Getting Started in Age of Sigmar
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
What is Age of Sigmar?
Warhammer:: Age of Sigmar is a miniatures wargame designed and produced by Games Workshop (located in Nottingham, England) that features highly detailed scale models allowing you to join the fight for survival and conquest in a fantasy inspired world. Age of Sigmar (AoS going forward) was released internationally on July 4th, 2015 as the spiritual successor to Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WFB) though it is important to note that AoS is a vastly different game with it’s on unique rule set, army composition and narrative style. Battles in the fantasy realms focus on short, brutal engagements as players strive to accomplish their mission objectives while snatching victory from their opponents hands; these mission (called “Battleplans”) are available in the various books that GW releases in support of this game. One last important introductory note is that AoS focuses on scalability; meaning that your army can be as small or large as you like. This fluidity in army designs makes AoS a fantastic introduction to miniature wargaming and allows you to build your army over time rather than the steep cost of entry associated with many other wargames. Players build, paint and assemble their forces in order to take part in the epic battles going on across eight distinct theaters of war. Will the forces of Chaos prevail or with the stoic heroes of these war-stricken lands pierce the darkness? You and your friends will decide!
Would I like Age of Sigmar?
While I will never advocate writing a game off before you have had a chance to try it, there are some very prevalent concepts in the game that people either like or don’t; and whether or not you will like AoS will depend on what you look for in a game. If you are looking for a simple, ready to play out of the box game, pass on AoS. Figures come un-built and unpainted, and while there are a TON of resources out there to help you learn the skills needed to start it will be an investment of time and money to get there. Think of this game as an introduction to an entire hobby, the perfect way to learn to paint, build and enjoy your miniatures. Are you looking for a game with a rich narrative (storytelling)? AoS is right for you as GW is always releasing one of its amazingly well written novels, campaign or army books to support and expand the world you are fighting in; there’s no shortage of epic tales. Are you looking for a second miniatures game (as a side project)? AoS scales really well in scenario play so feel free to start small projects and let them turn into an army over time.
Now for the slightly harder questions aimed at those already in the miniature wargaming hobby: Does AoS have a rock solid rules setup? Honestly, I would say yes. Games Workshop supports many different ways to have fun with this game through different formats. Here is a brief description of each format:Open Play– Upon it’s initial release, AOS used an open play format. This means you use the base rule book that is available for free online and that’s about it. The openness of the system allows for players with any size and diversity of collection to be able to play a game. If there is a very specific scenario or event you are trying to create then this may be the option or you. The major drawback to this style of play is that two players may have different ideas of what is “Fair” and games can become quickly unbalanced. This, however, is not as much of an issue for more experienced players who have a better idea of what their models are capable of.
Narrative Play– Are you looking to bring a story to life or recreate some cinematic moments in the AOS universe? Do you want to develop you army’s leader over time? Narrative play is your answer. The General’s Handbook (GH) provides numerous narrative themed mission and a campaign system or you to link them together. Also included (and my personal favorite) is the Path to Glory system where you take a hero from your faction and add in units over time as you grow in experience and progress the narrative.
Matched Play– This is what a lot of people were waiting for when AOS dropped. Matched Play provides points for every unit in the game and army composition restrictions to encourage a more “balanced” level of play. In addition to individual unit costs there are also a number of rules added to the core rule set (such as a limit on magic spell use and more). If you are looking to play competitively or your gaming club wants to focus on pick-up games (where 2 strangers can walk up and have a preconceived idea of what a game will look like) then this is or you.
What is it like to Play Age of Sigmar?
Age of Sigmar uses a very simplified rule set available for download here. The remainder of the rules are on the warscrolls (basically the rules and stats for each model) for each individual unit and add a lot of spice to the game. Games can be scaled to just about size and I find that most game take roughly 2 hours to play when using a scenario from one of the various books that GW puts out (more on that below). Players deploy their forces and use the various tools in their army to secure objectives and destroy the enemy. Each unit in the game has a warscroll that lists of their weapons, abilities and skills that allow them to take part in the greater battle. In terms of difficulty the following statement sums it up “Easy to learn, difficult to master”. Kids as young as 12 can learn the basics of the game and have a great time, while older wargamers will see the more subtle tactics and strategies that give AOS so much depth.
How do I get started in Age of Sigmar?
Below is a step-by-step guide to getting into the game while also being as frugal as possible. That means making the most of every purchase and ensuring that you get exactly what you want out of the game
Find a local gaming group to get a demo in. I suggest the Age of Sigmar Facebook group to find players in your area. This group is extremely encouraging and open to questions.
Next you are going to need some models and there is no better way to get them then the Games Workshop “Start Collecting!” sets.
Download the Age of Sigmar app (or print the warscrolls from the unit’s page on the GW site). Rules for the units and models in AoS are entirely free, and this means you have an army you love and the rules available to get started with them right away.
Start playing! The more you learn the game, the more you’ll get a feel for your army and a few ideas on how to expand. Maybe you don’t like the force you chose? Well at this point your only $85 (US) invested and can easily change your mind. Either way, you have an army, a full set of rules and scenarios to keep things interesting.
So to Summarize: you now have a great collection of models, a full set of rules and hopefully a few people to play with. Along the way I highly suggest the Age of Sigmar Facebook Group and the AoS Reddit page as they are both fantastic resources for finding a game group and asking whatever questions you may come up with.
The Grand Alliances
The various forces and races of the mortal realms are summed up into four broad collections: the Grand Alliances. Factions within a Grand Alliance may not have similar goals, ideologies or styles of combat but are united in their single overarching goal. Below is a small description of each Grand Alliance and the unifying objective of each.
ORDER- Order represents the various factions striving to survive the storm of chaos sweeping the realms. Here you’ll find an alliance of Humans, Duardin, Stormcast Eternals and a myriad of other races all fighting for survival. Not all factions in the Order Grand Alliance are friendly, in fact many are isolationist, but all are united in the common goal of freeing the realms of chaos and rebuilding a safe and stable world to thrive in.
CHAOS- Always hungry for more, the armies of Chaos sweep the lands looking for the next challenge in their quest for total dominance. The ultimate goals of many chaos armies is to open the eight realms up to the realm of Chaos, expanding their empire and squashing any resistance. Chaos has been dominant in the lands for ages but not that the Gates of Azyr are open, a new fight has begun. Take the role of a Chaos Champion, Skaven Clan-Lord or one of the several other faction to reclaim your rightful lands and extinguish the flame of hope from the Eight Realms.
DEATH- Nagash, Lord of Death raises his legions to do his bidding. This isn’t about good versus evil, it’s about control. The Death Grand Alliance is the smallest Alliance but has a wide scope of troop types within it. Finding unique synergies and powerful magics are the cornerstone of this Alliance.
DESTRUCTION- There will always be those who find joy in destruction. Much like Death, the Destruction Grand Alliance is not about the struggle between good and evil but the sheer joy of war. This Alliance is made up mostly of Ogurs and Goblins as they fight to conquer empires for the sheer joy of it all.
Armies and Factions and Grand Alliances, oh my!
In addition to a new rules format, GW also has a new ways of structuring the various army types and factions. This can be hard to understand for new players as it is a big departure from the way most war-game operate. The traditional style of army listing works like this: I choose army X, and that army has these specific units/models available for it to use. Some games will bend that a little by having mercenary-style factions that work across multiple armies (See “Mercenaries” for the game Warmachine as an example). With Age of Sigmar there is a lot more freedom. Rather than having 16 or more different armies with ridged product lines, Grand Alliances allow players to build a custom force from a wide variety of models. There are four Grand Alliances (Order, Chaos, Death and Destruction) and within them you have several factions. All of those factions represent different races, monsters, beliefs and ideologies but when battle comes, they fight on the same side. Pick a faction you like the look of, and then feel free to build out from there.
Let’s do an example: I love the look of the Plague monks, so I follow the advice listed above and buy the “Start Collecting: Skaven Pestilens” box. Now I have a solid collection from the Pestilens faction but I am not restricted to them as I would be with a starter set from another game. If I love the look of the Pestilens I can always buy more models from that range. This would give me a large, purely Skaven Pestilens force. On the other hand I can really look to see what my force is lacking and add to my force to strengthen it that way. In this case, I’d say Pestilens lacks models with multiple wounds; so I think adding a beat-stick unit like Nurgle Blighkings would serve me well. See what we’ve done? Blightkings are from the “Nurgle Rotbringer” range, but they share a similar aesthetic and most importantly the keywords (in this case “Nurgle”) complement each other. The Blightkings fill a much needed void in the Pestilens army while adding synergy due to keywords and maintaining the Pestilens aesthetic.
Different factions, one army. After you have played with your Start Collecting box, really take some time to dig into your Grand Alliance and see what types of models will really help you and add to your enjoyment of the game. This type of army composition fluidity allows you to make an entirely unique force with its own aesthetic, personality and opens up a world of painting and modeling opportunities
How do the books work?
If you played the last incarnation of Warhammer (Warhammer Fantasy Battles) then you remember that you needed two things: the rulebook (a massive red tome) and your army book (detailing every unit in your army). If you were really into the story-line of the Old World then you could also grab a few story books from Black Library, but these really had no impact on game play at all. Now things are vastly different. The rules are free, both for your units and the core game and now GW is releasing a series of campaign books, battletomes and story books at an amazing rate, bit how do they work together?
Campaign Book Example
Let’s start with the campaign books, like the one pictured here. These books present a narrative of the ongoing war for the 8 realms and typically follow up to 3 theaters of war (meaning 3 stories in each book). Throughout each book you’ll read a story then there will be a Battleplan that allows you to reenact that situation with your own miniatures; even though the story uses two specific forces, these battleplans work just as well with whatever army you and your gaming group are using. The books are written almost like a history book: they include maps, third person stories on major characters and are more of a play-by-play of events rather than an in-depth story. Often included in these books are a few paint schemes for the forces involved and warscrolls/battalions for any relevant armies. These allow you to build a force that matches the narrative one written about in the book.
Story Book Example
So how does a narrative based game add depth is campaign books are written like historical research? Story books. Whenever one of the campaign books above is released there are multiple story books released right along with it. These books act as the real narrative as they really fill out the campaign books with characters, story and depth. Where the campaign book may say “Then the army headed east” (historical view) the story book may add depth to the story by saying “Fostos looked over the ridge and witnessed a sea of Blood Reavers. The endless horde meant one thing: Salvation was to the East.” One is objective facts; the other is fiction that follows characters and their perspective. Although you are reading the same over-arching narrative, the two writing style complement each other in terms of story and game play.
If you have no interest in the storyline that GW is writing and simply want the scenarios, I highly suggest skipping the books altogether and only downloading the Battle Packs that are available on the AoS app. Battle Packs are essentially the scenarios, warscrolls and battalions from the campaign books but with no narrative elements; as a result of getting less material, the Battle Packs also cost significantly less. I also suggest Battle Packs if you are starting a small gaming group and just need some simple source material to demonstrate some games.
Another element to the new GW book design is the Battletome. Battletomes are books that detail the history and story behind a specific faction in the Age of Sigmar. For example, let’s look at Battletome: Maggotkin of Nurgle. Inside you’ll find information about the army itself, complete with amazing original artwork, painting tutorials, original stories, some army themed scenarios and all available warscrolls at the time of printing. If there is an army that really interests you, then I suggest buying these books; you’ll get a very thematic feel for the army and tips on how to bring them to life on the battlefield. If you just want rules, then I suggest passing on these types of books. Whenever GW releases a model for that army after printing then your copy is out of date; mind you, it’s only the warscrolls that are incomplete, the story, painting tips and scenarios are still 100% good. Some collectors see this as a disservice but in my opinion these books are for the guys who love the fluff of an army and buy it for the background. And since all warscrolls are free to print or download you can never really be outdated.
GarageHammer– David Wytek leads this phenomenal AoS-centric show every two weeks. His book reviews are top notch and in-depth, so I cannot suggest this podcast enough. Aside from a good sense of humor and valuable content, this show is also kid-friendly. A+ audio quality! GarageHammer also has a small forum with great moderators and interesting content, check it out!
HeelenHammer– English podcaster Dan Heelen was a major tournament player back in WFB, and has since focused his show on Age of Sigmar. Tune in for great discussion on gameplay, books and hobby tips. This show is also kid-friendly A+ audio quality!
Mortal Realms– A newer podcast to hit the web, these guys do a fantastic job of bringing the narrative flavor to games with an in-depth story review, discussions about recreating narrative events and lively rules discussions. A+ audio quality!
Andy + Rem Show– This regular Youtube show features some great discussion on AoS and a lot of viewer interaction. Shows are hosted live then saved to Youtube for watching later. Language stays fairly clean, my only complaint is the audio quality can be lacking depending on the guests mic.
FaceHammer– English show featuring AoS event coverage and discussion about model releases. Be warned, this podcasts features explicit language and poor sound quality.
From time to time on forums and websites (and in the GW books) you’ll see words or acronyms used that you may not understand. Below is a small collection of them for your reference.
Warscroll– The reference page for any given model or unit containing all the relevant rules and stats that you need to use the unit in a game.
Warscroll Battalion– Details a list of units needed for a specific force. Bringing the required units will grant that battalion special rules for use in-game. This can act as an easy to use army building guide but is in no way required. Usually these are more of a thematic suggestion as opposed to a “How to build an army” roster.
Time of War Rules– Special rules that players can choose to use that add effects to the battlefield. Most often these rules are meant to represent a specific theater of war that the narrative has described.
Battletomes– Small and reasonably priced army books that provide you with some background information on a given force as well as a complete list of units available at the time of printing. Note: units coming out after the release of a battletome will not be in there. That being said, since you don’t actually need the book to play at all, buy it for the stories and scenarios and keep your army roster updated on your app or with downloaded PDFs.
AOS– An acronym for Age of Sigmar.
WYSIWYG– “What you see is what you get” refers to building a model to represent exactly what you are playing it as. For example, every model in a unit wielding axes when you choose that as their weapon as opposed to a mixed variety of weapons and you simply saying “This unit is wielding axes”. WYSIWYG helps keep things clear for your opponent so weapon stats are not accidentally confused mid-game