The January issue of White Dwarf contained a nice little surprise for me. Brand spanking new Skirmish rules for Age of Sigmar!
Included as part of the new format for White Dwarf which is bringing the magazine ever closer to how it used to be. Each issue promises new rules supplements with one of the first for Age of Sigmar being this update to Skirmish. The old Skirmish rules were from back in the heady days of original Age of Sigmar and have long been in need for an update. It is not just a one off either. There is a nice tease for campaign rules to come at a later date and hopefully we’ll see further updates after that.
I liked original Skirmish a lot because it is was a great way to introduce people to Age of Sigmar. You have a handful of miniatures on the table and the amount of upgrades and extra abilities players have access to is greatly reduced. The new Skirmish continues in this tradition with some tighter but understandable restrictions. There is no trawling through endless lists of artefacts of power abilities and their ilk here. All of the available Allegiance Abilities, Command Traits and Artefacts of Power are included solely within the Skirmish rules. Other things from base Age of Sigmar that have been pulled out of Skirmish are command abilities that affect battleshock tests, things that summon units during battle, Realm of Battle rules, Realm Spells and Endless Spells. These are all very sensible omissions. It keeps things focused on the small Warbands fighting to control objects of power and complete objectives away from the huge battles that require full armies.
The seven Skirmish specific battleplans included in White Dwarf look like a mixed but fun bag. You have your basic kill all of the things with A Time For Heroes. Plans like a Clash At Dawn and The Ritual look like they could lead to some very interesting and unique games. Then the more traditional objective based battleplans like Hold The Centre and Sweeping Assault also seem like they will be fun to play. There are a couple of oddities though. Treasure Hunt does not give a players a way to resolve a tie at the end of its fifth round. No, “both players draw” conclusion, it just assumes that one player will win in one of the two ways listed. The Dangerous Hunt battleplan featuring a roaming Endless Spell is the weakest battleplan for me. It feels like it could be a bit too random and swingy with victory going to the player who had the best luck rather than the most skill.
As previously mentioned the K.I.S.S approach to Skirmish makes it an easy way to bring someone into the hobby. I can easily put together multiple Warbands from my Stormcast Eternals, Ironjawz, Gloomspite Gitz, Blades of Khorne and Nighthaunt armies. Then bring them all to an intro game and let the player I am teaching pick the one they like the look of the most. Then when explaining the rules for AoS and Skirmish the 1 model = 1 unit rule makes breaking down some of the more confusing aspects of the game a lot easier to comprehend for new players.
I can explain the basics of the spell system without having to worry about Endless Spells. I can explain Battleshock as something you do quickly and easily at the end of a round then add that in a normal game you do it for each unit that has suffered casualties rather than the whole army. Movement and positioning is also simplified. I do not have to worry about newer players being overwhelmed manoeuvring large amounts of models. So players quickly grasp the basics of controlling the board. Skirmish is quick, clean and effective.
However there are still some niggling problems with the Skirmish format for Age of Sigmar.
The main one being that it feels almost tertiary to the main game. It is here now because it was provided in Age of Sigmar 1st Edition. The first time around Skirmish was used as a way to breathe new life into AoS. Encouraging players old and new to try out different armies with very little overhead. It’s campaign rules laid the groundwork for Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire and there was some product support behind it to. This time, for now at least, there are just these rules. Basically when it comes to new Skirmish I have a bit of Kill Team envy.
Warhammer Underworlds is the second line for the Age of Sigmar setting. It is a fantastic game but a very different game from AoS. Kill Team in the 40K setting is built on top of the fundamentals of 40K with some tweaks and refinements. It is realitively easy to step from Kill Team to 40K whereas Underworlds to AoS is a bigger leap. Skirmish could easily fill in that gap and people like me will use it to try and do that. It is just annoying that Skirmish does not have its own product line similar to Kill Team’s. The ad at the end of the Skirmish rules printed in White Dwarf suggests picking up a Start Collecting box to get involved. Something that gives you way too much for Skirmish play. If there were Skirmish specific sets of miniatures a la Kill Team’s maybe with some scenery and object markers thrown in to bulk out the price then it would feel like something worth getting involved in. It does not need to be at the scale of releases of Kill Team but some additional support would be welcome. They even did this back at the launch of the original version of Skirmish when they released four starter Warband boxes with the rules. These boxes where a steal and if you can still find them they are well worth picking up to bulk out any Chaos, Ironjawz, Stormcast or Flesh-Eater army.
The other major bugbears I have at the moment is that these rules are locked to this particular issue of White Dwarf. If I lose or damage my copy of White Dwarf it will become increasingly hard to replace. Battletomes and General’s Handbooks are available to buy forever (at least until a newer version is released). Issues of White Dwarf are ethereal things. Once they’re gone, they are gone. It is shame they ditched the digital version of the magazine because that would be the way to preserve these rules and other supplements they will include in future issues. Having something like a PDF archive of back issues for subscribers (like me!) would be amazing and keep me invested long term.
Hopefully once all the new Skirmish rules supplements have been published in White Dwarf they will add them to the Age of Sigmar app in some form. For now I will just have to make do with scanning them to my Mac when I get the chance.
The new system for determining Renown values for figure is a bit of a double edged sword. While it provides flexibility and an open end that ensures any relevant new unit releases can be used in Skirmish. It is easy to misread a step and make mistakes while going through the process of calculating Renown. Especially if you are putting together large and multiple lists in one go. Having Renown Point lists for all the relevant units in Age of Sigmar similar would be amazing and we had something akin to them with the limited lists for original Skirmish. I understand that it would be a lot of effort to produce and publish it. However as an in between stopgap it feels like there could be a digital solution to this instead. By adding an extra couple of settings and tabs to the Azyr list builder in the AoS app suddenly Skirmish becomes a lot more accessible. Being able to set a Renown limit and have all of the calculations done for me would be a god send. It is something that easier said than done but something that would be very appreciated by me and many others.
On the whole I am happy about these new Skirmish rules and if they keep adding to them with additional supplements they could quickly and easily build up into the tight and well featured sub-game I want it to be. There is also the potential for the campaign rules for Skirmish to dovetail into some new rules for Path to Glory. Which in turn leads players into a full blown Age of Sigmar campaign. For now Skirmish feels like a novelty and a diversion to play around with if you do not have time for a full game of Age of Sigmar. It can still serve as a great gateway into AoS but there are a few hurdles to get over before you can start enjoying it.