Sunday, May 15, 2022

Let rant a bit about AoS

It's been seven years since the release of AoS. I was in my local GW store on a Friday evening on the 17th of July to play a test game at launch (going by my mail for the date). I blasted one of those new fangled Stormcast lords of his lizard with a thirty year old Warp Fire thrower. It was good fun. I still remember the disconnect I felt back then. I rather enjoyed the streamlined (free) rules and had a good chuckle over the silly jokes in some of them. It gave me the feeling GW had openend the gates to people (like me) looking to (re-)enter a fantasy setting. These days AoS can still be a lot of fun, but not if you try to stick with the rules. Why? Here's 7 problems I think make AoS less fun than it should be (and my solutions to them (because I'm very humble and all that)).

The guys on the bottom left killed a Stormcast lord on release day. Good job boys!

1. General's Handbook

The first General's Handbook was released a year after Age of Sigmar's launch. I was enthused. It re-introduced a points system which helped make games manageable. Just slapping models on the table is a lot of fun, but it makes it hard to estimate if the game will fit into an evening. For some reason GW seems to be fixated on the other use of points - balancing out games. This is supposedly quite useful for tournament people, but has traditionally (lets be conservative and say at least since the first release of Ravening Hordes ;) not quite worked as intended. A fantasy game, by its nature, is out of balance. The fun for a lot of us hides in the stories this generates. The fun for the tournament type players is figuring out the flaws and making use of them to show 'skill'. No amount of 'balancing out' will help there. It's the old security problem: you have to build a higher wall, the other side just needs a taller ladder. 

Anyways. For some annoying reason it has become a yearly tradition to release a fresh General's Handbook - each edition lighter on fresh content than the last. Last year's edition contained only the lightest smattering of interesting new rules. Most of wich should've been in the core rules. All it accomplished was to spread rules out in a cheap looking little binder printed in a miniscule font.   

Solution: Stop buying this book, use the cash for another Osprey title (or something similar).

Please don't make books look like ugly little binders, its almost as bad as the old 'all your pages fall to the ground because binders are cool' days (I'm looking at you Waaagh Orcs!).

2. Confusing book design

Lets stick with the General's Handbook (GHB) for a bit. Awful font and binding aside, it makes a mess of the rules. For instance: if you build an army you can stick units in 'core battalions'. These are listed on page 89 behind the 'core rules' tab of GHB, but not so fast! There are two more on page 13 in the 'pitched battles 2021' tab in the same book. There's also more in supplements. Oh and these battalions should not be confused with warscroll battalions. These are still in the books, but only for use in narrative games. They do have a points cost though, especially in Battle Tomes released before 3.0, just ignore that. Try explaining this to a player re-entering the hobby (I recently did, we ended up laughing and going 'ah GW'). 

Solution: Ignore core battalions, not worth the paper cuts. Hope GW will one day keep rules together (fat chance), or decides to return to repeating them in sourcebooks for clarity's sake. 

I consider this my worst purchase of 2021.

3. Horrifying list building rules

AoS on release was rather elegant. You had a few pages of basic rules and then picked up the warscrolls with the rules for your unit. As most units (especially characters) affect other units, the army came to life by picking and matching warscrolls. For instance: a Skaven Battle Banner could be planted in the ground to make the clanrats in proximity fearless. As a rather casual gamer I'd usually go through the scrolls after losing a game to discover I shouldn't have lost, coming back next time with a few sharp notes to remember interactive units (and a different army because I'm really not that organized). You also had the complete freedom to make that mercenary band of Orc Mercenaries working with human Swordmen led by a Vampire Lord. 

Nowadays you have basic rules in the rulebook. The General's Handbook tacks on extra rules. Campaign books add more rules. Your army's rules in a Battle Tome, limiting the options of what army to make. Then there's an online Errata and Designer's Commentary to go through. I've already described the awful battalion mess above, universal spells are spread over multiple books and sections and you have to find triumphs and strategies for your army. While scrolling through those, you still have to check for unit interactivity (and then check the latest errata and design notes to see if things still work as printed in your book). 

Unless bookkeeping is your great passion in life, it's a mess.

Solution: Play narrative, if you have entered a local tournament for the fun of playing, just tell the TO you'll take the 10 point hit for an incomplete army list (I recently did and it worked for me). 

Warning: this is not a piece of artillery.

4. Buggy app and messy listbuilding tools

We live in a brave new age with online list building tools and smartphone apps. GW has a warscroll builder up on their community website. You can (try) to build an army with that. My local tournament required it for all lists. Then my army got rejected because of small mistakes. It turned out the Jezzail Teams listed as Skryre Artillery on the Warscroll Builder in the Artillery section are not actually considered artillery in the rules (lack of a keyword). It reminded me how my Chaos Sorcerer Lord wasn't a wizard for years because of a missing keyword). The special ability of my Grey Seer had the same name as a different one in another book. The tacked-on battalion system requires you do all the work (and then it goes wrong (of course)). 

Then there's the app. The era of free rules is behind us. You can see the rules moving behind a paywall again. More on that under '5. Edition bloat'. Lets stick with the digital tomfoolery. Who designs and markets these apps? I've briefly considered the 40k Warhammer+ app, but I can't find what its actually supposed to do for my games. Sure you get animations, I know that much, and there was a nice looking model. But what does it do for the game itselfs? No clue.

The current Age of Sigmar app looks nice and makes it easy to quickly slap some units together into an army. Then the pain begins. While playing a game it takes two taps to get from your army screen to a unit's rules, then it takes four taps to get another unit in view. That's more than enough to get annoyed as it makes you feel lost inside the app. If you wonder what your army special rules are while you're looking at - say - your Clanrats. You need to tap seven times, assuming you actually know which section you need. That's just bad UX/UI design if you ask me.

On top of that GW wants to lock army rules in the app, only making them available to people who purchased the book. I own the Kruleboyz book, but so far have not been able to register it in the app. I think I need to go through an online registration process, but no one in the app team has thought to point me to my destination. I'm hoping this bit is still in beta. It does keep locking rules at random. Lets be merciful and say this helps train me for a future without them (or the app).

Solution: Suffer through the app or fire up Excel again.

I've never seen a Battle Tome replaced as fast as this one. 

5. Edition bloat

You are supposed to be enthused about new editions. I'm not. My eight edition 40K book lacks a reading fold. I have not bought into 9th. My cousin had to throw out the Tyranid datacards as they were outdated weeks after launch. My 2nd edition AoS hardcover has not had a chance to wear out (you should see my 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Book for contrast). AoS has been around for 7 years and we're already up to the 3rd edition. That's a new boxed set (almost) every three years. I like new boxed sets, but why not cool it down on the rules bloat? This was supposed to be an easy basic system with addons to taste. It wouldn't be so bad if the new edition did not invalidate the older Battle Tomes quite as thoroughly as the two follow-up AoS editions have. Long rant short: you can't really play AoS 3.0 with a 2.0 or 1.0 Battle Tome as some rules (command abilities spring to mind) just no longer work. 

No worries: GW loves releasing fresh battle tomes. The Lumineth (High Elves) where launched in June 2020. A fourth edition of their army book is about to be launched. Yes they are on the extreme end of things. But this schedule is just silly. I mentioned the Tyranid datacards above, our group considers buying these (datacards that is) a running joke. They are obsolete before you have a chance to use them. I recently picked up Bolt Action (more on that in later posts) and was astonished to discover the 2.0 ruleset is about ten years old. The 1.0 army books for the most part still work with it. Now there's a game you actually have a chance to play. Remember GW is supposed to be a miniatures company. The books are they to seduce you to buy more models. 

You can (try to) ignore the new Battle Tomes and rulebooks (it's why I don't own 9th edition 40K). But as the game develops, you'll need books to use the app. That is assuming they ever get their book code system to work (<snarky observation deleted>). 

This feels like the start of another death spiral for fantasy. You need a barely functional app to play. That, in turn, requires a rather too regular reinvestment in books that regurgitate the same background, and slightly update the existing rules. There's no value for money (outside the excellent campaign books) for a long time collector here. For new players (or if you're looking to expand) it gets worse. The person I mentioned above was not best pleased to discover the rules in his freshly bought army book were out of date and useless for the most part. Welcome back to the hobby.

Fantasy died because it became a tournament oriented, bloated mess of a game. I bought the eight edition rulebook and never got into collecting a fresh fantasy army. Without army books it was impossible to find out what to play. The internet was no help (mostly tournament related listbuilding nonsense). In the end Fantasy miniatures lingered on the shelves of GW. The one game of eight I got in was versus a tournament player (the only player still around). Getting wiped of the table without a single shot back did not motivate me to try more games (to put it mildly). Long story short: the die-hard tournament scene is not a solid base to anchor a game on. In the end the Old World died to make place for a starting point for new players. I sometimes fear AoS has almost gone full circle (and 40K is at this point). That's troubling. I like collecting these silly models. 

Solution: Try new systems, One Page Rules looks interesting. GW might want to consider a slightly less 'buy the same book again' approach. My local circle of friends have fixed an edition to stick to.

The one single model that's about to be launched with the new Skaven edition is not yet available, I'm usong this picture as filler.

6. Anemic army launches and updates

A new army launch or update used to be a big thing. You'd get new units, fresh stories and reasons to expand your collection. Army updates for Age of Sigmar occasionally still do this (the undead received a wonderful update last year). But with depressing regularity, you're stuck with yet another Battle Tome (with more of the same) and one fresh miniature (if you're lucky). If you're unlucky it's an expensive new book and your existing models vanish. The current launch of a fresh Skaven Battle Tome is accompanied by one new assassin. I'm worried which models in my collection will get shelved by GW.

New armies tend to be rather limited. Take the Kharadron: flying boats, infantry no one wants to field, and guys with balloons on their backs. I love the new Orcs (Kruleboyz) but I own almost every single model in the line. That didn't break my bank account, to put it mildly, there's just not that many models out there. And that was a huge launch. My old Orcs have all been tossed from the AoS universe (except in the stories). Contrast this with the choice you had with older armies. Sorry to keep dragging the Skaven in, but contrast the choices in the almost retired Skaven Battle Tome with - say - the Flesh Eater Courts, Maggotkin of Nurgle or the Hedonites of Slaanesh. The overt focus on tiny sub-factions in army books makes the resulting armies rather bland and boring. 

Solution: Take a page from the (by now almost previous) Skaven Battle Tome or the Orruk Warclan Battle Tome and stick disparate sub-factions in one book. Better yet, bring back the four Grand Alliance books. I'd buy four big books to make my app work. It'd look good in my bookcase too. You're allowed to replace them every five or six years (I guess).

I own four of these models and can't field them without buying yet another army...hmmm another army :D

7. No respect for the hobby and collection part of the hobby

The final bit that rankles most, and I touched upon it above, is the lack of respect for the 'hobby and collecting' part of the hobby. The bit all rulebooks make a lot of fuss about. GW seems to be blocking the creative side of the hobby. Rules changes to Skaven Stormfiends actively block you from making conversions (the rules on the warscroll reflect the mono built options of the sprues). Creativity isn't just ignored, its actually discouraged. Generic terrain rules are hard to find, plastic terrain gets (faction specific) rules, scratch building is fading by the wayside. 

As to collecting an army. It takes a normal person years to finish painting an army (I know I'm not quite normal on that count ;). If you follow this route it's quite likely you'll never be able to field the army as the rules will have moved on. I have boxed models on my shelve I can no longer field. These aren't even that ancient! 

This is worsened by GW actively removing older models from their army books, apps and points lists. I can't field my Poisoned Wind Mortars, Lord Nurglitch (even though he's a legend) or my rather expensive Clawlord on Brood Horror model (by Forge World). The rules are gone, their stats are no longer in the apps the rules keep changing, but theirs aren't maintained. All I've got is an ageing warscroll that's no longer compatible with my rules. 

The usual response I get when I rant about this is 'yes, but you should support Games Workshop by buying new stuff, or they won't be able to continue.' Last I checked GW should support me as a customer, especially as they are a hobby company. Shouldn't they be encouraging me to keep on collecting silly plastic men and monsters? I'm aware they'll go bankrupt if we stop buying fresh stuff. Looking around my hobby room, I suspect they can still afford (a very big) lunch. The point of the hobby is not 'to buy a lot of redundant books'. Is it?

Solution: Stop making models obsolete, focus on feeding the illusion that we can actually field our models on that magical day (not far of) when we've finally painted all of them.

Too much change can be a bad thing (sorry Tzeentch)

That's it for my pet peeves. I love the hobby and still enjoy gaming, but I find myself drifting away from GW rules. Too much change and - above all - a lack of tender loving care and attention to the hobby side of things. Is this just me getting older (and missing the good old Warhammer Armies book)? To be honest I played the new Path to Power campaign system today and its amazing (more on that in a separate post too). I'm quite sure GW isn't dying, but I'd like to see a bit more focus on existing products and expanding the army lines. Also I want to field my Orc Boys again within the new rules (and win the lottery without paying for a ticket while I'm wishlisting ;). 


  1. A very interesting read. I stopped playing WHFB at about 8th edition (? the Battle for Skull Pass edition - a great starter set by the way). Rules bloat was the main reason I stopped, along with the length of time taken to finish a game. I saw other rules systems coming along and tried them, and was converted.
    I looked long and hard at AoS when it first came out, but a chat with the over enthusiastic GW Gremlins in the shops convinced me it wasn't my sort of game. I may collect some of the new orcs when the part work comes out (Stormbringer? where are Michael Moorcock's lawyers now?), but I can't see myself ever actually playing the game. Your comments above help make me realise this is a right decision for me.

    1. I suspect there's naught but chaos and uncaring nihilism in Moorcock's lawyers offices :) I'm quite a big fan of the Stargrave/Frostgrave approach to gaming myself, but I have to admit a lack of differentiation between species is a minus for me. That's also what's been holding me back from Dragon Rampant so far. To be honest AoS can work quite well, its just frustrating when the support seemingly goes to the never ending cycle of deathstars and nerfs. Ah well, that's what rants are for :)

    2. That would be an appropriate response :)
      We really enjoyed Frostgrave when it came out, but now find the Fistful of Lead family of games more our sort of thing (I know what you mean about the lack of differentiation). For mass battles we've been Kings of War fans pretty much since it came out, Fantastic Battles is also a great system, just right for our Middle Earth games.

    3. Fistful of Lead games? Is that the game system Brian Ansell released after GW? Do you have a link for me (a lazy Google search just turned up bad movies)? I should try KoW, all I'd need would be some squares to house my round based models on if I'm not mistaken. I'll add that to my 'to-do' list.

    4. FfoL, as we know it, is from Wiley Games. There is a core rulebook and several versions suited to different genres such as Horse and Musket, Gothic Horror, Sci Fi and Fantasy.
      They seem to be in the process of updating the various rulesets, and each one has minor differences. All compatible though. it's our go to skirmish system. Uses about five or six minis per player, and works well with multiple players.
      For KoW its the unit base size that's important. Free rules if you look on Mantic's website

  2. I feel your pain, but this is nothing new, just worse. I'm only now finishing my Eldar army. They were a valid 2nd edition army, but because of squad sizes they needed additional models in 3rd. I never got around to painting some of the addons. So I leave the hobby for like 15 years, and come back into Killteam 2018. Before I'm done modeling/painting my 3 killteams... they release a new edition that invalidates those teams! Not to mention I can buy two different osprey games for just the base 2021 Killteam book (which does not include army lists?! That's another $50!!).

    Good news: I've found all sorts of sculptor's who are making models in the 80's style I love. I'll give these artists my money instead of the constantly larger GW digital models. And when I finally get around to playing a game... it'll be either something from Osprey or an independent title. (Looking forward to a game of Space Weirdo's!)

    1. Space Weirdo's, now that sounds like a title I can get behind :) I'm with you on the Kill Team front (no pun intended). I bought the Armageddon set, thinking that was going to be the new Confrontation. Then it turned out to be a one off. Then I also bought the Kill Team book, it has been adorning my book case, unmarred by a reading groove in the binding. Osprey has got that market covered if you aks me (although I do fancy a few of the current Necromunda sets).

  3. Bringing back the Grand Alliance books as collective faction rule compendiums, I'm sure they'd be popular. The original GA books were easy to read and nicely laid out.. unlike Battletomes now which makes me constantly wonder what the hell is wrong with GW's design team with their current obsession to use the slimmest font available then shrink it down and obfuscate it even more with colour tinted paper rendering it almost inperceptable to human eye - I shouldnt have to strain to read a book, and no I don't require reading glasses.

    Rule bloat I can deal with, my head only recalls so much information, for better or worse.

    Making models obsolete sucks, if GW made it and gave it rules and I own it, then I'm going to play with my models if I want to and GW should have some kind of system in place to provide updated point profiles and Legacy Warscroll PDFs so we all keep happy.. its not like I dont buy new models, cmon.. I'm never going to say no to awesome new miniatures for the armies I love.

    1. I actually hit the depressing point where I do need reading glasses (both to read and paint). I chalked that irritation up to me 'getting old'. Good to know it actually IS a terrible choice of fonts. I was worried I was turning into a longbeard there :)

      I think we have the same approach to rule bloat. It almost always works (except on tournaments).

      Yeah the obsolescence of models is my primary annoyance. It would be nice if there where (at a minimum) some comprehensive community guidelines when it comes keeping obsolete models playable (without suffering an Exterminatus Order by GW IP Legal). Unfortunately even asking about something like that is met with silence (same as for partners of GW like Cubicle7).

  4. Warlords of Erehwon is the answer, fantastic game by Rick Priestley, minis agnostic and base shape doesn’t matter. Check the Facebook page for the game for all the Warhammer army lists too.