The 9th Age | Fortified Niche playtest!

A photo of a unit of rat Roman Legionnaires from the The 9th Age page.

Hard to say if Warhammer ever had the good edition. If memory serves, the recommendation for Warhammer Fantasy Battles is playing 5th edition with 6th edition army books. Still, a lot of people agreed that changeover to Age of Sigmar was not it, chief. Some of those people made The 9th Age, a game of rank-and-flank fantasy battles!

Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.

The 9th Age TTS screenshot: a map strewn with ugly unit rectangles and a table cluttered with tools of play.
In The 9th Age, most units fight in tidy blocks. A formation’s front, flank, and rear all matter in movement and combat. The rules are meticulously laid out for charging, maximizing contact, reforming, the placement of heroes and command groups in the ranks, hero duels, and so on.
The 9th Age TTS screenshot:  a unit of  seven demigryph knights is about to move.
The rules are intimidating at first, especially once you see all the schematics explaining movement and engagement. And they don’t let up in complexity as you move to resolving melee attacks, casting spells or composing a new army. A lot of effort is put into preventing shenanigans like charging enemy units while trying to minimize contact or to prevent people who gaining advantage from mixing troops with different base sizes within a unit. Cassa tells me that The 9th Age arose from the Swedish comp scene which had previously spearheaded the effort to do the impossible and balance WHFB. It shows!
The 9th Age TTS screenshot:  an Empire of Sonnstahl army featuring a steam tank and a wizard leading a unit of irregulars
However, nothing in the world could have prepared me for the fluff. Unlike Warhammer Army Project, The 9th Age had gone all in in creating their own derivative Warhammer Fantasy world. They did more than file off the serial numbers – they committed. Their Sigmar is a woman. Their orcs breed like fish – if fish needed a corpse piles to lay their eggs. Their ratpeople are still pretending that they’re the Roman Empire. The High Elves are possibly the British Empire while the Dark Elves are either the 13 colonies or Venice.
The 9th Age on TTS screenshot: the battlefield from an orc POV. The Empire is on the other side and aiming to take the central objective.
And the creators have produced reams of lore presented as in universe documents, a goblin trader is the iconic narrator… and none of it feels like edgy bullshit for the sake of edgy bullshit! In fact, the states in The 9th Age feel more functional and more likely to engage in activities other than war than they are in Warhammer Fantasy. I was absolutely not prepared for this. I need to sit down.
The 9th Age on TTS screenshot: simulating Heavy Troops fighting some orc cavalry. The dice pool engulfs the dice roller.
More than that, The 9th Age project demonstrates an understanding that they made a complex games with unit statlines larger than those in WHFB and army building that involves tracking point spending percentages over multiple categories. That’s why there’s a variety of online tools online to ease your life: at least two fully-featured army builders with hyperlinked rule explanations, Warhall – a digital tabletop that seems to have been made with The 9th Age in mind – and massive lists of possible miniatures for every unit in the game. The latter is what actually brought the game to my attention in the first place
The 9th Age screenshot on TTS:  an Empire Heavy Troop block with a blessing card.
Now, The 9th Age isn’t a perfect game. You still have to contend with stuff like tracking imaginary unit boundaries, juggling nested special rules, and dealing with a rulebook that has split combat resolution into three distinct parts not arranged one after the other in an intuitive fashion. Moreover, playing it live necessitates having a massive amount of minis. And when it comes to the competitive meta, Cassa reports that one of the correct army building moves is to spend as many points as possible on a single Smashfucker character.
The 9th Age on TTS screenshot: the orc and human armies do their first moves.
The 9th Age looked intimidating at the start, but it really grew on me. It avoids the many pitfalls that made us judge Conquest harshly. The creators had dodged fan nonsense, so the army lists are fairly tame (meanwhile, I saw Warhammer Army Project have like 20 knightly order varieties for the Empire). There’s also genuine love for their derived setting, down to lavishly illustrated setting guides and quality custom art. But try it out digitally first: it’s a massive game that lasts even longer for newbies. You don’t want to end up with a massive unpainted army that you’ll never use!

2 thoughts on “The 9th Age | Fortified Niche playtest!

  1. Please do an episode on Ion Age’s Patrol Angis from Alternative Armies. I love your content. I listen to every episode on Spotify. My second recommendation would be This Quar’s War, which I’m playing at 15mm. Their new 28mm miniatures are real hot right now (Wargames Atlantic) but the real magic is in those 15mm rules!

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