Digesting Age of Sigmar: On Tournaments with Balanced Formations and the Future of Fantasy Gaming
So, what did AoS do for GW and players?
The availability of free rules, easy army composition and appealing rules presentation (thanks to the warscrolls) erase the formerly rather high entry barriers to the game. This gives AoS a broader audience. This is good for GW and tabletopers alike. We benefit from a growing and well connected community because playing tabletop is not like signing into an online game. You need to find people, time and space.
How about the tactical depth of the game?
The game is easy to pick up due to the low entry barrier. The rules are rather straight forward and intuitive for tabletop standards. Just because a game is easy, does not mean that it is bad. Complexity of a game does not say anything about the tactical depth or enjoyment of game!
For me SAGA by Tomahawk Studio is the perfect example. The army composition and game mechanism are straight forward and easy to pick up. The game wins tactical depth solely through the management of unit activation as well as corresponding fatigue points, the special rules on the battle board to which a limited amount of dice can be allocated for invoking them and finding the right balance between activating units and special rules during the course of the game. Easy, quick and yet tactical! A rather balanced Meta exists but balance across factions could be improved – yet this is a topic for another time. A huge barrier of entry is the fact that the rules for the factions and special characters are spread across multiple books that need to be purchased.
The other extreme, for me personally, is Infinity. Infinity, so I am told, is a super fun and tactical game. I have no doubt about it either, but the massive list of weapons and their effectiveness across distance (i.e. different values according to how far the target is away from the shooter) alone keep me from picking up the game; for now. This might be realistic even tactical but it bogs down the game too much for me. Here the rules themselves seem to be the main entry barrier.
Tactical depth and balance
To make it short, AoS is not balanced and some mechanics, like rolling off to determine who has the initiative each turn; are just ludicrous. This makes the game easy to play yet you win largely due to pure chance. For some this is totally sufficient and that is perfectly okay. However, soon some of us will lack the tactical challenge and the thrill of outsmarting your opponent. What is more inspiring than to come up with a cunning strategy to beat your friend who outplayed you last game!
Balance is fun!
Simply put, balance is fun. Nothing is more boring than to play a matchup that is already determined before you start the game, unless you are hoping for that one massive mistake of your opponent.
Next step, Tournaments?!
Tournaments are not about who makes first place but about much more. Tournaments are about building a community by meeting new gamers, exchanging experiences and seeing new painted armies etc. (i.e. having fun and becoming part of the hobby). Basta! Everything else like power gamers, spamming and pay-to-win is due to lack of balancing, which I am thinking about talking in another article. Unbalanced gaming systems in wargaming limit fun and fragment the community.
Back to AoS
So, AoS is a fine addition to the tabletop universe because it generates a greater audience for the topic due to its non-existing entry barriers. The system can also be easily retrofitted for tournaments. An interesting idea is to establish balancing via formations. All factions will receive a collection of formations at a certain point level. A tournament participant can play with one of these. I read about this idea on https://cheatedfatesblogging.wordpress.com/ and it has inspired this article. The most interesting points of the article: with the availabilities of free rules and by designing a new gaming systems GW acknowledges market pressure, balancing through formations and last but not least GW’s goals is to sell models not rules, this is now more apparent than ever.
GW could very well balance AoS with formations for tournaments if they wanted to! It would definitely mean a step towards making both camps, hobbyists and tournament players, happy. A point on the side, GW officials and staff may seem not to care about tournament play (my example is 40K), yet the rules and/or point costs change ever so slightly with the result of changing the tournament Meta and the models that are being purchased. So, GW is watching tournament play! Please do not think that GW is stupid.
What does the future bring?
With the release of AoS, GW awakened my interest in Fantasy for the first time in a decade. In turn, AoS has awoken my interest in Kings of War by Mantic (link to partially free rules) as well as Warthrone by Avatars of War (link to free rules) as full-fledged substitutes for Warhammer Fantasy, as I always did like the concept of Fantasy and I have models ready to be used for it. I am planning on trying out these systems before the end of the year. So far, I am unsure if the gaming community will be able to amend AoS into a balanced gaming system as it does not seem to be designed as such in the first place. Finding a consesus will be the deciding factor.
Is it only me or does there seem to be a trend of more and more gaming system concepts being picked up by other companies, first through making models that GW does not provide and then rules to play with them? Yet, I believe a more competitive market can only be good for us; gamers and hobbyists alike.
So in essence, this means buy, assemble and paint the models you like and play the rules that you like and fit your models! Especially for the realm of fantasy and historically inspired games this is true like never before. Just keep collecting your fantasy armies and play with them whatever rules system you like best, may it be AoS, 8th Edition Fantasy, Kings of War, Warthrone (by Avatars of War) or SAGA (by Tomahawk Studio). Choices are plentiful.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen