Now, where was I? Ah yes...wandering (staggering?) down memory lane. So there I was at the beginning of 8th edition and after a few games with a couple of friends of mine (Members of the Boston Wargaming club - the Lost Legion) I had come to the conclusion that...
I hated it. The camaraderie was still there but the game itself just didn't feel the same. Some things were too random for me such as charge distances plus dice (had it been +1d6 and some base number instead of 2d6 I'd have liked it better) while other things felt like it was a return to the worst parts of older warhammer (Magehammer plus "Superstardestroyer-loaded-up-with-characters-hammer"). I lost heart and lost interest and my vast collection of painted figures came off the shelves and into boxes where they would (at least) gather less dust.
Then about 3 years ago my friend Peter Shah from Blind Metal Minis "encouraged" (browbeat) me to check out Spartan Games' Firestorm Armada. I had recently been separated from my ex-wife and found that my social calendar was rather free. Combined that with the fact that it had cool looking minis, a cheap entry cost, and a intriguing rules system and I was quickly hooked. It felt good to roll dice again. We tried to build a local gaming community and, thanks to Mick Galuski of Toy Soldier Games in Amesbury MA (https://www.facebook.com/ToySoldierGames/) we got to meet a few new gamers and played against people in their community. Also, as a result of that, we met a few other locals (more on that later - in a Dropzone Commander post...) and started regular miniatures gaming again.
It felt good! I got back into painting and the hobby aspect of the game. I dusted off my airbrush and started to paint fleets of ships. It was great.
And yet, as cool as space ships were...
|(my elves face off against their old Nemesis in Chris O'Brien's awesome looking Dark Elf/Twilight Kin)|
...there is something about the pageantry of mass combat fantasy games that just can't be beat. That doesn't mean that I don't equally love the Firestorms or Dropzone Commanders of the gaming universe. But it does mean that I can't seem to get away from the maneuver, the planning, and spectacle of it.
But after watching a few battle reports on 8th from Youtube I quickly lost heart again. Then, a little over a year ago, rumors of something called Age of Sigmar came. A new Fantasy edition I thought? Would it bring back a focus on troops? Maneuver and flanking? Fleeing a charge and then counter charging?
And then the reality of it set in. GW had come to the conclusion that the market had changed. Younger gamers (in their opinion) wanted faster games, with less figures to paint, and a more "technology" driven theme (more steampunk than old fashioned "Tokien-esque" fantasy). But, but, but....why? Why in the 9 hells would they kill something that everyone loved so much? Why would they shoot themselves in the foot by destroying their own player base? Surely they're wrong and evil for killing what so many of us loved?
Okay, time to take a step back. In a lot of ways GW is right. It's hard to sell mass combat "150+ miniatures for a tournament army" to casual and younger gamers. And this is where, imo, our own Warhammer Fantasy community hurt itself. When I started playing in 3rd and 4th edition a large army was close to 40 minis (40!). Many units were 12 or 16 models strong and a list might have 1-2 infantry blocks, a couple of war machines, a monster, a cavalry unit and a few characters. As the years came and went Warhammer players started to demand bigger tournaments with bigger and bigger armies. And, in doing so, they hurt themselves (long term). If you tell someone that they can buy a few plastic boxed sets and some characters then they'll be tempted by your game. If you tell them they'll need to spend the next year's worth of time just putting together the 150 or more troops they need for a medium sized game it kills many potential players. Sure, you can do "intro" or pickup leagues but the end result was always the same. You'd look at the "real players" and the tournament scene and you'd see 200 model armies. That size is too daunting for a lot of people. The time and the money required is too much. That's one of the reasons (imo) why Warmachine and Hordes did so well. A "big" army can be 25 models there. That's a lot less time and painting effort. And GW was finding it harder and harder to keep track of their own product lines. The number of armies had kept expanding and every edition players looked forward to more and more new units.
On top of all this new miniatures companies were springing up out of the ground like mushrooms and they were making not just decent quality figures but figures that were often better than GW's (though GW still made some of the best on the market). And many of these new companies were completely cloning what GW was doing. Legally. You want alternative Dark Elves? There were (and are) tons of companies that make affordable and amazing alternatives. And GW was losing the court battles to silence them. Simply put you can't copyright "Elf with spear" or "Dwarf with Axe". Competition was fierce and GW felt they needed to reinvent that part of their company. If they blew everything up (literally) and killed their entire universe off they could start from scratch with more easily copyrighted material.
And so they did it. They killed it. They killed the High Elves, they killed the Dark Elves, and they brought in aspects of their bigger brother (in terms of sales) Warhammer 40k. AoS changed the theme of Fantasy to one more in tune with both 40k and, imo, a more Warmachine like setting. Sigmarines weren't fantasy troops. They were Space Marines in a fantasy setting.
Okay, one more (last!) step back. I do not begrudge or hate anyone that likes and enjoys Age of Sigmar. And yes, before you say it, I have watched games, tried the game play out, and futzed with the rules. Is it a game for me? No; it has nothing of the elements of gaming that I enjoy (both for fantasy mass combat and general gaming play). And though they've recently tossed a bone to gamers like me with their general's handbook it is both too little and too late. But just because I don't like it (or the setting and models that GW is releasing) doesn't mean that others aren't right to like it.
So now I was sitting there with this giant closet full of painted armies and nothing to do with them. Sure, there was a rumoured 9th edition - a fan based version of WHFB - but from gaming experience with multiple companies over multiple years I know that once active support from a company dies so does the community that follows it (in my experience). Surely there was an option out there...
Then, one day, a little bird whispered into my ear: Kings of War. I dug up some information on the net, watched a couple of 1st edition battle reports and...after a little love from Google discovered that there was a kickstarter going on.
(Kings of War)
What's this I asked? A game designed by one of my favourite WHFB designers in Alessio Cavatore? It has..Elves? It has Abyssal Dwarves!? It has...flank charges??? My heart began to rise up a little. So I watched the Kickstarter video. I watched and read everything I could from the Bell of Lost Souls and Beasts of War and...
I loved what I saw. Suddenly a game was forming in my head that had the look and feel of the (imo) best edition of WHFB - 6th. I wholeheartedly jumped into the Kickstarter and tossed ~$200.00 at Mantic. Their miniatures weren't the best on the market (they're not...) but what they were creating spoke to me in a geeky primal way.
I think what sums up why I like Kings of War the best is actually written in preface. Though I can't link to the whole of, here is a brief glimpse <<Kings of War Rick Priestley>>
Essentially he says, "If I were to design a true tactical Fantasy game then this would be it". And yes, I think it's a dig at AoS, but he has every right to do so. After all he co-created the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
Now I hear you mumbling to yourself, "So enough about all this nostalgia for WHFB - what's so great about this Kings of War???"
Well, here's the thing...
When I see AoS being played I hear in my head the rumbling sounds of a small warband coming to clash. I hear the sounds of a handful of men or things...the traditional fantasy elements are all but gone...and the clatter of the odd sword and shield. I see a wave of miniatures rushing to the middle and tossing dice. It's nice...
But I don't see charging waves of Rohirrim thundering down a hill, I don't see flanking.
Not in the same sense...not in the ebb and flow of battle and breaking and clashing of lines.
When I see Kings of War I see the forces of Middle Earth storming Mordor. I see the White Walkers breaking through the gates and smashing into the lines of the Wildlings. I see the Aiel clashing against legions of Trollocs while Balefire rains down upon both sides. I see Epic Fantasy and I see strategy and maneuver and...
It makes me happy (no really, I know that sounds sappy but the pictures below just make me all gamer giddy inside)
I want to see rows upon rows of spears.
I want to hear in my mind the ground shaking as Regiments of Cavalry drop their lances at the last moment and tear into the enemy lines.
Kings of War gives me that. And moreover in a fast paced way that takes less time than the games of 8th/9th and in a clear ruleset designed with balance (it's not perfect...) in mind.
Part III - Why I've fallen for Kings of War. (coming soon!)