A Damn Expensive Hobby…or is it? – Part 2 – Kings of War

In this new series we’ll be comparing a number of game systems to their nearest Games Workshop equivalent as well as looking at their own merits and weaknesses. Now it’s apparent to even the most casual of observers that different people have different priorities for game systems. Some of us are seeking a balanced rule-set, others are primarily interested in the models and give no real consideration to how they play while others will absorb the background in explicit detail and then annoy the rest of us with whiny rants about how our armies aren’t fluffy…you know who you are…

As all these things have their own place in our respective priority lists so we’ll look at them all…but as certain of these aspects are more important to certain individuals than others I may let a few other people have a say at appropriate junctions…unless they disagree with me…then I’ll just creatively edit them…..

Firstly we’re going to look at Mantic Games’s Kings of War game system and how it compares to it’s Games Workshops equivalent Warhammer Fantasy Battle in the areas of rule-set, model quality, background material and the all important issue of cost.

We’ll mention the supplements as well…

Lets get on with this then…

Rule-Set and Gameplay.
An in depth look at the rules would take far too long so we’ll just compare our options at the most fundamental level.



Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WHFB from now on as far as this article is concerned) has a rule-book of considerable size and complexity with a bewildering array of special rules, abilities, items and magic. Add to this the fact that each of the army books has it’s own army altering special rules, items and schools of magic and you have a system that isn’t particularly easy to learn, contradicts itself periodically and will result in many debates about whose interpretation of a particular situation is correct. Kings of War is in most practical terms exactly the opposite…Their special rules (for example) don’t fill a volume on their own…

The rule system takes the basic concepts that we come to expect in a war-game and keeps them at that basic level. The movement phase has all the manoevering options that you’d expect with units being allowed a single pivot from the centre point of up to 90 degrees, ‘at the double’ allows you too move double your movement stat in a straight line, etc. so there’s no limit to out tactical options and (imo at least) Kings of War gives far greater emphasis to the tactics of positioning than WHFB does.

Combat is equally simple with a unit having Melee (Me) and Ranged (Ra) stat which indicates the score that it needs to hit an enemy, a Defence (De) stat which tells you what value your enemy needs to roll in order to hit your unit. Attacks (At) tells you how many dice you get to roll, your Nerve (Ne) decides when your guys (or girls) decide to run away and there are modifiers to these stats as you’d expect based on range or whatever. The combat part of the system is fast and efficient and overall is significantly more smooth in feel than the Games Workshop equivalent. It’s worth mentioning at this point that rather than removing individual models a unit in Kings of War takes wounds as a whole which modify the Nerve roll to see if you run off…this is also relevant to the ‘modelling’ part of this review so we’ll come back to it momentarily.

My next point is somewhat based on my own preferences but I’ll try to be as objective as possible…WHFB’s magic system is overly complicated, varies unpredictably in power level from one army book to another and is responsible for a great many ‘auto-win’ situations. The interactions between spells and various armies special rules has created an unforgivable number of ‘broken’ combinations that seem to indicate inadequate play-testing on Games Workshops behalf. Kings of War on the other hand has two main spells ‘Zap’ attacks and ‘Heal’…heals…There are a couple of others specific to particular forces but they’re all perfectly balanced and there’s rarely more than one per army. This is I suppose going to be a matter of personal opinion…I dislike the way magic works in WHFB…you may be entirely happy with it…

So for the purposes of game-play I would have to say that Kings of War is easier to learn, quicker to set-up and involves far less referring to the rulebook. WHFB on the other hand I think suffers from the fact that each new edition and/or new army book adds another layer of complication which are for the most part unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. In fact, the WHFB system as a whole would benefit greatly from somebody starting from scratch and reducing it back to it’s core concepts but I think we all know that this is highly unlikely to ever occur. Mantic Games have had the advantage of being able to design a system from the ground up and the additional advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes of others…

Model Quality.



Games Workshop have a significant edge when it comes to comparisons of model quality. For all the criticism they may get for certain of their releases on an aesthetic level and the justifiably bad press for their choice of materials *cough* Finecast *cough* I think we all must admit that they are responsible for some beautiful model kits and when it comes to spare sprue parts the number of options given take some beating…however…I have enough spare parts to fill a small warehouse and it’s only my OCD that’s responsible for me keeping them all. In many ways your paying for a pile of plastic that you’ll never use.

Mantic Games use a more proportional correct scale for their humanoid models than the more ‘heroic’ one favoured by Games Workshop so preferences of style are going to come into any direct comparison. There is also a noticeable difference in the level of detail in their earlier models though this became far less significant in their later releases. The various races still fit the appropriate fantasy archetypes though the variances are noticeable enough that a Kings of War Ogre (for example) has a distinct style of their own. We all to one extent or another base our army selections on aesthetics and in this area your most likely going to prefer one version or another. Fortunately there’s nothing to stop you using a WHFB army in the Kings of War system though I’m not sure how successful that would be if you attempted it the other way around…Games Workshop are somewhat less tolerant of other companies products at their events than you’d like.

Mantic Games model kits for Kings of War offer far less variety in the area of spare parts than a Games Workshop equivalent and though some have extra weapon options your unlikely to be filling crates with spare parts. If your a prolific converter of models then you may find this an issue but the differences in cost are so significant that the amount of spare parts you could acquire with the change makes this a none issue.

However before you pick which models you want to use as the basis for an army you may wish to peruse their motivations from a background point of view…I hear that some people select their entire collections based on such factors…seems like a strange way of winning games to me…

Background.




Here we are in another area that the guys at Games Workshop have a bit of a head start in. With decades of material to draw upon and a team of writers with which to create extra material they already have considerable depth and ‘flavour’ from which to draw. Having a publishing company as part of their hobby empire can’t hurt either. I think your all aware that if were going to have a realistic comparison between WHFB and Kings of War in this area then the system with Games Workshop behind it has got to have the edge.

The background material provided in the Kings of War main rulebook and the two supplements is more than adequate to give you an idea of their worlds history together with a brief flavourful overview of each army and some of this is expanded upon in the aforementioned supplements. The provided material is more than enough to give you an idea of each armies hopes and motivations as well as who they’re happy to brutally murder in the name of progress. That’s more than enough for most people though I understand that many hobbyists are happy to read through pages of background with as much (or maybe more enjoyment) than they get from actually playing the game. As Games Workshop have a thirty year head start then we’d have to give their system the win in this area…how important that really is can be debated amongst yourselves. Personally, I enjoy stories that allow you to immerse yourself in the world your experiencing but much of that immersion comes from playing the game…you may feel differently however…

Cost.
Lets get this out of the way then…Games Workshop are bloody expensive…

I’d like to buy one box of Witch Elves please…..

There is a point with any product that the quality ceases to be worth the investment and the saying “you get what you pay for” stops being accurate and starts sounding like an excuse and Games Workshop passed that point for me some time ago.  In comparison Kings of War is excellent value for money by any standards. The model quality is more than adequate and when compared to cost becomes remarkable when compared to the competition and many of their models are superior to those of Games Workshop in style even at that reduced cost. The way that units can be easily turned into attractive dioramas has the added effect of meaning that you can get away with using less than a full amount of models to fill out a units size…as long as your ‘horde’ isn’t one model in the centre of a gigantic base in a ‘come at me pose’ then this is entirely reasonable.

The fact that the rulebook (minus background material) can be acquired completely free only adds to this value.

The download link for the rulebook is here should you wish a look.

In Conclusion.
Kings of War has a better rule-set, is cheaper and has a more than satisfactory model range to complement it. WHFB has more background material…

The Martians were far less diplomatic in their opinions of Games Workshop…

While I was writing this article I gave a draft to several friends of mine with experiences of both systems in order to get some feedback about it’s objectivity. Only one of them had any firm opinions on it so I thought I’ll add his input here.

A.D.’s opinion –

“The more I played WHFB over the years, the more I found problems with the balance of the system. If I wanted to play rock, paper, scissors I wouldn’t spend all that money on miniatures!
Anyway what I’m getting at is when KOW was released the whole rule-set was balanced and has yet to be unbalanced by any releases since. It is a novel concept to not play bigger, faster, stronger, GIANT MONSTERS WIV MAGIKZ, but it seems to be working so far.
Sure Mantics sculpts were a little behind but they are improving wave by wave and are producing some exceptional models, they’re even telling me about them months before hand, so it’s easy to plan finances around purchases.
That being said, cost aside there are some lovely plastic sculpts being produced by GW. Another highpoint of WHFB is its huge wealth of background and fluff. It almost has a prestige about it, it has set the bar for the amazing stories and backgrounds to come. 
All I’d say to those that haven’t tried KOW yet is give it a go, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Anyway that’s just my opinion, it’s probably right…. Feel free to Google it.”


-A.D.

More information on Kings of War can be found at Mantics website here.

Next week we’ll have a look at Warmachine…

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

My Facebook page also has regular posts on various things (not just Malifaux though I write about it a lot) and for more of my barely coherent rantings feel free to check out my blog here.

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