The Kings of War Hardback Rulebook, a review

Kings of War is like Warhammer Fantasy Battles except it is much cheaper, quicker and simpler to play and it’s make by a company that actually gives a crap about its customers.

That, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know about Kings of War, but it’s not going to stop me from going on just a little bit longer about this fantastic game, and specifically about the Kings of War Hardback Rulebook.

kingsofwarA complete copy of the core Kings of War rules is available for free as a downloadable 32 page pdf from the nice people at Mantic Games. That includes army lists for Dwarfs, Elves, Orcs and Undead as well, and full army lists for all published factions are right there on the same page too, all for free. These rules are identical to the ones in the Hardback book (this ain’t no freebie starter booklet but the real deal), and the free pdf is also the same as the mini-rulebook that’s included in their Starter Army sets (expect a review of the Dwarf Army Starter Set real soon!).

What the Hardback Rulebook gets you is all that, and more. The £24.99, 144 page tome includes the world of Mantica, a full Campaign Setting with map and history. The details are glossed over just enough to make things interesting, but not so much that the detail stifles your own creativity or interpretation of events.

This accounts for the first 21 pages of the book, and what I like about it is that it while it presents a classic stereotypical fantasy realm, the races are shown to be flawed beings. Dwarven greed gave rise to Abyssal Dwarves and the various Elven kingdoms are far from united. The once great Human kingdom of Primovantor has fallen with Successor Kingdoms and numerous city states eyeing each other with wariness and hostility. Only the ultra-religious (complete with Paladins, Angels and a permanent smirk of arrogance) Hegemony of Basilea can claim to be the last great realm of mankind.

This is a realm where the forces of Good can most certainly fight the forces of Good, and those who fight one war can find themselves united against a common foe in the next.

The rules for mixed-Race armies in Kings of War are as simple as they are elegant; Good and Evil can never be on the same Army List (unless both players agree otherwise, of course) but Neutral Races can (and do) side with either. In order to limit players from fielding armies composed of nothing but Heroes or War Engines, an Army can only have 1 War Engine and 1 Hero (or Monster) per solid unit of 20 Infantry or 10 Cavalry, and they have to be from the same Army List as those forces. You couldn’t field a mixed force of Elves and Humans and take the maximum complement of all Elven Heroes, for example.

The next 30-odd pages of the rulebook cover the rules themselves. They’re identical to those found in the 32-page pdf, with more Magic Artefacts thrown in for good measure. I expect most players will use the Hardback Rulebook away from the table and the 32-page pdf (or mini-booklet) while playing; there’s no difference between them.

Armies are built to an agreed point limit (a 700 point skirmish say, or a 2000 point battle) and based in units of fixed size; Infantry is commonly based as a Troop (10 figures), Regiment (20) or Horde (40), with Cavalry usually fielded as a Troop (5 mounts) or Regiment (10 mounts). Heroes, Monsters and the like are treated as Individual figures. Troops and Regiments are based 5 figures wide, while Hordes are 10 figures wide.

Each game turn is split into three phases – Movement, Shooting and Melee – with one player doing all three before play passes over to the other player, so he moves all of his troops (those he wants to move), shoots with them all (those which can and he wants to shoot) then enters close combat. If a unit moved they have a -1 penalty to shoot (and if they moved At The Double! they can’t shoot at all), and a unit can only enter Melee if they Charged in the movement phase to come into base-to-base combat.

All dice rolls are d6s and the current player rolls all the dice on his turn. For example if a Troop of Elven Scouts shoot at an Orc Ax Regiment they roll 10 dice, needing 4+ to hit (-1 if they moved, -1 if over half range). Pick up the dice that hit and roll again, against the target’s defence (5+ for Orc Ax). Mark the successes with wound markers, and roll 2d6 + the total number of wounds against the target’s Nerve rating (for the Orc Ax, it’s 12/14). If it’s higher than the first the target is Wavering and can’t do much more than move away next turn. If it’s higher than the second the foe is wiped out, routed, eaten, or however you choose to interpret the result.

Because Wounds accumulate rather than come off a fixed total from a unit’s statline there’s a degree of uncertainty to the game that makes it great fun to play. A little Troop of Goblins could heroically survive right to the end despite taking countless Wounds (thanks to some very lucky Nerve rolls) while a tough unit of Dwarves could be taken out in a  turn before they’ve had chance to land a single blow. Kings of War manages to tread the fine line where great tactical play is rewarded yet nothing is ever quite a foregone conclusion. That’s no mean feat to achieve.

Melee combat works exactly as per Shooting, except for one key point: Flanking is everything. If you can Charge the side of your foe, the number of dice you roll to hit are doubled; if you hit their rear, they number of dice is trebled (!!!). That’s the difference between rolling 10d6 and 30d6 to hit with a typical unit, and woe betide any unit that gets hit from the rear by a Horde for 60d6 attacks. Ouch.

As you’d expect War Engines are particularly nasty blasty things and there’s a decent selection of Special Rules to emphasise the uniqueness of the different Races and troop types. The level of troop customization in the Army Lists is nowhere near what you’d expect compared to Warhammer Fantasy Battles, but that’s a part of the beauty of the game; this is a system for playing (pick troops, add Banner or Musicians and Magic Artefacts to taste, game on!) rather than one which demands use of a spreadsheet or specialist army list builder tools (though of course these exist too).

In play, the game is lightning fast, with a smallish 700 point game done and ready for a re-match in around 40 minutes. This means more chance to play and more time to refine your tactics and army list between battles. What’s not to love?

Following on from the core rules, the Hardback Rulebook offers optional Advanced Rules including Timed Games, additional rules for Terrain & Buildings, Multi-Player games, Siege Warfare and ongoing Campaigns. These can be mixed and matched or ignored as you require, and it’s recommended that you get a good few games under your belt before using them. The Siege Warfare rules in particular are likely to slow your gameplay down (as you’d expect, really).

The next 60-ish pages are given over to the Army Lists. These are each prefaced with Mantica specific lore and history, and interspersed with nuggets of information, stories and more. You get complete lists for Dwarfs, Elves, Kingdom of Men, Abyssal Dwarfs, Goblins, Orcs, Twilight Kin and Undead. It’s worth stressing again that this is a complete one-book wargame – to get the equivalent rules and Army Lists for Warhammer Fantasy Battles you’d need to re-mortgage your house! And what’s more because Mantic Games Are Nice People these Army Lists (without the Mantica fluff, of course) are downloadable for completely free too, along with additional Army Lists for Basileans and Ogres (Ogres are otherwise included in the Kingdoms of Men list). There are also many fan-made lists available which cover all of the Races from WFB, historical lists and more.

The book ends with an excellent index and the Tournament Rules, and that’s also a good place for me to wrap this up too with a quote from the Tournament Rules themselves.

Players are permitted to use non-Mantic miniatures in their armies.

This is a wargame where you can download the rules for free, get the army lists for free and use the figures you already own, even in official tournaments. It’s also darned good fun and plays brilliantly. Mantic Games are awesome.

And that, my friends, is why you should buy the Kings of War Hardback Rulebook. Because you don’t need to.



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