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Balance, Ludo Or Realism. What's More Important?

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#1 Gorrin


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Posted 22 November 2017 - 07:39 PM

What the hell do I mean by “realistic shooting rules” anyway?


It’s fast approaching 2 years since my first game of Kings of War 2nd Edition. I happened to make a throwaway comment about the shooting rules on the Facebook group and several people (alright two) asked if I had any ideas on how they could be tweaked. After my first game or two I wrote my initial thoughts on this very forum…my old post can be found here:





I know this will go down like a bucket of cold sick with a certain type of KOW player. But for the record…here’s my tuppence-worth.


It’s not that I don’t like a balanced game with balanced shooting rules, it’s just that I always prefer a game to be balanced in a way that doesn’t abandon history, physics, probability and common sense. I know it’s not just me from talking to opponents in casual games and in tournaments, but dare I say it – maybe the shooting rules aren’t perfect. And I know the reaction that will be forthcoming. “The game is perfect, it’s the most perfectest thing ever created, don’t break the game by fixing it, burn the witch”.


But anyway…


Although when I gave my first impressions after I first played the game (2nd Edition) over Christmas in 2015 I voiced my concerns over the shooting modifiers – a kind Bugmans contributor who clearly knew the game inside out (and was probably on the RC) explained that more modifiers were tried but that it made the game hard to balance. I was happy to read the responses but just don’t think that balance is a good enough reason. Some things about shooting completely ruin the game for me. It’s that bad. I’ll keep repeating it, but I consider the response “but balance” to not be a good enough reason to “break” reality. If physics, common sense and history breaks your game balance then find another way to balance it.


In the real world, I am more likely to hit a target 6 feet away with a bow that I am at 220-yard extreme range. Occasionally, even at point blank range I might miss. Bowstrings or bows can snap, an arrow can slip off the string, a rifle can misfire. But these are outlying events, not something that happens nearly 70% of the time at Ra skill 5, and at exactly the same failure rate as an extreme range shot. All of these mishaps would occur at roughly the same regularity at short and long range – before factoring in the difficulty of the shot. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.


Even a fantasy game has to have some base and grounding in a semi-familiar, recognisable world – no matter how imaginary. And let’s remember – some people use these rules to play historical battles. I really don’t think that having 4 or 5 modifiers instead of 2 changes the complexity of the game that much.


I wanted to address a few of the issues, and look at how Alessio (and Mr Priestly) dealt with these in his masterpiece Warmaster (cat out – pigeons everywhere) as well as to offer a few suggestions. I’m not expecting changes to the game in general – heaven forbid – but they are just some food for thought maybe further down the line for house rules, I mean – if the game is as perfect as I’m repeatedly told – there will never be a need for a 3rd edition.

I’ve looked at Warmaster rather than WFB 8th as:

  1. I’ve never played Warhammer past 3rd edition with 4th edition war-engine rules…and…
  2. I know that many people that have played both WM and KOW consider KOW to be a much simplified version of Warmaster with the command and control element stripped away. “Warmaster-lite” if you like. Both games use unit footprints as a major mechanic of the game; both play “Igougo” with 3 move/shoot/fight phases per turn and both hope to represent massed combat in an elegant, streamlined way where units represent hundreds of men rather than the tiny amount on the movement trays. Cynics could also add that in both games whoever gets the first charge in wins – but that’s another story.

To summarise, the issues I have with shooting which I will address in turn are:

  1. Extreme range and point blank range having the same chance of hitting (or rather missing as is usually the case).
  2. No firing at chargers.
  3. Enfilade fire - historically devastating events such as taking cannon fire or a short-range musket volley into the flank are ignored.
  4. And I also want to suggest an alternative deployment phase based on scouting. Hope that’s not overstepping the mark.

For the record – I’m not saying my suggestions are better – I may not even have a viable or workable suggestion, I’m just hoping to make us think about the game a little.

So from the top…

  1. Extreme range and point blank range having the same chance of hitting

Before I start, I’ll reiterate that I consider “but balance” to not be a good enough reason to “break” reality. Hitting things close up is simply easier than hitting things far away. I have the same issue with people that say “got tabled? – you didn’t have the exact recommended number of scenic items on the table. That’s how generals in real life did it, I’ve heard Hannibal picked Cannae especially for its scenery and obstacles”, but that’s a story for another time.

What can be done about this?


A sensible slight adjustment would be to add a modifier for ranged fire, either lessening the effect of fire over half range or increasing the effect of fire at under half range. This can be done either by making hits more likely/unlikely or applying an additional piercing modifier (either positive or negative). Or even both. Or even rolling half the attacks dice at long range. I’m not saying use all the modifiers – I’m just saying do something.


Rather than not do this for “balance” reasons (it was explained to me that these modifiers made the game harder to balance, that early game shooting was much less useful and balance switched to massed short range weapons) – perhaps we could think about balancing the shooting in another way. Making archers and the like cheaper so players can field more of them, or by adding a modifier for hitting large targets – and when I say “large” I mean hordes and legions rather than giants and trolls. It would make sense in a more historically realistic way for early game long range fire to be directed towards larger bodies of enemy troops, where missile units may not necessarily be able to identify and target individual units amongst a mass of enemies 250 to 300 yards away.


This approach would be particularly useful with direct fire weapons like cannon which in the real world are most effective against tightly packed dense formations. Outside of Hollywood cannonballs don’t explode like the blast rule, they pass through several ranks causing casualties in each. Personally I would prefer this represented by cannons hitting more often (especially at large, masses of enemies they couldn’t realistically consistently miss), causing less damage (say max one wound per rank); potential disruption (more on that later); an increased chance of hitting a target that has not moved when fired at in consecutive turns and a breath attack at ranges 6” and under to simulate canister. This would make cannon not particularly effective against 10-figure troops, large individuals and heroes and but effective against larger bodies of enemies. If this changes the balance of the game then adjust the points, don’t try to adjust physics and history. Try a charge of the light brigade scenario yourself with a cavalry unit starting 50” away from a cannon. The cannon will get off two shots with a 67% chance of failure with each shot. This equates to a 44.4% chance that it will miss both times (or for the entire duration of the cavalry’s advance). The cavalry will hit home on the third turn destroying the artillery with a fairly large chance that it will have taken zero damage for what in real life would have been a desperately reckless frontal attack. This rewards players for making dumb as a rock reckless tactical decisions which somehow doesn’t sit right.


Now for something radical. 


If a couple of extra modifiers upsets you, then I’d suggest you sit down. For a radical adjustment  I look to how Alessio and Rick (Priestley) dealt with missile units in Warmaster. And be warned – this would mean a fairly fundamental change to the shooting rules which would give the “KOW is perfect” brigade nightmares!

In Warmaster, missile fire is dialled right down. It’s dialled down to the point where it’s actually difficult for a unit to be destroyed by missile fire unless several units/war machine batteries concentrate fire on it in the same turn. In fact “wounds” caused by missiles in the shooting phase are removed at the end of the shooting phase – I know – stay with me here.


This means Alessio gave missile weapons and warmachines a different tactical role to the one we know from WFB and KOW where missile fire can and does annihilate units. Although units could be destroyed by concentrated fire – more often the effects of missile fire were disruption and drive-backs. This meant – in the authors’ words:


“Missile fire isn’t a terribly effective way of destroying enemy units, the most effective way to employ missile fire is to coordinate attacks from several sources at once. However shooting is a very effective way of pinning down enemy troops, slowing and disrupting their attacks or forcing them from defended positions or objectives. A good general will recognise these qualities immediately, for they are an important means of controlling areas of the battlefield and frustrating your enemy’s plans.”


In their entirety Alessio & Rick’s missile rules for WM would not translate well to KOW. A WM regiment always consisted of 3 stands (a unit would therefore be like 3 troops in base contact) and each stand could be removed individually when a third of the unit’s casualties had been sustained. But I wonder if they could be partly imported into KOW?


Could missiles cause less casualties and more disruption? Would it be better if “wounds” caused by missile fire were spent half on actual damage and half on a drive-back directly away from the closest firing unit?


This could be either by splitting the total wounds caused and using half to cause wounds and half to drive back a set distance (spending more on wounds if the number was odd) or by letting the firer choose. The set distance could be say 2 inches per “wound”. So a unit sustaining 6 wounds would suffer 3 wounds and be compelled to be driven backwards 6” directly away from the closest firer while maintaining facing. An alternative would be for the firer to be given the choice to spend on wounds or drive-back distance. It may not sound particularly sexy but it is very useful in warmaster (and would be in KOW ) to force an enemy back out of charge range, to drive an enemy from an objective or stopping them from reaching it altogether with concentrated fire.


I would add that in certain circumstances it would be useful for missile fire to cause a “waver” result limiting the unit’s options in the following turn. This could be where a unit was compelled to be driven-back but could not retreat the full distance due to terrain, table edge or proximity to friendly or enemy units.

These aren’t direct suggestions – just a few ideas of how missile troops might be compensated for losing some effectiveness at long range – without necessarily bending realism, gravity and physics to make a game balanced.

I’m already tired with typing “balanced”…just in case you were wondering.



 2. Firing at Chargers


I’ve only ever played KOW against 8 or 9 different people, but most of those I’ve played have an issue with this. It’s not hard to understand why this is an issue for players, especially for armies like dwarfs where the only time you are ever going to get the first charge in is if you are fighting against other dwarfs.


I don’t really care how this is addressed, but however it is handled can’t fail to be less silly than the current arrangement. Imagine you are playing KOW historical and your romans are awaiting a charge, pila at the ready preparing to throw their deadly javelins to break up the enemy charge just before it hits home. Well if your opponent has Sp of 6 or above then forget it, your heavily disciplined romans are ALWAYS going to forget to throw them. This is similar to the cannon scenario I mentioned before, a player is not penalised for what amounts to a reckless frontal assault against rifles, crossbows, javelins or grapeshot. That’s not “tactical” it’s just plain stupid.


It also allows a unit to move through a gap between terrain or units without being shot at, providing they start and finish obscured. This is another reason why many rules systems allow fire to be conducted in an opponent’s turn. I can see the issue here for KOW, part of the mechanics of the game is that everything in your turn is conducted by you – this is especially the case in tournaments where you are under time pressure and you don’t want your opponent slow-rolling firing on your time.


To solve this (if conducting fire in an opponent’s turn is too much to realistically ask) we could allow the charge as normal, but mark the charging unit (or the unit which moved in front of firers from cover to cover) to remind us that it was fired at before it charged home or moved cover to cover. In the next turn the shooting would be resolved (with say a -1 to hit modifier due to the stress of firing at chargers) as normal AND the unit could countercharge if it wanted. If the attacker routed the target in the previous turn then obviously just the fire would be resolved as if it had been conducted before the rout / annihilation. This could potentially mean that both units were destroyed, but I don’t think this is massively unrealistic (certainly less unrealistic than forgetting where you put your missiles) – it would simulate an occasion where a unit defeated an enemy or took a position at such a cost that it ceased to function as an effective fighting unit.


I’d suggest that units with RELOAD could not fire at chargers if they moved or fired in the previous turn. These units would need to decide tactically when to stand their ground, hold fire and “wait for the whites of their eyes”.

At the moment we can have a situation where a troop of light cavalry or an individual can attack a horde or legion behind a stone wall and disorder them by causing one point of damage. The only way the missile troops could then strike back is to abandon their barricade and fight in melee in the open. It just doesn’t feel very logical or realistic. Again the ability to fire at chargers would resolve this. The unit would still be disordered but would at least have done some damage before combat.


In Warmaster combat was resolved simultaneously, missile units could fire at chargers with the hits being carried over into the first round of combat as if they had been caused in melee. This affected who was compelled to retreat and who won the combat. Combat in KOW is much more simplistic and this mechanic would not really transfer well.


3. Historically devastating events such as taking cannon fire or a short-range musket volley into the flank are ignored.


Fairly simple this one. Taking enfilade fire is BAD. That’s why there’s a special word for it. Doubling attacks for missiles into the flank (but NOT tripling in the rear – the rear is not the longest axis) would be an idea, and an advantage to missile troops to balance them losing some effectiveness at long range.


At the moment a player can attack to its front and leave its flanks completely exposed to cannon, bows or rifles without being penalised. In warfare this would be reckless and stupid. You can argue that the missile unit could attack in melee with double the attacks but this opens you up to being countercharged in a situation where you might prefer to force the target to have to spend a turn pivoting under fire in order to get a charge in.


As I said, these are just thoughts – I’m not saying they should be adopted, I’m not even saying they are anything more than the random gibberings of a veteran mumbler – just thoughts and ideas. I get that a lot of you think KOW is perfect…and maybe it is. After all. It’s a game not a simulation right? Like chess. Or Ludo. Perfectly balanced.


Now just a word on deployment and scouting…


In the warmaster community, and often in tournaments players choose a different method of deployment to “one unit of mine, one unit of yours” based on “scouting”. But the system works particularly well for campaigns with a little tweaking. This works something like this (Don’t quote me on the points):


Each unit and hero has a scouting value, I won’t write an exhaustive list but imagine something like:


7pts -     Flying Units and flying heroes, anything with the fly special rule.


5pts -     Light / missile cavalry, rangers, specialist scouts (including indivduals), mounted heroes etc (you get the idea) – anything with the vanguard special rule.


3pts -     Heavy cavalry, light infantry / missile infantry, dismounted individuals.


1pts -     Medium / Heavy infantry


All other troop types like war-machines and “dumb” units such as trolls, unridden animals and elementals have a value of zero, but for tactical reasons can be included in your scouting force if you wish. My suggestion is that the size of units (troop/Regt/Horde) is not important for simplicity.


Each player secretly writes down which units of his army is in his “scouting force” or “vanguard”, this can be anything between zero units and his whole army. Before deployment both players reveal their scouting forces, tot up their points and add their total to 1D6. The person with the most points has won the scouting phase.


The person who has won the scouting gets to choose which table edge they want to deploy on and then deploys all of the units he committed to his scouting / vanguard force in his deployment zone. Once the scouting force is deployed the player that lost the scouting deploys his whole army in his deployment zone. Once this is done, the player that won the scouting places the remainder of his force. Players dice for first turn as normal.


This adds an extra tactical level that can be especially fun in campaigns. The more troops you commit to scouting the more of your force you will need to reveal to the enemy before he sets up. If you commit zero you run the risk of having to deploy all your troops first. It’s worth noting that winning the scouting lets you choose table edge and lets you see you opponent’s dispositions before he sees yours (apart from the units you committed to scouting) but doesn’t entitle you to move first, so it doesn’t give too much of an advantage in objective or invasion scenarios. Some roll 2D6 to give a more random feel to the scouting phase.

Well – thanks if you got past “the shooting rules aren’t perfect”.




Edited by Gorrin, 22 November 2017 - 09:06 PM.

#2 Killer Angel

Killer Angel

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 10:56 PM

Interesting post, and this is said by someone that doesn't play KoW.


I understand your pain, but failure to simulate reality is a common thing in fantasy wargames (I'm thinking to AoS and shooting in CC, just to make a related example).

That said, I agree that to introduce some rule to improve the game wouldn't be difficult and wouldn't hamper the game...


Shooting at long distance, compared to shooting at point blank? just give +1 to hit when you shoot within half the range of the missile weapon.


Reaction fire when charged? just do as 40K: free shooting but hit only on 6

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