfortunately.
    I think the flee mechanic is my favourite part of the game. The movement feels a lot more dynamic. I like that I can get guys out of trouble and not just wait for them to die if they’re stuck in a bad combat. If you have a small unit stuck in a bad combat, you can bring another unit into the combat and then flee with the small unit, kind of like guys coming to the rescue of each other and letting them get out of harm’s way. Love it.
    The pile in is definitely jarring, though. You kind of naturally want to just push your guys 3 inches in any direction toward any enemies in the other unit, but that’s not what the rule says. It can really leave a lot of your guys stuck out of combat. Still wrapping my head around these mechanics myself.

    1. xenocidalmaniac Post author

      Totally agree about the flee mechanic. I like it a lot. Also agree about the pile in thing. Not sure how I feel about it. That Khornate Knight stuck behind his buddies and unable to participate in the combat “felt” wrong to me, but, on the other hand, I know that this is a rule that works very well and very subtly in Epic, which I play a lot of. The compulsion to move “toward the closest enemy model” is a rule that can seriously reward good planning and also punish poor planning. Maybe I won’t position my knights in such a poor way next time? At the end of the day, I guess it becomes a matter of what you and your gaming groups decides makes the most sense. At the moment, however, it looks to me like a strict interpretation of the “3” toward the closest enemy model” is probably the intended interpretation. But with GW, who really knows!

      1. Nick Tarvin

        Reddits a good place to compile internet information based on related themes or subject matter, and since a lot of the YouTube community seems to be literally burning books over this age of sigmar release I’m trying to set up the subreddit such that people interested in the game get positive and constructive input so that we can FINALLY get new blood in the fantasy scene. To that end, when I find a good content creator such as yourself I plug the hell outta the subreddit because, IMO, concentrating the good content will promote the growth of the Warhammer community (because damn do we need new blood).

        Tl;Dr I’m just asking that when you post new blogs on AoS you post the link to the sub.

      2. xenocidalmaniac Post author

        I get what you’re doing and it’s great. Yes, I agree that there is far too much negativity surrounding this release. Personally, I try to avoid contempt prior to investigation, but it sure does seem to be the internet’s favorite pastime. Sure thing, I don’t mind posting links to the subreddit when I write new posts. Thanks again, and feel free to contact me if you have ideas on articles you would like to see.

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