For the last few years, most of Games Workshop’s games have been structured around three pillars of play: Matched Play, which is the competitive format that especially Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar are known for, Narrative Play, which is often defined by a detailed campaign mode in especially skirmish games such as Warcry and Kill Team, and finally, Open Play.
Open Play in Age of Sigmar is the one the least people talk about in reviews and guides for these games, because it features so few limitations that it can be difficult to define what it actually is.
In Open Play, you don’t have to choose models from just one faction. You don’t have to field a specific number of Troops or Battleline units. You don’t gain rewards or progress through a campaign system. Essentially, you just bring whichever models you want. The Open Play mode is intended to supply hobbyists and collectors with a very open and simple format to put their models on the gaming table without having to learn too many systems beyond the rules on the warscrolls of those models.
However, in the new, third edition of Warhammer Age of Sigmar, the system for Open Play deserves some attention anyway:
It features a battlepack (at set of rules with which to play games) that offer more variation and replayability than some of the more strictly balanced systems for Narrative and Matched Play, and that means it can be a nice tool to use, even if you want to use Matched Play army list building or Path to Glory progression mechanics along with it.
In this short guide, we explain how the Open War Battlepack (from the Age of Sigmar Core Book) works, and how you can use it in your games.
A note on rules in Age of Sigmar 3.0: In this and other articles, we take an in-depth look at how Age of Sigmar 3.0 is played. In doing this, we often refer to the Core Rules of the game. Those rules are available as a free download from the Age of Sigmar website here.
The Open War Battlepack to play Open Play in Age of Sigmar
A Battlepack is a set of rules, separated from the core rules of Age of Sigmar so that they can be replaced in supplements and expansions without messing with the rest of the game, that describes how you set up a battle for a specific mode of play.
The Open War battlepack has 3 suggestions for the points limits for your army:
- 750 points
- 2000 points
- more than 2000 points
Each points bracket has a recommended minimum battlefield size and a recommendation for how much terrain you should use. So far, so conventional.
Be aware that this means that even Open Play players now need the AOS app/General’s Handbook 2021’s Pitched Battle Profiles booklet to play their battlepack. Everyone uses points now.
The Open War Battleplan Generator
The way the Open War Battlepack handles battleplans is where it gets interesting:
Rather than having a set of bespoke battleplans (like Narrative and Matched Play), Open War in Age of Sigmar 3.0 takes the battleplan generation system from the Age of Sigmar Warcry Skirmish game and repurposes it for the Age of Sigmar core game.
This means that the players roll dice to generate 4 different elements that together make up the battleplan they play:
- Map: The six maps you can roll for are fairly straightforward: There’s one where one player is surrounded, one where both armies are split in two, one where the players just set up on opposite corners of the map and so on. This is good, since these maps don’t need to be complex to become interesting when they interact with the other elements of the battleplan generator.
- Victory: The six different victory conditions are mostly about grabbing different objectives. The victory condition Arcane Prize, however, has 1 objective at the centre, but if you’re the first to grab that objective with a model, you get to roll a dice and consult a table of different effects according to the roll. This can make everyone close to the objective suffer mortal wounds, gain a ward save, become worse at casting spells and a few other pretty significant effects. The controller of the objective can then move around with the objective. This makes for a gameplay experience that’s a bit different from most of the other battleplans in Age of Sigmar 3.0 so far.
- Twist: Twists are changes or additions to the general rules of the game that will modify how you play a particular battle. They can improve charge rolls, cause mortal wounds to units in every hero phase for both players, make models invisible to each other when they’re more than 12 inches away, and so on. Twists can really force you to improvise, but they can also be rather annoying if they affect the playstyle of your army a lot more than that of your opponent. Use them if both you and your opponent think they sound like fun.
- Ruse: The Ruses are great. They’re secret abilities for your army that you can hide from your opponent until you decide to use them. They’re all pretty significant: Some of them lets you set up units or Heroes outside of deployment (the phase before the game where you place your units on the battlefield), one lets you improve your wound rolls to after your general dies (it’s called “Revenge”), and one lets you set fire to terrain!
Verdict on Open Play in Age of Sigmar 3.0
As you can imagine, the battleplan generator can churn out a big variety of different scenarios for you and your friends to play.
That’s what’s great about Open Play, and more than in previous editions of Age of Sigmar, it can actually be recommended as a fun way to play your games.
However, there are especially two aspects of Open Play that makes us suggest you are a little cautious with this mode of you play as a beginner:
- It’s nowhere near a balanced form of play. Just like the battleplan generator for Warcry, there are numerous ways in which such a randomized system can generate games that are really unfair to one of the players. You might roll the Arcane Prize Victory along with the map where one player starts in the middle of the battlefield (where the only objective for that Victory is located), or roll the map where players are as far from each other as possible along with the twist that restricts shooting outside of 12 inches, making a shooting army all but useless.
- Having no army building restrictions isn’t neccessarily good for beginners. At first glance, it might seem a relief to a new player to not have to deal with battleline slots, Leader limits and ally restrictions – but it also leaves you without any guidelines for building an army that’s fun to play. You might build an army of big dinosaurs and airships only to realise that it’s not that fun to just move big stuff around, or feel confused by all the wild things your 8 heroes can do because you don’t have blocks of infantry that they can synergize with. Age of Sigmar 3.0 is, more than ever, a game built around the restrictions and opportunities of Matched Play, and for this reason, I think the Narrative Play Path to Glory is a much better fit for a beginner than Open Play, since it uses most of the elements of Matched Play as well.