Battletome: Cities of Sigmar has been in the wild for a week now, and I figured that with the book already out there, I'd give myself a chance to get over the initial wave of new and let it sink in before putting up a review. Coming in at 128 pages, Cities of Sigmar is AoS's second heftiest battletome to date, dwarfed only by Stormcast Eternals - most of the extra weight accounting for CoS's staggering 54 warscrolls! I opted for the limited edition of the book, something I hadn't done since 2012's Warhammer Armies: Dwarfs (an annoying affair featuring an unconventional double breasted, magnetic cover, which made it totally unsuitable for gaming), and was rewarded with a soft cover with glossy logo, gold edged pages and a handy ribbon maker to park snugly on the allegiance abilities page of my chosen city. Being prone to forgetting my rule books, and wanting something I could handily read on the train, I also grabbed the epub edition of CoS, which reads as well as anyone familiar with GW's digital publication has come to expect. In one of the most impressive battletome covers to date, we're treated to a splendid, digitally painted full body portrait of a Hammerhal Greatsword, looking every bit as much a part of Age of Sigmar as an Orruk Brute, Kharadron Arkanaut, or whatever the Bonereaper things with the four faces are called; his defiant look almost daring detractors who think he's been shoehorned in from the old setting to take a swing at him. A lot of online scorn's been drawn to our dogged Greatsword being flanked by a single Freeguild Guard, whom beyond all the piece's background figures are Stormcast Eternals, and I'm largely inclined to agree. While Stormcast intertwine heavily with the background of the Free Cities and can be fielded in limited numbers as part of a CoS army, they're not going to be a selling point for CoS, with most people keen on Stormcast likely to collect an entire army of them. Imagine the outrage if a future Imperial Guard codex cover featured even a single Space Marine? Regardless, it's a comparatively minor thing to get wound up about, and a beautiful cover is a beautiful cover.
Cities of Sigmar's interior art is a much more disappointing affair, largely made up of recycled content from previous publications to an extent I'd not seen in a battletome before. The sole new piece of interior art is a rather lovely spread of mixed human, duardin, aelf and Stormcast troops from the Living City driving off a besieging horde of Nugle Rotbringers; but the is stuff we've already seen, mostly taken from the Season of War: Firestorm campaign boxed set that properly introduced the seven Free Cities featured inside, and 8th edition Warhammer army books. Even the page borders, resplendent as they are, have been pulled from the Age of Sigmar Core Book. While all of the assets used are to the highest standard and excellently chosen, I can't say I wasn't excited about and expecting to see fresh art that cast old WFB units in a new light.
The miniatures showcase is a fair bit better, with a reasonably sized Hammerhal force having been painted up to accompany the studio's existing collection, and a few newly pained Greywater Fastness and Living City models showing up. The converted trios of models showcasing the featured Free Cities from Season of War: Firestorm return, with any previous models drawn from discontinued kits replaced with current ones; something I'd love to have seen expanded on, but am happy to see return in their existing form. The special highlight of this section has got to be the custom scenery made for Hammerhal and the Living City, which is probably the best I've ever seen, and while it's not the book's purpose to, really doesn't get enough attention. Thankfully there's a detailed Warhammer Community article showcasing this scenery and it's creator, Jay Goldfinch here. While decent, the four page painting section feels like a missed opportunity, covering the basics of skin, gold armour, various uniforms, and basing techniques universal to the hobby, with the only standout feature being a four part tutorial on painting the icon of the Living City on a banner. All seven of the Free Cities featured in the book have prominent heraldry, lending itself to banner designs, and freehand is something most hobbyists are unlikely to be practised in and find daunting; could these pages not have been put to better use with freehand banner tutorials for each of the cities and not have shown us how to paint the same light grey five different times? Also interesting is the Arch Lector from the recently retired War Altar kit slipping though in a couple of close-ups. 43 pages are dedicated to background, about the usual amount for a battletome, but due to the disparate nature of Cities of Sigmar, spread between seven cities and 11 different mini-factions, it feels less cohesive than the regular fare, and therefore a little lighter. The descriptions of the seven featured cities are accompanied by short stories by Black Library author Josh Reynolds, a first for an AoS battletome, these reminded me of the Bill King stories featured in the original Warhammer Armies books, and go a long way towards establishing the individual cities' character with limited space available for all seven. Each of CoS's component factions is given at least a page, exploring it in more depth than ever before, with special attention needing to be drawn to the Order Serpentis and their awesome new backstory. According to the Cities of Sigmar's announcement, the book's (wonderfully written) background text is written by Nick Horth, author of the novel City of Secrets and it's sequels, all focused on the Free City of Excelsis in Ghur. These books are very good, and I was a bit gutted on finding out that Excelsis wasn't one of the seven cities to be focused on and given allegiance abilities in the battletome. Excelsis does get mentioned a couple of times however, and also given attention in the final timeline entry in Battletome: Orruk Warclans, placing squarely it in Gordrakk's crosshairs, making me think that it could well be being saved for a future White Dwarf article or campaign supplement...
It will come as a small relief to fans of the recently discontinued CoS models, that Skycutters, the Eldritch Council and human Cogsmiths are all mentioned, though whether this is just an acknowledgement, or hint of future releases is impossible to say. Also depicted both in Josh Reynolds' story, and this art from Season of War: Firestorm, are Fyreslayers as a feature of Hallowheart. Much like Sylvaneth and Kharadron in the Living City and Tempest's Eye respectively, Fyreslayers could be taken in Hallowheart armies using the rules in Season of War: Firestorm, and I can't not wonder if their not being included as an option in Hallowheart's new allegiance abilities was an oversight and will be updated in an errata? On to the rules, and Cities of Sigmar's allegiance abilities make the bold, and what I ultimately think was the right choice given the army's fledgling status of requiring players to choose one of seven established Free Cities for their armies to hail from, with no option to take a vanilla version of the army (similar to picking a Host of Slaanesh). Hammerhal, the Living City, Greywater Fastness, the Phoenicium, Anvilgard, Hallowheart and Tempest's Eye haven't quite had the time to develop into the cornerstones of the setting that they should be, and the best way to accelerate that is by making their rules mandatory, for now at least. Moving on from the restrictions in Season of War: Firestorm, each city has access to all the units in the book, as well as a limited amount of Stormcast, as well as an obvious bonus faction each for the Living City and Tempest's Eye. Obviously there's nothing to stop players from picking the allegiance that matched best to represent a Free City of their own devising, though with each of the seven cities available being strongly died to Aqshy of Ghyran and having to use that realm's artefacts, you've got to feel for players with forces heavily themed around one of the other realms. Cities of Sigmar's basic battle traits, are dialled up endless spells (presumably to compensate for not getting any of their own), and a couple of very neat rules involving being able to pick an adviser and bodyguard for your general to pal around with. Everything else, command traits, spells, artefacts, all the really juicy special rules, and even a boutique battalion each is farmed out to the city you choose to hail from. The unfortunate, immutable consequence of giving an army a selection of different "chapter traits" to choose between, is that despite the best efforts and intentions of everyone involved, one will always firmly be primus inter pares, parked comfortably at the top of the competitive pile, and oh boy is Cities of Sigmar no exception. In descending order, the book's seven sets of allegiances rank as follows:
Anvilgard: Completely mediocre, save for a single potentially game breaking, meta shaking spell, that becomes a mandatory crutch. Situational, potentially useless battalion.
Greywater Fastness: Very good rules, but nothing that does a great deal for anything not Ironweld Arsenal and/or holding a gun, forcing a restricted playstyle. As it should be!
Hammerhal, the Living City, the Phoenicium, and Tempest's Eye: All solid, offering viable bonuses to whatever selection of models and playstyle you choose to go for, with great bonuses, usually though battalions for that city's trademark units.
Hallowheart: SAY WHUUUUUU- You'd have to really hate wizards to go for anything else.
I'm not kidding, Cities of Sigmar already derive huge bonuses to magic with empowered endless spells, cheap wizards, Sisters of the Thorn not taking up a leader slot, and Sorceresses having +2 to cast most of the time, meaning that most people's lists are already going to feature at least a couple of wizards, and the temptation to go all in being way too strong. I've got Greywater Fastness and Tempest's Eye armies, both of which I've sat down to write lists for since the book's release, and felt like I'm shooting myself in the foot with not doubling the value of my wizards by changing the stronghold selection in the Azyr app to Hallowheart. In fairness though, the book's very fresh and I could be overreacting prior to any games being played; woe betide the Hallowheart army that rocks up against Tzeentch and ends up inadvertently summoning an extra Lord of Change on the first turn.
All of the warscrolls appearing in the book have been gone through with a fine comb, and thoroughly tweaked to be brought in line with the power level and playstyle of modern AoS - most of them had previously been largely unchanged since the PDF compendiums of old WFB units released when AoS first launched. Each unit is a completely viable choice, no mean feat in an army of 54 of them! Personal favourites include being able to take a Steam Tank hero (who unlocks Steam Tank battleline no less), something I take full credit for, though is much more likely a very common idea on looking at the Steam Tank kit that could have been had by anyone; the remaining Ironweld Arsenal artillery pieces and their crews finally getting merged profiles, praise Grungi; and Longbeards being able to grumble away endless spells, maybe my favourite special rule... ever.
I've only got a couple of quibbles with the books' rules. The first is trivial, and is an inconsistency with the background detailed in the book, where Longbeards are now stated to be veterans explicitly drawn from the ranks of Hammerers and Ironbreakers (in the absence of conventional baseline dwarf/duardin warriors), and have less attacks in-game than them. Surely ageism at play!
My second problem is less minor, as wargaming is a mutual pastime, and it reflects on the enjoyment had by an opponent. As someone with over 20 years experience using them I can say accurately, that people straight up don't like playing against gunline armies, and both the majority of missile infantry warscrolls and Greywater Fastness encourage this playstyle. Freeguild Handgunners, Freeguild Crossbowmen, Irondrakes and Sisters of the Watch, all gain significant bonuses for standing still, rewarding this playstyle. Greywater Fastness's rules squarely encourage players to stock up on Ironweld Arsenal units, which is something that totally reflects how they should work, but the Ironweld units that draw the most significant benefits from the allegiance abilities and are included in GWF's very good battalion are artillery, and players looking to build a force focused on Steam Tanks or Gyrocopters/bombers are left wanting. While it's fair to argue that AoS is an objective focused game, and that these rules have been intentionally designed for players have to to choose the trade-off between scoring and shooting twice, the point still stands that nobody enjoys watching their models getting point and click taken away before they feel like they've had a chance to do anything.
Overall, (with obvious strong personal bias) Cities of Sigmar towers above the rest, as easily my favourite AoS battletome to date, with my only criticisms being that I wish it contained more background, more city allegiances (Excelsis!), and maybe even a few Prince Vhordrai style special characters created from existing kits. Nothing's preventing any of these from turning up in future publications though, so bring it on! 4.5 out of 5 beard plats.
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