Smaller Realms: Age of Sigmar Skirmish vs. Hinterlands07 Aug 2017 0
Back in the olden days of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, there were two primary modes of playing low point/model games: Regiments of Renown and Mordheim. The former was a ~100 point battle of up to twenty models (so not nearly enough for an actual regiment) while the latter was a campaign game for warbands of vagabonds descending on the ruins Mordheim to hunt for the pieces of the comet that doomed the city. With WHFB dead, we had to wait quite some time for an official skirmish supplement. This was provided by the recent Age of Sigmar Skirmish release. But is it any better than the unofficial Hinterlands supplement?
Both games are set in the Mortal Realms, the oh-so-imaginatively named setting of Age of Sigmar. Skirmish campaign background has it take place in Shadespire, a city that was brought down to Shysh, realm of death, by Nagash, one of the few survivors of the Old World (the WHFB setting) and current God of Death. The city has been much humbled and is very much dead. Gangs of marauding soldiers descend on it in search of glory and maybe loot. Hinterlands, on the other hand, is bit more open-ended, lore wise.
But that's not what matters here. After all, we want to be able to play AoS with the least possible amount of models and by God (Sigmar?) are these games ready to serve that craving. Several limitations in comparison to the regular AoS rules are shared by both of them. Firstly, all miniatures are bought and act individually. You can take unit champions and musicians (something you couldn't do in Regiments), but you have to comply with the unit size limitations, so you can't be building a team of Liberator Primes (I just call them Sergeants). Special weapons are similarly limited; Don't have five Liberators in your team? No grandblade for you!
In a normal matched game of AoS Skirmish, you'll be taking about 50 or 100 points of models; the prices for these have been set and calculated especially for Skirmish, so you need the rulebook to build and army. That said, people have reverse engineered the formula, so you can still give your Tomb Lords or Bretonnians a spin if you’re still pining for the Old World armies. The big limitation is that you can only take units from a single Grand Alliance (one of the four grand factions of the game) and only one of each warscroll (unit entry). A 50 points Sigmari-Stormcast Eternals warband will have a Lord-Celestant, two winger Prosecutors, one murdermonster Paladin Retributor and two “also appearing in this episode” Liberators. Your army must be led by a hero (a model with the hero keyword). This is a point of contention for me, because the hero will eat into your points allowance, especially when building a starting band for the campaign.
Meanwhile, a standard 150 points Hinterlands warband is going to be slightly smaller... in that a Stormcast gang wouldn't be able to fit in the Lord Celestant. On the other hand, this means that any soldier you like can become the leader, gaining a custom Hinterlands command ability (there are two for each Grand Alliance). One of the greatest custom limitations is that heroes only get 3 wounds (HP) max and their price is sliced by half. An another thing is that you can only ever do three mortal (basically un-saveable, barring special unit abilities) wounds per turn, putting a hard limit on how much cheesy mayhem you can cause.
What becomes soon apparent is that Hinterlands is a lot more suited for skirmish-level play, with caps put on heroes and the mortal wounds that can be dished out. It also gives some breathing space for Death players, as their mage generals can be necromancers that will be able to raise several types of soldiers on the field if they had fallen in the battle before. So you won't be getting “free points,” but you will be able to keep your army rolling. AoS Skirmish, on the other hand, doesn't have any abilities like this, but it has one great thing (which might be a result of straight up porting AoS rules rather than any smart design decision): a bottle test in the form of battleshock. Much like in the main game, if you lose any models during a turn, you roll a dice, add the number of losses you’ve taken and if they exceed your general's bravery, the difference in models desert your force. Hinterlands instead expects you to decide when to bottle out; this gives you interesting decisions in the campaign, but regular matches will become grind fests.
Now, the campaign is the place where the rulesets diverge massively. Games Workshop has said, as politely/PR-friendly as possible, that AoS Skirmish was basically an afterthought. Both the size of the book (as padded as it is with diorama photos) and the campaign rules themselves reflect this. To put it simply, your warband is never negatively affected by the outcome of battles, as units are neither crippled nor lost. They don't gain benefits either, as the post battle rolls only give you renown (money) and some one-use trinkets. The idea is that after starting with a really small band (a campaign starting at 25 points, when combined with the hero requirement, severely limits elite armies like Sigmarines) you will expand your forces during the campaign, possibly by buying spiffing new models like Games Workshop wants you to do.
Hinterlands, however, has both skill increases and various misfortunes that can befall your band of murderhobos. Along with the falling rules, this was what kept people returning to Mordheim as a ruleset if not a setting. The emergent storytelling of your soldiers soaring to fame (or infamy) through lucky rolls or your veterans dying because of bad rolls is an amazing way to keep people invested. What's more, Hinterlands has a separate ruleset for a more scenario oriented, curated narrative campaign where several players controlling one hero each face off – as a warband – against the slavering hordes under the control of the game master.
Our experience so far with the two games show that armies with cheap flying units have a lot more going for them in Hinterlands' than in AoS Skirmish. Considering how cheap Prosecutors are and that they're available in two varieties (one is better at ranged combat, the other at melee), this can weigh the scales considerably. In fact, our current plan for a hobby-store campaign is to just match Hinterlands' rules with Skirmish's point cost lists/scenarios, and see what happens.
All in all, having a skirmish battle system for Age of Sigmar is great. However, the profusion of games like Frostgrave shows that people really want games with a campaign progression system which would allow them to feel both sweet taste of victory and the bitter sadness of defeat with level-ups along the way. And as far as that goes, Skirmish is much less suited to scratch that itch than Hinterlands. Plus, Hinterlands has rules for re-summoning you favorite skeleton and that is a great point in my book.