We at Beasts of War love adding a bit of narrative to our gaming. Providing an epic story, shaped by your wins and losses, brings a game to life and elevates it beyond pieces on a table.
Games Workshop have always provided excellent campaigns for their games and I got a chance to look at the most recent for Warhammer Fantasy; Sigmar’s Blood!
Sigmar’s Blood brings us a new chapter in the battle between the Empire and the Vampire Counts, a rich resource for dark and dramatic conflict.
A great darkness has spread over Sylvania. The people of the province once again cower under the threat of the greatest vampire count of all, Mannfred von Carstein. The Witch Hunters are being hunted and Volkmar the Grim, Grand Theogonist of the Church of Sigmar, is calling for an end to the undead menace.
Leading the forces of the Sigmar Cult into the depths of the dark land, the Grand Theogonist meets with surviving forces who now seek to return the sun to Sylvania. But it could all be too late. The fate of the Empire hangs in the balance, as Mannfred brings to bear terrifying forces not seen since the times of Nagash.
Let me start off by saying that I was, for the most part, fairly impressed by the fluff on display in Sigmar’s Blood. The Empire and the Vampire Counts are, in my opinion, two of the most characterful armies in the game, embodying many of the standard tropes of dark fantasy.
It is unsurprising that Games Workshop would choose to move along the relationship between the two factions in this campaign book. One of the best (or worst, but I will come to that later) things about this story is that it actually does lead to a change in the status quo of the Warhammer World, similar to the legacy left by the Storm of Chaos campaign a few years ago, though on an admittedly smaller scale.
Still, for me the best thing about the story has to be the tone of the writing. We are given a suitably dark and dramatic plot for our battles to shape, filled with sinister omens, atmospheric locations and interesting characters. However, Sigmar’s Blood occasionally forgets itself and lets a bit of humour slip in.
For instance, there is one part where a person is mentioned as having died in an unfortunate accident. The accident in question involved gunpowder, a length of bamboo and a castrated boar. While slightly incongruous with the rest of the book, such moments hark back to the days when Games Workshop knew how to have fun with their product, reminding me in particular of the 4th edition rule book for the Dogs of War. It is really good to see the game not take itself too seriously again.
In terms of the actual campaign, Sigmar’s Blood does a good job in ramping up both the stakes and the challenge of each scenario. There are four scenarios in total, starting from conflicts between two reasonably small forces led by heroes of either side, and ending with a large scale battle in which mighty war engines take to the field.
The scenarios tend to be pretty good at creating a narrative feel to the game play, a good example being one game in which the Light Wizards of the Empire have to use the lenses in an abandoned observatory in order to get a message back to the Emperor. What ensues is a desperate struggle to get the powerful Luminark into contact with a building on the table, contested by waves of the undead led by the Tomb Banshee Whispering Nell.
Each objective a faction achieves means an advantage in the final battle, meaning that you have it all to play for. There is a feeling that the battles are somewhat inconsequential, as a unit’s losses have no bearings on the following game they’re in, but this is counter balanced by the hero characters, which grow and change slightly depending on the outcome of the games.
The heroes are a point I find myself somewhat conflicted upon. While there are unique heroes for the campaign, these are variations on standard faction heroes with preset optional equipment, such as the Witch Hunter Alberich von Korden, the first hero to lead the Empire forces. He is a standard Witch Hunter equipped with the White Ring of Templehof, a campaign unique item which functions as a Ring of Volans, but can only generate its spell from the Law or Light.
While these small tweaks and additions to standard characters does give them a sense of individuality, I can’t help but feel that the supplement could have benefited from the inclusion of some new special characters, as was done in previous Warhammer supplements like Warhammer Lustria, or even the Storm of Chaos. Still, I understand that Sigmar’s Blood is on a more confined scale to these and you do find yourself attached to the characters’ respective struggles in the campaign.
All in all I found Sigmar’s Blood to be a competent, if limited, supplement to Warhammer Fantasy. The manner in which the opposing armies grow throughout the course of the campaign is well handled and would make this a good way of getting started with collecting either the Vampire Counts or the Empire, although I do think that if you stick to the army lists in this you will quickly find yourself bankrupt. The final battle sees the Empire fielding both Volkmar on the War Altar of Sigmar and a Luminark, two rather large pieces that will quickly burn a hole in your pocket.
In the end I don’t think I would advise this to people, unless they already own the factions, or are looking for ideas for their own campaign. It is definitely worth a look, but I am less sure if it is worth buying. Due to its two faction nature it is rather limited, which does aid in providing a tense and fun narrative campaign, but doesn’t help if you are looking to play with more than one person.
Then we come to the one thing I actually didn’t like. It is to do with the finale so excuse me while I change font colour:
SPOILER ALERT!!!! TURN BACK IF YE WANT TO GO FORTH IN IGNORANCE OF THINGS TO COME!!
At the end we are presented with a definite conclusion. We are not provided with two different ones so that whoever wins feels they have accomplished something. You are left feeling that whoever won in your games would not have mattered in the slightest. This is annoying from a game perspective, but it does mean we get an epic ending for the story.
Here come the spoilers.
In the end Mannfred is apparently defeated, but it turns out he had just needed to capture Volkmar to finish his grand scheme. After supposedly killing the Grand Theogonist (again, seriously he is like the red shirt of Warhammer lore) Mannfred finishes his ritual and succeeds in cutting off Sylvania. Giant bone walls rise around its borders and the whole province is turned into a fortress of the dead.
This is a pretty cool ending. It brings a sense of the events having really shaped the Warhammer World, in much the way the old world wide campaigns used to. It is something I both applaud and shake my head at. For while it is a great climax, it does seem a little stupid on Mannfred’s part. Sure he has insured his dominion of Sylvania, but eventually everything there will die, meaning he will have to leave the safety of his province just to get a quick drink.
So the final verdict of Sigmar’s Blood; a fun, well put together campaign book, which sadly proves too limited to be ultimately worth it. Although, if you are a fluff fanatic like me, you might like to pick this one up just for the story. While the conclusion does make the actions of the players feel meaningless and is a little nonsensical, it does make for a cool ending which feels like it has had a real impact upon the game’s setting.
Will you be playing through Sigmar’s Blood? Can you suggest any scenarios you would have liked to see included?