Welcome to the first installment of Highground Tactics, where we help you play every game as if you had the high ground. Today, we are going to talk about the important parts of an Age of Sigmar (AOS) game that take place before the well-painted, based and loved models hit the table. Our goal will be to understand the different armies you can face, different types of lists you might see, and questions to ask your opponent before you start rolling dice.
Age of Sigmar is a game of many different armies, races, and tactics. When playing a game, it is important to understand the army you are going up against. To win at Age of Sigmar, you’ll need to set a few hours aside to memorize every single warscroll for the two dozen armies (give or take) in the game so you have a full understanding of each army’s rules.
For real though, you don’t have time to memorize all of those warscrolls. The new Stormcast Eternals battletome alone has more items than a Cheesecake Factory menu. Luckily, you don’t have to memorize everything to become a good player. In fact, the practical way to do this is to just understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different armies and ask the right questions at the start of the game. This will help you have a general understanding of what to be aware of and how to respond to different situations.
Let’s start with army selection. There are many types of armies to play and collect in AOS. This is one of the things that draws players to this game because players can build and control their army in unique ways. This flexibility allows you to test out different, subtle changes to lists and try different combinations until you discover what works best for you. What works best is often more than just what “does the most damage” or “is headlining the meta-game in the U.K..” When you choose an army and a list, make sure what you’ve chosen is something that you enjoy aesthetically (or even lore-wise) as well as the playstyle of the army in question.
These things will ensure you continue to enjoy all the time and effort you will put into your army.
Army Mechanics & Playstyle
All armies have game mechanics and core “philosophies” that you will want to lean into and build around. From this, figure out what you would like to play. Questions to consider when selecting your army:
- Do you enjoy big hoards of guys swarming your enemy and holding objectives on unit-size alone?
- Do you enjoy solitary, stompy monsters?
- Are you a fan of the attrition game, playing tit for tat and controlling space on the board until you squeak out a win on strong, elite units?
- Do you want the best chance to table your opponent and scramble to score points to win a matched play game?
When list building, it is important to think about your own strengths. Oftentimes, translating your habits from other gaming experiences can help you understand your own preferred play-style in AOS. For me, I like to play a tank in almost all RPGs. In strategy games, I always lean towards the attrition game to outlast my opponents. There are many armies in Age of Sigmar that can outlast and outwit an opponent, hence my fascination towards the gurgling, infected Nurgle. Highground Games will dive deep into each army in the coming months, but for now, think about the things you enjoy about other games and search for those similar attributes in Age of Sigmar armies.
Once you’ve painstakingly researched and selected your army, you’ll need to build a list if you want to play. Assuming you’re playing a matched play game, there are many things to consider when list building. The first of which is to consider the maximum points value of the game(s) you’ll be playing – today we’ll cover list building for 1,000 and 2,000 point matched play games.
In a matched play game, there are some basic game requirements you’ll need to meet regardless of army choice. In a 1000 point game, you must have 2 battleline units from your main army, and in a 2000 game you will need 3 battleline units in your army. These units play an important role in the ebb and flow of a game, and will be important to hold objectives and screen for your heroes.
A screen is a common term used to wall off (or ‘screen’) your hero or another unit behind the battleline to keep them ready for a counter charge, where oftentimes the real damage is dealt. In Age of Sigmar, you will win games by capturing objectives, scoring points only when you have more models on the objective than your opponent. As a result, bringing a mass of bodies to a game is very important.
You will also want to look for heroes that can maximize your battleline, cast spells, and provide auras that improve their effectiveness. This will help you make decisions on which units will hold your objectives. As you build your lists, consider how your heroes will affect the troops on the front lines, and what abilities you can combine to maximize your army’s mechanics.
There are several types of generic lists that are common across multiple armies. The units themselves vary, but they all play important roles in making these playstyles work within the individual mechanics of each army.
- Glass Cannon
- These lists lean into damage and have a goal to kill the opponent’s army before they can collect enough points. These lists are often fragile and can crumble in the wrong circumstances.
- Attrition armies are designed to get on to objectives and survive as long as possible. An attrition list chooses units that have good saving throws as well as command abilities that allow flexibility and staying power. These armies are often a counter to the glass cannon list.
- A happy medium between glass cannon and attrition lists. This would include having some survivable units mixed with a “hammer” or “Death Star” (a unit that is buffed and sent out to destroy everything in its path). These army builds are more balanced and often have utility vs the different armies.
Other aspects to consider when list-building are tactical decisions like movement – can your army quickly reach any point on the battlefield to contest an objective or attack a key unit? Can you teleport or advance deploy in ways your opponent has to account for? The missions you play in Matched Play will always be rolled randomly before a game, so you’ll want to be prepared for 2-6 different objectives on the table, and movement will be a key factor in shaping your list to one of the archetypes above.
Questions to Ask
Finally, here are the 5 most important questions that you will want to ask your opponent before the game.
- How many drops is your army? Each player will drop one unit at a time until all units have been deployed. Players can use a battalion to give multiple units the ability to be placed on the board at once. The player that deploys their army first will determine who will start the game on the first turn.
- What are the movement values in your army, and do you have any deep striking capabilities or movement tricks? Deep striking is any ability that lets you teleport, deploy, or leap a unit up to 9 inches away from an opposing unit. This knowledge will keep you aware of different striking ranges that your opponent may have, and likely shape the way you deploy and move your army. Some armies can also move a unit at the start of the hero phase – keeping this in mind will help limit your opponent’s charge opportunities.
- What are your weapon ranges? Age of Sigmar is a game about movement and spacing on a limited board. Keeping this in mind may blunt a particular strategy or tactical decision by your opponent. For example, a unit may only move 5 inches but shoots 12 inches. This means that you need to be aware of their ability to put out attacks within a 17-inch range. You may want to take that into account before moving into that 17-inch range, opening yourself up for an opponent’s attack or charge.
- Will they be rerolling cocked dice? While this isn’t a tactical decision, there are many rules in Age of Sigmar that make it a “gentleman’s game”, i.e. a game where sportsmanship and ad-hoc, agreed upon rules come before rules lawyering and rulebook flipping. It is very important to clear this up before the game. A cocked dice is a rolled dice that does not sit flat on a surface, displaying a clear single value. If your opponent states they will reroll all cocked dice then hold each other accountable. This will ensure there is never a moment where you feel your opponent used a cocked dice on a successful roll but rerolled a failed cocked dice. Most players play that any dice that is not perfectly flat is something they will reroll. This makes for no feel bad moments in the game ain’t that everyone is on the same page moving forward into the game.
- What hero abilities do your heroes have and what do the artifacts and command abilities do? Knowing this will help you know where to deploy your troops and who to avoid or focus fire on with certain units. For example, what if your opponent has a hero with bonuses to attack monsters or heroes – it would be important to try and engage them with a non-hero or non-monster. This knowledge can make or break close games, and allow for much deeper tactical play and decision-making.
Finally, I like to ask if there is anything else I should know about your army before starting the game? With this question, most people will give you the rundown on their army including abilities and different things that they may have not covered that will create a more fair game experience. It’s impossible to know the nuances about an opponent’s army, but the goal of all of these questions is to avoid any “gotcha” moments simply due to inexperience with an opponent’s army. There will be tactical plays and gambits from your opponent, but a confident and fair player should attempt to provide any information opponents can easily learn through publicly available warscrolls or buying a battletome.
Building your army, refining your list, and asking the right questions are the first step to becoming a great player and will help you understand your opponent’s army as well as your own. Get out there and use these tactics to secure the Highground – but most importantly, have fun!