Age of Sigmar Spearhead Roundtable – Initial Impressions

Goonhammer wants to thank Games Workshop for providing access for us to test out Spearhead and share our thoughts on the subject.

Our contributors to this Spearhead Roundtable:

Bair: Hi, I’m Bair and I play far too many different games. That’s like a Wargamers Anonymous intro but it’s become A-Thing locally to be surprised if I haven’t picked up, or at least played to some degree, just about any non-historical wargame; I’m even starting to get into some of those, too. I’m typically very competitively minded when it comes to wargames, picking out and figuring out what’s-good in a certain system, army, etcetera and then generally not actually buying, building, painting, and playing with that exact combination. My general approach to wargaming is wanting to win while also building a collection of minis that I like aesthetically, want to paint, and want to put down on the table without an audible sigh from the person I’m playing against. This is why my Kharadron have spent a lot more time in the cabinet than on the gaming table. As far as smaller format (read: skirmish) games go I play:

Which do range from being squads-of-dudes to every-man-for-himself style skirmishes.

AoS Coach: G’day! Anthony aka AoS Coach and I’ve been playing Games Workshop games for over 20 years now. I’ve always had a main game like Age of Sigmar or Warhammer Fantasy Battles that took my most of my attention, however; I mix it up with smaller format games like Bloodbowl, Frostgrave, Mordheim, Necromunda and tried Underworlds (X-Men ’97 may have inspired me to pick up my first Marvel Crisis models too). I’m drawn to the social aspect of playing Warhammer, I find building models therapeutic, and drawn to interesting models where I can put my own spin with kitbashing.

Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones: Hello, Dear Reader. You may know me from my myriad posts about Warhammer 40k. I’m not an Age of Sigmar player. Sure, I’ve got the models – I have, give or take, a Putrid Blightkings army which has been waiting around here to be assembled and painted but will probably end up in the GHO US Prize Bin. And I love the Age of Sigmar models and aesthetics, but I’m not an AOS player- yet. I do play Kill Team from time to time, however.

Raf “captainraffi” Cordero: Between the two “main” GW games, Age of Sigmar is my jam. I play mostly casually, but I did have a great time at the Chicago Open a couple years ago. My two armies are Gloomspite Gitz, which I’ve been working on since college, and Idoneth Deepkin.

Andrew “Pendulin” Haywood: I spend my days locked deep in the Code Mines – far from the light, twisted and broken, casting long shadows of unearthly glow from monitors in the deep. Perhaps sharing work conditions with Skaven is why I have a kinship with them, despite not being an Age of Sigmar player. I love their models, I love their lore, I love Vermintide, yes-yes! When I heard Age of Sigmar was getting a new edition, it had my interest. When I heard Skaven were a headlining faction, it had my attention.

What have you been waiting to tell everyone since you got your first taste of the game?

Bair: I have absolutely been waiting to tell everyone about Spearhead, and much to my own surprise. Age of Sigmar historically has not scaled down well from 2,000 points to anything smaller so I wasn’t even looking forward to trying this too much, assuming it would be gimmicky — and I was very wrong. Looking at the tiny board it’s easy to assume that any faster or tougher army will simply do better but with how the card system works you actually have to think about where you’ll place each unit and hero turn by turn; often times, charging them into combat is not going to score you points either. Honestly after playing this I just wanted to play more of it. Not much else I can really say at this point: it’s very good and if you’re skeptical then you absolutely need to try it at least once.

Credit: Bair

AoS Coach: I’ve been waiting for a long time to find a smaller-scale Age of Sigmar like I enjoyed back in the nineties where I had Mordheim along with Warhammer Fantasy. Spearhead is awesome!

  • As a hobbyist, it’s inspired me to paint the Nighthaunt set and I’m currently working on Idoneth Deepkin. I’m planning on buying more Spearheads for armies that I couldn’t see myself collecting 2,000pts.
  • As a gamer, the format is dynamic and can be played over a lunch break. Local stores can easily use this game for single day events and slow grow initiatives.
  • As an event organiser, I’m already thinking about side events or ways to engage my community when games end early and there is an hour to kill before the next round.

    Credit: AoS Coach

Rob: I was fortunate enough to be invited to play Spearhead earlier and ever since, the one thing I want to scream at everyone I see is “IT’S NOT AOS COMBAT PATROL.” Sure, that’s a very 40k-centric way of looking at it but I cannot stress enough that Spearhead feels totally different from Combat Patrol, and I mean that in all of the good ways possible. It’s thoughtful, well designed, and well laid out, and it honestly feels more like AoS Kill Team than it does Combat Patrol. It’s a surprisingly deep game which I feel has real legs for competitive play.

Raf: I’ve been dancing on pins and and needles since my play of Spearhead, ready to tell the world how much I liked it. I’m planning to start a Skaven army with fourth edition and the first thing I did after my demo of Spearhead was run out and secure a Skaven Vanguard box, and start painting what I need to finish out Gitz and Deepkin Spearheads.

Pendulin: Spearhead was an absolute blast. It was my first time playing any version of Age of Sigmar, but I was immediately sold. There are some small yet brilliant rules that make the game feel so much more dynamic and reactive than you would expect for a tabletop wargame of this size. It felt less like Combat Patrol, and more like an awesome mashup of Warhammer Underworlds and Kill Team. Hats off to the game designers, they knocked it out of the park.

What was the most surprising thing you learned from your first Spearhead experience?

AoS Coach: The pre-game sequence of picking which side of the board to use and the deployment zone I didn’t initially appreciate but after a few games you get to have some fun with the strategy before pulling down models. Getting familiar with the decks helps too.

Bair: Learning that 3 Mancrusher Gargants is a Spearhead probably was the biggest surprise. Before that I was assuming they just wouldn’t have a Spearhead but with how a few parts of this game work I can imagine how they might without being overpowering.

The most surprising aspect of the game was that, unlike Kill Team (which, don’t get me wrong – benefits greatly from being a standalone game), it does a good job still teaching the basic rules of Age of Sigmar 4.0. The core rules are all here, and while it has its own warscrolls, you can still get a great feel for positioning, coherency, objective control, and combat while playing, making it easy to make the jump to the bigger game once you start buying more models.

Pendulin: This was my first foray into Age of Sigmar and, coming from 40k, my first thought when seeing the smaller battlefield was “how is anything going to live past the first turn?” But it was neck and neck, all the way to the end. Everything felt exactly as durable and kill-ey as it should be: no more, no less.

I was playing Sylvaneth and I expected my trees to be blown away in the breeze. But instead I felt like Treebeard and my Ents were storming Isengard. “You brought axes and set me on fire? Cute. It’s stomping time.”

If you’ve tried Combat Patrol, how did it feel compared to Spearhead?

Rob: The whole thing just has a really solid feel to it, and feels supported in a way that Combat Patrol does not. Let me put it this way: Combat Patrol feels essentially like an add-on version of the game designed to let you play with the start collecting boxes. In contrast, Spearhead feels like a real, contained game. There are boards for use, custom cards, and designated terrain layouts. Combat Patrol feels like it’s meant to tide you over until you get to the “real” 40k, whereas I can imagine only playing Spearhead. Spearhead feels like a real standalone game.

How do Spearhead’s rules feel? Are there some that make more sense on the tabletop than on the page?

Rob: The rules here are very solid. In particular I’m a big fan of how they’ve implemented the double turn in Spearhead – if you choose to take the double turn you don’t draw new secondary objective cards for that round. That’s a great way to make the double turn feel much more like a tactical decision, and you typically won’t want to double on 1->2 as a result. I also can appreciate the underdog mechanics here; I’m not normally a big fan of rubber-banding but the mechanic is subtle enough that I think it works to make games feel closer without doing too much.

AoS Coach: There is a lightbulb moment when you draw your cards and some of the battle tactics refer to an objective name like Behemat. I hadn’t noticed the symbols at first but quickly realized the importance of knowing which objectives are tied to which battle tactics and connecting that to your deployment zone options.

Raf: I also got to demo a full game, and between the two I think the idea of the Underdog is a good one and online chatter is frankly wrong. Again, modular rules mean that the Underdog gets a fairly strong boon in Spearhead and a more muted one in Age of Sigmar in a way that works well for each game. Spearhead is more casual and faster and can thus support a more powerful catch-up mechanic. It feels strong, though not defining, and keeps the small game tense.

Bair: The physical distance between the objectives and size of the board. I have a very difficult time imagining in my head just how far stuff actually is unless I’m standing at the table with minis to hand. Once I have all of that my inner 6-7th WHF dwarf player comes out and it’s very clear. Also the card system between how using abilities or scoring points really becomes a very difficult decision often enough!!

Cards? What’s the deal with the cards?

Rob: Speaking of which, the cards here do a lot of great work. In 40k terms, they’re basically tactical objectives, but they’ve brought in one of my favorite mechanics from Apocalypse: Objective cards can be discarded to gain an in-game effect. This feels much, much better than discarding them, and there’s legitimate, great tension between deciding if you want to hold something to score it or huck it to get +1 Strength in melee on a key charge. It’s a great mechanic and it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing in 40k.

Battle Tactics in Age of Sigmar Spearhead
Battle Tactics in Age of Sigmar Spearhead. Credit: Warhammer Community

Bair: They’re very cool. Most of the abilities you can activate are things that you can spend resources on in matched play AoS so will feel very familiar going between the games while creating a very difficult choice for the player between scoring victory points or using abilities. I love it.

AoS Coach: I’ve always appreciated the random elements of Warhammer and the cards helps keep the game fresh because you just don’t know what your starting hand will be. If you take the double turn you better have a good lead or cards in your hand.

Battle Tactics in Age of Sigmar Spearhead
Drawing Battle Tactics in Age of Sigmar Spearhead. Credit: Warhammer Community

Pendulin: The Battle Tactic system, which you can read more about on Warhammer Community, is the standout feature of Spearhead. By itself, it sold me on the game. The choice of foregoing victory points in exchange for powerful abilities was such an engaging mechanic, and it was so well balanced.

I’ve never liked game systems where there are feel-bad mechanics. “Try to do this thing. If you can’t, then sucks to be you. Idiot.” Not a fan of that school of design. But Battle Tactics weren’t that at all. The abilities weren’t a second-place, runner-up consolidation prize if you can’t score the victory points.

The abilities are powerful and have the potential to swing the entire game. I never thought “I want those victory points, but if I can’t meet those conditions, I’ll at least get this bauble.” Instead each card gave me two powerful options: victory points now, or giving my army better odds of scoring more victory points in the future. Risk vs reward. An actual choice. And that’s actually solid game design, and it was solid fun.

Is this game only going to be played by a passionate bunch of weirdos like Underworlds, or will it have broader reach?

Raf: It feels like a game in its own right. Yes it’s built on the AoS core, and yes it’ll be a great onboarding/learning tool, but it’s a phenomenal example of the power of the new modular rules approach. It’s its own game, with its own room to grow via the card system, and if Combat Patrol events exist then Spearhead will definitely have its share of fans.

Raf’s Allopex. Credit: Raf Cordero

Rob: Ultimately I think this game will have a passionate base, and I look forward to having to implement it in Tabletop Battles. I haven’t bought a box for it yet, but I’m torn between waiting to see the Skaven release and seeing if events will do a “draft format” for Spearheads where you show up and draft a Spearhead from a collection of them, then change between rounds. That seems like it’d be rad as hell, and a good project for a game club or team.

AoS Coach: I think Spearhead has a wide appeal and I think it will unlock a new audience. I can see parents introducing their kids to the hobby with Spearhead, passionate gamers including their partners, and people who are primarily painters dipping their toes into the gaming space. Like I said this really is an entirely different game. With how quick it sets up and plays it’ll easily become a staple in gaming shops and during club nights. I really do believe we’ll be seeing full events of just Spearhead as well; being able to play 5 rounds in one day will be great. Maybe something to offer on a Friday evening before a full weekend of Age of Sigmar gaming? Lots of options and it will easily see a lot of play, more than Combat Patrol.

Pendulin: I think Spearhead is going to be big. Not only is it great for dipping your toes into Age of Sigmar, but it’s also a fantastic beer and pretzels game. It’s short, you don’t need a large table, and you don’t need a ton of models. I think people will start with Spearhead, move onto full scale Age of Sigmar, but will be drawn right back to Spearhead. At least, I know it’s drawing me back.

After playing, did you buy a box for the release? Why?

AoS Coach: Don’t look at my bank account! In addition to buying Nighthaunt and Idoneth Deepkin Spearhead boxes, I’ve bought a heap of models to help my existing armies become a Spearhead army (Magister on Disc, Ironscale Medusai, etc). It motivated me to paint up my Cities of Sigmar great cannon and I’ve looked at armies a little different because while I wouldn’t paint a full matched play army for Fyreslayers, I’m definitely curious to make their Spearhead.

Bair: No, not yet. Other projects are on my desk at the moment and I don’t like to stack up my pile too high. I do have the makings of the Fyreslayer, Kharadron, and Gitz ones already just from my collection. If I had to pick one to get it’d be the Soulblight box easily. Great mix of minis that I’d love to paint up and then not paint any more Soulblight ever again.

Credit: AoS Coach

Pendulin: Haha, who would do such a thing. Especially with an already library-esque backlog of models. Ha ha ha. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Age of Sigmar launch box just got delivered. No rats in this one, though …

Age of Sigmar Dominion
Dominion. Credit: Pendulin

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