A Few Thoughts On Age Of Sigmar

A warning: this is something of an unplanned brain dump and so it’s long and rambling. I hadn’t planned to write this, and I’ve not got a specific axe to grind or point to make; it’s just talking around the topic.

AoS logoPeople keep asking me what I think of Age of Sigmar. Well I wasn’t going to wade in on this as it’s already had a great deal of online comment, and none of it actually makes any difference to what GW have and will do. Still, as a way of getting some thoughts on paper, and to answer the question before someone asks me again, here’s a few thoughts on the matter, for what they’re worth.

First a preamble.

I played Warhammer since my brother bought first edition, got bored with it, and swapped it with me. I played every edition till I got to 6th, which I helped to write (along with a couple of army books). Over the years I’ve fought with every official army at one time or another. After I left the company I played a couple of games of 7th and none of 8th. Basically, after c25 years of playing Warhammer, some of the time several games a week, I’d done everything I wanted to with it, and didn’t feel like there was much left in it that I hadn’t seen. Time to move on.

GoB book coverAfter this I wrote my own fantasy battle rules: God of Battles, for Foundry. They offer different tactical challenges and a much more relaxed style of play. Unfortunately they became embroiled in the managerial upheavals at Foundry and have never been properly promoted or supported, which I think is a shame. But then I would 🙂

One of the many things I’ve done for Mantic is write the additional rules section for Kings of War (superseded by the edition that’s just come out, I think), and I even played in their first KOW tournament.

I mention all this simply to say that I’ve had a long history playing fantasy games, and have also played, or written parts of some of them. I spent a decade working for GW, and now write games professionally as a freelance designer. So I look at this from a number of different directions.

To date, I’ve not played Age of Sigmar, and as I type this I don’t feel much like changing that. When the free rules came out I read through them, then the army lists, so I could follow the debates. GW are the big dog, so it’s always worth seeing what they’re up to.

SigmarinesMy first impressions were surprise, intrigue, and jealousy.

Surprise because it was such a departure from previous editions.

Intrigue because that departure was clearly going to shake things up (presumably GW’s intention).

Jealousy because we were never allowed to do anything like this when I worked in the design team. Looks like it would have been fun to work on.

Now whenever you change a rules set it always upsets someone. That’s unavoidable. And pretty much whatever GW do there’s an outcry on the web. So legions of excitable posters on various forums was something that was always going to happen when AoS appeared, especially given the degree to which it appeared to depart from previous editions. Given this predictability, I just ignored it. The real fallout, as I suggested in an earlier post, won’t be visible for a long time.

Clarifying that point was what precipitated this whole ramble.

AoS bad guyThe fallout I was thinking about was different to the one that Brian (who asked the question) thought I meant. I should have been clearer. He thought I was talking about the fallout and immediate reaction of tournament players, which I’m pretty sure is irrelevant to GW. That’s not what I had in mind when I said fallout. I mean the financial bottom line as customers vote one way or another with their wallets. This will take more than one accounting perio to settle down. From many discussions with different gamers from different countries and different gaming groups, lots (though far from all) existing fantasy gamers seem to be giving AoS a chance, so it may well stick. A number of people have told me that they’ve gone back to AoS after being put off by the overcomplexity and sprawl of 7th and 8th, so it’s not all naysayers (despite what the internet thinks). Other people tell me that it’s simple enough to play with their children, and they love that shared experience. Also, those that leave it for other systems such as KOW may well drift back later if that doesn’t suit them either. “Better the devil you know…”

Remember also that tournament players are not GW’s core audience, despite their massively disproportionate volume online. Which system is used for fantasy game tourneys around the world is highly unlikely to be informing decisions in GW HQ any time soon. The only way we’ll be able to measure the success of AoS is by long term sales.

So I think that it’s way too early to really say what the results of this dramatic change will be.

Shooty marinesThere are other issues, while I’m rambling. I haven’t seen any models I like in the new ranges. They’re well produced in the house style, as you’d expect, but none of them speak to me, and that was a surprise. Making fantasy models look like Space Marines also seems strange (and really naff), and looks especially odd when you arm them with bows. But models in AoS, like every other game, are a matter or personal taste, so that’s just me. I’m sure some folk love them.

Then there’s the “cluck like a chicken for a +1 to your dice” rules. I made that one up, but you know the ones I mean. Can’t say I’m a fan. This sort of thing is amusing once, and then rapidly starts to grate. Now I’m happy to provide sound effects and act out exciting moments of a game when the moment strikes in a spontaneous manner, like most other gamers I know, but this is forced humour and that’s seldom as funny as the canned laughter thinks it is. As always though, this is my personal view, and I know that I’m not the intended audience for AoS, so perhaps it’s not fair criticism.

As a final thought, I don’t actually think that the rules change is the most critical one here. Warhammer has been around for a very long time and rules come and go. I think the drastic change (loss) in IP is far more important.

Like I said though, only time will tell.

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66 Responses to A Few Thoughts On Age Of Sigmar

  1. Andrew says:

    We haven’t really lost the old IP. It’s now available through board games, card games, and computer games – many of which look amazing.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Those games still exist, that’s true. However, I’ve still lost the old Warhammer gaming experience of the IP. What you’re offering were always pale reflections of the main event.

      Look at it this way: let’s say you want a cup of coffee. Well coffee has been discontinued, but I can offer you coffee flavour ice cream, or coffee cake. All food, all still available, and still very much not the same thing if what you want is an actual cup of coffee 🙂

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  3. Tyr says:

    Yeah, cant say I disagree. The rules do have some merit. Cutting down on all that rules bloat was absolutely necessary. Free rules? Even better. But some things are just… no. For instance, the 3 varying versions of horderules *covering goblins alone*. Thats cutting down on rules just to add them somewhere else… Never mind the whole balancing thing.

    And the background… why did they have to completely obliterate the background? Why couldnt they have just kept the old background? The new stuff is just bland as can be… :/

    • Two reasons I can see. The first – that the world had become a constraint – so much established and fixed. It was a small world and it was very hard to add to.

      Secondly – there were historic issues with the Old World stemming from insensitive cultural appropriation in the 80s and ill thought out miss-steps (Fimir background). However much you try and ignore them, people still referred to them, did kit bashes of them, and left you with vast swathes of world that you referred to vaguely, but could do nothing with.

      • Ben says:

        It’s simply down to having an IP they could protect. The canning of the Old World and WFB and its replacement by Age of Sigmar is a perfect storm of poor WFB and a heightened awareness of how vulnerable their generic fantasy approach to WFB was from a copyright and trademark perspective.

        • Ben says:

          *poor WFB sales

        • Quirkworthy says:

          That was certainly a major element, and possibly the major driver. However, they still had a huge lead and could have built on that if they had chosen to. Instead they chose to bin the old and replace it with something blander and less worth nicking.

        • Ben says:

          Whether the new setting is any good is less important to them than being able to trademark all the names.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          From one viewpoint. I think it is important for other reasons too.

          One thing I have heard countless times over the years is people saying that they think GW are horrible, but that the IP keeps them coming back. They do not care if it’s trademarked or not, they love the background, story, and history – the depth in other words. It’s a refrain that comes up every time GW do something to upset folk “I’d quit playing/move to another game, but I love the lore…”. Binning the old IP makes the game far less sticky, and losing more customers sooner puts more burden on recruiting ever more people at the front end – something it seems from GW’s falling customer numbers to be causing them trouble already.

          Like I said in the post though, I reckon that it’ll take a while for the real fallout to show, and even when we have numbers it’ll be tricky to pick out exactly which change had what effect.

        • Tyr says:

          @Jake: Completely agree. The amount of times Ive heard people saying they werent really into GW anymore, but still bought the books, the games… WHF didnt have a terribly original background, but it was *deep*. You could dig into it and find things you never thought would be there. And re: cultural appropriation and insensitive topics: THATS WHAT MADE IT INTERESTING!
          (sorry for shouting)
          Seriously though, it was cool because it wasnt just politically correct schlock. Which makes AOS with the removal of Slaanesh an even bitterer pill to swallow.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        I disagree. The Warhammer World was as big as our own, plus magic. The “insensitive cultural appropriation in the 80s and ill thought out miss-steps” are part of what gave it the character that appealed to so many people. Stories of Fimir and whatnot are easily dealt within the context of the imperfect knowledge of a medieval world, or even real and to be dealt with later. People referring to them and kit-bashing model for them is a great thing, not a bad one. It means that people are engaged in the fictional worlds you’ve created. It should be built upon, not stifled – that was the mistake.

        And why could you do nothing with “vast swathes”? The only thing stropping them developing, say, Araby, was the lack of will.

        Sweeping all this away to replace it with something smaller and less interesting doesn’t seem like a good plan to me.

        • Thomas Cato says:

          I have to say that while I found bits & pieces of the Old World really attractive (the Ian Miller & John Blanche art, The Enemy Within rpg campaign…), a lot of it always struck me as generic, derivative stuff. Worse, those versions of the Old World I did enjoy, were often badly reflected in the actual miniatures.

          Would Araby bring in a lot of new players? Would it be a truly unique & captivating setting, or just another Al-Qadim, Far Harad or run of the mill historicals-meets-1001 nights pastiche?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Araby was just the first example that came into my head. And no, I wouldn’t expect it to bring in lots of new players on its own in presented as just another army. That would require a change in approach. I mentioned Araby simply as an example of a place that was easily developable and more typical of the background than “vast swathes of world that you referred to vaguely, but could do nothing with”.

        • Thomas Cato says:

          I know Araby was just an example, but replace it by any part of the Old World and the remark would stand. While every non-core part of the Old World could be attractive to someone out there, they’re all too narrow or exotic in focus to attract large numbers of new gamers. Maybe a Japan inspired setting might do a bit better, but it would be utterly derivative. Nor would the outrage among existing players be any less if GW shoved The Empire & co to the background in order to concentrate on pseudo-samurai 🙂

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Think back to when Privateer started with Hordes. They had a developed background, and started a new one that was previously just a vaguely described corner of the original – exactly as I suggested is possible. And that’s hardly turned out badly.

          It’s not the principle that is tricky here, it’s the execution. However, Privateer demonstrate that you can be very successful with this approach.

  4. Hoodling says:

    I read somewhere that the silly “canned humour” rules were added to the older Warhammer Fantasy elements to discourage players from wanting to use them going forward, or in a public setting. The idea was that the purely AoS elements that would be released wouldn’t include these things. So people might have a go at the game with their old Warhammer stuff, have a bit of a laugh, but move on to the new stuff if they were going to keep playing.

    I don’t know if this is true, or just another conspiracy theory.

    • Ben says:

      My understanding is that the humour is only in those 8th ed conversion warscrolls and not in the new AoS ones. I don’t know if that theory is true either, though I find it more likely they were done as a bit of a laugh to see off the old armies rather than for any underhanded motives.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Could be, though I’m not convinced. I can think of other equally plausible and equally unprovable options.

  5. Thomas Cato says:

    For me the big positive things about AOS are that they made it a game more suitable for small engagements and that they got rid of the points values. The latter in particular might make it easier to convince players to customize & be creative, at least if they can break away from the urge to follow the official narrative as it will unfold in the campaign books GW is pushing. I was reading through Frostgrave the other day, and I realized that the key themes could just as easily be done with AOS in combination with a custom made campaign pack, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be any better or worse than Frostgrave as published. Which means it would be great 🙂

    As for the official GW developments, the direction they seem to be going in has somewhat dampened my initial enthusiasm. It’s clear that big armies and tightly scripted narratives are once again on the menu. Unfortunately, AOS doesn’t seem the most interesting approach for mass battles. Oh well, let’s hope they produce some nice successors to the current forces of the Old World.

    • Ben says:

      I’ve played AoS and own Frostgrave (albeit not yet played) and whilst they’re doing different things, their underlying philosophy seemed very similar to me too. The big difference between them is that Frostgrave has been a big success for Osprey/North Star, but if AoS generated those sales it’d be an unmitigated disaster for GW. The point being that the loose DIY narrative approach to AoS probably wasn’t going to be the norm given its need to generate sales and revenue on a large scale.

      • Thomas Cato says:

        It’s a bit early to tell I think, though they would either need to get a lot of new players in or get the players they have to upscale their forces. I also wonder what else they could have done to fix the problem of reliance on a shrinking group of big spenders and a very high cost of entry to WFB.

        • Ben says:

          It definitely needs to be the former as 8th ed already went down the route of trying to get the player base to upscale their armies and at best it had no effect and at worst it actively turned players away.

          As for what else they could have done, a model based on smaller armies with an endless stream of (viable) alternative selections would have been my advice to them. It’s the format Warmachine used to supplant WFB as the #2 game and it works because the barrier to entry is comparatively low in terms of how many models you need to play, but you never run out of things to buy. Instead it seems as if the model has been to bait the hook with a good value starter box and the ability to play low model count games, but to incentivise a ramping up to large armies. What they risk happening is either people don’t play those larger model count games, and it doesn’t generate revenue, or they do and the barrier goes back up.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      When I read AoS, it made me smile. Ignoring the sales pitch of small games and so on, you could see that they were expecting you to play with sizeable armies. The giveaway was in the unit sizes and special rules.

      For most games you’ll want half a dozen or more different pieces to move. This is true of board games, tabletop or computer games. In some games a “piece” will be a single thing, in others it’ll be a group of many separate models – the distinction is unimportant from a design POV. In AoS many of those pieces are groups of 10 or more models, some units having bonuses when you take 20 or even 30 models as a single “piece”. So while you could play with a handful of single model pieces a side, I came away with the strong impression that they were still aiming for you to take 60-100+ model armies. Not what I’d call a skirmish game.

      That’s a guess though, based on reading and not playing. Still, it seems to be built into the mechanics, and I can’t see a way round that. Maybe the new armies are all single man units. I’ve not looked at those yet.

      • Thomas Cato says:

        Yes, the battlescrolls definitely encourage bigger units. Hardly surprising as GW sees itself first of all as a seller of miniatures 🙂 But playing the game as a real small skirmish with a handful of miniatures on each side worked just fine, and my thought was, why would I upgrade to larger armies when it doesn’t really seem to add anything essential in terms of gameplay? Any size bonus you get is likely to be cancelled out by similar boosts or powerful monster selections for your opponent, who would probably not be cool with you plonking down units of 20-30 where his are only half that size.

        Time will tell if this is the weak point of AOS as commercial product. People like me might play, but will not buy large armies (or indeed many big monster kits…), whereas the army guys who used to when it was still WFB, could desert both the game and GW miniatures for something else.

  6. Ben says:

    “despite their (tournament players) massively disproportionate volume online”

    Is this true or a truism? And if it is true, why is it true? Why are ‘tournament players disproportionately represented online as opposed to the rest of the consumer base?

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I believe it’s true.

      The numbers of people that participate in tournaments compared to the overall sales of a game makes their numbers extremely small, generally well under 1% from the examples I could find numbers for. Even assuming that you multiply this up to count people who are this competitive and don’t ever attend a tourney, it’s still a small minority. However, these are usually passionate and enthusiastic players who are more active online than the majority of casual gamers who just play round their mate’s house with a few friends.

      I know this from over 30 years of gaming and working within the industry, talking to thousands of other gamers, parents and traders, having access to sales figures for a number of products, and running tournaments and other events. While I was at GW I did a project to look into the impact/noise of tournament players, and found that while it’s impossible to be entirely exact (too many fuzzy variables), and while it was probably not as much of a swing as the urban myth version, it was still true.

  7. Willem-Jan (Hephesto) says:

    And cue long, long-winded , borderline essay………….been discussing AoS and GW’s IP strategies way too much lately 😉

    It is indeed quite the odd situation, for some reason somebody at the top of the foodchain treated the indeed lagging WHFB franchise as a console generation. Thinking you can just move along to a new iteration without informing and guiding your existing customers, assuming they will just follow you without question.

    I don’t even think there was any malice intended with the End Times stuff, which has burned quite a few people who are on the gaming side of things despite some truly amazing, showcase models getting released during that period. It did however clearly demonstrate to even the most die hard fan that GW is willing and able to do just whatever the hell they want with a franchise without any warning or public reasoning. The same could be said for how they’re handling their IP franchising…..

    I don’t really see AoS doing anything to lower the financial barrier of entry for new players, yet it has planted a seed of doubt with the existing customer base. Luckily we’re seeing continued support for the setting, but that was als true for End Times and that didn’t end all too well. Sigmar only knows when the next rabbit will be pulled from the hat of due divident payment.

    Other than wanting to get rid of the WHFB-system and copyrighting the hell out of the entire world (Aelves, really?) I see very little reason why AoS couldn’t take place in the old world, couldn’t have been a parallel game for a grace period to get players acquainted with it and test whether it would even sell or couldn’t have been a completely new setting, or maybe even WHFB’s 30K variant, while the massed combat system was simply in its last edition and wouldn’t get any support with books etc. They just had to go and destroy it all, which I grant was a bold move. But also a painful one for a lot of long-term fans and customers.

    Handled very poorly across the board in my opinion, will be interesting to see what impact it will have in the long run. One thing is certain, folks looking for mass-combat rules are at the very least checking out other digital rules and discovering there’s a lot more out their rules, hobby, tools and miniatures-wise than GW.

    As for the long-term success of AoS? Hard to tell, in the first place because neither the internet nor GW actually decides if and how people are having fun with their hobby. Shoehorning humor into rules and telling people they’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ for years, as if the unbalanced duct-taped ruleset is their fault, doesn’t help much either. The entire thing just feels utterly uninspired at the moment, though as always the actual kits are marvels of technical design.

    40K will keep steamrolling around just fine for quite a long time, there’s a strong, extremely invested community there as well as a proven sales model (however I personally may feel about the armsrace 40K seems to have become). AoS may be a different story, though that may over time be a real success as well. We’ll have to wait for real numbers in 6-12 months when we can truly judge just how big an impact it will have had on GW’s sales and finances.

    That’s not to say that abandoning WHFB’s regimental gaming system for what at initial release felt like a poor man’s LotR/The Hobbit system won’t have a direct impact on the players that enjoyed the regimental game. Heck we already see several US tournaments completely switching to Kings of War. But even that doesn’t mean anything till we see the actual numbers later down the line as this entire thing could just as well lead to people being weary of GW products and slowly going to other companies as they could continue buying GW armies for use in other systems that have compatible armylists.

    Besides GW was hardly the first model company out there, that’s not to say they did not do an amazing job spreading the hobby and pushing the technology. For many of the 30+ generation they were THE gateway company into the wargaming hobby and for many the only wargaming experience they’ve had over the decades.

    And there, in my opinion, lies the big problem and cause for GW being both a loved and hated company. For it continuing to be the juggernaut of the industry while making every possible pr and customer relations mistake in the book. People are invested in the games and universe, to a point that they cannot break away from it for a sidestep into another game or even ruleset. The sunken costs, in terms of actual money spent, time and energy pored unto project and familiarity with the setting and rules, are just too high for a lot of people.

    At the end of the day GW is only ‘the king of the hill’ anymore when it comes to investable capital and IP recognition. The actual player base has been slowly dwindling, sales have been going down consistently for years now (though profit per product are up if the quarterly reports are to be believed), the rest of the industry is catching or has already caught up in terms of in-depth worlds with expansive lore, model quality and even plastic sprue design, and the less sad about the archaic rules side of the GW franchises the better,

    Will the GW brand still be around in 10 years, most likely. Will it still be an active game or even a collectors range that is still supported by kits and models releases is an entirely different question. The IP franchising is strong with this one and seems to be a strategy that is leaned upon heavier and heavier. Which in and of itself is rather amusing in a cynical way with often smaller videogame devs taking on the IP at mostly their own risk while targeting an audience that for the most part hasn’t set an foot in a hobby store or place a model on the tabletop in decades. And lets not even get into how the entire Age of Sigmar thing is being kept away as far from the videogame market as possible, everything fantasy related is set firmly in WHFB. Most likely because that is actually a setting a lot of people are familiar with, AoS on the other hand, not some much…..at all.

    In my own opinion I find it a shame GW is no longer that stable gateway provider, in fact they’ve steadily retreated from the public face in most countries around the world. Having a GW store on a main street is now mostly a thing of the past, partnerships with MB to produce such games as Space Crusade and Heroquest that got product into toy store shelves and into the hands and imagination of an entire generation is gone and even third party advertising is pretty much dead. Instead GW seems to focus entirely on trying to sell their IP to anybody who has three cerealbox coupons while attempting to suck the existing customer base dry with ever more ludicrous rules, new editions and even micro-transactions. Profit for profit is counter-productive and even self-destructive.

    They weren’t the first, nor will they be the last. It does pain me to see a beloved productline and set of IPs in a hobby I adore slowly but surely being torn apart for the sake of investor dividend payments. I see enough of that nonsense in daily life and politics, wish it had staid out of my hobby. On the plus side the AoS mess, in terms of customer communication and completely tanking a type of game, does seem to be leading to an increased number of players discovering there are actually other rulesets and minis out there.

    And that is eventually what it comes down to. Enjoying the hobby, but don’t let a single ruleset, product line, company or even player / gaming group dictate how you should be having fun. It’s well worth your time to look around, especially today where there are so many interesting games, flexible rulesets and stunning miniatures out there to enjoy!

    • Ben says:

      Just on the third-party advertising bit, AoS is the first thing I can remember GW taking third-party advertising out on in a very long time. Plus there were the bloggers who were sent review copies (though they noticeably stayed away from sending review copies to the bigger news sites).

      On uninspired rules, our beloved host will likely have a better idea then us, but I haven’t gotten the impression that writing quality rulesets has been a priority in a long time. It comes across to me at least more like they want them churned to meet the needs of the business at any given time, with the actual quality of them very much a secondary consideration.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        Where did you see 3rd party ads, Ben? That is a change of tack for GW.

        Assuming GW really believe their 20% gamer thing, you can see why they’d not spend much time on their rules. I think that’s a mistake on their part, but it’s their mistake to make. Still there are loads of what I think are better games about these days (and have been for some time), which is why I think abandoning a much-loved IP for something blander is their biggest error. With the IP draw gone, and competitors making better games and equally good models, their competitive advantage seems to have been willingly abandoned.

        • Ben says:

          They had the main ad banner for a week on both the ICv2 website and newsletter. There may have been other places but these are the ones I did see.

        • Thomas Cato says:

          Hmm, the IP…. much of it was already being copied by others. Just look at how many companies have offered GW-alike Orcs & Goblins over the past decade or so. There are plastic historicals that look good in Empire or Bretonnia armies, and when you include non-plastic models, some companies out-GW GW. They’re still the kings of plastic, but for how long?

          AOS fluff doesn’t look particularly bland to me. It’s as generic as the Old World was, but in different ways, drawing less on historical clichés and more on those of console gaming. It’s also very young, and therefore limited at least for the time being. What it does lack are visionary artists. Hopefully that will change.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Thanks Ben.

          Thomas – what was being copied was largely being copied badly, so whilst it was an annoyance to the legal department it didn’t impact the game being sticky.

          Perhaps the new background stuff is the thing they need for a different generation of gamers. The old stuff is, as you say, built on foundations from the 80s. Not that this is inherently a bad thing as there are plenty of old stories which still resonate today. I just remain to be convinced.

        • Ben says:

          It may or not be the case that GW absolutely had to make an easily defendable IP when they rebooted WFB, but having watertight IPs seems to be something which is very important to them. This is from their investor relations page –

          “Our continual investment in product quality, using our defendable intellectual property, provides us with a considerable barrier to entry for potential competitors: it is our Fortress Wall.”

          The Chapter House case seems to have shaken their confidence in making any product or trademark that they might not be able to claim ownership of. Hence the Imperial Guard were almost immediately rebooted as the Astra Militarum. The reboot of WFB is this writ large.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I get that.

          Chapter House does seem to have spooked them big time. However, the IP bit of the paragraph you quote is bobbins (not your fault Ben, it’s an interesting quote even if it’s twaddle). Quality is always worth investing in and does raise the bar for competition within the world of models. However, defendable IP does nothing to protect them from their real competition. Their serious competitors aren’t garage operations who knock off models GW’s not got round to making yet.

          While I was at GW I remember one of the senior managers telling me that GW’s competitors weren’t other game companies at all, but the likes of Nike and McDonalds – the other people who might take the pocket money of the rich kids.

      • Chris says:

        I believe they also carried ads in the Sci Fi UK magazine (SFX or something?).

  8. lord_blackfang says:

    I think you’re right on all counts. The game will stand or fall depending on how it is received by the masses, not tournament players, for all their hubris. From personal observation and anecdotes, regionally it seems very dependent on whether there are enough (potential) casual gamers around who have been driven off by tournament players but are ready to come back once the tournament players ragequit. The ratio of players depends perhaps in part on “national character” – there seems to be some sharp divides between areas that are all power gamey and will drop GW entirely (looking at you, Poland) and areas where a small number of power gamers was souring the game for legions of casuals and AoS will bring increased sales (as happened in my area).

    • Ben says:

      I would apologise on behalf of us tournament gamers for ruining everyone’s gaming but my hubris prevents me from doing so.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        You and your hubris…

        I think lord blackfang may be over-egging the pudding here. My point about tournament players is that they are more vocal than their numbers might suggest, and that designing things to suit them is aiming your product at what has, for Warhammer, historically been a minority audience. For other games it may be the only target you want to aim for, and that’s fine too. There are plenty of games to pick from.

        And I don’t think tournament players ave ruined my game (dunno about lord blackfang’s) – it’s down to the developers to make the changes so they carry the can if they make modifications I don’t like, not the end users. I’ve had power gamers ruin games for casual players at clubs I’ve been to, though that’s a different story.

        • Ben says:

          I would argue that power gamers and tournament gamers are two different things, and their Venn diagram overlap area is a poorly designed set of rules, but I digress.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Yes, I’d agree with that, though there is a big overlap (in your Venn diagram) and I don’t think that invalidates the gist of what I’m saying. In many cases they are the same thing.

  9. Stephen Winwood says:

    Perhaps one of the other issues with the decisions made my GW is due to them being publicly traded. Every decision must, in the end, have the interests of the shareholders at heart.They plan their strategy based on maximum short term profit even if that means drawing a larger share of a diminished market. Long term the only goal is if you make £1 this get a you must make £3 next. Marvel comics were in a very similar position in the early 2000s when the collectors bubble was in full swing. Selling lots of limited edition stuff to a few collectors or investors. Just check eBay for the amount of limited editions from GW sitting there at 2x there retail value.
    AoS is very much a way to generate new sales in a stagnant market. Wfb players were mostly the older gamer, they had their armies and Only bought a few updates. Is it any wonder they canned it in favour of a copyrightable new product that requires a major investment and invalidates old stock.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Of course, shareholders need their dividends to be happy. But GW’s been public for ages now, so this is hardly a contemporary excuse.

      Even though your reasoning sounds reasonable on the face of it, I’ve always been told that you put money in shares as a long term thing, not short term. Also, if you’re right, then they need to do this regularly. People will collect these new figures and then stop buying more, so they’ll be right back where they were, but with a less well-developed (and therefore less sticky) IP. Sounds flawed to me.

      • Thomas Cato says:

        Perhaps shareholders have become increasingly focused on the short term? I know that’s the case in the company I work for where there’s far more pressure to achieve short term results than there was 20 years ago.

        Surely the IP will develop over time as new things to sell are created? Why would that be any different than it was in the past? The Old World was pretty flat in the beginning, almost 30 years later it was fairly deep, because of the continual development. And during that time more than one version of it (both stylistically & narratively) came & went. I expect this to be no different in the future. At least if AOS doesn’t tank completely 🙂

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Which was my point. IP takes time to develop properly, and you can either do that in private or in public. As they’ve chosen to release AoS with little back room depth development, they clearly think that it either doesn’t matter or that they’ll last long enough to develop it in public.

        • Thomas Cato says:

          @Quirkworthy: it must be the latter. Really deep IP takes very long to develop, Also, by starting small & leaving options open, they still have the possibility of somewhat changing direction if they think it would be better for the company. It’s how they did WFB & WH40K over the years, and that’s how they will do AOS.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Presumably that’s their plan. Personally I think the developing rather more of it beforehand is a better bet.

  10. Teemu Hemminki says:

    Another thing that AoS did, was making Chaos less inevitable doom and more great adversary. After all, backstory is about striking back at Chaos and what I’ve read, Sigmarines can actually convert chaos worshippers into their own ranks.

    This makes the game world much less nihilistic and pessimistic. Protagonists do actually have change of winning instead of just delaying the victory of chaos. I kinda like this difference, but that might be because I’ve become tired of absolute grim and dark and because they started to portray Chaos in childish manner:
    “Let no good deed go unpunished, let no evil deed go unrewarded”
    -Codex Chaos Space Marines, 4th edition.

  11. Pingback: Link: Jake Thornton on Age of Sigmar | The Law of Game Design

  12. Ian says:

    I left GW games some 10 years ago, a mixture of gaming fatigue, other more interesting skirmish level games about and a whole host of other reasons.

    I’ve been drawn back by GWs move from WFB to AoS, and there appears to be an increasing number of 30-40 somethings in the same situation if the posts on some of the AoS facebook groups are to go by.

    I quite like the lore change, very much more heroic myth and less dirty european history/generic fantasy blend. We’ve seen a tiny part of the realms to date, so the space of expansion is essentially infinite, who knows how large each of these realms are and what lurks in the darkest reaches of them?

    The game itself is pretty fun, I’d hoped for a more modern set of skirmish rules that I could run some realms of chaos type warband games with but they stuck to GW tried and tested formula for the most part. The new Hero phase is a great addition as is the changes to the combat phase the more I play the more you realise that setting yourself up to control the current and next combat phase can be vital, so movement and positioning is still massively important. As a note we only play with units that have been re-released for AoS and the only rule modification we use is measurement from base to base rather miniature to miniature.

    Whilst I see the comments about AoS being a 100 figure or more game my experience of it is very much more of an arms race, what you field on the battle at the start of the game means little (so there is no concept of fixed army lists), however looking for counters to enemy tactics and picking up new units to fuel sales is where I see AoS pitched at. I played a guy who had some summoning and got badly burned by it in one game, I went out and for my chaos picked up some summoning units of my own to counter summon, my stormcast got some Knight-Venetors to be wizard killers. With smaller units (ie I can field a box straight away) I’m more likely to buy, assemble, paint and play with a new unit than buying another 40 strong block of spearment where every miniature is basically the same static pose.

    I hope GW succeed with AoS, It’s got real potential to be a vastly more interesting place as the world and narrative develop, I’m hoping that GW start delving into some of the other realms and races in the coming months to further develop other new factions and revitalise old ones.

  13. Iain Compton says:

    I have Opinions. Largely I agree with Jake but with some caveats.This might get long so I’ll try and break it down for easier consumption.

    Most of the positives that I’ve seen for AoS smell like post-hoc rationalisations to me. I’ve heard many people tell me that now you can play smaller games and not be encumbered by having to conform to an army list as if that wasn’t possible previously. There was nothing stopping you doing precisely that with any previous edition if you and your opponent wanted. The GW police weren’t going to kick down your door because you just wanted to play a game with whatever figures you happened to have handy.

    Others have said that the rules discourage ‘WAACers’ and that no points values mean that you have to discuss with your opponent what you consider fair. Again, this is a thing that was definitely possible – desirable even – in previous editions. It also hides a deeper problem. I’ve seen the argument made that people who play to win or are ‘that guy’ won’t get games any more but this essentially means that every player is now only able to play on the strength of their last game. Woe betide you if your idea of fun and fluffy isn’t in 100% alignment with someone else’s. Clearly you are ‘that guy’ and must be shunned. Yes balance is hard and it gets harder the more units and options there are, but the solution to this is to have a robust playtesting schedule and an agile system of updates. Also, assume that people are trying to win and don’t make that into a negative. Play the game but not too hard is a terrible message to send. Did you win because you were better or was it because your opponent was holding back a little more than you were. If you’re losing and you push a bit harder to win are you in danger of being ‘that guy’? It’s a mess.

    The rules as written don’t work even as brief and open as they are. For instance, as written the best melee troops are missile units because they can shoot and fight at the same time. As another poster mentioned previously, complexity has been moved from the core rules to the Warscrolls and these special rules are often contradictory and redundant. When we wrote 3rd ed 40k in 1997, fixing that mess from 2nd ed was one of the main design goals. Speaking of design goals, there’s a fairly schizophrenic mismatch in the design. The game is described and has the trappings of a skirmish game – round bases, no ranked units, no manoeuvring rules or arcs of fire, etc. but, as Jake notes, it’s clear that GW would really like you to play it as a massed battles game with large units and plenty of them. Moving each model of a 30 strong unit, or every model in a 150 strong army separately isn’t engaging gameplay, it’s a chore. Clearly GW would want you to have large armies because they want you to buy more miniatures but the rules do not scale to this. Simple rules are fine but broken rules are not. A system that requires players to houserule almost every part of the game from army selection onwards, is not a useful ruleset.

    Movement is almost the only decision point that the player has in the game. You choose where to move to, but, given that there are no manoeuvring rules, inevitably everything ends up gravitating towards a big pile in the middle where the player who can roll 3+ followed by 4+ the best will win. On that subject, the decision to not use the base for measuring means that the spectacle of the game is diminished as it’s often necessary to pile miniatures on top of each other’s bases so that they can actually fight. From an aesthetic viewpoint it looks horrid and undermines one of the key selling points of any wargame – beautiful armies facing off against each other now devolve into rickety stacks of miniatures in a formless scrum.

    The combat resolution is, remarkably for a game that is supposed ot be as stripped down as possible, over fiddly. There’s no reason at all to have units roll to hit and to wound separately when the target numbers for both of those are inherent to the unit itself. It made a difference when you were comparing the attackers Ws and S vs the defenders Ws and T, but it makes no sense at all when the attacking unit needs the same numbers no matter what – compare the actual difference in odds between needing a 4+ followed by a 3+ as opposed to just rolling once and needing a 5+ (hint; there is no difference). It’s wholly unnecessary except that it adds extra dicerolling to a game that’s already all about dicerolling.

    I don’t like the miniatures but that’s a subjective issue. I still have many, WFB armies and there are plenty of existing Citadel miniatures that I do like so, not liking Sigmarines or Bloodskull BloodBloods is not particularly relevant. I will say though that the new stuff is startlingly badly presented. The names are awful and give no context to the units that they represent. I can’t even imagine what the difference between Prosecutors and Judicators is or between Bloodreavers and Skullreapers. It’s just word soup, the names are too similar and don’t express any identity for the unit.

    Finally I don’t think that AoS is going to be a success. There are a lot of ways to measure success but I think a fair one here is, will AoS make more money than WFB did. WFB may have only been making a fraction of the income that 40k did, but it was still the second best-selling miniature games system in the world. Many lapsed players might be trying out the new rules but I don’t see how the system will have any stickiness to keep them. Likewise, a lot of exisiting players like me who have ‘legacy armies’ are likely holding off on purchasing new things because of the uncertainty regarding their armies. What’s going to happen to Dwarfs, Elves, Lizardmen, etc? Who can say? GW certainly aren’t and it’s incredible to me that, at the time where they retire their oldest IP and replace it completely with a radical new product, they are not only failing to control the conversation, they aren’t even having one to start with. At a time when there are very exciting video games coming out featuring the Warhammer world, it seems like madness to not tray and convert those players. I know that Tom Kirby thinks that video gamers won’t become wargamers but he’s wrong on that. A lot of players were turned on to 40k by the Dawn of War series, I see comments about that all the time, even today, but the fact that GW doesn’t perform any market research or conduct any outreach to its players mean that the chairman can say things like that without being told he’s wrong because no-one knows for sure.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry for hijacking your comments section Jake!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      You do indeed have Opinions. You’re not only welcome, but encouraged to share any (politely expressed) views here. That is what the comments section is for 🙂

      Time will tell who’s right.

  14. The only change I’m interested in is the wholesale destruction of the old IP and that just seems to be the most appalling act of mindless intellectual vandalism I’ve ever encountered.

  15. nobbla81 says:

    I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on some of those new Age of Sigmar Orcs and playing a few small games with them at home on my 4x4ft table. However like many I don’t like the Age of Sigmar rules. Any ideas how I could ‘sex’ the rules up and make them interesting? Or would you recommend another fantasy skirmish rule set?

  16. nobbla81 says:

    Thanks for your help. Without a doubt God of Battles looks to be a cracking game. However, reading the write-ups it seems to be geared more towards mass battles than the small skirmishes of 25-30 models I was thinking of. Combat in God of Battles seems to be a rather bloody but short affair whilst I’m after something where the blood and guts of battle is more the focus, even if the game was over to last no longer than 60 minutes. I’d like something as interesting, easy and cinematic as Deadzone but with more of an on emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. Does a game exist? Does one need to be invented? Or do the rules for Age of Sigmar just need a tweak and a bit of spice to make them more decent. Cheers!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      GoB is a mass battle game, though in common with all 28mm games of that type, the actual model count is still fairly low. With some armies, even as low as 25-30. Certainly not a lot more than that for Godless or elite Blood Gorged. Depends on your army selection and size of game. You’d not be able to do that with every force though.

      There are loads of good skirmish games kicking about. You should have a look at Open Combat as that might suit. I’m sure there are some gameplay videos about. Their website is: http://www.secondthunder.com

  17. nobbla81 says:

    Thanks, Open Combat seems to be the rule set I’m looking for and created by GW alumni Carl Brown – I shall take a closer look. Cheers!

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