Sunday 19 January 2014

Elves, Wizards and other nonsense

Something a bit different for a friday night diversion, and a move anyway from the usual WW2, well ‘a change is as good as’ and all that... and I am so a fan of good fantasy (well, pretty much Tolkien really).

Amongst my gaming circle all of us have Warhammer armies, most of us have several (I currently have 2 but have owned 5 in my time, since edition 1 of Warhammer – yes I have played at least once with every edition since, except 3rd). These collections of hard won (well in hours of painting) toy soldiers do not see the light of day. Put bluntly, nobody wants to play Warhammer. For myself I’m not adverse to a bit of light (or slightly silly) entertainment with the Warhammer rules, and I actual think the latest edition is the best in many iterations, but that’s no good if nobody else wants to play. For most of them, the game has lost its way, rules changes have nerfed their armies or placed a demand on buying a hell of lots of extra, expensive  stuff, which after so long playing they aren’t prepared to do (it all seems a bit cynical). The constant fluxtuations of lists and rules has worn them down. So, our armies gather dust, unused and unloved, in boxes under bed and at the back of garages.

Anyhow, to cut a longer story shorter, for some time we have talked about trying out some different rules for our under-used model collections. Maybe new rules would reinvigorate fantasy gaming for us. So, the first test of that theory came on friday evening when I dug-out my gratis copy of Mantic’s ‘Kings of War’ rules to give them a trial run. I dusted off my High Elves, they haven’t see a tabletop in about 3 years. My opponent dug-out his Dark Elves, they haven’t seen a table in about 4 years and, post take-out Pizza, we set to.

I took a few pics of the game, but the demand of new rules meant I was mostly focussed on playing and learning the game (although it doesn’t take too long) and not getting thrashed. 

 Deployment, High Elves at the bottom

 Dark Elf left

 facing High Elf right

 High Elf left

 Facing the Dark Elf right's massed firepower

 Gargoyles and sorcerer try to fly around and outflank, and got badly shot-up and blasted by magic

Riders quickly into the centre to threaten a flank charge, that halted that advance.

 The Dark Elf left steams forward, it overran the hill and the bolt throwers on it,
doing most of the damage in the process - the rampaging Hydra was all but unstoppable.

I’m not going to review the rules, beyond a few thoughts and impression, and one game really isn’t fair treatment. But, and there has to be one, if a game can’t win you over to its nuances or nice mechanics or ‘feel’ in its first playing, I find it certainly can drive you out completely. Suffice to say, we are out. Kings of War isn’t the answer for us, so we’ll search on, which actually might be good fun in itself. Ultimately, I get the déjà-vu feeling of this being another WW2 dilemna... big miniatures collections we enjoyed collecting and painting but then disliked the actual game experience. The fix for that was dilemna to write my own, maybe this should be the same? One day...

The main discussion points after the game were; the old bugbear of first turn-itus, a hate of mine. The player that wins the roll of for first turn, gets to shoot first and inflict damage that can cripple enemy units before they ever get a go. It’s very common, and something I hate. Here it occurred, with two HighElf units ‘wavering’ after Dark Elf bolt thrower and crossbow fire, never to become unwavered and do nothing all game... with most of the armies in range on turn one, too much weight is on getting that first turn.

The players who’s turn it isn’t(!!) is very passive, effectively he gets to do nothing at all, not even roll any dice. For me, I don’t like the feeling of just being hit and hit again, and not having anything to do with it but take it on the chin. The tables turn of course, but it is unsatisfying for each to just dole out massive blows in strict order. It doesn’t feel like a battle, and is something more akin to a boxing match in a Rocky film (when compared to actual boxing matches). No back and forth, no building of pressure, just a slugging match.

Third, the wavering ‘Nerve’ rule just doesn’t work (maybe we did it wrong, but we checked three times). Once a unit wavers it is effective out of the game (it can withdraw). When this occurred, there is no encouragement to actually go on to finish off the unit until very late in the game, because if they take more damage, they get a new nerve test and can now pass it, thus getting back in the battle. Just ignore them, they can’t hurt you anymore and worry about finishing them off later for the victory points if you need them. In our game it result in bizarre-ness, units left standing about all over the battlefield, doing nothing and with no hope of ever doing anything. My griffon mounted hero was stranded in the very midst of the enemy army, who then just ignored him and big monster.

Lastly, the dice rolling is all very predictable... roll 20 dice needing 4+ and you will get predictable results... so you know what will happen in combats (beyond very extra-ordinary flukes of luck). Most of the rough time to average occurs... dull.

In the end the battle was a draw, 625 point worth of damage taken, to 595 points of damage inflicted. The Dark Elves were in the better position if there had been another turn (and the strict turn limit did result in the usual last turn craziness to ‘hovering up’ victory points, so I’ll give him the winning end of the draw (which was positive my youngest son, as he was went to bed rooting for the bad guys in black to win, a slightly worrying trend). I know you can play a game differently, but the game needs to encourage and reward certain player, and this doesn’t.


  1. Hi Warwick,

    Fred (Hincmar) here. Some interesting thoughts. My 8 year old and I played a KOW game the other week and had a good time. Maybe the simplicity that put you off was something that worked well for us. Just one point: as I read the rules, a unit only wavers for one turn, and then returns to normal. It can of course then waver again if it is attacked for a further time. But the waver status is not permanent.

  2. I like Warhammer and think this edition is the best yet (although in part that could also be due to a resurgence of players in my hometown which meant a different player and army each week).
    However having just relocated I am struggling to find Warhammer gamers plenty of 40k an FOW but both of those games don't really appeal.
    KOW is an interesting one and something that was on my list to try, however too many people I know who have tried it describe it as a bit bland.