Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Warrior Kings Review

This review ended up being very very long.  Mostly because some core rule mechanisms are different to other ancient rules. But I found absolutely nothing on the internet and the one or two I found were reviews only based on reading the rules and not playing.  If anyone does know of another review, I am happy to include a link to it.  
I will soon be posting a replay using the rules which should highlight how they play.  The review below more a detailed discussion of the rules mechanisms.  Hopefully it is comprehensive enough to get a feel of if these rules are right for you or not.  As it is the first review I've ever written, if anyone has any helpful comments on the review that would be great.
Also, as this blog is about fast play rules, I will be posting (hopefully) post more reviews on those rulesets that don't have one and also be able to post some actual comparisons of how different rulesets handle various situations.

Brief background
Warrior Kings is a mass ancient combat system was released in 1998 by Ed Teixeira of Two Hour Wargames (THW).  It is long out of print but the pdf is available from the files section of the Warrior Kings yahoo group.  Warrior Kings led to a fantasy version - Warrior Heroes, also out of print. As THW have a few Warrior xxx titles, it should be clarified that other THW titles - Mayhem: Warrior Kings, Mayhem: Warrior Heroes and Warrior Heroes: Armies and Adventures are not mass combat games. Warrior Kings  core mechanism is the reaction test - familiar to anyone that has played any THW rules.

The pdf version is spread over a number of files and is formatted in two column print.  There are no diagrams or pictures.  This is definitely and 'old school' rules layout.  There are some callout boxes to explain why things are the way they are. There is also an FAQ which explain the reasoning behind the mechanisms in the game.

The first 12 pages are the rules. The remainder is taken up by solo rules (1 page), 28 army lists (6 pages), a campaign system including an example and a map (6 pages), FAQ (3 pages), an example of play (2 pages) and a reprint of all the charts in the rules (4 pages).

The game is designed to be played with 40mm wide bases with 15mm figures but will work just as well so long as both sides have the same base widths and distances are adjusted to match.  The suggestion in the rules are that if using 60mm width bases double distances.  The game is designed to be played on a 4 feet wide and 3 feet depth board.  The basic unit in the game can be made up of 1-4 stands, depending on players preference (and number of figures). However, and it is mentioned in the FAQ, that 1 base per unit seems to be what the rules were designed for. A player's army will have from around 11-20 units, depending on the army list, with the majority of army lists being in the 12-15 unit range.

Turn sequence overview
The game is played in a simple sequence after setup - one player activates their bodies of units one by one from their right to their left, then the other player does the same. This continues until the game ends. The games ends when either a player admits defeat or all units on one side are routed - there are no breakpoints or percentage of losses to work out.

A body is a number of units that are touching.  There is a limit to how many activations you are allowed.  An activated  body moves, possibly into contact. Any move into combat is a charge. Once moving, a body must continue to move unless halted (voluntary halts reduces the number of activations available that turn). The excitement in the game is that troops will react to enemy moves, and your troops may react to their reaction and so on. This reaction requires a reaction test to be performed and dictates the type of reaction. Firing is mandatory for non-moving troops in range of the enemy and firing may also be a reaction as a result of a reaction test.  The reaction test is the core of the game and drives the tactics used to win.  I'll expand on this first as everything else links to reaction tests.

Reaction Test
Bodies (note that bodies take reaction tests - not individual stands) take a reaction test for five events that may occur:
  • Receiving fire
  • Receiving a charge
  • Attempting to charge
  • Post melee
  • If a enemy unit started more than 4" away and ends within 4" but not in contact.
As you can see, the reaction test is required for nearly every activity occurring in the game - the main exceptions being initiating missile firing (which is mandatory if in range) and moving (so long as not moving within 4" of an enemy or charging). A reaction test is performed by taking the original combat value (between 3 and 6 with 4 being average) of a stand, adding and subtracting some modifiers and then rolling two d6.  The pips on each die is compared against the modified combat value. There are three possible outcomes:
  1. Passed both dice: If both dice are lower or equal to the modified combat value the stand has passed both dice.  Don't add the dice pips, compare each die to the modified combat value.
  2. Passed one dice: Only one die is lower or or equal to the modified combat value.
  3. Failed: Each die rolled is higher than the modified combat value.
For each of the 5 tests, there is a different result depending on whether a unit passes 2, 1 or 0 dice.  The type of unit (see later) will also affect the type of result. Passing 2 dice will give a good result, passing one die will give a not so good result and passing 0 dice will be a bad result.

An example:
A stand is attempting to charge.  It needs to undergo a reaction test.  Its modified combat value is a 4 and on rolling 2d6, the pips are 3 and 1.  The stand passes 2 dice.  The result of the reaction test is "charge continues".  if the pips were 5 and 2, the stand passes 1 dice.  The result is "charge continues but the charging stand receives one hit".  If the pips were 5 and 5, the stand passes 0 dice and the result is "do not to charge and retire to the rear".

You may have noticed I said bodies take reaction tests but my examples are for stands.  A single pair of dice is rolled for the reaction test for a body, but each stand undergoes the reaction test and each stand of the body may react differently depending on their modified combat value and the type of the stand.

The type of reaction varies on the test undertaken and the stand type but the main types of reaction are counter-charge, missile fire the enemy, rout, retreat, missile fire and retreat, do nothing or continue with the action (normally charging).  Units that retire or retreat also suffer a hit.

There are only a few modifiers for the reaction test.  The significant positive ones that are not based on the unit itself is +2 for an attached leader, +1 for being adjacent to the leader and +1 for each adjacent stand (up to 3).  Adjacent = touching. This makes the leader stands, and adjacent stands in that body, quite resilient.  It also encourages stands to clump into bodies and move together etc.  A good mechanism to not have each stand being independent.  Fantasy Rules! uses a similar mechanism, Armati has stands assigned to divisions at the start of the game, DBA has a command roll that limits the number of moves, but a single move can include a number of stands.  All different ways of tackling the issue. 

The main negative modifier to the reaction test is hits.  There is no limit to the number of hits a stand can accumulate but each hit is -1 to a reaction test.  A unit accumulates hits through melee, missile fire and some reaction test results.  You tend not to do much with stands with many hits as if they have to undertake a reaction test, they will probably fail both dice and rout.  This leads to goading enemy units with lots of hits into undertaking a reaction test so they will rout.

To show how this works, an example from a real game.  A missile stand starts it turn 5" away from a warband stand.  5" is within missile range but outside the 4" 'enemy threat' reaction test.
  • The missile unit fires at the warband and inflicts one hit.
  • The warband stand has to take a "received fire" reaction test.  It passes both dice and the reaction result is to charge.
  • So now it has to undergo a "attempting to charge" reaction test.  It passes only one dice.  The result is continue to charge and take another hit.  So the warband continues to charge. 
  • Before contacting the missile stand, the missile stand must take a "receiving a charge" reaction test.  It passes both dice and the reaction result is to stand in place and fire.  So it fires again at the warband and the warband takes another hit. 
  • The warband now has to take another received fire reaction test, which it passes with both dice so continues the charge.
  • Contact is now made. Melee occurs immediately and the Missile unit receives 2 hits and the Warband none.
  • Both stands must undergo a "post melee" reaction test.  The Warband passes one die and so must give ground (retreat 1" and take a hit).  The Missile stand passes one die and routs (Missile units are more brittle and so passing one die usually is worse than for heavy units).  The remaining Warband now has three hits and is in poor shape.
All this started from one missile fire from one stand!.   Although it may seem like a lot of steps there was a lot of action performed - two missile fires, one charge move, combat, post combat movement and the routing of one of the stands entirely.  This is what make Warrior Kings fast play - reaction test are quick to resolve and lots of things happen one after the other - very interactive too.

[Note: there is a sixth event reaction test taken when the leader is removed from play due to combat or missile fire but it doesn't happen often and only happens at most once a game.]

Unit Classification
Units are firstly split into three types based on battlefield purpose - Melee, Missile or Skirmish.
Missile and Skirmish unit have poorer reaction results than Melee units - where a Melee unit might retire on passing only one die, a missile/skirmish one die pass is likely to be a rout.  Missile/Skirmish units receive -1 for melee resolution and also -1 to any reaction test if in melee.  Missile units will use 2d6 when firing and all other units only use a 1d6.  Skirmish units can move in any direction while other units have movement restrictions.

Units are either mounted or foot.
Mounted units use different movement rates than foot units.  Also, for reaction tests, mounted and foot units are often treated differently.  For example, a foot unit that only passes one die for a 'post melee' reaction test routs if facing a mounted unit, a mounted unit in the same situation will retreat.  Any melee against mounted units always receive +1 (makes foot slightly better in combat versus mounted and makes mounted versus mounted faster).  Mounted melee units receive a +1 for the first turn in melee.  Elephants are counted as foot.  This is important for movement and also in reaction tests where elephants take a foot result rather than a mounted result.

Units have a combat value (based on historical morale and motivation) ranging from 3 (poor) to 6 (excellent) with 4 being average.
The base reaction test is tested against the combat value.

Units have an armor class of 2, 4 or 6.
The armor class is used to determine the number of hits a unit will take in melee.  The higher the armor class, the less hits a unit will receive.

Units have a number of figures from 1 to 4.
A heavy infantry unit will have 4 figures, heavy cavalry 3, Light infantry is 3, Skirmishers 2 and Elephants and chariots 1.  There are variations - Warbands will likely have 3 figures, Cataphracts will have 4 figures.  Number of figures is important as the side that is outnumbered in melee or being fired at will receive a -1 on the reaction test. 

Units may have some special characteristics.  One of the key potential special characteristics is dual-armed.  Dual-armed units are melee units that also have missile capability.  Dual-armed units will react differently to normal melee troops.  For example, in reaction to a charge, melee mounted will counter charge; dual-armed mounted will stand and fire.  Other examples of special characteristics are elite-trained to give +1 for melee and firing; barbarian frenzy that gives +1 for first round of melee; Pikes are +2 in melee and Combination-Weapons (for such things like roman pila) give +1 on the first round of melee.

Some unit examples:
New Kingdom Egyptian Chariots:  Mounted Missile, Elite,  CV 6, AC 2, figs 1
Republican Rome Hastati: Foot Melee, Elite, Combination Weapons, CV 4, AC 4, figs 4
Middle Imperial Rome Legionnaire: Foot Melee, Combination Weapons, Dual-armed, CV 5, AC 2, figs 4
Alexandrian Phalangite: Foot Melee, Pike, CV 4, AC 2 , figs  4
Successor Phalangite: Foot Melee, Pike, CV 4, AC 4 , figs  4
Peltasts: Foot Melee, Dual armed, CV 4, AC 2, figs 3
Companions:  Mounted Melee, CV 6, AC 4, figs 3
Sassanid Persian Clibinarii: Mounted Melee, Dual-armed CV 5, AC 4, figs 3

Sassanid Persian Cataphracts: Mounted Melee, CV 4, AC 6, figs 4 

Melee/Missile/Skirmish, mounted/foot and dual-armed are the classifications used to differentiate reactions for the reaction test. 

For example, for the reaction test taken if an enemy unit moves within 3 and a stand passes on both dice, these are the potential reactions for a melee unit:
  • Mounted that are not dual-armed will charge the enemy.
  • All dual armed stands will fire.
  • Stands with barbarian frenzy  will charge the enemy
  • all other stands will halt

The reaction for missile and skirmish units is:
  • All fire.

Command and Control
At the start of the game, each side will get a war rating of 2-4 with 3 being the average.  To this is added +1 for every sub-commander.  Subcommanders can only be acquired for each 20 stands, and only after 20 stands are acquired (in other words, an army needs to be at least 21 stands before acquiring a sub-commander).
The War rating determines how many activations can occur each turn.  A body is a one or more stands that are touching.  Each activation allows you to start moving or halt a body.  A body that moved last turn must continue moving at least 50% of its rate unless a activation 'point' is used to halt it.  So moving units do not require expenditure of a activation point.  Contact, pursuit, retreating, halting etc as part of a result of a reaction test also halts a unit and requires an activation point to start it off again. A very simple mechanism for command an control - a limited number of activation points and bodies that are moving do not require activation points to continue moving.

Movement rates are based on mounted/foot, armour class and number of figures.

Light cavalry (Mounted, AC2, 2 figs): 16
Heavy cavalry (Mounted, AC2 or 4, 3 figs): 12
Heavy Infantry (Foot, AC2 or 4, 4 figs): 6
Light Infantry (Foot, AC2, 3 figs): 8

There are some restrictions on movement such as:
  • bodies can only wheel 45 degrees maximum and foot can wheel or move. 
  • Foot units can about face for 50% of movement, Mounted take all their movement to about face.
Skirmishers can move in any direction.

When two bodies are in contact, melee takes place.  No conforming - a point of contact is all that is required.  Bodies are stands that touch - they do not have to be corner to corner either.  One d6 is rolled for each stand in contact with the enemy and modifiers added (see unit classification for example modifiers).  The d6 results are added together and then compared to the enemies armor class.

An AC2 stand will receive one hit for each 3 dice pips.
An AC4 stand will receive one hit for each 5 dice pips.
An AC6 stand will receive one hit for each 7 dice pips.

Hits are spread evenly where possible and there are rules for if a body has stands with different armor classes (simplifying - pick on the lowest AC first).

So, if the dice rolls for an attack added up to 12, a body with 2 AC4 units would receive one hit each (for each '5') and the remaining 2 pips are wasted.  As the average roll of a die is 3.5, and there are few negative modifiers, AC2 units accumulate hits very quickly!  Hits are negative modifiers to a reaction test.  There is a reaction test taken after melee with fairly brutal results if you don't pass both dice.  It is not often than melee carries over multiple turns unless you have high AC and high combat value troops.

Missile armed troops have a range of 6, all others (skirmish and dual-armed) 3.  Missile armed stands roll 2d6, other roll 1d6.  Damage is applied to the receiving unit as per melee.  Missile firing can only target a unit directly in front, there are no arcs of fire.  Skirmish Cavalry and chariots can also fire directly to the rear.  A unit receiving missile fire (whether hit or not) will undergo a reaction test - see the previous example of where this can go!

There are rules for Artillery for those so inclined.

The default army composition is 400 points for a 4'x3' board.  There are 200 defined points of stands, and then you randomly roll for the remaining stands, so no two armies will ever be the same.  There is a randomiser across an armies unit types and each army has a number of rolls (around 5) that, on average, will give you an extra 200 points worth of stands.  No stand can set up within 12" of each edge.  This does mean deployment is limited to 24" in the centre with wide flanks.  There is a fairly detailed system for terrain generation and deployment.

Campaign system
There is a campaign system that comes with the games that I have no played but does seem a very interesting and quick system for generating games.

Likes and dislikes
This is where I can throw in some personal opinions and observations. To put my bias into context, Armati is my number one favourite ancient ruleset to play and Warrior Kings is number 2.

The game is fast - all games I have played with 400 points have lasted less than one hour.

It is excellent for solo play due to the unpredictability of reactions.

It can be frustrating in a two player game due to the unpredictability of reactions. But that to me is the best part (compare to Armati or DBA where you can have high level goals and create tactical plans in advance, only have high level goals in Warrior Kings!)

It is very player interactive; because units react to one another, players are always rolling dice and doing things, regardless of whose actual turn it is.

I like the fact that units do not have to conform or align - this simplifies a lot of the rules.  I do realise that many people will also find this a dislike!

The components of the rules mesh together to form the whole.  Armati and DBA are immediate examples that come to mind where the classification, movement, melee, command and control rules are all related and interact to form a complete set.  They do not feel like you can replace one component without destroying the ruleset itself.  They overlap and depend on one another.  You could not drop in a melee system from another ruleset, it would not work.

While the rules are not long, there are tactical nuances that are not immediately apparent (this also touches on the meshing of the components).  An examples is the number of figures  while used for movement, you could just produce a chart with movement rates. But being outnumbered in melee (which is calculated using number of figures) is a -1 modifier to the subsequent reaction test.  -1 is a significant negative modifier.  So while a stock standard light infantry stand (figs = 3) versus a stock standard heavy infantry stand (figs = 4) may have the same chance of inflicting hits in melee (both would just roll a d6), the light infantry stand checks reaction at -1 and so is more likely to rout or at east retire and take another hit.

The missile and melee follow the same process - roll dice, apply some modifiers, check damage against armor class.  Many rules do this but, as an example, Justified ancients doesn't - there is a separate table to determine missile fire that is different to the melee results table (though it could be argued that there is a different reaction test result depending on whehe it is "received fire" or "involved in melee").

While I can play Armati after a few games without ever referring to the rulebook and back in the 90s I could even do this with DBM (bit more than a few games though and I could never memorise the nuances of Kn(X)), the one thing that is a bit harder to remember in Warrior Kings in the reaction tests results.  Everything else is fairly simple and some of reaction test results stick in the mind, but after 10 games I still need to have the reaction test tables next to me to refer to at times.    

When you play, there are situations that are not covered in the rules, there is a Warrior Heroes clarifications and answers that is directly applicable to Warrior Kings and fixes this gap.

One of my pet peeves about any game is consistency in die rolling - if rolling high on the die is a good thing in the game, then it should always be a good thing (e.g. if roll to hit has to be greater than a certain number in a game that means rolling high is good; if you have to roll to save your own unit from death in that game, then it should be rolling higher than a certain die roll rather than less; rolling for leader death would be a 1 rather than a 6 as low is bad in this game).  In Warrior King, rolling high is good for melee and missile fire - the higher the roll, the more potential damage you can do. However, for reaction tests, you want to roll less than a certain number.  This is because melee/missile modifiers are applied to the die roll; reaction test modifiers are applied to the combat value, and then you try and roll under the modified combat value.  The first time I played against a friend he spotted this immediately and found it most frustrating - aim to roll high for melee,and then immediately afterwards aim to roll row for the reaction test. I get that it is good the say higher characteristics are good - higher armor class is good and higher combat value is good.  But when playing, we have changed combat values so a old CV of 6 is now a CV 1, and old CV 5 is no CV2.  Reaction test modifiers are now applied to the dice and higher rolls pass.  But as I said at the start, it is only a pet peeve.

AC2 hits are applied for every 3 pips, AC4 for every 5 pips, AC6 for every 7 pips.  Why not call it armor class 3, 5, and 7 rather than 2,4 and 6?  Only a minor quibble as this is the only use of armor class (besides unit point calculation) but I would think AC3,5,7 would be easier to use.

There are only 28 army lists.  These can be found as the file MoreLists.pdf in the Warrior Heroes section of the THW Archive yahoo group.  There is also a spreadsheet in the Warrior Kings yahoo group files with some extra army lists (from memory about 10).  While this is sufficient for me to work with as I would just create ones I needed by looking over other rules, some people I know like lots and lots of army lists.

Last word
I would recommend obtaining the Warrior Heroes Questions and Answers from the THW Archive yahoo group as this has a lot of clarifications, including diagrams (Note: I have a file I downloaded in September 09 called Warrior Heroes Questions and Answers Jan 08.pdf that is 15 pages long and has a few diagrams while the file in the THW Archive is called Warrior Heroes Questions and Answers.pdf and has only 11 pages with no diagrams.  when I get time  will follow up this difference on the yahoo group).
Also, there is one rule change from Warrior Heroes that should be applied to Warrior Kings (and Ed confirmed on the THW Mailing list) is that for the 'Involved in Melee' reaction test, for Melee units that pass 2 dice, the first result should be "MOUNTED that did not cause enemy FOOT to Rout or Retire will themselves retire".  In Warrior Kings it was originally missing the "FOOT" so mounted units would retire from each other.  You could argue it was fine as it was.  Up to you.


  1. Great review. I can't wait to read a battle report using these rules.

  2. Great review. Just to let you know, a revised version of Warrior Heroes is going to be forthcoming from THW in the not too distant future. Most of the work is done, it is waiting on artwork primarily at this point.

  3. And a Tekumel based version called "Kerdu" is also in the works.

    Thanks for the thorough review!


  4. Thanks for the report. I have had Warrior King in the back burner for some time. I'll give it a go.


  5. the way, on a second note about Ed's games... What draws me to his system and his writting style is the down to earth approach that he has towards gaming. Maybe it's becasue I'm older, but it seems that simple and wiggle room is the right combo for my taste in games. And most important, I don't care for games that give you full control of your units -I like Ed's CR system for this very reason and the unpredictable turn sequence of the other THW.

  6. Thanks for the review, a friend & I plan on giving it a test run this weekend. My only fear is that with all these test is that WK will feel like WAB (which is the pits), did you get that sense at all? But, hoping for a fun night of gaming, thanks.

  7. WK does not feel like WAB at all. Although I can say that as I haven't played WAB ;-). However, I have watched WAB being played, have played a bit of WHFB with a freind a few times in the 90's and have read the rulebook. Doesn't count for too much though. I am hoping to play WAB (version 1 as I recently got a copy second hand, I know the new version is out) as one of the rulesets to try out.

    The replay I have, and the review, may make it sound like the tests get in the way of the game but they are so integral to the game play. The reaction tests ARE the game. They drive the flow of the game, they drive the tactics and they sometime drive frustration levels really high! They are, so far, my favourite fast play ruleset. And they are loads of fun too. And it is easy to blame poor reaction tests results when you lose: "I didn't want them to charge - the test MADE me!".

  8. Hi Shaun ... Anonymous (Ian) here 'lol', so a few of played WK the other night and it wasn't bad. It was a little rough going at first as none of us are experts on the rules, but towards the end of the night we were getting the hang of it.

    What I liked and didn't like ... the concept of the testing is cool and I understand the philosophy and i'm ok with it, but it can seem like to much.
    The rules for the most part are easy to understand and follow, but there were a few things that were unclear or didn't exactly make sense.
    The way you pick your army list is kind of cool, however cosmetically, I wasn't crazy about how the single base units looked on the table top, but that's just my taste.

    Anyway, I would give it a good rating and would be willing to play it again, which in my book is big plus :)

  9. Anonymous Ian,
    The rules are very unclear - I really suggest, if you haven't got them, to read the Warrior Heroes amendments. I can send you the one I have with the pictures in it. It clears up a lots of things and has examples to back them up.

    I thought the reaction test was a bit much and actually tested some mods I made where I did away with the Enemy threat test, charging and fired on test only for MISSILE. It was better, but I went back to using all the tests as there is a bit of subtility lost when you reduce the tests.
    Re: single base units - could always have four stands to a base (two in front, two at the back), and increase the size of the table.

    Good to see you had fun.