Age of Sigmar: What Army is for You?
It seems that the General's Handbook was the saving grace to Age of Sigmar for many players. All over Facebook I'm seeing people give the game another shot, and even quite a few people selling/trading off 40k for Age of Sigmar, something I never thought I'd see! Personally, I am extremely excited for Age of Sigmar to have a universal point system that is supported by the company itself, and built using a lot of community participation, especially from the folks over at HeelanHammer. Now that there is a lot of public support for a unified points system, it seems people are excited to get to creating armies for the game. I've had some talks with friends that are very interested in getting into the game, but they are all indecisive about which faction is best for them, and I figure if people I know are running into this, more people out there may be struggling with decision making.
First and foremost, the armies in Age of Sigmar are broken down into four Grand Alliances. Unlike 40k, which has well over a dozen armies, as well as a complex allies matrix, Age of Sigmar has simplified it greatly, essentially establishing Grand Alliances as your army, though you have some incentive to take specific subsets of each. This system is much more like Infinity with it's factions and sectorial armies.
In broad strokes, here are how I've found that the four Grand Alliances play out:
This is the faction with the most variety, so is the hardest to nail down. It includes Stormcast, Seraphon (lizardmen), Duardin (dwarfs), Aelfs (elves), and Humans of many varieties. They have the most options for ranged attacks of any Grand Alliance, and have the option to summon Seraphon reinforcements (which are not free). Model-count wise will be mid-to-high unless you are taking a fair amount of Stormcast. Due to their diversity though, they tend to look more rag-tag, without a lot of common elements or design styles shared between armies (Sylvaneth with Seraphon and Stormcast would look pretty motley).
Order Strength - Well-rounded army with a lot of variety, generally high Bravery, and more ranged options than any other Grand Alliance.
Order Weakness - Other factions have wider access to Behemoths, and can more freely mix elite and non-elite units within their subfactions. Disjointed aesthetics in a mixed army.
The second largest Grand Alliance in terms of unit choices, Chaos now includes everything from Daemons, Chaos Warriors, Beastmen and now Skaven. Some players may remember back in the day when you could mix the first 3 of those, and now you can again make your mixed force of mortals and Daemons. Generally, your army will have a lower model count, as many of the fun things in the Grand Alliance come at a steep price tag, but you can beef it up in model count through adding Skaven to the list. They don't have a whole ton of ranged options, though once again, Skaven can remedy that a bit with deadly artillery, but close combat will still be your primary means of dealing damage. They have a spectacular selection of monsters though, which is perhaps one of the most enticing parts of Chaos, things like Greater Daemons, Slaughterbrutes, Verminlords, and Archaeon the Everchosen (perhaps the best looking mini in the game), really mean you'll have a spectacular army on the table. Also, unlike Order, Chaos looks really good with a mix and match of all the races, as they all keep with a fairly similar aesthetic.
Chaos Strength - Access to fantastic combat units, backed up by large monsters. The ability to summon Daemons means you can keep some surprises in store for your opponent.
Chaos Weakness - Less ranged options than Order, and overall lower Bravery.
Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings merged into a single faction, though sadly, it is really just Vampire Counts. The Death army represents an army that is going to be a drawn out fight to take down. Additionally, thanks to their summoning, they can pick and choose which units they need against specific opponents and deliver them unharmed where they are most needed.. They aren't spectacular in combat, they have an across the board Bravery of 10, making them very resilient to Battleshock, so in combat, they slowly grind the opponent to a halt. Their range is on the minimal side, really only coming from either Tomb King units, or things like Banshees, Zombie Dragons and Terrorgheists.
In previous editions of Warhammer, Undead were characterized by summoning vast amounts of reinforcements, which is no longer the case, instead the Undead are now about being the slow grind, as well as summoning new units of choice in advantageous positions, they do however have to pay for those units, they do not come for free as they did in the past. In Age of Sigmar, you set aside a certain amount of points to use as your summoning pool, and whenever you summon a unit, it draws the points to summon them from this pool. Thinking of Summoning more like Deep Strike in 40k isn't far off, except you get to pick what you want during the game, and they can charge after being summoned (though typically, it will be a difficult charge). Summoning is still amazing, and Death does it quite well.
Death Strength - Wide variety of units to summon means you can pick the right units for the job, highest Bravery in the game makes Battleshock nearly a non-issue.
Death Weakness - Minimal ranged options, not many elite combat units, and only a few Behemoths to pick from.
An unstoppable force of nature, the armies of Destruction are drawn from various Greenskins and Ogres. It is no surprise that they are most effective in combat, with their vast selection of Behemoths, cavalry, and foot mounted melee units. Combining the brute strength of Ogors and Orruks, and the hordes of troops Grots can put down, Destruction can be a sight to behold... just an unruly mob rushing across the table, trampling all in their wake. Despite the heavy slant towards melee, a mixed Destruction army can actually bring a surprising amount of ranged attacks through Savage Orruk Arrowboys, Grot archers, Doom Divers, Rock Lobbers, Spear Chuckas, Scraplaunchers, Ogor Ironblasters, and Leadbelchers.
Destruction Strengths - Masters of Close Combat, plus potentially high model count.
Destruction Weakness - Running up the field against ranged attacks is painful, and low Bravery overall.
If playing a mixed army of a Grand Alliance isn't your bag, you actually get rewarded for playing the smaller subfactions as well. There are too many to spend time writing about each one individually, but I'll point out a few that I'm particularly fond of (or that new players might be particularly interested in). When you play one of these Subfactions, you are given additional units to pick from as your Battleline choices, typically giving you access to more elite troop options to fill your ranks with, some subfactions (basically everything after Sylvaneth) will have access to their own special Allegiance Abilities, giving them new Command Traits, Battletraits, Artifacts, and spells, which they can select instead of the general Grand Alliance Allegiance Abilities.
In any subfaction, you are obviously going to have less variety than a full Grand Alliance, many of them will lack ranged weapons entirely, or may have no wizards. It is far too early to tell what will play out as "competitive" but just be aware that by design, they are not going to have all the tools you need for every situation.
The poster boys of Age of Sigmar, the Stormcast Eternals are a race of warriors, reincarnated by Sigmar himself, clad in heavy armor, meant to be the ultimate weapon to strike back against Chaos, who now rules the Mortal Realms. Stormcast armies are full of elite infantry, and will be lower in model size, but pack a wallop. They have far fewer ranged options than most of Order, and no wizards, but everything they bring is incredibly potent, and can lightning strike into choice fighting positions in battle with some of their Battalions. They only have one Behemoth to speak of, the Stardrake, so if monsters are your thing, this may not be the best choice for you. Oddly, there is no current benefit to playing a pure Stormcast Eternals army, though I hear this may change in the near future with their own Allegiance Abilities.
Like Death, Seraphon have an army-wide ability to summon anything from the faction. They have fantastic magic capabilities with Slaan, Starseers, and the ugly Engine of the Gods (which can give you a free turn). Backing that up, they have a fantastic variety of Behemoths, which are all lovely to look at, and either brutal in combat, or carry some sort of arcane artillery to blast apart the opponent. Through their summoning, you can set aside some points of your army and pick it as you choose after you've seen what you need on the table. Lacking Aelves and Humans from Order, they don't have a ton in the way of Ranged Attacks, but their monsters and Infantry bring a good fight, and playing pure Seraphon will unlock Saurus Knights and Saurus Guard as Battleline, letting you pick some of the more punchy choices as your Battleline tax.
The other half of the Age of Sigmar starter, Khorne Bloodbound are lovely new sculpts for our favorite Chaos God. Obviously a melee-centric army, and quite good at it, a Khorne Bloodbound army is one that wants to get into combat as quickly as possible. Playing a pure Bloodbound army means that you unlock Mighty Skullcrushers are Battleline choices, which in itself may be enough to make you want to play them. Without the Skullcrushers, the Bloodbound are a very slow army, relying on standard foot movement to advance across the field, making ranged casualties potentially a huge issue. To really get the most out of the faction though, you'll want to capitalize on your unit-buffing heroes, making any combat troops that get through your enemy ranged defenses, into absolute killing machines. Thanks to sharing the starter with Stormcast, you can probably make an army of them fairly inexpensively. Sadly, they have no Behemoths at all to speak of, unless you mix in Daemons, no Wizards to summon Daemons with, and no Artillery... Just a horde of raving mad men.
My favorite Skaven Clan got a whole lot uglier with the General's Handbook. Unlocking Stormfiends as Battleline units, means you can have a skaven army full of the biggest, ugliest creations that Skryre has to offer... I love the models and they are terrifying in the game, potentially burrowing up into range of their earth shattering weaponry. Backed up with various artillery pieces, jezzails, and magic, it just seems too fun to ignore, though maybe not the most competitive choice.
It's rare that you can make an army for any GW game with less than 20 models, and that's exactly what Beastclaw Raiders do. By taking an entire army of them, you unlock Mournfangs, Stonehorn and Thundertusk Beastriders as Battleline, plus potentially Yhetees and Sabretusks! Nothing in the game is going to hit harder on the charge than a Beastclaw army, but at the same time, you'll often be outnumbered 3 to 1, and it wouldn't be impossible to be outnumbered 5 to 1 or more! Beastclaw Raiders will have a hard tome scoring in many objective games due to their insanely low model count, but they'll knock anythings teeth out in combat that they can get their fat, grubby mitts on.