Fantasy Battles: The 9th Age Rulebook - a Raffview

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  • A short time ago I was accosted by some burly gentlemen. This event was initially entirely missed by me, being after all a common occurrence in London. This led to a rather embarrassing exchange where it was made clear to me this was in fact an ominous event to be taken very seriously (they looked really awkward about it, bless them). The ensuing game of charades (turns out the minions of the Dark Conclave of the Faceless TM pending are *actually* faceless…) made things clear – I was to write about the newly released rules for The 9th Age – diversions into the festivities of discussing army books was actively discouraged (seriously, they have means). Being rather British about things, I stiffened that upper lip and went in search for a bull to grasp.


    How does one review something that sets out to be the source of all things? Can one critically analyse that which will become the very essence of ubiquity? The importance of it is so obvious, yet surely it lacks some… well, sex appeal?

    It’s like getting excited about the foundations of your dream house. Sure, it’s fantastic that they are there – and getting them right is paramount for all that will follow, but it’s much more fun to talk about the indoor swimming pool you are putting in, and that home cinema that you have planned.

    I mean, obviously you *can* review works of great importance:

    The Bible (all the action is in the first act, lots of talking later on), The Lord of the Rings (a lot of walking (and singing), and yet, so much more), The Karma Sutra (lacks narrative drive, but can have a decent climax) can obviously all be reviewed. The problem with reviewing the rules of The 9th Age is that the rules themselves are the toolset – it’s akin, in some ways, to reviewing a wrench. Sure, there is probably a rabid online community out there obsessed with the finer points of wrenches, but but the average person probably struggles to really excited.

    Thankfully, being an old fashioned sort of chap, I know full well that just because something is hard to do does not mean it should not be done. Easier said than done though…

    So, how to go about this?

    I guess any work looking at reviewing something has to presuppose some level of underlying competence to allow for any meaningful discourse whatsoever. In this case we’ll just go ahead and make the following assumptions about the reader:
    • Has the ability to read the English language, married to appropriate life experiences to allow for at least some degree of comprehension
    • Has access to some internet-enabled device
    • Know what tabletop miniature wargaming is
    • Has a working knowledge of a much beloved fantasy table top wargame that died last year, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, including its varied (and often infuriating) intricacies.

    Not too much to ask for really, but that last point is key. Thought it is self-evidently a very different game, the Dark Conclave of the Faceless TM pending, much like fellow illuminati member Sir Isaac Newton, owes much to the giants upon whose shoulders they stand astride.

    With this baseload of knowledge we can have a look at what has changed in the creation of the 9th Age, instead of effectively re-writing the whole book. Having said that… I am going to have let you into a little secret - most tournament regulars actually have only a vague recollection of the contents of the rulebook, learning mostly from playing, watching games being played, and some weird form of genetic memory of various other games pieced together.

    Something really needs to be said right at the top:

    This effort to create, from the ground up, a ruleset to allow games of fantasy battles to be played with the clearest, most competitive framework the world has ever seen is nothing short of a herculean task. All my talk of presumptive knowledge has sensibly been tossed out, this rulebook has to make sense to someone who wouldn’t know the difference between an Elf and a garden gnome.

    The important thing of course, the thing the Dark Conclave of the Faceless TM pending and their cohorts are sweating over even as I type, is whether I think they have done a good job.

    Why (asks any sensibly minded person who happens to read this)? This is the age of the internet, and individual opinions, however uninformed, are king. Obviously.

    Fantasy Battles: The 9th Age Rulebook is weighty tome (well, depending on what you are reading it on) coming in at 117 pages.

    There is a beautiful succinctness to the rules, helped, no doubt, by not being coloured by flavour text that companies such as Games Workshop use to great effect.

    The very first paragraph of the book tells you that Fantasy Battles: The 9th Age is:
    • Abbreviated to The 9th Age
    • Is a miniature wargame
    • Played by two players
    • On a 4 by 6 foot table
    • Using six sided dice

    That makes it all pretty clear, right?

    The Scale of the Game

    As mentioned above, careful pouring over main rules is not something I historically do much. As such it is perhaps not surprising that I had not even noticed the interesting aside under The Scale of the Game section. In this, frankly academic, article representative scale is discussed, an interesting point that I am not entirely sure I have given much thought to.

    From here we start getting into actual rules, and, like all good rules systems, we have the setting of the parameters, and a whole swathe of terms are defined.

    Important clarifications right up front include an ironclad ruling on Simultaneous Effects, which we can all approve of (at the same time, but I get to approve of it first…). Telling one how to roll dice may seem a bit redundant, but you have to accommodate for all experience levels I guess.

    The diagrams showing us how many models are hit under templates is fantastically useful should you be playing against a morally corrupt individual that would bring template weaponry to the table. Do not trust these people.

    I’ll not go blow by blow over all that is written in the book – seriously, just read it – but instead will cherry-pick things that I think are interesting:

    Line of Sight: an abstract and simple system is used here. You can see through things unless they are bigger than you or classified as Obscuring Terrain. Nice and simple.

    Model Sizes are broken down into 3 types: Small (basically, stompable), Medium (basically, non-stompable) and Large (those with an actual rule calling them Large). Easy to remember.

    The rules governing the Board Edge are amongst my favourite- you can temporarily move up to 50% of a unit off the board (as long as you end up fully on). This is great vs those that don’t know this rule as you can sometimes bypass blockers on the flanks. And it makes sense, which this author (broadly) approves of.

    Some things I never consider until they come up (normally once in every 50 games or so) are also cleared up – for example, the order of characteristic modifications is set in stone:
    • Borrowed or set
    • Multiplications
    • Addition and subtraction

    Building armies

    One of the design principals for T9A was clearly to curb what players of Warhammer 40k disparagingly refer to as ‘spam’. This is laudable for two rather important reasons. Firstly, spam is boring for everyone. Secondly, it inevitably leads to just cramming in as much of the best possible stuff in a list as possible. Now, WFB 8th edition also prevented unit spam, so nothing too mad going on here, but the interesting thing our overlords have done is stamp out on character spam. This is a good thing – as novel as it was the first time you saw someone field a dozen Engineers in a Skaven list, it quickly became very dull. No more of that in T9A.

    Another thing the powers moved quickly to do is to further limit the characters that really matter – 35% of a list can be spent in Lords. This stops anyone having their cake and eating it too (even though arguably that’s the whole point of cake), but has resulted in me in getting a calculator out to work out what 35% of 2500 is *many* times…

    Deployment Types & Missions

    Those of us who remember Warhammer 8th edition will recall that scenarios were very much a part of the official game. The issue was that, of the six scenarios available, two had ‘auto-win’ conditions, and two had mechanics that messed with that key part of the game – deployment. This left Pitched Battle and Battle for the Pass (essentially a sideways Pitched Battle) as arguably the only two balanced ones. Perfectly serviceable, and perfectly boring after some time.

    T9A has tackled this issue by creating a nice matrix of sorts. Three deployment types, commonly referred to as ‘classic’, ‘diagonal’ and ‘confusing’ all have immediate tactical implications. Layered on top of this are the four distinct scenario types.

    Whilst avoiding the trap of “auto-win” conditions, by capping wins at 17-3 and awarding 3 full points for accomplishing the scenario, they have made them exceptionally important.

    Crucially, the four scenarios, at a basic level, all encourage different things, meaning that an army built to accomplish all should hypothetically be nice and flexible – an inbuilt level of comp as it were.
    • Hold the Ground encourages a powerful deathstar-esque approach (or a flood of smaller scoring units)
    • Breakthrough encourages multiple fast scoring units that ideally aren’t that necessary to your army
    • Capture the Flags actively discourages weak scoring units
    • Secure Target actively discourages a deathstar approach

    They all, of course, emphasise the need for banners in an army, which does hurt some more than others, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.


    Historically the deployment phase has been a weird beast. Lots of time was spent on the meta-tactical theory of deployment numbers to try and increase the chance to going first. T9A has changed the dynamics here, and made it into a whole new game within the game.

    No longer do you only have to alternate deployments (though this is the default). Now you can carp the diem and make a play for first turn (or, if you are weird like me, the second turn). You can drop your whole army down and guarantee first turn, but at the cost of your opponent being able to react to your deployment.

    This is a fascinating dynamic that opens a lot of list options (there are some fast lists that can do some crazy stuff turn one, or gunlines that need to time to let loose the dogs of war), but does, as of yet, seem to be overused by players. As ever, the right balance is key – though admittedly, some of the really fast lists that go want to go first are often mobile enough to counter any enemy deployments.

    This is arguably biggest innovation of this game. It is a Very Good Thing


    The movement phase, by and large, will be familiar to players of previous games, though they have removed some of the abuses that resulted from the abstract nature of the much loved rectangles we use so much. As a result, yes, everything has to be at least an inch from each other, but you can now come closer than that, as long as you finish further – no more silly blocking with nothing but the notion of personal space. Other issues have also been dealth with (like random situations where charges were impossible for a variety of reasons). A cool little touch is that a unit with a champion automatically completes a charge if they would need to roll 4 or less to do so, which is cute. This is all a Good Thing.


    Another interesting little change in T9A is what happens to the remnants of fleeing units. No longer does the fleeing sole survivor of a proud Knights of the Dark Gods unit need to roll a natural 2 to rally. Now you simply half their leadership – they are shaken up, but more disciplined troops are more likely to rally than cowards. Another Good Thing.

    Running away blindly through enemy units and impassable terrain is also much more dangerous enterprise than it used to be – the average Joe has a 50% chance of death these days, which seems about right, as I would equate that as slightly more dangerous than getting the Northern Line to work in the mornings.


    It comes as no surprise that the Dark Conclave of the Faceless TM pending set about changing up magic in a big way. No more unpredictable game changing spells seemed to be the order of the day.

    It will surprise the casual reader then that the phase is, in broad strokes, the same. Sure, there are fewer magic dice (you can only get one dice from channelling for example), and there is less craziness – Overwhelming Power no longer makes a spell undispellable, which means you get an interesting choice – try and prevent the spell, or let it through and make the wizard suffer a miscast. A nice touch.

    It’s generally harder to cast now too – wizards only get +1 or +2 to cast as a default, and casting modifiers are capped overall – about time those fancy dress wearing spell chuckers have to work for a living. This is a good thing.

    My favourite mechanic in this phase comes into play very rarely. There is a strict order in when remains in play are dispelled. If the opponent misses this window, the active player can end the phase and the spell continues. A very cool little thing mini game of poker.

    As readers of the book would have grown used to by now, there are clearly defined types of spells that work together to clearly set out possible targets and effects. All very clean and efficient (as opposed to being written by rambling Englishmen)

    The spells themselves are interesting (and broadly less powerful than players of another game would be used to), with the new lore attributes being a very cool touch – but this is a topic for another time.


    That most hated of phases (unless I am using Saurian Ancients, obviously) will be very familiar to players of an older game – the main change really is a standardising of the line of sight system. Thankfully it still feels somehow natural, whilst making the abstractions of things like hills count for something in tactical game play.

    Oh – nowadays cannons have to roll to hit like the long rifles they are. Makes them much less good at character sniping (seriously, close to opening a bottle of champagne!), whilst still annoyingly good at the thing they are meant to do – punch monsters in the face. This is such a Good Thing I feel rather emotional.

    Close Combat

    This phase – the time when heroes are born and trusted friends conspire with the evil dice gods to break your heart time and again.

    The basics will be familiar to you – the biggest change beautifully removes one of those abstract game mechanics that dominated the tables of literally years – you can now always hit the rank and file of a unit (yes, goodbye Ogre character walls). This is big – and actually robs characters of a lot of their use.

    Further down the path of annoying overpaid leaders and elite of your armies are the mechanics for the humble shield. Now holding a sturdy door between you and your opponent means they will miss half the time – this is big for big useless blocks of troops to do their job. It took me a while to get over my Vampire Knights failing epically to do much of anything against some skinks. Scratch that – I am not actually over it….

    Other little touches are also cool – clarity on disruption = no more steadfast (and bigger bonuses for engaging a unit in the flanks and rear in sufficient mass) all actively encourage smart tactical manoeuvres.

    There is a big change (that also applies for shooting) that people need to be aware of – hits are now allocated by the attacked, not the defender. This most commonly comes up when there are only a few rank and file left around some characters, but is also big in situations like cavalry characters in infantry – no more hiding from bolt throwers for them!

    Characters also work in different ways now in two key ways – refusing a challenge no longer means move the characters, they just now can’t attack – this is big, as it’s no longer a handy escape hatch. The other is that, whilst they can still ‘make way’, this movement is severely restricted – effectively just within the front rank. Now a flank or rear charge on a unit containing scary characters are more viable than ever.

    Not to blow too much smoke up any skirts or anything, but overall all this has to be seen as a Good Thing.

    Troop Types

    Most of the work here is as you would expect – but there are a couple of big things. Gone are the old annoying mechanics of randomising hits and things between rider and the ridden, and no longer need a separate infantry model for when the monster/chariot inevitably died beneath them.

    That architype of all things fantasy – Dragons (and other Dragon-type things) have been dealt with rather severely – to the epic detriment of some, and the betterment of others. These models now operate under a combined profile. All of a sudden an elf wizard can have T6 and 6W and feel like a boss. Heavily armoured warlords, however, will wistfully remember how much harder to kill they are on a cheap buck-toothed donkey…

    For me the balancing act is not quite right. To take this close to home, a Vampire Lord is, frankly, stupidly easy to kill on a dragon. And that is not a good thing – because we like Dragons (even when they pull attention from The Wall or Kings Landing… oh wait, that’s not specifically relevant here, though let’s face it R+L=J…).

    Of course, as ever, it is easier to criticise than to propose a solution, all I know is I am not sure this really works.


    The powers behind T9A have worked hard to make the most basic of weapon types attractive. As mentioned, shields are now frankly incredible. Other beneficiaries are the humble sharp poky stick (that now is lethal against cavalry (at last!) and effective against armour) and the holding of two sharp pointing things (that now gives you an initiative boost). Furthermore, the likes of crossbows no longer suffer from the (frankly unrealistic) inability to fire if you move – rather, it’s just harder to do. Little touches that won’t affect everyone, but help to build up levels of tactical options and force real choices from players – I still don’t know the best way to arm a skeleton.


    The cause of much consternation over the years, builds appear to have been dealt with by two basic factors – assaults on buildings can continue into subsequent turns (which just makes sense) and units are no longer stubborn in buildings – making them, to my mind, a rather tarrying place to be…

    Special Rules

    After all this – the foundations – have been laid, the real rules, in my mind, are contained in the magic 10 pages found between pages 91 and 101. The nuances of the rules are all here – pretty much everything that matters is here, the rest just tells you when to use it. In fact, I would recommend players print these out and carry them with them (to games, though having them at all times is an option – it just may be an awkward conversation with your partner).

    I won’t to get into them all (there are quite a few after all – arguably too many?), but to finish these off with my favourites:

    Ambush – T9A makes a lot of use out of this rule, and it is one of the things that makes me love the game – it seems to add a true third dimension to the game. I just wish my armies had access to it :(

    Fear is a big deal these days (not an auto-break kind of big deal, but a big deal nonetheless). Fear can not only make a unit ineffective in combat, it also reduces the leadership of enemy models by 1.

    Lightning Reflexes is T9A’s version of the old game’s Always Strike First. No rerolls here, but a +1 to hit, which is, frankly, *massive* - especially when you factor in parry (and rules like Distracting) that make landing punches hard.

    Multiple Wounds kind of do what they say on the tin – but the old D6 wounds is largely out of the way, replaced by the concept of Ordinance damage – that hurts bad, and *really* hurt things that go flap in the night.

    Skirmishers now just work better than they did before, which is a Good Thing.

    So… apologies foe the dryness of all that, it’s hard to review what in some (uncharitable) ways amounts to an IKEA assembly instructions. That being said, away from the nitty gritty of it all, what do I think of the game?

    They do seem to have squared the circle nicely don’t they? Tasked with making a game that both appealed to a quasi-generation that grew up playing GW games – whilst making it cleaner and more competitive – and also made it a simple game that I feel a new comer could pick up easily.

    Honestly, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that the chained flying monkeys put to work by the Dark Conclave of the Faceless TM pending to create this tome managed to sort out the abstractions that in many ways ruined the cinematic experience of the old Warhammer games so well. The game seems to ebb and flow as one would expect a battle to do.

    Sure, I like my characters more powerful than the average depicted here (in fact I will have plenty to say about power levels of individual armies in the coming weeks and months), but the game feels sort of *real* somehow.

    Do I feel there is a real potential here, in the long term? The short term is sold – it is a spiritual successor to a game we all played, and the might of the ETC is behind it. The longer term is a whole other thing, and varies from country to country.

    For me the pressure of this is entirely down to the authors and artistes that are charged with creating the world for this game to take part in – fluff, despite that derogatory phrase, is completely key. Being able to sell the world, to make people to transport themselves to a world where there is a reason why the armies are fighting – that is where the gold is. To draw a wider anomaly, there are plenty of game mechanics available for Napoleonic or Second World War table top games that could be transposed. The reason some companies have had such an impact on our lives for so long was the work on the setting.

    The work for the long term is only just beginning, but signs from the early work on the Undying Dynasties is very promising. This is a credible, arguably incredible, start. Hopefully there is a Marvel-esque vision behind it all with a clear view of and where things should go, rather than the at-times accounting-led system that is popular online.

    In short, as a ruleset, The 9th Age is better than a game we all used to play, the much missed Warhammer Fantasy Battles, under almost every possible measurable metric. I’m excited to see where it all goes.

    Until next time


    2016 Team England - Vampire Covenant
    2015 Team England - Vampire Counts

    Check out my new 9th Age blog:

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Comments 8

  • Herminard -

    *Scratches beard* *Nods*

  • Shadeseraph -

    I don't know about the Northern Line, but the M-40 road in Madrid should rate at the same life-sucking level than fleeing through an enemy unit. I approve the comparison.

    Very nice and entertaining read, I hope to read more from you.

  • oncebitten360 -

    I'm always a fan of your blogs, and this one is no exception. If you want me to read it to the youtube world on my channel, let me know. ;)

  • ForsetisMuse -

    How I have missed your blogposts! :)

  • Uruk-Flink -

    You really should consider making a youtube video from this, for those of us who have little patience for reading :)

    • Raffazza -

      Am not sure if people would have the patience to listen to me talking nonsense!

  • tiny -

    I really enjoy your very british way of writing :D
    Thank you for the review!