Age of Sigmar is a tabletop war-game set in a fantasy world created by Games Workshop (GW). The game involves miniatures to represent warriors and monsters, with dices rolls used to represent the fray of battle as two or more players strive to defeat their opponents.
Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) was the precursor to Age of Sigmar, and its development into the newer game was fraught with poor decision making and knee jerk reactions, with an unhealthy dose of corporate foolery.
I was a long time fan of Warhammer in its earlier and middle life. It was something I grew up with. Its strong sense of fantasy and rich lore was inspiring to a young boy, teenager and adult. As a nerd, it was a binding force among friends that ran alongside games like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a large part of our youth.
I took time out from Warhammer and GW they fell out of favour with me for many reasons. So when I heard about the new Age of Sigmar I was hopeful for a balanced and fun game. I felt let down and the following history tale feels like a terrible loss to something I held very dearly.
But I’m giving GW a second chance, and I’ll explain why later.
First, some history…
The Lore Unflinching
Since its inception in 1983, Warhammer Fantasy Battle has been rich in its setting, abundant history and legends combined with inspiring artwork and grandiose tales. It was for the most part, a thing of beauty, the likes of which no other company had managed to create. WFB ran until 2010, with 27 years of added legends and story, enriching its own lore within each incarnation, eventually ploughing itself into an 8th and final edition.
However, a common complaint is that the story of the world never really advanced. Most of the rich storytelling, the history of the world, had already taken place. Global political and natural events had already shaped the world, from the war between Elves and Dwarves to the cataclysms that shaped the geography. With the exception of the incursions forces of Chaos (the ultimate big bad guys of the setting) very little else changed, and for 27 years humanity and its allies stood on the brink of extermination and extinction… yet was never quite defeated or victorious.
Arguably there’s a difference between the campaign world and the larger written fiction world: Despite gaps in the world, the GW development team failed to seize and advanced certain narrative arcs or historical campaigns, such as the War of the Beard, pitching Elves and Dwarves into a war that lasted years, creating offshoots of each nation / faction. Despite having untapped regions on the world map, it seemed that GW prematurely ran out of geographical room, never actually filling out all the regions in detail. The missed opportunities were vast.
A Lore Uncopyrighted
WFB was expanded in the 80’s and as such borrowed much of its history and cultural ideas from Lord of the Rings which saw a rise in popularity and profile during that decade. Warhammer was generally considered a variant of many different stories and world settings at a time when copyrighting the name of a species wasn’t ever considered.
This borrowing of cultures and ideas meant that other, smaller companies were able to borrow in turn from GW. Being a large and successful company, GW didn’t like that idea. The prime example of this is the novel “Spots the Space Marine” which GW wanted removed for copyright reasons. Owning ‘Space Marine’ for themselves was apparently critical to their business model.
When you considered how much GW borrowed from other media, you realise that much of their content was not their own. Copyrighting that content and cornering the market to their benefit was not possible with the old WFB lore. They would have to change everything… which Age of Sigmar does; the heart warming Elves, Dwarves, Goblins and Orcs were replaced with Aelves, Duardin, Grots and Orruk. It’s also hard to copyright historical figures and names, looking at you Bretonnian players!
Compounding the Fractures
For new players, starting a game of Warhammer can be costly, with players investing their time and precious money into buying miniatures, paints, brushes, terrain boards and books to create their armies. If you just look at the price of the miniatures, you can spend hundreds of your precious monies before you’ve assembled anything. So when a game loses its appeal to old gamers, and new gamers can’t afford to start playing, sales begin drop and any company is likely to worry. But GW didn’t seem to learn with each new edition of WFB…
The 6th Edition of WFB was considered ‘alright’ in its early days for game balance. It still had its problems, much like any game. Unfortunately it was the start of the fall, where the final few Army Books published showed an increase in the power creep (where successive armies would be significantly tougher and cheaper to purchase in-game). Matching armies to play a fair game was harder and players started to emulate the winners creating a stale gaming style. Spending hundreds of pounds on an impressive army didn’t guarantee a satisfactory win/lose ratio.
7th Edition compounded on 6th edition and was the point in time when the famous (probably misquote) “We’re a miniature company not a games company” by the CEO of that time, Kirby. This was considered the primary unbalanced version of the game. This was also the time of the GW store changes, where a single member of staff was expected to run the store. This lead to an end of local store tournaments and a reliance on local independent gaming stores to do the hard work, which they were not prepared to do.
8th Edition simply added on top of this again, removing some parts of the game that required skill and understanding and replaced them with unbalanced armies and rules in totality.
Mat Ward held the creative reigns during these times of troubles and was supposedly responsible for the power creep of factions – most of the army supplement books were under his name which unfortunately lead to a loss in popularity. This lower-quality “modelling business” seems to have driven a core of players away, especially when GW tried to claim gamers only made up 20% of their sales (maybe they included digital games and fiction in those sales numbers, who knows). Still, 20% is a huge chunk of your market and not to be sniffed at.
The messiah Jedi to bring balance should have been 9th Edition and was rumoured to be an amazing game of fortitude and fun. However, some internet folks believe that this dropped the sales of the 8th edition as players saved their cash ready to spend it all in a glorious fit of nerd-frenzy… GW scrapped most of what 9th edition could have been. Frankly, GW had failed its panic test and bottled it, doing something so knee jerk worthy that many of their core fans and players simply stared in disbelief.
They killed it all off.
In an act of terrible corporate zeal, it was deemed unworthy and so all of it had to burn, apparently.
Warhammer 40K, the Expanding Galaxy
On the other hand, GW’s Warhammer 40,000 (40K) storyline moved onwards in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. Players still flocked to it and it seemed always popular. Everyone loves “Spess Ma-reens!” So while WFB fell, GW put their time and effort into 40K. This lead to more delays and lethargy in creating content for WFB, hammering further nails into its coffin.
Birth of the Mortal Realms, the Age of Sigmar
It was expected that 9th edition was going to mend itself, bandage its blood spouting wounds, stick on an eye patch and throw itself back into the fight for the old world with a grizzled low growl. But with the panicked reaction from a slump in sales, GW rushed ahead with Age of Sigmar and dumped the Old World. The lore and world history of WFB was abolished, the relics and lessons of the Old World were forgotten and the new world, the world of Mortal Realms was born.
Many fans were outraged (I mean, it is the internet) and a solid core of supporting players felt abandoned and ignored. No doubt many miniatures ended up in the bin, or left to fend for themselves Toy Story style in a box of Barbie dolls… or likely ended up on eBay.
Warhammer now looked like something from Magic the Gathering, minus the charm.
So why, after the loss of something held very dear, am I giving Age of Sigmar and Games Workshop another chance?
Age of Sigmar
The new game is very accessible and despite frankly large problems, holds promise. The core rules are completely free and readily available online to print out yourselves.
Now you can play the game as a narrative (discard point values for armies) or you can carry out matched play, where you decide on the points values for your forces. This means you can tailor games for competitions or story driven wars.
A Battle Narrative
The revived and quick to learn rules have given GW a chance at another shot to regain the glory of the old days – quite simply it’s a shame they had to destroy everything the fans loved about the setting (but all is not lost). Games are now played in scenarios. This put me off originally, because I love a good ruck in the mud with swords and death, but actually, scenarios allows me to play a relatively weak force (High Elves, who are now Swifthawk Riders) against an incredibly overpowered force (such as the Beastclaw Raiders) and hopefully run rings around them, because no army is able to be perfect in a randomly determined scenario.
Embers of the Old World
Thankfully, GW are still publishing fiction related to the Old World. They’ve even gone back further and re-released fiction before the time of Karl Franz (the emperor with the big hammer at WFB peak). Third parties such as Cubicle 7 have brought fresh life to the Old World with a renewed and updated version of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game (we had a peek early on here…) and God’s bless the Creative Assembly for sticking with the Old World in their very successful Total War: Warhammer series (which merges two of my favourite things wonderfully).
And finally… Gotrek Gurnison lives! The doom-seeking Slayer wandered out of the time warping Chaos Wastes of the Old World to bring some good old fashioned Slayer perspective in Realm Slayer. Gotrek quests through the Mortal Realms to find his manling sidekick, Felix Jaeger, who may have been reincarnated as a Stormcast Eternal! This is a great tale that sets the scene for Age of Sigmar and throws us veteran players a much desired connection to the World that Once was.
So, like with the new Star Wars movies – the new stuff doesn’t invalidate the old stuff – you can still read and watch the old stories and enjoy them for what they are. You can do the same for Warhammer.
GW took a huge gamble which seems to have paid off.
At least for now…
Absolutely Final Bit
If you keep up to date with the acts of GW and their Age of sigmar game, you may want to take a look at this petition that is over five years old. If you read it you’ll see that most of what the petition was asking for has actually been met by the GW. Shame they never actually replied to the petition…
That about wraps it up for now! Thanks for reading, and as ever, your comments and discussion are always welcome. perhaps you know something we don’t and would like to share your thoughts?
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