Thuloid Speaks: The Rats Return – A Kings of War Battle Report
Greetings, O House! It has been too long by far. The presence of the young one has thrown my timing off a bit, but I have regained solid footing and am again poised to grace you with some verbose puffery dressed up as a gaming blog post. The subject of said puffery is Kings of War, which has lately displaced Warhammer Fantasy Battle from its station as leading medieval fantasy mass combat game. The fall of Warhammer is well documented and evident enough; the rise of Kings of War is partly abhorrence of vacuum in the mini gaming ecosystem, partly good timing and clever growth strategy from Mantic Games. To wit, my lovely new and surprisingly well-bound Kings of War 2nd Edition rule book has lately arrived from England, the corpse of Warhammer in this part of Pennsylvania having not quite reached room temperature.
A week before that arrival, I arranged a game with another local war dolly enthusiast who has been converting his Vampire Counts into a proper Kings of War Undead list. My rats had grown restless–I downloaded the latest beta version of the army list spreadsheet for the Kings of War: You’ve Got a Warhammer Army and We Can Write Lists All Day supplement (to be released in November as Kings of War: Uncharted Empires — there are also rumblings of a historical supplement to come, which has me giddy with thoughts of New Model Army vs. Orcs) and constructed a 2000 point Ratkin force. At game time, the list was at version 1.81; you may notice that it stands at a final version of 2.20, the Ratkin having experienced significant revision. Open beta testing of armies is a grand thing.
Anyhow, O House–wait, that reminds me. I recently read a piece in the Paris Review on the disappearance of that vocative ‘O’ from English writing. I suppose I hadn’t realized that it had gone away, though on consideration I would have identified the usage as somewhat archaic, but in either case I’ve been doing my part to keep it alive as prior posts attest. There is something formal and majestic about it. The article doesn’t say so, but almost certainly the origin is in classical Latin. Cicero (fun fact: the surname Cicero means “chickpea,” and many Romans had equally amusing family names) uses it, famously in his First Catilinarian Oration: O tempora, o mores! O the times, O the customs! I suspect it was directly imported from there into English in the early modern period. Wait, why is this here? Perhaps I should have added “self-indulgent” to the description of my writing in the first paragraph.
Where was I? Ah, yes, Kings of War. I’ll use this post to give you a brief primer on the mechanics of the game in battle report form. So, the game is roughly medieval-ish fantasy mass combat. I’m sure you figured that out. Square bases, set up 24″ apart on a 6′ x 4′ table and all the rest you’ve come to expect. Some basics as to how it works:
Players take turns instead of moving all their pieces at the same time while swatting the other guy’s hand away so as to disrupt his actions. That’d be interesting in its own right, but it isn’t this game. There’s a movement phase, then a shooting phase, then a melee combat phase, and then the other player’s turn to go with all his units. A player has no decisions to make or dice to roll in his opponent’s turn, so the game can be played with chess clocks.
Unit stats: Unit type & size, Speed, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Defense, Attacks, Nerve, Points Cost.
Unit dimensions are defined by a standardized footprint and organized into the sizes of Troop, Regiment, Horde, and Legion (legions are rare, and exist mainly for things like zombies and masses of slave troops). Formations of individual units don’t change.
To resolve an attack, the attacker rolls as many dice as his Att characeristic, and scores as many hits as exceed his Melee (or Ranged, if we’re shooting) value (generally 3+, 4+ or 5+). Modifiers to hit are few. The hits are then rolled against the target unit’s defense value, and every success is counted as a point of damage on the unit. Modifiers to that are common.
Hit an opponent in the flank? Double your number of attacks. In the rear? Triple it. Even weak units are dangerous if they reach the opponent’s rear (as are some players).
Combat occurs as a series of distinct charges and counter-charges. After the resolution of a combat phase, the units are separated by an inch and in the next turn, the opposing player will have a chance to strike back, unless Wavered or Routed.
At the end of a shooting or melee phase, the active player rolls 2d6 for each unit he damaged and adds the total damage suffered by that unit. If this Nerve test exceeds the target’s Waver score, the target cannot charge or shoot in the coming turn. If it exceeds the Rout score, the unit is removed from play. Individual models are never removed from units.
Heroes are useful, but generally not capable of taking on full units. They add a little extra into a fight or boost your force. A hero on a dragon can do damage, but it comes at great cost. There are no re-rollable ward saves or other powerful protections for characters and units. Magic items exist as upgrades for units, and most any unit can take them (a few are for heroes only).
Ordinary soldiers are desirable. Men with spears can make a capable center to a battle line. The concept of “core tax” is absent, because these guys are necessary to victory. The few limitations to list building merely prevent spamming the board with tiny units (the first edition suffered badly from that) or taking only war machines.
So, my Ratkin. If I was going to bring thinly disguised Skaven to the table, then it made sense to put together an army that fought how I always felt my Skaven should fight and examine its viability in the new setting. I’m not much for the giant mobs of slaves–I prefer elite soldiers, which for the rats means still fairly cheap medium infantry. This is what I put together in rough imitation of my recent Skaven lists, but with a few odd units thrown in to test the limits of the new list:
Two Hordes of Shock Troops (elite rats with polearms), a Horde of Blight (a resilient block of disease-carrying fanatics with a huge number of attacks) and a Horde of Brutes (monstrous rats who can dish it out, but lack staying power). This was the core of the army. Now for some toys:
A couple Troops of Clawshots (rats with long rifles) and some Scurriers (skirmishing rat ninjas with throwing stars) for infantry-based shooting and harassment.
A Weapon Team (mobile, foot-based artillery–think flamethrower) and two Shredders (some sort of cannon) for more shooting.
A Mutant Rat-Fiend and Rattlewagon for mobile monstery goodness. The Rattlewagon has ceased to exist in more recent revisions, but its function can be replicated with the Death Engine entry.
A Warlock to shoot lightning bolts as needed and three Army Standard Bearers to keep my troops on the field and moving forward. Plus some minor magical items for the units. As you can see, it’s a close analogue to Skaven.
True to Skaven form, I was able to get a lot on the field for 2000 points. My opponent, Count Ludwig von Bomberg (almost certainly not his real name) selected an elite Undead list with a lot of magical upgrades. No Skeletons or Ghouls, and only one horde of Zombies. In some ways it was a mirror image of mine, though with fewer toys and almost no shooting:
Two magically upgraded hordes of Revenants (medium to heavy undead infantry), a horde of Zombies (awful, but cheap) and a horde of Werewolves (even faster and meaner than my Brutes).
Two Regiments of Revenant Cavalry (solid heavy cavalry).
Two Troops of Soul Reaver Infantry (vampires on foot–absolutely vicious).
Mhorgoth the Faceless, a very powerful named character necromancer, and a couple of Army Standard Bearers. Mhorgoth’s spells represented the only shooting in the list, as well as the only source of magically boosted movement for the less vigorous of the Undead.
My opponent had set up terrain in roughly symmetrical fashion before the game. One oddity was a river running down the center of the table from my end to his– that was likely to keep the heavy cavalry out of the middle, as such terrain weakens charges. I realized three things right away: 1) The rats had artillery and the Undead did not 2) those very slow Revenant and Zombie hordes would be hard to coordinate with the much faster werewolves and cavalry 3)the Revenants were a match for any rat infantry, but the Zombies were a weak link.
I hoped to overload the right flank with both units of Shock Troops and the Rattlewagon. I deployed my Mutant Rat-Fiend right on the river, dead center, as he ignores that sort of terrain for charge purposes. The Brutes deployed next to him, with a unit of Clawshots and the Warlock nearby. The Shredders (at the time of play still considered height 2–that has since changed) deployed behind, with sight to most of the field. On my left I put the Blight horde, the other Clawshots, the Scurriers on the extreme flank and the Weapon Team. I meant to confuse and delay on this flank–these units were mainly small and cheap.
The Ratkin are a foot list (they have one cavalry option), but quick for infantry. Their larger units provide a bonus to the Nerve of units within 6″– rats are more confident in greater numbers. This made the units on the right flank mutually reinforcing and able to absorb a lot of punishment. I hoped that the lighter troops on my left might not fold immediately due to the presence of the Blight nearby.
Count Ludwig overloaded to my right with his cavalry and one Revenant horde, and the elite vampire infantry hidden behind larger units to protect them from shooting. The Werewolves, the other Revenants and Mhorgoth himself opposed the rats’ left, and easily outmatched me there. The center was potentially very weak, if either Revenant unit could be drawn towards the flank.
As the battle opened the rats advanced cautiously, the infantry staking out positions on both hills. Rifles, shredders and throwing stars caused minimal damage to the opposing line. The Undead advanced quickly on the flanks, but couldn’t do more than shuffle forward in the center of their line.
Turn two called for more aggression. The Rat-Fiend and Brutes charged the hapless (Is anything hapful? Woe to the children of earth whose hap is only ever lacking) zombies in the middle of the field, tearing them to shreds and opening a gap in the Undead line. My mosquito swarm on the left flank continued to annoy the Werewolves and the artillery pecked away at the Revenants. Count Ludwig’s response was more or less as I hoped–the Revenant infantry were too far away to do anything but plod forward. The Soul Reaver troops both charged my Brutes and cut the beasts down–a necessary sacrifice. This also left the vampires isolated in the middle of the field. On the left, the Werewolves charged my rifles and wavered them, but just missed routing them from the table (O hapful day!)–the nearby Blight and Army Standard had bolstered the unit enough to preserve my flank. Mhorgoth blasted the Scurriers with a fireball, but they stood as well. Both units of Revenant Cavalry hit my rightmost Shock Troops in a tense moment. They did significant damage, but the rats held firm.
The way was clear for me to claim the right and, likely, the battle. On the rats’ extreme right, the Rattlewagon and the rightmost Shock Troops charged forward into the undead cavalry. The second unit of Shock Troops wheeled into the flank of the other cavalry unit. Both blocks of cavalry crumbled (this was the most likely outcome), and the shock troops rearranged themselves one behind the other, to prevent either from receiving a flank charge from the infantry. Shredders and Clawshots opened up on a unit of Soul Reavers, causing significant damage. The Weapons Team moved around to protect the flank of the Blight and opened up on the Werewolves.
The Undead did not have many options. One unit of Revenants charged a fresh block of Shock Troops, the other the Blight. Neither group of rats budged. The Werewolves easily finished off the Clawshots and turned toward the Blight’s flank, but still had a Weapon Team to deal with and had exposed their rear to the Scurriers. Another fireball from Mhorgoth was not enough to rout the Weapon Team. The uninjured Soul Reavers turned towards the Rat-Fiend, awaiting their doom, while the more depleted unit advanced towards the Ratkin line.
The Undead left having collapsed and the Ratkin left holding on (barely), my task was to turn my forces back towards the center and crush what remained. The Rat-Fiend charged the waiting Soul Reavers and routed them. Artillery fire further weakened the second unit of Soul Reavers–it was unlikely to survive into melee. Shock Troops and Blight struck back against the Revenant blocks, while the Rattlewagon swung around to open up a flank charge on the right. Weapons Team and Scurriers again fired into the Werewolves–the Scurriers could have charged, but this would have left the Weapon Team without a viable target. The remaining Clawshots repositioned to open up more fire on the (very resiilient) Werewolves next turn.
Count Ludwig dutifully charged the Weapon Team with the Werewolves and eliminated it. Mhorgoth flew over next to a Shredder and opened fire on it, destroying the machine. The Revenants attacked the Blight and Shock Troops again, routing the latter. The unlucky Soul Reavers continued their death march.
The fifth turn proved the last. The scurriers charged the Werewolves in the rear and routed them at last. A lightning bolt and some artillery fire cleared out the remaining vampires. The Shock Troops and Rattlewagon finished off the Revenant block, leaving only Mhorgoth, a damaged unit of Revenants and a couple of flag-wavers on the table for the Undead. Ludwig conceded the day and called for a general retreat.
So…how did the game play? Well, quite a bit like Warhammer, but with almost no rules problems, weird game-y tactics or confusion as to which units did what. My opponent lost for actual tactical reasons (when my right flank didn’t fold, he was too spread out to salvage the situation) and, of course, dice (I made every big roll I needed).
Next time I plan to review the new Kings of War book, which Son of Thuloid and I have been eagerly going over in between feedings, naps, changes and readings of C is for Cthulhu. Au revoir.