For months now, rumors of a second edition of Warhammer Age of Sigmar have swirled in the whisper networks of the wargaming internet. All sorts of stuff was supposedly on the cards, from minor tweaks to a full rework of the system. Or so “they” said.
The new edition is finally out on June 30th. We got our hands on Age of Sigmar – Soul Wars, the new starter set, and can put the wondering to bed. It is, in short, good. If you want longer, it is goooooooooddddddd.
To say that Soul Wars is impressive doesn’t do it justice. Lugging around the crammed full, glossy black-green box felt like effort in a way even last year’s Dark Imperium set for Warhammer 40,000 didn’t. There was also something mysterious about its heft and style; Age of Sigmar is not a known quantity, at least not in the sense 40k is and has been. A new edition of 40k was always going to hew closely to its past, because (importantly) it has a past, 30 years of it. Age of Sigmar, by contrast, hasn’t been around long and even in the short three years of its lifespan it’s evolved. It’s not that Age of Sigmar is more vibrant, but its place in the wargaming universe is less defined.
That ill-defined place extends to Age of Sigmar’s past, too. The game has moved from uneasy successor to Warhammer Fantasy Battle to a firm rethinking of how the game works which differs significantly from the “no points, bring what you want, pretend to ride a horse and get bonuses” approach at release. It’s a game which struggled for identity, found it, and is now, with its second edition, in the full flush of adulthood.
Oh God, What’s in the Box?
It’s rare that you run into a $160 purchase which feels like a bargain. This is one of those times. For that price you get two solid, brand new armies: the Sacrosanct Chamber of the Stormcast Eternals (think spellslinging ghost knights) and the Nighthaunt (think more traditional, ephemeral spirits). The miniatures are stunning, and that’s not a description used lightly. I’ve been cool on the Stormcast Eternals, as they represent a strain of high fantasy which isn’t usually to my tastes, but I found myself ready to put together at least an allied force for my future Idoneth Deepkin army as I assembled them. The simple edition of robes and movement to the bulky Stormcast look clicks in a big way.
Nice as they are, they pale in comparison to the Nighthaunt, which are some of the best miniatures I’ve ever seen Games Workshop release. They look like they float, with ragged robes, clanking chains, and protruding bones granting a high fantasy aesthetic right at home with the superheroic Stormcast, while simultaneously harking back to traditional folkloric ideas of what the restless spirits of the dead look like. Best of all, they have a sense of motion I don’t know anything else in Games Workshop’s catalog possesses. They’re a little more fragile than most—in order to convey motion, some of them perch on thin strands of plastic “robe”—but aren’t nearly as fragile as you might fear from preview photos. Just be careful and things will be fine.
One extra bit about the miniatures which beggars belief is that they’re all push fit. Which is fine with the Stormcast, but unbelievable with the more delicate Nighthaunt. And it all works pretty much perfectly; outside a few miniatures which I dabbed a little plastic glue on, assembly was glue-free and easy to handle.
The box also includes a new core book for the game. It’s huge: 311 glossy, full-color pages of exactly the type of high production value you’d expect from Games Workshop. The included rules are still simple and to the point; very nearly all of the changes have been summarized neatly by Games Workshop on its Warhammer Community website, a very welcome fact for those (like me) who tend to gloss over changes to systems which they’ve memorized. Seriously, outside of a change to how breaking unit cohesion works, it’s all there and very little of it is controversial.
With the rules still slim, most of the book is devoted to the background of the Age of Sigmar universe. This, too, is a welcome change. Despite the novels and campaign books, the Mortal Realms haven’t really felt cohesive in the same way 40k does. Some of that is the weight of years, but an awful lot of that is that Age of Sigmar has struggled with what sort of world it wants to be. That’s not the case anymore; you get the expected faction backgrounds, but you also get extensive history of individual realms, including long-awaited for maps. The game world feels like a living, breathing place with a swirl activity away from named characters and Old World holdovers, and the change in emphasis from the hoary old Order vs Chaos conflict to Order vs Death changes the default tone. It’s a welcome shift.
A Sense of Place
The sense of place in Soul Wars is the best part of it, and the most welcome. For a game world which touted the importance of its setting, right down to the strange physics of an inherently magical universe, games of Age of Sigmar could’ve taken place anywhere. No longer. Each of the Mortal Realms now has rules associated with it which shade your games. Set your battle in the fire realm of Aqshy? Smoke might obscure your vision or moving too fast saps your strength. What about the realm of light, Hysh? The battlefield might dazzle the eyes or allow speeds approaching teleportation.
Magic, too, is tied to place. Every realm has a special spell any wizards in your army knows (or several, if you purchase the Malign Sorcery supplement, which will also be released on June 30th). In the aforementioned examples, battles in Aqshy grant a fireball spell, while Hysh offers a protection spell.
These mechanics tie to the expanded background. The Mortal Realms are a place all their own, where people live and die. You could always read something to that effect, or imagine it, but the emphasis on place in the rules means you feel it in your games. This is exactly what a good set of rules should do: show you what the fiction tells you.
The best summation of Age of Sigmar – Soul Wars is that it is a game marked by maturity of writing, aesthetics, thought, and rules design. There will undoubtedly be some hiccups with the new rules, especially when things hit the ruthless tournament scene, but at no point in two full reads of the new core book did I think something was flung into the rules without thought about how it would play or why it was needed. The game’s background is cohesive, fun, and colorful. The miniatures are gorgeous, and the sculpting crew deserve a raise. You won’t fully comprehend what an achievement thee Nighthaunt are until they’re in your hands.
I’ve been hotly anticipating Soul Wars. It exceeds every expectation and then some, clear proof that Games Workshop’s new golden age shows no sign of abating.
More Warhammer Goodness!
Image Credits: Games Workshop