Fantasy Battles – Kings of War

With the children away and the Gamer’s Edition rulebook just landed in our laps, we decided to try out Kings of War first. I didn’t bother making proper army lists, I just put out whatever of Jen’s units I could place quickly and some of my own to try and look balanced.

She had the Undead, using her Vampire Counts. These seem to map across fairly well. She had regiments of Ghouls, Zombies, Revenants (using Grave Guard) and Skeleton Warriors with two Vampire Lords.

On my side, I used the fresh new Twilight Kin placeholder with regiments of Buccaneers (Corsairs) and Bladedancers (Witch Elves), a troop of Dark Knights (Cold One Knights), a Dark Lord and a High Priestess of the Abyss (using the very appropriate Death Hag from the old Cauldron of Blood). Adding them up afterwards, both armies were around the 800 point mark.

We didn’t take any updates to any units, or use any terrain this time, and we had a 4’ x 4’ table to play on. No scenarios, no time limit, nothing.

Jen placed her units down to cover the flanks, meaning I couldn’t get around the side – I screwed up some of my movement and she got a couple of flank charges on me. My Priestess managed to avoid fighting until the very end and spent the whole game throwing Fireballs around. They are particularly effective against units like Ghouls, which were wavering on the first turn!

There’s a lot to get used to about the game. We both found it odd to do nothing on our opponent’s turn. The combat procedure of charge in, fight, move out without being hit back made it difficult to gauge fights, and progress, and who was going to survive. Early on when I could see all the charges Jen would get in against me I thought it would be a loss for me, then I had a couple of good turns and removed almost everything, making me confident that she couldn’t recover. Ultimately the game came down to my Bladedancers (with 10 damage already) being wiped out by what was left of her Zombies, before the Zombies were blown up by a Fireball. Finally, the last Vampire Lord chased down the Priestess and smashed her into the ground to become literally the last man standing, and Jen won.

When we finished, we looked at the time – it wasn’t a tiny game, though we could still have added more to it – and it took us under two hours. Given how simple the rules were (it takes two turns maximum to learn what everything is and what it does), we were both confident than a bigger game wouldn’t take too much. Compared to Warhammer (all editions until now), no units have unique rules and the stats are much simpler. There’s only a few calculations in the game and they are simple, and based on the rules. For example, Crushing Strength (2) adds 2 to your result when rolling to Damage. It’s a common rule, shared by her Vampire Lords and my Dark Lord, so it was easy for us to know what it meant.

So what did we like about it? Well, it was quick. Although we sat doing nothing until our turn, it didn’t take long to wait. It was also quick to pick up – the stats and rules are simple enough to get into the game quickly and look for tactical opportunities.

On the other hand, it felt like there could have been more choice. I realise that this could be down to only having a few units either side, and not really paying attention to the army lists (the criteria was “this is already ranked on the shelf” and not “what would be an interesting or effective army”), and not using scenarios or terrain. Years of extremely infrequent Warhammer games have steered me towards straight Pitched Battles to keep things simple but Kings of War is simple enough to pick it up from scratch and play a couple of thousand points in a couple of hours, so I don’t think a scenario would be too difficult to add to the core rules.

It’s also a little bit more abstract, yet more realistic. The way that units move – specifically the interpenetration of units while moving (sometimes referred to in Warhammer as ‘virtual pivots’) means that large regiments can reorder in a way properly representative of a real unit. Knowing several people involved in historical re-enactment, I have been told a number of ways that units in wargames don’t behave like real units would. On the abstract side, your attacks, roll to hit and damage is purely a score. It’s not immediately or directly related to the weapons or units, unless you begin looking at them and comparing to similar units in their army or others and telling yourself that this unit must have more attacks because it has two weapons, or that unit has Crushing Strength because they have halberds. In old Warhammer, you would look at a unit’s list of equipment and calculate from that your armour save and damage output. In Kings of War it’s all pre-calculated and without putting that little bit of personal analysis in, it didn’t make immediate sense. Luckily the units that I’d picked were, on both sides, relatable to their statistics. The Witch Elves Bladedancers even acted in a manner I would have expected them to by causing extra morale damage and ignoring morale trouble in their own unit!

Overall, we are both keen to try this out again. Next up though is a play-through of Age of Sigmar to see what this new spin on Warhammer can offer.

Fantasy Battles!

Big news in the world of Fantasy Battles! Warhammer is dead, long live Warhammer!

Warhammer as I know it and love it has been scrapped entirely, and replaced with a new game – Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I’ve been playing Warhammer to a greater or lesser extent since 4th edition, and it went out on 8th edition. Unfortunately, I only managed to get a few games in of eighth because of time and friends who play dwindling and children making it more and more difficult for Jen and I to set up the table and get the armies out for a game at the weekend.

Not only was the game replaced by Age of Sigmar, but it went out with a five-part series which introduced all manner of game-breaking rules, while the story progressed ever more apocalyptic until the world itself was destroyed – utterly. And I have come to terms with the reasons for this. The background was seen as “too difficult” for new players to get into (I disagree, but we’ll let it slide), the rules were seen as much too complicated and the entry price to the game was too steep. I agree that the rules were complex. Although it was what players like me enjoyed about the game, it gave it tactical depth, it’s not exactly the easiest learning curve for beginners. And the starter price of an army was somewhere in the region of £250, sometimes including books and sometimes not. To have more options or a bigger game, you were obviously adding a whole bunch more to that.

Now, the core rules are free. And a ‘get you by’ set of lists to use the old armies in Age of Sigmar are also free. There are a few big differences though:

  1. Simple rules, only four pages long.
  2. No points costs, balance is decided between friends.
  3. Old armies are not coming back; these are a sticky plaster for old players.

The downsides of these things are:

  1. No tactical depth; there’s no point to manoeuvring.
  2. Balance between friends will be a matter of trial and error; balance between strangers is impossible.
  3. I love my old armies!

Balance is the big thing. I understand that balance is now a matter of “don’t be a dick” but in reality, my mate and I will need to play a few games to determine what is fair between us. Then we’ll go to a club and either get walked over for being totally useless (maybe our opponent has decided something else is fair with his regular opponents, maybe he’s a dick, maybe he’s trying out something new and doesn’t realise the disparity) or we’ll get thrown out for bringing an unstoppable power force and not playing fair.

Having read the rules, and some reviews, I have come to a few conclusions. It will be a smaller, possibly faster game than old Warhammer but it will not scale well. Every unit plays differently, with different special rules. Very few cross-cutting rules, and very little that can be cross-applied, and since units no longer move as units it will take more time to move things across the table. It will not take as much manoeuvring as the old game, it will be more a matter of “push it forward”.

I am planning to be fair to it, and give it a try. If it is quicker, maybe we’ll have time for a game in the evening when the kids have gone to bed, and it’ll be nice to use the old armies. On the other hand, the game isn’t the same style as I had, doesn’t have the background I loved, and it sounds like they want to rely on scenarios (read: future purchases) to introduce balance and purpose to games. If the rules depth I want isn’t there, and the background I want isn’t there, and my armies won’t be an ongoing part of the game… what’s in it for me?

On the other hand, Kings of War is on its way too. The rules are also free. And it is also faster and just as tactical as old Warhammer. I’ve been meaning to give it a go for a while, and this will be the push. Having read through that this last week, it is very big on manoeuvring. Getting into an opponent’s flank is devastating, getting to the rear is absolute murder. The game is focused on units rather than models, so pushing things around is quicker. It also doesn’t have the background that I have grown to love, but at this point that’s no longer a concession – and they are also planning on army lists to match the old GW ones so with any luck, my Dark Elves will have a place. Having read through, I could probably use my Wood Elves as “Elves” or as “Forces of Nature” and with Undead Jen is pretty well set in any Fantasy game.

So my plan is to try out both of these games, then report back on how they went and which one we’ll move forward with. Wish us luck!

Kickstarter Roundup

It’s been an interesting few years for me with Kickstarter – here’s where I’m at with all of my backed projects.

Order of the Stick Reprint Drive

This was my first Kickstarter, and is still outstanding. The reason for that though is clear – the sole artist and writer of the saga damaged his hand pretty badly shortly after the Kickstarter, and has been fulfilling the bonus content as and when he can since then. It should be noted that the core pledge – books – were delivered on time without problem and I’ve received all the physical goods I ordered. The remaining things are mostly digital short stories, and I can wait for those to drip in slowly for another couple of years. I trust Rich to be able to fulfil the Kickstarter promises, and in theory all the bonus content will actually make up half of an extra book – if the promises made don’t mandate exclusivity, of course. I’m not hung up on exclusivity myself, but I know some people can get really irate about that sort of thing.

Broken Age

It’s been an interesting project, given that the whole thing has been relatively public on video since it’s inception. I’m getting a bit itchy since finishing Act One, and the pace of the videos has slowed down dramatically, and before too long they’ll be going dark for Amnesia Fortnight again. Hopefully, there’ll at least be some more AF videos this year even if the Broken Age ones are slowing down.

Wasteland 2

An entirely complete project! I only put in for the game itself, and no physical rewards, so I’m absolutely thrilled with the final result. The only problem is that my aging graphics card finally gave up and packed in. I’ll need to get a new one before I can play any more modern games.

Broken Sword

I was a huge fan of the original Broken Sword games, I remember getting awfully stuck on the first one (the goat…) with my cousin on the Playstation. I still haven’t completed BS4 yet, but the control system was just too unpleasant to deal with. I’ll try and get back to it one day, I expect. This Kickstarter delivered on time, and it delivered an awesome game. Not as hard as some of the older games, but not a pushover either.

Satellite Reign

This is possibly the riskiest project that I’ve backed – it is by a studio I’m not familiar with remaking a game I loved but was no good at. It’s still ticking along, and I’m aware of the long lead time in games (looking at the finished or nearly finished projects that I’ve backed, that’s clearer to me now) and their work in progress has been encouraging so far. They’ve also just released keys for Steam Early Access, which is a relief!

Torment: Tides of Numenera

I backed this because I was so confident in the team to deliver Wasteland 2, and because I know people who loved Planescape: Torment. I never got that far into it, and was playing it years behind the times when UI conventions had changed a lot (2d to 3d, no zoom, etc) and it makes some games age poorly. At the time, I could have loved it but interface and resolution had come a long way and I didn’t like the feeling that I was dying too much…

Cirque du Mort

The latest project that I’ve backed, on a recommendation from a friend. It’s a comic book that by KS prices comes out pretty cheap – definitely worth a shot to see how it goes.

DreadBall and Xtreme

These two projects really hit me hard, I fell for DreadBall bad during the Kickstarter and bought almost everything (figuring I could sell it on later at a profit if I wanted to). When Xtreme came around, I just went for the “one of everything” pledge to make it easier, rather than keep adding stuff on. To this day, the only thing I’ve had to buy for DreadBall separately is the Azure Forest expansion.

I picked up the Xtreme game at the Open Day, and look forward to getting the first Season Four bits in the new year! It’ll be great to finally play with them, but I’ll have to get cracking on the painting…

Mars Attacks

This one didn’t interest me until it added a DreadBall team add-on. That’s all I went for, so I was surprised when I was sent the digital rules as well. Turns out that the rules for the DB team are hidden somewhere in one of the expansions – hopefully, they will be available to the world at large sometime afterwards.

As far as I’m aware, it delivered on time for me. I know some things were delayed but only by a few weeks, so it shouldn’t have been too big a deal.

Dungeon Saga

So I’m becoming a bit of a Mantic fan. This looked like another good, quick game to play and also a good introduction for older children to complex games. As a bonus it’s co-operative and multiplayer, so it could be brought out for a games night (full campaign in a day?) with the option of pitching it at “out of the box” mode for new players or “analysis paralysis” for the keen roleplayers amongst us. I went in for one of everything again… whoops.

Kings of War Second Edition

Oh dear. Another Mantic project. I only wanted one model, but with postage added it was only a little extra to get the rulebooks as well… so I went in at the low level, no upgrades, just to get the Blaine miniature. It might be easier to get a large fantasy game in as well since the rules are faster than Warhammer.

The Underground: A Sam & Fuzzy RPG

This one I backed on a whim. It looks like a silly, cartoony RPG much like the comic it’s based on. It might be a good game to play between our (no longer regular) regular RPGs, which are always planned as pretty serious and straight stories and then meet the players.