Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Warcry Review

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MB Updated October 09, 2019
 
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Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Warcry

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Another stunner out of Nottingham.

It’s well established that Games Workshop entered into something of a renaissance back in 2015-2016 with the release of titles like Betrayal at Calth and Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower. Since then, the Warhammer brand has done more than move from strength to strength; it’s modernized, streamlined, and become more accessible. What this means is that each consecutive release seems to build on the last, with a sense of iteration and innovation carried forward. It makes it almost comical- maybe even suspicious- to proclaim “this is the best game GW has ever produced” or “this is the best Warhammer box set to date” with every release. But here we are, and Warcry is in fact the best Warhammer box set to date.

And it is also the best skirmish rule set that the company has ever done – sorry nostalgic Mordheimers, but this is a leaner, sharper, and more focused barracuda of a game. It’s simply stunning in its judicious well-considered streamlining of the core action and process, taking some serious risks along the way. Make no mistake, there will be a contingent of old time Warhammer players that are going to grouse about the game being “dumbed down”, but they are dead wrong. Because it is, in fact, “smarted up”.

Reading the rules, it gave me pause when I realized that the combat was resolved in a single die roll. No tedious three-part to-hit, to-wound, save process. It’s all done in one with allowances built-in for skill, weapon strength, target toughness and the possibility of critical damage. I was also surprised that the unit cards had no elaborate text describing special abilities – just “Runemarks” (i.e. icons) that correspond to a list of abilities activated as a function of the initiative roll. The initiative mechanism calls for you to sort a 6D6 roll into singles, pairs, triads, and quads. Whoever has the most singles has the initiative, but you use the sets to trigger special abilities. And some of these abilities power up based on the 1-6 value of the set. Like the cardplay in Warhammer: Underworlds, this opens up a whole new level of strategic and tactical play beyond movement and positioning while also putting some fun, descriptive attacks in the mix along with meeting the unit differentiation expectation.

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Tokens are at a minimum, and there is virtually no administration, bookkeeping, or keeping track of multiple abilities across assorted cards or books. Terrain rules, including movement, couldn’t be simpler and the often troublesome cover rules are just a buff to toughness. The focus is purely on the bone-cracking, skull-splitting, and flesh-rending action on the table.

Lest you be afraid that narrative and depth are lost in the streamlining, be assured that both are present. It’s just that detail is handled more efficiently and the depth doesn’t come from esoteric complexity. Alternating activations keeps the action fluid and fleet, and as in any great skirmish game core competencies include exploiting unit synergies, advantages, and positioning. And you get to pay more attention to those things than to interpreting text or referencing rules.

The in-game action is swift and ruthless – as it should be given the emphasis on some glorious new Chaos faction concepts. But I am also particularly impressed with how the game is framed. Ad hoc scenarios can be set up with set of four card decks that give you a terrain setup suggestion, deployment, victory condition, and a twist. The terrain cards correspond to the included terrain (which is abundant and really more than you need for a single game), and the deployments provide for a whole range of unique scenarios. Part of setup includes organizing your warband into three units: Dagger, Shield, and Hammer. The cards indicate which group goes where and when.

This setup process, in conjunction with a variety of possible objectives on the victory condition cards, already creates a myriad of gameplay possibilities but then there are also Twists. These introduce environmental conditions (like weather), restrictions, and even Chaos Beasts that either player may attempt to command on their activation turn. I love these in particular because it calls to mind one of my favorite elements of Frostgrave: the wandering monsters.

In fact, this game in some ways feels like GW’s answer to Frostgrave, Saga, and other currently popular skirmish games. But the key difference this go-round is that this time, it feels like the team that worked on this game paid more attention to trends outside of the Warhammer bubble – including skirmish-y board games -  and worked to make a game that breaks some of the crusty, well-worn molds that have shaped the company’s designs for the past few decades. The sense of dogmatic fealty to atavistic design principles was already in the process of being broken by Age of Sigmar, 8thEdition 40k, and Underworlds, but Warcry pushes the envelope even further. Yet it remains purely Warhammer in every aspect.

I’ve not played through any of the very Warhammer-y narrative campaigns on offer, but the format as presented is quite compelling and represents another iteration moving on from concepts introduced in Age of Sigmar’s Paths of Glory structure. Each faction has a choice of paths they can take, with specific, set battles along them. Each also has traits that can be assigned to favored fighters and special treasures that can be earned. I think this will be a great way to play for groups, and for those looking to bring more than one opponent to the table there are also some viable multiplayer options presented.

As for the product assessment, this $170 box is certainly in the “Cadillac game” range but it is also a tremendous offering that does provide – without reservation, qualifier, or caveat – a complete game experience. The amount of terrain provided is actually more than enough, and although it’s a little disappointing that the bulk of it is of the fatigued “corner ruins” style, there are a couple of absolutely killer pieces including a decapitated statue and a sort of belltower/gallows thing. The two factions included are Iron Golems and Untamed Beasts, and both look stunning. Those who don’t care for modelling should take note that these are not the popular push-fit style models and will need gluing.

I could pick nits that the rulebook isn’t a hardcover or that there’s really no way to build the terrain to match up with all of the terrain cards, but those minor complaints don’t dim the bloody red light this game shines over the skirmish genre. I’ve found myself questioning whether I want to continue at all with other games in this category, including Kill Team, because Warcry encapsulates virtually every single thing I want out of a low model count, small play area miniatures game.


Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

Editor review

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Summary

Warhammer Age of Sigmar; Warcry
Fast, fun, and accessible, Warcry stakes it’s claim as the best skirmish game on the market.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 69 reviews

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Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300012 24 Jul 2019 16:47
I need my shitty Batman game to sell on eBay so I can funnel the money into this.
Tricky's Avatar
Tricky replied the topic: #300019 25 Jul 2019 02:41
Great article! Could you elaborate on that last part about the terrain building and terrain cards?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #300024 25 Jul 2019 08:32
Sure. There are really just a couple of larger “suggested builds” in the instructions for the highly modular wall terrain pieces, and what they show doesn’t really match up to the cards. And I don’t think you can build what you get in such a way that your set will match all of the cards. For example, if you build the statue head and the bell thing as instructed, that uses both of the step pieces. But then the cards show the step pieces being used on other ways. Pro tip- don’t glue the steps!

It kind of doesn’t matter, as the cards are best used as suggestions anyway. But I do wish there were “set” builds, like how Sector Mechanicus has those recommended pieces you can make.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #300025 25 Jul 2019 09:12
I am shocked... shocked I tell you... that MB is declaring the latest GW boxed game "is in fact the best Warhammer box set to date."

Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #300026 25 Jul 2019 09:48
As a critic, it’s annoying. I almost wish they’d plop out a stinker just to break the chain.
quozl's Avatar
quozl replied the topic: #300027 25 Jul 2019 10:14
I would love to see a side by side comparison with Frostgrave.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #300030 25 Jul 2019 11:38
I’ll take a stab at some comparisons:

- NO MORALE! This is kind of a big one to me. Because I really don’t want to see blood-soaked, Skull-crushing chaos warriors bottling out. There is no check for fleeing or courage, nothing like that. They are in it to the death, barring a victory condition that ends it before they are slaughtered.

- Warcry is much less bespoke. Frostgrave has you build a warband from scratch with lots of customization, including the spells. As of now, there’s not much that will vary one Iron Golems warband From another. I think there are a couple of weapon swaps and maybe 5 different fighter types.

- Frostgrave feels a lot like Wiz-War for me. Warcry has no sense of this crazy, spell-slinging mayhem. It’s far more martial. This makes it feel grittier and less zany.

- There is nothing like the apprentice thing in Warcry.

- Warcry is simpler processionally, but the activation mechanisms are more sophisticated and impart a different kind of depth and decision making. Frostgrave is very old timey (not a demerit), Warcry’s mechanisms feel much more modern and “informed” by current trend.

- Frostgrave is D20 based. ‘Nuff said.

- Right now, there are only two “wandering monsters” in Warcry. Frostgrave has a TON. But...you also have to actually have them.

- Of course, Warcry means GW models. Frostgrave is anything. I’d say that there is a cost differential, but that’s not really true unless you already own enough models including terrain to play Frostgrave.

- Frostgrave’s setting is pretty...meh. The snow/ice thing is great atmosphere, but the game world is negligible. Warcry has an awesome setting and a cool story.

- Objective and scenario wise, it’s kind of a wash- they both have a variety of things you can do and ways to win. But Frostgrave’s campaign is more of a traditional Mordheim/Necromunda build-your-roster thing. Warcry has unique story paths for each faction.

- There aren’t really factions in Frostgrave, just magic disciplines.

-Warcry features 1000 percent more spikes and skulls.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #300031 25 Jul 2019 11:54
Sounds great, but I don't have time to paint all those minis or the 3D terrain. Maybe I can pick up a stripped (of minis) copy on eBay.
Tricky's Avatar
Tricky replied the topic: #300044 25 Jul 2019 14:25
Thanks!
Hadik's Avatar
Hadik replied the topic: #300056 25 Jul 2019 16:25
*covers ears* LALALALALALALALA
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #300058 25 Jul 2019 17:01

Michael Barnes wrote: As a critic, it’s annoying. I almost wish they’d plop out a stinker just to break the chain.


Lost Patrol didn't look great, but it seemed to quickly sink without much comment around here.
El Cuajinais's Avatar
El Cuajinais replied the topic: #300060 25 Jul 2019 17:09
I played a demo of this yesterday after more than a decade of very far and in between miniatures gaming; all of it restricted to miniature boardgames. All this time I had been missing 3D terrain due to the cool look, but after fiddling around, accidentally moving terrain pieces, trying to get measurements, and moving minis around 3D terrain, I was surprised at how annoying 3D terrain can be. I now see that my copies of BattleLore and Earth Reborn (which incorporates destructible terrain into the gameplay) will never age for me. By the way are there other minis games out there where you can blow holes in walls with explosives / grenades / bazooka? (I’m sure there must be)

Things I loved:
1. Stupidly beautiful minis and stupidly beautiful terrain. Everything is plain gorgeous and leagues above the boardgame minis I’ve ever played with.
2. 1 Die roll resolves an attack. Like many boardgames, as it should be.
3. Alternating activations. Like many boardgames, as it should be.
4. I can see a game getting completed in 30 minutes. (Really, I mean regular people minutes, not gamer’s 30 minutes which can be 50 regular people minutes)
5. Scenario generator. All games are auto generated.

What I didn’t like:
1. Little to no ranged weapons. Not much use for so much verticality in the included terrain.
2. For being single miniatures, I thought that they should be more customizable. But I guess this is the price you pay for 30 minute games.
3. The simple mechanics and quick game time would make it a family game candidate. But the dark theme is sure to scare my wife and children away.

I would be interested in hearing MB’s reply to Guerilla Miniature’s video claiming that squads with high model counts will always have decided advantage in Warcry.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #300061 25 Jul 2019 17:37
Well, Lost Patrol is an older game they reprinted. I like it a lot, but it is one of the stupidest games of all time. But I still like it a lot. My son asks for it all the time.

On the high model count thing- boy howdy, is that a premature assessment. However, I think what they are really getting at is tangential to something Raf and I discussed on Twitter. Some combinations of deployment and objectives can lead to wonky games where an outnumbered force is on the back heel.

For example, I had one game where one side had staggered deployment, starting with their Dagger on the board and their Hammer and Shield coming in on turns 2 and 3. The other side started with everything on the board. It was a three objective game, control going to whoever has the most models around a point. So for two turns, there was a serious disadvantage for the staggered side and of course the team with the most models won.

However, now that I know that can happen, I know to watch for situations like that and can “edit” the generated scenario to balance it out or just redraw it.

I find that argument a little weird too because this is a game where you may have at most 10 models on the board. Having one or two more than an opponent is going to be a material advantage in ANY miniatures game. I think that learning to use the disengaging, defensive and resting abilities to keep your fighters alive is going to prove crucial...right now, and I’ve seen this with a few players; the tendency is to just want to rush in and bash. I think that will change and it will be less of a punching match until one side is down thing.

You totally hit on the “like many board games” angle...this game is definitely influenced by board game mechanisms in a way most miniatures games are not.

The ranged thing hasn’t really bothered me, there are a few in the two factions and then some things in the abilities. Like how all the Iron Golems can throw a bola.
El Cuajinais's Avatar
El Cuajinais replied the topic: #300290 30 Jul 2019 21:39
Thanks for all the info MB. Well I finally gave in because I found a good price due to the UK election and resulting drop in their currency.

Pre-ordered the core set for £91.59 shipped to South Carolina. The credit card statement says I was charged $112.63 so very good deal. Crossing my fingers I don't get ripped off, or that they don't change their mind before shipping. Here's the link in case anyone else is interested. But keep in mind I've never purchased from this place before and I expect to wait 2-4 weeks for the package. https://www.board-game.co.uk/product/age-of-sigmar-warcry/

So proceed at your own risk

I want the rulebook and goodies even though I'm not sure I can paint any of the plastic at the moment. I have assembled a decent force of Gloomspite Gitz I've purchased pre-painted over the internet so I plan on using that. Well I'm riding the hype train now...
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #300291 30 Jul 2019 21:45
The ranged thing actually a plus for me. I haven't found a good melee-centric game where the ranged attack isn't neutered to keep the game working and balanced. With skirmish game, it's all movement and positioning. I found ranged attack often negates these, or worse, make the game revolves around the ranged attack.
El Cuajinais's Avatar
El Cuajinais replied the topic: #301029 22 Aug 2019 11:40
Just a quick update that I my Warcry Starter Set arrived yesterday. It was 2-3 week wait for me because the item was not yet released when I placed the order. I see the exchange rate is still 1:1.22 but they don’t have it stock at the moment.

On a related note, last week I finally decided to pull out the cheap Master Airbrush kit I bought on Amazon 4 years ago and had been sitting unused because the prospect of airbrushing intimidated me. Well now I’ve gotten my feet wet and I’m kicking myself for not pulling it out a month ago when I was painting my Fireball Island Set. Airbrushing is messy and requires preparation, but being able to cover large areas, and being able to cover my black primer with red paint in a single pass rather than 4 coats is fantastic. It is something that needs to be planned due to the setup and cleanup, but for monsters / vehicles, and base coating regiments it is THE way to go. Also blends now require no talent and come out perfect, but I don’t see myself doing airbrush blends often on regular troops except for capes or large shields. Basically one just needs to plan to make the least color changes possible, so base coating large minis or regiments is the name of the game IMO. Reason I’m bringing the airbrush up this up is because there is a ton of plastic in that Warcry Starter Box! I had seen the unboxing but I was not prepared for the real thing.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #301031 22 Aug 2019 11:58
Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop parted ways a couple of years ago, but the Fantasy Flight Event Center still carries a surprising amount of Games Workshop products. Roughly 25% of the event center retail shelf space is stocked with GW product, including several Warcry products.