Well it was last October when I first got the Kings of War 3rd edition book, soon after it’s release:
However as I’m more focused on the “hobby” side (painting and modelling) right now when it comes to tabletop miniatures gaming, I didn’t get around to actually trying out the rules at all until now…
Thanks to a surprise visit from a friend of mine last weekend; Rob, who you might remember from a couple of previous Agoners Battle Reports for The Ninth Age Quickstarter (One and Two), this time around we decided to try and have a knock about test run with some of the Kings of War rules. I have to admit, as this was all very much unplanned, unlike when we played the T9A QS, so we were woefully unprepared for this in some ways, as I’d only read the KoW v3 rules months before when I got the book (and the free online parts of KoW v2 about a year earlier, when I did research on what fantasy wargame rules systems were out there). So I had to quickly re-read as much of the rules on the day that I could, discussing it with Rob as I did so of course, so we both got the basics down. And we also had to figure out what models to use out of my collection. As I don’t have the “Uncharted Empires” list expansion yet, I couldn’t use my ‘Empire of Sonnstahl’ models that would’ve been best used as Kingdoms of Men as I did for T9A, so instead we went for a Greenskin “war” of sorts: Orcs Vs Goblins. Except it would in reality be more of a skirmish, or some practice field manoeuvres really, as we only wanted to use the bare minimum of stuff to start our learning curve off very low.
I looked at my painted models and the rulebook and used the fantastic (if a bit limited still) goodarmylists.com Kings of War app to quickly knock up two equally sized tiny skirmish squads:
Unit Count: 4
Unit Strength: 4
75, Rabble Regiment
75, Rabble Regiment
65, Wiz– Bane Chant (2)
Unit Count: 3
Unit Strength: 4
130, Ax Regiment
85, Skulk Troop
Aside about list building apps: The main issue I had with the app was no way to easily electronically save/store each list as I was building it, so I ended up using two tabs in my phone while doing this, but I made a quite a number of mis-clicks (with no help from trying to do this on a small phone screen of course!) that meant I had to start from scratch a few times before I got the hang of it. At least I wasn’t building a big list like this though, or that would have been quite demoralising! I realise now I should probably also have ‘copied’ the lists into another app to keep them… But still, this app is very good & extremely useful for KoW, but I must admit the fan-supported T9A apps currently really blow this away, they are so amazing – like Newrecruit and 9th Age Builder – both ridiculously slick, and I’ve not even investigated all the other options for that, both free and paid, and various options for phones and websites, incredible community-driven stuff there! I have heard that Mantic are working with easyarmy.com to update that for KoW 3rd Edition, so maybe that will be just as good for KoW in the future though 🙂
I tried to give each list at least a few tactical options, with at least one spellcaster per side too. Whilst we knew this wouldn’t even approach a proper game or necessarily be even fairly balanced at such a low points cost, we wanted to play it out like it was a “full game” to understand as much of the rules as we could and extrapolate how that might play out in more “proper” sized battles. It didn’t seem like it was worth bothering to roll up a scenario though, so we just chose “Kill” as a regular deploy & fight kind of thing. Rob was playing as the Orcs and he rolled and chose side and deployed first, and I could immediately see the tactical advantage of having more unit “drops” here, as the Goblins could deploy quite a bit of their units after the Orcs had completely finished with no downsides to this (as there can be in T9A). I deployed the Goblins to attempt to double-attack or even flank the Orc infantry unit with a plan to try to wipe it out quickly and then mop up the rest.
I couldn’t find a rule that said otherwise (and the goodarmylists listing seemed to back this up), but individual characters (or presumably, any single model unit) still seemed to count as a full ‘drop’ for this too, which surprised me a bit. It made those characters even better than I thought. In fact, I hadn’t really noticed how much those Goblin characters costed and the fact they were almost as much as the units! However this made more sense to me why, as we played it out. Another rule that immediately confused us was did the Goblin King really get FIVE shots per turn with his shortbow? That seemed very strange, and I didn’t use it in the end as we weren’t sure if that was right, but it did seem to be the case, as the rules said to use the ‘Attacks’ stat of the model for any missile weapons unless otherwise stated.
We also quickly discovered that playing the game as newbies with only a single big hardback rulebook to work from was quite a pain. With needing to constantly reference the rules in the front, the spell lists, and the unit stats, it was such a chore flicking about in the book all the time, despite using the very handy book marker it comes with. I have a “Gamer’s Edition” softback book on order now (I was waiting for my FLGS to get it into stock.. but it never seemed to be, but a few emails a yesterday, and they added it to their site now so I could also buy locally, hurrah!) which if I’d had it already would definitely have helped. And of course this would be less of a problem over time. But some handy print-out stats summary sheets would be really nice for KoW and it’s a bit disappointing to see these aren’t (yet) included anywhere.
I won’t bother to give a full battle report, as we weren’t photographing the proceedings anyway for such a minuscule encounter. But Rob played very cannily; instead of playing into the Goblin pincer “trap” – backing up his Orc infantry unit away from my Goblin advance, to avoid being flanked and delay the combat for as long as possible, whilst dancing his Skulk troop around a piece of wall terrain, that was surprisingly easy for them to do, getting to turn 90, move 5″ and still shoot, albeit at a penalty. We noticed that because of the way units ‘rout’, or are destroyed in KoW, there was no disadvantage for the Orc regiment to sit literally on it’s table edge back-line – although of course, KoW is usually played in a more objective based battle anyway rather than the “Kill” scenario. I should have adapted to Rob’s counter-plan, but I stuck with piling forward anyway, just to see how things worked. A mildly lucky “Waver” result on one of my Rabble regiments due to missile and fireball shots sort of messed up much of what I could have done anyway.
Speaking of fireballs – my decision to make sure both lists included spellcasters wasn’t really necessary it turned out, as they were both for the most part just glorified missile troops anyway – with some significant benefits too of being able to move & fire and shoot at characters without penalty if I remember correctly. The one chance I got to use a non-missile spell that we had, a Bane Chant, I failed to roll it anyway. But overall it seems spellcasters play a far less significant role on the battlefield than in other game systems we’ve been used to. Not using them would be totally viable for example, they just give additional options really, but don’t create a whole extra ‘mini game’ of decisions or anything for the players, as they are far less interactive with the opponent too.
Rob charged his Orcs in for the planned coup-de-grace on my wavered Goblin front-line regiment, with Rob noting were he “playing for real” he would have played the avoidance game even longer. I’m glad he did this though as things got a lot more interesting battle-wise from then on rather than it just being a run-away and shoot; as the Orcs failed to Waver the Goblins again on that turn (nor rout them), so I got to counter-charge with both the Goblin regiment and the Goblin King, damaging the Orcs quite a lot in return. We got a bit confused about how all the rules for melee and counter-charges etc worked. As far as we could tell, units can only strike melee attacks at all, if you charge or counter-charge, not if you just “remain engaged”, and that is the reason why a Wavered unit can’t even strike back. At least we think that was it?! The KoW rules are very succinct but surprisingly unclear to us on such a fundamental part of the game – I would have preferred a bit less brevity in the writing for a lengthier explanation of how things like Wavered affected the units fully, rather than having to cross-reference quite a few rules to understand it. Likewise the multi-charge rules were surprisingly confusing to read, immediately getting into dividing fractions of unit-tray millimetre sizes (and none of the sizes are ones we are very familiar with, so we don’t have a rule of thumb feel for this, yet anyway!), but at least with the multi-charges there were some nice clear example diagrams that were more helpful than trying to actually figure out the exact rules-as-written in many ways for us here.
We also encountered another oddity (to us) in this melee, that due to the way the counter-charges worked, the melee gradually shuffled to one side as the Orcs re-aligned to hit the Goblin regiment, causing the King to also get “nudged” away it seemed, disengaging him and allowing the other Orcs to shoot him, at least we thought. The Orcs managed to rout the Goblin unit entirely this time, but it seemed they could not really do that much after doing so that turn, as routing a normal regiment unit meant they couldn’t also attack nor engage into the Goblin King either, whereas if we understood it correctly, had the Orcs routed the Goblin King in similar fashion, they would have been able to ‘Overrun’ into the regiment. Again, this was a bit confusing and unfamiliar territory for us. It seemed there was a “move forward after combat” option, but they couldn’t engage anyone with that move, so as the King was only a “nudge” away that was useless to them – again, lengthier additional “examples and info” would have been useful here in the rulebook I felt.
The Goblin King proved shockingly tough though, and was able to then waver the Orc unit by himself and stick around for ages, aided by this momentous occasion of an attempted 7-dice Fireball by Rob with his Orc Godspeaker:
But despite this the tide was firmly in the favour of the Orcs after that point and they were pretty much just mopping up after that, especially when the Skulks stopped trying to shoot the King, and moved in for a combo charge with the Orcs (again, the rules were slightly confusing for a combined Charge & Countercharge vs an individual like this, but we think we got it right). It did make me realise how good individual characters can be in KoW though, it made sense why the King cost almost the same as a whole regiment of Goblins. Despite putting some wounds on each Orc unit – on purpose towards the end as I played for a “lucky comeback win” gambling types of plays rather than trying to focus damage, none of the Orcs ended up routed, whereas only the Goblin Wiz was left standing for the Goblins.
We really noticed even playing this small skirmish of KoW that compared to say, T9A, the lack of dramatic effects from magic & magic items etc meant there was extra emphasis on the positioning of units. I think this is a really strong point for KoW. But it should be noted there were some downsides too we felt – even within this tiny skirmish we had to get out and measure some very precise ‘front arc’ stuff as the Skulks tried to avoid being charged yet still position to shoot, and similarly I spent a movement phase with one of the Goblin regiments shuffling it back and forth to find the perfect spot where it couldn’t be combo-charged but could charge itself (had the Orcs not backed off anyway). If I hadn’t had a handy arc template already it would have been really hard to see the lines needed – and I can immediately see why something like those cool laser pointers I’ve seen other wargamers use in online battle reports would be REALLY useful for Kings of War, possibly almost a necessity to play at a high level. Exact millimetre positioning was also emphasised even moreso than other games we’d played before, due to the completely non-random nature of the movement (at least with the units we were using here), so, for example, Rob wanted to always position his Godspeaker exactly between 10.1″ to 12″ away from the Goblins to cast his Fireball spell at them but stay out of charge range, and I did similarly with my Wiz later on. One of the critiques I’d heard about KoW was that movement was too simplified and “easy” compared to the more complex wheeling mechanics in other games, however I didn’t find that at all. With only being able to do one 90 degree pivot, and only direct-line movement if they wanted to march, I thought there was plenty enough complexity in the movement phase too with the regular units, and you really needed to think ahead with your positioning, possibly even moreso than in some other games.
I did enjoy the way the melee played out once we reached it, with a bit of thrust and counter-thrust going on. I’m not totally sold on having so many options even for engaged units – I’ve seen some fascinating discussion about the super-gamey elements this introduces in KoW, like the vaunted ‘corkscrew charge’ I’ve read all about online which I find very disappointing to have been kept in the rules on purpose into this new edition, as it seems more like a bug that should have been corrected to me. I’m also wary that we perhaps only got an interesting protracted melee situation due to the lack of “killy” units we had taken. I’ve read other criticisms of KoW about how it often comes down to wiping out whole undamaged units in single strike – before they even get to do anything, even in melee, thanks to the super turn-based nature of the KoW rules, but it was pleasing we didn’t have any issues with that. But it’s something I will keep an eye on how that pans out with more competitive armies anyway, as the melee rules start to kind of break down for me and makes it sound more like chess ‘taking pieces’ than a wargame if units don’t at least get to strike back once.
Despite all that ‘technical’ play, there was still a large element of luck of course, especially with the Nerve rolls, as much like in most of my T9A QS games it was clear from reviewing how the game had gone, a couple of points of difference on Nerve rolls here and there would have totally flipped how the game went. That’s to be expected to be an extreme case of that with such small sides of course, but I can still see how a critical nerve roll could swing a game massively, and can understand better some of the griping I’ve seen online for KoW regarding the dreaded “snake eyes” on a Nerve check – which Rob actually managed to roll once in this battle too! – albeit on a barely damaged unit so it was irrelevant anyway. The Devastated rule seemed like a good one for an extreme case of this, however what really struck as the underlying thing we didn’t like was that (short of the rare Devastated situation) units stay at literally full combat strength in KoW always, irrespective of incurred damage. This was really different to anything we’d experienced before and whilst I can understand the nod to simplicity here, I don’t really like it overall. I would much prefer a variant of KoW where units did also get weaker as they took damage. I’m looking forward to receiving the Kickstarter for the new edition of Battleground: Fantasy Warfare later this year, as I think from my brief readings of the rules for that game, it is actually quite close to this. For KoW itself of course it would be completely impractical to change this now that the game is so far down it’s “multi-basing” path with it’s most hardcore players, but some way of damaged units being ‘reduced’ down to the next smallest unit size sounds immediately like it would have had some potential. eg: A paradigm change to the rules for sure, but I could imagine something like having damaged regiments being replaced by a Troop of the same type for example, and only Troops would just immediately totally rout or something – but alas, anything along these lines this would be too huge a shift for KoW from now on it would seem. A shame, for my gaming tastes anyway.
Speaking of multi-basing though, whilst I can never see myself doing that, as I don’t like either the aesthetic nor being tied to playing a single wargame system, one thing this test game showed me was how much better experience, given the precision of positioning needed, having a movement tray of the exact size – ie: without a lip – was for Kings of War. The way I’d tried this out in this game was one of my Rabble regiments was equipped with magnetised bases and were placed on top of a lip-less metal sheet coated tray from Battlefields Factory. I wanted to see if this was actually potentially more annoying to play with, perhaps making them harder to pick up and move about, or if models would fall off too readily etc. But it really wasn’t, it was just outright better in all ways than using the basic movement trays I’d made myself from plasticard years ago. So I can definitely see myself splashing out to get a whole load of these made-to-measure sooner rather than later now – as well as the far more tedious task of gluing magnets to the bases of 100s of my miniatures! But this was something I was hoping to do anyway to make me potentially far more mobile with my models in the future too… although one thing that also struck me for KoW specifically was that it would be even easier to play without the trays being fully filled with models – especially to avoid weapons and limbs sticking out over the sides etc. and also to allow a place to put a damage counter or a wavered or objective token etc within the unit – I think that there could potentially be a cool compromise between playability, compatibility with other rules systems, and looking nice on a tabletop here. Another thing that I still really want for all kinds of ranked-up-models games are some kind of clear plastic ‘stands’ for when units are partially on a piece of terrain. I’ve got a perfect one for a unit half-on a hill in the form of one of my dice boxes, which happens to be almost the exact height I made my hills. But I would love to get more of these of varying heights etc in clear plastic so as to minimally spoil the “look” of the battlefield when moving units, yet also keep the potential for exact positioning of a unit when it’s going across a wood, hill, hedge or wall. I’ve sadly never seen anything like this online anywhere for sale and I’m shocked there isn’t someone making it as it seems like it would be good for a lot of folks to me. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places? Of course 2D terrain is the option I’ve seen used by some tournaments via reading online reports from them – and I can obviously see why it’s the top solution for the best “pure gaming” experience. But sadly it just looks a bit naff to me, especially when players have gone to all the trouble to paint beautiful 3D miniature models, and then the terrain doesn’t live up to it’s side of the bargain! Another thing I’ve seen is hybrid 2D terrain with normal terrain on top that is removed when units move over it. That could be pretty cool as well I think, but would be a lot more work for me to do for my own tabletop setup – especially as I’ve already got some options for that already with removable trees in my woods etc.
In a discussion on facebook a few weeks ago in the “Kings of War Fanatics” group someone told me (due to a discussion about T9A Quickstarter) that Kings of War did not need any form of ‘Quickstarter edition’ as it was simple enough anyway. However, I was a bit dubious about that, and after going through this experience, I now completely disagree with that. Whilst I agree that KoW doesn’t need a further simplified rules experience, having some pre-made small “suggested” army lists etc to learn with would be a massive help to anyone starting out cold. These would then have a few pages of print out summary lists of stats & rules, reminder rules, turn-sequence etc – essentially all the good stuff that the T9A Quickstarter has, I felt was really missing from this experience, especially if it wasn’t two veteran (if a bit out-of-touch :P) gamers playing like we were! It would have massively alleviated all that rulebook flicking and I honestly expect anyone starting out wargaming completely with just the KoW book and some models would be in for quite a struggle without some help. I guess it’s fair to say that just isn’t the target audience for KoW though, but still, anyone who’s followed this site will know how much I care about the ‘new player experience’ at any type of game, so it would be nice if Mantic went a bit further with this in my opinion. I should also note, with enough time to prepare it of course, myself or someone from the community could conceivably make the kind of “starter sheets” I would have loved too (legal issues from Mantic notwithstanding anyway if it was shared anywhere online though!). In addition, a talk-you-through-it ‘lengthy’ rules example in the rulebook of a mini-battle could potentially have quickly solved all of the simple rules confusions we ran into, if for example it went through a few turns of units manoeuvring, some charges, shooting, melee, Nerve states etc & with references to all the standard rules that came into play.
Somewhat ironically it looks like the KoW 2nd edition might have had something more like I was hoping for with the “Battle of the Glades” supplement in their 2 player starter set back then, but as far as I could find out online around release time, the new 3rd edition KoW 2-player box set doesn’t have anything like this any more (albeit it has much nicer models though from the looks of things!)
Hopefully this doesn’t all sound too negative though. I knew going into this, from what I’d read, there was no way Kings of War was going to scratch all my wargaming itches anyway, but I still really like the potential of it for certain kinds of games and I definitely want to play a lot more! If only Orcs and Goblins weren’t two separate armies it would be far more easy to get into for me, but alas, with my model collection about 50:50 between the “two” factions (that should always be one to me!) I need to paint a fair few more of one of the two to make anything like a sensible KoW army, rather than an army with a bunch of random allies just to make the points up. And first of all I need those better movement trays and magnets anyway before I could play a larger sized game. I should also note I’ve not yet had the time to re-read back through the rulebook yet to see if, with more time to read, a lot of my queries could be easily resolved. I expect some of them would be, but I deliberately wanted to write this without doing that to get a true state of a newbies “unprepared” experience documented as it were, for hopefully others to learn from and improve upon. I know I definitely will do the next time I get the chance to play Kings of War 😀