Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fantasy Renaissance

If ever there was a term that where Inigo would be moved to say ""You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.", it should be Renaissance. So not a bad term for what may be going on now. With the release of Age of Sigmar, the company long derided for lack of community support and charging high prices, is now providing free rules for one of its flagship games. The interesting thing though is that this is not the most interesting thing. Not long after the thing was officially announced, the head of another games studio has jumped on the opportunity to tout the 2nd ed of his mass battle Fantasy game. And why not. After long being far and away the default mass battle game.... there is no longer any WHFB and the new thing is.... something else? Talk about losing the benefits of incumbency. So if you want to play mass battle fantasy games, suddenly there seems like a lot of options.   

Obviously, option 1 is to keep playing WHFB. Playing older editions of the game, aka Oldhammer, has long been a thing. I've only personally dabbled in 8th edition. It has its good points. Any game where I can ride down some hairy northern mercenaries, using pistol toting Cuirassiers, powered up by Druidic magic, can't be all bad. Now that it's an old edition, work has begun on a community version. Why no link, because at this stage there are about a 100 community versions as I am far from the only person on the internet who fancies himself a rules-writer. Couple with that, there are some trying to improve Age of Sigmar. Personally, I think the game is a huge missed opportunity. The guys who wrote War of the Ring could and should have done better than that, you can have a streamlined game with points, lists and all. If GW really wanted to go skirmish, I can't understand why the outcome wasn't something like SAGA with the unit 'scrolls' abilities standing in for the battle boards. That game shows you can be plenty balanced and deep while giving up on fixed formations and bloated rules. That's a skirmish game though, there are plenty of weel known fantasy skirmish games.

Still, there is something (a lot actually) to be said for blocks of guys. Say brave men furiously trying to bring the ghouls down with crossbows before they are overrun. And eaten. Well for starters one of the former GW rules writers penned Kings of War for Mantic Games. I understand that Rick Priestly has even written the forward for the 2nd Ed printing. You will also be able to download this edition free from 10th July onwards. The other mass battle style newcomer, also with their own miniatures line, is Avatars of War. Their Warthrone rules are finally available in English. This too is a free download. So I count that as three miniatures companies offering free rules to support their fantasy lines.

 There are other options too. For the longest time, there have been established but niche Fantasy variants of Ancients wargame rules. Hordes of the Things (a kind of Fantasy DBA) has been around forever. There are other fantasy variants as well. Impetus (my favourite ancients rule set) has an unfinished, and not currently all that available variant. In terms of bigger names, there is a Fantasy version of War and Conquest and a fantasy version of Hail Caesar by the guy who wrote one of their historical supplements. Both of these could stand in well for forlorn former WHB players as the GW DNA is readily apparent in the underlying rules.

 Of course, there are also stand-alone mass battle Fantasy rules. Armies of Arcana use to be something of a viable alternative but now I go back to it, seems to have languished. The writer (no longer the owner) has set up a new forum for it though. Another key one, that also seemed to get no traction after its release was God of Battles by Jake Thornton. This one was one I seriously looked at before deciding it didn't quite grab me. The writer is of course another ex GW and the author of Mantic's Dread ball game, which I really enjoy. The rules are supported by Foundry, the owners of which you will also well recognise.

Then of course there are all the skirmish games, like Age of Sigmar. I like skirmish games too but really want something where I can have the Cardinal Palantine wheel a big block of knights around and ride down ranked masses of goblins. And that's the other half of the equation really. Between the explosion of historical plastics allowing us to realise our personal vision for fantasy humans and then all the cheap / second-hand fantasy minis out there, 28mm Fantasy is an affordable genre these days. I just got 140 Mantic goblins (I wont even see the poor casting at 'gaming distance') for $45 plus postage.  Really this is about getting our eclectic collections on the table in some form of agreeable structure.

 Obviously, I've never particularly been a GW WHFB player. Still if all the monkeys on those typewriters come up with something good out of the now abandoned 8th editions, I'll play it. I've always had a lot of respect for the fan made lists for the like of Dogs of War etc. But my hope is that it is increasingly going to be more and more about choice. My feeling is that Age of Sigmar is going to have a centrifugal effect on a good portion of GWs already shrunken loyalist fantasy core. Sure, people may stay for their minis. Amusingly I read a lot recently about using the new GW Sigmarite (blood?) Angel things to replace the Mantic Elohi for Kings of War. But I predict disenchantment about their rules, unless they change something soon. Not everyone is going to exclusively take up 40k.

Me? Well, I've decided to not join the monkeys for now and instead avail myself of some of these free rules for Kings of War and Warthrone. Kings of War never quite sat right with me but I think it can work on the level of being a fun way to get my Pikemen facing down some Orcs. Andy and I will give the new V2 a go this weekend. Warthrone looks even more promising. It's 'different', different in a way I was trying to get at with my own thing. Only this thing has been finished for me by someone else. I hope it lives up to my favourable first impressions. I mean, the Goblins are Labyrinth Goblins! Better yet, there are no Orcs, so far. I'm sure they have Orcs eventually, as I think they like everyone else does Orc minis. Orcs have always bugged me and Tolkien has a lot to answer for there. The game also has crazy formations, including an actual checker board  (I kid you not) one where you space out your individual 20mm based guys. Different formations give different abilities. It also has an orders system and a reactions system... ok I'm done posting up this glorified links list and am off to read more Warthrone now.

Happy Fantasy "Renaissance", thanks for reading.


  1. I read the whole thing :)
    See u saturday with the orc horde.
    And surely someone can come up with decent lists where we can convert and make stuff how we want.. its fantasy afterall... less commerce and more hobby support!! Yay!
    Nice post jamie... theres a lot to chew on there

    1. Hi Andy, cheers. Really looking fowrad To the game on Sat too.

      I'm not a huge Kow fan but if that suddenly was a set of rules a lot of people were playing, I'd have fun playing them all.