Wednesday, May 24, 2017

REVIEW: Warhammer Age of Sigmar Skirmish

The Age of Skirmish is upon us with the release of the Age of Sigmar Skirmish supplement. A rather simple addition, it adds a fantastic new way to play the game using all of your existing rules and models, as well as a bit of new background lore on the mysterious city of Shadespire. Let's take a look at what's between the covers!

Age of Sigmar Skirmish is a small book by anyone's standards. At around 40 pages it's saddle stapled instead of perfect bound, but the quality of the book is right up there with its thicker cousins. The cover is rather simple with a cool image of a Blood Warrior fighting some Seraphon. It would have been cool to see something a bit more Death focused considering where this game is set, but I'm sure they are saving the majority of that new artwork for the Shadespire release later this year.

The first part of the book deals with the background for the game. To start things off we get a brief two page recap of where we are at in the Age of Sigmar, quickly going over things like the Age of Chaos, Sigmar's war, and the battle at the Allpoints. After that there are a further two pages detailing the Mortal Realms. Most of this is familiar to seasoned AoS players, but it's a nice inclusion for people brand new to the game system. Skirmish is a perfect starting point for a new player considering it's low model count, so covering the basics of the background is a smart move on their part.

Now we get to the juicy stuff. Like many of their recent games such as Shadow War: Armageddon, Games Workshop has decided to put the focus of Skirmish in a single location. I really like this approach since it lets them delve a little deeper into the lore of that area and helps them be more focused with their book. For Skirmish this is the ruined city of Shadespire. You may recognize that name from the game they teased at Adepticon that's coming out later this year, and they are in fact, one and the same, sort of.

Shadespire is located in the middle of the vast Desert of Bones in Shyish and sat at the convergence of multiple trade routes from multiple realmgates, allowing them to act as a trading city and outpost. Over time the city grew and its occupants grew very wealthy. With all of this wealth the ruling class, known as the Katophranes, devoted their efforts to cracking the secrets of death itself and cheating Nagash of his due. After many years they succeeded and were able to preserve their souls in something known as shadeglass. This allowed the rulers to effectively become immortal and continue learning and passing down their wisdom for many generations. Think something along the lines of the Eldar's infinity circuit in the craftworlds and you won't be far off.

Once Nagash learned of this he became enraged and ripped the city's soul away from it, damning all of its inhabitants and leaving the city a ruined husk. Not wanting to anger the god of death, all of Shadespire's trading partners burned all references to the city and left it alone for centuries. Now rumors of the ruined city are starting to circulate and the vast wealth that was left there, drawing in warbands from across the Realms trying to secure these valuable relics for themselves. I think it's the perfect setting for the game. It's unique, cool, and has a good reason for all of these other armies and factions to all be there at the same time. My theory is that the "soul" version of Shadespire that Nagash ripped away is the one that's stuck between the realms of Light and Shadow and that will be played over in the Shadespire game, while this version is just the "carcass" of the city, left to rot in the desert. I also really like Shyish and the Death faction, so anything new for them is a huge plus for me. There are a few new maps here of the city, which are pretty cool and great fodder for players out there to use. There's not a ton of lore, but there's still more than I went over so I highly recommend reading it.

After the lore we move onto the rules themselves. The "core" rules for Skirmish are pretty simple and are really just adjustments to the basic AoS rules. For instance, since you don't have full units anymore, Bravery is handled by one test for your entire warband using your general's Bravery characteristic. The Rules of One from matched play also apply here. Your warband must adhere to one Grand Alliance and instead of picking command abilities and artifacts from the General's Handbook, you can pick them from tables in this book. There are six unique command abilities and six unique artifacts that are more suited to the smaller scale of Skirmish. There are also six new scenery rules to utilize instead of the ones from the core rules. These work much better for the lower model count and have some cool things like pieces of scenery potentially collapsing and hurting models nearby. This represents the crumbling ruins of Shadespire and once a piece of scenery does this you remove it from the board. You aren't allowed to use any abilities or artifacts from the Battletomes, but it does appear that you can still use you Grand Allegiance abilities from the General's Handbook, so that means stuff like Death still gets its Death save.

The biggest change is that each model moves on their own, so no units. Although you still pick your models in units. So if you want three Liberators, they are technically all from one unit, but all move independently of each other in the game. To unlock special weapon options though you still need to fulfill the requirements on the warscroll. So if something says for every five of a certain model one of them can be armed with a special weapon, then you still need to take five of those guys in your warband before you can arm one of them with that weapon. Banner and musicians still affect their whole unit too, but only if the models are within 6" of the banner or instrument. Everything else for the model just uses their normal warscroll and everything listed on it.

The book presents you with a campaign to play through for Shadespire, with six battles, each using one of six new Battleplans found in the book. When you play through the campaign though there are slight adjustments to the Battleplans, usually based off of who won the previous game. When you link battles like this there is also a rewards phase between games where you earn extra renown, the points system for this game that lets you add models to your warband, as well as tables to roll on for your generals to see if they earn extra abilities, artifacts, or even one of three unique spells if they are a wizard. I really like this and think it embodies the best aspects of this Skirmish ruleset. Though this can definitely be played as one off games, you'll get the most out of it be linking games and watching your warband grow.

If a model dies in a game it's assumed they heal up in time for the next game, so you don't need to worry about losing models. It does say that once you have added a model to your warband you can't change them out, so make your choices carefully. The six battleplans presented here all seem pretty fun to play, with some of them being more balanced then others. In fact, they say that if you are just playing a pick up game to only use three of the battleplans instead of all six since those three battleplans are the most evenly balanced. All of the games are played on four by four foot tables instead of the normal six by four foot tables since the games are smaller. They also mention that while these battleplans are best for Skirmish you can realistically modify any existing battleplan to use by shrinking the table size and possibly making a few other adjustments. Seize the Relic seems like the most fun battleplan, and is definitely one of the ones I will be trying out. You can see them playing the battleplan on the Warhammer Twitch channel from past week. It has a real ticking clock feel to it that adds a ton of drama.

The rules for picking your warband are pretty simple. As mentioned before, everything must be picked from the same Grand Alliance and you use renown points instead of the points found in the General's Handbook or your Battletome. They recommend starting out at 25 renown points for campaign, since your warband will grow over the course of the linked games. For pick up games they suggest anywhere from 50 to 100 renown, with a 50 renown point game taking about an hour to play. You pick models individually instead of as units, which means, for example, you can take a Lord-Celestant, two Retributors, a Prosecutor, and three Liberators. The only restriction is that you can't take any warscroll more than once. The warscrolls available and the renown cost per model are all listed here, and each one has a minimum size and a maximum size. For example, the Spirit Host warscroll has a minimum size of one model, and a max of three. So in a Skirmish warband I can only ever take three Spirit Hosts because I cannot repeat warscrolls. This also means you can only take one of each hero.

Almost every faction is represented here, but all of the big models are left out. This is a Skirmish game, so monsters would be a little odd. About the biggest it goes are the Ironjawz Megaboss, Ogors, Dracothian Guard, and the like. Also, none of the compendium models are included, so no Tomb Kings or Brettonians, but fear not, for I have cracked the code! It's actually fairly easy to figure out once you start comparing the renown cost of models to their points cost in normal games of AoS.

Here is the "secret" formula to figure out the renown cost of any model in AoS:

For units divide the points cost of the unit by the number of models in it. So, for Ushabti for example, I would divide their Matched Play points cost of 120 by the unit size of 3 giving me 40 points per model. I then take this number and divide it by 5, giving me a renown cost of 8 renown for a single Ushabti model.

So for units it's: unit cost/unit size = cost per model. Cost per model/5 = Renown cost.

For heroes or single model units it's just their points cost divided by 5.

There you have it! Want to use some models in Skirmish that aren't included in the book? Just use those formulas above to figure out their renown cost and ask you opponent it it's okay to use them. There are a few instances where it looks like the game designers changed a unit's renown to be higher or lower, but these are the rare exceptions. For all we know this could actually be reflecting changes in their points cost that we'll be seeing in the General's Handbook 2. I'm looking at you Kurnoth Hunters (looks like they could potentially be going up to 220 points per unit).

After that we get a warband roster sheet you can photocopy to use in your games, and that's the book. It's short and sweet and, from what I can tell, an extremely fun looking game! I will definitely be using my Nighthaunts and Stormcast in it and will work out the renown points so I can use my Tomb Kings as well. The rules are simple but work perfectly. Being so close to the regular AoS rules is a great way to get new players into the hobby since they can then transition to larger games once their warband gets large enough and they won't need to learn a whole new ruleset. It's good for us veteran AoS players too since, well, we won't have to learn a whole new ruleset either. I wouldn't be surprised if future Battletomes also have the renown points for the army printed in them alongside the Matched Play points and the Path to Glory tables.

This is a great value at only $10 and adds a fun new way to use your AoS armies or gives you the perfect excuse to paint a few models from an army you have been eyeing. I loved the lore for Shadespire in it and definitely look forward to reading even more about this city and Shyish in general. There are also some cool photos of models in skirmish settings, like you would expect from any GW publication. All in all, I don't see why any AoS players out there wouldn't want to pick this book up, it's awesome and extremely well priced. So, gather up your warband and I'll meet you in Shadespire!

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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