The Tome of Champions 2019, the first annual collection of rules and tweaks for Age of Sigmar: Warcry, has arrived, and here’s our in-depth review of it.
Notice that a 2020 version of the Tome of Champions is now out. While the 2020 ads some new things, it does not necessarily make the 2019 version unusable or totally outdated. We will have a review for the 2020 version up soon.
Tome of Champions’ main features are:
- new rules for setting up scenery which is not part of the Ravaged Lands sets
- a new game mode for Open Play called Monstrous Melees
- campaigns and background tables for 15 new, unreleased warbands
- new Fated Quests and Challenge Battles suitable to expand your campaigns
- a new campaign mode called Trials of Champions
- rules for Roaming Beasts to replace Furies and Raptoryxes when the Twist card Wild Creatures is in play
- updates to Matched Play for 2020
- updates to the way Glory Points are earned in campaigns
- a collection of all the Fighter and Ability cards for the 9 non-Chaos factions from the first wave of Warcry releases
Before I go into a detailed review of each feature, it might be helpful to know what kind of Warcry player I am:
I own the Starter Set and all the Chaos Warbands, and I have painted and played all of them, mostly in Narrative Play/Campaign mode this season. Before Warcry, I was a dedicated player and collector of Necromunda, the Warhammer 40,000 skirmish game that is one of Warcrys closest relatives in terms of how it plays.
Because I came to Warcry from Necromunda, I was relieved at the simplicity and elegance of how the battles in Warcry played. It was easy to figure out what my weapons and abilities were, and combat was resolved quickly, with lots of extreme “hero moments” where tons of damage was done.
However, I wasn’t impressed by the campaign system. The idea of convergence battles and each warband running their own campaign that other players just happened to be part of was great, but your actions in battle didn’t really have the consequences that would make for a great narrative.
If a fighter was slain, she either died, lost a Destiny Level, or recovered.
If you conquered territory, you mostly just got 50 more points for buying fighters. The lesser artifacts and campaign rewards were good, but I was missing Necromundas weapon shops, strange territory treasure vaults and nail-biting d66 rolls on complex injury tables that could leave a fighter with a missing eye, a robotic arm or perhaps even brand-new powers!
So, for me as a narrative campaign player, the most anticipated feature of Tome of Champions was the new campaign system, Trial of Champions.
If you don’t read any further in this review, I just want you to know that this new mode is great and addresses most of my complaints about the campaign system.
But, before we delve further into that, let’s have a look at the new features for Open Play.
Open Play Terrain in Tome of Champions
The Open Play section of Tome of Champions opens with three new options for building battlefields without using the terrain cards from the Starter Set or the Ravaged Lands sets:
- The Architect of Fate: One player sets up scenery on the battlefield (from Warcry, other Age of Sigmar sets or third-party alternatives) in any way they like. When a Deployment card is drawn after the setup, the player who didn’t set up the scenery chooses the orientation of the deployment, so they get to decide on what end of the battlefield they will deploy.
- The Terrain Generator: Roll dice to determine Large and Small terrain features as well as the density of the terrain (the higher the density, the more scenery pieces you deploy), by consulting the Terrain Generator table printed in the book. Then the players roll off to determine who chooses the orientation of the battlefield.
- Creating Your Own Terrain Deck: You either draw battlefield setups on paper or setup different battlefields and take a photograph of each one until you have 36 images, where 18 setups are roughly symmetrical and 18 aren’t. If you don’t want to print the images and use them as cards, you assign a number interval to each and roll a d66 roll (roll two dice where the first is the first position in a number between 11 and 66 and the second is the second position, so a roll of 4 and 6 would signify 46) to determine which card is drawn.
While all of these methods are designed for Open Play, they could work just as well for Narrative Play and, to some extent, Matched Play.
I’m sure many campaign players already have house rules for using other terrain than what is on the terrain cards, but having three methods lined out in an official book is a great addition to the game for new players and for people who want a balanced way of setting up custom terrain.
The Architect of Fate is probably my favorite method because of its simplicity, and because it could make for some fun narrative battles in campaign play, such as players building their warband’s fortress or the player’s fighting for control of a stormvault. It’s not the most balanced method, of course.
If I play the Architect and fill the battlefield with towers and walkways for my Corvus Cabal to strike from, my Iron Golem or Ironjawz opponent will have a hard time improving his odds just by deciding the rotation of the board.
If you want balance in your campaign or Matched Play games with custom terrain, the Terrain Generator is great if you have a lot of terrain to choose from, but if you still want the feeling of a strong narrative in your battlefield setups, creating a custom deck is a good way to add tons of variety to the game with relatively few terrain pieces and a good deal of randomization.
In fact, I can’t believe I haven’t come up with this solution myself, and I’m sure someone out there in the hobby has already made something similar, but it’s good to have the option in an official book.
I hope GW will keep releasing bespoke scenery sets for Warcry, but these new rules make it easy to build our own battlefields while we wait.
Monstrous Melees is designed as a one-off game mode where each player (the mode lets up to 6 players join in) chooses 1 fighter with the Gargantuan runemark (all of these can be found in the Monsters and Mercenaries expansion) as their warband and then fight to the death in a giant monster fight.
The game mode is thoroughly designed and takes a lot of problems into account that would have come up if you and your gaming group had just decided to play monster vs. monster with no additional rule changes: for example, monsters that cost fewer points than the other monsters get stamina points which can be traded for extra ability uses in an activation.
This is the one part of the Tome of Champions that is mostly for Open Play, and as such, I don’t think I will be using it much.
It would probably have been better if it had been included in Monsters and Mercenaries along with all the Gargantuan fighter cards, but if you want to fight kaiju-like battles in Warcry, Monstrous Melees is a solid way to do it.
Warband Campaigns and Background Tables in Tome of Champions
In my opinion, The Warband Campaigns and Background Tables highlight what’s best and worst about the way Warcry is being released as a game system.
Let’s start with the best: With the release of Tome of Champions, there are now warband campaigns for 33 (!) warbands across two books, and the game hasn’t even been out for a year. The new warband campaigns in Tome of Champions are for the following warbands:
- Stormcast Warrior Chamber
- Slaves to Darkness
- Ossiarch Bonereapers
- Ogor Mawtribes
- Kharadron Overlords
- Disciples of Tzeentch
- Stormcast Sacrosanct Chamber
- Beasts of Chaos
- Blades of Khorne
- Maggotkin of Nurgle
- Hedonites of Slaanesh
The warband campaigns and their background tables all do a pretty good job of explaining why everyone is suddenly queing up for fights in the Bloodwind spoil, even though they have to stretch credibility a bit sometimes: for example, the usually pragmatic and risk-calculating Kharadron Overlords are in the Eightpoints to…field-test a new rifle they’ve invented?? I’m sure they could have tested it on some aether-cattle somewhere in Chamon instead of heading to the heart of Chaos itself…
In general, the more warbands enter the fray, the less coherent the original premise for the Warcry Chaos warbands becomes: they were supposed to be lowly tribesmen that could maybe, possibly, someday gain enough favor to become Bloodreavers, Chaos Warriors or Kairic Acolytes, and now it seems they will be fighting these warriors as if they were their equals.
One can only hope that the new God-marked Chaos Warbands will have expensive fighters so the narrative still holds up a bit.
The problem is that we just don’t know if that’s the case.
This is the worst thing about the Warcry release schedule: we have warband campaigns for 33 warbands, but we only have fighter cards for 15 of them, and two of the campaigns we don’t have cards for are from the core rulebook itself (Spire Tyrants and Scions of the Flame).
The release schedule of warband campaigns and the release schedule of actual warbands with fighter cards are completely out of sync.
Yes, we might get fighter cards for all (or some?) of the 15 new warbands in early 2020, but until then, a very large part of Tome of Champions, and a small part of the core rulebook, are useless to players.
Games Workshop’s community team keeps encouraging players to start naming and planning their warbands with the campaigns and background tables in hand, but how can we when we don’t know which models we can use, what their fighter cards will be and how their abilities work?
I know shipping problems and scheduling conflicts can influence something like this, but that’s a concern for Games Workshop as a company. As a customer and player, it doesn’t work for me.
That being said, I am looking forward to fielding my beloved Kharadron and the new Chaos Warriors I just bought in games of Warcry – I would just like to know how to build warbands for them at the same time as I get their campaigns and background tables.
Fated Quests and Challenge Battles
There are 8 new Fated Quests (campaigns that aren’t tied to a specific warband) and 7 new Challenge Battles (thematic side quests against specific opponents) in Tome of Champions.
The Fated Quests aren’t all that exciting as such, since there aren’t any customized rules or special conditions for the battles within them, but their rewards are a little different than usual:
When you complete one of the new Fated Quests, you can choose that your reward is either Honour or Glory.
If you choose Glory, you get an artefact of power, but if you choose Honour, you get something new:
An Exalted Command trait that has to be given to your Leader. It replaces their command trait and can’t be replaced by another Exalted Command trait later (the text is a little unclear on that).
Most of them are well worth getting: One makes the value of abilities used by your leader always be 6, another gives you +3 to damage of hits and critical hits and so on.
Another feature worth noticing is that the Convergence battles of these new Fated Quests use a mix of terrain from the Ravaged Lands scenery sets released so far, so if you want the full experience, you have to buy all of them.
Of course, you can easily replace one or two scenery pieces you don’t have with something else.
The Challenge Battles, like the ones in the Monsters and Mercenaries book, are a much more thematic affair. You play them as side quests to your current campaign, and you have to have a number of territories to access them.
If you lose the battle, you lose a number of territories. The other player plays an Adversary warband that is specific to each Challenge Battle.
In the Challenge Battles in Tome of Champions, the adversaries for each battle are Restless Undead (more on those below), Wild Cave Creatures, Chaotic Beasts, Flesh-Eater Courts, Blades of Khorne and Tzeentch Arcanites. Some of them also have “bosses” like a Chaos Sorcerer or an Ogroid Thaumaturge, and one of them even has a Battle Mage join the campaign player’s team as an objective to defend.
In addition to this, each battle is based on one of the Shattered Dominion Objectives made for the Second Edition of Age of Sigmar, so if you have one of those, you have a cool objective for your campaign.
There are some awesome fights to be had among the new Challenge Battles, and they can work as great palate cleansers in the middle of a campaign, but like the ones in Monsters and Mercenaries, they require you to own (or borrow, or proxy) a large amount of models you might not need for anything but this single challenge battle.
So, depending on your hobby personality, this can be a great opportunity for new painting and playing, or a serious obstacle for enjoying the content of the book.
Trial of Champions and Campaign Updates from the Tome of Champions
As I mentioned in the introduction, Campaign play is the Warcry mode that receives the best improvements in Tome of Champions, especially on pages 78 to 83, where the new Trial of Champions mode is described.
Simply put, Trials of Champions raises both the stakes and variety of campaign play by adding three d66 tables to the game (this is a Sam Pearson book, after all, and d66 tables have shown up everywhere since he joined the Age of Sigmar team):
- The Territory Exploration table: This table is used when you spend 10 glory points to dominate a territory. You are then allowed to roll a d66 roll to see if your scouts find anything interesting in your new domain. Results range from nothing at all to artefacts of power, and while most of them are simple bonuses to glory points, wild dice or the amount of artefacts you can find, they add some much-needed suspense to dominating territory. Since some of the rewards stack if you have more than one dominated territory with the same result, they can actually shape the outcome of your campaign quite a bit, but the most important effect is that the Territory Exploration table gives you more reason to spend glory points on dominating territory.
- The Critical Injuries Table: In the aftermath sequence of a battle, Trial of Champions gives you a much more detailed Injuries table to roll on for those of your fighters that were taken out of action during combat. The old one in the core rulebook had 3 possible results. The Critical Injuries Table has 10, and apart from the “Slain” option, the “Lost Favour” option and the positive outcomes, all the new results can be either permanent or temporary, depending on a dice roll. Your fighter could end up with a “Gut wound” that halves her Wound characteristic, either permanently or until you manage to roll a 4 or higher before a new battle. You could also get a blinded eye, a cracked rib, a concussion and a few other injuries that negatively affect your fighter’s statistics in one way or another. This is such a great addition to the Campaign mode. Before, your fighter would either recover, lose a Destiny level or be slain, and while being slain sounds worse than having your Wound characteristic halved, it really isn’t when a player can just replace that fighter with an identical one if they have the points for it. With the Critical Injuries Table, you have to live with the consequences of your defeats, and your injured fighter gets to go back to the battlefield and seek revenge on that Splintered Fang spearman who poked his eye out. It adds persistence and narrative opportunities to the game and changes the way getting a fighter taken out of action impacts the flow of the campaign.
- The (expanded) Lesser Artefacts Table: The new lesser artefacts table has been tweaked to better work with the Trial of Champions. One of the new features is artefacts with the Instant keyword in addition to Consumables and Perishables.
Instant artefacts take effect immediately when you acquire them, rather than during combat. They can give you extra Glory points, heal a temporary or permanent injury (depending on a dice roll) or change the result of a roll on the Territory Exploration table.
In addition to these three new tables, Trial of Champions features updated rules for purchasing new fighters.
All of these features combined makes for a campaign system with a lot more depth that should ensure that every campaign plays out differently than the last one.
I particularly love how it gives your territory some character and some influence on the campaign, and how it manages to use injuries and decreases in fighting power (as opposed to increases) as part of the character building and storytelling of the campaign.
There is one possible downside to the new system, depending on what kind of campaign player you are: There are tons of new options, but they are all part of a heavily randomized system of dice rolls on d66 tables, so if you were looking for more options to personally choose from, you will have to wait for another expansion.
This is all about luck and the dice-based chaos that you can either love or hate, but not deny is a fundamental part of Warcry.
Independent of Trials of Champions mode, but as something that works really well with it, Tome of Champions also includes an update to how Glory points are earned in any campaign, with a focus on making sure the gap between winners and losers doesn’t get too wide too quickly.
This is also a great and very simple way of keeping the campaign fun and balanced for all the players for a good while longer than under the old system.
If you’re tired of fielding (or painting!) Raptoryxes and Furies on the battlefield for the Wild Creatures Twist card, Tome of Champions lets you replace them with two new “teams” of monsters:
- The Wild Cave Creatures: This faction lets you field Cave Squigs, Fellwater Troggoths and Rockgut Troggoths as Wild Creatures. If you want to use the new scenery rules to run a campaign in a swamp or even in Ghur, these could be a fun and thematic addition to such a setup. I must admit this might be the point where I finally surrender and buy a pack of the new Rockgut Troggoths (which are just amazing models) to mess up my battles!
- The Restless Undead: This faction mixes Legions of Nagash models with Nighthaunt models to give you a list of spooky undead to haunt your scenery. They would look great on a Corpsewrack Mausoleum board, and like the Wild Cave Creatures, it wouldn’t be too much of an investment to buy them, especially since both factions have an associated Challenge battle.
Tome of Champions Matched Play Updates
Matched Play receives three updates in Tome of Champions:
- 6 new Pitched Battle Battleplans: Like the General’s Handbook for Age of Sigmar, The Tome of Champions opens a new Matched Play season with six new balanced battleplans with fixed deployment and fixed victory conditions. They can be used in combination with the old ones, or you can host a tournament that only uses the new ones to shake things up.
- 12 new Hidden Agendas: These replace the ones from the core rulebook. Even though I don’t think matched play is the main attraction of Warcry (at least for me and my hobby friends), I think it’s a good idea to think of its development in seasons, so new battleplans and agendas pop up every year. It keeps the game (and the meta) from growing stale.
- 3 new Reward Tables for Escalation Tournaments: Escalation Tournaments are matched play-focused mini-campaign events that try to combine Narrative play with Tournament play. The new reward tables properly turn Escalation into its own game mode (in the core book it only took up three tiny paragraphs) with its own bespoke consumables, artefacts of power and command trait. I haven’t tried it out at an event yet, but I think this update makes it an interesting update for Warcry to start featuring at tournaments in my area.
Fighter Cards reprinted in Tome of Champions
Since the Fighter Card packs for the non-Chaos Warcry factions stopped being available at GW’s website, many have wondered what would happen to them.
That’s answered now, as they are all listed in a nice one-spread format.
This isn’t an update like what AOS players have come to expect from their General’s Handbooks (apart from a weird points increase on the Squig Herder that’s most likely an error):
The fighter and ability cards have just been reprinted as a collection for the first season of Warcry. On Warhammer TV, Sam Pearson hinted at a possible balance update coming once all the warbands are officially released, but no one knows when that will be.
As someone who didn’t play any non-Chaos warbands during this season, this collection of fighter cards gives a good idea of the larger vision of the game and how the characteristics of each AOS faction has been translated into Warcry abilities.
It has also given me a few ideas for new warbands to build (which was probably more than intentional on GW’s part).
However, this collection also comes at a weird time where most of us, because of the very same book these factions are printed in, are awaiting the release of 15 new warbands, so rather than give me a clear idea of what I want to build, it just leaves me with too many and too few options at the same time.
All in all, I think the inclusion of these fighter cards is a good move in terms of how it affects the game.
A new player who picks up the core rulebook and Tome of Champions now has many warbands to choose from without having to buy any more books or cards.
What’s Next for Warcry?
Tome of Champions is an exciting step forward for Warcry in many ways. Especially because we know Games Workshop are still very dedicated to supporting the game.
We now have a new, better campaign system, more battles to choose from, and hints about a host of new factions. But what else is on the horizon for Warcry?
Through the last couple of preview events from GW, we know that the Chaos Warband the Spire Tyrants aren’t far away.
They are a warband of gladiators, and look like they could be slightly more elite than the other chaos warbands.
We also know that three new monsters are coming:
The Fomoroid Crusher
The Ogroid Myrmidon
The Mindstealer Sphiranx
Finally, the magic-using Chaos warband who had their campaign listed way back in the core rulebook, the Scions of Flame, are actually featured in a piece of art in the Tome of Champions, which hopefully means they’re not far behind, either.
We don’t have any release dates on any of all this, but we will keep you posted as soon as we know more.
Verdict on the Tome of Champions
Tome of Champions got me really excited but was also slightly a letdown.
The updates and expansions for the campaign was a much-needed boost.
If the campaign system can become popular and robust, the game can survive. I cannot wait to fold out a big sprawling narrative campaign with my fellow warcry players.
I am also looking forward to testing out the matched play updates, but to be honest it just seems matched play and Warcry does no go hand in hand. The imbalance between the warbands (especially the non-chaos ones) us just too much to make matched play relevant.
I fear this gap between Warbands will only widen with the release of so many new warbands. Maybe some balance patching will roll out next December with a new Warcry update?
While putting all the previous warbands cards in the book was a nice gesture, it still seems like a weird business decision to let the cards go out of print so early.
The lore surrounding the game is getting seriously stretched now that every race and faction wants a piece of the action. While the original setup is cool, why not have something that made sense for all factions (hallo Glorius Mordheim setting)
While I love Warcry, it seems it still finding its legs. Tome of Champions added some much-needed pillars to the campaign and tweaked and added enough bits and bobs to be worth the £20 asking price.
Is it a must-have? If you want some more meat on the campaign, yes.
If you want new things for matched play, yes. If you have only played games with your core set 4 times? Then this is probably not for you.
Looking for more Warcry content?
- Our Warcry Hub
- Review of Warcry
- Overview of all the Warcry Warband (including links to all Warband Guides)