Given Mantic's recent announcement of Warpath. their forthcoming 28mm Sci-Fi game. I thought that I'd take a look at their current 28mm Fantasy war game, Kings of War. What's it like? How is it different from GW's games? Is it a compelling alternative?
Once upon a time, in the late 80's and early to mid 90's, I used to play Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
I quit the game for good, along with 40K, in 2003 for the same reasons everyone else does. Insane price increases combined with a frustrating play experience. In my case the game was always the same. My Dwarves would shoot up the enemy's big nasty Cav unit as it approached. Then the 5-6 survivors would charge straight into my King and his Elite guard, killing the entire front rank and running me down in a single turn. Talk about frustrating. It always seemed like every enemy army I fought was better at moving, fighting, or shooting than I was. They weren't avoiding my best elites, they just ran up and killed them without worry. No fun at all.
Fifth Edition 40K got me back when I played a game at the north store with my old Guard models and (shockingly) had a lot of fun! Instead of just lining up on either side of the board and shooting, you had to move around and grab objectives. Suddenly 40K had the depth to arouse my interest in playing the game itself, as opposed to simply painting the models. As I re-learned the game, it was obvious that things were more balanced and interesting now than they were when I first played 40K back in '98 during the changeover from 2nd to 3rd edition.
But what did I hear about 7E Fantasy? Same old crap. Nice core rules, but lots of broken army books and invincible magic/cavalry. Want to play Dwarves again? Good luck with that. You get one crappy (and very static) mono-build. Yeah. I'll pass on that.
8th Edition came out last year and I did have some interest in pulling out the old models and trying it. But GW kept me away from the game by releasing a ridiculously overpriced, heavy, and poorly bound rulebook. From what I've heard, they've 'rebalanced' the game by randomizing it even more than it was already. Random movement, extremely random magic, and whatnot.
Increased randomness is hardly what I want to see as a competitive player. GW's games are already random enough. Less Chess or Go than Monopoly or Poker. But making them even more random takes them into the realm of Sorry or Candyland. Sure, it gives weaker players/books more of a chance. But at the expense of sticking it to the players that know what they're doing. "Congrats! You maneuvered perfectly. But I rolled super-well on my random spell and just wiped out half your army! Oh, you didn't make any of your charge rolls. Woohoo!"
Yeah, I'll pass on that too.
So coming from the perspective of someone who's frustrated with the current state of WHFB, what is Mantic's offering like? I'll be testing the system with actual play later this week and/or next. But here are my first impressions after reading through the 12 pages of rules. Which you can download from Mantic's site, along with the army lists for each race, for free.
1) It's Easy To Learn
I spent less than an hour reading the rules and I feel like I'm ready for my first game. That's... Pretty odd when I still can't get 40K's rules 100% right after over a hundred games.
1) It's Pretty Deterministic
This is not a very random game. Movement involves no rolling at all. Each unit has a set movement speed. Standing still lets you pivot any way you like. Moving at your base speed lets you move forward with a single pivot of up to 90°. You can march at double speed without turning. Difficult terrain or moving backward cuts your movement in half.
The only time you'll roll dice is when you're attacking or taking a leadership (Nerve) test.
The feel of the game's rules is much more like Space Hulk or Epic than WHFB or 40K.
2) It's Unit Based, Not Model Based.
To me, this is the oddest thing about Kings of War. In this game, you don't act on individual models at all. The only interactions happen between units. Units attack each other and cause damage, but no models are removed unless the unit is destroyed/runs. While damaged units will always fight at the same strength as fresh ones. What?
That's the dynamic. You attack a unit with ranged weapons or in melee and cause 'damage'. This damage is cumulative and affects the unit's ability to pass a Nerve (Leadership) test at the end of the shooting or assault phases. There's 3 possible results of this test. To easily pass and be 'Steady', to barely pass and be 'Wavering', or to fail and be 'Routed'.
Routed units are simply removed from the table, never to be seen again. While wavering units have their movement options severely limited. Interesting.
3) It's Very Simplified.
There is no special charging or assault move. If you can touch an enemy unit at the end of your normal move, you're in combat. If you're in combat, you'll get to attack in your melee phase. Once you're done with combat, you have to move back an inch.
If your enemy isn't routed or wavering, he can move into you and roll his attacks. If he's wavering, he can try and move back or change his facing. That's it. It puts a premium on being the first one into combat, as you can stun your opponent and force him to try and flank-charge you with other units to extricate himself.
So how do you attack? Well, every unit has an attacks characteristic in it's statline. It tells you how many dice you get to roll when shooting or in melee. You then have to roll over your Melee or Ranged characteristic to hit your opponent. Once you've hit, you have to roll over the target unit's Damage characteristic to cause damage. There are some special rules that give bonuses to the damage roll, but there is no saving throw. You keep track of damage with some dice or whatnot and every unit that's damaged in a shooting or melee phase has to make a Nerve test as discussed above.
War Machines have standard ranges and a set number of attack dice. A Dwarf Cannon, for instance, has 6 dice that hit on fives with a +3 to wound. While the Organ Gun gets 12 dice with a +1 to wound.
Heroes are just one-man units with no facing. You can't join them to other units, they always work alone.
Building a list is similarly simplified. For each unit type in the army lists, there are 3 set sizes you can buy. Dwarf Ironwatch, for instance, are the ranged attack troops of the Dwarves. They can be bought as a unit of 10, 20, or 40 models.
The primary differences between the unit sizes are the number of Attacks (At) and their Nerve (Ne). Small units have a lot of firepower for the cost, but they'll run when spit at. While that Horde of 40 models is going to take a LOT of punishment before running.
Notice the unit options? There's hardly any. You can take a Banner to boost your Nerve, and a Musician to hurt the nerve of your opponent. Most units stop there. These guys can swap their crossbows for the slightly more killy rifles.
Your units come with Champions, but they're only there to help line up units in assault and determine Line of Sight to targets. Heroes can't join units, they just wander about on their own.
4) It's Very Abstract
In a way this is both a boon to the game and a detriment. On the one hand the system is so non-specific that you can use almost any models you want to. As opposed to the strict WYSIWYG that GW's games enforce, in KoW there is no delineation between light and heavy armor or whether you have a shield or not.
The Dwarves, for instance, have troop types that seem to correspond to standard warriors with shields, elites with shields, crossbow/riflemen, elites with double handed weapons, and bezerkers (which are basically slayers). However you have to work all that out from looking at the stats for each unit. Since there is no definition listed for what an "Ironclad" or "Shieldbreaker" should look like. Apart from pulling up Mantic's online catalog and looking at the models they sell for these. Where, funnily enough, you get the short fluffy descriptions that are missing in the army lists themselves.
So, it's not as limiting. But at the same time it's missing the details that give a unit character. Instead of your wizards throwing fireballs or lightning, for instance, they just have a number of attack dice and need 4+ to hit. Instead of laying a flame template over the target and counting the number of men you hit, you (again) get a certain number of dice, a to-hit number, and maybe a bonus to wound/damage.
It's more than a little strange, and I'll have to see it in action to tell whether I like it or not.
5) It Looks Fast
I'll see how it actually goes in testing, but it seems like a couple of veteran players could probably get a 1500 point (6-7 units, some heroes, and 2-3 war machines) game done in under an hour. That's a huge potential benefit for competitive play. As you could do a proper win/loss tourney in a single day.
At least in theory.
Is it too fast? Too streamlined? We'll see.
6) The Battles Do Seem Interesting
Here's a cool battle report that shows how a KoW game unfolds. Much like a game of Warhammer. But presumably faster.
That's my initial impression of the game without having yet played it. As a whole, I don't see it knocking over WHFB anytime soon. It's too dry and just not characterful enough yet. But the foundation and framing of the house is there, so to speak. A lot will depend on how well Mantic/Alessio adds the details and the character (as they say they have planned) to what they've done so far.