What with it being Orctober I find myself thinking about greenskins even more than usual, from hulking boyz to stabby little gobbos, and even their big – and distinctly pink skinned – friends the ogres. In combination these form the Destruction Grand Alliance, the warlike hordes who smash their way through the Mortal Realms in a riot of brute strength and low cunning.
Over the past year or so Games Workshop have given Age of Sigmar some much-needed housekeeping. The myriad factions of yesteryear have been pared down into something much more manageable and less intimidating to a newcomer. In the early days of AoS each Grand Alliance (for the uninitiated that’s Order, Chaos, Death and Destruction – the overall groupings of factions by which the setting is defined) contained dozens of mini-factions, some of which contained only a single model (the Shadowblades or Firebellys for example). For a veteran of the Warhammer era that had gone before it was totally baffling and formed an almost impenetrable barrier between people like me and the brave new world that GW were developing.
Naturally they wanted to look to the future and to get to work on the new and creative ideas they had been cooking up. However before they could really get on with it they needed to put their house in order. If you want your pudding you have to eat your greens and if they wanted to concentrate on the next Idoneth Deepkin or Stormcast Eternals it was getting harder and harder to do with the survivors of the Old World hanging around and embarrassing GW in front of their fancy new friends.
In order to resolve this many of the small factions, with only a handful of models to their name, were rolled together and, unlike the higglety pigglety, anything-goes approach of the early days, found themselves combined like with like. The humans, elves and dwarves who survived the destruction of the Old World have been clumped into the Cities of Sigmar for example, whilst the disparate clans of the Skaven have been reunited into a single faction. At the same time various models were removed from the range, some not a moment too soon, some well before their time, and some were kept on which surely should have been replaced decades ago. At times the logic behind which models were cut and which were kept was hard to fathom for a fan without insider knowledge of the company. The orc boar boys for instance got the chop as part of the dissolution of the greenskins faction. At the time it made a degree of sense to me, despite being relatively modern – not to mention rather nice looking in comparison to many of the other greenskins kits – they didn’t really fit in with either the Ironjaws or the Bonesplitters, both of which had their own version of boar boys anyway. With the arrival of the Orruk Warclans army book however one wonders if more could have been done to save their bacon. With the orc factions rolled back together again surely the boar boys could have found a home amongst them? Most likely the answer comes down to shelf space, combined with the aforementioned alternative boar boys but I’m still sorry to see them go.
However whilst I can suggest a logic behind the removal of the boar boys I’m left confused as to why this goblin shaman was shown the door…
… whilst these two weren’t.
Is it just the lack of Night Goblin accoutrements like a big hood? If it really bothers you a head swap isn’t hard to accomplish. Speaking as a fan of the Gloomspite Gits I’d rather have a nice looking shaman with a bare head than this duff-looking duo (although looking again the one in the foreground isn’t quite as bad as I remembered him). At least I have a couple of alternative shamen I can call upon however.
Age of Sigmar deserves to tap into its potential for creativity but it was tricky to do that until the ghosts of WHFB were laid to rest. Now that that task nears completion we can turn our attention to the future and start to ask just where that creativity might lead.
Until now GW have reserved the greater part of that creativity for the Order Grand Alliance. In part however I suspect this reflects the ideas of the past and the areas in which they felt their line was at its weakest. After all the Skaven, or the warriors of Khorne, are far more distinct to GW’s IP than elves or dwarves which can be found through fantasy fiction. Thus the company has focused on Order and Chaos, the former requiring perhaps the most work, the latter already well-formed and desperate to stretch its wings in AoS’s new universe and tap into the vast potential which previous iterations had seen stifled. The other two Grand Alliances fell behind although Death is starting to come into its own through the Nighthaunt and the forthcoming Ossiarch Bonereapers. As it stands order contains eight factions, chaos seven and death just four with the inclusion of the Bonereapers*. Destruction also has four at the moment although it’s safe to assume that two of these, the Beastclaw Raiders and Gutbusters will be rolled into a single Ogors faction soon. Likewise the Orcs of the Ironjaws and Bonesplitters have recently become the Orruk Warclans (with any old Orcs from the greenskins faction herded to the exits). Similarly the goblins, trolls and squigs have been gathered into the ranks of the Gloomspite Gits. The result is three neatly packaged factions; orcs, goblins and ogres.
*For those who want to check my workings, I’m counting as supported those factions which have been given their own section on the GW website and a book – not anything that’s currently discontinued or anything from Forge World. Based on that we have;
Order – Cities of Sigmar, Daughters of Khaine, Fyreslayers, Idoneth Deepkin, Kharadron Overlords, Seraphon, Stormcast Eternals and Sylvaneth.
Chaos – Beasts of Chaos, Blades of Khorne, Disciples of Tzeentch, Everchosen/Slaves to Darkness, Hedonites of Slaanesh, Maggotkin of Nurgle and Skaven (treating Everchosen and Slaves to Darkness as one faction and leaving Creatures of Chaos out because that’s not a proper faction round my house, that’s just some monsters conveniently gathered in the same place!)
Death – Flesheater Courts, Legions of Nagash, Nighthaunt, Ossiarch Bonereapers.
Destruction – Gloomspite Gits, Orruk Warclans and Mawtribes (or whatever the Ogors end up being called).
Where do they go next then? There isn’t a natural and obvious answer to this. When Khorne, Nurgle and Tzeentch were given army books of their own it was safe to assume that Slaanesh would get their turn sooner or later. The same can no longer be said. A tipping point has been reached and we find ourselves stepping off the edge of the Old World’s map and into the uncharted lands of the new Age of Sigmar.
As hobbyists we often pull at loose threads of information, trying to second guess what might be released in the months and years to come. In the past it was easy to say “this faction or that faction ought to be coming soon” simply because they haven’t had any fresh releases in a while. This was never a very reliable way of divining the future but it had its merits, and those who made a habit of such guesses where right often enough to weave themselves an illusion of foreknowledge. Nowadays you might as well try to read the tea leaves in the GW staff canteen.
By naming the Orc faction Orruk Warclans rather than Ironjaws and Bonesplitters (or some more pleasing and marketable equivalent) the implication is that these are all the Orcs we’re going to be seeing for the next little while. Beastgrave contains a rather lovely looking warband of goblin wolf riders (that’s part of the Gitmob in the modern parlance) but my gut tells me – with nothing more than an intuitive guess to go on – that these are more of a nod to the past than a hint of things to come. The goblins certainly have potential for further exploration – I’m still surprised that we didn’t see a new plastic kit for the doom-diver catapult as part of the Gloomspite Gits release for instance – but much like the Orruk Warclans I suspect that the Gloomspite Gits are a packing up of the existing gobbos, for now at least.
Nor are there any subfactions which seem like contenders for establishing themselves as fully-fledged factions in their own right. The trolls have made themselves at home amongst the Gloomspite Gits and, thus established, have really come into their own. The giants may have enjoyed a brief stint as a one model faction in the early days of AoS but the big oafs have been reined in by their destruction colleagues and I’d be surprised to see them go it alone again.
If it was up to me I’d love to see the snotlings brought back and explored in full but I can’t imagine that anything other than wishful thinking. Then again at least they could double up as Orks in Adeptus Titanicus!
Of course, I can’t miss an opportunity to make my pitch for a Destruction themed version of Warcry. Just imagine the fun that could be had shifting the setting from the Chaos wastes of the Bloodwind Spoil to the rust warrens and dank caves of Skrappa Spill. Instead of Chaos warbands we could see examples of the various types of Orc, Goblin and Ogres that must be found in the Mortal Realms, fighting it out for the sheer joy of it.
Meanwhile, lurking in the corner of the Destruction Grand Alliance, overlooked and underloved, we have the Fimir. These weird cyclopean beasts have skulked on the fringes of Warhammer since the early days, never fully accepted into the game, never entirely kicked out. Every time you think they are gone for good they pop up again, shoving their snouts briefly above the parapet every decade or so before vanishing once more into the gloom. Earlier this year I even painted one, a model from Hero Quest that’s almost as old as I am.
With the launch of AoS the Fimir abandoned the overcrowded Chaos raft and found themselves a new home amongst Destruction (rather than vanishing once and for all, as I was expecting, with the purging of so many other things GW wanted rid of). Thanks to Forge World we even have a few Fimir models and as ever there is speculation that they might make a comeback. Honestly I wouldn’t hold my breath (unless I was standing downwind of a real Fimir that is).
One thing the Fimir do however is emphasise that from here on out we no longer need to expect the Destruction forces to adhere to tradition. For these warlike races things have remained pretty much the same for a very long time. The Orcs and Goblins, and Ogres, were well established in WHFB and stamped into AoS as if nothing much had changed. Whilst a time traveller from a decade ago would barely recognise the flying dwarves and fishy elves as descendants of the game they knew the greenskins and their allies remain much as they ever were, just with a few nice new models to show for the passage of time. It’s easy to believe that nothing need ever really change. Yet a glance towards the Order Grand Alliance reveals this need not be the case. The once hide-bound, subterranean dwarves now zoom through the skies, carving out trade empires above the clouds where once they carved mines beneath the roots of the mountains. Some elves are half snake, others are eyeless and aquatic. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Ulthuan anymore…
I’m not for a moment suggesting that we are about to see aquatic orcs or half-snake ogres, simply that the expansion of possibilities that was applied to Order could just as easily be lavished upon the other Grand Alliances. What is certain is that GW aren’t done with the brutish followers of Gorkamorka, and that, after decades of popularity they’ll be cast aside. Equally we can’t guess with even a scrap of accuracy what form those future releases might take. We could see orcs, goblins or ogres of a kind completely unknown to us, or we could see something entirely new. Good or bad the future is looking like a very different place from the past. After so many years of seeing the same old factions from one decade’s end to the next that’s something that we’re going to have to get used to. I still can’t begin to get guess what it might look like, but I for one am agog to find out!