Monday, August 5, 2013

Kings of War Battle Report and Game Review

It was inevitable -- after Karl and I split a huge box of random miniatures that we purchased at Little Wars earlier this year, we found ourselves awash in really cool fantasy miniatures. As we pawed through piles of old-school chaos warriors, Bob Olley dwarves and Ral Partha skeletons, we began sketching out ideas for playing some large-scale fantasy games. After considering a number of rulesets, we settled on Kings of War, which seemed to offer a fast-playing game that still allowed for pretty big, epic battles. The rulebook and army lists are available as free PDFs, but both Karl and I splurged for the nice hardcover rulebook.

We played our first game last week at Games Plus, our occasional game venue in suburban Chicago. The game might have taken place sooner, but Karl and I found that we needed a few extra weeks to paint and base our armies. As it was, we were able to muster armies of about 1,300 points -- basically medium-sized forces that were still below the 2,000-point threshold that Kings of War suggests for typical games.

We laid out a desert tabletop with a couple hills, a couple areas of scrub-brush and a small clump of barrels and crates near the center of the table. Kings of War is a mass battle game in 28mm, so it needs a big battlefield with less terrain that we typically use.

Karl arrayed his chaos forces along one table edge. A few of his guys are still shiny from the dip -- they were dry, but he hadn't sprayed them with matte sealer to take the shine off. Those are Confrontation werewolves in the foreground, from the prepainted plastic miniatures line by Rackham. They proved to be 1) very affordable and easy to get on the battlefield and 2) dead hard in the actual game! I fielded a block of 'em in my army, too.

I deployed my undead legions opposite him, trying to go for a tactical arrangement despite not really knowing how things would play out. I'm using custom movement trays from Litko, sized for the 25mm round circles that almost all of my undead guys use. In the background you can see my skeletal dragon. The rat swarm in front of the skeleton regiment is an actual unit upgrade in Kings of War!

We rolled for a scenario and got "Kill and Pillage," which is one of three very generic scenarios provided in the Kings of War rulebook. Basically we are both tasked with securing supplies (represented on the battlefield by oak barrels) and killing each other, with a six-turn time limit.

And then we were off! Karl's forces were much faster than my undead guys, so he surged forward and managed to get into combat in the second turn, when I was barely out of my deployment zone! Here his werewolves (the all-star unit for both of us in this game, as it turned out) and chaos lord crashed into my cavalry, which was attempting a sneaky flank move.

Shortly after this photo was taken, the cavalry took a big hit and then failed their Rout test and were removed from the table. Kings of War doesn't use individual figure removal to indicate damage to a unit -- rather, you just use a dice to track overall damage, and if the unit ever fails its Rout test, you just remove the entire block of troops from the table. This took some getting used too, since it was rather heartbreaking to remove 20 beautiful, handpainted skeletons from the table after a particularly brutal charge. But the game played fast, due in no small part to these rules!

After my cavalry evaporated into a fine red spray at the hands of Karl's werewolves, I knew I needed to get serious. I sent a block of skeleton archers charging into the flank of Karl's dragon, which suffered a bit of damage and then turned to face these bony aggressors.

Then I mobilized my own werewolves and charged them into Karl's main line of troops, eviscerating a block of chaos foot soldiers and threatening the chaos leader and standard bearer. My dragon brought up the rear in this assault.

Now, most of my photos show only the best, most decisive clashes in the game. But I left out the parts that showed how my flanks just collapsed under the combined weight of the werewolves, dragon and chaos cavalry that hit me from both sides. In both cases (again, not pictured due mostly to embarrassment) I had a 20-strong block of skeleton warriors that just fell to pieces after one or two rounds of combat. Oh look, turns out I did have a pic showing my skeletons getting turned into oversized toothpicks.

Yep, they're getting it from both ends in that photo. Victory was clearly Karl's in this game. However, it would have been interesting to play out a few more turns. I strongly suspect that our game would have devolved into "werewolves vs. werewolves," with both units (mostly unhurt) meeting in the middle of the battlefield to pound the crap out of each other. The werewolves were so potent on the battlefield (for both of us!) that before the game was even over we were already contemplating house rules or house limits on their use.

OK, now it's time for some closing thoughts from Karl and me.

Karl's Conclusion
So Kings Of War is exactly what I'd hoped it would be. The game was fast and didn't take much longer than a Song of Blades and Heroes game. The rules are really straightforward and there was comparatively little rulebook checking for a first-try of a new game.

Pat and I agreed that the game will probably balance and play much better at 2000 points. At our 1300-point limit, we didn't field quite enough units to really bring out the strategy of denying your opponent certain movements and supporting your own units through maneuvering.

My closing thoughts wouldn't be complete, however, without mentioning the mayhem that regiments of werewolves (equivalent in power to a "Horde" of most other units) can have in a game where almost all the other units are "Troop" level. My recommendation for games under 1500 points would be to limit the size of units to 20 for infantry, 3 for large infantry and 5 for cavalry. That would probably keep big units from smashing little ones too quickly as well as give each player enough units to really utilize strategy. All in all, a game I hope to play many more times. I'm painting more units for it now!

Pat's Conclusion
I had expected maneuvering to play a bigger role in Kings of War, since the unit footprints are really quite big and it's unrealistic to expect such big groups of figures to turn on a dime to face a flank threat. However, since each unit can rotate 90 degrees as part of its movement, and many units were able to rotate as many times as needed due to special rules, it never really felt like maneuvering was quite as important as it should have been.

Also, it was a big shock to play a game with such long move distances. Karl's cavalry and werewolves were charging from 18 inches away, which allowed him to reliably get into close combat on turn 2. That's a big increase from Song of Blades & Heroes, our go-to skirmish game, in which only a handful of figures can cover that much distance in a single turn.

I've concluded that I need more core foot troops like skeletons or zombies. Simply taking up space on the battlefield does not equate to combat prowess! My 20-man blocks of skeletons were dealt with easily by Karl's forces. Now, if I had another 20 or 40 skeletons waiting around to counter-charge....

Anyway, the games were fun and I think they'll be even more enjoyable once we can muster 2,000 points per player. Tim is already interested in basing up some of his miniatures for Kings of War, so look for more battle reports in the future.

 -- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member


  1. Interesting. I've been looking at these rules for a while.


  2. Wow, nice battle, but those rules seem a bit... hmm.. don't know. The movement definitely is quite big unless you were playing on an enormous battlefield which then would help I guess.

    I think the removing the whole unit thing is a bit harsh as well. Wouldn't they have a chance to recover their bravery in a real fight?

    1. Nate: Units have two stats, a "wavering" stat and a "routed" stat. If you roll over your wavering stat, you remain on the battlefield but can't do anything on your next turn. It's only when you blow your rout test that you're removed. But yes, I agree it's tough to pull off a huge block of gorgeously painted miniatures. These are the sacrifices you have to make (haha) for a fast-playing mass battle game like Kings of War.

  3. Just out of curiosity, what profile did you use for the undead dragon?

  4. We ran the undead dragon (as well as the other dragon) as "Vampire Lord on Undead Pegasus."

    Kings of War seems very permissive re: "counts as" units. Which is good considering that we'll need to use that option quite often!

  5. Great battle, I have the game and have been waiting to try it out.

    Just a quick mini question, does anyone have any idea what dragon figure that is? I really like the look of it. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jim,
      Glad you enjoyed the AAR. As for the Dragon, it's is a "Paint and Play" Dragon from the Safari toy company. A set containing two identical dragons and some cheap paint will run you about 15 bucks at Barnes and Noble. It's made of a material that is very similar to Reaper's "Bones". You can see more about it and a link to purchase in my army building post here:
      Even though it's a tad cartoony, I think it has a nice classic look, and the upswept wings make it very easy to rank up with other units on the battlefield.


  6. Cool, thanks for the tip, ordered from Amazon...

    Nice paint job by the way.