Monday, December 26, 2016

Kings of War - State of the Scene in NZ

When 2016 dawned I was very very hopeful as to the potential for the NZ gaming community. We had had the End Times and lost Warhammer but communities were playing Fantasy. Auckland was playing v8 still, Wellington was playing KoW and there were individuals across the country trying The Ninth Age.

I was very optimistic for Kings of War in particular. A very successful Vermintide had been run by Neil Williamson, I had 24 people signed up for Day One of Runefang and 16 for Day Two. I'd also keyed up the Warlords Super Series of four seasonal events to run through 2016.

Fast forward 12 months and the Kings of War scene has not grown (here in Wellington at least) and we have seen numbers fall away dramatically. The last WSS event had 8 participants, Vermintide only 6 and Auckland's Xmas event also 8. The field for the Masters was made up only of Wellington players - testimony to a lack of critical mass outside the region - and only two of those were willing to go to Christchurch for the event.

So what went wrong?

From a tournament point of view, I find KoW and excellent game. There is little evident rules disagreement and when you umpire an event you find little call for rulings - effectively the game is clear and runs itself. However it clearly doesn't have the appeal to the wider audience that Warhammer had and that has seen people from that community drift away.

I've been wracking my brains as to why that is because the game is faster and cleaner than Warhammer was which should be an attraction for some - especially those that play more infrequently.

The two reasons that I keep coming back to are:

  • the lack of attraction/buyin/romance of the Mantic fluff; and
  • the limitation on customisation of army make-up
The first is a hard one to rectify. GW had 30+ years of background and fluff and let's be honest, that held attraction for all of us. I find it very hard to think of my rats as anything but Skaven, the Ratkin fluff doesn't resonate (for the same reason I find it hard to embrace T9A's Vermin Swarm). The background was a HUGE part of the game and its loss affected my enjoyment more than I thought it would.

The second is much less a factor for me but I know it is huge for some people. I prefer the cleaner nature of the set unit size, magic items and magic of KoW as I think it emphasises tactics rather than combos. It also means that there are less "gotcha" moments which I thought would appeal to the casual gamer. However I know that for a lot of people - myself included - a large part of a game's enjoyment is list construction. There is less granularity in KOW than WHFB or T9A and that has put some people off.

I'm keen to know what other people think on this. What are the attractions of one Fantasy game over another.

New Zealand has a small gaming community. There are probably around 150 active Fantasy tournament players but the end of Warhammer shattered even that kernel. In wargaming personalities will always clash - and there is some evidence of that locally which has impacted the community (one group not wanting to interact with another group of KoW players) - but there are more fundamental factors at play than that. 

The sad fact is that a local tournament scene of 8-12 players is likely to be unsustainable in the long run, regardless of game.

Certainly my optimism for KOW as a replacement for WHFB has diminished over what it was 12 months ago though I'm not sure it's been usurped by any other system as yet. Perhaps 2017 will see the rise of T9A and/or Age of Sigmar. Or perhaps there will be renewed growth in KOW. 

I want my Fantasy tournament scene back!

What are people's thoughts? Any insights from inside or outside the community appreciated.


  1. Nice article, were are you based?

  2. I see what you are saying about lack of options but I dont know if I agree:
    The fact that you can take allies make it very versatile (not that I ever really feel the need)
    Warhammer although on paper may have had a lot more options most of the time there was a well established optimal way to run each army list entry.

    I has not been easy getting much KOW game play at my local club partly because I am distracted by other games but with any luck the historicals book might get some attention and break KOW out of the Fantasy pigeon hole and make it the number one choice for rank and flank combat that I feel it deserves to be.

  3. People are playing more games than they used to. Up here in Auckland we have plenty of folks who play KOW but also play 3-4 other games as well. With family commitments etc it's hard to get them all in one place at the same time.

    For the most part the previous competitive WFB players only dabbled in KOW for a small period then went off to different things, some 40K, some 9th Age. A big section of ex WFB players up here had an extremely negative view of KOW & Mantic from the get go so were never going to try it out and 9th is their happy place.

    Myself, I enjoy KOW and the folks playing up in Auckland, but with a 6 month old now my days of traveling to events are over. So I'll just keep working on my armies, playing when I can & running events when I can.

    1. I don't understand the negativity to either KoW or T9A. If people were looking for a villian then GW's actions towards the Warhammer World seem a more natural target.

      That said, wargaming politics never ceases to amaze me

  4. Seems to me you need to take back the fun. Stop focusing on tournaments so much and make full use of the international campaign day, big games and/or special scenarios. It takes time to build a community. From my experience it is often better to fokus on recruiting brand new players rather than compete with other games. One new player may end up having four more friends. Also , some people like to play several games, others (like myself) stick to one.

    1. Good points but it is difficult when drawing from an overall very small pool of players.

  5. As someone who never got into warhammer fantasy properly (just one or two games when I was a kid) but now am into kow, I'm interested in what granularity warhammer used to have. Was it about more differences in the makeup of the races with special rules and magic specific to each one? This seems so against what kow does that it doesn't seem likely to ever be introduced - I think because kow relies on simplicity and balance, which would both be eroded by those kinds of additions. But it is something I think I'd like to see provided it didn't counteract these two aspects. I'm not sure what that might look like, though. Do the special rules in the Varangur list look like the sort of thing you're talking about? Or does it need to be more radically different to be noticeable? I wonder if it's possible to do without bloating the game or affecting balance.

    In terms of player base globally, it seems to be increasing in places with a big scene to start with. The US, the UK and Australia all seem to have increasing numbers active on the tournament scene. Not at a meteoric rate but steadily I would say. I suppose in a pattern of being fragile until reaching a critical mass and growing from there (for example I believe some areas in the US have gone the same way as you're describing as they never reached a critical mass). I suppose it's a standard pattern of growth for this sort of thing, the difficulty being how to reach the critical mass. Perhaps that will only become possible when/if mantic begins to have a global reach and infrastructure in place.

    1. The granularity that people like is the ability to individually tailor unit size, so say 23 models rather than 22 and use the points that provides more freely. Characters can be more specifically tailored - i.e. more than one item etc - which again speaks to greater freedom in list construction.

      My own view is that can increase the customisation but will likely increase balance issues and create more pronounced combo effects.

      That said I was perfectly happy with it playing WHFB 7th and 8th so understand the attraction. However I do think KOW provides a more balanced tournament game.

  6. Yeah the global campaign that Mantic are teaming up with Beasts of War to run will be good for fleshing out the background & story, along with the sourcebook they're releasing later in the year. There's a skirmish game due later in the year as well.

    1. And it is understandable that the fluff is less developed than WHFB. They had 30 years of backstory e.g. with Skaven you had various Army Books plus Thanquol novels as well as G&F series. It will take time but I don't deny it's something I miss.

  7. I think we have all expected too much of the tournament scene for a new game. We are having the opposite experience to you in our local gaming community in Australia. More than 50% are people who were not warhammer players. This has been through lots of social play, campaigns etc supported by our FLGS. I think we need to go back to building the base through this kind of play. More one day tournaments with variety eg small points and it will build again. Having said that cancon is on track to be bigger than last year with kings of war, and that once again is without a lot of the old warhammer crowd

    1. Yeah in my experience players from outside of the old warhammer crowd seem to be thoroughly enjoying it, mainly because they aren't bringing along all that baggage with them. We had a lot of KOW players get turned off coming to events by some of those people due to the constant negativity & complaining about their system being killed.

  8. After having played more interactive games, I find the idea of taking a coffee break while your opponent has their turn to be not very appealing. I appreciate that it might make for good timed games and mitigates the risk of slow play in tournaments but it also seems to minimise interaction between players.

    I can see a lot of comments on how well painted their Farsser is going back and forth.

    This coupled with the awful models means the game doesn't have much appeal. I still can't see why you would buy a model from mantic.

    I am not sure that a skirmish game from mantic would hold much appeal. There are plenty of skirmish games out there with great supporting model ranges. A skirmish game won't scratch the itch of those looking for a block combat game.

  9. I tried a couple of games and it was 'ok' but it never grabbed my interest for a couple of reasons. I really like the list building aspect of warhammer, coming up with synergy in your list and tweaking it to suit your playstyle. I also like the wide range of rules and complexity, and I do feel that your critique of KOW as a smoother flowing game that relies more upon strategy than WHFB or T9A is warranted somewhat as those games require more rules knowledge and combos instead of inherent strategy, which comes after the rules knowledge.

    Probably my biggest gripe with KOW is the game mechanics. Sure, it flows well and is great for a quick tournament game however some things don't 'seem realistic' to me. Only fighting in your turn bugs me because it seems whoever gets the charge 'wins' or does damage. In my mind elves should always go before dwarfs in combat, dwarfs charging and elves not going first is strange.

    Not being able to flee a charge or the lack of psychology is also a bugbear with me too. I really like in warhammer / T9A how the movement and psychology works, where unit get scared when a monster charges them and then run away. It just does not seem to make sense I guess.

    I also know a lot of people have an issue with the sameness of units, where every faction has very similar units with very similar stats and not much differentiation.

  10. As a regular visitor of your great blog, I have noted the limited turn outs at NZ KoW events and an uptick in 40k coverage on the blog.

    Whilst it might be too early to call kiwi KoW a flop, I do think that you face issues in a smaller gaming community like NZ than we do here in U.K. Here the wargaming community can sustain a range of competitive games. In NZ, just one fantasy game is likely to be sustainable as a competition game - if that. The question is how best to consolidate fantasy gamers into KoW (or 9th Age or oldhammer).

    I'd suggest that club competitions are possibly the way forward. Kings of War's simplicity and its non-GW origins make it a good option for escalation leagues, campaigns and club vs club days.

    The KoW edge over 9A is that it is company backed - Mantic need to back TOS like you in building their game in smaller markets like NZ. As someone on first name terms with Ronnie, I'd suggest tapping him up.

    That said, if 9A is better placed to be sustainable (with a bigger base at this point), maybe you should move over. I guess your original reservations re 9A - not supported, unlikely to bring in new players - stand. In the medium to long term I can't help conclude that KoW will have the best prospects - and the best thing in the meantime is more entry level events - 1 dayers, blind doubles, or copy the beers of war format that some enterprising players have designed over here.

    My experience with KoW is that it can attract new players - with no wfb background, and as someone with organisational capacity and a strong interest in building a sustainable fantasy gaming community - you are well placed to do it.

    I agree that Mantic's needs more and better fluff to appeal to more people, but I guess there are no shortcuts there. Mantic would be well advised to pick up one of the better GW authors rather than promoting fan- fiction plus which will lack the quality that GW refugees expect.

  11. I took the oppourtunity in 2016 to play lots of different systems. KoW was one of the more prevalent. I think both your points hold true. KoW list building is too simple next to what WHFB had, and the fluff is yet to be engaging in the same way.

    2017 big game focus for me will be T9A, but I do seem to be in the minority. It has enough of WHFB 8th to keep me going, and like KoW needs some time to develop fully. With model companies and community behind it I believe it will last the distance.

    Next year I'll also be spending a large focus on Infinity and Malifaux. The former in particular has really engaged me both on the rules and background. Though I'm not fussed either in tournament level.

    For tournaments I like the big games, large armies crashing, random fluff\army discussions, and good socialising.

  12. Hi
    I don't normally post on these things though thought in this instance I should comment. Kings of war is a far superior game both in the way it plays and with tactical choices.
    As a fantasy player since version one. I still own the original box set somewhere, though never played as the rules seemed odd to me.
    I've tried others including 'Raven' and 'fantasy warrior's
    All have had merit though non seem as balanced as Kow.
    I think the Nz problem is more around tournament structure. I for one couldn't warrant two days gaming any more if I'm away due to commitments.
    Also local leagues and or linked campaign would help build that community to get over the mantic fluff.or
    Even basing it on the Dwarves book series would be a.stqrt.
    Possibly a comparison report too to show the difference between systems. I note someone didn't like Kow combat system and saw being charged a disadvantage as they couldn't fight back.
    How about showing it compared to T9A as q combat example

    Just my thoughts

    Best wishes Martin