With the release of Age of Sigmar (AoS) last year, I was excited to get in some test games. Now, I had time to try out another fantasy tabletop system: Kings of War (KoW). What follows will be a comparison of the two systems. I will do so by discussing how some key mechanics work and what their effects on game play are. However, I will not go into details explaining the game rules themselves. If you have questions about the rules, please refer to the free online rulebooks on the respective company website.
Armies and special rules
AoS has a great selection of armies that differ immensely in their stat values and special rules. However, the special rules follow a certain pattern as they can only influence a small number of stat values.
KoW has a similar variety in the selection of armies as AoS. Both systems have Orcs, Elves, Undead, Rats and so on. However, the armies in KoW are more streamlined than in AoS. This means that all armies have one army wide special rule. Yet, units stat values are similar. In addition, most armies have spearman to counter cavalry (the special rule of spearmen negates the special rule of cavalry). In this way KoW introduces unit types, special rules and weaponry choices that are meant to counter each other i.e. balance the power of armies.
KoW has point costs. This makes it simple to set up a game, just decide on the point level you would like to play. Furthermore, in order to select heroes, monsters, and artillery it is required to take “normal” infantry or cavalry units in meaningful size. AoS has not point cost assigned to models and units. You just set up what you want until somebody stops. Then the other person can keep setting up their entire collection or stop as well. Depending on which is chosen, special winning condition may apply.
All in all, KoW has a balancing approach based on points whereas AoS is based upon a sort of social balancing. The latter will never work for casual or tournament play for number of reasons which I do not deem necessary to go over. Multiple points systems have been created for AoS by third parties and Games Workshop is said to release a point system for AoS. Does there need to be said more?
Unit coherency and movement
Units in AoS are organized in loose formations much like 40K. As a result, models and units now have 360 degree view making positioning less tactical since their facing is irrelevant. In AoS each model has to be moved individually with the effect that your movement phase takes potentially longer than a rank and file system where you would be using movement trays. KoW is such a rank and file system. All units have a certain base size determined by the number of models. As you do remove casualties in KoW but work with counters instead, miniatures can be modeled directly onto the unit bases or you can use movement trays. This makes moving units very fast. In addition, the positioning of the units do matter as there are front, side and rear arcs that matter in close combat. As a result, the movement phase in AoS takes longer and is less tactical than in KoW.
Magic, shooting and close combat
To successfully cast a spell in AoS you need to roll a certain number with 2D6. If you fail, i.e. you roll less than the required number, the spell is a miss. In addition, if the enemy has wizards of his own nearby he can try to ban the spell. Spells can be cast on units in close combat. Magic in AoS has a very hit or miss feel to it.
Magic in KoW is very similar to Shooting. Each spell a character knows has a designated number which represents the number die to be rolled. Every 4+ is counted as a success or a hit. If the spell is an offensive spell that does damage, it hits and damages like a shooting attacked. Spells may or may not be used against units engaged in close combat. Generally, every spell will have some successes or hits.
Shooting and close combat attacks in KoW have to hit and damage. The result required to hit is based on the states of the attacking unit whereas the result required to damage is based upon the defending unit, i.e. their toughness or armouring. Armour saves are not made.
Shooting and close combat attacks in AoS have to hit and damage as well, but the required results are based solely on the states of the acting unit. This leads to the funny image that a puny infantry man has the same damage output against light and heavy infantry, against light and heavy cavalry as well as against fearsome monsters. In the end, the only difference between the targets is their armour save. Last but least, shooting attacks in AoS can target units engaged in close combat.
All in all, KoW does a better job differentiating the various degrees of toughness that units have and translating them into the game mechanics. As a result, there are more tactical elements introduced into the game as units have to be careful who to fight. However, on the paper the difference does not seem to be a great one until you look at the moral system of the two games.
Moral system and casualties
In AoS models and units have moral values. As soon as a unit loses one model, it needs to test at the end of the phase. This is done by rolling 2D6 adding 1 for any model removed as casualty. The unit takes one damage for each point of the final result that exceeds the moral value.
In KoW the models and units have wavering and routing values which act similar to moral value. If a unit is wavering it basically cannot shoot or charge. If a unit is routed, it is removed entirely off the tabletop, until this point you do not remove any individual models. Instead, each point of damage is represented by a counter that is added to the moral check, which is also made with 2D6. If the final result exceeds the routing value the unit counts as destroyed and it is removed from the tabletop. In KoW moral checks are made at the end of the shooting and close combat phase.
Again, these are two fairly similar mechanisms. Their results differ somewhat. The fact that it is important in AoS how many models you lose and that for each point you lose the moral check by, you take one additional wound ,makes multi wound models extremely strong. Personally, I find this to be a problem because AoS (as well as 40K) favors larger models of any kind. A basic spearman (or guardsman) is meaningless compared to huge monsters (or Imperial Knights, Riptides and Eldar Wraithlords). I dislike it that nowadays many “ordinary” infantry models have no place in GW systems.
The KoW moral system does not have the same problem (favoring large multi wound models) as AoS because all units have a set amount of attacks that remain the same until they are routed i.e. removed. As a result, KoW rules remove the difference between multi wound monstrous models and infantry models; of course the two may have differing stat values. However, the KoW rule mechanics does not interact with unit type (multi wound monstrous ) giving one an advantage over the other due to the way moral system works.
KoW is a strictly turn based activation system. You move, you shoot and only you hit in combat. You also do the moral checks for enemy units. If it is your opponents turn, you do nothing. I feel that this activation order is old school if not to say outdated. With KoW it only works because the entire system is very streamlined, making a turn go by quickly. KoW can be played with the element of time and for this reason it is better that you do everything in your turn.
AoS is a mixture between the turn based and the I-go-you-go activation system. You move, you shoot but if there is more than one close combat, you alternate who hits first. After your units hits, the enemy units hits back. I primarily mention this, because it seems like GW might be trying out the I-go-you-go activation system. I feel like an alternating I-go-you-go activation system is more engaging than a turn based activation system. With a bit of overhaul this could be integrated well into 40K. But more on this at another time.
While playing KoW I felt like I played a faster paced and more tactical version of AoS. Of course this is funny as KoW was released prior to AoS. Think what you may. In my case KoW (re-)captures what I feel a fantasy system should be. AoS does pick up some elements but is lacking horrifically in the balancing department. In addition, as a (former) 40K player it feels too much alike. In my opinion, Fantasy and 40K should be fundamentally different in their game play. A difference in setting is too little to set the two systems apart. Therefore, KoW is the new contender to be my fantasy rank and file system. With more gaming experience, I might be able to give a full review on KoW in the near future.
Let’s see if the newly announced AoS General’s Handbook, which introduces points, will change anything. The battle between AoS and KoW for best fantasy system goes into the next chapter…
Mit freundlichen Grüßen