Getting Started: Cities of Sigmar

At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are..

When the Old World died and the Age of Sigmar began, not every army survived. In this brave new world of round bases, golden Übermenschen, and musclebound bloodbois, the old square-based armies of Warhammer Fantasy didn’t really have anywhere to go. Some notable idiots burned their armies in protest, while others played this new game with old armies and get-you-by rules. That era is finally at an end – Welcome to Age of Sigmar’s own Island of Misfit Toys, the Cities of Sigmar. This is the army where the leftovers of Warhammer’s past come together under one banner, making up a remarkably diverse and flexible force. Mustachioed men with greatswords march alongside Duardin Gyrocopters and Drakespawn Chariots in this army that offers an easy in for old Warhammer Fantasy players as well as unprecedented conversion and counts-as opportunities.

What Are The Cities of Sigmar?

The Freeguilds at War. Credit: SRM

While the Stormcast Eternals are the “face” of Age of Sigmar, they are few in number. The mortals they were made to protect live in massive fortress cities; bastions of hope, strength, and civilization standing amongst the wilds of the Mortal Realms. These are the Cities of Sigmar. Inside each of these metropolises lies a Stormkeep in which their Stormcast Eternal protectors live, but on the streets are common people – Humans, Aelves, and Duardin, who live their day to day lives. These are the folks who put “mortal” in “Mortal Realms”, and this army represents the collective military might of those relatively ordinary people.

Army Strengths

  • Diversity. Just about any Human, Elf, or Dwarf model in Warhammer’s history has a place here. There’s a staggering number of units that make up armies within armies, letting you field something akin to an old Warhammer Fantasy army or a mixed force, picking and choosing from everything in the book.
  • Flexibility. If you want to make a gunline army, there’s no army better. If you want a heavy cavalry force, you can make it. If you want a horde of expendable yahoos, they’re yours. Wizard cavalry, flying war machines, giant monsters, you name it – there’s a build for just about any player here, and an associated City of Sigmar to reinforce that theme.
  • Shooting. Cities of Sigmar dominate the shooting phase with hefty ranged options in every battlefield role, and some of these options are both fast and durable.
  • Conversion Potential. Your creativity can run wild here, using counts-as rules for thematic purposes (Your old Elf Spearmen would make great Dreadspears! Free Company Militia would make perfect Scourge Privateers!) or inventing whole new looks for the various people of the Mortal Realms.
  • Allies. In addition to having access to allies like anyone else, 1 in every 4 units in your army can be Stormcast Eternals. Furthermore, specific cities can do the same with Sylvaneth and Kharadron Overlords. This is an ideal jumping off point from owners of those armies, people looking to start those a new army without buying in too much, or those looking to further diversify the already huge number of potential units in a Cities of Sigmar army.
  • Magic. There are no faction-specific Endless Spells available here, but the generic ones are always Empowered by their realm, no matter what. Wizards are cheap and readily available, and there’s a spell lore specific to whichever City you choose.
  • Easily Readable Synergies. So many units work so well together in this book, making it very clear who should go where. A Freeguild General’s Hold the Line! ability is tailor made for giving your Freeguild Handgunner hordes 2+/2+ handguns. Black Guard always get a +1 to hit near a Darkling Covens hero, so that’s where you want them. Almost every unit here has some specific rule that buffs another unit or themselves in one way or another.

Army Weaknesses

  • Age of the Range. The entirety of the range is from before Age of Sigmar was even a thing, and as a result the models tend to be a bit older. This means gaps, mold lines, and some softer detail on a number of the models. Players spoiled by the quality of newer kits might have some difficulties adjusting to these older (but still beautiful!) models.
  • Flexibility. While this is also a high point, it can be an intimidating army to start. There are so many choices and different builds available, it can be difficult to parse which one is “right” for any individual player. That’s why you’re reading this guide, right?
  • They’re Squishy. Outside of a few standouts like Steam Tanks and Demigryph Knights, units trend towards hordes of fairly lightly armored troops. There’s a good number of 4+ save infantry units available, but none have more than one wound. This fragility extends to most heroes, going so far as to have rules specifically to mitigate how delicate your average Sorceress or Freeguild General is.
  • No Dedicated Terrain or Endless Spells. Part of being a sort of misfit range with little unifying aesthetic means there’s no free scenery piece to aid the army or bespoke Endless Spells to reinforce the theme.
  • They’re Often Predictable. This is an army where what you see truly is what you get, and there aren’t a ton of tricks in most builds. A Hammerhal army made up of a few big bricks of infantry with swords and largely stationary gunners behind them isn’t going to bamboozle many opponents, for instance.

Recommended Steps

  • Get the Battletome. This is an obvious first step, but becoming familiar with the army ahead of time will make selecting units easier.
  • Figure out what theme you want to go with, and pick a city that fits that theme. While there are no restrictions on what you can take, having a plan in place will ensure that you collect what will be most effective for your specific army.
  • Decide on a color scheme that’s flexible and will work across the range(s). Nailing this is important for any army, but with a range so diverse, you will want to make sure your chosen scheme looks good on everybody, or is mutable enough that you can tie them together with spot colors. Quartered red and white might look great on your Freeguild Handgunners, but kind of silly on your Sisters of the Thorn. However, if they’re all in earthy tones with red armor, white fur on their mounts, and similar basing, they will look unified together.
  • Collect towards the army! There are a pair of Start Collecting! boxes that may fit your theme or even be bought together, and if not, there have been a few army deals in the past. These models are on the older side, and resultantly tend to be a little cheaper.
  • Pad them out with some Stormcast. Hordes of 8-point dudes with stabby bits can be bolstered with some points-heavy, dollar-light elite infantry. If you already have Stormcast, all the better.

Knight Incantor. Credit: Tomb King Tristan

The Rulebooks

Being a relatively recent formal addition to the game, the men and women of the Free Cities haven’t gotten a whole ton of rules support.

The Battletome

The obvious starting point, this has everything you need to play the army, as well as a solid core of narrative to inspire you. The short stories by Josh Reynolds are a welcome addition, and the painting guides are far from comprehensive but will definitely get you started if you want to recreate the paint schemes in the photography. The additional rules for Allegiance Abilities, Spell Lores, and Warscroll Battalions make this a huge value add over just using the free profiles and points values from the Age of Sigmar App and Scrollbuilder.

General’s Handbook 2020

Each of the Cities is tied to a different Mortal Realm, and your army must be from the same Realm as its parent City. The rules for Mortal Realms are covered in General’s Handbook 2020, as are updated points values and so on. Keeping up to date with the General’s Handbook is advised no matter what army you play, but moreso when an army benefits from generic Endless Spells and realm rules as much as Cities of Sigmar do.

Starting Your Army

Empire Swordsmen. Credit: SRM

Unfortunately the biggest, best deals for the free people of Sigmar are a couple of splash release Battleforces from 2017. These were the Hammerhal, Tempest’s Eye, and Anvilguard box sets, which each clocked in at $170US and saved you 30-40% off their individual contents. If you can find one gathering dust at your FLGS, it’s worth picking any of them up as they’re a strong core to their respective city builds. Similarly, if you can find an old Warhammer Fantasy Battalion set for The Empire, Dwarfs, or Dark Elves, you’ll be in business.

That being said, those are hard to find and this is a rare army with not one, but two Start Collecting! boxes, and the potential for so many more. Weirdly, the Freeguilds, who are the face of the faction, don’t have a Start Collecting! set of their own at time of writing, but the available sets provide a hearty savings and a decent core to an army.

Start Collecting! Anvilguard:

Old Warhammer Fantasy players will recognize this as classically “Dark Elf”, leaning heavily on the piratical aspect. Inside you’ll find a good, cheap HQ with the Fleetmaster, some solid infantry with 10 Black Ark Corsairs, a Scourgerunner/Drakespawn Chariot to run circles around your opponent, and a big honkin War Hydra/Kharibdyss, which is a centerpiece model on its own. Even with the recent price hike, $100 buys you $165 worth of stuff. This is a great Start Collecting! set, and repeat purchases are just going to net you some Fleetmasters you can convert into unit leaders or something else.

Start Collecting! Greywater Fastness:

Where Anvilguard was all damp knife-ears, Greywater Fastness is doughty Duardin. Here you get a Warden-King to bolster your melee fighters, a Cogsmith to fix your war machines, 10 Ironbreakers/Irondrakes to tank all the hits or dole out some shooting respectively, and a Gyrocopter/Gyrobomber to fly around and blow up your enemies. This box doesn’t work quite as nicely together as hoped, as the Cogsmith can’t keep up with the Gyrocopter, and if you build the infantry as Irondrakes the Warden-King doesn’t have too much to do. Still, it’s a solid start to a Duardin-themed army and a solid value at $100 for $150 worth of stuff. Multiple sets will likely waste the heroes, but if you were buying more Irondudes or Gyroguys  anyway you’re basically getting them for free.

Choosing Your City and Expanding Your Army

Cities of Sigmar armies must choose a Stronghold of Order when building the army, as this dictates not only what Army Allegiance bonuses they get, but what Battle Traits, Command Traits, Artefacts of Power and Spell Lores they have access to. This represents the titular City of Sigmar the army comes from. There’s 7 in all, and each maps reliably to an army build.

If You…

…Want to Take the Balanced Approach

Hammerhal is the city for you. Hammerhal can be either in Aqshy or Ghyran, and this is reflected in one of their Artefacts of Power, The Twinstone, which has multiple profiles based on the realm it’s from. All of their bonuses apply generally to everybody in the army and don’t favor any particular type of army. Standard Bearers (a free upgrade) in your units may generate extra command points, nobody takes Battleshock tastes in their own territory, and their Righteous Purpose Command Ability favors aggressive play by giving a unit in enemy territory a free round of fighting. The command traits range from favoring aggressive generals to supporting generals, and their spells are a balanced spread of offensive, defensive, and movement abilities. The wrinkle here is that Aventis Firestrike, a named Stormcast Character, nets you an extra command point if he’s your general, but other than that this is a great generalist city to hail from and will benefit just about any army. This balanced nature will probably be the choice of beginners to the army, or of oldheads coming back to Age of Sigmar with their old Warhammer Fantasy collections.

Lumpin Croop’s Fighting Cocks. These are uhhhhh Freeguild Crossbowmen now, yeah! Credit: SRM

…Vote Green Party

The Living City will be your stronghold of choice. This city grants the ability to integrate Sylvaneth units the same as other cities can integrate Stormcast units. Living City armies must be from Ghyran, and their rules center on regenerating wounds and movement tricks. One of their battle traits, Hunters of the Hidden Paths, let you put up to half of your units in reserve and have them come in from the edge of the battlefield later in the game. Another, Attuned to Nature, heals 1 wound from every unit in your army in your hero phase. This really benefits multiwound models like Wild Riders or those Sylvaneth. Their signature Command Ability also lets a unit move after shooting, letting you pop in and out of cover with those Sisters of the Watch. Their relics boost survivability of their bearers or give melee buffs, their command traits speed along your heroes or enhance their magical abilities, and their spells heal your units, give defensive buffs, or slow enemy units. This is a classically “Wood Elf” army composition, and their abilities largely serve to get those units where you want them and keep them alive once they get there.

A Wanderers/Sylvaneth warband
A Wanderers/Sylvaneth warband. Credit: richyp

…Believe Big Guns Never Tire

Greywater Fastness is where you’ll keep your powder dry. War machines, black powder, and industry are the bywords here, and is where you’ll want to go for a gunline army or armored battalion. While they must hail from Ghyran, they’re very different from their Living City counterparts. Their Runelords have a super reliable 2+ prayer that gives +1 to hit rolls for a friendly War Machine, and all of said War Machines have +3″ added to their weapons’ maximum range. You get to take an extra Artillery unit when building your army, and their signature Command Ability lets a hero give +1 to hit for a unit of Freeguild Handgunners, or Irondrakes nearby. Command Traits range from generating command points to boosting the effectiveness or maneuverability of your shooting units, and their artefacts make your heroes more durable or dangerous in shooting. The aptly named Lore of Smog protects your units or cause a bunch of mortal wounds on enemy units by choking them to death or poisoning terrain features. You would do well to take a Steam Tank Commander, Cogsmith, Runelord, some bricks of Freeguild Handgunners, Crossbowmen, or Irondrakes, and a wall of artillery pieces to blast your opponents from afar. Gyrocopters and Pistoliers will make for good mobile elements here, and keep it from being a wholly static gunline.

Steam Tank. Credit: SRM

…Are Really Into Bird Watching

The Phoenicium hears your call. Another Ghyran city, the Phoenicium picks up some old High Elf units and ties them into a very small subfaction. Fittingly, this benefits Flamespyre and Frostheart Phoenixes, Anointed, Phoenix Guard, and not much else. These units already have built in synergies, ignoring Battleshock and granting rerolls and the like, but this city makes them more survivable or get more chances to attack. Phoenixes all get +1 wound in this city, and units in the army get +1 to hit and wound rolls with melee weapons if a friendly unit is destroyed that phase. Their Command Ability lets a Phoenix fight after dying, which is hyper specific. These can be tricky to pull off, and are hard to build a strategy around. Command traits reinforce the theme, boosting attacks for lost friendly models in the same turn, giving access to the Lore of the Phoenix, or preventing Battleshock tests. Their artefacts are iffy, granting some situational survivability, and their spell lore isn’t much better, healing friendly units and subtracting Bravery from enemy ones. This subfaction also suffers from Phoenix Guard being slow compared to their Phoenix-mounted heroes, and their city rules benefiting such a small spread of units, only making up two kits.

Converted Phoenix Guard. Credit: Tomb King Tristan

…Fancy a Bit O’ Piracy

Anvilguard has your back (and also, more likely than not, a knife pressed against it). Anvilguard’s port is in Aqshy, and all of their rules reinforce their place as piratical raiders and beast wranglers. Their Battle Traits benefit characters and monsters more than anything else, but they must choose just 1 of the 3 available Illicit Dealings. The first grants two Artefacts of Power, which either give a 5+ secondary save or cause a bunch of mortal wounds. The second gives you D3 extra command points, which are always welcome. The third lets you take two Drakeblood Curses, special rules which can make your Dragons, Kharibdysses, or War Hydras even more dangerous. Their Command Ability, Make an Example of the Weak, lets one of your heroes merk one of your models to let all your dudes around him automatically pass Battleshock tests, which can be clutch. Command Traits let you double up on Illicit Dealings, boost your hero’s monster hunting capability, or give them access to the Lore of Dark Sorcery. This lore is potent and focuses on debuffing enemy units, either weakening their attacks or removing their armor saves altogether. This is a great place for a monster mash army built around War Hydras, Kharibdysses, and Dreadlords or Sorceresses on Black Dragons, with some Black Ark Corsairs or Executioners backing them up. All of the heroes that benefit most from the Anvilguard rules also boost the effectiveness of the Order Serpentis or Darkling Coven models around them, and you can very easily create a Dark Elf army of old here.

Classic Black Ark Corsairs. Credit: Ranch Turkey

…Have Airbrushed a Wizard on the Side of Your Van

Hallowheart hears your hollow howls. This Aqshy-based city lets your units ignore the effect of spells on a 5+, cast an extra spell per wizard per hero phase, and use their Command Ability to wound your own wizards to boost the casting rolls of others. Their command traits aren’t anything too special, negating Battleshock tests or giving a bonus to dispelling Endless Spells, and their artefacts protect a hero from shooting or give them a truly insane amount of spells. Each wizard gets 2 spells instead of the usual 1, and their lore has 6 spells instead of 3. The Lore of Whitefire generally spits out stupid amounts of mortal wounds, or can make your units even more dangerous. The obvious starting point here will be a Battlemage on either a Griffon or Luminark of Hysh, with Battlemages or Sisters of the Thorn to toss spells all around. Endless Spells will find their home here, and these are best backed up by the melee infantry of your choice. The amount of spells will make up for a lot of shooting, and having some reliable blocks of cheap infantry to take hits and hold territory or benefit from the Luminark’s Aura of Protection while they advance will be key.

Credit Evan “Felime” Siefring

…Have Put 200 Hours Into Deep Rock Galactic

Tempest’s Eye is the final city in the book.  Another Aqshy city, Tempest’s Eye lets you include Kharadron Overlords the same way as all cities can take Stormcast. Mobility is the unifying factor of their other battle traits, with +3″ added to movement on the first round, +1 to run rolls, and a command trait that lets a unit shoot after running. Their command traits boost the charge rolls or wound rolls on shooting attacks, letting you gravitate towards either a melee or shooting focused army. Artefacts also boost friendly units over the hero, negating Battleshock, rerolling charges, or generating extra command points. Their spells are on the weaker side, generating command points, dishing out a couple mortal wounds at a distance, or boosting melee troops. This army benefits fast moving units, like Freeguild Outriders or Pistoliers, Demigryph Knights, and Freeguild Generals on Griffons, but you could easily take any cavalry in the book or some Kharadron Gunhaulers and do well with them.

Converted Evocator on Dracoline and Endrinrigger. Credit: Tomb King Tristan


A Sample List Using Start Collecting! Anvilguard

Credit: Games-Workshop

As this is one of the better ways to get started with this army, I’ll take the contents of the Start Collecting! box and build up to a solid 1000 points:

General: Black Ark Fleetmaster – 60

Leader: Sorceress – 90

Battleline: Black Ark Corsairs x20 (Repeater Handbows) – 160

Battleline: Black Ark Corsairs x10 (Wicked Cutlasses) – 80

Battleline: Black Ark Corsairs x10 (Wicked Cutlasses) – 80

Battleline: Scourgerunner Chariot – 60

Battleline: Scourgerunner Chariot – 60

Battleline: Darkshards – 100

Unit: Black Guard x10 – 140

Behemoth: Kharibdyss – 170

This army can be built up primarily with a pair of Start Collecting! boxes. Your heroes here are cheap and useful utility characters, and by taking a second sub-7 wound hero with the Sorceress you get to take advantage of the Cities of Sigmar The General’s Adjutant special rule. This means you’ll be generating bonus command points so long as they stick near each other. So long as your General is a Scourge Privateer (which the Black Ark Fleetmaster is) your Black Ark Corsairs and Scourgerunner Chariots are Battleline, fulfilling your minimum Battleline requirements for the army. That unit of 20 Corsairs can be your General’s Honoured Retinue, letting them soak up wounds for him while he orders them to get extra attacks with his Command Ability, At Them, You Curs! Being 20 strong, they’ll also benefit from Flashing Steel, giving them +1 to hit, even with their Repeater Handbows. The Black Guard give you some elite infantry who can protect your Sorceress and get +1 attack just for being nearby her. The Darkshards give you some backfield ranged support, and they can hold down the fort on a home objective or just pester enemies with their bows. Freeguild Crossbows and Handgunners fulfill the same role for the same points value, so you can pick the one that sings to you, but Darkshards fit with the “Oops! All Druchii!” theme here.

On the tabletop, this force would probably have a central block with your big Corsairs unit and Fleetmaster, flanked by the other Corsairs on either side. The Sorceress and Black Guard would come up behind them, so she could cast spells safely and you’d have a solid counter-attack unit with the Black Guard. The Darkshards would play a defensive role, standing behind even the Black Guard, and would shoot anything that got close or hold down an objective in your table half. The Kharibdyss would keep pace with the infantry and not only soak up fire, but chew up whatever got too close. The Chariots, either as one unit or as two separate units, would flank the army, ride out, capture objectives, and harass enemy units – namely their monsters and war machines. For the most part this army would be playing aggressively, but would maintain the horde aspect Cities of Sigmar armies are so famed for.

What’s Next

If you wanted to, you could swap out the Black Guard to turn the bulk of your army into the Charrwind Beasthunters Warscroll Battalion, but at 1000 points having more bodies is more beneficial than their Monster-hunting bonuses. In a bigger game, however, that Warscroll Battalion could be clutch for deployment priority and taking on the tougher units you may see in bigger games. Speaking of, adding either a Sorceress or Dreadlord on a Black Dragon to serve as your General would be a solid move here, and their Order Serpentis bonuses would mean some Drakespawn Chariots or Drakespawn Knights could benefit nicely.

A Sample List Using Start Collecting! Greywater Fastness

Credit: Games-Workshop

Two Start Collecting! sets means two ways to get started! Again, we’re aiming at a 1000 point army, and again, we’re quietly building towards a Warscroll Battalion.

General: Warden King – 110

Leader: Cogsmith – 60

Battleline: Irondrakes x10 (Grudgehammer Torpedo) – 150

Battleline: Ironbreakers x10 – 130

Battleline: Freeguild Pistoliers x5 – 100

Unit: Gyrocopter – 70

Artillery: Hellblaster Volley Gun – 120

Artillery: Hellblaster Volley Gun – 120

Warscroll Battalion: Greywater Artillery Company – 120

In the back of your army, your Cogsmith will babysit the pair of Hellblaster Volley Guns. Not only does he let them reroll their number of shots, but he can repair them when they invariably blow themselves up. They get bundled into the Greywater Artillery Company Warscroll Battalion, which grants your artillery the Greywater Welcome, letting war machines shoot twice if they’re near the Cogsmith for a truly insane amount of fire. I don’t normally go for Warscroll Battalions in small games, but its abilities are always going to be useful for this army. Your Warden King should be anchoring your front line, standing with the Irondrakes and  behind a line of Ironbreakers. Your Gyrocopter and Pistoliers get to run around peppering your enemy’s line with as much fire as possible and nabbing some objectives before they die. Hopefully you’ll clear the field with your artillery, as your infantry aren’t going to get very far with their puny 4″ movement. Do the classically Dwarf thing and hold some ground and never let go.

What’s Next

Really, the Start Collecting! set should have a Runelord instead of a Warden King, as the Runelord is really who this army is all about. He can bless a war machine for +1 to hit, so you’ll want him sauntering behind a Steam Tank or camping with the artillery company. At least one Steam Tank should find its way into this army, and more Irondrakes or Freeguild Handgunners are great targets for the Salvo Fire Command Ability. While I would be loath to tell a new player to take a model they started with out of their list, a trio of Freeguild Handgunner or Crossbow units with a Freeguild General using his Hold the Line ability will make for some remarkably deadly and accurate fire. You could definitely double down on the Irondrakes and Ironbreakers though, and get even more Duardin-y with some Longbeards buffing your other infantry, and some more Gyrocopters and Freeguild cavalry to give your army some much needed mobility. You can even bulk out that Artillery Company with more Hellblaster Volley Guns or Helstorm Rocket Batteries and own the shooting phase forevermore.

What’s Next… Next

These are only scratching the surface of the ways you can build a Cities of Sigmar army. Mix, match, convert, counts-as, build, paint, and play your way to victory with what might be the most diverse faction in all of Age of Sigmar!

Converted Celestial Hurricanum. Credit: Tomb King Tristan

In the Name of the God-King!

You should now have everything you need to start building a Cities of Sigmar army and playing with the faction but if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at or head over to r/goonhammer to discuss. We’re always happy to answer questions and help new players out.