Fantasy Fisticuffs #17: Don’t Fear the Reaper… (Tool-box Armies in AoS)

While the world has gone a bit odd, there is no better time to enjoy the happy distraction of planning a new army. Maybe a “Tool-Box” is the right army for you?

As we all rightly pause a bit on our social gathering, we as tabletop gamers are presented with the happy distraction of planning our next hobby project or competitive list. If there is something we competitive gamers do exceedingly well, it is adding to our piles of unpainted models at a moment’s notice. So if we are all stuck inside anyway, why not finish our exploration of Age of Sigmar’s broad-strokes types of armies? Let us finish this mini-series with a look at “tool-box” armies.

So lovingly named by members of the community, a “tool-box” army is one that may not be able to outplay a very specialized army in any given phase of the game, but which has strong plays to be made in several, if not all, phases. Some might call this the “jack of all trades” approach, but in practice the “take all comers” list is a long-standing tradition in the tabletop hobby, and one that generally predates the modern net-list driven style of competitive play.

Orruks, especially mixed, make a terrific Tool-Box

Pros: Tool-Box armies are obviously all about versatility, and that brings two big “pros” to the table. The first is that players are often afforded a lot of freedom and flexibility in deciding how they will distribute their assets. Do you want to go shooting heavy, with sides of mobility? Caster-heavy with board-control secondary? Do you want to do it all? Those options not only appeal to a lot of gamers, but they create a much harder environment for an opponent who won’t necessarily automatically know the match-up from the instant pairings are announced.

A second, refreshing benefit to these armies is that you can only be only a couple of purchases away from completely changing your experience with the game. Sometimes it can just be nice to change things up, and tool-boxes are particularly good at feeling like you bought a whole new army, for a fraction of the cost. Likewise, if your more casual local match-ups are feeling a little dull, it can shake things up for a more modest investment.

Cons: Depending on your perspective, the very allure of these armies can to others be their detriment. Tool-box armies will generally have quite a few competitive options, that is after all their whole point. Having access to all of those options, especially in enough numbers to be versatile, can feel like it requires a massive investment, or somehow not utilizing your new army to its potential. This is more a psychological negative than a gameplay one, but for some collector mindsets it can be a very real concern.

At the table, however, these armies are at risk of metas that can overwhelm them, rendering aspects of their armies moot. While having a modest spell-casting potential can make you feel like a five-tool-player against some armies, an opponent fielding Nagash makes those points functionally meaningless, and putting you at an early disadvantage. This means that without finesse and fore-thought at list building, you can inadvertently make your army weak, versus flexible. I would suggest planning to “almost dominate” at least two phases when beginning this sort of project, as a defense against this.

Tool-Box Done Right: I often see Skaven brought up as a definitive example of Tool-Box armies. While not a personal favorite, they absolutely do have easy access to a lot of tools indeed. This, in part, is due to some great point efficiency at the battletome level. Their Gnaw-Holes essentially provide them a powerful way to play the movement/mobility/table-control game, for free! This gives them an advantage right out of the gate, with all of their points remaining with which to choose other ways you hope to win the game.

Thanks to point value, Skaven can become a horde by their very nature, and units such as Plague-Monks simply provide huge value alongside that high model-count. Even an army with 1-2 huge units still has plenty of point remaining for efficient shooting, such as their artillery or the once utterly broken Storm Vermin, or going a completely different route, Casting. Skaven Endless Spells further provide damage, and area-denial, all coming from cheap casters you probably wanted anyway.

In essence, all of their pieces inform and support their others, and a multitude of options exist to build around.

Other armies particularly suited to Tool-Boxing right now range from Orruk Warclans and Cities of Sigmar, to Hedonites of Slaanesh who actually find more build variety available now that they have taken a wider view than solely going Triple-Keeper.

Tool-Box Done Wrong: Sadly, armies like Deepkin simply cannot currently thrive competitively as a Tool-Box. At a glance one might think they have access to all of the needed pieces, but the reality is simply that they excel so very much at the mobility game, that all other options pale by comparison. I imagine that this army’s future is bright, as several units are only minor modifications away from being excellent, but for the time being it is all eels and high execution play, if you hope to be successful.

As cool as it looks, this army doesn’t work competitively in this form.

Begrudgingly I will add that frequent punching-bag, Sylvaneth, is another army that looks like it should be a Tool-Box, and yet fails due to general poor units across the board. At a glance, this army starts like Skaven, with free and relatively ready access to mobility tricks, but from there its strong shooting is utterly cost prohibitive, its horde bodies generally weaker than most, and durable units are essentially non-existent. Like many in the fandom, I fear this army is an awesome premise in dire need of some love.

So we have reached the end of our army over-views, and hopefully you are more inclined to go in one way versus another. Maybe you’ve chosen to flood the table with bodies, or reach out and touch them all the way from your deployment zone. Whatever the case, Age of Sigmar is a game of tremendous diversity, allowing everyone to find a style of play that will help elevate their competitive performance.

From here we embark on a season of new armies to discuss, unit breakdowns, and much more, but if there is any content you would like to see, leave a comment and let me know.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Mark Gottlieb

Writer, Game Designer, and owner of Fortunate Sun Studios, I have always tried to lead a life in some way built around paying back to gaming, and the gaming community. This hobby, and everyone in it, saved my life on more than a few occasions, and now I get to put my heart into helping it thrive for everyone!

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