I wrote an e-mail to an old colleague who still works at GW HQ – he’s been there for over 20 years, and we’ve been corresponding on occasion for the last year and a half. When I was done writing it, I realized it summed up a lot of my feelings about Age of Sigmar, Warhammer and war-gaming in general, so I thought I’d post it here for posterity.
My buddies and I have had a chance to play our first few games of Age of Sigmar. There are some good things to be said about the new game: the battle scrolls, new ways for unit special rules to work, and a simpler game system. I understand the need to reboot the game world and make IP that is easier for GW to protect.
However, I think this game misses the mark pretty big on what a dedicated gamer and hobbyist like myself is looking for from a game: depth, organized play, game balance and community support.
I look for strategic depth in a game, and Age of Sigmar doesn’t really have much. There’s very little meta-game: figuring out what is good in my list so that I’m capable to taking on any other armies. Why? Because I can just bring whatever models I want and use them. A lot of emphasis is now on the players to decide how to balance their armies and have a fun experience, which is fine for your local gaming group but requires a lot of work to make any kind of organized play happen. Organized play helps create the depth, and also builds communities and invites more players in – I’ve seen this happen in Seattle where we’ve built the community up over the last two years, and in the US Masters where we’ve made it the most widely anticipated Warhammer event on the US calendar.
The rules themselves, while easy to digest, don’t create an engaging experience where I crave to know more so that I can improve. It’s more like playing checkers – I know all the rules now, and can pass the time playing the game, but really I know there are better games out there in the same genre. Age of Sigmar is competing now against Warmachine/Hordes, Malifaux and every other round-based, skirmish level game. Yes, AoS allows for mass battles (and any shaped bases), but fielding a couple hundred models on a system predicated on round-bases and individual model movement makes that unwieldy … fielding Skaven or Goblins is a logistical pain.
And while I can appreciate the flavor behind some of the rules (like Settra, or the Longbeards), having to say or do silly things to have a rule come into play is something that just doesn’t go over well with anyone here. Obviously we can ignore those restrictions, but then where does the line get drawn? How much house-ruling is sufficient before there’s a playable system?
With WHFB, the game had depth and some measure of balance. As a community, we supported ourselves and created organized play, but we did it over a long period of time with a history of having played the game for many years. Now the depth and balance is gone, and the community across the globe is fracturing. Some want to take the rules of 8th edition, refine them slightly and keep playing that. Some want to add depth and balance to Age of Sigmar, and try to play that. Many others have already drifted away to other games – certainly true for our community in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
GW has a pretty strict policy around announcing release dates. We hear leaks from time to time, but it’s very difficult to know what is likely real and what is just someone spinning rumor. As it stands today, it seems like this is the entirety of the game of Age of Sigmar, and half the people I play against regularly have already said that they are moving on. There are about 200 tournament goers in our region – I know because I track them all for Masters qualification – and they in turn influence the non-tournament goers through the forums, Facebook groups and other online communities that people use for meeting gamers and organizing play.
So, unless the rumors about a larger ruleset with a way to create balanced forces are true, or something else is happening to make it easier to create organized play events, this will probably be the last year of playing GW games for me. This is pretty sad – I got into gaming from Advanced Heroquest, and started collecting minis and playing RPGs as a result. I worked out in the past two years I’ve spent over $1000 per year in my local GW store, not counting all the stuff I’ve bought on the secondary market or from other game stores.
It was a big risk making Age of Sigmar. I hope it pans out.