Wednesday, April 12, 2017

KOW - Culture Shock

Looking back on almost two years of playing Kings of War, I think that it is amazing how well the game, the rules and the community have survived the culture shock of the overall explosion in player numbers.

The potential for there to be major clashes in approach, philosophy etc was enormous but I believe that hurdle has been conquered and the future for KOW looks "peachy". Remember two years ago in most jurisdictions Fantasy Gaming meant Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Yes, Kings of War had a loyal following but that was mostly in the UK Midlands and North. With the End Times explosion Fantasy gamers were largely cast adrift and that opened up enormous potential for conflict and culture shock as they looked for new outlets.

Now we have a far more diverse Fantasy gaming landscape with GW's Age of Sigmar, the ETC's Ninth Age and Mantic's much larger Kings of War.

Plug: "No, you change"

Let's look at some of the hurdles that have been scaled in the Kings of War community since July 2015.

Influx of Warhammer Refugees

This was a really interesting social experiment. Suddenly KoW numbers ballooned as whole communities arrived on the doorstep with the demise of WHFB and the release of KOW 2nd Ed. No small part of this influx was due to the Fantasy community in the USA shifting en masse to KOW after adopting it for their Masters system.

How was the culture shock experienced? Firstly, the rules came under scrutiny like never before. It was like a Gentlemen's Club had been invaded by Attila's Huns. From the existing KOW players' perspective, I have no doubt it seemed that the cosy collegial atmosphere that existed prior to the migration, suddenly had been assailed by hordes of rabid power gamers wanting to question every premise, word and item of punctuation. On the other side, it was viewed as a cosy old boys' club who were increasingly defensive and threw up barriers to discussion (sorry, the pursuit of knowledge) at every juncture. Go back on various forums and you can see the evidence of the two cultures colliding.

Overall - and with the benefit of time - I think the game, specifically the rules, survived this well. Both sides adapted and softened their approaches. However the major reason why the conflict diminished was on account of just how tight and well-written the rules were. The refugees were used to GW-speak where there were constant Rules as Intended (RAI) versus Rules as Written (RAW) conflicts. There was very little avenue for this in KOW and over time the new players acclimatised. Even 18 months on the number of required FAQs, errata and clarifications is tiny compared to other games.

The second area of conflict between the groups was the common refrain "Stop trying to make it into Warhammer". Undoubtedly there were people that would have liked some of the Warhammer rules mechanisms ported over but I believe that they were a minority. The biggest call was for greater variability between the races, largely through the magic system - spells and artefacts. A lot of new players were seeing Fantasy players drift off "because KOW lacked the depth of WHFB". In my view that was always a shaky premise, but you can't always change people's perceptions especially if you are trying to break down 30 years of history. The easiest way to assuage this was to give some headline variability in Magic Items and Spells. Over time that ship sailed and potential players were lost. I can't help feel that the hostility to some accommodation was an opportunity lost. However, the recent Clash of Kings book has made some steps along that road. There are now increased options for Magic Items and Spells and that promotes list variability. I love the KOW Magic system - it is elegant without being bloated - but I still hope we'll eventually at least trial some race-specific spells (one per race) and items (same). I think it would add "colour". Still this conflict has largely faded.

The Hobby

Within the pre-existing KOW community the concept of soft-scores was a foreign country. The idea of points for army presentation and sportsmanship were not part of their landscape. All it took was a few visits between different scenes and the idea of the hobby being an integral part of the tournament scene is now well established. And this hasn't been at the detriment of gameplay. However there is now a realisation that how an army looks and how a player behaves have an impact in attracting an audience. Again the US scene has been the poster child for this but these were already key parts of the tournament scene in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Europe and the United Kingdom are now catching up. There has even been an outbreak of display boards in England as these latter day St. Pauls embrace the hobby.

Fun Vampires & Mathhammer

Really the only area of culture clash that exists now is acceptance of the Fun Vampires (adherents of the Cult of Mathhammer). You'll regularly see accusations that these pointy headed gits armed with a calculator and a spreadsheet are sucking the fun out of the game. Their application of Expected Values, understanding of standard deviations and kurtosis flies in the face of the Cyndi Laupers out there.

Again this is just another case of different folks, different strokes as people approach the game different ways. There will always be those who want to analysis things - yours truly - but this doesn't mean they are anti-fun. In fact it is interesting to observe that some of the most analytical gamers in the community are also the biggest defenders of retaining the "Snake Eyes" rule - precisely because it offers both challenge and fun.

Overall I believe that the potential for real culture clash has been navigated well by the global KOW community. Sometimes it is worthwhile to sit down and take a look back on how far we have come on the journey.



  1. Nice article. Thank you for your time and work, Peter.

  2. Kumbaya indeed :) - being new to wargaming and not having played WFB apart from a couple of demo games as a kid, I've found the online community to be very welcoming and am looking forward to my first ever tournament in the autumn (a two-day) - having never thought I'd do anything of the sort

  3. Replies
    1. I've worked as geologist and a trader and both love theirKurtosis!

  4. Really interesting read, thanks for the review. I had wondered how the sudden influx had panned out since End Times turmoil. Having developed no small a band of Goblins, I'm interested in a ranked system and this article has me quite interested in Mantics offering.

  5. It is very humbling that KoW "scene" was able to absorb and embrace what had became a totally toxic gaming environment in Warhammer. It is also very encouraging to see ex - Warhammer players who treated first edition KoW like some weird abomination now happily sing it's praises. I agree it is a testament to the tightness of the rules and perhaps a subconscious relief at being "free" of GW's poorly written rules, under designed but over engineered and overpriced miniatures, and the basically unhealthy hobby atmosphere it lead to.

    1. Yes, the assimilation has been a joy to behold