Review: Age of Sigmar Soul Wars

GW asked us if they could send us out an early copy of the new AoS big box to have an play with as long as we said some words about it. So of course we said ‘yes!’ before they’d even finished asking the question.

My one word review? Excellent! Obviously. But I suspect you’re after more than that.

THE BIG BOOK

This is definitely a book you can judge by its cover. A nice solid hardback in all-business charcoal black, the grim-dark new AoS logo, and that badass Stormcast art. A handy gold ribbon bookmark tops it off.

The community site did a good preview-slash-summary of the contents big book (with some high quality pics of pages), and while I was initially put-out that they’d nicked all my bullet-points, I quickly realised that it’s only because they like exactly the same things I did, and that the studio is well aware of what’s worth bragging about in the new book. I’ve taken some photos of pages they haven’t shown off yet, cause they can’t have all the fun!

It’s broken down into two main sections; the lore, and the rules.

The Lore

Delicious, delicious lore. Almost 200 pages of it! If there was one big criticism of AoS 1.0 (at least amongst my group of friends) it’s that it lacked context. Where are these battlefields we’re fighting over? Who are we fighting to protect or destroy? Well 2.0 certainly can’t be accused of lacking context, and the big book has plenty to go around. (Very minor spoilers here. If you’re worried about that, skip ahead.)

It starts with a catch-up section charting the course of history from Sigmar’s awakening through the Age of Myth, the rise of Chaos, and the beginning of the Age of Sigmar. It has lots of cool details and cut outs of things that happen along the way. I enjoyed bits like Grungni’s lament – he doesn’t answer the duardin’s pleas for help, so as for them to become strong enough to endure the Age of Chaos, but they now have the grudge of grudges against him as a result – and Archaon’s novel solution to invading the Realm of Death by getting whole armies of barbarians to fight to the death so as to reemerge as spectral Chaos dudes in Shyish. The Battle of Burning Skies has some truly epic writing. It felt like I was reading something with the same gravity as the Siege of the Emperor’s Palace, and makes me want to know a lot more about it. The book has a good summation of the events of AoS 1.0 – the Realmgate Wars and the Quest for Ghal Maraz and all that stuff. It then moves on past that to the founding of the Seeds of Life and the recolonisation of the Realms after the Realmgate Wars. The description of the Phoenicium is very evocative, and Hammerhal sounds like a place that would be ripe for exploration as a role-play setting (either the pen-and-paper or AoS28 variety). The dark fate of the Stormcast is also explored – the prophesy of the Lightning Man, and the start of the Soul Wars. And all the while, Nagash is up to his usual meddling in the background, where we find out the fallout from the Malign Portents and what effect the Shyishian Necroquake has had on the mortal realms.

Next up is a guide through all the Realms, with beautiful maps (proper ones, not the cartoony, scale-less maps from the early Battletomes) and art showcasing not only the landscapes but also some of the civilians of the various realms. In fact, there isn’t a bad piece of art in the whole book. Gone are the over-saturated paintings of the models fighting in the same poses they’re sculpted in. Gorgeous landscapes and cityscapes abound.

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We hear about lots of little snippets of culture and daily life. Fun things like the dappled efreet of Aqshy – a puffer fish-like delicacy that can cause the eater to catch fire if not prepared properly – and more serious bits of lore I’d not noticed before like the aelven Wanderers and the Sylvaneth not being on speaking terms anymore because of a past betrayal. There are tantalising hints of probably-not-but-maybe future model ranges like the “cog-people of Odsin” and the gholemkind of Chamon. But most importantly of all, this section does a great job of making the realms sound like a believable and fleshed-out place for the mortal humans, aelves and duardin to exist in. I found myself actually angry at Chaos for coming along and wrecking all these cool and interesting civilisations.

Unfortunately only four of the realms are explored in detail – Aqshy, Ghyran, Shyish and Chamon, but the other five still get at least two pages worth of lore and art. I assume the others are coming once their associated factions are expanded. They do still tease some very interesting concepts and threads for future narratives and armies. The one I’m most looking forward to exploring more is Hysh – both its history and unique laws of nature make for a fascinating teaser.
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The final section of lore is the faction summaries, which are short but evocative. Each Grand Alliance has a chunk of lore for each faction, and then a few pages of the usual brilliant mini photography. They’re mostly solid depictions, with some appropriate humour scattered about. I got some good chuckles from the Duardin and Ogor entries. The Freepeoples section, contrary to what you find in the great lore for the Realms, is basically (and unfortunately) just a list of the legacy models with their copyright-able new names and some fairly brief flavour text. It’s a shame, because I still struggle to square the old Empire aesthetic with the new Realms, and I was hoping this book would have something to get me more invested in them.

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The Rules

They’re great! Aaron and I have had one game with them so far and they work nice and smoothly. They’ve mostly stayed the same, but they’ve been expanded for the purposes of clarification. There are a couple of big changes, all of which have been previewed on the Community site by this stage – the big ones are command points for command abilities, endless spells and the extra choices that creates regarding priority, and free summoning for most armies (although the summoning rules are broken down in individual battle tomes and the General’s Handbook rather than in the core rules).

There’s an updated section of Allegiance Abilities and Artefacts of Power for each Grand Alliance, which both hew to the character of each Grand Alliance rather well – Death are harder to kill, Destruction get bonuses to charging and melee, and so on.

The rules for each of the Realms are fun and for the most part very characterful to each Realm. Each set has a Spell and Command Ability or two for each army to use, as well as a table of unique features to roll on. You might see wandering monsters set up in Ghur, or units moving at the speed of light in Hysh. We also see the return of some classic mechanics from WFB, like Irresistible Force in Chamon. (And on that note, you might also have noticed that the Knight Incantor has a dispel scroll!)

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The book breaks down the rules for Endless Spells, but only previews the Balewind Vortex. Further endless spells will be covered in the Malign Sorcery supplement (see below) and future Battletomes.

The book then has sections for Open Play, Narrative Play and Matched Play games.

Open Play has good guidelines for creating balanced custom battle plans, as well as a random battle plan generator if you want to quickly roll up a battle plan rather than thumbing through all the books to find one that suits. There are sensible rules for two-sided multiplayer games, with a few interesting battle plans. And some simple and fun rules for a basic ladder campaign that can support open play gaming.

Narrative Play starts with general advice about running narrative games, and points in the direction of the Realmgate Wars books for more content and ideas. There are two excellent double page photo-spreads of staged battles along with their special rules. There’s a nifty example of a tree campaign, and cool sounding rules for Siege battles – including a new Siege Phase which takes place before the battle, where the attackers and defender play a dice mini-game to determine what effects the siege has on the table and the armies at the start of the game. Darkest Depths covers rules for fighting in the tunnels and caves below the mortal realms, perfect for Skaven, Duardin, and Grots, and any that dare go looking for them. And lastly Triumph and Treachery! details rules for fighting 3+ sided multiplayer games, complete with rules for bribery and bargaining, and secret objectives.

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The last thing in the book is the Matched Play rules. It’s the standard matched play rules we all love or scorn with equal enthusiasm, and six mirror-match battle plans to accompany them. There’s a handy Pitched Battle ‘force organisation’ chart which suggests the recommended amounts of the various unit types at different points levels. And finally there are the Battle Strategies rules, which are very similar to Tactical Objectives from 40k, except you roll on a D66 chart rather than draw cards, though I’m sure the cards will be a thing in the future.

THE MODELS

The sprues in the box are flipping jam-packed with pieces, and I’m sure GW is pushing its design and production capabilities to the limit with this boxed set. Each faction has one big sprue, and three little ones, two of which are duplicates. They come in a nice box-in-a-box, so they don’t scrape up the books.

And they’re all push fit too! I put the Knight of Shrouds together just to see what he looks like and I pulled him apart again to get at the mould lines, although like a lot of the most recent kits, it’s can be quite hard to even find mould lines on some of the models, as well engineered as they are. Great stuff. Means you can get in a tester game with all the new models and rules super quick, and then go back and take your time cleaning them up and painting them properly. A word of warning on that front though: the models fit together so well in some instances that they won’t come apart again, even without glue, so don’t bank on being able to disassemble them.

The Nighthaunts are gorgeous models, absolutely packed with details. So many of them are just billowing cloaks or hollow ribcages with big empty spaces in between, and they look great for it. It gives a fantastic impression of their insubstantial nature. Not sure how easy it’ll be to get a paintbrush in those spaces though! Because of the way the models have been chopped up to make them push fit, there are a few unfortunate gaps down the middle of cloaks and that sort of thing, especially on the big guys, so there may be a bit of greenstuffing required to smooth out some of the more noticeable seams. And they do have some very delicate pieces – thin swords, chains, teeny arms, and so on – so you’ll want to be very careful when clipping them off the sprue lest something snap off.

The Chainrasps have got to be some of the coolest looking Battleline units in the game. And their rules are pretty tasty too, being able to fly, ignore modifiers to their saves, and being summonable.

Aaron nabbed the Stormcast, so you’ll have to ask him what they’re like to put together, but from what I could see on the sprues, and the official pictures from GW, they look rather spectacular, and don’t seem to involve any of the rotation-puzzle finger-acrobatics required to put together some of the models in the AoS 1.0 box. I also suspect they’re sliiiiiiightly bigger than previous Stormcast, but it’s hard to tell.

Here are a bunch of pictures, cause I know you all just skipped to them anyway.

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The characters are suitably massive next to the poor infantry, so they’ll definitely stand out on the battlefield.
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Every model either comes with a slotta-base or hex pegs, so you can be sure they balance right.

THE OTHER STUFF

You get a Start Here book with a run through of what comes in the box and what Age of Sigmar is. Nothing too exciting in here if you know what AoS’s deal is already, but there are some nice close-up pictures of the new models.

A Core Rules booklet presents the 9 or so pages of the updated core rules, so you don’t have to go thumbing through the big book to reference them. Very handy.

The Battle for Glymmsforge book breaks down the narrative of the eponymous battle (and makes the city sound like a rather interesting place), and gives each character and unit a one-page lore section similar to that which you’d find in a Battletome. It also gives an insightful summary of the Sacrosanct Chamber and the Nighthaunts, including a clue to the fate of a certain hero of the world-that-was, to those paying attention. Strangely, I was expecting to find a bunch of narrative battle-plans, similar to what came in AoS 1.0, but there’s no sign of them in here. It also has the pitched battle points in the back of it. If you’re interested, the Nighthaunts come to 820 points. The Stormcast are trickier to work out as the Castigators (crossbow guys) and Sequitors (mace and shield guys) are counted in multiples of 3, but you get 5 of each in the box. My best guess is the Stormcast come to 960 points.

There’s also a separate Chapter 1 from Josh Reynolds’ Soul Wars novel. It’s pretty good! You might need a dictionary though (“quaquaversal”!?). And the limited edition looks very cool.

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You also get one of those transparent range rulers similar to ones in the Necromunda and 40K boxes, which you’re going to love setting down and it immediately turning invisible.

You get some snazzy turquoise dice. A test roll demonstrated performance within acceptable tolerances.

There are two sets of gorgeous and sturdy warscroll cards including a fold-out double-size one for the Lord Arcanum and all his special rules, complete with lovely big photos on the backs. I hope they’re planning to release these for every faction because they’re excellent quality and super-handy.

And finally, you get build and paint instructions for the models (don’t lose this!), and a teeny little sheet of transfers. (Does anyone use transfers anymore?)

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CONCLUSION

As I said at the start, it’s an excellent box, chock-full of amazing models (no doubt with a hefty discount applied), some neat accessories, and a gorgeous full-colour hard-backed rule book packed with lots of much needed and very good lore. The rules are a sensible update and streamlining of an already great game, and the new allegiance abilities, realm rules and endless spells add in some great new mechanics. I can’t wait to get these Nighthaunts all painted up, and I imagine I’ll be playing a whoooole lot of AoS 2.0.

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BONUS REVIEW!

If you’ve made it this far then here’s a little extra something for you. We also got the Malign Sorcery box, so I thought I’d crack it open and show you what tasty morsels lie within.

You get a nice 88-page book that acts like a Battletome. A history of sorts covers the birth of magic, each colour of magics’ connection to each of the individual Realms, the nature of Realmstone, and how magic came to be learned and used in the Mortal Realms. It’s very flavourful; the kind of deep-dive into a specific part of AoS lore that we’ve not really seen before. Each Endless Spell gets a big page or two of lore, some including “biographies” of some of the more famous manifestations, as well as some mind-bending art of each of them in action – melting dragons and incinerating whole armies and the like. The back half of the book has unique spell lores and artefacts of power for every one of the Realms which can be used in addition to army and allegiance spell lores and artefacts, as well as Path to Glory and Skirmish rules for fighting in the magic-rich environs at the edges of the Realms. The Skirmish section even includes a battleplan for two warbands hunting down a rogue endless spell – it reads like Ghostbusters: The Battleplan and I can’t wait to have a go at it! There are a whole lot of magic-flavoured regular battleplans to try out too, with some very interesting mechanics. There are the Pitched Battle points for the endless spells near the back, as well as two more Pitched Battle battleplans that get added to the scenario table if either player is using endless spells. There’s also a painting guide section, which is super handy, as always.

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You get a pack of war scrolls for each of the spells, on the same size and quality cards as come in Soul Wars.

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The models themselves come in a nice tough zip-lock bag that I’m sure will be useful for other things. But best of all, to my easily amused sense of novelty, they all come in coloured plastic! And they’re flipping huge! The pictures really don’t do justice to the size of these things. The Purple Sun is so big it even has an interior skeleton to support it. You get a lot of plastic for your beans. And they’re also push fit, same as Soul Wars, so you can jam them together super quick.

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No glue required.

To be honest, this box has way more content than I was expecting, and it really is a treat to dig through – not just the large collection of huge models, but the massive expansion to both the lore and the game with the extra battleplans, spell lores and artefacts. It’s well worth picking up.

 

3 thoughts on “Review: Age of Sigmar Soul Wars

  1. There is a lot in this box what makes me think I should get it, but on the other hand. I don’t like the snap-fit nature of the models. I want to mix and match and this will just build one singular looking set of armies.

    The heroes, of both stormcast as well as nighthaunt, look absolutely amazing though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I get what you mean. The only duplication in the box is the second set of 10 Chainrasps, but I figure that nobody looks too closely at the generic infantry anyway, and they have enough dynamism that you wouldn’t initially recognise them as being duplicates at arm’s length. You could chop and change the hands/weapons around, for a bit of variety, I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

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