Kings Of War Review

01 February 2016
It’s evolution not revolution for Mantic’s latest version of the rulebook for its mass-battle fantasy wargame… but is that a good thing?

Mantic Games | Fantasy Wargame | £24.99 | 2+ players | 120 minutes |

We’re led to believe that in life timing is everything. An iceberg floating precariously into the path of Titantic is a perfect example of terrible timing… if the ship had sailed a few hours later perhaps we’d still be popping across to New York on the ocean liner now. Selling your house just before the market went belly up in 2007 was good timing and you’re probably still sleeping on your bed of money. However, for an example of perfect timing see the release of Mantic Games’ new version of the Kings of War rulebook. Just as Games Workshop is seemingly moving away from the mass battles of Warhammer Fantasy and into the fast-paced skirmish scraps of Age of Sigmar, Mantic is fully embracing the future of fantasy battles with new rules, new models and even new armies. Timing is everything.

Although Kings of War has actually been around since 2010 when Mantic released a small rulebook alongside its range of fantasy miniatures. The concept was created by Alessio Cavatore, an ex-Games Workshop employee who had previously worked on the rules for the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. The idea was to create a fast and fluid fantasy wargame with rules that could be picked up within a matter of minutes but would take far longer to master.

In a similar vein to Warhammer Fantasy, armies featured the likes of typical Tolkien-inspired races like goblins, orcs, elves and dwarfs (both good and bad), plus zombies, ogres and skeletons. But the big change for Kings of War came in 2012 when Mantic launched its first ever Kickstarter to provide the funds to create a new hard back rulebook, along with funding the creation of new units for existing armies and expanding the background or ‘fluff’ behind the game. However, there was a sense among the community that although the rules were fast and fluid, there were some elements that didn’t work quite as they should and some units, particularly war machines and cavalry were over powered. As a result late last year Mantic once again returned to Kickstarter to fund the creation of a new set of rules, along with two new armies: Forces of Nature and the Forces of the Abyss. The Kickstarter quickly smashed the budget, raising a total of $366,000 and now less than a year later Mantic has unleashed Kings of War Version Two upon the world… but how does it stack up against the original?

Well, let’s start at the beginning… creating your army. Kings of War now offers players the opportunity to choose from 11 different forces: Basileans, Dwarfs, Elves, Kingdoms of Men, Forces of Nature, Ogre Armies, Forces of the Abyss, Abyssal Dwarfs, Goblins, Orcs and Undead. Some of the existing armies, such as the Orcs, have been given one or two new units, while the Ogres have been given several to make up for their lack of options in version one. Building your army is wonderfully straight forward as most units are split quite simply into individuals, troops (typically five units), regiments (10), hordes (40) and occasionally even legions (60) – each has their own points value for the entire unit, rather than having to faff about with individual points for each character. Version two has simplified things even further by doing away with the option for standards or musicians, which added to nerve tests (negatively and positively), but cost extra points.

All this means that it’s a breeze to quickly put together a 2,000 point list, for example. On the subject of points, it’s worth noting that Mantic has worked on refining the points values for each unit… and in most cases it means they’ve gone up compared to version one, e.g. a regiment of Goblin spearmen (Sharpsticks) now costs 95 points, whereas they used to cost 75 points. Initially it’s a little surprising to see points go up, as you think you’re no longer getting bang for your buck, but it’s to help balance the game better and stop certain units being overused. Some units, like the Goblin Wiz, have actually gone down in points to (50 to 45), demonstrating that Mantic really has gone back to the drawing board to make sure the points properly stack up.

Likewise, army construction has taken a turn for the better too. Previously for each ‘solid unit’, e.g. 20 infantry or 10 cavalry, you could access one war engine and one hero or monster. This led to the creation of war engine-heavy armies that could quickly decimate the field. In version two, each regiment now unlocks access to one war engine or one hero or one monster, while a horde allows you to include a war engine and one hero and one monster. This means you’ve got to carefully select your line-up and make a decision between those potentially powerful (but often unreliable) war machines or heroes, who often provide buffs for units.

So, you’ve got your army sorted… what next? Well, how about picking a scenario? Of course, Kings of War version two features the standard ‘kill anything that moves’ objective that sees you trying to wipe everything out, however there’s also a couple of other more interesting options, some of which are brand new. Alongside ‘Kill’, you now have ‘Invade!’ in which you receive points for any of your units in the opponent’s half of the table; ‘Dominate!’ a similar concept but the units must be within 12-inches of the centre; ‘Pillage!’ an existing scenario that requires players to capture objectives by having their unit and no enemies within three-inches of an objective marker; ‘Loot!’ this time the objective markers can be carried by units and even removed from the table and, finally ‘Kill and Pillage!’, which as the name might suggest is a combo of two existing scenarios.

Scenarios are chosen by rolling a D6 at the start of the game, so you’re never quite sure what type of scenario you’ll be playing, which ends plenty of variables and options for regular players. Plus the new scenarios, in particular, really feed into your army construction because you’re required to move around the battlefield more and no can no longer just sit back and wait for the enemy to come to you… something we’ve regularly encountered during our matches with an avid Dwarf player. As a result when you’re planning you’re army, you’ve got to factor in the fact you could end up playing a scenario that requires plenty of movement, which we’re sure will make for some more varied army lists. This feels like a masterstroke
by Mantic to add variety not only to the game but the type of lists people will start fielding in version two, particularly for tournaments.

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Onto actually playing the game now and turns are split into three phases: movement, shooting and combat. The game follows an ‘I go, you go’ format, with the attacker rolling all the dice in their turn for combat, while the defender checks the dice scores against their defence. Now, we realise there’s been some backlash against the ‘I go, you go’ mechanic, with games like Infinity almost doing away with it entirely, however in Kings of War it still works because the game is so fast and fluid. You’re not waiting for 20 minutes for your turn and instead the turns come around thick and fast. What’s more there still is that sense of engagement because you’re watching the dice rolls (often nervously), keeping track of wounds and watching to see if units are routed. You always feel involved, even when you’re not physically rolling the dice.

In the movement phase you’re pretty much doing what it says on the tin, each unit has a movement stat listed in the rulebook. They can halt, move their normal distance, run at the double to travel twice their normal distance or charge at the enemy, which is also double their normal movement. Kings of War always allows pre-measuring, so there’s no blind faith in hoping you’ll make a charge or be able to move into a comfortable position to fire, instead you can check everything before deciding to move.

Shooting as the name may imply is for ranged combat, so your regiments with bows, your powerful war machines or magic spells. Ranged weapons all have a set distance, e.g. 24-inches for bows and 12-inches for pistols, which are clearly stated in the rules. The number of dice rolled is dictated by the ‘Att’ stat, e.g. the Elven Kindred Archer regiment rolls 10 dice, and the number required to hit is the ‘Ra’ number, in this case 4+. This works in the same way for melee combat but instead of looking at the ‘Ra’ number to hit, you need the ‘Me’ stat, e.g. a regiment of Ogre Warriors rolls nine dice and hits with a 3+.

In both shooting and melee, for every successful attack that hits the enemy you must then see if it wounds them by re-rolling the successes and comparing them to the defender’s ‘De’ stat. Say, for example, your Ogre Warriors are attacking a troop of Abyssal Dwarf Berserkers, you begin by rolling nine dice and get six successes (well done), next you discard the three misses and re-roll the six dice requiring a 3+ to beat the Berserker’s defence. However, an extra element is that the Orge Warriors have something called Crushing Strength [1] that reduces the opponent’s defence value, to represent the sheer power of the attack, so you only actually need 2+ (easy). You roll the six dice and get five successes (hooray), which causes five wounds.

The way wounds are represented is another masterstroke by Alessio, instead of going through the faff of removing individual figures, you simply have to indicate how many wounds that unit has taken. The amount of wounds is then added to a nerve test – if the total is lower than the unit’s nerve, nothing happens, but if it’s higher it’ll either waiver (so you can’t attack with it next turn) or be destroyed entirely. It is such a simple method and adds immensely to the fast and fluid play-style of Kings of War.

That, ultimately, is the beauty of Kings of War – the fact the play style is so smooth and can be picked up within minutes. The new rulebook explains everything in a wonderfully straightforward manner and the mechanics have been refined superbly for version two, in order to iron out niggles from the original. Of course, mass battle games aren’t for everyone but if you’ve got the time to invest, Kings of War will reward you many times over. 

Kings of War version two improves upon the original in pretty much every way possible. The rulebook itself is laid out in a much simpler fashion, with more background for the races of Mantica. Meanwhile, the rules have been honed to ensure this is among the best mass-battle games out there. The King is back!

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This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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