Tuesday, January 2, 2018

KOW - Key Attractions: It's Not All About The List

Having the benefit of six months away from playing KOW, in part due to the release of 40k, I've had the opportunity to identify what parts of games I like.

You soon realise that competitive 40k is heavily skewed to list building. By that I mean that potentially up to 70-80% of your success rate can be down to your specific list and how it matches up to that of your opponent. A key skill in 40k is to find an underpriced item and through the use of Stratagems, Aura effects, Psychic Powers etc create the "unintended". The second key skill is to understand when someone else has done that....or to give it its proper term "netlisting". From there the skill is to define target priority and know the basic mechanics. If you can do that you are probably in the Top 10% of players.

An example of this would be the use of Poxwalkers in a Death Guard army. Through judicious use of overlays you can turn your 6 point model into one that hits on a 3 and re-rolls one rather than on a 5+. This makes it far more points efficient than a Marine or Terminator and means that you are putting yourself at a disadvantage relatively to your peers if your DG army is not stacked with them. By drawing elements from three different books you can create a beast.

One aspect I like of Kings of War is that you can't do this......to anything like the same extent. Yes, you can build an efficient list but the disparity between a good list and a bad list is much reduced. This is because Mantic have got both the internal balance and the external balance far more level. This, coupled with the inability to layer outside effects, is great. You get access to one Artefact per unit (max) and the effects are limited to that unit.

The downside is that people can point to a lack of variability but Mantic is now slowly introducing more artefacts and spells though keeping the inability to layer in place.

It is Force Multipliers that destroy a game. If you can add multiple effects - and draw effects probably never intended for a specific race - then you quickly escalate impact.

Some people like the ability to tinker to find these "Easter Eggs". However in this age of internet, the majority are followers who, for a variety of reasons, prefer to have others do at least the initial thinking.

I think KOW is pretty good at avoiding this.


  1. People really like the ability to discover design and develop combinations. In a game like X-Wing there is a lot of online discussion about combos and lists and in the end this drives sales as people go or to buy the models to get the combo they want.

    I Saga, the troop types are very similar across all the armies and there is little or no customisation so there is very little online discussion about strategies. Saga is a smaller game than x-wing so some difference in the level of commentary is to be expected.

    I don't remember much online commentary among the KOW community about their lists and when everyone has access to the same magic items you don't have much that is unique about your combo.

    Kings of War reminds me a lot of Hordes of the Things where everyone can have the same things.

    1. KOW is all about tabletop strategy John.

      Incredible variability between lists of same race. Appreciate some people like the list building in other games but my view is that it is less about a list-generated strategy and far more about exploiting an imbalance or unintended consequence then exploiting it.

      People look for different things in games. For me the joy in 40k is building a list using a Battalion and single codex. Others see that has bland.

      With KOW I like to build an army that has a synergy but only works if I play it well. I don't like the idea that the battle is 80% won before it hits the table.

    2. @john: I get what you mean by that feeling.

      In X-Wing, Warmachine/Hordes and even the old WFB as well as 40k... it's more important to create an optimized list which enables you to use combinations/synergies or enables you to activate a winning manouver at the right time.

      In Kings of War the creation of a good list is important, but it's much more about doing the right strategic manouvers on a wider scale. I kinda like to think of KoW being slightly closer to chess in that regard, where it's more about using the pieces correctly.

      Of course Kings of War is far from chess still though, as there actually are differences in performance of units (although they seem quite similar) and the dices are still random.

      The thing is: In X-Wing you have a lot of different choices, but you will almost always end up with a few select "optimized" list for each faction. You won't be using most standard ships (especially not now compared to the first releases). The result is that you end up with a meta, where most players have the same list with little to none differences. I still remember meeting several players with the exact same list of their faction in the many tournaments I joined.

      In Kings of War the units are much more balanced and most armies can select units which are somewhat similar... and not as unique in that way. This means that there aren't really "optimal" lists in the same way. It's more based on how the player uses the list and improves on the list with the strategies they use. The end result is that I've never met identical lists between players, even though I often have met players using their lists quite often (and I've even played with my same list for some time now as I find it to both be fun, challenging and competative).

      It's harder to discuss lists in Kings of War as there aren't really any incorrect choice of units... although the army as a whole and strategy used can be bad/good. This also makes it a lot easier for new players to play Kings of War, but also harder to master IMO.

  2. A lot of chatter on the X-Wing forum is how this months release will impact the meta. Because everyone can take the upgrade cards you often have to buy a release just to get the card, imagine having to buy a box of genestealers in order to get an upgrade card allowing you to have one unit run and then charge. Ork players would be buying up genestealers by the score to equip their boyz squads.

    All games involve a level of list building and developing strategies on how to use the units you have chosen.

    What I think KOW misses out on is the excitement that list building and list hammer generates. You need to get people excited about buying and painting new models for their army to sustain sales and grow the game.

    Aside from new rules, mantic seem to be missing out on the excitement that new mercenary units might make to the meta and the lists.

    1. The problem with a game that emphasises the list-hammer approach is that a huge percentage of your list choices (be it characters, units, spells, magic items etc) are inefficient, and therefore left out. Playing Warhammer Dwarves, at least 3/4 of the runes were useless, and around 2/3 of the units and characters. As a result, in order to just survive the other optimised lists that you'd face, your choices very quickly become very limited.

      KOW gets out of this trap, and in most cases list choices are fairly equal. I haven't seen an optimal Dwarf list in 2 years of playing the game, or an optimal Elf list either. The paradox of KOW is that while things are sorta the same across the board, they open up a massive amount of list-building choice. When 80%+ of your list choices are viable, you have a huge amount of freedom.

  3. I'd put it even higher than 80% in my opinion, which has put me off 40k 8th competitively speaking. If I can't win or lose based mostly on my actions on the tabletop then it's not a primary game for me.