Getting Started in Kings of War 2023

G’day Goonhammer readers! Do you miss rank and flank fantasy wargaming? Do you wish you could recreate the battles of Total War: Warhammer? Do you just want to play a game where massive armies can fight a full six turns of balanced gaming in under two hours? Even if you’re just waiting until some ‘old world’ wakes up, why not try Kings of War? 

Kings of War is, in our humble opinion, a fantastic game. It’s been almost two years since we first started producing Kings of War content for Goonhammer. We have grown as both players and content creators, but so too has the game Kings of War. The last three years particularly have seen the game truly evolve, with fantastic new models, an incredible web app, and a collection of novels that add character to the lore.

Hence, it is time for the 2023 edition of Getting Started in Kings of War.

Minute to learn, lifetime to master

Kings of War is a smooth and concise game, having been honed over the last decade and editions. The strengths of the Kings of War ruleset are, in no particular order:

  • Each unit is a single entity.
    • A regiment of Knights might contain 10 actual Knights, but moves around as if it were one unit.
  • Movement matters. 
    • Getting your units into advantageous positions pays dividends. Flank and rear attacks are massive.
  • Shooting and combat are simple. 
    • Units fight units, there’s a set number of attacks. No measuring range for each model in a squad.
  • Scenarios matter.
    • Killing the enemy is helpful, but pursuing scenario objectives will always trump going for the kill.

These aspects of Kings of War enable players to focus on the actual strategy, making the game not only replayable, but satisfying as the nuances of in-game decisions have real impact. If you still need more reasons to play, read our original introductions to the game.

Playing your first game

Finding some players

With curiosity piqued, how does one even try Kings of War? Rarely does anyone embark on a new game system without trying it first, particularly before investing in models and paints. 

First step is to identify members of the local Kings of War scene. The best places to look are:

  • Kings of War Fanatics Facebook group 
  • Local Kings of War Facebook groups (best found via Fanatics)
  • Kings of War reddit
  • Mantic Companion Club Directory
  • Asking your friendly local gaming store! 

Getting the rules

The Kings of War rulebook is definitely a worthwhile purchase in the long run, but the Mantic Companion (the great web app) has all the Core Rules available for free. In addition, up to two armies can be made in the Army Builder, although as a first time player it’s usually best to get someone else to make an army list for you (see below).

Kings of War 2022 rulebook is the latest book, with all updates integrated. Credit: Mantic Games.

Mustering a “demo” army

The next step is getting an army to play with. While some of the most eager players will get models first then learn to play, the majority like to know what they’re about to invest in. Most Kings of War players have multiple armies, hence most demo games will come with both armies ready to go. Just turn up, play the game and enjoy!

Most players will have enough minis to field two armies (or ten) and are happy to show off this incredible game. Credit: Mantic Games.

Yet what if you’re playing against someone still relatively new? Or perhaps you’re even playing a game against someone as new as yourself, just trying to learn the rules straight from the book? There’s a few ways to get an “army” on the table, specifically in order of how good it will look:

  • Models in movement trays.
    • For those with entire armies from other game systems.
    • Movement trays matching unit sizes (available in the free rules).
  • Models on cardboard bases.
    • For those with smaller collections of fantasy models.
    • Put a few models on some cardboard cut into the specified unit size. 
  • Just cardboard/paper bases.
    • Literally just paper cut into the unit size with the unit name written on it.
    • Least impressive, but gets the job done.

Starting with an Ambush!

The small game mode, Ambush, is perfect for first time players. These smaller battles (less than 1000 points) are designed to be as balanced as possible whilst maintaining the essence of Kings of War. Usually armies will contain four to six units max, and considering each unit is a single entity in the game, that’s like controlling only four to six models! Games as low as 500 points will still have a few units to play around with and at least get the fundamentals of the game, but believe us when we say you will soon want to go big!

Choosing your first Kings of War army

There are 28 armies to choose from in Kings of War, and without any prior knowledge of mechanics or lore, it can be hard to choose. The most important thing however is the “rule of cool”. Which army inspires you to buy it, paint it and play it? Which one tickles your imagination in just the right way? That’s probably the first one to go for. 

There are armies that are simpler to play, and others that are more complex, but a simple army is hardly inspiration for painting that 23rd infantry model. In addition, it is only after collecting that first army that players usually find out exactly what their preferred playstyle might be. So might as well jump in with something you like.

That said, here’s an ultra quick summary of each faction in alphabetical order:

  • Abyssal Dwarfs – evil Dwarfs into demon-fusion technology
  • Basileans nobody suspects the Spanish Inquisition to be backed up by real angels
  • Dwarfs – classic mountain Dwarfs with a dash of steampunk
  • Elves – classic haughty Elves, forever superior, actually are
  • Empire of Dust – fantasy Ancient Egyptian-themed undead
  • Forces of Nature – Captain Planet but lethal
  • Forces of the Abyss – maniacal demons that read the blurb of Dante’s Inferno
  • Free Dwarfs – rebelling against their own, they’re punk rock (hah) Dwarfs
  • Goblins – the cast of Jackass, but small and green
  • Halflings – hobbits with appetite (and intensity) of piranha
  • Kingdoms of Men – simple men fighting via simple means, kind of poetic
  • League of Rhordia – alliance of hobbits and men with giant dogs for cavalry
  • Nightstalkers – Lovecraftian nightmares of all shapes and sizes
  • Noble Undead – see Undead (below) but with a good guy in charge
  • Northern Alliance – snow hippies with prehistoric megafauna
  • Ogres – 10 foot tall powerlifting mercenaries
  • Orcs – large, green hooligans with a penchant for axes
  • Ratkin – technologically-inclined anthropomorphic rats 
  • Ratkin Slaves – Pied-Piper’s fever dream
  • Riftforged Orcs – if Metallica and Megadeth had an orc army
  • Salamanders – extra-spicy Lizardmen with dinosaurs, some have hats!
  • Sylvan Kin – hippy Elves but with the power of the wind and the trees
  • The Herd – game animals, but they hunt you
  • The Order of the Brothermark – formerly noble knights sworn to the Basileans
  • The Order of the Green Lady – formerly noble knights sworn to the Forces of Nature
  • Trident Realm of Neritica – seafood, but they fish you
  • Undead – if Dr Frankenstein and Count Dracula had an army together
  • Varangur – Vikings but their Valhalla is getting resurrected for another battle

Starting your Kings of War army

There are multiple ways to get started with Kings of War with a vast variety of starter boxes of all types. Unfortunately, not all the factions in Kings of War have models provided by Mantic, but the majority do. For each of these there are starter boxes packed with models, with all kinds of entry points depending on the level of investment (and amount of painting) you want. 

Ambush Starter Sets

As mentioned above, Ambush is Kings of War but with smaller battles, and Mantic has a range of Ambush Starter Sets. These contain a fair amount of plastic miniatures (particularly for the price) that act as a core for a larger army. At this point, only armies with multiple units in hard plastic offer Ambush Starter Sets. These currently are: Forces of the Abyss, Ratkin, Halflings, Ogres, Empire of Dust, and Goblins.

Ambush Starter Sets are seriously affordable ways to start an army. Credit: Mantic Games.

Two Player Starter Sets

If you are jumping in with a friend, or simply after everything you need to get stuck into Kings in one spot, you can’t go wrong with one of Mantic’s two-player starter sets. There are currently three different two-player starter sets; Sands of Ahmun (Ogre vs Empire of Dust), A Storm in the Shires (Halflings vs Riftforged Orcs) and War in the Holds (Goblins vs Ratkin). These all come with two equally sized forces, the latest rulebook and a quick-start guide.

Sands of Ahmun is the latest Kings of War 2-player starter set, featuring the best plastic models in the whole range – the Ogres! Credit: Mantic Games.

Be on the lookout, as old boxes were repackaged, and your gaming store might not have an updated version (so an old book will be in there). Irrespective, they are a great deal for getting started, allowing you to split a box with a friend and pull them into the hobby as well, or simply buy two boxes together, and double your army while getting a rule book and guide each.

Armies and Mega Army Sets

If that wasn’t enough, every single Mantic range offers an Army and Mega Army. These aren’t balanced against each other, but instead represent good value ways of getting a profusion of models. Some can be argued to be more viable than others to make a new army, but all of them are a substantial discount over buying the models separately.

Mega army sets are half a competitive army in one package (two will seal the deal). Credit: Mantic Games.

Third Party Offerings

Kings of War is a miniature agnostic game, so there is also the freedom to dip into (or jump into) ranges from other manufacturers to bring your army dream to life. We always recommend to show Mantic some financial love as they do support this amazing game, and many events now reward people who bring complete Mantic armies. Yet, the amount of miniatures on offer in the world has never been greater. The world of 3D printing makes almost any army idea attainable! We don’t advocate this for straight up beginners, however, as hunting down miniatures that match the rules requires some understanding of the game. Perfect for a second army.

Competitive Kings of War around the world

The average beginner player doesn’t usually think of tournaments straight away, but Kings of War is such an approachable game system we encourage everyone to go to an event. We have mentioned it often enough, but our first games of Kings of War were three rounds of a local tournament! 

It is widely acknowledged that a Kings of War tournament feels more like a friendly gaming night rather than a cutthroat environment, and that seems to be true regardless of geographical location. Tournaments are happening around the world, notably in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and South America! The Mantic Companion has a spot for Kings of War events to be listed (under the “Latest” tab). Search there for an event near you!

Get gaming!

There are many ways to get started with Kings of War, with all kinds of entry points and options. Dive right in with a Mega Army box, or start small with an Ambush set; both offer considerable savings. The rules have never been easier to access, and there’s more games being played globally than ever before. The only hard part now is painting it all! Good luck!