You’ve just finished Kings of War, a new game for Mantic Games. What brief did you write to, or set yourself?
The first step was to look at the Kings of War model range. It’s vital that the rules service the models. That’s one of the first things we say when River Horse [Alessio’s company] helps you with your game system is: do you have an existing range? It seems to surprise people when you start like that – they just expect you to write a set of rules, rather than rules that are designed for their models.
The other key aspect was the packaging, the way they sell their models – they sell them in tens, twenties and forties. A ten is called a Troop, twenty is called a Regiment and forty is a Horde. So the next question was: do you want a model-based game or a unit-based game? In other words, should the smallest element in the game be the individual models, who can be removed and killed, or should the unit as a whole have a stat line?
And what was the decision?
Because of the way the models are sold, I recommended unit-based. I’m also doing some work for Warlord Games on their coming expansions for Black Powder, which is unit-based, and it’s a method I really like. So what came out was a game that has elements of Black Powder, has elements of Warhammer, has elements of other games. In fact I had never written a new system completely from scratch, and I started thinking as I wrote: oh, this rule is a bit like that rule in that other system – maybe I shouldn’t use it. I was killing myself trying to write original mechanics that had never been used anywhere, and it got me nowhere. In the end I realised that with so many people dealing with the same problems, you’re going to end up with some similar solutions. So I decided not to worry about it, and just write rules that seemed to work well. Bizarrely, when I stopped worrying about it, I came out with quite a few original mechanics, that, mixed with some solidly established principles, that I’ve taken from other games I love, make for an interesting blend of newfangled and familiar, I think. But of course I’d say so!
So how does it differ from Warhammer? How do they compare?
When a Kings of War game starts, with the units deployed, it does inevitably look a lot like a Warhammer battle. However, once the game is underway it actually has very little to do with Warhammer. The biggest difference is: each unit has a profile – there is no removing of models as casualties – instead you put down markers to indicate damage, psychological as well as physical. And when enough damage has been done the unit breaks and is removed – there are no fleeing units. All of this means the game is much shorter than the equivalent Warhammer game.
How does the turn system work?
The system is: I move, I shoot, I attack your models in combat, then you do the same. It’s written so that I do everything in my turn, you do everything in yours, So in this game, if I do enough damage, I get to roll against your bravery or courage – I called it Nerve – and hopefully break your unit.
The interesting thing about this is that, if you want, you can decide to play the entire game with a chess clock or a timer. So in a tournament, or if you just like to experience the pressure of ‘real battle’, you can add in this time factor. Obviously you couldn’t do that in Warhammer because you do stuff in my turn. If you’re playing with a timer, you agree a time limit, say one or two hours, and when your time runs out your entire army breaks and runs – losing the game.
That’s quite novel for a full wargame.
I thought intellectually it would be an interesting thing to have, but there’s a big difference between writing a rule and playing it, and when I tried it out, it was very revealing. I’ve written a new system, it’s simple, it works, but it still feels like playing a tabletop wargame – Warhammer, Flames of War, whatever – the rules are different but it’s the same fundamental experience, one that I’m very familiar with. However, the moment we started using the chess clock, it was a different, new experience – you do different things, you feel different things. Almost like the difference between playing a turn-based computer game and a real time strategy game – there’s an element of genuine panic!
And you’ve kept the system short and sweet?
Yes. It’s very simple. The entire Kings of War rules are just 12 pages long, including all the special rules, the scenario, rules for alliances, timed games. I’ve been asked a few times when we’re bringing out the full version – people assume this is just the quick play summary sheet! But no, this is the entire game. We also made it quite humorous, particularly in the special rules with things like the Elven Sabretoothed Pussycat and the Dwarf Throwing Mastiff.
Is there anything to stop me using my Warhammer models to try Kings of War?
Not at all. Mantic’s models are considerably cheaper than GW’s, so a lot of people buy them to bulk out their Warhammer armies. If gamers go the other way and use their Warhammer models to try out Kings of War, then I’ll be very chuffed. I’m told that fans on the forum have already started creating their own army lists for races that Mantic don’t yet produce – I hear there’s one for ‘Lizard-kin’ for example.
And how is the game being sold by Mantic?
They don’t sell it. It’s a free game that will be put inside boxed sets from Regiment size upwards and later on will be posted up as a free download. Then we will publish updates every year or so, to keep the rules polished and fresh.
From here, our chat turned to Shuuro – the game Alessio has designed and published through his own company, River Horse. We talked about the new supplement, Turanga, and his plans for the future. That will all be in the third and final part of the interview – coming soon!