Games We Play – Kings of War

As a club, we play an ever-changing, ever-growing number of tabletop games. Some are well-known staples, some are newcomers that recently riveted our attention. To give you some insight, we have started this irregular ‘Games We Play’ column where we’re going to present selected game systems that bring us joy. Today we will give you an overview of the author’s favorite game: Kings of War!

The contents of this post represent the author’s opinion and are not representative of the ITGC Berlin as a whole.


What Is This Game About?

Kings of War is a mass battle fantasy wargame designed by Mantic. There are 26 factions available in the rules: almost any fantasy trope you can think of has rules in Kings of War! Many also have an official range of miniatures available from Mantic, although you can use any miniature you like. A standard army will have about a dozen units, each of ten to sixty (!) fighters: with potentially more than a hundred miniatures per side, we are talking about mass battles indeed!

Herd and Sylvan kin during one of our Kings of War Gaming Day

Mantic has done a great job presenting their own game on their official Blog, and they also have a quick overview of their game here. If you are more into moving pictures than words, go check out this series of short videos called ‘Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Kings of War‘ on YouTube.

Key concepts

In Kings of War, units are considered as a whole. Instead of removing fighters one after another during the battle, damage inflicted to each unit is recorded. The nerves of a unit is then tested after it takes damage with a simple mechanic: 2D6 + current damage is compared to a “nerve check” score to reach. As a result, the unit can either be standing (i.e. unaffected), wavered (i.e. under shock and with limited options next time it activates) or routed (i.e. removed from play entirely).

My 2300 points of forces of the abyss about to fight it out against a ratkin army during the Clash of Kings 2021 tournament

The game is played in 6 turns (potentially 7), where players alternate turns. In their turn they will first give a movement order to each of their units (including the most exciting one: charge!), then do all ranged attacks (weapons and spells), then do all melee fighting. Rules are designed to be as clear as possible and enable a full game to be played in 2 hours.

In most cases, movement is what will decide the fate of your army. There are “strict” rules regarding the type of movement units can do: they usually move in straight lines, with well defined pivots. Clever positioning of your units and interactions with terrain is the key to victory!

There are twelve scenarios in the core rules with a good diversity of missions. Each unit has a specific “Unit strength” which represent its ability to score objectives. It means the game is not exclusively about killing as much as possible from your enemy: you must keep the actual scenario in mind if you want to win.

Same army right after deployment, playing against Trident Realm.

To keep things clear, units and terrain are 100% defined from their 2D footprint. There is not uncertainty as there usually is with true line of sight systems. Explicit definition of where line of sight is taken from, and “height” formally defined for each unit/piece of terrain, line of sight and interactions with terrain can be examined without the risk for different interpretation – and disagreement between players.

Why Is Kings Of War Awesome?

Currently in its third edition (released at the end of 2019), Kings of War is truly a great tabletop game – to my very objective opinion, THE best (mass battle fantasy) wargame. Why? You can have a look for yourself in the free available rules PDF, but here are a few key elements of the game that make it so awesome:
– multi-based miniatures allow awesome looking armies that are not so hard to create, and also easy to transport and handle during games
– you can use any miniature you like to represent one of the 28 factions available in the rules
– truly “simple to learn yet hard to master rules” that allow fast-paced, tactical, and overall super fun games with large armies
well-balanced, all-in-one, keyword based rules that are contained in exactly three books (core rules, extension armies, latest yearly update) updated yearly, maintaining them fresh yet easy to keep track of.

Let’s examine each of these aspects in more details.

Multi-basing

As mentioned previously, units are always considered as a whole: you do not remove fighters one by one as the unit takes damage. This allows multi-basing, i.e. using a base of the dimension of the whole unit onto which you can create a mini diorama if you want to.

Example of multi-based units for a goblin army at the Köln GT 2021

On top of looking awesome, multi basing lets you “save” on models. A classic infantry regiment is supposed to be 20 fighters, but since only the unit’s footprint matters from a rules perspective, you could very well only put 15 fighters on your regiment. In fact, the rules hint a Preferred Model Count (75% of theoretical number of fighters), if you don’t want to use Full Model Count. Suddenly, making a goblin army with a theoretical number of fighters of 200 looks much less daunting.

A multi-based unit is much easier to handle (transport, store, and use during your game) than 20 individual models painfully puzzled onto a unit tray, that you must handle individually before, during, and after each game. The resulting gain of time is huge, and probably one key element between a full game played in less than 3 hours, and a medium sized game that you never get to the end of in a weekend (looking at you, other-classic-mass-battle-fantasy-game).

Miniatures agnostic and 26 factions

Although Mantic offers a large range of miniatures for the game, they don’t cover everything. Luckily for us, they offer rules for almost anything you can think of in a fantasy universe. There are 28 factions available in the game:
– Basilea (human religious fanatics),
– Dwarfs,
– Elves,
– Northern Alliance (nordic barbarians),
– Forces of Nature,
– Ogres,
– Trident Realm (nautical creatures),
– Abyssal Dwarfs (evil Dwarfs),
– Empire of Dust (undeads with mummies, etc…)
– Forces of the Abyss (daemonic forces),
– Goblins,
– Nightstalkers (nightmarish horrors),
– Orcs,
– Undeads,
– Order of the Brothermark (chivalric order),
– Order of the green Lady (chivalric and nature),
– Free Dwarfs (“nature” Dwarfs),
– Salamanders (lizardmen),
– Sylvan Kin (wood elves),
– The Herd (beastmen),
– Kingdom of Men (generic humans),
– League of Rhordia (alliance of humans and halflings),
– Ratkin (rat people),
– Ratkin slaves (abyssal dwarfs and rat people),
– Twilight Kin (“chaos” elves),
– Varangur (“chaos” barbarians),
– Halflings,
– Rift Forged Orcs (elite orcs)

You can have a look at the starter sets from Mantic to get an idea of what each of these factions look like. Several other blogs and online resources offer an overview of what these factions are like. There are some interesting ones on the Northern Kings armies review for example. You should explore dash28 as well. There is also awesome artwork and pictures in the rulebooks. You can also watch some army primer videos on Youtube.

Fast yet Highly Tactical Game-Play

Although the game literally involves hundreds of miniatures per side in a typical game, it is easy to handle, and a typical game can be played in 2 to 3 hours without rushing. The rules are relatively well written in comparison to other similar games… and having to look into the actual rule-book during a game happens only rarely.

The rules are simple enough to be pretty well understood and integrated, leaving you enough brain juice to focus on the actual tactical aspects of your game! Instead of relying on obscure, unique rules from your army book that was recently published, you will actually have to think about what tactic you want to use. There are no gotcha moment in Kings of War!

2300 points of forces of the abyss vs Ogres

During your turn, you are the only one to roll dice: it makes for a very efficient and fast gaming experience, where you can also very easily use a chess clock if you want to strictly ensure a given amount of time for your game (tournament usually allow 50 minutes per player for 2300pts games).

Balanced, all-in-one Rules

Since all of the rules come from the same book, the overall balance is pretty good (i.e. there is no latest released book trumps everyone else effect). The whole balance of the game is reviewed yearly by a community based Rule Comitee, whose goal is to make the best game possible, not to sell the latest miniatures released.

Since the rules are keyword based, you should be able to instantly understand what any army list can do. Once you’ve integrated the core rules, all you need to play a game is your army list and your opponent’s. If you use the official army builder Easy Army, you even get a neat, concise output of all of the relevant rules. Most of the time, you will not open your rule-book once during a game.

Opinions From Players

To provide you with more than just the author’s opinion on this game, we have asked a few members of our local gaming group why they play it, and their favorite things about Kings of War.

Sebastian

I enjoy playing Kings of War for the sheer joy of seeing masses of fantasy troops collide in epic battle! My gaming experience used to be limited to 10% skirmish games and 90% painting, so Kings of War seems to be the inevitable backlash for me 🙂

Some orcs ready for battle! Multi-basing is not necessary. Using Mantic miniatures is not mandatory either!

My three favorite things about Kings of War:

1. The masses: In this game you command regiments, hordes or even legions. Charging across the battlefield, firing giant volleys of arrows or flanking with entire cavalry wings feels incredibly epic. This also brings me to my second favorite thing about Kings of War.

2. The cinematic effect: You can pause most Kings of War games at any point, grab your phone, and take a picture straight out of a movie. Dragons swooping in, ice-cold elvish ranks waiting patiently, blood spattered Orcs swinging axes – a true fantasy spectacle! Who cares if you win or loose, better call Netflix and secure the rights to that story.

3. The attitude: Kings of War is a game where I can bring any old miniatures, different scales/ styles/ factions, still use the army list, and enjoy a great game. The rules follow the principle of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ with endless tactical options and armies to suit any play style. And most important of all: a relaxed community of fantasy fans with plenty of tabletop experience.

These two hordes of 10mm elves clearly send a message of “we’re an actual army”

Oliver

Why do I play Kings of War? First it is easy to start, the army boxes are affordable and lend themselves to building up on, which i like a lot, starting is easy and quick. The rules work well, they are, i have to admit, a little bit too basic, but that’s a personal thing. Objectively the rules are easy to understand, easy to use, and form up in an elegant and surprising deep system, with little to no ambiguity. The basic System of i go you go lends itself well for tournament play, which is a big plus.

The top 3 positive factors:
1. Starting with Kings of War is simple, easy, and quick.
2. The rules are Solid and simple.
3. It has an active and positive community, which is, for an hobby heavily reliant on the social aspect, not entirely irrelevant.

Dick

I’ve found myself drawn to Kings of War by the relatively simple rules, miniature agnostic system, and established community. In particular the modeling opportunities afforded by preferred model count and multi-basing got my attention. I love the idea of vast hordes that I can move around quickly and represent with mini dioramas.

Pete

My favorite type of game is large scale mass fantasy battle. I played Warhammer Fantasy Battles for decades on and off and although I loved it, the one element which I felt was lacking was the rules. I’ve been playing Kings of War since 2nd Edition and aesthetically it gives me the same enjoyment as Warhammer Fantasy Battles with a few key advantages.

A fully multi based Herd army, ready for battle

Firstly, I love the streamlined approach to the rules. I think Mantic have struck the perfect balance and the rules are easy to learn, but hard to master. Kings of War is a game which rewards experience and good tactical decisions at the table over list-building and rules intricacies, which I really appreciate.

Secondly, I love the hobby opportunities Kings of War affords. Multi-basing looks great and I enjoy creating little dioramas. Mantic also embrace the use of third-party models and conversions and I have spent many a happy evening searching the internet for the perfect models in order to create an army which is defined by my own vision rather than that of one company.

What does a typical army look like?

To give a more practical example of what a typical Kings of War army might look like, here are some forces from our local players. Hopefully this will give you a more concrete idea of what the game is like.

Pete’s Herd 2000pts army

The list

Lycans (Horde) – 255pts
– Brew of Haste 20pts
Lycans (Horde) – 255pts
– Brew of Strength 40pts
Guardian Brutes (Horde) – 225pts
Guardian Brutes (Horde) – 225pts
Woodland Critters* (Regiment) – 80pts
Woodland Critters* (Regiment) – 80pts
Harpies* (Troop) – 90pts
Wild Gur Panthers* (Troop) – 85pts
Beast of Nature – 150pts
– Upgrade with Wings, increasing Speed to 10 and gaining Fly and Nimble – 40pts
– Increase Attacks to 7 – 15pts
Centaur Chief 110
– Blade of Slashing 5pts
Moonfang [1] – 210pts
Druid – 65pts
– Shroud of the Saint – 30pts
– Bane Chant (2) – 20pts

How it works

There are a total of 12 units in this army, with a total Unit Strength of 18. These are conceived in three different battle groups.

The first battle group consists of:
– 2 Lycan hordes (fast hard hitting melee),
– Moonfang (fast hard hitting inspiring),
– Panthers (chaff to screen the lycans).
It is intended to be deployed on one flank, and envelop enemy forces.

The second battle group consists of:
– 2 Guardian Brutes Hordes (slow hard hitting melee),
– druid (inspiring, healing to keep the brutes alive + bane chant),
– 2 Woodland Critters (chaff to screen the brutes)
A solid and hard hitting center.

The third battle group consists of:
– Beast of Nature (Fast flier to attack flanks).
– The centaur chief is hunting shooters and fliers to disrupt them.
– The harpies are a free chaff unit to deploy as needed – sometimes it can be kept back and used late game to grab distant objectives/loot tokens.

Overall a very fast, nimble aggressive list that wants to charge and destroy units in one hit. Its main weakness is lower than average defense and nerve. It will not win a war of attrition, so you must make sure your opponents die before it gets to that.

Pete’s 2000pts Dwarfs Army

The list

Ironguard (Regiment) – 150pts
Ironguard (Regiment) – 150pts
Sharpshooters (Troop) – 100pts
Earth Elementals (Horde) – 220pts
Earth Elementals (Horde) – 220pts
Mastiff Hunting Pack* (Regiment) – 65pts
– Throwing Mastiff – 15pts
Mastiff Hunting Pack* (Regiment) – 65pts
Ironbelcher Cannon – 110pts
Ironbelcher Cannon – 110pts
Dwarf Lord on Large Beast – 200pts
– Blade of Slashing – 5pts
Berserker Lord – 110pts
– Blade of the Beast Slayer – 20pts
– Mount on a Brock, losing Wild Charge (D3) but increasing Speed to 8 and changing to Hero (Cav – Height: 3) – 30pts
Stone Priest – 90pts
– Conjurer’s Staff – 10pts
– Bane Chant (2) – 20pts
Steel Behemoth – 260pts
– Upgrade to Golloch’s Fury [1] – Gain Very Inspiring, Iron Resolve and exchanging its Flame Belcher for Golloch’s Gun: (18″, Att: 12, Piercing (2) – 50pts

How it works

There are a total of 13 units in this army, with a total Unit Strength of 17. These are conceived in three different battle groups.

The first battle group consists of:
– 2 Ironguard Regiments,
– Lord on large beast (inspiring).
A super solid Defense 6 + groupd that has some melee punch from the Lord.

The second battle group consists of:
– 2 Earth Elemental hordes,
– Steel Behemoth,
– Stone Priest.
A very tough nut to crack with more Defense 6+! The Stone Priest inspires and surges the Elementals into whatever it is you want dead.

The third battle group consists of:
– Sharpshooters and cannons. Shoot down the big scary tough things with lots of piercing.
– Mastiffs (chaff) can screen whatever you please. Probably the shooters and the Elementals. Berserker Lord hunts monsters and heroes.

Overall, a defense 6 slow moving anvil list with shooting to deal damage. Doesn’t care about getting charged. Aims to win the war of attrition.

Clément’s 2300pts Forces of the Abyss army

My army during the 2021 Köln KoW Grant Tournament

The list

3x Abyssal Fiend – 2x 175pts
2x Flamebearers (Regiment) with Sacrificial Imp – 2x (155+10) pts
Flamebearers (Regiment) – 155pts
4x Succubi (Regiment) with Succubi Lurker – 4x (165 + 20) pts
2x Abyssal Warlock with Bane Chant (2) – 2x (90 + 20) pts
Mau’ti-bu-su[1] – 160pts
2x Gargoyles* (Troop) – 2x 85pts

How it works

There are a total of 15 units in this army, with a total Unit Strength of 25. These are conceived in basically three parts: shooty stuff, punchy stuff, and annoying flyers.

The first part comprises the three flame-bearers and three fiends, which are the “shooty” units in this army. Their range is only 18″ (12″ for the fiends), but they offer a good amount of shots, able to do significant damage to units before the melee units finish them, or on the contrary, to finish off already wounded units in the late game. As regiments with regen and an average nerve, the flamebearers cannot be ignored yet take more than a few plinks to be eliminated. The fiends provide inspiring, and can also punch things once in melee.

The second is made of the four succubi regiments plus two support warlocks. This is twice the same battlegroup of 2 regiment + 1 warlock. The warlock is crucial since it provides inspiring and bane chant to actually do damage with the succubis. It can also score on the scenario – if it survives long enough. Most of the time, the succubis main role is to project threat – pathfinder move 6 and lots of attacks, on a stealthy ensnaring unit, is something your opponent will have to treat carefully.

The flying hero and gargoyles mission is to disturb the enemy’s movements, and to hunt enemy individuals and war machines.

Overall the list aims to make the enemy hesitate between running into shooters to turn them off but then be destroyed by succubis, or take shooting damage while trying to find an angle of attack into the potential ball of hurt that is four regiments of succubis.

What do I need to play?

Rules

Mantic offers a free PDF with all the core rules if you want to get a first glimpse into the system. Only two (out of more than 20) army lists are included in there, but it is enough to get a first idea of the system, for free!

You can get all rule-books either as PDFs or physical books. Mantic has two versions of the rulebook: the hardback, full edition, and the softcover gamers edition. The latter contains all that you need to play in a condensed format, easy to carry and refer to during games, while the former is more of a collector’s item, with extended stories about the universe, pretty pictures, etc…

Ogres and Forces of the Abyss about to fight it out in a 1000pts demo game

Note that both the hardback and gamers’ edition contain all of the rules, including army lists. There are no separate army books in Kings of War, all lists are in the main rulebook… and a second army list book, called Uncharted Empires, for the armies that Mantic initially did not have a range of miniatures for. Kind of as a courtesy to people with a Warhammer Fantasy Battle army who wanted to play KoW. There used to be also a historical army lists expansion, but this has not been updated to 3rd edition yet.

One very interesting aspect is that Mantic also has great starter sets, each containing two small forces and a gamer’s edition book for a very reasonable price (less than 100€ MSRP). This is definitely the way to go if you are into any of the armies available in that format (Nightstalkers vs Northern Alliance, Goblins vs Ratkin, Halflings vs Riftforged Orcs).

Mantic updates the rules once a year in a book called Clash of Kings. The current version is Clash of Kings -2022, available as PDF as well. This year, it contains two new army lists, new items, spells, and tons of adjustments to the balance of the game – all armies at once.

On top of the Clash of Kings yearly update, Mantic has a FAQ&Errata PDF available on their website to fix typos and provide further clarifications when needed.

There is a 3rd party official army builder for Kings of War on Easyarmy. It generates concise and clear outputs, with a super convenient summary of all of the rules for the army you create.

Miniatures

  • Kings of War is a miniature-agnostic tabletop system, even if Mantic does have a pretty good range of miniatures of its own, you are officially welcome to use whatever miniature you have or like.
  • Since Kings of War relies on the unit footprint rather than each individual miniatures from a rules perspective, you probably want to focus on the actual unit trays or multi-bases. Some people even use plain cardboard cutouts to try out some armies before they actually commit to the hobbying part of the army creation.
  • Some of us locally play with 10mm miniatures, i.e. at half the normal size Kings of war is played at. Which is a very easy way to get started!
  • Alternatively, Kings of War can be played online, either on Tabletop Simulator, or Universal Battle 2. There is a quite active international community of players on UB2.

Accessories

  • d6 dice (ideally several sets of different colors, to speed up play)
  • Tape measure (inches)
  • Some Tokens for effects and scenarios: not mandatory, but nice to have
  • Some terrain: the usual table will contain two hills, two impassable terrain pieces (houses, etc), two forests, two difficult terrain (field, swamp, …) and two obstacles (wall, hedge, …). Note that only the 2D outline of each piece of terrain is important from a rules perspective. So you can easily start with paper cutouts if you do not have terrain pieces yet.

How do I play with you?

Join our Discord’s #kings-of-war and let us know you wanna play 🙂 We’ll help you out, do a demo game and suggest where to start.

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