Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Age of Sigmar Background

Having read the new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar book, here are some thoughts on the background for the new world, how it differs from the old Warhammer world, what it means for the game design, and what I think it means for the game's future.

First of all, I'm pleased to say it still feels very Warhammery.  There are plenty of hold-over characters and references.  Several of the old characters become gods:  Sigmar, Teclis, Tyrion, Nagash...

Chaos remains Chaos: Nurgle, Tzeench, and Khorne are all basically the same.  The models and art are evocative of the long-developed Chaos look and feel.  Slaanesh is present too, but the fluff says s/he is now a prisoner.  Fan paranoia thinks GW may be writing Slaanesh out of the background to be more child friendly.  I am not yet sure.  I think there may be a battle for Slaanesh in some future campaign.  (Besides, what sort of S&M god would Slaanesh be, if he didn't like to be tied up from time to time.) The Horned Rat gets promoted to be a minor Chaos God.

Orks look pretty much the same, but don't get many photos.

Ogres look pretty much the same, and feature in lots of photos.  I predict minimal changes to the Ogre model range.

The undead have lots of Nagash stuff from the endtimes, and seem to be using the Vampire Counts skeletons.  I predict a loss of Transylvanian and Egyptian elements, in favor of some new look.

Interestingly, the Lizardmen are all over the place in the photos, with lots of giant dinosaurs.  They are renamed, but I think that far from being written out of the new universe, the Lizardmen will remain with minimal changes to the model range.  There are just too many cool dinosaur models.

The Skaven play a major role in the background.  If anything, the Skaven have gotten even more emphasis than in WFB.

The wood elf tree spirits have an army in the main book, minus all the elf elements.

Dwarves are mentioned as existing, but get one picture -- of a Slayer.

The Elves are just gone.  Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves. Gone.  There are elf gods, but they are all sad that their people have vanished, except for a few survivors that hang out with Sigmar.

The Empire is gone, gone, gone.  Bretonnia is gone, gone, gone. No more Renaissance Germany.  No more King Arthur.  Boo hoo.

The world is more open.  There are now nine realms, seven of which are contested battlefield.  Each corresponds roughly to an old Wind of Magic (except for the Chaos Realm itself).  Each of these mortal realms is made up of (apparently) many sub-dimensions, pocket worlds, and so forth.  So there is no D&D campaign map of the world any more, only of particular battlefields, and you are free to invent your own.  I think this is a major change, and it gives GW space to grow and develop this new world.

The Stormcast Eternals are magic Space Marines (more or less) who descend from the Heavens on drop pods... I mean lightning bolts and smash things.  Actually, I think they are quite interesting.  With the Stormcast Eternals, GW is reversing the usual background.  Instead of Chaos corrupting and destroying a decaying world, we have (essentially) a fantasy version of the Emperor's Great Crusade.  Order is on the offensive, liberating worlds and bringing hope.

Overall, I think the emphasis will be on smaller numbers of bigger, more interesting models.  The existing factions are simplified into 4 big factions: Order, Chaos, Destruction, and Death.  So all the good guys into Order, Chaos remains Chaos plus it's got the Skaven, Orcs and Ogres hang out together, and then there are some undead.

My guess is that we will soon see a repackaging and rerelease of many of the old models.  I strongly suspect that GW will keep the newer kits, the ones that are more atmospheric, and larger or more dynamic.  I think older models, models based on real history, and so forth will be phased out.  The biggest losers, I think will be the good guys (and the dark elves).  The two human factions, Empire and Bretonnia, look to me to be gone for good. There doesn't seem to be any good place for their historical armies.  Most of the elf and dwarf stuff seems too low-fantasy, and just generic.  Maybe some of the bigger or newer kits like Lion Chariots, Dragons, or War Altars will survive.

Heck, maybe none of them will, ultimately.  I'm merely guessing when I suggest some older models will be repackaged with new (IP protected) names and round bases.  And all of this is dependent on Age of Sigmar surviving long enough for GW to put into action whatever long-term plans it has.

Given the horrible new rules, I'm not sure that's a safe bet.

But overall, I do like the new world.


Why my posts have become less frequent lately.
So Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is out, and it has no point values, and the old time WFB players are
pretty upset.

Lots of wargames, particularly historical games, have no points, relying on either a game master or a player to set up the armies and the victory conditions for each scenario.  Such games can be quite satisfying, and are often a convention staple.

Moreover, point systems are quite often flawed. Listen to wargamers complain, and it's almost never about rules or rules systems, it is about army lists and unit points.  Are they too high?  Are they too low?  Are the overpowered?  Does this unit "suck"?  More often than not, it's the point value of the unit that we complain about, not underlying the rules representation.  

When I design games, the point values give me more anxiety and heartache than any other factor in the game.  They are the hardest to tell if I've gotten them right, whether the balance is there or not.

Why not just take Sigmar's hammer to points, and obliterate them altogether? What purpose do points serve?  What is the point of points?

It seems to me that points serve several purposes in wargames, which are quite useful:

1) Points are a social convenience.  Any two players who are familiar with a game can throw down a scenario, choosing roughly evenly matched forces.  But it takes time, and coordination.  The players need to meet, agree, negotiate, and design.  It's work.  Points make it possible to have pick-up games.  Make a list at point value X, show up at the store, and play your opponent's X point list.  You don't need to know your opponent, or his army, or ever have met him before. Moreover, a list gives a certainty that you can find an opponent.  I can safely buy and paint model X, and I will always find an opponent, as long as my list is "legal."

2) List design is creative. People like making lists. Johny likes lists because he can play with themes and units.  Spike likes lists because he can hunt for a competitive advantage. It's fun to tinker and customize.  Codices and army books suggest army designs.  "I'd like to do a 1939 tank army."  "I'd like to make a drop pod army."  "Hey, did you see you can make a list of nothing but cavalry? With a train, too?"

These positive factors often outweigh the negatives of a pointed game, and all the crazy balance problems they bring.

I don't know if Age of Sigmar is going to fly or flop.  (My money is on flop.)  But without points, it's departing radically from the features