Friday, January 8, 2016

Fantasy Friday - Kings of War - First Impressions!

A few of us gathered two weekends ago to try out the exciting new Kings of War 2.0. This new version was Kickstarted last year and came out this summer, so this was our first chance to get a crack at it. As longtime fantasy mass battle players we were excited to try out this different ruleset - and I was not disappointed.

The Stakes

I am a casual fantasy player - that is to say I am likely never going to play it more than once per month. I really do enjoy the idea of mass battles in my head, magic being slung around, ranks upon ranks of troops thrown into each other. Like the massive battles in Lord of the Rings, for instance. 

Recently the main fantasy battles game was ended to start a new skirmish-based game which is not for me. I don't need to go into the reasons here - rather, lets talk about what I wanted from Kings of War.
  • Ranked regiments
  • Strategic decisions
  • Balanced lists
  • Easy play
  • Great story
  • Affordable models
  • Characterful armies
If Kings of War was not something we liked, I honestly don't know what I would have done with my fantasy army. The 9th Age is out there for WHFB, but I don't really see myself being able to talk new players into that system.

You can see my fully painted Herd army above from the Big Brawl at AdeptiCon. I am used to the characterful nature of these dudes - lots of hate, lots of filth, lots of dudes. I was worried that KoW wouldn't really help me keep up that vision of them in my mind.

My Thoughts

The game plays very, very easily. There are around 25 pages of rules, which is shorter than most tournaments 40k FAQs. During my turn I'm the only one rolling dice and making decisions, which makes it very tournament friendly - there are even guidelines for using chess clocks. This is huge. As someone who is not just a one-game guy, I like to be able to pick up a game, play it, and really evoke what that setting and story is about without having to do a lot of heavy lifting. I am 'playing the period, not the rules' as TooFatLardies says. 

We were able to get going with minimal rule lookups. We finished a 3,000 point battle in about 2 hours, with time for me to explain everything and talk strategy with my two opponents. I feel like if we learned it well enough we could finish games very quickly.

There are no long protracted combats. In my mind, with everything I've read about historical sword and shield combat and close combat during other periods, close combat is very brief. The two sides engage and fight. One side either breaks off or regroups and charges again. This is the same in Kings of War. I charge you, if I don't break you I back off and you can setup a counter charge, or reform, etc. You don't get melee combats that last all six turns.

Magic is very subtle and very easy to pick up. Each wizard can cast one spell a turn and it counts as a shooting attack. On a 4+ that spell hits (some spells roll more than one die). If it hits the effect happens, whether it is a buff to a unit or a shooting attack on an enemy. There are no mass wipe magic spells that cause you to remove whole units.

Morale is very interesting. Instead of picking up models and removing them for casualties, I just keep a count of how many dudes died. Then you roll a nerve check and add the casualties vs my nerve value. If I fail badly, the unit is removed from the board. If I fail not as badly, my guys are 'wavering' and can't charge or shoot next turn.

There is no 'panic', fear, or terror. I think morale is something that is really important for a more realistic wargame, but perhaps it was too annoying to have your entire flank panic off the board because a unit of five goblins was shot to death. I don't know yet if I miss it or not.

The story is present, but I think Mantic may want to ease players into it. There are about three pages for the Herd in Uncharted Empires with story text. It is a lot of high-level stuff with not much about what a herd person really is, how their life is, where they live, etc. I was a bit disappointed, but I am sure it'll be fleshed out. At this point, the UE lists are mostly there to help refugees from the other game come over to KoW. At least orcs and goblins do not talk like they're inbred.

Ranked regiments with flanking etc are definitely present. I loved 8th Edition fantasy, but the addition of steadfast (basically not breaking unless you're outnumbered) did make flanking less useful. In KoW flanking or rear charges are absolutely brutal.

Likely one of the biggest things to think about is the fact that you don't need to add up attacks, charge bonuses, etc every turn. You always have the same fixed number of attacks. It makes it super easy. You buy 5, 10, 20, 40, or 60 dudes and you fight. You don't need points for command, you don't need fractions, you don't need odd numbers of dudes.

They've made it very easy to purchase an affordable army and 'unit base' them. In this case, if you have paid the points for a horde of 40 dudes, you really only legally need 21 models on the base. This is much more affordable and much easier to paint everything.

The last part in regards to units is the actual basing itself. I was a bit disappointed that The Herd's dudes mostly are based on 20mm squares instead of the regular 25mm. I recognize and respect that this is Mantic's game and they have no responsibility to continue basing sizes for certain models, but it is a hurdle that I felt wasn't necessary. I can re-do the unit base with four on a front instead of five, but its just annoying.

I do like how magic items are purchased for a unit. I can give Dwarven Brew to my herd dudes and they become tougher in a fight. I can give them a certain weapon that leads them to hit better. The focus is on the individual units getting these special rules, not heroes leading each one.

There is an actual players' committee that advises Mantic on the design of Kings of War, which I think may be one of the first of its kind. This is brilliant. Players know what players want. Players can help keep a game balanced and rein in crazyness.

It shows in the lists for Kings of War. I have only played the one game, but nothing seemed game breaking, and most units cannot stack special rule upon special rule. There are no formations or snowflake units. Everyone follows the same basic rules.

While the lists are pretty basic, they are characterful. Most lists have one or two special rules that are armywide. The actual unit entries are nice and the refugee lists match up well. A big herd guy fights differently from a weedy herd guy. 

The last point I wanted to touch on is the affordable armies point. Mantic's models are very affordable, usually at $1 per dude or less. While quality is definitely a subjective measure, I am starting an Undead army using Mantic's models and purchased many of their goblins for a goblin army, so I rate them well from that standpoint.

You can always use models from another system or company. I plan to use some Frostgrave, SAGA, and Perry guys for a human army at some point. I am using my Beastmen models straight up for my Herd dudes.

Yea or nay (neiiiiigh for the Herd guys)

Kings of War hits most of my points for massed fantasy combat. It is really easy to play, affordable, and the rules are clean. These points will definitely help us get new guys into it.

The story and setting are a little lacking, right now, but I feel like Mantic can knock that out with some campaign books and really build this game into a powerhouse.

I know we've only played this game one time, but I'm all in now. Kings of War gets my "games should not be a life choice" stamp of approval.

Check it out - the rules are free!


  1. So tempted to buy their new Abyssal Force!

  2. I agree with you on every point. I would have actually preferred it if their system had been setting neutral, without one of its own. Then it could be used for anything, like the old Reaper rules.