Games of Fantasy Battles - Comparisons and Opinions

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Primarch
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Re: Games of Fantasy Battles - Comparisons and Opinions

Post by Primarch » Sun Jun 28, 2020 7:12 am

And to finish things up, the final game I have been looking at.

Kings of War

I'll be honest and say up front that I didn't have a good image of this game prior to looking at the rules. Mantic is a company that I am not overly fond of. They have positioned themselves in the market as being "GW, but cheaper." Personally I think that they achieve that in every sense of the word. From offering every product through Kickstarter so they can force a FOMO experience on their players, to the sometimes shoddy materiel they make their models from, I am not positively inclined towards anything Mantic do.

System:
KoW is on it's 3rd edition, so it all looks pretty well polished and any rough edges to the rules have been addressed. KoW sells itself as being a direct challenger to the WFB crown of massed battle games. Having read through the rules briefly, I'd have to agree with them. In many ways, KoW surpasses WFB in depicting large scale battles. Rather than having individual models ranked up together, KoW focuses solely on the unit. The minis are just there to make the unit look pretty. Each unit has a fixed size on the tabletop. (125mm by 100mm for a regiment of heavy infantry). Wounds are not represented by removing figures, you need to track them yourself using a counter or a die. Units stay on the table until they break or get destroyed. No more units reduced to lone survivors wandering the table like lost sheep.
In KoW, if it is not your turn, you don't do anything. Players make ALL the dice rolls during their turns, including for enemy morale. Units only fight in their own turns, so it is possible for your troops to get annihilated without getting to throw a punch in return. From comments I have seen online the idea is to stop people stalling out games in order to win, something that was apparently an issue in the WFB tournament scene back in the day. KoW is written for competitive gaming it would seem.
Aside from the very binary turn system, the rest of the rules seem fairly straightforward. The book has a LOT of special rules, magic spells and arcane items to spice things up with and the army lists seem to cover quite a lot of the more common fantasy types. The core rules cover the armies that Mantic themselves produce (mainly, but not always, inspired by GW), and there is a supplement that covers other armies (i.e. GW's ranges).

Size:
As I mentioned above, KoW deals only in units. A unit can be 1 hero, a Troop (10 infantry), a Regiment (20), a Horde (40) or a Legion (60). Cavalry and Ogre size figures have different numbers, but follow the same principles. A standard sized game looks like several regiments, some troops, with monsters, warmachines and heroes in support. 100+ seems like a fair estimate.

Pros and cons:
To my mind, the focus on the unit as the minimum sized element in the game is hands down better than trying to calculate all the attacks, saves and wounds of individual warriors in a large scale game. So for that, KoW gets a big thumbs up from me.
Related to that, you can have all your minis based individually and use a movement tray, but the unit based approach lets you really go to town with creating mini dioramas for each unit. You can add unit fillers to rdduce the number of figures per unit as well.
Image
On the other hand, I'm not crazy about the complete lack of anything to do when it isn't your turn. Player interaction and involvement is one of the things I look for in a game and KoW doesn't have any.
The unit basing really appeals, but the game seems to have a lot of different sizes, which seems unnecessary. I think it's a holdover from GW where, for example, Goblins had 20mm bases, but Orcs had 25mm.

Overall:
As said upfront, I didn't want to like this game, but it actually looks pretty good. The unit based approach hits dead centre on my target for a mass battle game.
That said, not having any agency on the table in my opponent's turn is a huge negative.
There is an official range of minis, but you aren't required to use them. The game also comes with it's own background if that kind of thing appeals.


And that's it folks. Any thoughts, questions or input?

I'll try to summarize key differences when I get some free time.
Painted Minis in 2014: 510, in 2015: 300,
in 2016 :369, in 2019: 417.

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Re: Games of Fantasy Battles - Comparisons and Opinions

Post by The Other Dave » Sun Jun 28, 2020 10:29 am

I'm also very much in the camp of liking mass battle games that treat a unit, rather than an individual fighter, as the smallest element worth tracking in the game - not only does it make basing, transportation, storage and setup that much easier, but it mitigates the "buckets of dice" effect you see so often in... well, in a lot of wargames.

A game I've been interested in is Sword and Spear, an ancients / dark ages ruleset which I am pleasantly surprised to see now has a fantasy version. It's very flexible - I've very easily modified it to play Battle of Five Armies in 10mm, and I've seen people modify it for Napoleonics even. It's based around pretty broad unit types - skirmisher, light infantry, medium infantry, light cavalry, that sort of thing - modified by keyword abilities to represent good morale, good armor, powerful weapons, and the like. All units have the same unit frontage and depth, and the basic unit of measurement is based on whatever you decide that frontage is.

It's also got a very clever activation system, sort of like Bolt Action in a way. You put one die for each unit in a big bag each turn, differently-colored for each army, and play the game in "phases" - in each phase you draw 7 dice at random, divvy up the dice by color, roll them, and then use them to activate units - high-discipline units need lower numbers, more-complex maneuvers need higher numbers, having a leader nearby gives you a bonus, and so on and so forth. You can see the "battlefield friction" I like so much, as it means that, unless you roll very well, you're probably not going to get to activate all your units every turn, especially if your army has poor discipline - but you will generally be able to make sure that the units that need to activate can do so.

The best thing about it for fantasy gaming purposes is that, in part at least because it doesn't have a range of miniatures attached, it has a pretty robust unit creation system (at least the historical ruleset I own does) so you can say, OK, elves have good fighting discipline, good armor and spears, so they'd be high-discipline medium foot with the spears keyword, or trolls are huge, slow, heavily-armored troops with huge weapons but are quite stupid, so they'd be low-discipline heavy foot with the armored and two-handed weapons keywords, and out pops a statline and points value, and two units that play very differently on the tabletop. This also means that you could say that, oh, Transskyllian Deathmongers are heavily-armored cavalry with wicked lances, who are highly motivated to kill stuff but mostly ride around Transkyllia's neighboring lands ravaging rather than drilling maneuver - so they're high-discipline cavalry with the heavily-armored, impact, and undrilled keywords.
Feel free to call me Dave!
-----
Miniatures painted in 2020:
AoS-iverse: 87 infantry
40K-iverse: 39 infantry, 1 monster, a whole mess of terrain
Adeptus Titanicus: 1 Titan

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Primarch
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Re: Games of Fantasy Battles - Comparisons and Opinions

Post by Primarch » Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:40 pm

Just when you think you got out, they pull you back in.

Sword and Spear

I'll admit that I didn't know that there was a fantasy version of this game, and I don't have a copy of that version. I do have the historical version and I was able to download the fantasy army lists for comparison. So, what follows is my take on the historical game primarily, some points may or may not be different between the two versions.

At first glance, SaS's rulebook is in dire need of an editor. Rules aren't explained very succinctly and often important details are hidden inside large blocks of text. The book lacks the polish of the other games mentioned above, that's not to say it's a bad game, it just hasn't been produced by a professional publisher.

System:
SaS is written to be model and scale agnostic. Want to play with any minis, in anything between 2mm and 40mm? SaS has got your back. The rules treat the unit as the smallest element in the game, ideal for rank-and-flank action. The size of the unit is also left up to the players to decide, unlike KoW with its variety of sizes. SaS works so long as all players follow the same basing conventions.
The game uses two systems that stand out as being different from others. First of all the activation of units. As ToD mentions above, at the start of the turn a coloured die is placed in a bag for each unit. During each turn, 7 dice are withdrawn from the bag, rolled and allocated to units. Those units then activate to move, fight etc. Once those units are done, 7 more dice are pulled out and so forth until the bag is empty.
To activate an average unit you need a 4+, and that will allow them to move directly forward, shoot, or fight if they are already in combat. If you want the unit to charge or turn, you'll usually be looking for a 5+. Elite units are easier to activate and inexperienced units are more difficult. Units then activate by dicr scores from highest to lowest.
The second unique point is how combat is resolved. When two units fight, both players roll their attack dice simultaneously. Players then select their 4 highest scoring dice and ignore any others. The dice are then placed in a row from highest to lowest and compared with the opponent's top 4 dice. Each dice is paired off with the equivalent on the opponent's side, and armour allows you to modify your opponent's dice. If you win the pairing, you roll to see if damage is scored. If you win and your dice is double the opponent's score, you automatically cause a hit. Once units receive enough hits they are removed from the table.

Size:
The rules don't really specify any exact numbers for models per unit, but the example shown in the book look to be around 8-12x 28mm infantry or 4-8x cavalry. The rules suggest 12 units on a standard sized table, plus command figures, warmachines and (presumably in the fantasy supplement) monsters. So you're probably looking at somewhere around the 70-90 minis mark.

Pros and cons
For me, this game hits both my targets, units, not individuals and irregular turn sequence. You can do nice diorama bases if you want, use sabot basing or movement trays, it's all good. The openness of the rules means that you can custom build your own units, tailoring your army list to your collection. Another thumbs up for the accessibility.
The activation system means you need to prioritize which units to activate.
But...
With average rolls during the game, half of your army will never move. Of the ones that do, a third of them will forget how to turn corners or refuse to charge the enemy. I'm all in favour of battlefield friction, but I prefer a system where units are easier to activate when they are fresh, and become harder to activate as they take damage. In SaS your troops can be on their last legs, but will fight on regardless while half the army looks on placidly.
Bizarrely, units cannot pivot or wheel during a charge, but they can sidestep, a massively more complex maneuver. At first glance, it is even possible to accidentally field units that are only capable of moving directly forward and never changing direction. Similarly, archers can only shoot at targets directly to their front. If your target unit is at a slight angle, they may as well be invisible. Moving directly backwards reduces your speed, and some units cannot move backwards, but moving almost directly backwards is done at full speed. The rules have a lot of inconsistencies with regards to movement that really need to be fixed.
Combat, because you only rely on the top 4 scoring dice, seems designed to avoid deathstar units, which I am in favour of, but does seem like it makes achieving that perfect charge with your buffed up unit less decisive than you'd like. I'd probably want to see it in practice, but my initial reaction is that it doesn't appeal.

Overall:
This game should be a good match for me, but sadly it doesn't seem to be. The activation system seems like a good idea, but is far too reliant on luck. Comparing it to the other systems, DR has a similar luck reliant activation system, which has been an issue in games I have played. In SaS it seems that simply rolling below average on the first dice pull of one turn can seriously change the outcome of the game.
If you're looking for a game system where you can use any minis, at any scale, with a casual set of rules, SaS is an option, but with apologies to ToD, it's not one that particularly appeals to me.
Painted Minis in 2014: 510, in 2015: 300,
in 2016 :369, in 2019: 417.

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Re: Games of Fantasy Battles - Comparisons and Opinions

Post by Primarch » Mon Jun 29, 2020 11:55 am

Ok, time for a quick summary and recap.

To remind you of abbreviations.
DR - Dragon Rampant, SAoM - Saga, Age of Magic, OM - Oathmark,
WoE - Warlords of Erehwon, KoW - Kings of War, SaS - Sword and Spear

First of all, a point I think we can all agree on, Prim is far too critical about rules.

Basing:
Round (or square) - DR, SAoM, WoE
Square - OM
Unit Basing - KoW, SaS

Turn Sequence:
IGoUGo - SAoM, KoW, DR (but with a turnover rule)
Alternating - OM
Randomized - WoE, SaS

Activation:
Unlimited - KoW
Limited - SAoM (Activate units OR special abilities)
Activation Test - OM (failed units can still do something), DR, WoE (if a unit has taken hits), SaS

Model Count:
50-60 - DR, SAom, WoE
70-90 - SaS
100+ - OM, KoW

Army Building:
Use what you like - DR, SAoM, SaS
Army Lists - WoE, KoW, OM
Painted Minis in 2014: 510, in 2015: 300,
in 2016 :369, in 2019: 417.

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