Review: Warhammer Age of Sigmar General’s Handbook 2018July 3, 2018
When I first got a copy of the original General’s Handbook back in 2016, I had a hard time making heads or tails of it. To me, it was a new format of wargaming rulebook, trying to make sense of the Calvinball-esque nature of Age of Sigmar’s initial rule set. It took me multiple readings of the book to really understand what it was that Games Workshop was trying to accomplish. And then it hit me. They took the rules of the game, and surgically cut it into pieces, to sell each piece to you individually, and to sell some of the pieces to you once a year. That once-a-year set of rules is the General’s Handbook.
The Once-A-Year (Optional) Rulebook
It’s brilliant, really. Games Workshop gets to sell a new rulebook once a year for Age of Sigmar, allowing them to tweak the points costs of units, without changing the other fundamentals of the game. It’s a forumla that players, collectors, and the designers all benefit from. The Age of Sigmar General’s Handbook 2018 is the 3rd revision of that formula, and if it’s your first time to the General’s Handbook rodeo, you’re in for a little bit of confusion. Do you need it? Let’s break down what it is, and what it isn’t.
What Isn’t the General’s Handbook?
Before you can play a game of Age of Sigmar you need to understand the basic rules. Luckily, those are available for free, and you can get them from here. Next you need miniatures. Age of Sigmar is a war game where you must use the official miniatures made by Games Workshop (or their resin-based offshoot, Forge World).
After you have the rules, and the minis, you’ll want to get the warscrolls for your miniatures. The warscrolls tell you what each miniature/unit of miniatures can do on the battlefield. These are also free and you can get them from here.
With all that, all you really need now is to assemble your miniatures, slap some paint on them, and gather the rest of your supplies:
- Six sided dice
- Tokens to track effects and wounds
- A flat surface to play on
- A measuring tape or ruler
- An opponent
There’s a lot to tabletop war games, and Age of Sigmar is no exception to that rule. Once you have all the above, you’re ready to play the game. But you’ll notice that the General’s Handbook isn’t mentioned in the above list. So what is the General’s Handbook for, and is it worth the price of admission?
What Is the General’s Handbook?
The General’s Handbook contains:
- An introduction to Open Play Games
- Instructions, tips, and special rules (read ‘official’ house rules) for Narrative Play Games
- Pitched Battle Profiles for Matched Play Games
- 49 pages of extra stuff that Games Workshop wanted to write down somewhere
The introduction to Open Play Games is nice, but unnecessary. TL;DR, pick any number and type of minis that you have available to you (so long as they’re made for Age of Sigmar, specifically), your opponent does the same, and then you play the game using the rules and warscrolls freely available.
The Narrative Play Games section has some fun special rules and battle plans, but it seems a little self-aggrandizing. Specifically, the historical games section. The reason people play historical games is because they want to re-enact a historical moment. There aren’t historical moments in a fantasy setting as new as Age of Sigmar. There’s not enough there there. In twenty years, sure. But now? It’s a little too soon to point at your newest setting and say “Look at all the impressive and vast history!” and expect everyone else to smile and nod along.
Next we get to the reason people pay $35 US for this book. The Pitched Battle Profiles for Matched Play Games. Here, you’ll find the points value for each unit, monster, hero, and bit of plastic terrain. Beyond your first learning game, these points are crucial to playing Age of Sigmar, even casually.
Why is that? Well, the vast majority of all war games played anywhere, using any system or rules, in the history of the hobby, consist of two players lining up armies of equivalent points costs across a table from one another, and then sending their pretend troops to pretend die in pretend combat. These Pitched Battle Profiles include the points costs that allow players to do that in games of Age of Sigmar. Therefore, if you want to play a well balanced game of Age of Sigmar, you need buy this book to get the points in the General’s Handbook.
After the Pitched Battle Profiles, the last 49 pages of the book are all odds and ends, used to tie up loose ends and add a little more value to the book itself. There’s new rules, stats, and mechanics for all the terrain that was released thus far, updated to this new edition of the game. Finally, the book rounds out with allegiance abilities for the different factions, as well as some assorted warscroll battalions, which you can use to give your army a bespoke flavor to distinguish them from other armies in the same faction.
All in all, it’s a decent book, with high production values and no visible mistakes on a cursory read through. The art is excellent, the painted models and tables within are stunning, and the voice, tone, and style are consistent throughout. If you’re into theorycrafting army lists, or if you know you’re going to play more than one game of Age of Sigmar this year, you should pick up the General’s Handbook.