Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sigmar Is Dead, Long Live Sigmar - Incarias rants about Age of Sigmar (with surprising vehemence)

It's been a while since I managed to get myself riled up enough about hobby things to actually make a post here. Now, however, that has changed.

In short, I am a giant squid of anger.

I got started in the hobby the same way many of us did: through Warhammer Fantasy. Slowly but surely, I have broadened my horizons to include a lot of other tabletop miniatures games, but I will always have a soft spot for the big red book with the hammer on the cover.

Warhammer has always (for me - I do recognize that it wasn't in fact always this way) been about large ranked-up units manouvering for a battlefield advantage, backep up by powerful characters, flame-belching warmachines or massive monsters (flame-belching or not). The units, and the somewhat stiff ways in which they can move, have always been central to the game.

This is Warhammer Fantasy.

Warhammer was never a perfect game. It was full of imbalances and rules loopholes. It had spells that could take the fun entirely out of a game, and some armies (well, one, really) were lagging two editions behind at the end. But it was nonetheless foundational for what wargaming is.

All this has changed.

Now's the time for a disclaimer. I don't know what GW are planning. I don't know if Age of Sigmar is merely a stop-gap solution until they can roll out the real game later this year, a simplified version of the game for children and drunk people. I hope that's the case. I hope the current version of the rules is simply a belated April's Fools joke, in very bad taste.

But I fear this might not be the case, and it is with that fear in mind I am writing this.

Age of Sigmar consists of a rulebook and individual PDF documents for every army that was supported at the beginning of this year. No army has been 'squatted', as we might have feared. Every model purchased from GW in the last (at least) five years is still viable.

My gripe with this release comes in two parts: simplicity, and lack of seriousness.

Warhammer has always been a complicated game. A full understanding of the rules has (ever since I started playing in early-mid sixth edition) has always required about a foot's worth of books. As in, if you'd pile all the rulebooks, expansions, and army books, they'd be about a foot thick. There's a lot of nuance that can be crammed into all those pages. Even in the days of Ravening Hordes (which was itself a mere stop-gap) the main rulebook counted well over three hundred pages, just to cope with the vast array of possible combinations of rules, events and interacting mechanics.

Guess what happens if you Google 'complicated'?

Age of Sigmar has a main rulebook of four pages.

I haven't played a good boardgame with that few pages, beyond the absolute, age-old classics.

The game is not merely dumbed down, either, though it is. It's also entirely devoid of the careful explanation of rules that has been one of the things GW has slowly managed to get better at. If - and this is a big if, and also I cannot believe I am taking this side of an argument - Age of Sigmar were ever played between strangers, say at a tournament, it plain would not work.

There are no points costs, even though models are clearly worth different amounts.

There are no unique characters.

Want ten Nagashes? Fine. An army of ten goblins is worth just as much: ten models.

At its core, I think the game mechanics might be sound, even though they've rearranged stats and simplified combat, but they are, at best, the rules for a skirmish game, and even then, so much is missing. One of my clubmates said that the rules 'resemble something you'd find at Toys'R'Us', and I can't say he's wrong.

Lack of seriousness

No. No, they're not.

This is where I see a glimmer of hope. Surely a corporation like GW can't be trying to reduce their second largest game system to a mess of bad jokes and painful charades? Can they? This must be some kind of failure of communication, an introductory system or something for those guys who just wanna waltz through a game as an excuse to meet and have some snacks together? And then it follows that the real game has still to be revealed.

I hope so.

There have been jokes built into the rules before. I'm fine with this. The Mangler Squig is not a very serious invention, nor is the giant hamsterwheel of doom. But these have been rules written around a joke, at least trying to make it into a viable part of the system.

Some of the rules found in the 'Warscrolls' are jokes. And not in the good way.


Since when should facial hairstyles convey an in-game advantage? How is it okay to write a rule that rewards you for 'coercing' (I don't even want to know in what sense they intended that word) your opponent to dance? Why, in the name of all the Four, would a miniatures wargame convey a bonus to its players for shouting out the result of a dice roll? (Yes, I know I already do that, but I've never had an excuse written into the rules, and have always been able to stop if it, say, annoyed the living crap out of my clubmates trying to enjoy a quiet boardgame five feet away, without giving up an actual, honest-to-Nurgle in-game advantage).

This ruleset does not read like a real attempt at re-imagining the oldest fantasy wargame. It reads either like something written by four mates (possibly drunk, though it's remarkably well spelled for that to be the case) in a basement at three o'clock in the morning, because they couldn't be bothered to set up a real game of Warhammer.

Either that, or as an attempt to make the fanbase so disgusted that, when the system is inevitably scrapped a year from now, no-one will be there to mourn it. If this is the case, I call chicken shit.

Yeah. I am a bit angry.

And so we come to today's conclusion, children:

If this is the best you intend to give us, GW, just come out and tell it as it is. Warhammer Fantasy isn't netting you the money you'd like it to, and is costing you more than it is worth. You're scrapping it, and focussing on the much more lucrative 40k franchise. Don't dangle the possibilty of a shiny new 9th edition in front of us, and serve us this pathetic excuse for a rules set.

I know you don't like telling us things these days. I really do. But please, give the system that has made you what you are today a little dignity and lay it to rest, rather than drag it out until all possible goodwill it has generated is gone.

Or, you could act like cowards in thrall to the heartless corporation you have turned into, milk every last penny out of this franchise, and pretend not to notice that it's utter crap.

I'm still not giving up on the chance of a 9th edition. Even if it's never coming. And I don't think I'm alone.

That's it for today.


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