Kings of War
|Kings of War|
|Wargame published by
|No. of Players||2|
|Session Time||90 minutes|
|Authors||Alessio Cavatore, Matt Gilbert|
|Essential Books||Kings of War 3rd Edition, Uncharted Empires, Clash of Kings, Vanguard, Armada|
Kings of War is a 28mm scale "mass combat fantasy miniature range" and tabletop game from the upstart UK-based miniatures publisher Mantic Games. The miniatures are cheaper than the established competitors. Mantic's recent miniatures have been pretty high quality, especially for the price, but some of the older kits are a bit hit and miss.
Kings of War began as a war gaming project by Alessio Cavatore and Ronnie Renton in early 2010 who wanted to make a mass combat system. This led to a closed beta before the first public release of a two-player set called Mhorgoth's Revenge that included Dwarf and Undead forces in September 2010. Mantic had begun releasing fantasy models at this point, leading to a standalone rule release in December of that year that included rules for all currently existing models representing forces that would become the Dwarfs, Elves, and Undead. Following up on this, Mantic began releasing a publication that added rules for new models they produced, particularly forces for Abyssal Dwarf and Orc armies.
Mantic continued to release new models and rules in this fashion. In May 2012 they launched their first Kickstater campaign, seeking to release a full first edition of the game. In September 2012 they updated the main rule book to include all models currently in the range, creating army lists for Abyssal Dwarfs, Dwarfs, Elves, Kingdoms of Men, Orcs, Twilight Kin, and Undead. This release was a softback, followed shortly after by the hardback release from the Kickstarter. The hardback release also included a campaign system not found in the softback.
Three supplements were released for first edition. Kings and Legends added the Ogre and Goblins army lists, along with new living legend units for all existing armies. This was followed by Basilean Legacy which added Basilea, Forces of Nature, and Forces of the Abyss to the game, as well as adding more spells and magic artefacts for use by any army. The final supplement for first edition was Hellfire & Stone that added a new campaign, a handful of units, and a tie-in scenario for Dwarf King's Hold, the dungeon crawling game set in the same universe.
Another Kickstarter campaign was launched for second edition in November 2014, barely two years after the release of the 1st edition. The goal with the second edition was to bring the different armies into greater balance and give a role to army units perceived as useless. The project was successfully funded and second edition was release in August 2015. Eleven of the twelve armies were updated for this release, with Twilight Kin being dropped initially. With the abandonment of Warhammer Fantasy by Games Workshop around the same time, the rules committee began work on a supplement to add armies that existed in that game to Kings of War, as well as other fantasy themed armies from other existing miniature lines. The resulting supplement was released in November 2015 and called Uncharted Empires. This added Brotherhood, Empire of Dust, League of Rhordia, Nightstalkers, Ratkin, Salamanders, the Herd, Trident Realms of Neritica, and Varangur to the game.
A second supplement, Destiny of Kings, was released to backers in December 2015, with a public release in January 2016. This supplement adds twelve new missions split between two campaigns to the game. It also contains new living legend units for existing armies and a tie-in scenario for Dungeon Saga, the replacement for Dwarf King's Hold.
A third supplement, Historical Armies, was released in September 2016. This book used the Kings of War rules to create lists for 30 historical armies, allowing players to use amazing Warlord and Perry bros miniatures (amongst others) to once and for all end the debate over who would have won a battle, an Imperial Roman Legion, or the Aztecs. Plus, the armies are all completely compatible with regular Kings of War, and have some optional mythical units you can use to keep up with fantasy monsters, so your Chinese Middle Kingdom army can just go to town on your friend's Undead. It's slightly less historically accurate than breaking out a game of De Bellis Antiquitatis and arguing over the correct length of the spears on your Phalangites, and more towards the 'Bolt Action retells World War 2 starring Shia LaBeouf' end of the spectrum.
A fourth supplement, Clash of Kings: Organised Play Supplement, was first released in 2017, and adds a series of balance rules aimed at tournament play, along with new spells and magic artefacts, and guides to running your own tournament, and creating homebrew rules. Entirely optional for friendly play, it is intended to be an annual supplement. The 2018 release (which supersedes 2017) continued much along the same lines, but also added over 20 new units and living legends to 11 armies, along with long overdue rules for the Blaine and Ronaldo mercenaries.
A fifth supplement, Edge of the Abyss, was released in 2017. This book accompanied the global campaign of the same name, and added 14 new living legends, a handful of formations, and some new scenarios.
In October 2019, Mantic released Kings of War 3rd edition. Amongst general balancing and an expansion of the lore, the biggest notable changes are the addition of Titan class units - extra large monsters that go on 75x75mm bases - the swapping of some armies so that all the ones with Mantic mini support are in the main rule book, and all the others are in Uncharted Empires, and the master list/thematic list method of creating interesting new expansion armies. Also the world is now known as Pannithor, Mantica being relegated to a less often used continent name. Clash of Kings has continued to be released as an annual supplement, with Halpi's Rift the subtitle of the one released for the 2021 season.
Kings of War has 14 factions in the 3rd Edition core rule book:
- Abyssal Dwarfs: Chaos Dwarfs in Pannithor. Simpler put, they're Nazi Dwarfs. Slavers who focus on shotguns, war machines, and fiery golems. A new range of minis has been released in 2020 to replace the very old originals.
- Basileans: Mantic's own human faction, with their own distinctive style. Fluff-wise, the Basileans are a lot like the Byzantine empire and Catholic church, and can summon angels to help them. They have armoured knights, men at arms, and nuns riding GIANT CATS.
- Dwarfs: Exactly like all other Dwarfs in all other settings, hard and tough and beardy, but unlike Warhammer or Lord of the Rings Dwarfs, they are an expanding empire. In fact this section of the dwarf race should be called the IMPERIAL dwarfs. They have cavalry... BADGER CAVALRY!!!
- Elves: The elite, noble Elves, who are better than you. The Elves are 'good guys' but are responsible for a lot of bad things in Pannithor, including splitting the gods into good and evil half-gods, and educating a gifted human child who would grow up to be Mhorgoth the Faceless, the most feared necromancer in all of Pannithor. Fluff wise the Elven kindreds cover everything from high elves, wood elves, and dragon rider elves through to sailing sea elves, desert nomad elves, and ice elves, so plenty of scope for creative personalisation. Two elf 'theme lists' are included in Uncharted Empires; the Sylvan Kin (nature-loving, forest dwelling elves) and Twilight Kin (nasty bastards who take slaves, torture prisoners and hang out with Nightstalkers).
- Empire of Dust: Essentially Tomb Kings with a larger emphasis on healing than the more standard undead. They were an Egyptian style civilisation that dabbled in necromancy (and when I say 'dabbled' I mean rich people had zombie butlers and skeleton bodyguards which is just fucked up) but got cursed by their Ophidian neighbors who also do necromancy but in a good-guy way.
- Forces of Nature: Exactly what it says on the tin. Has a lot of units that cross over with the Elves, Trident Realms, Salamanders, and Herd, making it an interesting synergy army or ally.
- Forces of the Abyss: Servants of 37 evil half gods who live with their masters in Pannithor's Hell. They look like the horns and pitchfork devils from medieval art, with some big ogre demons throw in for good measure.
- Goblins: Separate from Orcs in the setting, although they can ally with each other as both are Evil alignment. Can carpet the table in cheap regiment and horde bases like almost no other, but also have pet giants to make things interesting. Along with the wonderful resin characters released for Vanguard, new hard plastic sprues to replace the poorly executed originals have now been released.
- Nightstalkers: Spooky and strange creatures that resemble Eldrazi and pumpkin monsters in the art, the first minis for this army were released with Vanguard in November 2018. They focus on stealing the inspiring from other armies because they have none of their own.
- Northern Alliance: A good Elf/human/other faction from the far north. A cosmopolitan army made up of exiles and rejects from the other kingdoms, including Elves, Half-Elves, southern and northern Humans, disenchanted Varangur, Ice Naiads, Frost Trolls, Frost Giants, Yetis, and more. The first minis for this army were released with Vanguard in November 2018, and a full army range was released to coincide with the release of 3rd edition
- Ogres: Most ogres are content living a tribal, nomadic life in the Mammoth Steppe minding their own business, but a significant number feel The Calling and head south to fight in the mercenary companies. They enjoy fighting, adventure, and telling wildly exaggerated stories about their exploits. Ogres don't hold grudges or have any inherent racial prejudices, so they are happy to ally with anyone from Elves to Demons and everything in between. Ogres covet gold and treasure, yet have no apparent use for it. They don't squander their wages and have no concept of currency amongst themselves. When they have amassed a great hoard they take it back to the Steppe with them and that's all outsiders know. They also have strong mag'har orc looks, for you Warcraft fans.
- Orcs: Brutal and horde-based; called "greenskins" and "a sea of green," with the Old World Ogre's tendency towards cannibalism thrown in.
- Trident Realms of Neritica: An aquatic faction, mostly consisting of fishmen and sea beasts. (and Snorks!!!!)
- Undead: Generic undead including everything from vampires and werewolves to zombies and mummies.
There are also 12 army lists contained within the Uncharted Empires: Armies of Pannithor 3rd Edition supplement. These lists are intended to
rip off warmly welcome a number of different fantasy miniature lines, particularly Citadel armies after the release of Age of Skubmar. The first 3 are master lists, the same as the master lists in the main rule book.
- Kingdoms of Men: Generic human army intended to be used with your other fantasy and historic miniatures. Different from Mantic's own human models described above. Very much the jack of all trades, master of none, flexible army.
- Ratkin: Pretty much Skaven. Plastic and resin minis are now available too!
- Salamanders: Lizard people of a couple different stripes.
The other 9 care called theme lists, and are thematic variations of one of the 17 master lists. They essentially take a selection of the units in that list, give them more thematic names, special rules, and balancing, and then add in a number of unique units to round things out. Alternatively, they can be a blend of two or three different lists.
- Abyssal Dwarf Ratkin Slaves: Pretty self explanatory.
- Free Dwarfs: Have you ever wondered what Dwarves would be like if they lived in a democratic republic instead of a Kingdom? Well the Free Dwarfs used to have that, although the recent Abyssal War saw them lose their homelands to the Abyssal Dwarfs. The survivors live as refugees in King Golloch's empire, or have moved elsewhere to escape the iron boot of oppression. Overall mantic did an excellent job adding a third flavour of dwarfs to the mix. Their lists uses many units from the imperial dwarf list BUT does a vital change, replacing Headstrong for Pathfinder + scout on many units. This makes Free dwarves a deceptively fast army thanks to ignoring terrain and being able to move 8+ inches before the game even begins. Also this army focuses much more on rangers(sp 5 dwarves O: ) and characters than the imperial list. Thus making the army play very differently despite having similar units.
- The Herd: Beastmen, either taken from the Warhammer Fantasy line or from another line, such as Wrath of Kings. In the lore the Herd act as the Green Lady's border guard.
- League of Rhordia: An alliance of humans and halflings, with a touch of gnomish style engineering, in 3E now more formally a technical variation on the Kingdoms of Men plus some dwarvish black powder.
- Order of the Brothermark: One half of the former Brotherhood army from 2E. The Brotherhood were an independent nation who kept an eternal watch over the Abyss. The last great Abyssal War saw their lands and armies decimated. Basilea and the Forces of Nature both came to their aid and this led to a schism in the Brotherhood, with some orders of Knights swearing new vows to the Green Lady and other to Basilea. The Brothermark is now a province of Basilea in all but name, their traditions are being eroded and replaced with Basilean religious doctrine. They have access to peasants, light cavalry and monster-hunting knights in addition to a plethora of Basilean units.
- Order of the Green Lady: A blend of the Brotherhood and Forces of Nature. The orders of knights who refused to bend the knee to Basilea (and that covers most of them) instead swore themselves to Pannithor's own Mother Nature. They have access to several types of knightly units (including pegasus knights!) and also several Earthbound and Waterbound FoN units.
- Sylvan Kin: Pretty much a Wood Elf thematic twist of the Elves list
- Twilight Kin: Dark Elves with a bit of smexy Dark Eldar thrown in for flavor; live in caves beneath the desert after getting thrown out of the main Elf homeland. Finally making their return after spending all of 2nd in the 'official pdf' wilderness. A blend of Elves, Nightstalkers, and Abyssals, and Mantic has teased some concept art for evil elf minis.
- Varangur: Vikings and raiders reminiscent of Warriors of Chaos, a thematic twist on the Northern Alliance
In addition there are future armies planned that don't yet have full lists yet, although some have beta lists available:
- Ophidians: A mix of Arabian and Persian motifs with undead servants and Conan the Barbarian style snake men. Survivors of the disaster that turned the Ahmunites into the Empire of Dust, who learned that like most things necromancy is only healthy in moderation.
There are 30 army lists in the Historical Armies supplement. This has yet to receive an update to 3rd, so remains based on the 2nd rules:
- Anglo-Saxons, Aztecs, Barbarians, Byzantines, Carthaginians, Chinese, Conquistadors, Crusaders, Egyptians, English, Franks, French, Greek, Holy Roman Empire, Huns, Indian, Japanese, Macedonians & Successors, Mongols, Normans, Ottomans, Persians, Polish, Romans, Scottish, Slavs, Spartans, Scythians, Thracians, Vikings
The Game System
The Kings of War game is written by none other than Alessio Cavatore, who now seems to be outside of the Games Workshop tent pissing in, and balanced by large scale play testing funneled through a Rules Committee. The rules are gloriously straight-forward and streamlined, meaning that they're the extreme opposite of Warhammer rules. This makes the decision between the two games more defined for players.
The basic turn order is:
- Move: You move your guys.
- Shoot: Bows, crossbows and rifles shoot up to 24", pistols slings up to 12", some oddball weapons shoot 18", and war machines up to 48". Also Magic happens during the Shoot phase, and has ranges of 12", 18", or 24", depending on the spell.
- Melee: Close combat similar to Warhammers.
Whenever a unit takes hits (melee or ranged) they accumulate 'damage' (there is no model removal as damage represents a mix of morale loss, injuries and casualties). If you inflict damage on one of your enemies' units with shooting or melee you can attempt to rout it at the end of the phase. This is done by rolling 2D6, adding the result to the total damage accumulated so far and comparing the total to the unit's Nerve value. Two values are listed for Nerve (a 20-strong regiment of Elf spearmen has a nerve of 14/16, for example). If the total equals or beats the first value the unit 'wavers' (misses the next turn), and if it equals or beats the second value the unit is routed and removed from the table.
Kings of War second edition was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, and released in August 2015. Second edition promised to iron out the creases in the core rules, re-balance the army lists, add new units and expand the magic rules with a greater variety of spells, whilst maintaining the straightforward game play Kings of War has become known for. It succeeded at this, smashingly.
3rd edition has aimed to streamline and tidy up the 2nd ed rules. For people used to the Geedubs model of "add special rules 'til the edition is unplayable and then reset" this makes a nice change. The game is even faster than it was before and still excellent for tournaments. See the tactics section for guides on how to powergame better. Kings of War is much more competitive and balanced than the GW offerings and so is a bit less noob-friendly. Ironically this also makes the unit breakdowns in the tactics section less important than the GW ones as how you use your force is more important than the units you take.
The lore is explained in the rulebook and the sourcebook, but also expanded on in the Kings of War novels released by Winged Hussar Publishing, and the upcoming RPG by Red Scar games. It goes something like this...
Once The Kingdom of Elves, The Underlands of The Dwarves & The Human Republic of Primovantor lived in peace watched over by the Celestians, beings of immense power who gifted the three races with knowledge and magic. Everything was good and fine until an Elf mage called Calisor wrecked everything by falling in love with a human. Said human rejected him so he moped around until he met a Celestian, who told him the ingredients to make a mirror that could show Elianthora (the human chick) the future. Being a mage that has the power to rise the ocean up and walk through one realm of existence as easily as walking through a room, he got the ingredients pretty quick and when he showed Elianthora the mirror, she saw them falling in love and having loving children and living a life of love and goodness.
Until she saw herself die and then Calisor taking a lot of women to try to replace the memory of her, but when she saw their children kill Calisor, she shat her pants and smashed the mirror. However, it turns out one of the ingredients to make the mirror was a fragment of the star that gave the Celestians their power, and when one part is smashed, ALL of it is smashed. The 37 Celestians that survived were split into two - a shining side and a wicked side, which then fought each other in a giant war. The wicked ones created Orcs and necromancy, while corrupting Elves and humans. Luckily, the shining ones had a half-human/half-shining one, and with the holy power of the Celestians, he created a giant fiery crack in the ground (now called the Abyss) and imprisoned all the wicked ones in. Unfortunately, the wicked ones eventually transformed it into HELL, complete with 9 circles for them and their minions - the Abyss.
The world returned to an uneasy peace, until one of the wicked ones escaped/was never locked up - this one was called Winter, so no surprise what she did, basically, Mantics fluff is based on Frozen. Eventually, though, after 100 years of the world in ice, the races allied together and drove Winter away. But, as you know, when ice melts water comes, and the world then looked like the Mediterranean sea, now the world is screwed - the floods destroyed the human republic of Primovantor, the largest human faction, the surviving humans (basically everyone on a hill when all the valleys filled with water) have split into various small kingdoms or city-states (the largest being Basilea, a mini republic of Primovantor, except more holy justice of the Shining Ones). Elves are seclusive and their land is slowly turning into deserts. Each day Dwarves lose a hold to goblins and... wait, that's not right, Dwarves are actually expanding under the direction of the Golloch Empire, stretching from the gates of Basilea to the far east, while the Free Dwarfs of the Halpi Mountains expand northwards, caught between the Abyssal Dwarfs of Tragar, and the Empire they fled to the south. Orcs rampage around with their goblin servants occasionally, though the gobbos make their own tribes. Necromancy abounds, stealing the souls of the bodies used and sending them to the Wicked One Durunjak. Twilight kin, Elves corrupted by the wicked ones, dwell in caverns beneath the great desert, occasionally leaving to raid the other species. The Shining Ones sit on the Moutain of Kolosu, deciding not to interfere with the world (except to occasionally send their Elohi angel warriors when Basilea prays really really hard).
TL;DR: Elves ruin everything. (Which they do...)
Dungeon Saga and League of Infamy
Main article: Dungeon Saga
In 2011 Mantic released a board game called Dwarf King's Hold that was followed by two expansions. These used models from Kings of War and represented small warbands battling in the ruins of Dolgarth. In 2014 they launched a kickstarter campaign to update the game with more RPG elements and dungeon crawling components. This relaunch was titled Dungeon Saga: Dwarf King's Quest. The initial release retells the story of the first Dwarf King's Hold set, but instead of a party of Dwarfs raiding the city, a party of adventurers is venturing into the ruins seeking treasure and glory. Several expansions have followed adding more enemies and hero classes.
Also currently in development is League of Infamy, a semi-cooperative dungeon crawler based on an updated and improved version of the Dungeon Saga rules. I say semi-cooperative, because this time the adventuring party is made up of bad guys, and the only thing better than winning, is having done so after stabbing everyone in the back, and taking the treasure for yourself! The basic party options are a crazed gunslinging abyssal dwarf, a priest hunting succubus, a goblin ninja (fuckin' rules), an insane sorceress, a vampie knight, and a ratkin brute, but like Dungeon Saga many other options will be added.
Kings of War: Vanguard
In November 2017 Mantic ran a Kickstarter for their new fantasy skirmish game Kings of War: Vanguard. A game that will instantly draw comparisons to Mordheim, and its Mantic scifi stablemate Deadzone, it was inspired by a Ronnie trip to the farmhouse and memorial at Qatre Bras, the site of the skirmishes before Waterloo.
Vanguard uses single based minis from all the Kings of War armies, typically heroes, and some infantry as grunts, with cavalry backup. Vanguard can be played as a one off game, a stand alone campaign, or tied into Kings of War campaigns, where the results of the Vanguard battle impact the Kings of War battle, in terms of units available, deployment, etc. Excitingly, the project has funded the first Mantic minis for both the Northern Alliance and Nightstalkers, as well as replacements for the unfortunate first generation Basilean men at arms, and a slew of other yet to be modeled but already listed in Kings of War heroes. Plus a massive 18cm tall plastic giant, which turned out to be even bigger than it sounded! Vanguard released to retail in November 2018, and the free edition of the rules and war bands are available from the same page Mantic lists all their other free rules.
Whilst set in the Kings of War world of Pannithor, the rules for Vanguard have more in common with Deadzone than they do KoW. Vanguard uses D8s instead of D6s, alternate activations and the 'two short/one long action' system used in Deadzone (and several other Mantic products), but it is not simply 'Fantasy Deadzone'. In addition to moving, shooting and fighting in melee players can use their Command Pool, a resource generated each Round by rolling custome dice. Command can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your warbands fighting abilities, from adding additional dice to combat rolls and activating several models at once, to clearing fatigue from exhausted soldiers and activating powerful special abilities.
Vanguard's scenarios have players performing a variety of 'fantasy black ops' style missions such as freeing a prisoner, burning the enemy's stores or assasinating a commander in his sleep. There are currently 12 such scenarios in the main rulebook.
As of January 1st 2019 all factions from Kings of War are represented with 'starter lists' in the main rulebook or downloadable from Mantic's website. The starter lists give players around 10 unit options and any special rules which apply to that warband, enough to make them playable. Mantic has been steadily creating new resin 'hero' minis and releasing them as Vanguard starters for all of the current Kings of War factions, with the next release the Ratkin.
Kings of War: Armada
Fresh from the success of Vanguard, Mantic decided to cut someone else's lunch yet again by announcing straight to retail a new naval game, Kings of War: Armada. The game uses a licensed adaptation of Warlord Games Black Seas historical naval rules, with resin ships from (as currently planned) 8 factions from the world of Pannithor.
The four launch factions are:
- Empire of Dust
The next four factions are yet to be announced, but concept art depicting Elves, Northern Alliance, and an unspecified faction has been released, and Salamanders have been hinted at in text interviews. The first print run of the two player starter has already sold out, with more on the way, while ship expansion packs are available, and huge ships will be released just in time for non-denominational December celebrations.
So why do we like these guys?
And look at this: these models are "ideal for collectors, modellers and gamers of fantasy wargames. They are fully compatible with all major gaming systems, and you can add them to your existing armies or even build a new army with our value for money army-in-a-box bundle deals." Fucking adorable. Don't you just want to take them home and feed them biscuits?
Mantic Games are openly and audaciously shameless, and even tell you that their works are compatible with other fantasy game systems, if said game system producers aren't purist assholes. Speaking of purist assholes, THEY MAKE NAZI ZOMBIES - ALL IS FORGIVEN.
Also more importantly YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE THEIR MINIATURES IF YOU DON'T WANT TO, miniatures from anywhere (Yes even the hated GW) are welcome even in official tournaments.
Why play kings of war?
Well for starters because its better than having your miniatures collecting dust.
Also for real, this game is very very good, it is fast paced, and avoids all the derp and nonsense stuff that the old Warhammer Fantasy suffered from. In this game, there is no initiative that says that despite the fact that you charged the opponent hits you first, no purple sun eating entire units, no armor save saving any pussy, no having to recount combat resolution, this is a brutal wargame that tells war like it is, and that can be played in less than 90 min even at large scale.
And the game is really about your guys, Mantic encourages multi basing and even using miniatures that they don't make in their tournament, so the game allows you to field those super cool miniatures or dioramas, you never had the chance to field in prior occasions.
So yes, try it, because this game is trimmed down, sensible and fast and furious rank-and-flank fantasy combat, where you field your dudes instead of whatever the establishment wanted you to buy.