August 30, 2017 by brennon
One of the things that can be said of the new Games Workshop is that they listen to their fan base. The Age Of Sigmar crowd has been extremely vocal and had a huge amount of input in the development of the game.
So, when the General’s Handbook 2017 was released it was packed with plenty of changes and tweaks brought about by the efforts of the community and the Age Of Sigmar design team. As it stands, it’s quite the treasure trove of content for someone wanting to find their way to play games in the Mortal Realms.
What’s In The Book?
The book breaks down into a number of different sections akin to the original General’s Handbook with rules for covering Open, Narrative and Matched Play as well as points costs and more for the various armies of the Mortal Realms that have come to life over the last year or so.
Open Play & Open War Cards
As the easiest way to play the game, simply by taking a handful of your models and plonking them down on the table, Open Play has retained much of what it originally intended. It is meant for friends to play games together rather than tightly fought tournament style affairs and has an air of ‘beer & pretzels’ around it as we like to say in the tabletop world.
A few changes have been thrown in, however, to make it a little more structured. One such thing is the addition of the Open War Cards.
These decks of cards help you to randomise your set-up, objectives, and any bonuses or win conditions that you need to bring into play to account for an imbalance in wounds between the two sides.
This means that every game you play is going to be different and should have more structure to it beyond a simple meat grinder experience. Helping to add a level of bluffing and surprise to the affair the Sudden Death and Ruse cards act as you might imagine.
Sudden Death cards are secret objectives that an overwhelmed force can choose to complete in order to instantly win the battle. They might be to slay the enemy general, or a particular monster, maybe even to have enough men still standing by the end of a round.
Ruse cards are the lesser of these and give your outmatched force an ace in the hole that might help you when the time is right. This helps take some of the pressure of those playing Open Play games and feeling like they were simply getting slaughtered by their opponents superior forces – this is why you play with nice people and friends and not assholes!
Multiplayer Games & Coalitions Of Death
Another feather in the cap of Open Play is the introduction of more ways to play with your friends in multiplayer scenarios. As well as standard rules for this and scenarios to match they also have what’s called the Coalition Of Death.
This particular mode of play sets you up for larger games of Age Of Sigmar and has your heroes fighting with forces they might have never considered against a common evil.
One particular rule that I liked from this mode of play was Their Finest Hour. This rule sees your heroes having an hour for their destiny to be fulfilled (a battle round). When this comes around they get healed up (action movie style) and get a special ability from a table of options allowing them to turn the tide, cut off their nemeses head or drive back the enemy from the brink of victory – it’s all very heroic and stirring.
Triumph & Treachery as a mode also returns for multiplayer games and has you using your hard won victory points during the game to bribe other units not to attack you, turn on an ally, or even draw from a table of results which can dramatically turn the action on its head. They are all rather funny and deadly so if your players are up for it these could be fantastic alternatives to the standard game and scenarios.
Secret objectives are also thrown into the mix meaning that you can never know exactly who you can trust. This is quite the toolbox option for gamers who want to just play some pickup games of Age of Sigmar and mess around with their collection.
This doesn’t mean that these rules can’t be used away from Open Play; in fact, you could bring them into whatever game mode you choose. As mentioned above this is a toolbox that Games Workshop is offering up giving you a chance to play the way YOU want to.
Narrative Play & Map Campaigns
Whilst the map campaigns mentioned in the General’s Handbook 2017 are more focused around Open Play I think they have a place more in the realm of Narrative Play and telling stories.
The actual board used to represent Games Workshop’s internal map campaign games
A handful of Battleplans are once again introduced to the book to help guide you through some ‘heroic’ events in the Realmgate Wars but the real gem here comes in the way they’ve helped come up with ideas and bonuses for you holding regions of the map board and the influence they have over the game world in subsequent battles.
They have designed one based on their in-house games but there’s no reason you couldn’t pick that up as an example and try a different one of your own design.
When used alongside the Triumph & Treachery rules however they might have you plotting against that one player who seems to keep winning and claiming areas of the map – sowing the seeds of discord!
Another great addition to this book is a selection of options for Time Of War games. These give you tabletop tweaks and changes which can help to immerse you more in the world of the Mortal Realms.
For example, if you play a game in the realm of Aqshy and Capilaria then you have limited ranged options and all Wizards are able to harness the flames and cast fireball spells. If you headed to Ghur and the Shores Of The Gnawing Seas then you’d have random monsters roaming the board and Wizards able to draw on the natural energies to turn into their Wildforms.
As well as giving you different mutators which help to change up your games they also help to paint a better picture of the Mortal Realms a whole so you, as a new player, can better visualise the place you’re fighting over.
Where another big change has occurred is in the Matched Play section of the rules. Points costs have been tightened and tweaked to make them more applicable to the current meta. Whilst I personally don’t have a huge amount of games of Age Of Sigmar under my belt it does seem like that this is a good change according to word on the internet.
As per the original General’s Handbook, your army is limited dependant on its size in the heroes, soldiers, monsters and more that it can take so your choices are key. Points costs aren’t as granular as they are in Warhammer 40,000 with weapon options and such still fair game, regardless of the points cost of the unit. One would assume they’ve done their homework there, however, to make it fitting to the unit’s power.
Most of the intricacies of building armies have been dealt with as they cover how allies and reinforcement work, making it so that you can still retain a sense of character about an army and indeed not overwhelm your enemy with units as seemed to be the case with summoning in the first incarnation of the game.
I did particularly like the way they dealt with Massive Regiments. Some units have different points costs denoted by a / with the right-hand number being the maximum points you pay for that unit. This helps those horde armies out there squeeze a few more points out of their force and into other units or heroes.
A sea of units is still a large possibility here, which does irk me somewhat, especially since you don’t use movement trays anymore in this game, but at least the rule has been tightened as to not punish them too much with strange costings.
Theming forces, and being rewarded as such, seems to also have been at the forefront of their mind when it came to the new General’s Handbook as in addition to Chaos, Order, Death and Destruction we’re seeing more focused Allegiance rules to help give your force more character with additional benefits.
If you’re starting force qualifies for one of the keywords in the book they get themselves a Battle Trait which affects the whole force along with new Command Traits and Artefacts Of Power to draw on.
For example, if your army is all Order based then they are all Defiant Avengers that can reroll their Battleshock tests each round. The Dispossessed (had to look at the Duardin of course) are Stubborn To The End meaning that on Battleshock rolls of a 1, 2 or 3 they do not suffer losses. They also get a Grudge to settle against their enemy which is nice to see return from 7th Edition Warhammer Fantasy.
The Fyreslayers and some other factions also get even more theme. In addition to their Allegiance abilities and other rules may also get specific rules for belonging to individual factions within their army; in the case of the Fyreslayers, their particular Lodges and for the Orruks, their Tribes.
I think this change, in particular, was very key. It existed in a way before but this is even more fleshed out and means that a force that isn’t specifically from the new line-up still feels like it has a place in Age Of Sigmar and a right to fight for the Mortal Realms.
The General’s Handbook 2017 might have been seen by some as a rolling way to simply get you paying more for rules but considering most of the Age of Sigmar content is free anyway, this doesn’t feel like it smarts too much.
What this is is them responding to the community and giving those faithful to Age Of Sigmar what they need to continue playing their games. The constant update of the book and the points costs as a whole over coming years should help to keep the meta fresh and on an even keel.
You can tell, as you read through the book, that the design team behind the game have put a lot of effort into making sure that they have been attentive to the needs of the community and tried to come up with new fun ways to play the game as well at the same time.
The addition of more multiplayer options, Triumph & Treachery, the Open War cards and more is a big step in the right direction as well as adding in the additional fluff and background to the Mortal Realms with those realm-based tabletop rules.
I will say that the book does feel a little cluttered at points and while they have done a nice job with the overall layout of the product at some times I did feel like I was trying to wade through a sea of words rather than taking things in. A bit more artwork and a few more miniatures wouldn’t have gone a miss but that’s maybe something for the larger army tomes to deal with – after all, the fluff in here is almost non-existent.
The book, and accompanying Open War cards do a lot of the heavy lifting for players of Age Of Sigmar, especially if you’re new, giving you ways to get playing in a multitude of ways.
I would say that at present there isn’t a better time to get into Age of Sigmar. With an updated Handbook, Getting Started armies, AoS: Skirmish and Path To Glory to work from you could be in for quite the treat as you grow your armies.
Make sure to check out my Path To Glory Review as it delves into this in more detail and talks about the starting points open to you as a new player.
Maybe it’s time I got more of my Stormcast Eternals painted and down on the table to give some of these campaign rules a go?
What did you think of the new General’s Handbook?
"... get a special ability from a table of options allowing them to turn the tide, cut off their nemeses head or drive back the enemy from the brink of victory - it’s all very heroic and stirring"
"...they also help to paint a better picture of the Mortal Realms a whole so you, as a new player, can better visualise the place you're fighting over"