General’s Handbook Pitched Battles 2021 Review – Age of Sigmar 3rd Edition
One of the greatest things to happen to Warhammer Age of Sigmar was the General’s Handbook. The community had long wanted rules for having competitive pitched battles of Age of Sigmar with interesting and engaging scenarios along with a points balancing system for having armies of equal power. It’s safe to say it was a massive success and paved the way for the game evolving into the 2nd Edition. Now with Dominion and the 3rd Edition of Warhammer Age of Sigmar on the way it is time for this year’s General’s Handbook, and we are in for a treat!
Massive thanks to Games Workshop for sending us a free copy of the General’s Handbook 2021 for this review, while the points leaks may have been seen everywhere else already, we wanted to take a look into the entire package itself and talk about some of our favourite things in this edition of the essential tome for your Matched Play games!
The General’s Handbook Pitched Battles 2021 is actually made up of three different items – first up is something that has traditionally been a part of the limited edition General’s Handbooks of the past, card tokens!
We get a useful sheet of tokens for use in your games of Age of Sigmar. Included are 10 double sided objective markers that have a different design on each side to use as a way of indicating which side controls an objective, and a set of 4 double sided Battle Tactic tokens covering the 8 Battle Tactics included within the book – this makes it really easy to keep track of what your current Battle Tactic is that battle round by just popping the relevant token on the board as your play – it also gives you a nice reference to them at hand during the game!
Probably the thing that has had the most attention over the last couple of days are the new Pitched Battle Profiles – as with the last couple of releases these are now in a separate softback booklet – the logic being that this is something you are probably going to keep separate for reference, not carry around to every game that you go to! The 34 pages contain the points values for every current legal Citadel miniature in the game, so you won’t see anything like Bretonians or Tomb Kings here. Essentially Games Workshop support models that you can currently purchase, and as so any historic stuff has been phased out and become “Legends”.
Also worth pointing out is the fact this book doesn’t contain the points to any Forge World units. It’s safe to say that as of recently the Age of Sigmar section of the Forge World website is rather sparse. The Legion of Azghor is no more (though some things in Dominion suggest they may be making their return in plastic) Tamurkhan’s Horde is ancient history and the majority of the monster range has been discontinued. As of the time of this review there are currently 23 items available for Age of Sigmar on Forge World (And 2 of these are alternate heads for Stormcast).
I hope that we do get updated warscrolls and points for these via the Forge World site (Or perhaps even a physical Monstrous Arcanum release) however I do suspect that the role of Forge World has changed greatly over the last few years. Previously, if you wanted an epic larger than life kit then the only solution was a resin kit. However, with the advances in Games Workshop’s plastic kits you can now do equally impressive models in plastic – take for example the plastic Great Unclean One and Keeper of Secrets who now tower over their Forge World brethren! It wouldn’t surprise me if Forge World are now focussed on Specialist Games releases rather than producing any new models for Age of Sigmar, which means that going forward any cool new kits would be available in plastic from the main studio and available to buy from your local store rather than a relatively niche side-line.
As for the points themselves, as with 40k last year most units have increased in cost effectively reducing the size of armies seen on the (now smaller) battlefield. This does two things, firstly the barrier to entry is dropped a little – especially now we have lots of variable game sizes. Secondly, it means that you are going to have to think about your unit choices and build your army lists around this – hopefully leading to us seeing more different armies at events rather than cookie cutter “net lists”
I’m not going to go into all the points changes in this article, as they are already all over the internet – however in the run up to launch we will be taking a look at how armies has changed in a series of articles starting with this look at the Lumineth and how they now play in AOS3.
The star attraction though is the General’s Handbook Pitched Battles 2021 itself, and what a glorious book it is! In a substantial upgrade from what we have seen from Chapter Approved this year, the Pitched Battles 2021 is a spiral bound hardback book designed to fold flat on the table to your chosen page. This may seem like a small thing but it makes a massive impact on how sturdy it is and how it can hold up to being tossed in a bag with your tournament gear! As it folds out flat you are not going to damage the pages, and equally not lose that important page mid battle as the book accidently shuts! Keeping everything secure while you are travelling is an elastic strap to seal the book while not in use.
Even the back cover deserves special mention, as it addresses one of the few criticisms I had of the Core Book in that it serves as a full reference sheet to all the new command abilities introduced in 3rd Edition along with the new updated core Spells and Prayers to save you flicking through the book to find them each hero phase! Again this is perfect to leave next to the battlefield allowing you to keep track of when best to spend those precious Command Points!
Inside the book is separated into 5 sections all divided with tabs allowing you to quickly get to the content you need in the heat of battle!
Pitched Battles 2021
The opening section of the book talks us though the concept of Matched Play and how this book is the baseline for events such as those hosted at Warhammer World. While Age of Sigmar 3rd Edition has made great strides to introduce players to Open and Narrative play, Matched Play is still very much the go to type of game for a large number of Age of Sigmar players. Even people who do not regularly play at tournaments may well see Matched Play as the default way of playing the game, and with the new battlepack format GW can put out an updated version each season in order to evolve the game as the “meta” changes on the tabletop.
Speaking of seasons, the Warhammer studio have introduced a fresh take on the old concept of Realm Rules. While in previous editions of the game we had a collection of realms to randomly select from in order to add the wild card of different abilities and rules to mix things up and keep things interesting, from GH21 onwards Games Workshop are introducing “Seasonal Realm Rules”
Seasonal Realm Rules are a really clever way of linking the narrative arc that will transpire across battletomes and supplements to the tournament scene. For example. this year the 4 grand alliances will be fighting over the continent of Thondia in Ghur following the events of Broken Realms Kragnos. This is a savage land of monsters, so unsurprisingly monsters take centre stage here and so this is reflected in the realm rules for this season.
Essentially these are additional rules that you use when playing any of the missions in this book, and as we move through different seasons and story arcs we will see different realms and abilities.
This means that the Warhammer studio can inject some of the narrative elements we are seeing in the wider Age of Sigmar story into even tournament games bringing everything together cohesively and leading to some really nice thematic battles that feel like your armies are deep in the wilds of Ghur in your battles this year.
I suspect this is also something we will see mirrored in the upcoming Path to Glory supplements, and I’m very much looking forward to a growing library of realm specific battlepacks that capture the feel of each realm.
Rounding out this section, to reinforce the theme of this season we get a nice “Lonely Planet Guide” to Ghur and the Thondia Expanse giving players some flavour behind the battles they will be enacting this year.
Pitched Battles 2021
The next part of the book contains all the rules material of the battle plan itself. This includes all the information needed to decide to play a game and build your army along with the aforementioned Realm Rules.
It’s worth noting here that while the Core Book has a large range of game sizes, in Pitched Battles 2021 games are either for 1000 or 2000 points and both take place on a 44×60 board with 8 terrain features. This means that in those smaller games you are going to have a lot more space on the battlefield compared to the smaller board seen for those games in the Core Book – this also means that organisers can run events consisting of different game sizes per round without having to rearrange the tables after every game!
Moving onto the Realm Rules we see a couple of cool things added that will add some interesting things to your games. Firstly you gain an additional Victory Point per battle round if you can slay a Monster (something I imagine we will see a lot more of in this season!) This really dives home the monster hunter vibe we have seen so far this edition and encourages you to get stuck in and take them down!
Secondly, at the start of the 3rd battle round the player who goes 2nd can pick one objective and simply remove it from the battlefield! This will make players have to think carefully about turn order on the 3rd battle round, as a removed objective will make a massive difference during that critical phase of the game!
We also see a new universal spell that every wizard in the game has access to – Metamorphosis. This casts on a 5″ and gives a chosen Hero the Monster keyword! This is massive in 3rd edition as not only does it give you access to the new monstrous rampage abilities, but a lot of the missions in this pack interact with the Monster keyword making the ability to give this keyword to your heroes a big deal!
There’s also a new Command Ability that allows a Monster to be treated as it they had suffered 0 damage, giving your injured beasties a big boost when they are in a pinch, and making it very dangerous to not finish off a wounded monster!
We also get a pair of new Core Battalions, and these are also very cool! Alpha-Beast Pack requires 2 Monsters with an optional third and lets them make a free D6″ move before the first battle round. Hunters of the Heartlands requires 2 troops with an optional third and makes the units in the Battalion immune to monstrous rampages! I love the variety in Core Battalions that we have seen and hope it leads to people using a wide mix rather than sticking to the same one or two.
In addition to the 3 Grand Strategies in the Core Book we also get an additional 5 added here
Dominating Presence – to complete you have to have more units from your starting army on the battlefield at the end of the game compared to your opponent
Predators Domain – to complete you have to control more terrain features than your opponent at the end of the game
Beast Master / Prized Sorcery / Pillars of Belief – these three all work the same way with you completing if you have a Monster / Wizard / Priest alive at the end of the game.
The Grand Strategy addition to AOS3 is really interesting as you pick this during list writing, and this battle pack gives you lots more options to work with when constructing your list.
We also get 8 battle tactics in this pack – Broken Ranks, Conquer and Slay the Warlord return from the Core Book (Though we now get bonus points for Monsters achieving these tactics), but we also get 5 new ones on top of these:
Ferocious Advance – this is an interesting one in that all your need to do is have 3 units run and end their run within 3″ of each other, with bonus points up for grabs if they are all monsters
Bring it Down – This is all about killing a nominated monster, with bonus points if one of your monsters does it
Aggressive Expansion – A tough one that you achieve if you manage to capture 2 nominated objective markers outside your territory
Monstrous Objective – You have to have one of your monsters contest an objective by the end of the turn
Savage Spearhead – You need to get 2 or more units in enemy territory with bonus points on offer if they are monsters.
Again we get a nice mix here that really encourages you to load up on your monsters, leading to some monstrous rumbles on the battlefield!
We then get the 12 new battleplans, and while there are some variations on old themes they have been given some new twists to make them feel new!
What I particularly like about these is the fact you get a page with the objective in detail, but then on the opposite page you get a larger image of the map with the victory conditions in the side bar, allowing you to fold the book to this page and have this alongside the table for reference. It really feels like the team have done everything they can to make this the most usable General’s Handbook from a gameplay point of view, and this sets the benchmark for all future supplements across all of GW’s games.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be trying out these missions as part of our Path to Glory campaign (with the new battlepack system allowing you to mix and match across game types for the most part!) along with some 2k matched play games to sharpen our tournament skills, so stay tuned to the site to see how we find these. But having had a read through there’s some really fun stuff with a real push on both armies having to be aggressive rather than sit back passively on objectives. Again this should lead to some great action packed games where the armies are at each other’s throats early! We see new takes on things such as Starstrike and Places of Arcane Power (Each given a new name and a more Ghur twist!) but we also see some new stuff such as Survival of the Fittest where you nominate 3 “predator” units who gain extra victory points for slaying units, but who themselves give away extra VP if they are killed by an opposing predator leading to a nice game of cat and mouse as your elite units duke it out for supremacy.
One of the best things about the General’s Handbook each year is expanding the stock of missions available to play, and GH21 kicks this off with great effect!
With the way Endless Spells work in AOS3 being quite different to 2nd Edition, the Warhammer Studio have redone and repointed every endless spell from Malign Sorcery and Forbidden Power. A lot of these work quite differently to how they used to and there are some gems in here such as Quicksilver Swords now not allowing Ward Saves or Burning Head dissipating once it hits a target, dealing mortal wounds to everything nearby before it fizzles out.
Again, presentation is great with each spell’s warscroll included in the book allowing you to use them for reference during games. Faction spells are not included here, and I imagine we will see these refreshed as we start to see the 3rd Edition battletomes published in the future.
Core Rules and Rules Index
The final two parts of the book replicate the full core rules from the main Age of Sigmar book – everything is included here including the battalion rules and the fully page referenced index arguably makes it easier to look up rules using this book rather than the big hardback rulebook. While in 40k we had missing detachments etc, everything you need for playing Matched Play games is fully included here.
Now obviously you are missing out on things such as lore and the rules for Open Play, Narrative Play and some of the fun alternate games in the back of the core book, the General’s Handbook is perfect as a slimline rulebook to bring along to events without feeling like you are missing anything from the core book itself! This really is a great thing and limits the amount of stuff you need to add to your already heavy tournament bag!
For a deep dive into the core 3rd edition rules make sure to check out our full review of Dominion!
So what do I think of the General’s Handbook Pitched Battles 2021? The Warhammer team have done an amazing job putting out a one stop shop for all your Matched Play games! While the initial big draw is the updated points for the new edition, the quality of the General’s Handbook itself is outstanding and really sets the bar for these types of products from Games Workshop. I have high hopes for the Path to Glory content to follow this same format, and really have to applaud both the design and usability from a gameplay perspective. You can tell that real thought has gone into making this something that can be used during an event, and the team clearly knows what players would like to have in this kind of format to aid their gaming experience.
While Dominion and the amazing figures may have had all the attention during the pre-launch excitement, make sure you don’t overlook the General’s Handbook as it is really worth every penny!
The General’s Handbook 2021 is currently up for pre order with a RRP of £25 and is released on the 3rd of July alongside Dominion. For a look into the Dominion box check out our full review or out unboxing below.
We also recently had our first battle using the contents of the new box which you can check out below!
Games Workshop provided Sprues & Brews a free copy of the General’s Handbook 2021 for review purposes.