Fun Gameplay, But No Depth: Kings of War Review
Kings of War is an entry-level wargame without enough depth to entice most veteran wargamers, but with a good-enough gameplay to make playing it not a chore.
Kings of War looks promising. There's a lot of variation in units, the models don't look half-bad. It's fun to play, and it's not that expensive. The problems is: it's a whole lot of nothing.
I'd seen a lot of people talking about Kings of War, enough that I figured I ought to dip my toe into it. And I was very tempted by all of the different forces available online. Mantic, the creator of Kings of War, has done a pretty good job of putting out good army lists for a good price.
The problem, I found out after purchasing the Kings of War 2 Player Starter Set, War in the Holds, is that the game is cheap for a reason. And that reason is that they cut a lot of corners, both in production but especially in story and lore. There is not an original thought in the box, and what the game boils down to is, essentially, a rank-and-flank game with all of the Warhammer Fantasy races and none of the story.
If the game had not come out in 2009, I would have initially thought that Kings of War was a small company trying to snap up the players left out in the cold by the end of Warhammer Fantasy--everything about the game seems lifted from Warhammer almost whole cloth. No, that's not entirely true--it's like Warhammer Fantasy, but without the creativity.
Because that's what Kings of War really lacks: story and lore. There are hints that there might be a story--we know that the world they live in is called Pannithor, and that we're in the Age of Conflict, and there's something about a demigod, but when I cracked open this box hoping to find out what really made Kings of War fantastic, there is...nothing. The book has about two paragraphs of vague story, the core rules, and then a lot of army lists.
I'm really not trying to be too harsh on this game. I wanted to love it. Yes, I knew going in that the starter box had Ratkin versus Goblins, and the Ratkin sounded an AWFUL LOT like Skaven, but I figured they were differentiating themselves somehow. I figured that, even if they were using all of the traditional races that are present in standard fantasy (Dwarves and Elves and Goblins and Humans and Undead and Orcs) they would at least have something interesting to do with these races. After all, half of epic fantasy since Tolkien has used these races and some have been very successful in translating generic tropes into interesting IPs.
But I found none of that in Kings of War. And the thing is, I'm not even really a lore guy. I enjoy lore, but I'm not a die-hard lore master. With Warhammer, I've read maybe ten of the Black Library books--ten out of 150. So I enjoy lore, but lore is not what gets me to play a game. But in this case, it's really what's making me not want to play this game.
Because look at the second big problem: it's rank-and-flank, and with rank-and-flank games you are going to get big blocks of the same unit types. That's fine. That's what rank-and-flank aficionados love about these games. But what it translates to in a start collecting box is that I get 4 identical 10-man Ratkin sprues, and 4 identical 10-man Goblin sprues, and then six other models (one leader for each army, on Ratkin monster and three Goblin monsters) and that's it.
This is supposed to be the introduction to the game, the thing that gets me hooked in Kings of War, the thing that's supposed to get me clamoring to buy more of it, to expand to one of the 14 other races, to get excited. And it just doesn't.
Now, to be fair, while we get a ton of the same sprues, the models aren't bad at all. I haven't assembled the Goblins yet, but I don't see an appreciable difference between the Kings of War Ratkin and the Warhammer Skaven--except in variation. So the few models that we get are nice and crisp, with interesting details, faces, expressions, poses, and so on. I can't fault Mantic for having bad models. I just fault them for having so few to pick from.
Of course, I know what you're saying: this is a starter set, and it only cost $84 on Amazon. The full army sets on Amazon, which sell for about $120 (give or take) are much more expansive.
But are they really? The Ratkin Mega Army comes with 80 Ratkin warriors (so, the same sprues that I got in the starter set) plus 6 Nightmares (which are 2 copies of three sculpts, 3 Tunnel Runners, and a Brood Mother. So it's more, it's just not really more variation.
And again, you're saying that this is a starter set and maybe they just didn't include the lore in this book. And that's true. Looking on Mantic's website there's a book called Uncharted Empires, which adds 12 more army lists and may very well include some lore. There's also the full 3rd Edition Rulebook (the rulebook that came in the starter set was the Gamer's Edition Rulebook, though it rolls in at 144 pages, and you really have to question why they couldn't include at least a little bit of story).
But what about gameplay? There are definitely some interesting things about Kings of War gameplay, and I 100% admit that it is differentiated from Warhammer Fantasy in that Kings of War does not appear to suffer from rules bloat. The gameplay is quick and simple. Movement is extremely important, as it is in all rank-and-flank games, but it's not SO important that it makes every move a long chess-like decision.
When it comes to wargaming, there are three things that people look for: they look at gameplay, they look at lore, and they look at hobbying. Kings of War appears to have gameplay down, but it doesn't have lore, and when you have tons of sprues of the exact same models it really falls short in the hobbying category.
I was really wanting to like Kings of War, and I'm still interested enough that I'm going to sincerely try to find out if there's any lore or story to be found anywhere.
Because, ultimately, it doesn't play like a wargame. It plays like a beginners, entry-level game. I understand that Kings of War is very popular in some gaming clubs and I would be interested in talking to these people, because I'm having a hard time finding the depth to it.