Wednesday, June 20, 2018

REVIEW: Age of Sigmar Second Edition Core Book

One of the most impressive parts of the Soul Wars box set is the brand new hardcover core rulebook for Age of Sigmar! This is something we didn't have in the first edition of the game and something I was greatly looking forward to. Not only does it have all of the core rules, the three ways to play, scenarios, advanced rules, and allegiance abilities in it, but it has lore. A ton of it! Let's crack it open and take a look.

There's so much in this book I figured the easiest way to review it would be to divide it up into its different sections. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on the rules since those have been covered so much, but I will talk about some of the biggest changes. Mostly I will be looking at the lore and other cool things in here, and let me tell you, you won't be disappointed if you're a background junkie like me.

First things first, the cover. Wow. It's so simple, yet so powerful. The dark, almost black with a hint of blue background with the feint magical lines overtop of it reinforces the more sinister vibe we've had since Malign Portents. This is only broken up by the reserved gold lettering and borders, the AoS logo, and of course, that awesome looking Stormcast! I love that they went with a female Liberator, and left her helmet off as well. That does several things right away. It addresses the lack of female characters, models, and armies in the system, and humanizes the Stormcast by showing that, yes, they are real people underneath the armor. I'm definitely glad they left the helmet off to show that. I really like how no-nonsense she looks too, with the grim expression, classic white Stormcast hair, and face tattoo. It contrasts nicely with the noble crusader look of the armor. I think this is probably the most powerful cover that Games Workshop has done on anything.

With the cover out of the way, let's dive right in.

The Lore

Instead of just labeling this "The Lore" and talking about all of it here I'm actually going to go one step further and divide it up between the different time periods and things they talk about. There really is so much to cover and this will make it much easier to read, and to be honest, easier for me to compose my thoughts and notes. So, you open up the book and you're thrown right into...

The Age of Myth

This is probably the shortest section of the book, but we actually come back to events during this time period a lot in the timelines for the various realms. Here we see Dracothian save Sigmar as he hurtled through the cosmos and introduce him to the Mortal Realms. A lot of this is stuff we've already been familiar with, but they take these events and flesh them out just a little bit more. For example, we get better descriptions of how Sigmar found the other gods and formed the Pantheon, why Grungni spent all his time in Azyr instead of with his people, and how Slaanesh was captured to name a few. Most of this is told with large, full page pictures that have little blurbs, captions, and sidebars.

Age of Chaos

As we move into the Age of Chaos we get more text heavy pages as it really delves into the events of the tumultuous time. Previously we hadn't gotten many details on how exactly Chaos invaded the Mortal Realms, just that it happened. Here we learn that it was a much slower and more insidious process than you may have thought. Instead of launching a full frontal assault, Chaos did what it does best, and latched its claws into the minds of the people who inhabited the realms. Outside of the gods of the pantheon, very few people even knew what Chaos was. Those that did though started turning to them for power. Little by little minor events and uprisings started revealing the threat of Chaos. A wizard here, a warlord there. It wasn't until a tribal leader in Aqshy of the name Khorgos Khul found Chaos that things really exploded.

The people of Aqshy had always leaned towards violence and hot tempers, but this had been mitigated through controlled competitions and the sort. Khorgos Khul had nothing to temper him though and he lead his growing tribe on such a giant swathe of bloodletting that eventually reality tore wide and the demonic legions of Khorne were able to march through. Aqshy was to be the beachhead for Chaos.

As the Chaos invasions spread, many of the gods of the pantheon had to return to their own realms to protect it. Alarielle was abroad in the realms helping Sigmar when Nurgle invaded Ghyran and by the time she returned her verdant garden was already beginning to fall under the Plague God's sway, ensuring that her and her forces were constantly on the back foot. Nagash returned to Shyish to fight off the incursions there and was enraged when Sigmar was nowhere to be found since they had made a pact of mutual protection. The way Archaon has his legions invade Shyish is actually really creative. Since it is the land of the dead he has his armies commit mass suicide so they arrive in force already within the boundaries of Shyish. This feeling of betrayal by Sigmar is what ultimately leads Nagash to abandon the god-king during the Battle of Burning Skies.

At this pivotal battle Sigmar loses his hammer to an illusion of Chaos and is forced to retreat within Azyr and shut the gates, abandoning the rest of the realms to their dark fate. There's a bunch more in this section about the breaking of the pantheon and the other Mortal Realms under the domain of Chaos, plus a ton more detail on all the stuff I already talked about.

Age of Sigmar

With the first counter assault by the Stormcast Eternals the Age of Sigmar dawns. The first chunk of this is retelling all of the events from the Realmgate Wars books, so a lot of it will be familiar to existing fans of AoS. What's cool though is that a lot of it gets reframed within the new context of the setting. For example, some of the crazier locations we saw like the Hanging Valleys of Anvrok, are said to actually be near the realms' edges, where magic is untamed and everything tends to lean a bit more towards the absurd. This is how we can have places like that as well as more stable locations like the cities, which are closer to the center of each realm. One bit I thought was pretty cool was the retelling of events from the Godbeasts book. The story of Behemet, the gargant godbeast, is told through the lens of a folk tale from a village elder to the children, and is largely assumed to be exaggeration by the listeners.

After the events of the Realmgate Wars it talks a bit about the Seeds of Hope, which was from the first worldwide campaign. Here it goes into more detail on each of these cities and how Alarielle formed them. Of all the cities, Hammerhal gets the most detail, with a two page spread all to itself. We also get more detail on how exactly Slaanesh was captured, which is great to see. Essentially Tyrion and Malerion discovered the area between their realms that was hidden from all others, and lured the Chaos god there with themselves as the bait. I'm sure aelf fans will be delighted by this section, so I won't spoil any more of it.

The events of Malign Portents are also detailed, capped off with the Necroquake, a realm spanning cataclysm that's only been briefly mentioned before. When Nagash feels threatened by an approaching army to his capital, he decides to move ahead with his grand plan ahead of schedule. Unbeknownst to him, within his inverted black pyramid, a Skaven sortie are chipping away at the Shyish realmstone when he begins his ritual. The pyramid begins spinning so fast that it "drills" down into the realm, bending Shyish around it and creating the Shyish Nadir, a hole in reality that the entire realm is drawn towards. His plan goes awry however due to the ratmen, as they taint the magics with their very presence. So, instead of becoming the supreme god of death like he planned, the magics are unleashed across the realms stirring the dead to levels of activity never before seen and causing the rise of the predatory spells and untamed magics of the Endless Spells.

Again, there is so much more in here then what I'm summarizing, especially around the events of Malign Portents and the Necroquake. The history told over these three ages of the mortal realms is definitely the most complete, comprehensive, and believable history we've yet seen for AoS. For those of you who have been wanting more substance and meat to the setting, you get that and more here, and we're not even done with the lore section yet!

The Realms

What book about the Mortal Realms setting would be complete without a look at those very realms themselves. This section starts off with an overview of the setting as a whole, kind of explaining and setting up the realms in broad strokes. We get to see the map of the realms that was featured in that video that came out with Malign Portents. It's kind of a map of the cosmos, but with the realms instead. The book also explains the basic rules of realms in general, with the center of each being the most stable area where people can actually live, and the edges being home to untamed magic. Some of the realms also have subrealms and stuff like that which orbit them, like the Ord Infernia in Aqshy.

Then we delve into each one on it's own, with each of the eight realms plus the Realm of Chaos getting at least two pages of description and background. With Aqshy, Ghyran, Chamon, and Shyish we get even more than that with maps, artwork of specific locations, and four more pages of timelines for each realm. Some of the maps show the whole realm and then zoom into a teeny tiny area, which when blown up is still massive. So no worries, even with maps we're given the realms are pretty much endless allowing you plenty of room to come up with your own stuff.

I'm not going to go over everything on the timelines, because there is a lot to cover there, but I will pick out some things that stood out to me. In Aqshy there is a lot of time spent in the Age of Myth detailing the major cities and power centers of the time, Bataar and Aspiria. One is a major trading port with sea fleets and sky fleets aplenty and the other a place of learning and power with its many mages. These were the two major powers that first opposed the coming of Chaos and the rise of Khorgos Khul, who also gets plenty of attention here.

In Shyish we learn about the multitude of different underworlds and how they fared under the Chaos invasion and later the effects of the Shyish Nadir and Nagash. One that really stood out to me is an underworld of great heroes. It's from here that Sigmar drew most of his recruits for the Anvils fo the Heldenhammer, stealing them from the midst of battle and robbing the land of its much needed warriors. They hold a grudge against Sigmar about that to this day. In Ghyran the plight of the Wanderers is highlighted as they abandoned their Sylvaneth allies during the Age of Chaos and flee to the safety of Azyr, a slight that has never been forgiven. There's so much more on these timelines, they really give you a sense of place and history for those realms, and even those timelines mostly just focus on the areas detailed out in the maps, which are themselves just a tiny fraction of the realm as a whole.

I haven't even mentioned Ulgu and Hysh, which get some background detail for the first time since AoS launched. They don't get the full map treatment, but it's still more than we've known in the past, especially in Hysh. Even these two realms were corrupted by Chaos, to greater or lesser degrees. Unsurprisingly, it was the quest for knowledge and hubris of many in Hysh that opened the door for the ruinous powers there. I'll be really interested to see it fleshed out even more once Tyrion or Teclis' factions get their time in the sun.


Like many past rulebooks for Warhammer and 40k, each of the factions gets a mini spotlight. Some of these are two pages, some are one, and the smaller ones are just a paragraph or two. There's not much to go over here as it's about what you would expect. A brief, summarized look at what the faction is, followed by some model gallery pages. If you're familiar with the factions already there won't be much new here, but it's great for new players, since it'll give them an overview of all the available armies in one spot. There are a few nuggets of new information scattered throughout, especially on the Sancrosanct Chamber and the Nighthaunts, but one of my favorite bits actually came from the Ironjawz section which made me chuckle. If you don't own the Grand Alliance books then I think the most worthwhile part of this section are the mini factions, the ones that haven't gotten their own Battletomes yet. I personally don't own the Order or Chaos Grand Alliance books, so I learned a lot here about them.

The Rules

Whew, we're 220 pages in and just now getting to the actual rules. I did tell you there was a lot of background lore, right? The rules have been covered so much already by so many different sources, including Games Workshop themselves on the Community Site, so I'm not going to go over them rule by rule. The core rules have been reworked from their original four page format into something a bit lengthier, but still fairly short. Aesthetically they are laid out better, with a better flow to them, and include multiple diagrams and example photos to help you understand. Some of the major differences from last edition are:

- Command Points
- Three Generic Command Abilities
- New Unit Coherency Rules
- Look Out, Sir!
- Units Locked in Combat Unable to Shoot Out of it
- Piling In
- Everyone has to Fight

And those are just a few of them. Everything is pretty minor and just make the game flow better, with command points being the obvious major addition. Each turn you generate a command point which you can use to utilize a command ability, any command ability, not just your general's. You can save up these command points and store them all for a later turn. You also get an extra command point with each battalion you take as well as for every 50 points you don't spend on models. It introduces a really cool resource management mechanic into the game and also allows you to use a ton of command abilities you wouldn't have used before since they no longer have to be your general (unless the command ability specifies that they have to be your general).

I also really like how if a unit is in combat it can only shoot at the unit it's in combat with. This allows you to lock up some of those deadly ranged units. Is that cannon a threat? Throw some chaff at it. Sure, it'll blow that unit up, but the rest of your army will be safe. It also forces you to play smarter with your own ranged units. Look Out, Sir! also really helps level the playing field against ranged threats, giving your smaller heroes a better chance at surviving. If your hero is within 3" of a friendly unit of three or more models then your opponent is at a -1 to hit when shooting at them. A lot of the abuses of the last version of the game have been scaled back or trimmed out to try and give a more even playing experience regardless of the army.

The mysterious terrain table has gotten a bit of a rework as well, with most of the terrain effects toned down so your whole battleplan won't get ruined by a piece of Mystical Terrain. The positive effects have been scaled back as well. Damned now only allows you to re-roll hit rolls of 1 instead of giving you +1 to hit and all of the ranges on the terrain have been reduced to 1" instead of 3". There's even a simple battleplan, First Blood, included in the core rules so people can get to playing right away without delving into the more advanced rules.

After the core rules we move onto the Allegiance Abilities for the grand alliances. Previously these were included in the General's Handbook each year, but have been moved to the main book instead, so I would expect these to stay as is for quite awhile. There have been a few minor tweaks here and there, mostly to bring stuff inline with the new edition, but nothing that will stick out as game changing.

Now we come to the Realm Rules. These are kind of like the old Time of War rules that were in the campaign books, but these are meant for all three forms of play, including Matched Play. Essentially, before each game you either need to pick or roll for which realm you'll be playing in. It could by Aqshy, Ghyran, Chamon, Shyish, Ghur, Hysh, or Ulgu. Each realms has a command ability which can be used by any hero, as well as a spell that all wizards know in addition to their own spells. You also need to roll on a table of six options to see what realmscape effect you have for your game. One example is the Flaming Missiles rule for Aqshy which improves the rend value of all missile weapons by 1 if the target unit is more than 12" away, or Dazzling Glow in Hysh which subtracts 1 from all hit rolls if the target unit is in cover. You'll only ever have one of these rules in effect for the entire game, so it won't ever make a huge impact, but it'll add a ton of character to each game. I'm definitely looking forward to using these more. I particularly like the Shyish spell, Pall of Doom, which subtracts 2 from the target unit's bravery. That will pair nicely with my Banshees. Which realm you're playing in will also have more effects with the Malign Sorcery expansion, but I'll go over that in that review.

This section is capped off with the basic rules for how Endless Spells work as well as the reworked warscroll for the dreaded Balewind Vortex. Again, this is something I'll go over more in the Malign Sorcery review.

New to the main rulebook are the three ways to play introduced in the first General's Handbook. It's nice to see these enshrined in the core book. The Open Play section goes over the gist of what that encompasses, as well as rules and tables for the Open War Battleplan generator. This was in the last General's Handbook along with a card deck you could use to generate them instead of rolling on the tables. This is actually a really fun way to play the game, as you randomly pick the deployment, objective, and a twist for each game, meaning that it's new to you each time you play. This seems like a more streamlined version of what we had seen previously, but I don't see why you couldn't continue using the card deck if you own it already.

We also get the rules fo Coalition of Death, otherwise known as team games, and some battleplans for that style of play. If you played in the team tournament at Adepticon then you've already used the previous version of these rules, and it doesn't look like much has changed. Open Play is finished off with rules and examples for how to run a ladder campaign.

The Narrative Play section starts off by explaining what that means. It's pretty straight forward, with the focus being on telling a story over an even and level playing field. This can mean you could play a last stand, where one side vastly outnumbers the other or a heroic charge into an enemy camp. This is accompanied by a couple of example historical battles from the Age of Sigmar with some awesome looking boards and armies on display. They follow this up with the rules and suggestions with running different types of campaigns, whether that's a map campaign or a tree campaign, or some sort of combination of the two, along with an example. I have to say, the art for the example is pretty cool.

After this we get rules for fighting sieges as well as for fighting underground along with a couple of battleplans for each ruleset. The section ends on the ever popular Triumph and Treachery rules, which are for when you're playing a game of three or more people with no teams. If you haven't tried this ruleset out already I would highly recommend it. It's a ton of fun.

The core book ends with the Matched Play section. Here we get a summary of what this style of play entails, plus all of the rules we're familiar with. The major differences from the previous version are that the Rules of One are gone since they've been incorporated into the main rules; allies now have a points cap as well as a unit count cap; you get a command point for every 50 points you don't spend, and that's about it. Everything else has stayed the same. There is a rule in here that supersedes the rule for picking a new general that's in the main rules. If your general dies in Matched Play that's it, you don't get a new one. The rule for capturing objectives has also been standardized and is in the main rules earlier on. It's now most models within 6" of the center of the objective, and once you control an objective it remains under your control even if you move away until your opponent captures it. This can be trumped by the rules in an individual battleplan though, so make sure you always read your battleplan carefully.

Speaking of battleplans, we get the six battleplans from the 2016 General's Handbook printed here with slightly reworked rules; Blood and Glory, Escalation, Border War, Three Places of Power, Gifts from the Heavens, and Take and Hold. These are in addition to all of the ones in the 2018 General's Handbook. This is capped off with something called Battle Strategies, and from what I can tell, it's a lot like the Maelstrom of War rules from 40k with new objectives generated each turn, keeping your game fluid and keeping you on your toes. This should be a lot of fun to play actually and I look forward to giving it a spin.

With that, the core rulebook is done! Wow, that is a lot. There's definitely no shortage of content here with 220 pages of background, lore, history, maps, and amazing artwork, plus all of the new rules for the new edition of Age of Sigmar. I didn't even mention the artwork in the review above, which is amazing. It has all of the best art from past publications, plus a ton of new stuff that'll blow you away. This is an exciting time to be in the hobby and I have no doubt that the coming years of AoS will only get better. The core rules are free to download online, but that doesn't include any of the Allegiance Abilities, Realm rules, or the three way to play. That's not even to mention all of the background lore. If you're a fan of the story and setting of AoS you're going to love this. It's got more information then we've been given in the past three years on the Mortal Realms, and I think goes a long way towards addressing a lot of the complaints some people have had about the setting. With everything presented in this book I feel confident in saying that the Mortal Realms are one of the most exciting settings out there right now. I would recommend this book to everyone, I mean, there is a reason it's called the Core Book.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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