Part 3: Advanced Battle Primer
Building a list:
In the last part of this series on Getting Started with Age of Sigmar we’re going to sit down and look at what goes into making a solid list and some more advanced tactics for play. By now it’s assumed you understand the general method of play, where to find your faction’s rules and what models you’re allowed to bring. Depending on your faction, you may be overwhelmed by the variety of options at your disposal. First I’m going to break down how to make sense of the different parts of a list to help make sense of it. For clarification purposes any time a word is BOLD it is referring to a keyword that you can find on a datasheet.
You won’t necessarily be doing these all in this order, and sometimes you might need to go back and change things later. I’m mostly looking at what order I personally look at things, starting with what is mandatory, and working my way down to what I feel is optional, or something I can include if I have points left over or I can make space.
Choose Your Heroes
Your HERO units are quite possibly the most defining part of your list. Every list requires at least one, and they are the source of many of your auras (“always on” buffs that affect friendly units within a certain range), command abilities, magic from your WIZARDs and prayers from your PRIESTs.
How many you should include is difficult to say because it varies widely by army. Some factions may want to put in the maximum they can get away with, others will be happy with around 2-3. The most important thing to ask yourself is what role they serve in your list. Few HERO units are particularly great at killing on their own, versus how many points they cost compared to your rank and file units. Their strength is usually in making your troops better, and so every HERO you include should have a role to play. Bring HEROs who buff the troops you’ve brought along, and if your army has access to WIZARDs definitely bring one or two. Age of Sigmar has a much heavier magic focus than 40k and so bare minimum, you will want a way to counter your opponent’s spells.
In summary, start with 2 or 3 and as you feel more comfortable you can add more as you go along.
Choose Your Battleline
Battlelines are your chaff and cannon fodder, but that doesn’t make them useless. On the contrary, what battleline you choose to bring can make a huge difference.
You are required to bring a minimum number of battleline in each list. In a 1,000 pt game you need 2 units. In a 2,000 pt game you need 3 units and in a 2,500 pt game you need 4. What constitutes a battleline varies wildly within each army. If you check the point values in the back of your battletome or the General’s Handbook the role will be listed alongside the point value. Some units become battline under specific sub-factions or when a specific HERO is the general so make sure to take note, more options is never a bad thing.
Again, how many battleline you bring varies a lot based on personal preference and the options available to your army. Some armies have few unit choices overall so they will tend to flood their list with a lot of troops, while others have such a wide variety of options that they will want to save space for other units. Experiment with what works for you.
Finally we get into the optional stuff. Non-battleline units are your elites and your monsters. They often are more powerful (hence not being battleline) or serve an explicit niche. Again how much you want to use these is very much up to your army and your play style. This is such a broad category that it would be impossible to cover them all, but Age of Sigmar doesn’t actually care about how units are classified outside of Leaders and Battleline. There is a cap on BEHEMOTH and ARTILLERY units, but unless you’re explicitly trying to, you likely won’t bump up against it all that often.
When deciding whether or not to take one of these units, look at what role they are supposed to serve. If a unit has ranged attacks where your battleline lack them, it might be worth looking at so you have some ranged support. Some units buff particular units, such the Cities of Sigmar Celestial Hurricanum which gives WIZARDS +1 to casting rolls, so it can serve a role if you have a magic heavy army. BEHEMOTH units are large monsters that are often very powerful, if expensive. They often have the power to wipe out or at least heavily cripple units. Some armies can succeed with lists almost entirely composed of these models, like the feared Flesh Eater Courts Gristlegore list, filled with Terrorgheists.
Definitely experiment with these “optional” units, personal preference is often underrated and some people just take joy from fielding a lot of giant monsters, while others want to see large armies of infantry march across the field. Focus on what seems fun first and play experience will help dictate how to grow future lists.
Most armies have access to battalions, which you can find in your army’s battletome, or if they lack a battletome, the General’s Handbook. Battalions are essentially a script: They tell you certain units you have to include in your list as part of the battalion, you pay a point cost and all units contained within the battalion receive a bonus ability or some sort of buff. In addition you receive a bonus command point and artefact to allocate anywhere in your army (not just the battalion’s members). There are even super battalions that are battalions made of battalions. These can easily require you dedicate your entire list to them, and may be out right impossible to utilize in smaller point games.
Battalions are a mixed bag. Some are really good and some are hot garbage. They can be an awesome way for new players to figure out a direction for their army when overwhelmed by so many units, and the more powerful ones can make good units even better and give them an edge. A bonus artefact and command point is not a bad deal either, as ways to acquire both are pretty hard to come by.
On the flip side some battalions are terrible. The abilities granted by battalions are pretty uneven: while some are clearly great and can be real game changers, others don’t do much of anything. They don’t usually cost too many points but they may require units you don’t care to use (often called a “tax”) which bloats the cost significantly. If you intended to use all of the units contained within a battalion anyway, the cost seems almost inconsequential in most cases. If not, you really have to decide if the abilities granted by it are worth fitting in the minimum amount of models you need from those “unnecessary” units.
This step is optional, and like most things I’ve covered so far, is going to vary based on your army. Allies allow you to include extra units from other armies you otherwise could not include, with some stipulations, so let’s get that out of the way first:
- Allies your army can take are contained in the most recent General’s Handbook.
- You can spend a max of 20% of your list on allies (So in a 2,000 pt list you can have 400 pts of it dedicated to allies).
- Allied units do not count toward your number of required battleline or leaders. However, they do not count against your limits either.
- Allies cannot benefit from any army abilities or receive artefacts in your main army, unless it says otherwise, such as abilities that affect a Grand Alliance.
An exception to the first 2 points is Gotrek. He can ally with any ORDER army and can break the point cap.
So why include allies? The most common reason is to cover bases you don’t otherwise have access to. For example, for armies that don’t have access to WIZARDS they may choose to ally in some, or even if they do, they may have a unique spell that combos well with their list. Since allies can’t benefit from army abilities you should think long and hard about whether or not it’s worth it to include any. When you’re just beginning, you really don’t need any unless you have a really cool model you want to try out. On the inverse, if you have a lot of allies you’d like to include, consider looking at a Grand Alliance list instead, so everyone can benefit. Even if the army abilities aren’t as good, sometimes when taken as a whole, the list can be a game changer.
This only applies if you have a WIZARD and they may be the last thing you consider in a list, or something you build around, depending on how much magic you intend to use and whether or not you even own them. Endless Spells have their own models, you pay a point cost to add them to your list and then every WIZARD in your army knows that spell in addition to any others they know. Once cast remain on the field until either they move off of the battlefield, or are dispelled. There are two kinds of Endless Spells: General and Faction specific. General Endless spells come in the Malign Sorcery and Forbidden Power expansions, and any faction can use them. Faction specific are sold separately and can only be cast by the member of the faction they belong to.
Endless spells cover a lot of bases. Some give buffs to those nearby, some hinder the enemy, some move around the battlefield cause mortal wounds, no matter which side they happen to run into!
As a general rule, “predatory” endless spells are pretty bad. As long as they remain on the field, at the beginning of each turn players take turns moving them, with priority given to the player going second that turn. Who cast the spell doesn’t matter, it’s open season once the model’s on the field. This means that the spell you put points into may just be turned around and thrown back in your face. Not a good time.
The buff and debuff spells can be quite handy however. Chronomantic Cogs and Balewind Vortex are popular choices in many lists that are wizard heavy so if you want to play a more magic heavy list, definitely consider looking at Endless Spells to give you some versatility.
Bonus Command Point
This is another thing you may choose to do from the outset of building a list, or see if you can make room for it later. You can spend 50 points of your list to give yourself one command point (CP) at the start of the game. You can only do this once. You could do it multiple times before but as of General’s Handbook 2019 this is a one time purchase.
This bonus CP can be invaluable as command abilities are often very powerful: they give your army some game changing abilities, but CP can be hard to come by. It was a mechanic added in Age of Sigmar 2.0 so if you have an older army, there aren’t as many ways to generate it. Hell even newer armies can struggle with it.
In general, this is a good purchase. You will find a use for that CP. The challenge comes more from fitting it in: 50 points is a smaller number and Age of Sigmar does not charge points for wargear, so for small purchases like this it can be hard to fit it in, since you can’t shave off some wargear here and there to make it fit.
This is near the end not so much because it’s a choice but because it’s already been made for you. Starting with Age of Sigmar 2.0, some armies started to receive a terrain piece in their battletomes, though one could argue Sylvaneth were doing it before it was cool. These cost zero points and give a buff to your army, usually for remaining close to it. There’s no decision making here, does your battletome include one? Add it, there’s no reason not to. You set these up after both armies are set up but before the game begins. If both you and your opponent have faction terrain, roll off to see who sets theirs up first
It is worth noting recent rule changes in actual play as of General’s Handbook 2019. Faction Terrain needs to be more than 3” away from other terrain features and more than 1” from objectives. If you cannot find a place to set it up, you simply don’t. This essentially means keeping your army’s position in mind when setting up, if you don’t leave room for your terrain, or are forced to put it in an inconvenient location, you hurt yourself before the game even begins.
Alright, that’s the broad strokes of list building out of the way. Now some of the fine tuning. These are some of the more specific choices you’re going to have to make to tailor your list more to your taste and play style. As before, every army is different so it’s difficult to give broad advice but these might give you some general guidance moving forward.
Choosing a General
For Matched Play you need to nominate a general. This is your guy or gal in charge who directs the fight. The general gets two perks: 1. They get access to a bonus general trait, a passive ability and 2. Generic Command Abilities are better when used by the General.
A cautionary note, do not pick a named character as your general unless the army rules require you to. At one point command abilities on a data sheet could only be used by the general but that is no longer true. Named characters not get any General traits or artefacts, and general traits are not passed to someone else, you just don’t get to pick one. That’s leaving a free ability on the table. If you have a hard time accepting Archaon isn’t your general, just tell your opponent he isn’t feeling it that day and delegated the micromanaging to one of his minions.
General Traits can be found in your battletome or the general’s handbook, or if you’re playing a Grand Alliance army, the core rulebook.
Artefact and Spells
The second choice you make is artefacts and spells. Artefact are powerful magical relics that make your HEROES better and run the gamut from upgrades to their weapons to granting them new abilities like health regeneration. You get one artefact for free when building your list and one bonus artefact for each battalion you have. Some army abilities also grant yet more free artefacts. A couple of rules for handing out artefacts:
- You do not have to give artefacts to your General, but you can.
- No character can receive more than 1 artefact.
- You cannot give the same artefact twice, even to different characters.
- Finally, named characters cannot receive artefacts, they already have powerful weapons of their own.
Spells are handed out to your WIZARDS. As a rule most wizards know 2 spells by default: Arcane Bolt (Casting Value 5, does 1 mortal wound to an enemy in 18”, if casting value was 10 or more do d3 mortal wounds instead) and Mystic Shield (Casting value 6, lets one allied of your choosing within 18” reroll save rolls of 1 for that turn). Many have a bonus spell on their warscroll. Finally, any army with WIZARDS and a battletome will have spells that can be given to them, as a rule you can grant each one one spell but read your battletome and battlescrolls because exceptions exist. While you can give the same spell to multiple casters, each spell can only be cast once per turn, per player. There can be benefits to doubling up your spells (an insurance policy if one dies, splitting them up to make sure you’re always in a position to cast that spell in the most optimum manner) but take into account with armies with lots of casters, you might run out of spells to cast if you do this.
There is also a third source for both artefacts and spells, though it’s handed slightly differently for each. In the Malign Sorcery expansion, a list of artefacts were given, 6 weapons and 6 artifacts for each of the 8 mortal realms realm resulting in a total of 96 bonus artifacts. When building your list, you can optionally choose to have your list to be “from” one of the mortal realms. This grants them access to the 12 artefacts of that realm in addition to the ones available to them in their army book so you can mix and match at your leisure. There’s no cost to do this so if you want one of the artefacts in the book, go for it. To be clear, you do not need to be playing in that realm to get the artifacts. These only decide where your warband is from, so it doubles as an interesting way to add flavor to your warband.
Additional spells from Malign Sorcery are handled by the Realms of Battle rules, which don’t take effect until the game begins so we’ll talk about those further down.
Minimum or Maximum units
Now we’re getting into some of the nitty gritty of math. It can be daunting to know whether or not you should take the minimum number of models in a unit or the maximum, or something in between. There’s benefits and drawbacks to both.
Maximum size units have a few advantages. If you fully max out a battleline unit, the cost is actually cheaper than if you had split those units up. If you consolidate some smaller units together those point savings can add up to allow you to fit in something else you might not otherwise.
Casting a spell that buffs a unit goes further on a large unit. The point cost of the wizard or the casting value doesn’t change but a spell that grants +1 attack on a unit of 5 is just +5 attacks. On a unit of 40? That’s a bit more impressive.
Some units have bonuses for going above a certain number. If a unit gets +2 attacks from having 30 or more models, you might as well go all the way to 40, both to get that bonus and give yourself a little buffer when models start to die.
Finally, because attacks are done in alternating activations, a large unit gets more attacks on each of its activations, so if you go first you can clear out a lot more of your opponent’s smaller units, if you don’t wipe them out first.
There are some cons though which can be solved by Minimum sized units. First, a large size limits their movement. A unit of 10 can only really be in one place at a time, a unit of two 5 man squads can split up and cover 2 objectives at a time.
Second, bravery tests can be a nightmare for large groups. Age of Sigmar generally has lower bravery values than 40k. If you lose a large fraction of a unit in one turn, you’re going to lose a hell of a lot more in the morale phase. Breaking units up can mitigate this somewhat.
Third, it allows you to include more banners, instruments and leaders. This is a small buff but sometimes these can overlap and leaders usually get an extra attack.
Finally, a large number of attacks is impressive but only so many models are going to actually be on the front line. Sure 120 attacks sounds impressive but how many can actually get in on it? A large group with a lot of models that can’t fit into melee are just dead weight, or at best, meat shields. You can still force multiple small groups into the same melee if the situation permits itself.
As usual, what size units you bring is going to matter based on your composition. In general, smaller groups are a safer bet unless you have a reason to do otherwise. AoS relies on a lot of auras, and 3 groups of 5 standing around a HERO with a 6” aura is just as potent as one 15 man unit, with the ability to break off if need be. If a unit gives advantages for being in large groups, or you have a powerful spell to cast, a larger group might be worth considering if you can mitigate the potentially crippling bravery test.
Unlike 40k, Age of Sigmar does not charge points for weapons. Which weapons you bring are dictated solely by what the datasheet says you can bring. In many cases it’s obvious, either there are no options or the data sheet will tell you X number of models can bring a special weapon, in which case you probably always will. Sometimes though the choice is more difficult. A weapon does more damage but is Rend 0, while the alternative choice has rend -1 for example. Usually this is going to be personal preference, unless you’re playing hyper competitively it probably won’t come up all that often. In general though, rend is good because it’s harder to come by, more attacks are better than higher damage and better wound rolls are preferable (bonuses and rerolls to hit are much more common than rerolls to wound).
One of the less obvious decisions for a beginner is swords vs. spears. The weapons may be slightly different but the principle ends up working the same, many armies have at least one unit like this. The options are a sword as a baseline, or a spear that is -1 worse to hit but has a 2” range. A good rule of thumb is swords are better for 20 or less models, whereas spears are better for large groups, because while the chance to hit is worse there are more attacks going in. With a smaller unit there’s just not enough attacks to justify the worse hit chance.
Meeting your opponent in battle
For the final part of this article, I want to talk about a few advanced tactics when playing. Ideally you have the basic rules down but there’s some more advanced things to talk about to be aware of when playing, especially if you intend to move toward the tournament scene, or at least more “competitive” games.
Realms of Battle
Realms of Battle is an optional ruleset that most will use, since it is in the core rulebook. Realms add a little flavor to your fight, letting you fight in one of the 8 mortal realms that make up the Age of Sigmar universe. In a tournament this will usually be predetermined, in a casual game you can decide on a realm with your opponent, or roll an 8 sided die (if you have such a thing, you nerd).
Aside from fluff, Realms of Battle do a few other things:
- Randomly generates a “Realmscape feature”, some sort of twist to the battle that affects both sides
- Gives a new command ability (or two) both generals can use
- Grants an additional spell all WIZARDS know. If you have Malign Sorcery, it grants an additional 6 spells, giving all casters 7 bonus spells they know.
Realms of Battle mix up fights to keep them from getting stale. While not usually going to tilt a game that was one sided, it does add another obstacle to keep in mind that you may not have anticipated and gives casters a lot more to do.
Command abilities are game changers, they are essentially like stratagems in 40k but you don’t get access to an entire suite of them in your battletome. Instead they are spread around in various sources, and you have some control over which ones you can access which makes kitting your army out with a set strategy very important. These are the places you should check for command abilities:
Core Rulebook – The Core rulebook has 3 generic Command abilities anyone can use, all of these can be used from any HERO to target a unit within 6”, or from 12” if it is your general:
- At the Double – Automatically make a unit run an additional 6” instead of what you rolled
- Forward to Victory – Reroll a failed Charge
- Inspiring Presence – Use BEFORE rolling battleshock tests. A unit automatically passes. Very important if your unit lot a lot of models and a poor battleshock test could wipe them out
General’s Handbook – General’s Handbook 2019 added 3 more generic ones any army can use. These are within 12” of a HERO, 18” if it is your general:
- Volley Fire – Reroll hit rolls of 1 in the shooting phase
- All-Out Attack – Reroll hit rolls of 1 in the combat phase
- All-Out Defence – Reroll save rolls of 1 in the combat phase
Realms of Battle – As mentioned above, Realms of Battle also gives you some new command abilities. These might be useful or not, it depends on which realm you’re in and how your list might benefit.
- Warscrolls – This is where most of your army exclusive abilities come from. They tend to encourage a particular playstyle and are a major reason you take specific characters in the first place. Definitely consider how they fit in your list to use them most effectively.
- Battletome – Some armies include abilities in their battletome with their army abilities, another reason to read your rules thoroughly.
All command abilities cost only one command point, but the trick here is despite all of these abilities available to you, your resource to use them is pretty sparse. There’s 4 ways to get command abilities, and they can be costly:
- You generate one at the beginning of each turn
- Each battalion you take gives you 1 command point
- You can pay 50 points to buy one command point. This can only be done once.
- Some Battletomes include artefacts or army abilities which generate additional CP, though if you have an older book these won’t be there, as CP is an addition to 2.0
It’s very easy to go into a game having no CP at all, short of the one you generate each turn, and some armies are very CP hungry (as in, they need command abilities to function as intended) so rather than memorize every single one, figure out a few that will come in most handy and work from there. As you become more familiar with the army, you’ll be able to more easily recall them, hopefully when the proper moment strikes.
Going First or Second?
Unlike 40k, turns are rolled off each round, instead of just at the beginning of the game. This is a matter of some debate but it does open up some potential strategies for your opening move. Missile attacks are not nearly as common as they are in 40k, so there can be a benefit to hanging back and going second the first game round, because your opponent won’t be able to get close enough to charge you. As a bonus, you might get to go first in round 2 giving you a double turn! Think about the average speed of your army and if you have a decent chance of getting into threat range on turn 1. If you can’t, consider holding back. Blindly charging in isn’t always the best strategy.
You probably will want to always go first after that though, since battle lines have been drawn and you want to hurt your opponent before they hurt you.
Activation in the fight phase
Just a little tip about fight phase activation, especially if you’re coming from 40k, since it works a bit differently. Unless stated otherwise, charging does not give you priority in declaring attacks. The player whose turn it is gets priority but after that, activations are alternated. What does this mean?
In short, prioritizing who is a threat is extremely important in declaring attacks. If your opponent attacks first, it can be tempting to retaliate on the unit who just attacked you to get revenge. Don’t do this! That unit has already had its turn, it’s no longer a threat (most of the time…), so pick something else and attack it before it attacks you and hopefully you can weaken it before it retaliates.
Thanks for sticking with me! This is a lot to absorb; wargaming is a difficult but rewarding hobby, so good on you for sticking with it! Hopefully you can use these as building blocks to keep getting better at the game. Most important of all though is to have fun with it, it’s just a game after all.
In the future we hope to expand with more in-depth looks at each army to help you understand how to best use their strengths, but for now keep experimenting, keep playing and we hope to see you at the table!,