Fantasy gaming has never really been my thing, but occasionally the bug strikes and I dip a tentative toe into the bog. There have been many comments recently on various websites and blogs about the demise of Warhammer and a lack of enthusiasm for the Age of Sigmar replacement. It seems that Kings of War (KoW) (published by Mantic, 2010) is viewed as a possible alternative and has attracted many favourable comments. I have never played Warhammer, but I have played a few games of Wahammer Ancient Battles (WAB), so I have a vague idea about the mechanics. In addition, I do actually have a copy of Warhammmer (7th edition possibly?) plus a few codex’s which I have bought at various bring-and-buy stalls bundled together with other items that did interest me. This Warhammer paraphernalia has lain dormant in the attic for many years. I also possess roughly 150-200 miscellaneous fantasy figures acquired in the same ad-hoc manner; some are painted, some not; some are mounted on round bases, others on squares; and there is no dominant ‘army’ groupings represented.
Mantic have made KoW (a slimmed down version) available free to download from their website, together with ‘basic’ army/unit lists. This is a great idea because it allows gamers to have a ‘taste’ before deciding whether to invest in the full, published version. So that is exactly what I have done! From my disparate collection of figures I was able to assemble a pair of 1,500 point armies of ‘Goodies’ and ‘Baddies’. The ‘Goodies’ comprised a mix of Dwarves, Elves and Men; whereas the ‘Baddies’ had Goblins, Orcs and Skaven. Using these armies I have played a couple of solo battles (both won by the ‘Goodies’) and these are my thoughts on the rules:-
Aspects that I liked:
- Movement, particularly wheeling. There is no measuring outside arcs when wheeling, instead units are allowed to pivot on the unit centre point once during their move, and interpenetration is allowed so long as unit footprints do not overlap at the end of the move. Such a simple idea that speeds up play and works well.
- Combat, both ranged and melee. Units have a defined number of attack dice with a hit number (very few modifiers), and successes are rolled against the target defence number (again few modifiers) to get the final tally of hits. Only the attacker rolls dice, if the defender survives, then he can counter-attack during his next turn and inflict some reciprocal damage. Like WAB, there is the ‘buckets of dice’ syndrome (which some gamers hate), but the number of steps is reduced (no toughness versus armour rolls etc.). There is also no counting up of the number of figures in each unit, or number of ranks, nor whether some figures have multiple attacks or wounds, nor remembering that war-horses also attack etc. I often found combat resolution using WAB rules too slow and cumbersome. In KoW, combat is fast and furious.
- There is no figure removal because accumulated hits on individual units are recorded using dice or other markers. I really like this facet of the game. It allows me to use my figures on movement trays so how they are based, and how many figures in the unit, does not matter. The decimation of units (due to figure removal) seen in many Warhammer games is not visually apparent and your nicely painted figures remain on the table longer. Finally, I can imagine dedicated KoW players creating interesting diorama’s instead of simple units of individual figures.
- Morale, or Nerve testing. Again very simple, roll 2D6 and add the accumulative hits, then compare the score to the units defined Nerve values (there are two values listed). If the score is equal or higher than the lower value the unit ‘Wavers’ (which limits its possible actions next turn), or ‘Routs’ from the game if the score is equal or higher than the second value. This mechanism is so quick and simple to use.
- The role of Leaders or Heroes. These are not the super-heroes found in Warhammer, instead their primary role is to inspire units nearby who may have failed Nerve tests and Wavered, by allowing them to re-roll the test. I have never liked the all-conquering leaders found in most fantasy games, who are ladened with magical items that smite foes in vast numbers and rarely succumb to mere mortals. I like my heroes to be more interested in leadership, and if you foolishly let them be attacked by a foe who outnumbers them, then they should go down.
The above all seems very promising, but there are a few disappointments:-
- There are no Command and Control rules! I feel this is a real omission. Similar to Warhammer, all units move as desired, no problem. I must admit to liking rules that prevent armies from moving totally freely. One of the command decisions a player needs to make is the prioritisation of actions based on an element of risk; not everything will happen as planned; units will stand still instead of advancing, your men on the other side of a wood will not act as intended etc.
- The one aspect of movement I disliked was the necessity of charging units to face up and conform to the target unit’s front/flank/rear. This invariably requires shunting/shuffling of units, and weird gaps and congestion appear in battlelines. I think that stopping at contact is far more simple and efficient, causes less friction between players and just feels better.
- Although many (most) units have some ‘Special Rules’, I feel they may still appear a bit ‘bland’ to Warhammer gamers who are used to more variation and colour in their army profile.
- Magic. In KoW spells are very basic and limited in effect. I suspect that the larger published rules will expand on the range available, but in the downloadable rules the range is small and again, bland. Even if the magic rules are not expanded, I quite like the limited magic idea. Too often, it seems, that games can be decided by super-spells, and this does not feel right.
- The army lists supplied may also cause some angst to Warhammer gamers. Are Orcs tough enough, or are Elves too powerful etc. I am not experienced enough to really comment on this and am happy to accept Mantic’s KoW assessment, but I can imagine that Warhammer players may have serious problems living with the changes. One of the beauties of fantasy gaming is that a designer has total freedom to rule as they feel fit. If a designer wants Dwarves to be weedy, nervous beings then who is to argue? In comparison, historical wargame designers are restricted by history e.g at what range is a 6pdr AT gun effective against a Panther tank, and what is the probability of successfully knocking it out? Therefore any special rules or characteristics are determined by the rule designers imagination, and players may agree or not, but they cannot complain on the grounds of inaccuracy.
So, has KoW inspired me? The rules gave a nice, enjoyable game, and I probably will invest in a copy of the published, expanded rules. I cannot imagine playing a lot of fantasy games, but every now and then I will get the figures on the table. I’m sure I will make a couple of house-rules to include a Command and Control element (possibly a simple mechanism such as found in the Black Powder/Hail Caesar rules), and I will allow units to stop in place when contacting the enemy. KoW has at least encouraged me to paint my unpainted fantasy figures (the results will appear in future ‘Off the Painting’ table posts). Will I buy more figures and expand my armies? Probably not, I’m happy with my Goodie versus Baddie split, and it does not worry me that Dwarves and Elves are fighting together. I cannot imagine buying all the figures to create a pure Dwarf (or whatever) army. I will occasionally buy figures from bring-and-buy stalls if they seem to offer a great bargain, and if my painting stocks are running low. To conclude, I’m not about to become a fantasy fanboy but these rules may at least get me to take some neglected figures out of their boxes once in a while.