Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Kings of War, Second Edition Rulebook

Kings of War, Second Edition
Publisher: Mantic Games
Cost: Free (For Basic Rules/$24.99 (Gamer’s Edition)/$39.99 (Full Rulebook)
Page Count: 208
Release Date: 07/13/2015 (Kickstarter Backers)/August 2015 (Everyone Else)
Get it Here: Mantic Games!

With the Age of Sigmar upon us, this leaves Kings of War as the only traditional mass fantasy wargame on the market. Sure you can play Age of Sigmar with hundreds of pieces, but the rules are very different than traditional Warhammer, making it a different game altogether. King of War however, makes no attempt to hide its true nature as a Warhammer clone. There are some differences but the game is extremely similar in scope and design. This means if you choose to neither play Age of Sigmar nor an older version of Warhammer since it is no longer supported, Mantic Games will happily welcome you into the Kings of War fold. Now, since I do not have any Mantic products yet (I did the 2e Kings of War and Dungeon Saga Kickstarters, but those won’t start to arrive until later this summer.), so I had to test out the rules and the game using my Games Workshop armies – Tomb Kings and Bretonnians. There are no Lizardman equivalent rules so they just sat unloved during the playtest. I used the Tomb King’s as Mantic’s undead and Bretonnia as both Kingdoms of Man and Basileans. I do have Undead (Which I originally picked up to make a Vampire Counts army out of…whoops), Basileans and Abyssal Dwarves coming. Having monkeyed around with KoW 2e for a week now with the help of the full rulebook I can honestly say it’s a fine alternative to Warhammer and I’m looking forward to my armies. I still prefer Warhammer 5/6e, but everyone has their favorites and there is nothing wrong with that.

There are three big things I noticed about the rulebook for Kings of War, Second Edition. The first is that it is very short. Coming in at only 208 pages, it’s the size of some skirmish rulebooks and notably smaller than most full-on wargame rulebooks. This is partially because the rules for Kings of War are very very light. It’s a much faster past game than Warhammer 1e-8e and there aren’t as many spells, items and options to choose from. At the same time because of this, that means the game’s strategy is not as deep, so you’re sacrificing depth for speed and ease of play. I think that’s a fair trade-off although which side you prefer is really going to be totally up to you. It’s also worth noting that only the first 89 are devoted to rules and fluff. Again, this is really sparse and to be honestly, the fluff of Kings of War is extremely lacking, at least in this book. It’s sup-par writing and the overall world story is pretty bland/uninteresting. I know this will probably be improve as 2e goes on, but storytelling has never been a strong point of Mantic which is why I waited until the 2e Kickstarter to give them a try. I need a good narrative with my wargame. I also know a lot of gamers get the Mantic armies and then either use Warhammer fluff and/or its rules as well. I think that’s a disservice to Mantic and their creation but for those looking for a gripping story full of well written characters, you won’t find that in Kings of War – at least not in the core rulebook.

On the other hand, the rest of the rulebook contains army lists for eleven different Kings of War armies and that’s fantastic. If you’re used to old school Warhammer making you buy the core rulebook and then codexes for each army (which could be $50 bucks a pop) just to have an army list – well, Mantic doesn’t nickel and dime you like that. Sure you lose all the fluff but you more than make up with that is money saved…which you can then spend on pieces of plastic crack to glue and paint. 113 pages of the rulebook are all stat lines for your potential armies and that to me is fantastic. EVERY miniatures game, from Warmachine to Batman Miniature Game should take this tactic. Hell, even Games Workshop has done that with Age of Sigmar via PDF battlescrolls. Mantic has really pioneered the industry here and I’m very thankful for it. Even better, there are stats for figures that Mantic hasn’t produced yet, showing off some very forward thinking. I was really happy to see that. It means you won’t be stuck months from now having to purchase an addendum for your armies. Maybe a year or two down the road, especially if you will be converting your Lizards or Skaven to Kings of War, but for now, you’re pretty much set with this single purchase.

Speaking of army lists, one thing that really is different between Kings of War and Oldhammer is how point lists work. In most miniature games, points are by model. In Kings of War points are by Unit Size. So instead of say, 7 points for a skeleton archer (like for my Tomb Kings), you would pay 75 points for a set of ten skeleton archers, 100 for twenty archers or 165 for forty archers. Does that make sense. Whether or not you prefer this setup is really up to. I have to admit, it was a pretty big change for me, especially since the larger size force you can have is forty figures, which is well, a fraction of my Khalida skeleton archers, but once you get used to the size and point difference, it’s really instinctive and easy to use. If you’re bad as multiplication, the Kings of War model will be a lot easier on you to use.

Rules-wise, Kings of War is laid out very similar to Warhammer, but then, that’s the whole point. Movement, terrain, turn order and even the exact phases are the same between the two games. It’s just KoW offers less options in order to streamline play. You also don’t remove models from a unit when they die. Instead you just put a marker on them to show they are no longer active/alive. Doubles are not a thing in Kings of War unless you roll Snake Eyes or Boxcars during your Nerve (morale) rolls. Really, if you’ve ever played Warhammer, you should be able to figure out Kings of War in a few minutes to under an hour. The good news is that 99% of the people who pick up Kings of War will have some cursory experience with Warhammer Fantasy, so you can just bring your old armies to the table, have a friend help you convert them using this rulebook and you are able to play.

Now that I’ve spent time using my old Warhammer armies with the Kings of War rules, I’m looking forward to getting my three new Mantic armies and painting them up. At worst, I find KoW isn’t for me and use those armies with Warhammer 5/6/8e as Chaos Dwarves and Vampire Counts. At best, I will become a convert to the Kings of War system. I’ll admit that right now I find Mantic’s sculpts far less impressive than Games Workshop’s and the company’s communication issues are pretty bad. However, the rules are extremely tight, the book is well laid out (if not well-written) and the potential for multiple campaign/fluff books can only help the system grow. Kings of WarWarhammer this is your only currently available option. I do wish there was more fluff, or that was here was more interesting/better written, but that’s probably me just being used to GW products. I absolutely love that all the army lists are in the book because you can just buy the book and use it to see which army sounds like the most fun to build.

Kings of War has been around for a while, but 2e is coming out at the perfect time, with a lot of disgruntled Warhammer Fantasy players hating Age of Sigmar simply for being something new and different. Mantic has a real opportunity to grow at an amazing speed (and thus make a lot of money) with Kings of War, Second Edition. The question is whether or not they can capitalize on the timing. For me personally, I’ll be playing KoW here and there, but as I live in Warhammer central for the US, It’ll be hard for me to find people who will want to try it out. Right now I don’t know anyone IRL that is even interested in the game, but I do know a lot of people online who love the game. My advice is get the rulebook and see if you like the general rules and the army lists. If so, you have a new game to try and even potentially replace Warhammer with your gaming buddies. I’m very happy with the rules of Kings of War even if Mantic’s models are extremely hit or miss with me. You still have a few weeks to preorder the rulebook and an army if you want to get in on the ground floor of second edition. I have a feeling I’m going to prefer Dungeon Saga, but then I’m far more in need of a new Heroquest clone than I am Warhammer.

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  • Jay Shepherd

    Good review. I feel the game is light on magic items and spells, content if you will. But it is quite a bit more strategic on the table as compared to warhammer fantasy. In Warhammer fantasy, a great many games are decided in the meta game, or in the army build. Just about every game I’ve played of kings of war has come down to how a player deployed, and moved their troops. Being able to think ahead, like in chess, is essential in kings of War. Just my opinion though.

    A side note, I like warhammer 5th Ed too, best of the lot.

  • Alexander Lucard

    I think the lack of magic is due to KoW emulating older versions of Warhammer rather than later ones. Of course, it could also be they are saving the bulk of magic for a supplement ala what Warhammer used to do. Who knows?

    I do find it to be a fun game. It’s a nice alternative to WFB. Glad to see another 5e fan!

  • Jay Shepherd

    I’m hoping so.

    5th edition warhammer was so broken, but man it was fun.

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  • Pete Jones

    Drawing comparisons with the late Warhammer Fantasy is kind of inevitable, Kings of War is visually very similar and both are ‘fantasy mass battle’ games, but once you start playing they are very different games. I played both, and Kings of War is far and away my favourite, but I’ll try to explain what I feel makes them different without saying ‘A’ is better than ‘B’

    At one point the reviewer says “you’re sacrificing depth for speed and ease of play”. I don’t feel this is strictly true. Although Kings of War definitely has ‘ease of play’ (which is why it’s my personal favourite), but I don’t think it lacks depth.

    Of course it depends what you mean by ‘depth’, but my take on it is Warhammer had *strategic* depth, whereas Kings of War has *tactical* depth. In tabletop wargaming of this kind, ‘strategy’ manifests itself in terms of building lists, equipping items, spells and upgrades working out the best combinations and tinkering to make your units as good as possible, whereas ‘tactics’ are what you do in turns 1 to 7, i.e. moving units into position, prioritising targets, setting up charges at key moments to win the day.

    Now, both games have enjoyable strategic and tactical elements, and you need to get both right to be a great player, but with Warhammer I always felt that the emphasis was on building a strong list was the key to victory, whereas with Kings of War its more about outfighting your opponent on the battlefield.

  • Pete Jones

    The way magic is handled in KoW is to ensure it plays a supporting role rather than dominating the game. You can use spells to cause damage, buff your own guys, speed up slow units and push back the enemy, but what you can’t do is wipe out a whole battle line in a single turn. I like it that way, it’s a battle game that involves magic users rather than being a duel between two wizards.