There is a surprising dearth of theory regarding Age of Sigmar. I’m not sure why that is exactly. There’s certainly a lot of effort spent on list building. There’s a lot of effort spent on finding combos and unlocking synergies. There’s time spent on “creating a plan.” There’s time invested on computation aimed at solving very specific problems (aka math-hammer). There’s even a good amount of discussion about actual tactics and tactical play. But there’s next to nothing about theory. I suspect that’s one of the reasons that some people think that AoS is a game without any strategic depth. I disagree. I think the depth is there. What’s missing is the theory (the concepts and the framework) that makes thinking and talking about it easier, more accessible and more fruitful.
I’m going to use this blog to try and build some momentum on this topic.
I don’t know right now how it will turn out. It could be that the naysayers are correct and the game lacks substance. Or it could be that this will help map out some uncharted conceptual space “beneath the surface” from which we players can engage each other and the game in productive new ways.
The endeavor will kick off in earnest with the next post. For now, I’ll just lay down some definitions for anyone who might not be completely comfortable with what we mean when we talk about theory, and how theory relates with strategy, tactics and having a plan.
- Theory is about the creation of concepts that have explanatory power. These theoretical concepts provide a clarifying lens through which we can look at the game in a way that helps us to understand it better.
- Strategy is about deciding on the best use of the resources available to us in order to win.
- Tactics are about how we specifically do each action we make in order to maximize the benefit of each decision made.
Or simply, we can say: theory explains, strategy evaluates, and tactics execute. Or even simpler: Why, what, how.
Considered this way, it’s perhaps a bit easier to understand why theory is a neglected part of AoS discourse, and to understand the implication of this neglect.
Imagine your typical newcomer to the game. They are drawn in by a specific faction, by its lore or its look. They have some fun painting and modeling, but don’t have much success on the table-top. So they plug into the community and ask for help. Here’s my current list, help me make it better. Lots of people chime in with advice that helps the newcomer solidify a better plan. Drop this unit, add that unit, take this artefact, combo this thing with that thing and you will be able to do this really cool thing. The newcomer gets a few more models, makes these changes, and enjoys a bit more success on the table. Soon they are back asking for more help: I can’t beat army X, help! Again the community jumps in, and now their advice is more tactical. Make sure you screen like this and deploy like that, etc. And again, the newcomer takes the advice and applies it and enjoys a bit more success. And then the meta shifts, new armies are released, and the process starts all over.
The point here is that the player is getting better with each step. They are learning what to do, and how to do it. And the rate of change across the surface of the game has sufficient velocity that the sense of learning and improvement can seem to go on indefinitely. If we can keep iterating on what to do (through list design), and how to do it (through improving tactical play), why do would we ever need to step back and think about why we’re doing it?
The hope with this blog is that by exploring the why we allow for less imitating and more innovating. We flush out a strategic depth that persists across armies, and battleplans, and other superficial game changes. We improve our gameplay by expanding from just learning how to make a good plan better, to being able to ascertain, at any point, whether a given plan is still optimal, or even viable, and to successfully pivot to a new plan, to make different choices, in the moment, in the context of what’s most important right now. That’s the strategic depth that lies below the surface. That’s what I’d like us to explore.