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If there’s one thing which has always been underwhelming about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, it’s the way classic Warhammer factions were split up when the transition between Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Age of Sigmar games was made. The High Elves and Dark Elves were split up, as were Undead and Skaven. Some of these withered armies were playable, but a fair few weren’t, being relegated to peripheral players in their larger umbrella factions: the forces of Chaos, Destruction, and the like.
Games Workshop seems to realize that was a mistake, and have set about recompiling those split factions. The first go, with the forces of Death, was a drastic rethinking in the form of the Legions of Nagash. It was well-received and led to an invigoration of the line.
The next attempt is here. The new Battletome: Beasts of Chaos is out and while it provides a less dramatic rethinking of a venerable army, it nonetheless adds a number of new things to the table.
The core of a Beasts of Chaos force is still the Beastmen: goat-headed chaos worshipers from the darkest forests of the Mortal Realms. Beastmen have always been some of the most characterful miniatures in Games Workshop’s line, going all the way back to the beginning. The story—which may be apocryphal—is that a young Citadel Miniatures had the license to produce miniatures for Greg Stafford’s classic Glorantha game. In that world exist Beastmen, or Broo, similarly goat-headed savages everyone is scared of. When Citadel lost the license, it had all of these Broo miniatures and nothing to do with them, so they cooked up the Beastmen for the Warhammer Fantasy world.
What unfolded over the next decades was one of Games Workshop’s most unique factions. The Beastmen were fleshed out and, eventually, expanded. Minotaurs were added and Centaurs turned into drunken, crazed lunatics. Then the Dragon Ogres, brutish, ancient centauroid lizard men from an age before, descending from mountaintops peppered by lightening strikes which heralded doom.
Not all of those started out as adjacent to Beastmen, but rather were folded into the broader Beasts of Chaos that we know today. It was a menagerie of the bestial: chimeras and giants and minotaurs, oh my!
And then it stopped, broken up into its constituent parts. The Beastmen were still largely playable. The Minotaurs (now Bullgors) had a meager one troop and one hero choice, as did Dragon Ogres. The monsters and gribblies became afterthoughts in the Chaos arsenal. Perhaps worst of all, though less obvious, the rules for the Beasts of Chaos suffered, as the early version of Age of Sigmar‘s approach found in the Grand Alliance books gave way to smarter, nimbler unit rules in updated factions.
Hence the new Beasts of Chaos. Everything old is new again, and the splinter factions have been folded back into the once again delightful zoo of the bizarre which is the Beasts. That means, yes, you can take your Minotaurs and Dragon Ogres again. The unit rules have been tweaked in various places to make them both better and more in line with how the game currently plays—as two of the more obvious examples, your Dragon Ogre heroes, the Shoggoths, are now spellcasters, while your Bullgors/Minotaurs heal when they hit hard enough to, uh, eat their enemies. There are also some cool battalion rules, including one for each major Chaos god which grants its members the appropriate Mark of Chaos, allowing for Beasts in a god specific army.
The lore is on point, too, painting the Beastmen and their allies as some of the most ancient of the Mortal Realms’ inhabitants. Their burning hatred of civilization lies not just in their worship of Chaos, but because Sigmar civilized what was once wild, shrinking the areas where the Beasts once roamed. There’s something which feels almost forbidden about the lore sections of Beasts of Chaos, in its references to prehistoric cave paintings of Beastmen attacking and eating the pre-Sigmar humans and the way it describes the claustrophobic forests which breed them. This is the section which makes Beasts of Chaos worth a look if you’re not an Age of Sigmar player.
All of that is good, but it’s important to understand that this is not a Legions of Nagash-style reworking of the Beasts. There aren’t many new miniatures with this release, just the new Endless Spells (which are cool) and the very welcome Herdstone terrain piece. Everything else, you’ve seen. It has been repackaged, with a very nifty new Start Collecting box, alongside the by now expected unit cards and faction colored dice. But here’s maybe the best thing, and it has nothing to do with this army: the approach to this release and the format of Beasts of Chaos points to all of those splintered factions being put back together and coming back. That means there might be a proper Skaven faction again, or High Elves, Dark Elves, or Ogres. That’s a big deal, for lore, game aesthetics, and the way the game plays.
If you’re interested in a Beasts of Chaos army, this is all going to excite you, but if you wanted a complete rework, it’s not that. For me, a big batch of Beasts has always been one of my should’ve armies: I should’ve made one when I had a chance, instead of the handful of Minotaurs (I love Minotaurs, almost as much as dwarves) and unpainted Beastmen I have lurking on my shelves. When the Beasts of Chaos were broken up and de-emphasized, I was bummed out because I didn’t think I’d get my chance. Now I get that chance, one I thought I’d missed, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Have you encountered the wild Beasts of Chaos on the table? Tell us about it in the comments!
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Image Credits: Games Workshop, Ian Williams