Warhammer: Age of Sigmar 3.0 Core Rules Overall Review

An article by    Age of Sigmar Competitive Play Gaming Narrative Play        0

This review was completed using a free copy of the Dominion Box sent to us by Games Workshop

It’s been three years since the release of Age of SIgmar’s 2nd edition and we’re now just two short weeks away from the launch of the third. The second edition of Age of Sigmar was a major turning point for the game; one where AoS went from being a somewhat maligned younger sibling to 40k struggling with the legacy of the Old World to a true flagship game for Games Workshop, with vastly improved rules, wonderful models, and a solid release strategy. With this new edition GW is poised to take the next step, continuing the game’s evolution and adding elements for competitive and narrative players alike.

As with any new edition of Warhammer there’s been a lot of excitement, speculation, and concern thrown around with impending release of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar 3.0. Fragments of the rules come from Warhammer Community or leaks and depending on an individual’s disposition these tidbits can either fill people with enthusiasm or cause them to rush to their keyboards to decry the game’s impending ruin, and in either case this is done before they get the whole picture. So any time we review a new edition for a game we’re faced with one burning question: Do the new rules come together into something that works and creates a superior experience to the edition prior?

The Short Version: Yes, these rules are good.

I’m happy to report that yes, Age of Sigmar 3.0 absolutely delivers. While the review here is from own experience and impressions of the Core Rules, here at the Goonhammer offices our Mortal Realms correspondents have been abuzz with what we’ve seen. While these rules aren’t perfect, what Games Workshop has produced here is easily the simplest and best version of Age of Sigmar we’ve seen to date.

To get serious for a minute, it’s been a tough year for everyone. Even outside the personal cost it’s left our hobby in a sort of stasis. Book releases slowed and we didn’t get much of a Mega-FAQ for Christmas like we have in years past which means point values have remained at a standstill. I think this has contributed to people being very anxious for a new edition – for good or for ill – and it’s nice to report that it’s all seemed to work out for the most part.

Per our content plan published earlier today, this review won’t be a comprehensive breakdown of everything that is in the book – there’s simply too much to cover. We’ll be going into exhaustive detail on the changes to the rules in 3.0 and what they mean for your faction over the course of this week and the weeks beyond. This also won’t be the final word on the new rules, as we’ll discover more nuances to the ruleset as we play more games and the book reaches the hands of the gaming public. What we will be doing here is giving you a basic rundown of the rules and our first impressions of them, giving you an idea of what’s in the book and what it means for your games moving forward.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Content

The broad arrangement of the book will be familiar to established Age of Sigmar players. The rules section is broken up like so:

  • Core Rules – Much more comprehensive than previous attempts. This includes not only phase-to-phase gameplay but also list building, new generic artefacts, command traits, spells, and prayers. It also explains how to read technical documents like battle profiles and  battleplans. These aren’t included here, just how to read them, which is probably a good call. There’s also a “Player’s Code”, a list of good conduct for players to follow. It’s very corny but nothing objectionable and opening the chapter up with it sets things off on a good foot.
  • Open Play – Probably the most overlooked game mode, there is more of an attempt here at making it like a more laid-back Matched Play. Rather than a laissez-faire, “Anything goes” approach players are given a recommended board size and point values (seriously, points in Open?!) but without the shackles of mandatory battleline. There’s also random charts for deployment and objectives. While still a bit of a snoozefest, it’s an improvement for players who just want to throw down and roll some dice.
  • Narrative Play – Perhaps the biggest changes to the rules, this section has been replaced with the new and refined Path to Glory campaign which, folks, I’m telling you now is some stellar stuff. They’ve clearly learned some lessons from 40k’s Crusade rules and taken them a step further, creating a base set of rules that are surprisingly deep with a lot of room for growth. There’s warband rules, rules for designing your own stronghold and how to gain territory, and upgrades and battle scars. Like everything else, we’ll be exploring this more in depth in the coming weeks.
  • Matched Play – The “core game” for much of the player base, this is presented similar to Open Play with more restrictions. Most of these aren’t new – the cap on Heroes, Behemoths etc. for a given point limit and how to choose a General all return. There are some new things here, however: Reinforcements are a mechanic that puts a limit on how many times you can increase a unit’s size beyond the minimum. The impact this change will have on army construction and play are yet to be seen but it’s all very clean and easy to understand. Rounding it out are three battleplans, which is a disappointing step down from 6, but of course the General’s Handbook will include many more.
  • Conquest Unbound – A bit of a subset of Narrative and Open type games, these asymmetrical game modes allow you to model different types of atypical battles like Sieges, Subterranean Battles and battles with 3 or more players.

Presentation and Ease of Use

When 3rd edition was announced, Games Workshop called the rules “watertight” which is a promise you really don’t want to make. It’s basically like calling your ship unsinkable – it’s asking for trouble. They did dial it back pretty quick to “The most clear rule set we’ve ever written” and that is definitely true. The overall presentation is a bit daunting at first: The book is on the thicker side, and the most striking bit of the core rules format is that they have been broken up with numbering for each section and subsection with decimal points (i.e. “7.1 Heroes and Heroic Actions“). This was probably a bit of a risky move as upon initial impression it might make the rules look more intimidating than they are – it gives the rules the look of a legal document, with lots of references to subsections and highlighted keywords.

Once you get over the initial intimidating appearance however, it makes the book far easier to reference. When we first got access to the book, the Age of Sigmar crew sat around discussing potential loopholes or lack of clarity within the text but almost immediately one of us was able to point to a specific rule that would answer that question or close a loophole. It was far easier to be able to cite rule 12.1.3 rather than have to say “Page 48, Paragraph 5” or something similar when trying to find the specific rule. This will also likely be a benefit for future FAQs.

There have also been some concerns out in the wild about this edition being bloated and more rules heavy. There are more rules to read, and more command abilities to react with in your opponent’s phase but the layout of these rules makes it fairly easy to follow. New command abilities are listed in the phase in which they are used. A “Master List” or a condensed version would have been useful to someone who has a decent grasp on the rules but needs to get into the routine of remembering things each round but it’s nothing a few index cards can’t solve.

Overall, this is a master class in design. It takes a much more complicated ruleset and makes it simple and easy to understand. New players will be able to read the rules in a linear fashion that explains things as clearly as possible with few ambiguities, while established veterans will be able to get caught up on the new changes quickly. This is still the Age of Sigmar you love, there’s just more of it.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What’s New

Without getting too much into the minutiae, I want to take some time to discuss the more exciting changes in the 3.0 rules. As mentioned before, we’ll be diving into these more throughout the week, and this isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather the things are most worth looking forward to.  While the core experience for Age of Sigmar remains intact there are some new mechanics that will drastically change the game.

  • Smaller Board Size – Like 40k, the board size has been decreased, and additionally scaled to game size, with smaller games getting smaller boards. This will probably have a bigger impact on Age of Sigmar than it did 40k, due to the less prevalent shooting phase (and of course what that means for the armies with strong shooting phases getting closer, sooner). It’s not clear if there will be different mission types for different game sizes, however.
  • Command Point Overhaul – Instead of buying command points with battalions or points, you generate a set number each round. While you do now lose them at the end of each turn, this creates a more dynamic system that encourages players not to hold back on using them. This is further helped by the much-hyped reactive command abilities that keep things moving.
  • Core Battalions – Based off what we can gather in the core book, warscroll battalions are out in matched play. While this is something players of armies with good battalions will lament, there’s no question they could be a nightmare to balance. In the short term it’ll likely cause a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth for those that relied on them, but the new core battalions are much more flexible and an help guarantee a more flexible degree of list building.
  • Enhancements – Core artefacts and command abilities are now in their own section called “Enhancements.” Instead of being segregated by Grand Alliance, everyone gets access to the same ones. The list is a bit shorter than I’d like, but it does contain a lot of the “reprinted” abilities you expected to see in every tome, like +1 to wound or +1 to wound characteristic, which gives me hope  that we’ll see a reduction in those reprinted boons in each book. Additionally, the enhancements sections contain generic spells and prayers for every army to use. Making Priests more of a core part of the game shares a lot of promise, though I’m hoping it means more units will be given the priest keyword to make this new mechanic accessible to more armies (Gitz Shamans anyone?).
  • Auxiliary Overhaul – Auxiliary objections, which debuted in General’s Handbook 2021 have been swapped out for “Battle Strategies,” a shorter list of objectives that require you to pick a new one each turn. Age of Sigmar is already a game that encourages shifting objectives and this will help keep the game more dynamic.
  • Endless Spell Overhaul – Endless spells, particularly predatory ones, have had a bit of a difficult history since their introduction. The design choice to have players alternate moving predatory spells ended up making them a bit of a lame duck, with people rarely touching them for fear of their mortal wound engines turning back on them. Now Endless Spells can be “controlled” by the wizard that cast them only, and will likely make them a more popular selection now. I do share some issue with the range, however – 30″ control range seems awfully generous given the new smaller board size, it’s likely a player will never lose control of a spell unless the wizard dies.

There are also a lot of minor changes that have big repercussions (like Look Out, Sir! now being limited by the Leader’s wounds instead of being a Monster) but these are the big hits that will excite the most people. Thankfully, they all seem implemented reasonably well and I hope they create a stronger play experience.

 

What’s Not

For the most part the game is pretty recognizable. The phase-to-phase gameplay exists as it was, and while there’s a few reactive abilities the general flow of game to game will be very familiar. For what is particularly  noticeable for not being changed?

  • Attacking – Whether shooting or melee, you’ll still mostly follow it in the same fashion. Melee combat is going to be shaken up by the new coherency rules but shooting is still point and roll. It’s fine, putting the roll values cleanly on the warscroll keeps the game moving.
  • Terrain – Terrain is largely the same, +1 to cover and larger pieces can be garrisoned. There are still scenery rules but they’ve been condensed back down to 6 (A grab bag of stuff from both tables in GH2021). It’s…fine, I wish they took the opportunity to make terrain more interesting and affect the game but it’s fine.
  • Battleshock – Still the same, roll a die and add the dead models, compare to bravery. I don’t really require the game go back to how morale checks worked in some older editions it could bear to be more exciting. As it is it continues to be fine.

Overall, anything that stayed the same is pretty minor and I feel that for the most part it’s just mechanics that are fine to stay as they are lest they risk bogging the game down too much. As it is, the game remains safe and familiar for those who’ve played before and streamlined for newcomers.

Issues and Concerns

It’s not all positive. While I have very few complaints there are a few things here that leave me scratching my head. It’s like building a puzzle and finding out that the last piece isn’t in the box. Here the most obvious missing pieces are the General’s Handbook and Battletome FAQs. But even beyond those, I have a couple of burning questions:

  • Where did the Realms rule go? Granted, these are always included in supplements (Malign Sorcery and then General’s Handbook after that) but they’ve been accepted as a core part of the experience pretty much since day 1 in Age of Sigmar 2.0 as almost every major competitive event uses them. They’ve changed a fair bit, from a series of traits and spells that often bogged down the game in prep work to a much more straightforward version which nonetheless changes the game in some major ways. I assume it’s coming back, but now as a good time to just make them core.
  • Ambiguity in Matched Play. Games Workshop seems to treat Matched Play as a a subtype of the game, or at least a plurality rather than the default way of playing the game. I don’t have exact numbers of course, but I’m willing to bet Matched Play is far and away the most popular way to play Age of Sigmar and shouldn’t be pushed to the side. Certain burning questions will require waiting on General’s Handbook such as whether core battalions cost points or what points shift we’ll get. While you can play the current game with the points we have it isn’t going to be the intended experience and so it’s a bit weird to get the core rules divorced from the handbook you’ll need to really make use of them.
  • How certain armies will interact with the rules. Every edition change that doesn’t completely toss out all the old rulebooks will have some bumps in the road. Some rules and terminology no longer hold up, while some books just plain don’t work as written. Certain armies like Ossiarch Bonereapers seem to struggle with how these new command abilities work for them, given command points now work very similarly to relentless discipline, it seems unfair to leave them out. A recent Warcom article discussed the Ossiarchs in brief, though not the specifics of how they will function under the new system. This is another area where we’re left in limbo waiting for FAQs to arrive to make certain armies playable.

There are also a few nagging things. Like the new cohesion rules requiring you to be within 1″ of 2 models for units over 5 being a real kneecap buster to larger cavalry units and models with 32mm bases and how Battalions seem to, bafflingly, allow players to include more units beyond what is required without any clear bonus for doing so. It also seems a lost opportunity that terrain still doesn’t largely matter – it still only grants +1 to saves. I expect that most of these issues will be addressed in the future and I don’t think any of it is something that ruins the game completely. Players can largely step forward with confidence.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Final Verdict

It’s funny that we’ve moved from a game that bragged it was so simple that it only had 4 pages of rules to this absolute behemoth of a book. Ironically, Age of Sigmar was a victim of being too simple from the outset and having to build on it helped them create a much better game. This is a dense game and I think will do a lot to dispel the notion that it is a “simplified” 40k, but its conveyed in such a clear and largely unambiguous way that it’s going to be a joy to learn it. I think this book is going to be a watershed moment for Age of Sigmar, accelerating the game’s growth and bringing in new people while tightening things up for experienced players..

We’ll continue to cover the major changes to the game over the coming days and weeks. If you remember our coverage for the launch of 9th edition 40k, expect something similar. We’re so excited to talk about this game and I hope you join us too.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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