I actually bought the General’s Handbook last week ago and thought I give you a rundown of it. Age of Sigmar is really gaining on me as I’ve mentioned before a couple of times. I still haven’t played a game of it nor do I have an army to play with. Just a handful of models and nothing else. So why did I go out and buy the book? Well, Age of Sigmar intrigues me. It is calling, like the Sirens’ song luring me. Unlike 40k, Age of Sigmar feels new and unburdened. The thought of getting into Age of Sigmar feels a bit like heading into uncharted waters. Don’t get me wrong, I love 40k, the setting and models are just brilliant. But it is what it is and Age of Sigmar is something different.
The General’s Handbook gives a brief description of the setting but the book is all about gaming. There are better publications out there if you want to dive into the background. The Handbook is broken down in three main section corresponding to the three ways to play the game – Open, Narrative and Matched Play. Laid out in that order. This is brilliant. Really. It is. Warhammer 40 000 has one “correct” way of playing and that is with points. Sure Games Workshop dabble with no-points-games for 40k too, but these are relegated to the contained and controlled environment of the Starter Box and boxes like Deathstorm. Once you’ve read the rules you know that this is the wrong way to play. 40k is all about points!
In Age of Sigmar it isn’t, it is actually the opposite. No-points (or Open Play) is the standard way of playing. This is the starting point and most basic way of playing Age of Sigmar. Open Play is all about getting models on the table and getting into the game. Never mind points or other restrictions on what you can or cannot bring. If you want to get new blood into the hobby, this is the way to do it. Just go in to the store, pick up a couple of boxes, build and paint them and start playing. Or as Games Workshop teach us – Collect, Build, Paint, Play. Can Open Play led to uneven or unfair matches? You bet. Even if there are mechanisms in the rules to level the playing field this form requires a lot from the players. Like don’t be a jerk.
Seriously, if you play Open Play you need to talk a lot with your opponent before and during the game to ensure that the most important rule (have fun, for crying out load) is not broken. The strength of Open Play lies in its free form and the possibilities that follows. Open Play does not only allow you to get gaming in no time but it also allows you to try out wacky scenarios and Epic match-ups. What to play game where a desperately outnumbered band of Fireslayers need to hold a mountain pass against a massive army of Destruction? Open Play allows you to do that. You can use the Sudden Death rules or make a special Battleplan for the game (or find one that matches the scenario you want to play, there is probably one out there already).
Since Open Play already is in the rules sheet the Open Play section of the General’s Handbook focuses on multiplayer games. We get some really good rules for two kinds of multiplayer games – Coalition of Death (team games) and Triumph and Treachery (everyone against everyone). Both types of games are supported by a couple of Battleplans (think missions in 40k). I will look at ways to “translate” the multiplayer rules to 40k, as the 40k multiplayer rules in the Carnage mission aren’t that good really. I think that would be great fun to play, both in Age of Sigmar and 40k.
The main section of the Handbook is Narrative Play. Reading through this reminds me of how much I miss old campaign sections of the 40k rulesbook. Both 5th and 6th editions had sections of the rulesbook devoted to narrative games. It wasn’t so much the rules per se but it had tons of ideas and tips. I miss it and this section of the General’s Handbook is one of the main reasons why I picked it up. Narrative Play is, by far, the way I prefer to play.
The book presents a couple of different styles of Narrative Play, first you get a bunch of the battleplans from the Realmgate War books. Very nice, if you, like me, haven’t seen them before. Then it talks a bit about recreating historical battles, again you get new battleplans for the games. One of the battles they depict is the death of Nagash, the battleplan even comes with the exact forces for you to bring if you want to recreate the battle correctly. It is an insane amount of models required.
Then we move on to the campaign section – first the type of campaign they talk about is the Path to Glory. Path to Glory is an escalation styled campaign where you build your warband by randomly adding units and gaining power and artefacts as go game. The original Path to Glory was Chaos only but the Handbook adds more options for several armies. I think this would be a really fun way of building up an Age of Sigmar army. Only problem is that I’m not into any of the armies that got own tables. Oh well, you could always tweak one I guess. And guess what, you get a couple of battleplans to use in your Path to Glory campaigns too.
Next up is map campaigns, you get a quick rundown on what to think about when making a map based campaign. This time you down get battleplans but you get a map and rules for the different locations and spoils. After that we move on to the tree campaign and again we get some tips on how to create and run a tree campaign. And we actually get a full campaign with six battleplans. We also get a Matrix Campaign too. The Matrix Campaign adds a bit of pre-game flavour. Before the game, you pick a strategy and your opponent do to. Then you consult the matrix, depending on what you both picked something happens – units get ambushed, you gain reinforcements or get to flank your opponent. Very cool. I really like this one, I will definitely adopt this in one way or another. This book is just crammed with good stuff. And we’re not even half way through the book yet.
Yes, the elephant in the room. Points. Matched Play and Pitched Battles are the system to create balanced battles. It is explicitly created for tournaments and pick-up games. The system is simple. Units are bought in batches (normally 3, 5 or 10, often corresponding to how many you get in a box), you can add more models by buying another batch of models. Say you have 8 Stormcast Liberators that you want to field, then you have to buy a batch of five for 100 points and then another batch of five for another 100 points. All upgrades are free. The unit cost what they cost. Across the board the basic units cost about 100 points, more elite units cost about 200, monster about 300 points. Give or take a few points. The system is extremely simple and the cost of all units are in the book. If they want to tweak the costs and re-balance the game it will be so simple.
Depending on how big games you want to play you have some limitations and requirements regarding what you can and must bring. First up, regardless of size, your army need to belong to one of the four Grand Alliances in the game – Order, Chaos, Death or Destruction. In a Battlehost game (2000 points, 2 and a half hour game) you can bring 1-6 Leaders, 3+ Battleline, 0-4 Artillery, 0-4 Monsters and any number of other units. Again simple. Check your units’ Keyword and the tables in the Handbook to see what unit takes what slot. There is a limitation on summoning (and by other means gaining free units), you can reserve any number of points to have a Reinforcement points. These are the points you can use to summon stuff. You don’t have define what you are going to use them for but instead they offer you full flexibility. Maybe you need some more Spirit Hosts to tie up your opponents advance, summon them or maybe you need some Black Knight rush a flank, summon them instead. Oh, if you bring an army with less points than your opponent then you get a small buff. Smart.
You get six Battleplans too, these are basically your Eternal War missions that you roll or pick before the game. And at the end of the book there are some rules for Allegiance Abilities – every Grand Allegiance have a Battle Trait (think Chapter Tactics), every General have a Command Trait (Warlord Trait) and some heroes can get Artefacts of Power. You get to pick Trait and Artefact from you Allegiance table, allowing you to both convert models appropriately and build your army around a certain strategy.
You probably guessed it, I’m extremely happy with this book. It is an awesome buy. Cheap, ripped with great rules, ideas, tips and other useful stuff and absolutely jam-packed with great pictures. I feel like super-fanboy number one but this is probably the best publication from Games Workshop in a long, long time. You should pick it up.