Warhammer Age of Sigmar used to scare me, but Skaventide changed all that

A painted Warhammer Age of Sigmar Stormcast Eternal model stands against Skaven miniatures from the Skaventide box set
(Image credit: Benjamin Abbott)

Of all the things I'd expected from the Skaventide boxset for Warhammer Age of Sigmar, it wasn't feeling like a kid at school again. Do you remember seeing something and writing it off as too big, too complex, and too overwhelming? For me, that was math. Place arithmetic within forty paces of teenage Benj and he'd make a getaway plan that would put the Great Escape to shame. But if I took a breath and actually tried, I'd be hit upside the head with a slightly embarrassing realization of "oh – so it's not that hard after all."

Skaventide reminds me of that.

I'm no stranger to wargaming, and have been dabbling in all things Games Workshop since I was around seven years old. Coming back after a lengthy break threw me for a loop, though; the old-school Warhammer Fantasy of my youth was six feet under, replaced with Age of Sigmar. Learning this new system and digging into a vast, alien world with years of lore to digest gave me the cold sweats, so I put it into a 'maybe later' pile at the back of my mind. However, going hands-on with the Skaventide boxset early makes me regret not diving in sooner. While this introduction to the game may seem intimidating, it's anything but once you get your hands dirty. Like so many of the best board games, you've just got to screw up your courage and dive in.

The gnarly and the grim

Skaventide box and contents

(Image credit: Benjamin Abbott)

'Straightforward' is Skaventide in a word, with a bow on top. For anyone new to wargaming, this enormous box – crammed as it is with multi-part sprues and weighty tomes that are probably as heavy as my newborn – is likely to be alarming. Yet it's actually quite approachable. That's Age of Sigmar's new fourth edition all over, and this box (which launches the revamp) epitomizes the idea. 

For starters, those models aren't nearly so formidable as they appear. Despite being cut up into many pieces, they slot together easily thanks to being push-fit. No glue is needed here; all you'll use are pliers and a miniature sanding file for smoothing rough edges, if you have one. (Though some Green Stuff putty for filling a couple of gaps will come in handy.) The models I've built so far are expressive and dynamic in spite of this apparent simplicity, getting across what makes the factions tick purely through poses and clothing.

Essential info

Two Skaventide miniatures facing off in front of terrain, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Benjamin Abbott)

Skaventide will be available to pre-order from June 29, and hits shelves this July 13 for $275 / £160. It contains 74 miniatures (24 Stormcast Eternals and 70 Skaven), a handful of terrain pieces, two range rulers, the Core Book, the Spearhead: Fire and Jade book, a double-sided game board, a card deck, and General's Handbook cards. Weirdly, there are no dice.

The two sides that have been chosen here are equally evocative. At one end we have the Stormcast Eternals, holy warriors that have been reincarnated by the god-king Sigmar to fight battles mortals can't. At the other, Skaven – mutant ratman who want to see the world burn – skitter into combat. Yet these Stormcast are far more nuanced than the (literally) good as gold knights we've seen before. This particular group includes members of the Ruination chamber, a band of soldiers who've been revived so many times that their souls have been chipped away into nothingness. Plus, the army used for most art and photography here is the dour Hallowed Knights – a group of grim zealots that I'd argue are much more compelling than their squeaky-clean compatriots. 

Similarly, the Skaven have enjoyed a long overdue revamp that renders them as even more gnarly than before. In contrast to previous versions, these ones are quite unnerving; they still have touches of goofiness to them (they are unapologetic cowards, after all), but the faction is much more rabid on the whole. Take the Clawlord general, for example – its monstrous mount is disgusting. As someone who's always fancied collecting a Skaven army because of how unsettling and simultaneously ridiculous they are, that's exactly what I wanted from this update.

Stripped down skirmishing

An array of miniatures from the Skaventide box set, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Benjamin Abbott)

Much like the models, Skaventide's rulebooks are much easier to penetrate than I'd been expecting. The hefty Core Book (which weighs in at an impressive 274 pages) actually spends most of its runtime getting you up to speed on the Age of Sigmar world, its factions, and everything that's happened in the broad-strokes narrative so far. The actual rules don't appear until the final quarter, and it's a similar story with the book that covers the game's new Spearhead mode – Fire and Jade.

Speaking of, this is the thing that excites me most about 4th Edition. Spearhead is a stripped-down take on Age of Sigmar that should only run for an hour or so, uses smaller armies, and plays on a smaller board overall. As someone who recently had a baby so is chronically short on time, this is exactly what I need. I'd struggle to dedicate an entire afternoon to sprawling sessions of the full Age of Sigmar, so bitesize snapshots are right up my street. 

From initial inspection, it delivers. It strips back the more advanced mechanics for something simpler, so newcomers can be shown the ropes with a speed that surprised me. Indeed, the rules only make up 27 pages… and a decent chunk of that is given over to examples and a terms glossary. It's Age of Sigmar, distilled to the core of what makes it appealing. There's flavor here, but many of the layers have been peeled back.

A world at war

The open Core Book from the Skaventide box set, on a wooden table

(Image credit: Benjamin Abbott)

The Age of Sigmar universe is actually a sequel to Warhammer's original Fantasy Battles setting. That 'Old World' was destroyed by the demonic forces of Chaos, and its remnants form this new setting. That allowed Games Workshop to move beyond classic swords 'n' sorcery in favor of a more mystical realm. 

I've yet to hit the table for a match, but I feel as if I could run it without many issues after an hour spent poring over the rules. It's why I'd actually be happy to recommend Skaventide to greenhorns instead of telling them to wait for the inevitable starter sets, unlike the Warhammer 40K 10th Edition equivalent, Leviathan (which offered incredible value for money, but had us wondering who it was for). It's a comprehensive intro to the hobby that armed me with everything I need for two-player games other than dice, and it leaves over extra models to use in your army for full, 'classic' Age of Sigmar games should you choose to dive deeper. 

That's because the box contains two Spearhead armies (premade forces you use out of the box, no army lists needed) along with bonus miniatures for larger matches. Leviathan also did this, and I suspect the not-yet-confirmed-but-definitely-coming starter sets will follow 40K's example by just giving you the Spearheads. As such, Skaventide is pretty great value for money. 

Is it odd that dice aren't included? Absolutely. But because Age of Sigmar uses standard D6s, those aren't a struggle to come by.  

Anyway, those are just my initial impressions. I'll have more on Skaventide and Age of Sigmar 4th Edition as a whole in the coming weeks, so watch this space. In the meantime, you'll be able to pre-order your own copy of Skaventide from June 29, 2024.


This review sample of Skaventide was provided by the publisher.

For some recommendations on what to play before then, check out these must-have board games for adults or the best tabletop RPGs. 

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to the latest Lego news. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012, and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.