I was recently lucky enough to be part of Mantic’s Virtual Open Day, playing in the game live streamed by Dash28, giving a sneak peek at the upcoming supplement book focused on magic and playing big narrative games.
If you haven’t watched the livestream yet, I’d strongly recommend checking it out. Matt James from the Rules Committee, who has written the new book, commentated on the game and gave us a fantastic sneak peek at some of the upcoming rules from the new magic supplement.
Getting a preview of the new rules made me realise that they have the potential to fix a problem with Kings of War that’s been nagging me for a while. Its a brilliant tactical game, but not always great for laid back ‘fun’ games – a ‘beer and pretzels’ game as the Americans say.
When I was chatting to Matt before the game, he told me that he’d been a huge fan of the Storm of Magic campaign book back in Warhammer Fantasy. One of his big motivations behind this new book was to allow players to recreate that narrative feel of huge armies clashing on magical battlefields.
I think Matt put it best (I’m very much paraphrasing here);
“When you were first drawn to fantasy wargaming, was it because you liked blank bases, checking angles and calculating the averages on any given dice roll? Or was it because you were drawn in by the idea of a thousand Goblins facing down a charging dragon on a battlefield rolling in magical energy?”
Honestly for me, it was a bit of both. I’ve always preferred the ‘game’ element of wargaming, but what’s kept me engaged and pulled me in deeper is the hobby and the story.
And I’ve recently started to feel like I’m missing the story. Kings of War is an excellent tournament game, but I don’t feel engaged with Pannithor or any of the other fluff.
Is Kings of War bland?
I’m a tournament gamer through and through and tournament play is how I most enjoy playing wargames. Despite having the reputation as the ‘nice Northern King’, I go to tournaments to try and win. I always ensure to be sporting and a good opponent but my primary goal is to win as many games as I can and if possible, the event.
My list building and model collections reflects that mindset. When I’m writing a list or comparing a unit, my first (and really only) thought is how it plays in a competitive sense – how fluffy or thematic the unit is rarely has any baring.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the days of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, tournaments were a sideshow to my main method of playing games – having friends round with a takeaway and a beer. I would frequently host 10,000 point games at my house with 3 or more players on each side of the table. These games were never tactical or even required all that much thinking (they did involved a fair amount of alcohol) but they were certainly always fun. I picked my army for that game based on what looked the coolest or fitted with the theme we were playing.
So has Kings of War pushed me away from narrative wargaming or have I just become boring?
For some reason in Kings of War, I’ve never really been drawn to repeat these massive games. I know that some have; I often see photos of huge games taking place around the world on the Fanatics Facebook page but for me I haven’t ever been interested.
I know that some of this is down to practicalities. Sadly real life has caught up with me over the past few years and one of the reasons that 95% of my Kings of War games now take place in tournaments is because I find it much easier to fit tournaments around my family life than I do having friends over mid-week. This has also inevitably meant that the few games I do play at home are geared towards tournament practice.
But I don’t think this is much of a reason – if I was really interested in playing more narrative driven games I’m sure I would have found the time.
I need a connection!
I don’t find myself emotionally connecting with any of the heroes and units in the same way as I did with Warhammer. In the days of Warhammer, my Chaos Lord had a name, a back story and I was emotionally connected to the character. I can still tell you of times where he single handily took out a Steam Tank or faced down an entire horde of Ogres – I can also remember many more times where he failed me miserably! I don’t have the same connection with my heroes in Kings of War.
While I think the Exemplar Redeemer is an excellent tactical choice, I haven’t given him a name or feel any connection to him other than his performance in the game -he’s just a stat line to me!
I think this is down to the level of customisation that was available in Warhammer. By building your heroes from the ground up with all the different elements you could customise, they really became ‘yours’. This isn’t something that I’ve experienced with Kings of War.
The units in Kings of War feel less like physical representations of characters you’re invested in and more like anonymous chess pieces.
I should say that I think Kings of War is a better game than Warhammer ever was. It’s an excellent game with a fantastic rules set. It’s kept me completely engaged since the start of 2nd Edition and I don’t want the core of the game to change.
But there will always have to be compromises – in the pursuit of simple rules, tactical play and excellent balance, Kings of War has had to compromise on its ability to produce the over the top, wacky fun that Warhammer could.
So, could the new supplement change that?
Being one of the few people in the world to have played a game using (some of) the new rules I thought I’d share my thoughts.
It’s definitely NOT for tournaments – and that’s a good thing
One thing that I really like is the clear separation between the upcoming magic supplement and the tournament game. I think Matt’s been very clever here and the way he’s designed the rules means that it is pretty much impossible for the supplement to be used in a tournament setting.
This is because players will need to change their army lists based on which Plane or reality you’re doing battle on. This would be a complete no-go for a tournament setting, but is absolutely fine for two players meeting up for a casual game.
The inability to use these rules in a tournament setting is excellent, because it means that the supplement can divert away from the usually sacrosanct Kings of War balance, in lieu of just plain stupid fun.
Elements like the Channelling Table or Plane specific allied units that all armies can take, would be pretty much impossible to balance in the core game. But in a supplement aimed at narrative battles, who cares?
Without the limitation of tournament balance, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Mantic and Matt come up with.
A Lived in World
The rules for terrain and battlefields in Kings of War work really well in terms of gameplay – they’re well balanced, simple and clean. Equally, the Epic Dwarf map packs that the majority of tournaments (including the Northern Kings) use ensures that tables are fair and balanced for all players. However, put both of that together and battlefields start to feel a little clinical. Perhaps even boring?
I know that the Rules Committee have always been nervous about adding extra rules for terrain, or including things likes a set height for hills etc. They were nervous about doing this because as soon as you do, everyone plays it one way forevermore. Sadly, I think that has happened anyway and the ‘tournament standard’ has just become the standard. Terrain in Kings of War has becoming boring.
Fair – yes. Balanced – yes. But boring.
The new supplement introduces some Plane specific terrain pieces with their own special rules – adding a bit of much needed character to the battlefield. The effects of these special terrain pieces are subtle, but I think they go a big way towards making a battlefield feel ‘lived in’.
Rather than fighting yet again on generic green field #6 with two hills, two forests and two walls etc. your two great armies can clash amongst the burning flame pits of the Abyssal Plane! With the Wicked Ones tempting your forces into damnation, all the while wave after wave of Abyssal denizen strikes at your forces.
It’s a small change but I think it’s a really positive one. Again, I’m really looking forward to seeing the rules for the other Planes of reality.
It’s still Kings of War and there’s no bloody Purple Sun!
I’m delighted to report that even though this is a magic focused supplement, there isn’t a single Purple Sun in sight! If you don’t understand what I mean by that, congratulations you were spared the “fun” of a Warhammer Fantasy 8th Edition magic phase.
World ending spells are not fun, at least not for both players. They might be fun for one player that gets to hits the ‘auto-win’ button, but seeing as you’ve committed to a game that requires at least one friend to play, I can’t imagine you’d be able to hit that button too often before all your opponents dried up.
Luckily (as far as I’ve seen!) there are no such spells in the new supplement. Instead the spells and artefacts seem to be geared towards getting a greater variety of magic users on the board, each one shifting the battlefield in their own small but significant way.
The general principle of not having an uber powerful ‘deathstar’ unit doesn’t seem to have changed and I’m glad to see that.
It’ll be interesting to see if they push the boat out a bit with the new Living Legends though…
So am I excited?
From what I’ve seen so far – yes, very!
I’m really looking forward to the new supplement. When it’s released I’m going to get some friends round (if we’re ever allowed to do that again!) order a takeaway, crack open a beer or two… or three and play a 5,000 point game – and I genuinely can’t wait!
Whether or not its enough to turn Kings of War into a Beer and Pretzels game we will have to wait and see, but I’m quietly optimistic.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to the new magic supplement?
And does Kings of War ever feel more clinical than magical or it that just me?