I read the Age of Sigmar rules over the weekend with great interest. Even knowing some of what to expect, it was certainly disorienting when I realized that there’s absolutely no limitation on what players are allowed to put on the table. I don’t mind that, though; in fact, I think it’s possible that Games Workshop didn’t go far enough.
That probably sounds insane—there’s nothing about balance, how could they go further than nothing—but hear me out. Over the weekend a friend likened Age of Sigmar to Magic: the Gathering’s Commander format. Commander is a casual approach to Magic that only works when the players sit down in advance and discuss what kind of game they want to play: super-competitive, slow and casual, etc. So long as the players do that, though, it’s great.
Age of Sigmar seems to be built on the same principle as Commander: the game allows players to make what they will of it, and trusts them to figure out as a group what that’s going to be. Does everyone want to play a story-driven narrative game, with scenarios based on an overarching plot and armies that grow and shrink with their nations’ fortunes? That’s fine. Would the players prefer instead instead to play regimented armies marching in formation? That’s supported. Just want to play a bunch of dragons that breathe fire on everything because it’ll be SO METAL? Awesome, you can absolutely do that.
For all of that to work, however, the players have to be on the same page—and the Age of Sigmar rules never actually suggest that the players should talk. Every new-player article about Commander makes it clear up-front that groups picking up the format need to decide on their own ground rules, and that people coming into a group must find out what the group’s rules are. The Age of Sigmar rule sheet lacks that guidance, and given how outside the norm that kind of discussion is in miniatures circles I think it’s going to be sorely missed.
I’m excited to give Age of Sigmar a try. As I read over the rules, though, I can’t help but wish that Games Workshop had taken a page from recent paper RPGs by stating not just what the rules are, but why they are that way. I want Games Workshop to take the final step on Age of Sigmar’s road: having built a game that puts players very much in the role of scenario designers, be open in telling them so.