Age of Sigmar General’s Handbook 2021: Matched Play Missions

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With a new edition comes a new General’s Handbook. This essential tome includes everything you need to play matched play, which is likely going to be your primary mode in playing Age of Sigmar. It contains all the point values and missions needed to play. Today we’re going to look at the matched play rules from this book and what this could mean for list building and play going forward.

 

Pitched Battle Rules

In previous editions of Age of Sigmar you often needed to carry a lot of books with you if you went to a tournament. It also wasn’t always abundantly clear which books would be legal or not. Borrowing from 40k, Age of Sigmar has adopted a new model for rules to make things a bit more self contained called “Battlepacks”. Essentially a given battlepack is all you need to play a mission, all the rules necessary would be limited to that battlepack and anything carried from other battlepacks would be reprinted. This helps cut down on the number of books you need to carry, ideally limiting you to just the Battlepack and your battletome (the core rules are helpfully reprinted in the back here). While there may be other battleplans that come out in the next year General’s Handbook will likely remain the core experience for matched play while others will be more narrative focused.

In the Core Rules there was a sample battlepack which more or less sets the template for future battleplans. Ellarr helpfully covered that previously so any rules not discussed you can assume remain consistent here. We will only be discussing what’s new. These also may not remain permanent as the battlepack model allows them to change them year to year without needing to clarify which rules are now invalid.

Off the bat, we’re limited to just 1,000 and 2,000 point games here, which is probably for the best. Age of Sigmar works best around 2,000 and starts to fall apart if you go too far above or below that. While you likely won’t see many 1k games, it’s good for people who are starting a new army or want a shorter game. It was a real missed opportunity to not do scaling missions like 40k but if they’re going to focus on the meat of the game, sticking to the game’s strength is best.

The other major change from the core rulebook is that Seize the Initiative returns. In the Core rules finishing deployment first merely gave you a +1 to roll offs on the first turn, but here you simply go first. It seems odd that this contradicts a change that was just made, but it’s fine. Look at your opponent’s list and learn to play around it.

There’s one other page tucked in with the Pitched Battle Profiles book that comes with the General’s Handbook and that’s a clarification of what books are legal. These are exhaustively listed out but basically includes the Core Rules, General’s Handbook, all the battletomes, Wrath of the Everchosen, all 4 Broken Realms books and Forge World’s Monstrous Arcanum. Plus any errata, of course. If you want to be a real stickler that means any new books that aren’t battletomes (or Battletomes for armies that don’t presently exist) aren’t allowed but this could be easily Errata’d. It’s likely they will have their hands full over the next year publishing new battletomes anyway.

Other than that. everything is identical to the core rules. You still choose grand strategies and enhancements, but you will get more options in this battle pack in addition to the core ones.

Credit: Serotonin

Battles in the Realm of Ghur

In 2nd edition, Games Workshop experimented with Realm of Battle in the Malign Sorcery expansion. While technically an expansion pack its release on the same day as launch of 2nd edition made it essentially core immediately. These were rules to represent the 7 Mortal Realms (not counting Azyr as Sigmar has sealed that one) and each one had 6 different traits you rolled off on before playing a game, plus a new command trait and 7 new spells for all wizards. This was…a lot to keep track of, and many would forget what the rules were. The General’s Handbook 2020 tried to simplify it, cutting it down to one command trait, spell and realm trait for each realm. This had the opposite problem where each realm was too simple and didn’t feel meaningfully different from each other in most cases. Generally it just added an additional scenery trait on top of whatever you rolled and that was it. People would still forget them half the time!

With this edition, Games Workshop has taken another approach and I think I’m a fan? Instead the battle will focus on one realm which allows them to give much more interesting rules. You won’t need to remember 7 different sets of rules, even if these specific ones can be more complex and game changing. While I might lament the loss of 7 different realms, that will likely come out in a narrative expansion down the line.

So what does fighting in the Realm of Ghur get you? A lot, actually. A couple special rules which effect every battle to represent the untamed wilds of the Realm of Beasts, a new universal spell all Wizards know, a new command traits some new core battalions, new grand strategies, and Battle Tactics to shift play and give you the advantage.

 

Special Rules

There are 2 special rules that are universal to all the battleplans unless otherwise noted, Predators and Prey and Seismic Shift. Predators and Prey gives you a victory point if you killed an enemy Monster that round. This doesn’t stack, so you might not want to go ham on all their Monsters from the get go. On the surface this seems like it might disincentive bringing monsters but when you see the complete Battleplans this starts to make a lot more sense. Seismic Shift allows the player who goes to second in the third battle round to remove one objective at the top of the battle round. Is your opponent jealously guarding an objective in the back? Take it away and force them to push up. This is huge and can drastically change how a game ends up playing at the halfway point letting a player come back from a being down.

Realmsphere Magic – Metamorphosis

All wizards know this spell in addition to other spells they know. The most obvious advantage is that a Hero can take advantage of Monster Rampages in addition to their own Heroic Actions. Monsters also play in to the new Matched Play missions pretty heavily so if your list is short on Monsters or your army doesn’t have a ton of great options, you can do something about that.

Realm Command – Feral Roar

A new Universal Command ability that lets a Monster treat their wounds bracket as if they hadn’t suffered any wounds. In a battlepack very reliant on bringing Monsters this can save you in a key moment when not killing your melee opponent could result in death.

 

Core Battalions

You can use all the core battalions in the core book and also gain two new ones. Alpha Pack and Hunters of the Heartlands. Alpha pack requires 2 Behemoths, but you can add a third. All units within the battalion can make a free scout move of d6″ before the first battle round, which doesn’t seem like a lot but could get your heavy hitters into a more advantageous position for a turn one charge. Hunters of the Heartland requires 2 troops with an optional third. These units cannot be targeted by monstrous rampages which I guarantee will go a long way to keeping them alive in the monster heavy meta this book encourages.

 

Grand Strategy

In the core book there were 3 grand strategies which seemed pretty limited for options, Sever the Head (kill all enemy Heroes), Vendetta (kill the enemy General while yours remains alive) and Hold the Line (at least one battleline survives). These are reprinted here with 5 new ones, giving you a lot of options on how to approach a battle. It was probably a missed opportunity to make you pick them when building a list, rather than the game itself because it’s going to make people hedge their bets on safer options for lists rather than looking at how to fight their opponent, but it is what it is. Dominating Presence is going to be very popular with horde armies, as it grants VP for having more units alive at the end than your opponent (summons don’t count!) so if you know you probably won’t beat an opponent on drops, you can take solace in knowing they will have to fight uphill to take VP away from you. Beast Master/Prized Sorcery/Priest’s Domain are basically carbon copies, giving VP for having a surviving Monster, Wizard, or Priest respectively. Be careful taking these, as they could spur your opponent to do everything to take down that unit type. If you have several, such Prized Sorcery in a Lumineth list it might be worth it, otherwise I’d avoid these. Finally Predator’s Domain gives VP for controlling more terrain than your opponent. This one is…tough, as stated you have to choose a Grand Strategy when creating a list and without knowing the board it can be hard to tell if it’s worth it. If you’re playing a castle army, avoid this. If you feel pretty good about spreading out though try and take a side of the board that has more terrain on it. This isn’t impossible to work with it’s just very hard to predict in lieu of safer choices.

Battle Tactics

Unlike Grand Strategy, Battle Tactics are fluid from round to round and have a lot more new stuff here. 3 are reprinted from the core book, Broken Ranks (Pick a batteline, and kill it), Conquer (Take an objective from an opponent) and Slay the Warlord (Kill the General) with five new ones. Ferocious Advance asks you to pick 3 battleline units to run that turn and end their turn within 3″ of each other, potentially an excellent first turn pick when you probably aren’t charging just yet and just need to move up. Aggressive Expansion is probably going to be the other popular first choice option, which rewards you for securing 2 objectives of your choosing that aren’t in your deployment area. So depending on what battleplan you have this may be easier or harder than Ferocious advance.

Savage Spearhead gives VP for 2 units ending in your opponent’s deployment zone at the end of the turn, encouraging players to push up when possible. Bring it Down! gives VP for taking down an enemy Monster and Monstrous Takeover gives VP for a Monster contesting an objective.

One important note is all but Conquer and Monstrous takeover give an additional VP when accomplished by a Monster! Suddenly all the rules surrounding Monsters make a lot more sense. Metamorphosis can turn a game around if a Hero accomplishes a goal while also a Monster, and the VP gain for your opponent killing a Monster might be worth the risk of reaping more VP through it accomplishing tasks.

 

Credit: JoeK

Battleplans

There are a whopping 12 battleplans here and they’re all suitable Ghur themed. There are some real interesting ones here and I cant reproduce them in their entirety but I’m going to go down the list rapid fire with a brief description to give a feel for how each one works.

Marking Territory – Real Knife to the Heart vibes, with 4 objectives instead of 2. Two are on the edge of each player’s deployment, lengthwise. This requires them to spread themselves out while also pushing forward. Don’t forget that a player can delete one in round three, leaving you with one very vulnerable objective!

Savage Gains – Deploy longways along the board, with a cross shaped objective layout. One in each player’s deployment and 2 in the center. Get one point for controlling your own, 2 points for each one in the center and a whopping four points  for controlling your opponent’s. It’s going to be a hard fight for the center and the disappearing objective is going to be interesting. Do you delete the one on your side to deny your opponent 4 points, or deny them the easier 1 point, forcing them to push up?

First Blood – Deploy on the corners with 3 objectives in the “middle”. Controlling any of them is worth a point, controlling more than one is worth another and controlling more than your opponent is worth a third. So in the early game you will get 3 if you can get more than one (until one goes away of course). A slight twist is that the second player gets to pick an objective to be the “Vantage point” giving the controlling player an extra CP. This adds some nuance to going second, as that’s 4 command points almost guaranteed that turn.

Power Struggle – Longways deployment, 2 objectives on each player’s deployment line and 1 in the center. This ones unique in that an objective only counts if you hold it for two turns or more. So if your control is wrestled away you still have time to stop your opponent from gaining ground, but if you had been holding it  your counter just got reset. You may not have enough time to get value from it, again but at least you can stop them. A solid mix of defensive and offensive gameplay.

Survival of the Fittest – Corner deployment, but goes up to the center with 3 objectives in the center. Scoring Objectives works like First Blood, but there’s a twist. Each player gets to nominate 3 units as your “predators” and if you kill an enemy predator with your own you gain a VP. So pick your 3 favorite dads and beat up your opponent’s dad!

Tectonic Interference – This is just Shifting Objectives with a new name. There’s 3 objectives in the center line, and each round players roll off to figure out which one is worth double points. Notable this is the one of three where the objective cannot be eaten up on round 3.

Apex Predators – Players deploy in opposite quadrants while objectives are placed in the center and the two empty quadrants. Only Leaders can capture objectives which isn’t a new concept though they added a nice new twist here, a Leader can seize an objective by killing an opponent’s leader with their own in melee. So just bringing more Heroes isn’t going to be enough here!

The Vice – Oh this is a weird one. I like weird! Players deploy along the short ends of the board with an objective on the far four corners. On round 2 they all move inward diagonally and on round 4 they all move in to the center! What starts as guarding your far back line slowly pushes the players to the center to an all out brawl in the finale. Totally love this one, seems like it’ll be tense. This is the second game mode that objectives cannot be deleted.

Tooth and Nail – Stormcast and Death armies beware! This is a pretty standard corner deployment like Survival of the Fittest, with 2 objectives on the border of both players and one objective in each player’s deployment. The real twist is that Deep Strike is not allowed (they are instantly slain if you try) and summoned units are “Fatigued” and cannot shoot or charge the turn they came in. This is going to range from a non-issue to a huge problem depending on who you are. I’m…not keen on this one because some armies really rely on deep striking and summoning to be good, and this seems directly to go to their jugular. I’m sure if you don’t use those mechanics this is a huge relief.

Feral Foray – Long ways deployment with 3 objectives in each player’s terrain. Essentially, you can burn an objective in your opponent’s deployment that you control to gain an extra VP (but only one per turn). So do you burn it immediately to deny them the ability to use it, or hold out as long as you can to milk it for more? It’s going to depend on how much stuff you have to hold your own points and take your opponent’s.

Power in Numbers – Longways deployment, quarterway up the field, with 3 objectives on each player’s border. This is very similar to GHB 2020’s “The Better Part of Valour” where an objective became more valuable the longer it was held, but it only gave VP when you cashed out and burned it (from one VP for holding it for one turn to 8 if you held it on turn one and never let go). Previously, only battleline units could hold objectives but a slight modification was made to be more friendly to less battleline heavy armies. Now anyone can control an objective but battlelines have what is essentially 40k’s “objective secured” where a battleline gains priority over other non-battlelines if they contest it. A good change to make the game mode more interesting especially for armies lacking in good battleline. Seismic Shift is also going to be a huge game changer here as a player who has held an objective for an entire game can watch it disappear forever. With other ways to gain VP than before this will likely be a more aggressive game mode than the previous incarnation, which could be rather slow and plodding.

The Veins of Ghur – This is basically Star Strike but the dice are weighted more to favor objectives going to the right or the left rather than the center (you roll two dice now instead of one, a 7 is down the middle, above or below that ot the right or left). Points become more valuable as the turns tick up. This is the third game mode where objectives cannot be deleted.

 

Conclusion

Easily my favorite batch of missions to date. The new rules like Battle Tactics, Grand Strategies and Realm Rules make even old favorites fresh again and many of them seem like potentially shifting objectives that will make each round a mad scramble. Since there’s multiple ways to score, and “auxilary objectives” are no longer just a tie breaker, creative players can win in unexpected ways that allow them to outsmart an opponent who’s list may be a better match for the game type. Get out there and conquer, warlords!

Any questions or comments can be left below or emailed to us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

 

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