My friend Tom and I played our first game of Age of Sigmar today – my first game ever, and his second or third. We chose the scenario ‘Hold Or Die’, where one force (in this case Tom’s Stormcast Eternals) find themselves cut off and surrounded. Only a third of Tom’s forces would begin the game on the board, with the rest arriving at the beginning of the second turn.
My army of Tzeentch is made up of the Silver Tower adversaries along with the beginnings of my demon army – you’ll see a few miniatures here that I’ve not yet finished and properly photographed, including Pink Horrors and Screamers. These photos aren’t great, but they’ll hopefully help illustrate the story as we go. I don’t know if I’ll write up every game I play, but there were enough great moments that I wanted to get this all down before the story slipped my mind.
At the dawn of the Age of Sigmar, a host of Stormcast Eternals is sent deep into Chamon, the Realm of Metal, on a secret charge given to them by the god-king. Believing themselves to be on the cusp of discovering an artifact of great power, the chamber’s Lord-Celestant and Lord-Relictor take a small group of Judicators and forge ahead before becoming lost in a blinding mist rising from pools of molten metal. When the mist suddenly clears, the rest of the Stormcast host is nowhere to be seen – and an army of Tzeentch, overseen by a Gaunt Summoner, is upon them.
Isolated from their comrades, the Lord-Celestant, Lord-Relictor and Judicators take up a defensive position.
A Gaunt Summoner flanked by demonic and mortal servants of Tzeentch faces the Stormcast from the far end of the valley. On the flank, a Herald of Tzeentch and accompanying Screamers swoop down from the cliffside.
Their weapons out of range, the Stormcast hold their positions as the horde moves forward. The Pink Horrors hurl bolts of magical flame at the Lord-Celestant, wounding him. The Screamers and Herald move fast around the side, ready to threaten on the next turn.
The forces of Chaos take the initiative on the second turn. The flying units move up fast and The Herald summons a unit of Flamers of Tzeentch in range of the Stormcast position. The Flamers and Herald lay into the Lord-Celestant with ranged fire, dealing a devastating series of blows and slaying the Stormcast commander in the opening moments of the battle. The Ogroid Thaumaturge charges forward, casting fireblast at the Lord-Relictor, wounding him and summoning horrors that pin him down. The Stormcast are on the ropes.
At the beginning of the Stormcast turn, their reinforcements arrive on a side of the board secretly chosen before the battle began.
A massive unit of Retributors lead by a Knight-Heraldor rushes to the aid of the surviving Stormcast, joined by two units of Liberators and a Knight-Vexillor.
A blast from the Knight-Heraldor’s trumpet allows the otherwise-lumbering Retributors to move, run and charge in a single turn. They thunder out of the ravine and blindside the Ogroid Thaumaturge, who falls quickly under their hammers.
The Screamers turn to intercept the Retributors as the Herald and Flamers turn on the Judicators. Both units of Liberators roll sixes on their running moves, sprinting into position from the edge of the board.
The Pink Horrors and Screamers take on the Retributors and slay two before being totally wiped out themselves.
The Tzaangors and Acolytes back off from the onrushing Retributors, screening the Gaunt Summoner.
Surging forward again, the Retributors slam into the Tzaangors. The beastmen hold their own and kill a Retributor, but their morale breaks and all but one flee at the end of the round.
After the last Tzaangor falls, the Gaunt Summoner summons another horde of Pink Horrors, who themselves then summon Screamers on the Retributor’s flank. On the other side of the battle, the Flamers and Herald kill the last of the Judicators and start moving back towards the Summoner.
The Gaunt Summoner retreats onto a hillside as the Screamers and Pink Horrors engage the surviving Retributors. Even though only two remain, all of the Pink Horrors are slain and the Screamers retreat. In the part of the battle that I did not adequately photograph, the Knight-Vexillor summons a celestial meteor that kills one Flamer and wounds the Herald of Tzeentch. Unsatisfied, the Knight-Heraldor then blasts a nearby pit of molten metal with his battle-horn. The resulting tidal wave of burning liquid kills a Flamer, the Herald, and a nearby Liberator.
The remaining Flamer takes down the last Retributor, finally bringing the Stormcast charge to a halt. The surviving Liberators manage to engage the Gaunt Summoner, however, and the battle on the hillside is close fought. The Screamers are able to take the Liberators down and buy time for the Summoner to flee.
Of the two armies, only four Liberators, three Screamers, a Flamer, the Gaunt Summoner, Knight-Heraldor, and Knight-Vexillor remain. The Liberators struggle to make up ground as the Flamer flies to the Gaunt Summoner’s position. But then! The Heraldor aims a thunderblast at the rocky outcrop taken up by the Gaunt Summoner, detonating it and burying the Summoner and final Flamer under the debris. Only the Screamers remain.
The Screamers lay into the Stormcast heroes, but lose one of their own number in each combat. The hated Knight-Heraldor is wounded, but eventually only one Screamer remains.
The last Screamer brings the Heraldor down with its final attack before being slain by the Knight-Vexillor. The Stormcast have survived the ambush at the cost of two generals and over 85% of their force – but they have survived. This was the Gaunt Summoner’s plan all along, obviously.
A few thoughts, now that I’ve finally played the game. First: this was impressively close. We used the matched play ruleset to try to balance the game (point values and summoning restrictions, chiefly) but approached this as a narrative experience. Even so, this clearly worked. A few strategic decisions by either of us could have swung this, and while dice played a part (particularly when it came to the Retributors’ unstoppable charge rolls) it didn’t feel like the game came entirely down to them. We both walked away thinking about the strategic ramifications of the decisions we made and the armies we’d built.
Secondly, and more importantly, the game was full of memorable moments. The sudden death of the Lord-Celestant (and the dragon he rode in on) set the stakes very high: this wasn’t just a holdout situation, but an immediate dance with death. This set the stage for the arrival of the Retributors, whose Gandalf-at-Helm’s Deep entrance couldn’t have been cooler – down to the fact that they outflanked and annihilated the out-of-position Thaumaturge, swinging the momentum of the battle for the Stormcast and getting revenge for the Lord-Celestant.
Then we had the run-and-summon fight down the centre of the board as the Gaunt Summoner tried to halt the Retributors before they could reach him and only just succeeded, followed by the destructive march of the Knight-Heraldor and his ludicrous horn as he blasted molten metal over the Herald of Tzeentch and blew up the mountain that the Gaunt Summoner was standing on. It felt like a perfect end that he himself was finally taken out by the last demon, leaving only five shellshocked Stormcast models on the board at the end.
We’re going to keep building up a history between these two armies – this was a prologue, of a sort, one built around the idea that Tom’s Lord-Relictor will eventually track my Gaunt Summoner down to the Silver Tower. The structure of the fiction makes this narrative easier to build, too. I’ve read complaints that battles don’t mean anything in Age of Sigmar because nobody really dies – the Stormcast are reforged, demons obey their own laws, and so on.
I understand where that viewpoint comes from, but the fact is that you can’t build a meaningful ongoing story in a battle game if death is permanent – otherwise Tom’s Lord-Celestant is gone, my Gaunt Summoner is gone, all of the characters who could give it meaning. We’d have played ourselves into a corner. As it is, we can imagine what the next encounter between these forces might be like – it could be hundreds of years later – and carry those rivalries forward. His Lord-Celestant, if he returns, will respect Flamers.
My Gaunt Summoner, for his part, will respect dudes with trumpets.