Tabletop Review: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Campaign Book

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Campaign Book
Publisher: Games Workshop
Cost: $74 (Physical)/$130 (Limited Edition)/$49.99 (Digital)
Page Count: 264
Release Date: 07/18/2015
Get it Here: Games Workshop

It’s hard to believe that the Age of Sigmar only began a fortnight ago on July 11th. Well, July 4th if you count the preview issue of White Dwarf (#75) and the free Stormcast Eternal miniature it came with. People were surprised that Age of Sigmar had a rules set only four pages in length. That’s a huge change from the 300 or so page rulebooks that used to come out for Warhammer Fantasy, not to mention the 100+ page books for EACH different army in the game. Truly, a lot of trees died for the previous eight incarnations of Warhammer, so this change to very light rules and free downloadable stats for each character created a massive wave of culture shock, not just for Warhammer players, but miniature gamers as a whole across the fandom. Many pointed to the upcoming Rule/Campaign book that we are reviewing today and prophesized that there would be rules more in line with the sheer deluge of mechanics gamers were used to. The game couldn’t be THAT simple (or shallow, depending on who you ask). Surely the big expensive tome of doom would be coming, which everyone was used to, right? RIGHT? RIGHT?

Well, no, it wasn’t. In fact, the big tome for Age of Sigmar is very similar to the Warhammer: The End Times releases, in which they are mostly fluff with only a tiny bit of mechanics thrown in for good measure. Games Workshop is indeed serious about making Age of Sigmar rules light, and I’m actually really okay with that, because it’s a totally different game. I can play Oldhammer AND I can play this. Liking one does not prevent you from liking or playing the other. However, for those wanting a really substantial book of rules, don’t even THINK about purchasing this Age of Sigmar campaign book, as you will be horribly disappointed.

What little rules there are in the book can be summed up into two categories: Scenarios and Warscrolls. The last thirty pages of the book are all Warscrolls. For those unfamiliar with the term, Warscrolls are the new terminology for stat blocks in Age of Sigmar. Most of them are already available online for free, while some of the Warscrolls in the book highlight characters that have not been released yet, like the Judicators (which will be up for preorder by the time this article goes live). If you’re wondering why these Warscrolls are reprinted in the Age of Sigmar campaign book when you can already get them in issues of White Dwarf or download them for free, the answer is simple. With this book, you have all the scrolls in one spot (instead of multiple issues of WD) and it gives people who prefer physical copies of things a very expensive option instead of having PDFs or using the Age of Sigmar app (which is really good and you should download it).

Scenarios are exactly what you would expect from the name. These are rules and layouts for running specific themed battles with your Age of Sigmar armies. With each of the eight scenarios (Battleplans as the official jargon calls them), you get the setup, the different objectives each army is trying to accomplish, special abilities for each general in the scenario, a description of the battlefield and rules for set-up, along with how to achieve victory and any special rules or mechanics that are specific to said scenario. Although each scenario is written in theme with one of the battles that take part in the book’s fluff, every one is designed to be run with ANY armies, not just the ones in the example. This is a great change of pace from The End Times, where you were also given scenarios, but they would only work with specific armies. That meant, for many Warhammer players, the scenarios in The End Times were often unplayable, even if they sounded awesome on paper. With Age of Sigmar, flexibility and narrative are considered just as important as the mechanics, and I love this. I want to tell a story and role-play, not just roll-play. Most miniature games put a lot of time into their paint jobs and even create backstories for their pieces. It’s nice to see that side of the game gets to shine in Age of Sigmar when it was really just window dressing in the most recent editions of Warhammer. I miss the old 5e campaign packs like Circle of Blood.

What is odd is the fact the scenarios are inserted haphazardly throughout the fluff. You’ll be reading some of the fiction and then BAM – a scenario hits. This constant juxtaposition makes it hard to enjoy either side of the book, and it’s going to be a real bitch having to flip through the book to find the scenario you want. Oh sure, the table of contents lists the page numbers for everything, but more than half the book doesn’t actually show their page number, making this a bit worthless. One thing that Age of Sigmar should have copied from The End Times campaign books is how all the scenarios were in one section towards the back instead of littered through the book, inserted into the fluff. In The End Times, the scenarios all referenced the fluff battle they were an homage to. Emulating that approach would have made the Age of Sigmar campaign book a lot easier to read through, and it would have had better flow to boot. Still, the scenarios are all pretty good for what they are. Some do retread the same ground as each other, which is a bit of a disappointment, but it is nice to see that GW is trying to create a lot of varied Battleplans for gamers to use, as this will be the heart and soul of keeping the mechanics of (and playing) Age of Sigmar from getting dull, stale or boring. With eight different worlds, each of which has their own setting rules AND different scenarios to enjoy, you can get a lot of use out of your armies without getting replay déjà vu.

Fluff-wise, the Age of Sigmar book is uneven. I feel the writing in The End Times, both the novels and rulebooks, were the best Games Workshop has been in many years. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for this campaign book. It’s a bit bi-polar with a lot of highs and lows. I hated that there was no real explanation of what the new universe was like before The Age of Sigmar, which is essentially The End Times all over again. The book barely touches on the formation of the new universe and was it was like before the great alliance of gods broke and Chaos took over. We really should have gotten to see more of that, such as how the Incarnate were transformed between 8th Edition’s end and the start of the Age of Sigmar timeline. We got only a tiny bit with some passing allusions as to what happened. Apparently only the Incarnates and Sigmar survived the universe crossing over, at least those that are named outright. Arkhan the Black is show in the first two ages that are VERY briefly covered in this book, but once The Age of Sigmar has begun, he is gone… even though Mannfred and Neferata are still mortarchs for Nagash. If you read The Gates of Azyr novel ad looked closely at the artwork and some subtle wording in this campaign book, you KNOW what happened to Arkhan. If you haven’t read either, here’s your spoiler: Arkhan the Black appears to now be Sigmar’s head Relicor and righthand man, Ionus Cryptborn. That’s a shocker with a lot of story potential.

Where the book is purposely EXTREMELY vague towards the first two ages of 9th edition, it is extremely verbose on the third age, which the game is named after – The Age of Sigmar. The whole book only covered the very beginnings of this age, including the creation of the Stormcast Eternals and three campaigns designed to help free some of worlds from the forces of Chaos, as well as garner Sigmar new (old) allies in this attempt to stave another reality from being destroyed. All of the campaigns are told in the exact same manner though, which gets old FAST. Stormcast Eternals surprise the forces of Chaos by showing up announced. Stormcast Eternals make headway. Chaos gets reinforcements and pushes the Stormcast Eternals back. Stormcast Eternals get a second wind but Chaos is limitless so they start to falter. UNEXPECTED REINFORCEMENTS for the good guys show up, allowing things to break even. Good guys win, but only because their commander makes a heroic sacrifice. This is the exact same story told three times. The only thing that changes is the branch of Stormcast Eternals that is the focus (ala Space Marines) and which Chaos God’s forces they do battle with. The writing was only decent at best to begin with, but the use of the exact same story with different characters and locations inserted was really obvious and made this on par with the terrible fiction/fluff Games Workshop is usually known for. While The End Times writing was fantastic by comparison to what GW has put out for the last decade or so, this was exactly the wrong thing to have in your giant sized expensive hardcover book. With no rules or mechanics, all you had to sell people on was the fluff, and when the fluff is actually really bad and obviously cut and paste Mad Libs style, you’ve basically proved the naysayers who won’t touch the actual GAME of Age of Sigmar right, in that Games Workshop has jettisoned decades of continuity for two dimensional threadbare crap. I was actually really disappointed in the fluff of this book, because it was mostly sub-par written filler and basically went about selling Age of Sigmar in the worst way possible. Right now you have people who won’t touch an enjoyable game simply because it is new and different, and THIS was the big fluff push? Ouch. This was a huge blunder, and I’m someone that has enjoyed AoS so far. Now I’m very hesitant about picking up any of the other giant tomes like this that will no doubt be coming out in the future.

So what could Games Workshop have done better? Well, tell different stories with each campaign for one thing. Have the battles go differently. Tell more of a story than just mindless violence. Don’t use the same exact grimdark clichés to end each story. Even reusing it twice in the SAME BOOK is a sign of bad writing. They should have focused a lot more on the beginnings and middle ages of the world instead of jumping just to The End Times for the vast majority of the book. Even then, what is there about those earlier times makes little to no sense because what is written contradicts what we know of a lot of the characters that survived The End Times. The bottom line is that this Age of Sigmar campaign book is not very well done. Pretty much everything except the outstanding art could have, and should have, been done differently. Newcomers to Warhammer will see this as an expensive mess with bad writing and little depth. Longtime fans of Warhammer Fantasy are going to be rightfully nervous about the story quality in Age of Sigmar going forward, because it looks like it is just going to be battle descriptions in various post-apocalyptic settings. That’s going to get old fast. Remember the BEST Warhammer novels, be they 40K or Fantasy, revolve around character dynamics and relationships, not constant descriptions of battles. I’m not sure, fluff-wise, what stories can really be told with Age of Sigmar because between the fiction being put out and this campaign book, it’s all the same stuff being told in all the same ways. I’m willing to grant GW the benefit of the doubt, because everyone is getting their bearings and this is a new system set in a new universe with all new dynamics, so things will be rough at first. The problem is that GW needs to get their fluff together and make it fantastic YESTERDAY because of all the people bound and determined to turn Age of Sigmar into Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition.

I do want to end this review on a somewhat positive note, so let’s talk about the art quickly. It’s fantastic. The art in Age of Sigmar is the best I’ve seen in any miniatures book in a very long time – perhaps ever. The quality is Shadows of Esteren good, and considering that series has won our “Best Art” award from DHGF three years in a row, that is extremely high praise indeed. As a coffee table book full of pretty pictures, Age of Sigmar excels. Unfortunately, that’s not why it exists. Still, amazing art.

I can honestly say the Age of Sigmar campaign book is an easy miss. Aside from the scenarios, there’s nothing gamers will want or need out of this very expensive hardcover tome. The fluff starts out interesting, but there is no depth to it and it gets repetitive very quickly. It’s a fraction of the size of The End Times books with a higher price tag. This is the first real stumble for Age of Sigmar so far and, unfortunately, it is a major one. GW will be best served cleaning up their fiction and perhaps releasing scenarios in packs rather than inserted into a book like this. More people will probably buy the scenarios that way, and that will give time for the fiction to hopefully grow up and be able to be sold on its own. Again, this is a disappointing release, and one no one needs to purchase. Just get the Age of Sigmar Starter Set and then maybe the first novel in electronic form. No one needs this, and most who actually spend money on the Age of Sigmar campaign book are definitely going to be disappointed by its contents. The actual game is quite fun when you give it a chance though.

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