Age of Sigmar Fourth Edition: The Core Rules

A thank you to Games Workshop for sending us these rules and the Skaventide box set to be able to cover and review. Over the coming weeks, and with the benefit of having played dozens of games, we will be having faction experts provide insight into how they are building and running lists with these factions. For this overview we’re looking at what stands out for the faction, how much has changed, and how we would approach dealing with some of the common threats that are present in all wargames.

New to Age of Sigmar? Returning as a veteran from editions past? Idly curious to the system as a whole? Then you’ve come to the right place. We’re looking at the core rules, how they’ve changed, and what they mean for all players. If this is your first New Edition of a Games Workshop game then you might need to do some un-learning. If you’re brand new to Age of Sigmar, and potentially tabletop gaming, it can be hard to understand what all the rules mean the first few times through so we’ll try and alleviate some of the initial confusion. Finally, we’ve heard that Games Workshop makes another game and have put together an article that is going to highlight some of the key differences if you’re coming over from Warhammer 40,000. 

Regardless of how you’re coming into this edition it is, by far, the easiest version of Age of Sigmar to pick up and start playing since its inception in 2015. That’s not to say the game is simple as it contains a lot of depth but definitely quicker to pick up the basics and get rolling.

Rules are divided into Core Rules that are present for every game mode. Then there’s the Advanced Rules that govern specific systems like Magic, Terrain, and Battle Formations that add more to your games and aren’t always used. You’ll notice where these are present in each Battle Pack. Spearhead notably only uses the Core Rules and some of its own rules where Matched Play uses all of the Core and Advanced rules sets. 

Before we dive in we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing us with a preview copy of the boxed set for review purposes.

A Note from Bair to Returning Players:
Before digging too much into what’s new and changed it’s important to say that this is still Age of Sigmar. While some of it may look different in layout and you it might seem like things are “missing” or have been overhauled, which might be the case even, your army still feels like the faction that you either fell in love with or were drawn to for whatever reason that might be. The finer points might be different but the feel and flavour is all there. 

What’s New

  • Everything is an ability, bringing some consistency to how rules are presented and for very clear interaction and timing. 
  • Modular Rules mean that some concepts that we think are core, like Magic and Battle Tactics, aren’t in the Core Rules but in Advanced Rules or other sections.
  • Spearhead is a complete game that is worth playing and trying out. This is not Combat Patrol. It is better. 

What’s Changed

  • Objectives are smaller.
  • Turns are streamlined without subphases
  • All combat ranges are 3”.
  • Terrain has been changed in a big way and operates off keywords.
  • Priests and Manifestations (Endless spells, invocations, and the Incarnate) have been overhauled
  • There are now command abilities to allow you to do nearly anything you could do in your turn in your opponent’s turn
  • Army construction now uses a regiment system, which when combined with the new ways you deploy armies adds another interesting wrinkle into army construction and deployment
  • While the double turn is still alive and well, choosing to take it now limits your ability to score making it a more interesting choice.
  • There are now “underdog” mechanics in every mission, giving a player who’s trailing behind on victory points some extra help to catch up, not just the extra command point.

How to Play

The fundamental principles of Age of Sigmar remain intact: take and hold objectives, kill enemies off of objectives, and have other units running side quests. How each army goes about that will depend on their own playstyle and rules but you’ll always need to be able to take objectives and score Battle Tactics to win.

What We Like

  • Ability timing and effect clarity removes ambiguity during the game to keep it flowing.
  • Universal weapon abilities make reading and understanding a warscroll much faster and easier.
  • The simplification of spell, prayer, and manifestation lores; all of your wizards/priests know all the spells from the lore you choose instead of keeping track of who-knows-what.
  • Battle-shock is gone!!
  • With more core command abilities, you are more active on your opponent’s turn but almost never able to interrupt to what they’re doing.
  • All command models (champion, musician, and banner) are simply Core rules and effect every unit equally.
  • Fewer “gotcha” type rules and interactions.

What to Watch Out For

  • A lot of the “learned” knowledge in Age of Sigmar has changed. For example you need to declare a target for a spell before your opponent can attempt to unbind it.
  • A lot of old habits, like moving units before deepstrike, or casting spells without declaring a target, need to be relearned in the new edition.
  • Many of the rules introduced in third edition, like Heroic Actions and Monstrous Actions, have just been converted into abilities across various warscrolls. 
  • There are no basic spells or prayers that all wizards or priests know; arcane bolt and mystic shield are gone!
  • Allies are gone. There are Regiments of Renown, but these are effectively the only allies in the game now.

The colour-coding system for abilities isn’t always right and can be confusing. Sometimes a keyword will allow you to use an ability outside the phase it is colour-coded for. When in doubt, the wording of the timing is the best thing to focus on.

Overview/The Basics

Let’s start with the basics: If you’re a returning player, this is still Age of Sigmar. There are a ton of changes, from how rules are laid out to how combat happens, but this is largely going to feel like the same game you already know and love. 

It’s worth talking about how the rules are laid out, the rules for fourth edition have been divided into two parts: 

  • The Core Rules (this article), which are used in every game mode and include rules for things like Moving, Shooting, and Fighting. 
  • The Advanced Rules, where you’ll find rules for things like Magic, Terrain, and Battle Formations.

The rules have also been streamlined: One big change is that everything a unit can do is now an ability. Things like Moving use the same rules framework as Fighting or Casting Spells. It seems more complicated than it is, and it makes things really easy to work with in the game.

How to Play

Overall the core principles of Age of Sigmar – place units on points to score while accomplishing side missions for additional points – remains intact in this new edition. Most of the game has been streamlined in fourth edition, with simplified timing and a focus on making where and how to use abilities more clear. 

The Turn

Turns no longer have a “start” and “end” – in each turn the active player takes actions, followed by the opponent. 

Turns in Fourth Edition consist of seven phases, and the familiar order of “Hero phase, movement, shooting, charge, then combat” remains intact. Battle-shock is gone – more on that later – and there are two new phases, “Start of Turn” and “End of Turn” phases for clean-up. Most importantly, how turns flow and how players interact with each other has changed, and that’s all due to abilities.

Now, except for combat, the active player does all of their actions in whatever order they wish. Then, the opponent can use any actions available to them. Combat remains different since fighting for honor in the mortals realms is all that matters. In this phase the active player does all of her “none-fight” abilities they want their opponent follows. Then players are able to use fight abilities in an alternating manner.

Marchettus: The removal of phases is a huge quality of life improvement – did it really matter if you set up a unit from deepstrike before or after you moved your units or was it a fiddly part of the game? Since each player does all the abilities they want to in any order they want there are fewer pauses as an opponent waits to see if they want to redeploy or unleash hell in reaction to a specific movement or charge. In third edition command abilities like redeploy and unleash hell were great and drove a new level of interactivity during turns.


One of the biggest changes to fourth edition is that everything a player can do has become an ability, with clear rules for when and how you declare the ability and what effect the ability has. And when we say everything, we mean everything – even moving has become an ability. Each ability has a timing denoting when you declare it, an effect describing what it does, and one or more associated Keywords, such as “ATTACK,” “CORE,” or “SPELL.” Note that some abilities are Passive, meaning that they’re always on and working.

In third edition, both players might have abilities which could happen at the start of a phase, during a phase, or at the end, leading to a large number of interrupts and priority considerations. Those days are gone – now when a phase begins the Active player uses any and all of their Phase abilities, followed by the opponent. The only exception to this is the Combat phase, where players use non-FIGHT abilities in that order, then alternate using FIGHT abilities.

Credit – Games Workshop

There are also some Reactive abilities which can be used when a specific event triggers them, such as being targeted by an attack. All-Out Defense for example lets you spend a Command Point to get +1 to your saves in response to being targeted by an ATTACK Ability.

Abilities have limits; a unit cannot use more than one CORE ability per phase, and they can’t use the same ability more than once per phase unless specified. A unit also cannot benefit from the same passive ability more than once stacking passive spell ignores or bonuses to hit are a thing of the past. In the core rules this is also called “The Rule of One.” Some abilities may also be limited to one use per phase, turn, or battle.

Marchettus: In the prior edition we had several different systems, like heroic actions, casting spells, or using commands, that governed how and why things occurred that were slightly different and sometimes didn’t interact. 


Warscrolls are still around, but with two big changes:

  1. The Wound characteristic has been renamed to Health. Easy enough. 
  2. Bravery is gone, and has been replaced by Objective Control, a characteristic which determines each model’s ability to exert control on an objective marker.

These are pretty straightforward, and Objective Control will be familiar to Warhammer 40k players. As you can see on Nagash’s warscroll, all kinds of different abilities can be written out in the new ability system. Some, like “The Staff of Power” are passive while others specify the phase they can occur. Nagash can use “Hand of Dust” at the end of any turn while “Supreme Lord of the Undead” can only be used in your turn.

Credit- Games Workshop

At the bottom there are a lot of keywords – these matter a lot for target selection/rules have some key abilities. Both Wizard (9) and Ward (5+) indicate that Nagash has these abilities and the level of power he has.

To go with these changes fourth edition adds a handful of universal weapon special rules, most of which have been named in such a way as to make their effect obvious – these are abilities like STRIKE-FIRST and Anti-charge (+1 Rend) but can also trigger off of keywords like Anti-infantry (+1 Rend). Nagash is a Warmaster, Hero, Monster, Wizard and can Fly. Nagash is not a priest.

Movement and Coherency

Movement is basically the same as it was in third edition. The big difference is that you now have three different CORE movement abilities – Move, Run, or Retreat. Executing a Run or Retreat will make you ineligible for other options like shooting or a charge later in the turn. Critically, many different actions can count as a run or retreat and the keyword at the bottom of the action box will tell you what has happened. The mortal realms have always been a place that rewards those willing to fight with honor. In this edition, Retreating will cause your unit to suffer D3 mortal damage as they pay for your cowardice.

Some changes have been made to Movement and Coherency, mostly requiring your units stay closer together, in more bunched-up formations. Coherency in fourth edition is ½” – your models must be within ½” of another model in their unit, and it’s not checked in the non-existent Battle-shock phase any more – you just have to always maintain coherency. If your unit has seven or more models, then each model in the unit must be within ½” of at least two other models. If you’re unable to maintain Coherency and need to remove a model you have to remove the minimum number of models to stay in Coherency.


From a core rule perspective shooting is mostly the same. With warscrolls being completely rewritten there can be a lot of changes to how unit perform in the new edition. The biggest change is how you can no longer shoot when in combat range. Most shooting units, with the exception of those that have “Shoot into combat” can’t shoot if you’re in combat.

The Battle Sequence

At the start of each battle round players determine who the Active Player is. In the first round the player who finished deploying first chooses and in later rounds you have a Priority Roll to determine which player chooses. This is just a roll-off, and if the players tie then the player who went first last round determines who goes first in the new round.

That’s mostly unchanged from third edition but there are a few new quirks to this in Fourth.

First, there’s the underdog. At the start of each round the player with fewer points is the underdog for that round. Battleplans in fourth edition typically give the underdog some kind of boost. 

Second, the double turn is still a major part of Age of Sigmar, as the player who went second in the prior round can still win priority and opt to take the first turn in the following round. However this now comes with a key trade-off: If a player chooses to take a double turn, they do not get to select a Battle Tactic for that round. This limits a player’s ability to score, and makes the decision to take a double turn much more tactical. 

Charging and Combat

Charging is mostly the same but has a few minor changes. First, there is no range limit for charges. In the prior edition you could sometimes get a +3 or +4 bonus to charge but be unable to charge anything if there wasn’t an opposing unit within 12″ inches. Second, most abilities in the charge phase don’t happen when you finish a charge. Previously, if you caused mortal damage as part of a charge, the damage would be allocated and your opponent would pull models, potentially impacting the following charges you could make. Now, you’ll be able to finish all your charges and then inflict mortal damage, or if a unit is in combat with a unit that only needs 1 point of damage to destroy it, you could charge, activate an ability, and then declare a charge with the other unit.

Combat, once you’ve adjusted to the ranges, is mostly the same as it was before with hit, wound, and save rolls. That said, there are some big changes worth covering here. As we mentioned earlier, in the Combat phase the active player uses all of their non-Fight Combat phase abilities, followed by their opponent. Then players alternate using Fight abilities, starting with the active player. The Fight ability includes the ability to make a pile-in move (up to 3”) before making attacks. If in combat range, the pile-in move targets one of your opponents units and your models can’t end further from that enemy unit, or move out of combat with any unit it was previously engaged with when making this move. Units are still able to pile-in after charging even if they aren’t in combat with a unit but have the freedom to choose any direction and do not have to end in combat.

Faction Terrain and Manifestations are also considered targets for charges and fight abilities and some can fight back.

Marchettus: Being able to charge Manifestations and Faction Terrain takes a few games to really understand how much it changes the game. It’s a very welcome addition and using manifestations to move block is completely different. The Combat Phase overhaul is great for making sure that all your active and passive abilities are known before you pick your first combat.

Combat Ranges and Pile-in Moves

Combat ranges are now 3” for all units – and this is the same distance used for many of the game’s abilities, including objective control. This greatly speeds up the Combat phase and reduces the amount of “creative geometry” players have to deal with. Additionally, units have to be visible for you to be in combat with them, so you can use walls and terrain to block charges – we’ll talk more about how that works when we talk about terrain.

The new range has some interesting effects, especially when you combine it with the new Coherency rules. Now screening units is much harder – you’ll need to keep your fragile units and Heroes further back from the front line screening for them, else they get swept up into combat!

Attacks and Damage

For returning players, resolving attacks and allocating damage is mostly the same as before. You still roll to hit and to wound, and your opponent rolls saving throws, applying any rend modifiers. There’s an upper limit to the (net) modifiers you can apply to hit and wound rolls of +1 or -1, and you can’t improve a save by more than +1 either – though again, that’s the net. Additionally, Wards are no longer optional as every unit must resolve ward saves.

Allocating damage has also changed slightly – instead of putting “wound” counters on specific models in a unit, you keep track of the damage points dealt to the entire unit. If at any point the damage points total exceeds the health characteristic of the unit, you remove a model. So there’s no more having to track damage on specific models. 

In the prior edition of Age of Sigmar, Companions, Crew, and Mounts all had slightly different rules and the rule that they were all to be treated the same for rules purposes became confusing. Since Lotann has an octopus is he considered to be “mounted” for general’s handbook? Could a flaming weapon apply to a horse’s hooves? Loonboss on Mangler Squigs meant that the Mangler Squigs were a mount while Mangler Squigs were the unit. Both had a crew.

Now, Companion weapons are clearly labeled on the warscroll. Abilities are clear if they affect a Companion or not. Additionally, mounted units have a “Cavalry” or “Infantry” keyword.

A limited part of universal special rules, Universal Weapon Abilities, provide standardization on warscrolls and make sure that players understand what an ability does. Gone are the subtle weapon variations on a warscroll and a long phrase that really meant “I do a mortal wound when I roll a 6.”

Marchettus: One issue with “Universal” rules is you can end up having so many that finding them takes just as much time as spelling out what you wanted to say. Seven is a good number that provides enough variation that units can have specific targets (anti-infantry, anti-war machine) or function better under certain battle conditions (anti-charge, Charge (+1 damage). In third edition it often felt like units either wanted to charge (like Freeguild cavaliers) or didn’t really care (like troggs) with units designed to challenge certain matchups few and far between.


Objective markers in fourth edition are now represented by 40mm circles (or bases), rather than being single points on the battlefield, and models can move over them and stand on them. Models contest objectives if they are within 3” of them, and do so using their Objective Control characteristic. A unit can only contest a single objective per turn, and the active player has to pick which objectives each unit is contesting first if they’re sitting on multiple. Every model within 3” of an objective marker contributes to its owner’s “Control Score,” and whoever has the highest control score controls the objective.

Objective Control is checked at the beginning of the game and the end of each turn and you retain control of a held objective until your opponent gains control of it. Terrain is contested in the same way as objectives but you don’t need to keep track of who owns as you no longer retain control of these features after the specific end of turn check occurs.

Control in fourth edition is determined by the unit’s warscroll, not keywords like Monster or having five or more wounds. That said, abilities can modify a unit’s control score, such as having a Standard Bearer.

Norman: This is great news for those of you coming from 40k, since they now use the same objective markers. The age of the tortilla is over.

Final Thoughts

Wait, that’s it? Yeah, that’s it – those are the Core Rules, which more or less give you everything you need to play if you’re going to play Spearhead or pick up and play the game in its most basic form. As we mentioned earlier, the rules for Magic, Terrain, Commands, and Battle Tactics are all in the Advanced Rules, so head on over to that review to continue reading and get the full picture.

Like I said right at the start this is still very much Age of Sigmar. Returning players are going to recognise most of what’s here anyways but laid out in a way making it easier for new players to get going.

Part 2: Our Review of the Advanced Rules

How to Write Lists in Fourth Edition

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