Battleshed Diaries

Friday 24 July 2015

The rules that divide us

Wel I'm back. After lots of travelling over the last few weeks, albeit mostly for pleasure, my wee gaming hiatus as finally come to an end with the recent controversial introduction of Age of Sigmar, a bookend to Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy system.

My Empire troops were, quite literally, dusted off and brought out of retirement for a quick test game. I'd forgotten just how many units I'd put together - and painted -  when I was regularly playing 7th edition WFB a few years ago. I wish I was as productive now!

My opponent, using his nicely painted Dwarfs, had played one previous game of AoS at the local club with mixed views, so this game was really just to see what it was all about rather than a full blown competitive battle. I'd only managed to print off the four-page rules and accompanying Empire Warscrolls Compendium (31 pages!) an hour or so before we played so with time pressing I decided to save some of it and use the suggested 'Empire Detachment' roster. Big mistake.

The Empire Detachment certainly wouldn't be one I'd ever use in the traditional WFB game as it was a choice of three core units and one support, led by a General.  
Just to see how the individual units compared with the new rules, I chose one large State Troop unit (35 models), Handgunners and Crossbowmen, each with less than 20 models - which I quickly learned was a disadvantage as shooty units with 20+ models can fire twice! As my troops discovered when in range of the Dwarf gun-line!  My State Troops were supported by a small unit of Greatswords and led by an Empire General on a War Horse. Neither army employed any magic - the Dwarf's find it distasteful and The Empire Detachment couldn't afford to pay a wizard.

The Empire General inspecting his troops
The Empire Detachment was orientated to a defensive formation really, as the Empire General's 'Hold The Line' Command ability demonstrated. Without decent support - especially from cavalry - the Empire troops (being human) - were on the weak side and vulnerable to the massed Dwarf ranged fire. But, with this game being more about learning the rules and my opponent's Dwarfs being only too happy to sit back and wait for the Empire to attack them, it was inevitable that this game would be a bit of a slaughter!

The Dwarfs stroke beards and swap jokes
Within a couple of turns I'd already started questioning some of the rules, such as being able to load and shoot during combat and being able to shoot into melee! So for example, my single large block of Empire troops ended up being shot-up from the flanks whilst engaged in melee without any modifiers. There are also numerous 'wee rules' as I have started calling them which are unique to the particular unit and can provided bonuses. Some are pertinent, others are a bit daft - or fun, depending on your perspective - and probably will be down-graded to 'optional wee silly rules'.

The Empire Handgunners did their best to reduce the Dwarf ranks
I did like the Bravery mechanic, which adds an intriguing dynamic to a players turn, with troops deciding to go AWOL from their unit as troops flee from Battleshock, reducing units still further. Combined with the introduction of skirmish-style formations and manoeuvring, over the more traditional mechanics you have rules designed specifically at reducing the time and complexity of playing larger scale battles.

After experiencing the devastating Dwarven gun-line, I decided enough was enough and, as my opponent correctly prompted, 'time to put some combat into close combat', so I charged the State Troops into melee before they were totally shot to pieces. However, as mentioned, they soon became the contents of a Dwarf Sandwich, finding themselves in ferocious melee and being blasted by handguns.

The Empire State Troops finally manage a charge!
I'm really not liking the unrestricted shooting rules. The game ended with the Empire being decimated - many failing the Bravery tests - the others being shot, hacked, knee-capped or bludgeoned by ridiculously over-sized Dwarvern war tools!

In retrospect, if I'd really bothered to apply any tactics for this game, I probably could have made more of a fight of it if I'd used either of the two terrain pieces on the table, (a 'Sinister' wood and a Watchtower), and manoeuvred my Empire troops in a closer formation around the flanks of the Dwarf line providing less frontage for their gunners to shoot at. But hey, I was still reading the rules during play!

At the end, just a forlorn group of terrified Empire Crossbowmen were left standing, but not for long!

Initial Thoughts

Age of Sigmarworkshop, in my opinion, is an introductory, WFB-lite ruleset, with speedier resolution for larger scale battles with the lure of free rules and fancy apps, trying to ride on the accessibility and low-cost image of the numerous skirmish level systems that are in the ascendant within the hobby.

Without a traditional points system, there appears to be a blatant attempt to get players to buy more models to bolster their armies and which I'm sure is very disorientating for many competitive gamers.   

There are victory conditions for unbalanced sides, but with this type of game and the nature of its player- audience,  a balancing  mechanism is still required, even if its optional. I have no problem with no point allocation, having played historical rulesets, but I think this only really works when playing a defined scenario. No wonder I have already witnessed discussions on suitable point allocation - which then questions the necessity of these new rules over the traditional WFB rule sets?

Cynics argue that this is just a ploy to hook newer players into the GW world and lead them on to the expansive 40k armies. I think this is probably true. But hey, they are a business!  

Games Workshop always garner controversy no matter what they do, with numerous digital rantings on the web from various camps frothing at the mouth with Nerdrage. Constructive debate is always healthy but some of the Nerdrage I've seen is not a good advertisement for our hobby.  Much of it seems to become so partisan that common sense and perspective are left well behind. Much like party politics. I'm certainly not going to get into the whole GW debate. I have other games to play.

I intend to play through some more formal AoS battles to get more acquainted with the Warscrolls, most likely with numerous 'house rules' applied. So I will reserve judgement on AoS until I can say I've played enough to have a balanced opinion of the rules, without any GW politics skewering my view. Suffice to say, the Jury is still out.

If anything, it has at least re-introduced me to all those lovely models I painted and I've started eyeing up the WFB 7th edition rulebook again...

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