Monday, 3 August 2015

Kings of War

Over the last month or so I have found time to play 3 games of Kings of War. So obviously I am now an expert. Well OK, maybe not. But I've been able to read the rules and put what I read into action a few times in order to get a feel for what is going on. I used a different army each game (Elves, Orcs and Kingdoms of Men), with the first 2 games being against Kingdoms of Men whilst the third one was against an Orc and Goblin alliance (those are separate lists). I know some people have been waiting to hear my thoughts about the game, so I guess it's time to start talking about it.

Given the Warhammer-centric nature of this blog, I will approach the game from the perspective of a Warhammer player rather than someone who is new to both games.

It's like Warhammer
In some ways, this statement is true. A game of KoW looks a lot like a game of Warhammer when the models and terrain are all on the table. Regiments are formed up into ranked up rectangles, with the separate monsters, characters and war machines there in support. For all that KoW is set in a different background (the world of Mantica) with its own races and characters, the classic races of Orcs, Dwarfs, Elves, Undead and Humans are all there. The parallels are strong, and can probably be partly attributed to what was presumably Mantic's original goal of offering a more affordable option to players wanting to make a Warhammer army. The crossover in terms of the models goes both ways, of course. You can quite easily make an entire KoW army out of Warhammer models, although there are occasional things with no direct equivalents.
From my 3rd game, using Kingdoms of Men against Orcs and Goblins. Yep, it looks a lot like Warhammer.
Units move at a similar pace to what they do in Warhammer, although most things seem to go 1" faster. Charging is more like pre-8th edition however, with units travelling at double their base movement rather than adding a dice roll to determine their distance.

With all these similarities, this game is a lot more like Warhammer than Age of Sigmar is.

It's not Warhammer
For all that the game may look familiar at a glance, KoW is actually very different from Warhammer. The differences are everywhere, but I'll focus on the main ones.

Just a Flesh Wound
When a unit receives damage in KoW, you don't remove models. You keep track of the damage, and test the unit's nerve each time that damage continues to mount. Eventually the unit will "waver" (which results in it being pretty well incapacitated in the next turn), or it will "rout". A unit that routs is gone - you take the whole thing off. In effect routing could reflect either the unit being broken and scattered permanently, or it could mean that it has been obliterated (which feels more likely when it's a single model). The two things are basically rolled into one. 

The result of this approach is that units take no visible damage when they are attacked. They need the damage tracked with a dice of counters, but otherwise nothing really happens (the unit's offensive potential remains unchanged too) right up to when the unit hits a tipping point and suddenly wavers or routs. It's a stark contrast to 8th edition Warhammer, where a round of combat could see 20 models removed from the back of the unit, and you end up with the shattered remnants of once proud units wandering the table by the end of the game.

Bouncy Bouncy
There is no such thing as a protracted, grinding combat in KoW. In fact, there is no such thing as a combat that goes both ways at all. A unit (or multiple units) charge in, swing to inflict damage, and the enemy tests its nerve. Unless the unit routs, the attackers are repelled - they bounce back an inch away. Provided the enemy unit didn't waver, it will then have a chance to charge straight back in against one of its assailants. So whilst there is a level of to-and-fro, you don't get the imagery of two forces locked in the struggle and cutting each other down. This mechanism is not necessarily better or worse than the Warhammer approach, but it gives things a different feel.

Strictly Regimented
Formations of troops are a key part of the game. You don't buy a unit for your army by paying a cost for each model. Instead you purchase the unit at a set size: Troop, Regiment, Horde or Legion (not all troop types have access to all sizes of unit). Those formations have a designated formation, which will never change. So a Regiment of infantry (no matter whether they're combat or missile troops) means 5x4, a Regiment of cavalry is 5x2, and a Regiment of "large infantry" (like Ogres) is 3x1. So you buy your unit, it has a set footprint, and this footprint will never change. 

It makes things simple, which can feel both good and bad. Things like "conga lines" which can plague a game of Warhammer are impossible in KoW. But then, so are varying formations like 7x3 groups of elite Elves, or missile troops deployed wide and shallow to make full use of their firepower. I can't field my full units of 60 Empire Halberdiers because Pole-Arms Blocks only come as Troops (10 models), Regiments (20) and Hordes (40) The Legion formation (60 models) is largely reserved for rubbish troops like Goblins and Zombies. 

I have hundreds of movement trays that will be of no use in games of KoW because they accommodate formations that don't exist in the game. On the flip side of that, the strict formation shapes and the fact that you don't remove models to reflect casualties means that the rules are ideal if you want to base your entire regiment together as a single block, potentially to set it up as a diorama or something like that. It's a lot more flexible in that regard.

Army selection also revolves around formations. Regiments, Hordes and Legions are the building blocks of the army, and fielding each one effectively allows you to choose a number of Troops, Characters, War Engines and Monsters. It's a system that immediately reminded me of the old army cards used in Space Marine/Titan Legions (in fact it would work very well with cards, upon which could be the profile of the formation). I quite like it. It offers a certain balance to army selection whilst still allowing a player to focus on a particular troop type if they want to.

For all that things move at a similar speed to Warhammer, the rules for maneuvering are far more simple. There is no "wheel" move. Everything is done with pivots, and the average unit can only pivot once during a normal move, and not at all when moving "at the double" (ie marching). Pivots can pass through models, and so long as you're not charging, you can walk one of your units right through another one (the rule is called "interpenetration"). 

As I mentioned before, units move at double their base speed when charging. However, this is combined with pre-measuring. So both players know for certain who can charge and who cannot at any point in the game. This leads to a different dynamic from Warhammer, which has always striven for a level of uncertainty either through random charge distances in 8th ed, or estimated ranges in previous iterations of the game. It means it's entirely possible for a unit to stop half an inch out of charge range, knowing that it is safe. In a game where charging is so important (given the victims don't even get to strike back) this might seem a problem, but realistically you're not dealing with 2 units glaring at each other in a vacuum - there are other units and threats to consider, and trying to engage in a stand-off with a single unit probably won't work very often.

For all the simplicity of movement, this doesn't mean it's not important. Getting flanked is bad news, as enemies double their attacks when attacking a flank. Getting hit in the rear is even worse, where the attackers get triple attacks. So it is well worth out-maneuvering your opponent if you can.
This combat went very badly for my Foot Guard. Blame the flanking Chariots.
I should also mention that apparently Kings of War used True Line of Sight in its first edition, but it has now moved to a more structured system closer to what you would have seen in older versions of Warhammer (or ETC Simple LOS rules). This is a definite improvement to my mind, as I have stated before that I don't like True Line of Sight as a rule mechanism.

One of the major things I have noticed is that characters behave quite differently in KoW. They can never join units, and most of them are pretty unimpressive in close combat. They just don't have enough attacks to make a real difference. There are certain exceptions, such as an Orc Krudger on a Winged Slasher (read: Orc Warboss on Wyvern), who pulls as many attacks as a moderate regiment and is a truly terrifying prospect if he gets into the flank. But generally speaking, it's not worth buying an infantry or cavalry character for their combat prowess. Instead their main role is to provide re-rolls for rout tests, and whatever spells they might have on offer.
I took 2 Krudgers on Winged Slashers in this game. The one near the centre of the picture flanked and wiped out a Horde of Arquebusiers and maimed the Knights before getting unceremoniously dealt with by Foot Guard.
The inability to join a unit is one of the things that feels strangest. You can't get a hero to lead your big and important unit. The option is there to field plenty of characters in the army, but if they're all going to be running around alone, the value in doing so becomes questionable.

Practical Magic
When you think about it, Warhammer's magic system is a vast and complicated beast. Even ignoring supplements like Storm of Magic that added extra spells, there are about 150 different spells in the game spread across more than 20 Lores. There are also hundreds of magic items. Some players love the impact magic can have on the game and others hate it.

KoW magic is very different. It takes up 2 pages in the rulebook, including the full list of spells - all 6 of them. That's right, there are fewer spells in KoW than there are in a single Warhammer Lore of Magic. Spells are basically just cast by making a shooting attack. A successful attack will do damage, or in the case of other spells, heal or move it forward. It's extremely simple. Magic is obviously only meant to play a supporting role in KoW.

There are quite a lot of magic items in the rules, however those are also different from Warhammer in that many of them can be given to a regiment of troops rather than just characters. And no unit can have more than one. So there's no going overboard and tooling up a character to be unstoppable and indestructible. That's not to say that some of the items won't have a significant impact on the bearer's potential - it just means you need to spread the love.

Simplicity vs Character
KoW takes a very different approach to Warhammer when it comes to games design. The rulebook is 30 pages long. Each army list only takes a few pages too. Things that might make a player inclined to fidget (such as different maneuvering rules and reforming into different formations) do not exist. With such a reduction in spells and special rules, the possibilities for confusing and complex interactions are also kept to a minimum. In short, it's all very streamlined and simple.

Someone coming from a background of playing Warhammer might find the simplicity something of a shock. In a lot of ways it's like looking at a game of Warhammer, from one level higher up. You can't actually see the characters fighting in the front ranks of the units, though they may very well be there. There are wizards throwing spells, but without having a vast array of things to choose from. Formations of troops come and go, but they don't really change much in the interim - you don't see the individuals perishing. And a lot of the individuality of units is gone too. An elite Elf is an elite Elf. You'll find yourself using White Lions, Swordmasters and Phoenix Guard all as the same thing (Palace Guard) because there is nothing notably different about them. There is a certain sense of loss of flavour. The question then becomes: how important is that flavour? Is it something players will feel the need to hold on to?

The KoW vs Warhammer comparison is a strange one. You can generally use the same models in either game, but the games are really very different. Given all those differences, a player could quite easily play both games rather than replacing one with the other. But given that one of these games is new and growing and the other is old and no longer supported, it remains to be seen whether that will really happen.


  1. I had my first game on the weekend. It was good fun.
    It was great to see so many people having a go.
    I'm all hobby-excited again!

  2. Excellent review, good to see both pros and cons. I'm not that excited by the sound of it, it seems to take IGOUGO to the extreme, whereas I prefer maximum participation systems.

    1. I guess there is an element of "I go, you go" in the game. It hasn't bothered me. And it does make the game better suited to timed turns in a tournament setting. Warhammer was never ideal for that.

    2. I go, you Go only really becomes a problem with long complex turns. If you keep the player turns quick and to the point, the problem is not really there. 8th edition tried to give the players more participation. KoW tried to streamline player turns. Two different solutions to the same problem.

  3. Sounds like it's more like chess than normal WHFB, which I think is what many tournament players wanted. Not sure though, but I think personally I would enjoy AoS more than KoW. But I will just stick with 8th or 9th age :) Good to see people enjoying all systems though.

    1. I don't know that I would go that far. Movement is a bit simplified and cleaner, but there's still a lot more in common with Warhammer than chess. I got to roll 96 attacks the other day when my knights rear-charged a giant. Good times... I agree that KoW may well suit itself better for tournament play than Warhammer, but I don't think that's all it's good for.

  4. Good review, nice to know your point of view.

    In my case I will definitely play 9th Age (WIP from Swedish guys + ETC) that seems good for the moment, at least the poor Goats that are nearly finished

    1. I'll reserve judgement about 9th Age. It looked like a major re-write, and I'm not sure 8th edition was that far off the mark for me.

    2. Well for me the major rewrite is all about magic, the rest of the mechanics are just clarified or remains the same. I have a very good feeling about it.

    3. 6th Edition was pretty much perfect, with Ravening Hordes for tournaments.