Wrath of Kings


Got in a game of Kings of War with Bill on Thursday.  Shades asked for a bat-rep; I suck at those (I’m generally too engaged in the game to think about taking pictures, never mind turn-by-turn notes or pictures) so, instead, thought-dump.

It’s also worth noting that I think I’m pretty late to the party on WoK: after the shitshow that was Sedition Wars, I gave CMoN Kickstarters a pass for a good, long while.  It’s only by way of a couple of impulse buys on some good deals that I ended up with minis for it,  So, some of my rambling is probably old-hat to anyone who’s been playing it.

We played a Skirmish: my Hadross (Fish Dudes) vs. Bill’s Shael Han (Steampunk Wuxia Dudes).

List Building

One of the things I like a lot about Wrath of Kings is the list-building: it’s very close to the way Saga does it.  Which is to say: it’s a middle path between points-based systems, where this guy being 41 points and that guy being 42 points is Significant, and the-hands-off-and-shrug method regrettably found in Age of Sigmar, where anything and everything is equal.  It looks a little more involved than Saga, it’s effectively the same.

Models are Leaders, Specialists, or Infantry: depending on the game you’re playing, you get X Infantry, Y Specialists, and some limited ability to chose some quantity of either 3 Infantry or 1 Specialist.  Models also have Ranks: 1 or 2.  Want a Rank 2 model? Swap out two Rank 1s for it.  That’s it.  “Rank” might as well be “Point.”

So, at Skirmish, I get

  • 3 Ranks of Leaders
  • 18 Ranks of Infantry
  • 2 Ranks of Specialists
  • 3 Ranks of Infantry or 1 of Specialist
  • 3 Ranks of Infantry or 1 of Specialist

That became

  • 3 Ranks of Leaders
    • Deepman Kaxes (Rank 1)
    • Deepman Kaxes (Rank 1)
    • Gutter Friar (Rank 1)
  • 18 Ranks of Infantry
    • 12x Deepman Guardian (Rank 1)
    • 3x Sevridan Gutter (Rank 2, so this is 6 Ranks)
  • 2 Ranks of Specialists
    • Deep Caller
      • Deep Caller
  • 3 Ranks of Infantry or 1 of Specialist
    • Calith Reaver (Rank 1 Specialist)
  • 3 Ranks of Infantry or 1 of Specialist
    • Calith Reaver (Rank 1 Specialist)

So it’s basically counting models, with some models counting double.  I like this a lot; it’s simple enough that you can build a list right before rolling dice without being a bullshit, “I dunno, man, points are dumb; you make the decisions!” cop-out.

  • Leaders
    • Madam Mui (2)
    • Dragon Legion Keeper (1)
  • Infantry
    • 9x Dragon Legionnaire (1)
    • 9x Iron Lotus Warrior (1)
  • Specialists
    • 2x Shield of Taelfon (1)
    • The Red Willow (2)

The 9 of each infantry’s important.  At the Skirmish level, each Leader can activate (or activate along with) at least 5 related models.  So he can effectively (and, in the case of the Legionnaires) deploy and move models in blocks of 10: 5 infantry, then 4 infantry and the leader.  This stands in contrast to my big messy mish-mosh of guys interleaved with each other, causing a traffic jam.


We had different Motivations.  I’m still trying to get my head around these.  Basically, there are five categories of themed goals, and each faction gets access to two of them: the idea being that each faction has different ways to approach winning a game.  Each theme has three goals, so there are six different ways to supplement the common goal of “murder all of the other guy’s guys.”  It’s an interesting concept but, at this stage, it feels like it’s maybe more fiddly than it needs to be: I’m especially annoyed that some motivations refer to 30mm objectives, some to 40mm objectives, and some 50mm. I guess the first stands for people, the second for loot, and the third for structures but still.  I do think it’s interesting that, in the tournament rules, you can’t choose the same motivation twice.

Bill’s was (ultimately) to have his Leaders/Specialists decapitate my Infantry and then taunt my Leaders with them (kill models, get tokens, use an action instead of an attack to spend the token while within 6″/8″ of my Leaders).  Mine was to overrun his force and push into his land (have single Infantry kill models, get tokens, carry tokens to near his side of table).

I think if I play the game some more, I’m going to try to get the Motivations printed up on cards (shame on them for not thinking of and doing this).  That’ll help me keep track of what I’m trying to do and what the other guy is trying to do.

2015-09-17 17.49.25

The Game

Anyway, I don’t know that the game was especially notable: I mostly mobbed around and got in my own way while Bill moved forward in formation. He won, of course, with me… actually closer than I’d have guessed to winning.  If the game had gone one more turn, I could maybe have even turned things around.

I did get a much more practical understanding of how the different models work (pushing them around and trying to do things with their cards and rolling dice around them is the only way I can internalize this stuff).  Which was really the whole point of the exercise.

Our game took about two hours.  According to the tournament rules, a Skirmish game should last about half that… given that I spent the whole time asking Bill questions and saying, “Okay, let me get my head around this,” and narrating every single thing I was doing… I actually think that’s spot on.

Assorted Thoughts

Not sure what Warmachine game sizes are nowadays, but it feels like it fits in the same space as Warmachine: it takes more models than Malifaux, but considerably less than, say, Fantasy.  It takes fewer models than Saga (assuming you’re not looking at an all-Hearthguard army): 15-29 vs. 25-73.  And I think it fits that spot a lot better than Warmachine does: I liked WM when it was about juggling Focus/Fury across a couple of models and thought it broke down when you started running a lot of small bodies, simply because “Roll 2d6, add, compare, then Roll 2d6 add, compare” once per model falls apart when you do it a lot. Here, it’s roll some number of dice: compare the roll to a chart. That the chart varies from target to target add some complexity, but it still moves a lot faster and smoother.

As far as I can tell, each faction follows a pattern: three subspecies of the faction each get a Infantry, a Leader, and a Leader Character, and each subspecies wants to be run with an appropriate Leader.  There are some pretty explicit synergies here.  I like that it’s straightforward because, in my dotage, I don’t have the mental bandwidth to keep up with the combo-based approach a lot of skirmish games favor.  It’s here, too, but it’s simple enough for even me to keep up with.

The setting is… okay.  It’s dumb as dirt that every person in the setting is human who was changed into a non-human somehow, and that (with the exception of Shael Han) there are so few humans left.  It’s weird.  This is fantasy, guys! You can have fishmen! You have have pigmen!  It’s okay!  It’s weird.

If you look at the photo above, you’ll note there’s effectively no terrain.  Four pieces, pretty much evenly spaced out across the table.  It was fine for what we were doing, but is sort of awful.  Doing more and more historical gaming has ruined me for half-hearted terrain: Huzzah’s Chris always sets up beautiful tables for his games, and the TGS games are notably gorgeous.  I need to get my head around what a game like this should look like, table-wise, because it needs more.

Anyway, I liked the game. A lot.  I hope to play it more, because it plays fast while remaining satisfying. Also, I’m looking forward to painting some of those models, and it’s always a shame to paint models for a game and then never play it.

  • Mike Schaefer

    Great write-up, dude! Yeah, I was thinking about hearing simply some highlights of the game and your general impressions, as opposed to full-up battle report, so this is great. And more than I hoped for — so thanks for taking the time to write up your thoughts. I liked reading about the comparisons you drew against other game systems.

    I might be lining up a game to play next weekend. It will be nice to play under casual circumstances, as opposed to the tournament conditions under which I’ve played the game so far.

    I’ve found the command system to feel a little awkward to get used to, and you explain why pretty well. It feels more natural to have the “correct” number of models to command as a unit, but I suspect the game is designed to work with a different mindset — one that gives the commanders more flexibility and adaptability to command different sets of troops as the situation develops. I like that concept, but I need to play more games at a slower pace, before those different patterns settle in my brain.

    I converted and painted up some terrain pieces to serve as the 40mm and 50mm counters for my Motivations. They’re handy to have.

    I wish there was just a little more ranged attack in the game. The game seems to lack a dimension without the concept of shooting and cover.

    WoK feels more like a game of optimizing the synergies in the faction designs rather than adapting to battlefield conditions. Of course, most non-historical wargames feel that way to me!

    • I’m still getting used to the activation business as well, but so far I think I like it. It’s pretty flexible: you can go 1/time, or a bunch, and if you’ve maneuvered correctly, you’ll get your Insight bonus and if you haven’t… well, you haven’t.

      That synergies are Important is definitely a thing, but I think it’s manageable. They’re pretty straightforward: run subspecies X with subspecies leader X: it’ll work out better for you that way. This stands in contrast to the more combo-based skirmish games like Malifaux or Warmachine where it’s too much work to keep up with who can do what and what implications that has for this other guy…

      At the same time, the simplicity of the synergies makes me worry a little bit about the future of the game. It hasn’t been out all that long (has it?), but games in this size/space seem to thrive on combo-building, so if this is too simplistic I wonder if it’ll catch on. God knows I have a closet full of failed skirmish games.

      After posting this, I gave some thought about the objectives and the sizes make a bit more sense to me. 30’s are people. 40’s are piles of stuff. 50’s are structures. It seems unnecessarily fiddly, but at the same time it’s consistent and I respect that. I’ve got some 40mm supply dump objectives from BF&S; I built one more out of some Bones dungeon dressing. I also rebased some Bones villager/NPC models I painted up earlier in the year. So: I’ve got specials objective markers now, too. Though I’m still waiting on inspiration for what the 50’s should look like.

      • Mike Schaefer

        If you and I both are avoiding the combo-heavy skirmish games and seeking a lighter-weight game that still has tactics and fun, that suggests there’s a market for the likes of Wrath of Kings.

        Of course, the same could be said for Freebooter’s Fate, Alkemy, Carnevale, Deep Wars, etc……and we see where all those landed….

        Still, I think there are several ingredients that have to come together (a combo, if you will, …ugh…) in order for one of these lighter games to succeed. Wrath of Kings has the benefit of being supported by a stronger name and a stronger distributor than those other games. But then the same could be said for Dark Age….. Hmm, I don’t seem to be getting anywhere with my logic train here….

        For some reason, I have hope for Wrath of Kings. Unless I like Guild Ball better…..

        Please stop me….

        • Yeah: for the most part, I Don’t Like skirmish games; I love the idea of painting a handful of models and being ready to play (I painted a force for Infinity in, like, a month earlier this year/late last year and it was a breath of fresh air), but experience has shown that whenever a skirmish game comes out: A) I don’t like it, B) it’s DOA or shortly afterwards, or C) both.

          I’ve gotten even more leery of them as some of the guys I used to play with at GPC (who’ve since moved to HH) are a real pump-and-dump crowd: perfectly content to throw a couple hundred bucks at a game, play it for a month, then eBay it and move on to the next thing. At the rate I paint: I’m only picking up steam at that point. Not to suggest that I don’t have a lot of irons in the fire, but if I’m spending time and money on a game it’s because I’d like to play it now and years from now. That sort of short, sharp stop to being able to find opportunities to play these sorts of games has trained me to avoid them.

          • Mike Schaefer

            It absolutely amazes me that there are significant numbers of people who devote the time and energy to approach these games as a fast consumable. The time it takes to learn the rules, prep the models (even if the person doesn’t paint them), play the games, buy and sell on eBay,…..it just baffles me that all that time, money, and energy comes so easy to them. Kids these days!

          • After learning some news about the Infinity tournament(s) at NOVA 2016, I have a rant about this coming.

  • Drathmere

    I enjoyed the report as well. I am ruined by tgs tables. :)

    • For real. That Normandy table makes me want to spit on every half-assed table I see, now. “What is this JV-level shit here? Step it up!”

      It’s not necessarily healthy.

      • Drathmere

        Let’s get a set of bocage made for you to take to huzzah when you are playing there. It works equally well for medieval/fantasy I think.

        • Actually, Huzzah has excellent terrain, especially for Historics. I should take some pictures.

          In this case, I think it’s more a matter of me trying to get my head around what a game of Wrath of Kings is supposed to look like. Like: Malifaux tables are dense and crowded and need to be… but that much terrain would be a real issue with Warhammer Fantasy. Where does Wrath of Kings fall on that scale? How dense should it be? How three-dimensional should it be (Deadzone has really put it into my head that I desperately want games to have a Z-axis, no matter how hard that might be for certain games.)

          • Drathmere

            I get it now. I think Z-Axis is the hardest to do, since movement always becomes a bear, and then the problem of models not fitting well on the terrain. I am with you though, I’d like to see hills as meaningful for our battles. Please do take some photos of Huzzah. I’ve needed a little bit more incentive to make the hour-ish drive and terrain would do it.

          • Will do. Won’t be able to make it out this week, but next: for sure.

  • Mike Adkins

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’ve been liking it quite a bit… I should really take some pictures of my guys. I’ve got the skirmish sized force fully painted.

    I’m not sure what the ‘normal’ amount of terrain is, but we’ve been using 4 2×2 tiles with fixed terrain for our tables. They were built for other skirmish sized games and tend to have 2 – 4 terrain elements per tile, so we’re playing with kind of a lot of terrain and so far I think I like it. As was noted, there’s not a lot of ranged attacks in the game, so the terrain is more about slowing down a faster opponent, creating choke points, and making objectives harder to get to/harder for your opponent to cut you off from.

    I’ve found that the Taxi Crabs are a much better use of specialist ranks than the Deep Callers, especially if your opponent is trying to fast break to an objective in the first turn. The giant octopus is also pretty awesome, for a reason I’ll got into in a second.

    You’ve touched on the synergies of infantry and leaders, but you didn’t explicitly call this part out so I feel like I have to mention it. You only ever get one more activation than your opponent in a given turn. Meaning that as you beat down your opponent and have more models than they do, you don’t necessarily get to keep activating them all. It also means that losing a leader really hurts, since losing the ability to activate multiple models at once results in most of your army standing around doing nothing. This also means that the octopus’ special attack that automatically drags the target 8 inches towards it (whether you successfully hit or not) can drag an exposed leader far enough away from his troops that he can’t activate all of them anymore.

    • Yeah, we had literally 4 pieces (one near the center of each 2×2 quarter), which isn’t enough. If I never have to see another WHFB-style “two hills in opposite corners, two forests in opposite corners, meet in the middle” table again, I’ll be happy.

      The list I ran was pretty much garbage: I basically started with the starter box and added on. Against the Shael Han, the Deep Callers’ ability to laser in Will Attacks was pretty helpful: those Shields of Taelfon make low rolls sting and are very, very difficult to beat to death (50% chance of a Magic result, each of which producing two strikes back), and Deep Callers do not give a crap about that. The crabs were less useful because my movement was awful and I managed to traffic jam myself up pretty badly. But that’s just one game.

      Didn’t run the Octopus, though I’ve got one. Looking forward to running it. You make an excellent point about the Leader activation and being able to manipulate that; I like that it’s a game about synergy and maneuver without being as overwhelming and complicated as other games.

      Definitely take pictures!