Sunday, May 8, 2016

Return to Sigmar

It has been many months since I've done anything with Age of Sigmar. I've been listening to some of the conversation in the Age of Sigmar community but overall I have gone dark on AoS. The reason for this is due to the local negativity towards the game. Its really hard to enjoy something that my friend refers to as "just a beer and pretzel game" while we are playing it. I cringed every time he says it and I can't make myself speak up about it. When giving the choice between playing 8th edition and Age of Sigmar, the thought of playing Sigmar gave me a panic attack. I could only think about Age of Sigmar's faults ... or rather things AoS was NOT that I wish it was. There is nothing in the rules about how to balance forces against each other among many other "issues". I did come up with my own system but I've never tried it out. It was always at the back of my mind but I was a little afraid to play Age of Sigmar again.

Eventually my desire to test my system overcame my fear and last month we played Age of Sigmar again. While I didn't enjoy the game we played (which was due to other factors such as being exhausted and playing too big of a game too soon) it did renew my interest in the system. I can still see why many don't like the game. It takes a lot of effort to make it work, much more than any other war game I've heard about. But now I see the potential in the system if you are willing to put in the work. From browsing forums I know many people played 8th edition with home rules. But the differences in those games pale in comparison to how Age of Sigmar is played in various communities. Some use a point system while others go by wound totals. Some limit a force by armies in the old world while other go by the 4 grand alliances. This almost makes Age of Sigmar a wildly different game depending on how you decide to fill in the blanks. I normally would be worry about how house rules are splitting up the community but in this case I don't think it will be an issue. For one the official rules is to make up your own rules. That of itself makes playing with house rules much more acceptable. Second, it is much easier to adapt house rules to Age of Sigmar for narrative and campaign play than it is for 8th edition. AoS structure (or rather lack of one) lends itself towards that kind of gaming style. I can even see tournament play being done with AoS. Again it would require a lot of work and I have no interest in it at this time, but for a system many said tournament play would be impossible, I can certainly see the potential in AoS.

I want to go into more detail in each of these gaming style and explain how I can see AoS handle them, starting with narrative gaming. Narrative gaming is by far the easiest style for Age of Sigmar to emulate. Age of Sigmar was practically made to do this kind of gaming. A narrative battle is one that tells a story thru the game either by retelling a story from a book, history or some other media, or by the players crafting their own tale. Most war gaming systems trying to do the former requires some finesse. Usually taking a scenario from a book and trying to apply it directly into a war game is a disaster waiting to happen. A story isn't written with game balance in mind. An interesting conflict in a novel could a boring, lopsided affair if played as it in a war game. Age of Sigmar was probably design with this kind of lopsidedness in mind as a possibility. This means you could take almost any scenario as is and having an interesting game in Age of Sigmar. This doesn't mean the game would be balance in any way. Only that an uneven battle in Age of Sigmar can be still interest and fun to play for all involved.

Campaigns. Age of Sigmar works really well with campaign play. While I love playing in campaigns with 8th edition, there were a lot of idiosyncrasy with the campaign rules due to having a mostly balance game trying to represent real war which by its nature is very unbalance. The campaigns I've been apart of can be characterize as either abstract or concrete. Abstract campaigns are ones that the causalities of the battle doesn't matter. Battles start with preset point totals that other factors may adjust up. So regardless of how many casualties are sustain in combat, a force will always have a baseline in the next battle they play in. Army composition is also usually allowed to change battle to battle. In many abstract campaigns the number of banners a player has is base on the amount of territory they control. Concrete campaigns on the other hand keep track of the exact army composition and causalities matter. Any loses a banner sustain in combat remains in the next battle. Learning to limit and manage loses is an important aspect of this type of campaign. Even with the ability to resupply throughout the campaign, a force needs to be careful not to have their loses out pace the rate they can replace them or they will find themselves quickly eliminated from the campaign. I enjoy concrete campaigns because they mimic the feel of war closer than an abstract one. The downside to them is that they require a lot more paperwork and one single devastating loss can be crippling. Age of Sigmar is a perfect fit for a concrete campaign. The system can handle partial units which is important when the causalities starts coming in. Similar AoS can easily adapt a recruiting system that allows the purchase of single models for the same reason. Abstract campaigns are harder to fit with AoS because Age lacks a normal list building method. It can be done but I think the concrete style suits AoS much better.

Something that is not necessarily in every campaign (but can be applied to either abstract or concrete styles) are outside of combat magic. To give the campaign more of a high fantasy feel, some campaigns I've been apart of had custom rules for doing magic outside of a normal battle. I like the idea but it is hard to get a custom magic system right. It always felt like something just tack on. AoS has a mechanic that would work well with an outside magic system and in turn help balance an issue people have with AoS itself. Summoning! Using a limited resource magic system to fuel both summoning and outside combat magic will make everything feel like its the same game and setting. It will also make mass summoning in a battle or two have trade-offs that are not present in one-off games. Another interaction campaigns and summoning can have is to have unique summoning options as rewards for winning key battles. I didn't think so when it came out but I now think Age of Sigmar can have a much more satisfying campaign experience than 8th edition.

I will be brief on tournaments as it is not a strong point for Age of Sigmar. On second thought I will wait on that for another time. After a May update I will post my long overdue article on my design philosophy (which has change some) and will include my thoughts on tournaments.

As for the game that re-ignited my interest in Age of Sigmar, there are a couple of concepts from it I want to discuss. We used the system I discuss in here to pick our armies. Though it needs some fine tuning, overall I was happy with the balance of our forces. It did produce a MUCH larger game than I thought it would. I don't mind large games but not when I'm learning a system and expecting to play something smaller. The game ended up being somewhat lopsided but that was a result of the armies we decided to play with. Phil played a Lizardmen force. He more or less just took one of his 8th edition armies and put it in Age of Sigmar. I went with a concept I called the Plague Army. I made my decision before I looked at the war scrolls so I was surprised that I ended up with an all Nurgle army. I had no idea ahead of time that Skaven Clan Pestilence models had the Nurgle keyword. (I'm using the old war scrolls so I don't know if this was changed. I don't have access to the new ones.) That gave my army far more synergy than I thought I was going to have. This meant very little as Phil brought a lot of skinks which had an interesting interaction with half of my force. And by interesting I mean hard countered. My "core" troops were Nurgle chaos warriors and plague monks. Skinks can start the game hidden. At the start of their turn they can appear near the enemy and shoot a lot of shots. On their next turn they can hid themselves again, even if they are locked in close combat. As far as I know there is nothing the opponent can do to stop them from doing this. Now these shots tickled my chaos warriors but my plague monks has no armor so they died in droves. In two turns I lost half of my army because of the skinks. My initial reaction was that the skinks ability was broken and overpowered. But as the game continue my feeling towards them changed. Instead of having a static list made ahead of time, if we played with a system that allowed the players to pick their force during deployment then the dynamic of our game would be vastly different. I wouldn't have deploy the plague monks and in turn the skinks wouldn't have had the game change impact that they did. When I first looked at Age of Sigmar I figure there was going to be this type of hard countering but this was the first time I saw an example of it. I don't mind this aspect of AoS if it allows more units to have a purpose on the battlefield. It is something to keep in mind when deciding what structure your Age of Sigmar games will have.

The next few Age of Sigmar game I want to play are link narrative games. No army creation system. Just coming up with a simple story and giving each side a force the story says they should have. Find a few scenario that fit the story and start playing. I will write about how it goes. In my next post I will discuss a new but short project idea I will work on shortly and will probably see some Age of Sigmar use. Until next time!

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