It’s early days of Age of Sigmar third edition, and we’re loving it! In this series we’ll start talking about some of our early experiences and how we think the game is panning out. For good or for ill, Ghur is ours for the taking!
We’ve been enthused at length about the joys the new command abilities and heroic actions have brought us; I’m not sure anyone ever really asked for this level of interaction in your opponent’s turn, but they’re here, and they’re pretty great. However, I’m already starting to see a few hopefully unintended consequences popping up. What I’m worried about today, coming out of the few events we’ve seen and my own personal experience, is a trend towards unkillable godmonsters walloping around without a care in the world. In a game where you’re ostensibly involved in a two player interactive experience, the inability to interact with a sizeable chunk of your opponent’s force is leading to some pretty major feels bad moments.
Whats the issue
All-out Defence is a command ability that you can use once per phase to give a unit +1 to their save. Their Finest Hour can give a Hero +1 to save and +1 to wound at a critical juncture. Mystic Shield is a spell that gives a unit +1 to save, and Heroic Recovery heals a hero D3 wounds. While you can only give +1 to a unit’s save roll, this doesn’t account for rend. So, if I’ve given the Shadow Queen these three save bonuses, her 4+ save becomes a 3+ save for the roll (as save bonuses cap at +1), but she ignores the first two points of rend coming her way, keeping her at that 3+ save until hit with rend -3.
What this means is that models with good saves, particularly heroes, and particularly those that can heal are very, very good; arguably obnoxiously so. It’s not a super great time to not be able to kill something in a war game, especially when these models are often good on their own terms, and have zero hesitation killing all your stuff anyway.
The ability to stack up to +3 to a model’s save and then heal D3 wounds on the following turn sounds awesome, until it’s on the other side of the table from you. Yes, you can win the game without interacting with these models, but I’d argue there’s a serious problem with a game when your core goal is “don’t interact with half of what your opponent is doing”.
More broadly, given how prevalent All-out Defence is right now you have to look at offensive models slightly differently: rend -1 is basically the same as no rend was before, and no rend now can just completely neuter a unit’s output. Remember how good Mortek Guard were with their -1 rend? How would you like to just ignore that for a measly command point?
Some quick maths
The better the save, the more impact giving someone +1 to their save is. +1 save on a 5+ save model functionally reduces all damage taken by 25%, while the same buff on a 4+ save model is a reduction of 33%, and on a 3+ save model it’s a full 50% less damage taken. Rend and wards make this a bit more complicated, but suffice to say that the better a unit was defensively in second edition the better they are now.
The prime offenders
Nagash, Archaon, and Morathi are the big three issues I’m seeing so far.
Nagash was never really seen in AoS 2.0, being, frankly, pretty absurdly overcosted. He arguably still is, but the ability to (when sitting next to a Vengorian Lord that reduces enemy rend by 1) have functionally a minus one plus save rerolling ones is fairly obnoxious. What this means is that for every hundred saves you ask him to make at rend -3 or less, he will, after his death save, fail… 2. Which could be good! It could be fine, if he didn’t then heal 2d3 wounds in his next hero phase. Sure, he’s half an army, but that’s not really an issue if he can just body block a chunk of yours without fear.
More worrying for me have been my encounters with Archaon. He can heal the same amount as Nagash with Heroic Recovery and Skull-gorger and can get down to a 1+ save, but your traditional answer to high armour saves, mortal wounds, are negated on a 4+, with 6s to hit against him being re-rolled. He was hard enough to kill before, but now I’m just not sure you can do it with most armies.
Finally, Morathi-Khaine and the Shadow Queen (great band name by the way) has always been Not Great in the interactivity stakes; their ability to take only three wounds per phase has always been cause for concern for certain matchups, but their 4+ save helped with that a lot: a bunch of rend -1 attacks could very viably take those three wounds out, without even needing to look at mortal wounds. Now, the Shadow Queen can have a 3+ save ignoring rend -1 while Morathi-Khaine hides in the back at -2 to hit. While she still can’t heal, her increased survivability could very well mean the difference between putting enough wounds on her in any given phase for her to literally ever die. Horrifyingly, being an Order army, you can absolutely see a Morathi-Gotrek combo coming right at you.
While Nagash, Archaon and Morathi are probably the three biggest issues right now, they’re not alone. Much lower down the threat list, but still eminently worrying, lie two more of the Mortal Realms’ gods: Kragnos and Alarielle. Both are pretty indisputably overcosted for what they do, but both now have a pretty strong hand in the survivability game. Kragnos starting at a 2+ was a shock when we first saw him, so the defensive package that can be stacked on him is even better. He’s not uber popular just yet, but I think he has some serious play in a Sons of Behemat army at the very least. Alarielle has a 3+ naturally, but can heal 2d6 wounds per turn for free. I don’t think we’re going to start seeing the Everqueen romping around the top tables just yet, but I just want to put a pin in her now to see how the game deals with yet another god that can’t friggin’ die.
The Gurnnisson Directive
If you’ve been active in various AoS communities online recently, you may have noticed a couple of trends: Gotrek Gurnisson is either a mandatory take in an Order army, or the worst thing about AoS 3.0 so far. As with all wargaming internet debates the truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but for the moment lets have a chat about the world’s worst slayer. He is, right now, the best tool Order has for dealing with the gods of this game, but ‘mandatory’ takes have always been pretty terrible for all parties. On the other, other, hand, if the only way you can have a reasonably balanced game is to put aside 435 points in the list building stage, why would you not?
He’s incredibly survivable, reducing all incoming damage to only 1, and sitting pretty at an unbuffed 4+ save and 3+ ward. He’s only got 8 wounds, but the ability to heal d3 with Heroic recovery means that you can kind of just… yeet him out into the enemy army and trust he’ll survive anything big coming back his way. Of the models discussed so far, he’s by far the most vulnerable, and massed incoming fire, even from overwatch, can take him down. The most humiliating I’ve seen so far was 20 Freeguild Crossbowmen in a single round, but I wouldn’t rely on that happening too often.
Offensively, he’s rerolling hits and wounds on a damage 3 weapon with six attacks, with the chance of additional d6 mortal wounds on a to hit roll of a 6. Add in rend 2 and fighting twice, and there’s very little in the mortal realms, even the beasties we’ve discussed earlier, that will survive a few rounds in the ring with him… if he can get there. At 4” movement and a warscroll restriction on not being able to be teleported, the big bads of the edition can just kind of… ignore him. He’ll demolish a unit that can’t get out of his way, but I don’t really think a 14” flying Archaon has much to fear here.
Look, running into the little ginger monster is an unpleasant gaming experience. He’s wildly under-pointed, almost unkillable save to massed weight of dice, and anything he touches gets mulched. On the other hand, he’s the only solution some Order armies have to the gods running around. Given the outrage on the internet over the slayer, I fully expect him to get hit with the nerf bat pretty soon, but that may very well make the problem worse; sure, you’ve removed one obnoxious model, but he was the counter to a bunch of others. Until the issues around Archaon and co get resolved, removing Gotrek from the equation just lets them dominate even harder.
What’s the solution?
If I could have a crack at writing rules, I’d make it so that save rolls can never be modified to greater than a 3+, meaning no more 2+ save Archaon or Nagash, for starters. 40k has been slowly working to remove 3+ invulnerable saves as bad design and uninteractive, which is kind of what this is; if I need rend -3 to change your save, and -3 is barely present in the game, your save is functionally unable to be modified. Sadly, I don’t run the game, so we’ve got to look at what else is an option.
Mortal wounds will be the go to solution to try and nip some of these issues in the bud. Problem is, that isn’t an option that’s widely available to every army. Seraphon and Tzeentch have this in spades, but others just do not have the option to wreck face like is needed. My beloved Ossiarch Bonereapers can nip off a few mortal wounds in the magic phase, but nowhere else, and I’m not particularly confident that my wizards will survive long against an army that’s designed to snipe them to remove threats to their god.
Other than that… ignore them, maybe? Playing the mission is, well, how you win, so it’s an entirely viable tactic to try and ignore the immortal deity that will own your soul upon death and just try and focus on the shiny object your general has told you to care about. Yes, they can’t die, and yes, they’ll probably kill most of your army, but it’s still quite easy to outscore them if you can just put more bodies on the table. If you have a way to pin one of these beasts in place you can likely overwhelm the rest of your opponents army; these gods are too good for their points, but they’re still a lot of points. Hosts Duplicitous players are probably having a grand old time right now, having both the ability to take Archaon and the ability to trap the one on the other side of the table with 150 wounds of ‘you can’t retreat from me’ Horrors.
Summing it all up
There are a few issues at play here. Most obviously, not being able to kill your opponents dudes in a war game is just not fun, and it’s pretty hard for a lot of armies to tech into ways to kill these extreme models. Even then, armies that have the tools to kill a god may not have the tools to play the rest of the game. Having to specifically build your army to be able to beat one of these godhammer heroes dramatically restricts options and play styles, and having to take one of these beasts is just as bad. No one wants to get to an event and run into Archaon and just shrug in defeat the moment you see your opponent’s list, and the Chaos players I’ve spoken to so far feel a bit the same way: Archaon is just that good right now. Nagash is right up there too, and I haven’t yet seen a serious Daughters of Khaine army without Morathi, though that isn’t exactly something new.
AoS has never been a super balanced game; I’m not sure the designers have ever been aiming for it. Some issues that were loudly decried in the community, like original Petrifex Elite, got fixed, but other issues like Kroak were ignored for an age. I’m hopeful, but not optimistic, that we might see some tweaks to improve the game’s health. It’s easy to see this as two and a half thousand points of salt, but I really do love this game. Age of Sigmar third edition is the best the game has ever been, and I want to make it as good as we can. Godhammer can be fun if there’s a beast on both sides of the table, but if trends continue or, Nagash forbid, AoS goes down the 40k route of new books making even Seraphon look reasonable, we’re in for a wildly less joyful game than we signed up for.
Finally, pay no attention to the Nagash and Gotrek models sitting on my painting table. They’re just for research purposes, honest.
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