A guest Tactica by Michael Linke!
Hey everyone, Michael wrote in letting us know that he felt we needed another voice on the random initiative of AoS and we agreed! Read on and let us know what you think, -Reecius
It’s been called broken, random and unnecessary, and has proven to be a point of fierce contention among the budding Age of Sigmar gaming community, but the new initiative mechanic stands as perhaps the system’s least appreciated and most innovative aspect. Its implications go far beyond simply choosing who goes first on a given game turn and players who see it merely as some sort of coin toss, waiting for their chance to pull off a double turn, do so at great peril. This mechanic affects not only how we execute short term plans on a turn-to-turn basis, but how we should be building our lists, and adds an interesting and elegant minigame that fits well between the largely strategic exercise that is list building, and the tactical exercise that exists in the game’s 6 phases.
Let’s spell it out first for those living under rocks. Age of Sigmar departs from the You-Me-You-Me turn flow used by most GW systems, and indeed most games at large. In Age of Sigmar, at the top of each game turn–referred to in the rules as a Battle Round–players roll off on a d6. The player with the highest roll may choose to go first or second that game turn. What’s significant, brutally significant, is that this applies every game turn, not just the first. I might go first during the first game turn. You might go first during the second game turn. One of us might get to take two consecutive player turns! Has Games Workshop lost the plot? Do we stash this rule away in the same circular file as the one that requires me to wear a hood or win a staring contest to activate my Great Moonclan Warboss’s ability to reroll his misses?
Before we discuss how this mechanic should change the way you approach Age of Sigmar, we will discuss what this writer believes is the Correct Way to use the mechanic. Simply put, you should always assume that “winning” the initiative roll means “going second”. If you’re coming over from 40k, which places a great emphasis on mobility in most mission types, you’ve already come to grips with the idea that being able to move on objectives at the end of a game can be just as powerful as getting to shoot first at the beginning of a game, however the situation in Age of Sigmar is a bit different.
In a game between You and your Opponent, there are two ways that the turn order can play out on a given game turn:
1 – You, Opponent
2 – Opponent, You
Following from that, there are two ways the initiative roll can go on the following turn:
A – You win this turn’s initiative.
B – You lose this turn’s initiative.
This leads to four scenarios coming into the start of any game turn after the first:
1A – Your opponent was the last to go on the previous game turn, and you will decide who goes first on this turn.
1B – Your opponent was the last to go on the previous game turn, and your opponent will decide who goes first on this turn.
2A – You were the last to go on the previous game turn, and you will decide who goes first on this turn.
2B – You were the last to go on the previous game turn, but your opponent will decide who goes first this turn.
The worst of the four scenarios is 1B. Your opponent has the opportunity to look at the table and decide if their forces are in such a position that taking two consecutive turns will be decisive and you, poor soul, are at their mercy. At the other end of the spectrum, lies 2A, the most favourable of the four scenarios. You’ve just completed a player turn, and have the option to go again immediately, before your opponent has a chance to use any spells or command traits, maneuver any of his forces or make any ranged attacks. You also, oddly, have the option not to…
In a strange place between these extremes lies scenarios 1A and 2B. In the former, you will almost certainly decide to go first this turn to prevent your opponent from getting to act consecutively, but you reserve the option of allowing your opponent the opportunity to act twice. Silly, eh? In the latter scenario, your opponent is stuck with the same no brainer choice: preserve the alternating turn order, or hand you the easy win. Wow, these are all easy choices, right?
It might be a stretch to say this needs to be kept in mind, as it’s a pretty small concept once you understand it, but the key thing to note here is that the player who went second on the previous turn has the most to gain from winning an initiative roll, and the least to lose when their opponent wins initiative. Choosing to go second on a given game turn means that on the following turn, you might have the option to choose to act consecutively the following turn if you can win initiative or, at worst, your opponent is stuck with the tough choice of preserving the alternating sequence for one more game turn, or handing you consecutive turns. In general, we can say that when you go second on a given turn, you control the Tempo in the subsequent turns, as your opponent’s options are limited even if you should subsequently lose initiative. But beware that when you take full advantage of this Tempo by exercising the option to take consecutive turns, your opponent gets to go last in that game turn, setting them up to make the same decision going forward. In all cases, we can say that the player who acted last on a given turn controls the Tempo of the subsequent turn.
We’ve made conspicuous reference to the “no-brainer” nature of scenarios 1A and 2B above, but you should’ve guessed by now that we’ll be questioning the simplicity of those decisions. These under-appreciated scenarios allow a player who “lost” initiative the following turn a chance to ask themselves if allowing their opponent consecutive turns at this time is an acceptable circumstance. If your opponent who acted last on the previous game turn is coming off of some bad dice rolls that made their attacks less effective than they would have hoped, or a misplay has left some of their units out of position, it may very well be that allowing your opponent to take consecutive turns now, and gaining control of the Tempo next turn is a better choice than making short term gains at the top of this turn, while leaving the Tempo in your opponent’s hands. As favourable as the 2A scenario is, I would say that 1A and 2B are far and away the most interesting scenarios, and the ones that can really add depth to a game of Age of Sigmar.
Having looked at how to approach the mechanic itself, we can discuss briefly about how the mechanic should inform play during a game turn. To put it very simply, a player who has Tempo benefits the most from aggressive play, and risks the least from such play. You can move further up field in the movement phase, and take riskier table positions if you want to bet you’ll be able to cash in your Tempo the following turn, and you don’t run the risk of your opponent smashing a fragile unit by executing their own consecutive turns. Likewise, a player who does not have Tempo benefits the most from defensive play, and loses the least from forgoing aggressive play. Staying just outside your opponent’s likely threat range minimizes the likelihood they will get to interact with your own units and softens the blow if you should win initiative the following turn and use it to force your opponent into acting consecutively, depriving them of Tempo subsequently.
This brings us, I think, to the ultimate revelation about Age of Sigmar: The decision to play aggressively or defensively is not one made when choosing a faction, or even when writing a list. This decision needs to be made each turn! If you’re serious about playing competitive Age of Sigmar, and you’re writing lists that require you to play an aggressive game, you should feel as confident as a 40k player who writes a list that only works well when it Seizes the Initiative, or that can’t interact effectively with half of the game’s most lethal threats. As an effective player in Age of Sigmar, you owe it to yourself to write a list that is playable both Aggressively and Defensively, possibly even sacrificing efficiency in both play styles in favour of versatility.
The initiative mechanic as written by Games Workshop opens the door for a depth of game play we don’t have in many other games. And, best of all, this depth does not come at the price of a complex mechanic. Deep strategic consideration must be payed to perhaps the simplest gameplay mechanic of all: high roll wins. Beyond how Age of Sigmar’s initiative mechanic affects decisions during the game, I would wager that the types of lists that are best equipped to grapple with the implications of this mechanic make for a more interesting metagame than we might see with a simpler version of it.
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