We’ve finally got our first look at the new Spearhead game mode in Age of Sigmar 4th edition. What I guessed was going to be essentially a copy-and-paste of Combat Patrol from 10th Edition 40K, but with AOS profiles has turned out to be partially right, but with a couple of unique twists.

So, breaking it down:

  • Vanguard box sets are rebranded to Spearhead; expect the existing boxes to be replaced as the army books roll out, but the launch rosters will probably stay game legal throughout the edition (as seems to be happening with Combat Patrol.
  • Each box is a defined roster. You take what’s in the box, and only what’s in the box. If a unit has options in the instructions, pick the option shown on the front of the box. Think of it like a pre-built deck in some card-based games.
  • Unit rules and abilities are similar but simplified/tweaked for balance, so you won’t be using regular warscrolls.
  • Some units can be “recycled” and brought back after being destroyed, as another balancing mechanism.
  • The board is 30" x 22.4" - the size of a Warcry board. That’s half the size of Combat Patrol, and much smaller than I expected.
  • There are 2 decks of cards used throughout the game, that can impact each battle round. Not much info on this yet, but it reads like a way to mix up scoring conditions and game state as an attempt to keep games close throughout. Update: WarCom posted an article explaining the decks. They’re a mix of scoring opportunities, commands, and catch-up mechanics.
  • It’s apparently very fast to play.

At first glance it sounds like it could be really fun. I’m a big proponent of smaller games, both in terms of points values and board size. Locally at least, Combat Patrol appears to be popular among both newcomers and veterans alike, so an AOS equivalent should do pretty well.

I’m just a little worried the board is too small. I played a game of the current edition on a Combat Patrol sized board recently, and it felt ideal. There was space to manoeuvre while having plenty of terrain, and felt really good as an experience. Using only half of that space would have felt too cramped, I think. But we’ll have to wait and see. It does however mean I already have a board ready and waiting to go and I don’t necessarily need to finish off the other half I’d started working on.1

My other concern is some of the balance choices will feel unfun to play with or against. The preview shows the current Stormcast Eternals Spearhead - which has only been in stores a few weeks - was balanced by having the 2 most powerful units on the board not usable for half the game. What happens if the other units are wiped out in rounds 1-2? Will those units allow the Strmcast player to have a chance at pulling things back? Or what if the Stormcast player is already ahead and bringing in fresh, powerful, units is simply a “win more” button? This feels bad to me, in a similar way to how some factions in Combat Patrol have to choose between taking one unit or another because the units in the box are just too powerful. It leaves people unable to play with all their toys, which isn’t as fun.

On a more positive note, can we appreciate how jam-packed the upcoming launch box sounds:

The incoming launch box provides everything you need to play with a friend, including two complete Spearhead forces, terrain, a double-sided board with printed objectives, and the packs of cards that really make this mode tick. You’ll also get a beautiful hardcover book that includes everything you need to play – the core rules, the Spearhead battlepack, and the rules for every Spearhead force in the game – so you can start playing with your existing collections immediately.

The inclusion of the board and terrain is a step up from the 40K launch box, and makes me think (hope?) they might be going big on Spearhead this edition. It will need regular new content to keep things fresh - actual non-model releases, and not just something in White Dwarf (though that’s welcome too) - otherwise it won’t feel like a “proper” way of playing AOS to many. Without support it will just be “that weird format” some people play once or twice a year in a beginner-friendly campaign at the local store. A bit like Path To Glory, which seems to be withering on the vine a bit more every new edition in terms of adoption.

<half-formed tangent> I was thinking overnight about what was revealed in the article and it feels like Spearhead might be a better expression of what it seemed like what very, very, early Age of Sigmar was perhaps trying to be: small skirmish games on a small board, that are played fast. This might be just my skewed impressions, but this is what I remember of the first few weeks of AOS: 10-20 models a side (no points, just bring few small units plus 1-2 heroes), played on a 2’x2' board, sometimes up to 4’x4' (2’x4' was common locally for a time). It was only later on that the wider community started to push for points and larger battles like we see in the modern, standard, Match Play format. I’m curious if this call-back to early AOS is intended. </half-formed tangent>

Overall I’m looking forward to Spearhead, even if I have some reservations about the implementation and whether it will be allowed to reach its potential. Small games are a blast, and even if I’m wary of the board size, it does mean I can play on our small kitchen table without having to expand it out or have the board hanging over the edges. If I can convince my partner to start playing AOS again then it means we have somewhere convenient and accessible to play without a journey to a local store. That would mean the potential for more games - which is a win no matter what.

  1. I probably will at some point, if only to be able to step up from Spearhead to “small scale” Match Play. ↩︎