Been a while since I posted a blog entry, but nows a good time with the conclusion of AoS 1.0 rapidly approaching.
For last 9 or so months, I have been rocking my Free Peoples army. AoS so far for me, has been about doing armies that I didn't get around to doing in older editions of Warhammer. First was my Chaos Undivided army, and after being a little frustrated about lack of shooting with that, next on the bucket list was the Free Peoples.
I've dabbled with Humans before, back in 7th edition I started a small Empire army as well as a decent sized Dogs of War army, some of the models have even made it into my army today. So I definitely like the idea of your regular old humans standing together to fight against the horrors of the world (Whether for Sigmar or for gold and glory!).
In total, to date I've painted up 2060 points of Free Peoples as well as 980 points of allies. So I've got a somewhat rounded collection, which has meant in the 3 tournaments I've played my Free Peoples I've played a different list each time. Each one slightly stronger than the last in my opinion.
With my last AoS 1.0 tournament now behind me, and likely those games being the last under AoS 1.0, I thought now would be a good time to talk about the state of Free Peoples under AoS 1.0, as well as perhaps some initial thoughts about the future.
In general I think Free Peoples lists tend to boil down into 2 types. The first is the mega company, a list that centres around a singular great company that tends to be maxxed out. This usually runs the Luminark to further protect the investment into those units. This in my opinion, is likely the stronger list as it tends to focus on the 3 best units in the Freeguild and once in the right place, you tend to have 3 units close by that you can use Hold the Line on.
However, I have run instead a Double Company list. This list tends to have 2 smaller great companies, although my latest iteration had 1 larger one and 1 smaller one. This IMO allows me to spread out a bit more as I have more drops in my army. I've also bolstered my list with a smattering of allies, including a Hellstorm Rocket Battery, a Battlemage and a Knight Azyros.
My Badgacon army, the last AoS 1.0 games played
So for the most part, I'll talk to my experiences with the lists I've been running but also extrapolating that to Free Peoples as a whole.
In a sort of TLDR, I'll say upfront that I think Free Peoples are at current, a purely Tier 2 list that while having some strong components, just has too many weaknesses and not enough options in particular areas to edge their way into Tier 1 (Not even talking about the S Tier armies that sit at the top of the meta). So let's just talk through some components of the army and why they're strong or not strong, and how it impacts the army as a whole.
Freeguild General on Griffon - These guys are super good. I think the best armies have 2 of these in. It's super hard to squeeze in a 3rd one, but if you could, I think you would. They basically fulfil the role of both mobile tank and mobile damage due to being able to take a great weapon as well as a shield. This gives the only rend -2 in the army, and due to lack of mortal wounds available it makes these guys super important.
MVP of the Free Peoples?
Freeguild Guard - Swordsmen rock. Combined with the current Indomitable, big units of Swordsmen are just super hard to lodge. I haven't had any experience with the others, but at a guess I'd say Halberdiers are probably alright as well. In general the Swordsmen see the most use because the damage in the army is more efficient coming from the other places, so it kinda edges out stuff like Halberdiers and Spearmen.
Freeguild General, Handgunners, Crossbowmen - These guys are basically 'the thing' that makes Free Peoples semi competitive. Handgunners and Crossbowmen (assuming they're out of combat) basically double dip with the Freeguild Generals Hold the Line. Not only do you get the +1/+1, but the disadvantage of not moving is actually and advantage as these guys get to add +1 to hit or double tap. Combined with the Great Company rules of an additional shooting phase, the whole army really promotes using these guys to the most effectiveness.
But I would also argue, it's one of the armies largest weaknesses as well. The best part of our army is basically the only part of the army that works at a top tier level, and it promotes such a static style of play (Commonly known as the "Free Peoples Gunline"). The issue is that being static is a huge disadvantage in AoS. Especially since we have almost no battalions, we can't dictate the pace of the game by deciding who goes first or second.
A common occurence I've had when playing is I outdrop my opponents, but I'm given the first turn. This puts me in a super awkward position, do I move all my shooters up (losing my Crossbowmen double tap bonus) so I can get into a better position? or do I sit back and buff up, but then I'm not able to get myself onto objectives. The 2nd turn priority ends up being one of the biggest priority rolls in the game no matter what you do.
In some ways, it's why recently I've been thinking that Crossbows may not actually be the way forwards. Because Crossbows basically have to be immobile to get their 2x shots, while Handgunners are able to move and still take advantage of their large unit size bonus (even if they're in combat as well!).
Demigryphs, Outriders and Pistoliers - These guys just don't do their roles efficiently enough at the moment. This doubles up with the fact our best synergy basically says "Stay still and get better!" and these guys are like "I want to run around a lot and make use of my high movement!". It's super sad to see Outriders and Pistoliers not get a price drop for AoS 2.0. Demigryphs I think just have the stigma attached that they used to be super good cavalry in prior editions, and now they rubber lance more often than not. I think at their new price point, if people can get over them and ignore their hitting, they might make useful mobile tanks.
The Allegiance Abilities - The allegiance abilities in my opinion, are the biggest Free Peoples blessing and curse. It's a blessing because it's quite a strong ability for our shooting units. Ultimately, a free shooting phase where you know your stuff is going to be in range.
However, I think it's the ultimate curse of the army as well. I would much rather that the Great Company rule was a warscroll battalion and we had another battle trait instead. The main reason is, it basically forces you to build your army in a static gunline way.
The ability to charge as if it was the charge phase, just doesn't tend to be a very powerful ability in a game where players alternate activation of units in the combat phase. In prior editions, it was super useful to get a flank charge or have a chaff unit take the charge with your heavy hitter coming in swinging. It's just not as useful as an ability in Age of Sigmar in the same way that flank charging isn't necessarily as strong anymore either.
So ultimately, the free shooting phase you can get, coupled with the efficiency of our shooting units and the hold the line ability promotes building a great company with a swordsmen frontline backed up by 2 shooting units. This basically promotes building the core of the army around at least a single great company. Which ultimately means a core portion of your army is encouraged to be immobile and a static gunline.
And if you're not using the battle trait, there's not really much of a reason to be playing a Free Peoples allegiance over generic Order.
Midway through the game... and the army has barely moved
Just to finish up the summary of the army. One thing I will specifically say about the double company, and in particular my version is that I tend to have a weaker flank and a stronger flank. Double company encourages you to split your deployment into 2 because you want to keep your great company units nearby each other. What this means is if one flank crumbles, it tends to be hard to reclaim it because the army doesn't have enough mobility in it.
Now that AoS 2.0 is coming up, and some things have been leaked, here's some early thoughts on the army.
I think sadly the army has only gotten weaker in AoS 2.0. None of the rule changes in particular benefit Free Peoples that much (or no more than any other army in the game). The army received some fairly minor points decreases on Demigryphs and Greatswords. To top it all off, the allegiance abilities are definitely nerfed in trying to prevent tailing back units to gain benefits (Something I certainly agree with, but makes them harder to use for sure).
Overall, does the future look bleak? I don't think it really looks any different than before, a middle table army that dreams of glory days of a united Empire.
I would love to see (Although, that ship has sailed in GHB2018 at least) a way to combine Collegiate Arcane and Ironweld Arsenal beyond the 400 points of allies while still keeping the Free Peoples allegiance abilities. I think a bit part of the reason why the army 'builds itself' currently is that the army basically boils down to a few different ways to do the same thing (output a bunch of low rend attacks). So of course, you choose the best tool for the job.
If there were more options available (Builds a more magic centric human army, build a more artillery focussed army, build a classic board and sword army, build a mobile army with stormcast allies) I think the army would certainly feel a lot fresher and interesting to collect.