07th Jan2020

‘Kings of War: 3rd Edition’ Board Game Review

by Chris Thomas

I am a semi experienced tabletop wargamer and what brings me into Kings of War is both a “push” and a “pull” effect.

The “push” is, quite honestly that Games Workshop games are driven by model and book sales. As a publicly traded company that makes a lot of money from tiny plastic men and monsters (and books) this makes a lot of sense. However, what I have enjoyed most about Age of Sigmar (AoS) has been the mobility, charging little plastic cavalry around into enemy wizards, or desperately rushing an objective in turn 5. The game can be super swinging (especially with the double turn mechanic) but at its best it feels like high fantasy, WWE, backed by by acid prog rock. Burly gold men, fighting burly red men in the infinite volcano forever while the imaginary guitar solo makes my face bleed.

AoS was, a (silly) relatively simple, objective based game about positioning and movement – and that is great fun. As time has gone on there have been more and more endless spells, more and more terrain models for each faction and honestly, for me the purity of the nice tight rules has been more and more open to exploitation by list building. Lots of people patronize AoS calling it a “beer and pretzels game” but it was never that, it was more interesting and more tactical than that.

This has meant that Tournaments I went to in 2018 and 2019 felt painful at times. Before games even started I would know if I had a chance with my fluffy Legions of Azgohr (Chaos Dwarves) list or if I was just going to be pounded into mush by some Idoneth eels on turn 1. Really, there is nothing I can do to avoid this. I have no interest in playing the cheese lists myself – as much as I dislike being destroyed by an opponent that feels they are playing a different game to me, I have no interest in doing the same to some poor person who is there to have fun. The games I have, against likeminded people are still fun and create great, thematic moments, I just seem to have less of them.

For 40k the meat of the game is, even more than AoS in its list building. Perhaps, at the higher level this is no longer true, but generally, I have won or lost a game of 40k before a dice is rolled in anger. Lists win games, players just roll the dice.

In putting together, a list of units, abilities, synergies and command abilities that make the game feel broken. I love my Craftworld Eldar, I love the models, the lore, I love painting them but when I try to play a game of them against my (competitive) friend and his Imperial Guard, my best units get blown up and removed before I can use them if I don’t win the first turn role. I do everything I can to protect my fighter but each game it will get blown up, and the damage done would usually destroy it several times over. Then there is the fact there have been so many FAQs and updates that the whole thing is terribly confusing and unfriendly, while also not offering much fun to someone that doesn’t have any interest in “chasing the meta” as the (un)cool kids call it. For a long time, I felt it was my fault that I never actually had fun playing 40k. There were bits that were fun, but it was always in the face of the crushing, grinding come down.

My Baywatch themed Space Marines, their Primarch is naturally Hasselhoff.

My Baywatch themed Space Marines, their Primarch is naturally Hasselhoff.

In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium there is no space for me and my brand of nonsense. Only for cold, hard maths.

So – despite giving them thousands of pounds, I am fed up with Games Workshop. There, I said it.

The “pull” effect that draws me to Kings of War is that the game has just brought out a new edition (3rd) and for the first time it looks like a confident, professional release from a company that knows what it is doing. After 10 years of doing this it does look like Mantic can offer meaningful competition. They started off as a slightly shonky, Games Workshop knock off, the “megablox” to the Games Workshop Lego, but now they are the scrappy underdog. I get the nagging feeling that they don’t bleed their customers of enough money for them to sustain the challenge to Games Workshop’s dominance.

I have never played a “rank and flank” game before but what shocks me is how simple and streamlined Kings of War is. Rather than being slow and confusing it is extremely fast and clean. I won’t go into the rules in detail but the different steps to go through on your turn are movement, ranged (shooting and spells) then the hand to hand fighting. I also do all the dice rolling on my turn, which means I don’t have to wait for my opponent to bimble about making their save rolls. It is quick and fun.

Grrrrrrr!

Grrrrrrr!

All the rules and all the special rules for each faction are not only very transparent to both players, but they are also all available in 2 books (rather than spread across dozens). The core rules, lore and everything you need for factions Mantic makes models for (about 14) are available in the core rule book. For the approximately 16 factions that Kings of War has rules for, but they don’t yet make models for, you are going into a second book. But that is it.

It was about 35 quid for the main, hardback rulebook which is well over 400 pages long and packed with beautiful art, stories, rules. It is a treasure box of nerdy hobby all in itself.

Sorry to keep bashing Games Workshop, but to play one of their games you will need the core rules, the general’s handbook plus the book for your faction. If you want to know the rules for the many factions you will be facing, God help you. There is at least 1 book out a Month, it keeps endlessly spinning. With the new stuff generally being more powerful than the old stuff in an endless cycle. The rules for the different factions for Kings of War were all written at the same time and published all at once, there is no “codex creep” which, as a Games Workshop player I find extraordinary. The way lists are built are designed around buying basic units to unlock fancier ones, which makes the ability of players to rig the game with their list building far diminished. For someone who’s hobby is gaming, I am surprisingly rubbish at most games. But at least in Kings of War I feel I have a chance, I am not limited before the game starts by my list. A good player, with my army is going to win a lot of games and I have a reasonable chance to win games myself, using my brain.

What do you need to play? Well the rule book (we covered that) a tape measure, a load of D6 dice, templates and counters are handy but not required. You will need either a 4 x 4 feet table for little games or a 6 x 4 for full ones but honestly, your kitchen table or sitting room floor will do fine.

kow-img3

All my little blokes are on movement trays, the mechanics are intuitive, special rules are extremely simple and thematic. In AoS I was honestly getting extremely stressed out having to legally move my block of 60 goblin spearmen, one at a time. Then when it came to combat, how many of my spearmen are attacking which enemy unit? How many blokes with nets do I have? Kings of War is very stress free. Also, and this entirely at odds with Games Workshop. Mantic don’t really mind if you use models from other companies. In a world where you cannot take Foreworld models to some Games Workshop tournaments (Forgeworld is owned by Games Workshop) this is extraordinary.

When you take casualties in Kings of War you don’t remove individual models. This sounds a bit abstract and weird until you play that system and it makes life incredibly easy. You can also “multibase” if you want to. This means that 1 model doesn’t have to have its own little base if you don’t want it to. Thus, units can be beautiful little dioramas. I decided to individually base my models (this way I can also use my models for playing “Warlords of Erehwon”) but I magnetized the bases, and I also magnetized my movement trays, which is super cool. I also modelled little grave stones onto the movement trays for each unit, with space for a couple of dice on the grave site to keep track of how many of my unit have been killed.

My Wildlings Clansmen

My Wildlings Clansmen

There is a reason that Warhammer works so well as a PC game (Total War). You don’t have to buy, build, paint individual models, plus, the computer does all the maths for you, you don’t forget special rules on things like “rend”. On the other hand, as a 30 something who spends their life around screens I love the “analog” nature of the hobby and the Kings of War rules strike a brilliant balance of being quick and easy to learn, while being tricky to be good at. I have about 8 Months to practice before I join the big 2020 Tournament here in Germany.

I have gone in on the new faction for Third edition, the Northern Alliance. It is an alliance of elves, men, snow trolls, dwarves, ice elementals, sea people who have some new lore and a cool mystery. They combine wildling style people with some skyrim style stuff, and they just look super cool. I am lucky enough to have space for a permanent hobby space in my basement so, with my airbrush to do the heavy lifting and a lot of enthusiasm, I managed to finish 3200 points of stuff in 3 weeks.

Games Workshop have teased a new game, coming in 3 years that has square bases. They mentioned this just before Kings of War 3rd edition dropped. I don’t know what the future holds but Kings of War is a terrific game and, they show a gamer friendly, less money hungry alternative to Games Workshop without compromising on quality. In a way, it is a shame I spent half this review talking about Games Workshop, but it is the clearest way to show that Kings of War is something different and interesting. It is the Sega Dreamcast of tabletop wargames going up against Sony. Boy do I love an underdog.

My army to date

My army to date

What I am here for is fun, I am here to tell little stories with tiny plastic men and monsters as the game unfolds. For crazy nonsense to happen, for mighty heroes to fight crazy baddies and to whiff all of their attacks while I crumble in on myself in self-loathing. Me, shouting at my little plastic men for not doing better or for fleeing. I am here to have fun and forget how dark and serious the world is in 2020 and Kings of War is, right now, for me the best way to do that on a tabletop.

Off

Comments are closed.