by Grant Hill
Mantic Games are a UK based company who make 28mm fantasy miniatures. Although best known for their hard plastic kits, they also produce several white metal miniatures to be used as character pieces etc. All of the miniatures released so far are fantasy stereotypes: Elves, Dwarves, Undead, Abyssal (evil) Dwarfs and Orcs. In late 2010 the first version of Mantic's own fantasy ruleset (Kings of War) was released as a free download. For this review Mantic provided us with a copy of their Kings of War starter set named Mhorgoth's Revenge, which pits the Dwarves against Undead and retails for £39.99 (GBP).
Upon opening the relatively large (44 x 29 cm) box my first impression was a mix of delight and intimidation, there are so many plastic sprues (33) that while I was impressed with how many figures there are, I knew that I also needed to assemble them all. The figures included in the starter set are:
- 25 Dwarf Ironclad Warriors
- 20 Dwarf Ironwatch
- 1 Ironbelcher (cannon with crew)
- 20 Skeletons
- 10 Revenants (more powerful skeletons)
- 10 Ghouls
- 15 Zombies
- 1 Balefire Catapult (with crew)
As one of the initial starter sets, the review sample also contained a bonus sprue of 10 Revenants.
The box also included:
- Five d6
- Printed Kings of War ruleset
- Basic army lists
- Undead and Dwarf poster guides (background, painting tips etc)
- Four Undead sticker sheets (for shields/banners etc)
- Sheet of four Mantic points
Mantic points are part of a reward scheme and can be redeemed against some miniatures and other Mantic merchandise listed on the company's website.
Tabletop Gaming News has previously reviewed the Mantic Elves Spearmen, and some of the conclusions there definitely apply here too. Specifically, the sprues have lots of extras attached and the figures have small round integral bases. These clip into 20 mm square bases (provided) and allow the figures to be rotated for ranking them up. The sprues have text on them telling you which unit type the figures belong to.
The Dwarf Ironclad Warriors have five figures per sprue, and one command sprue (including champion, musician and standard bearer) is included. Typically there is a body piece that connects to the legs before arms are added. Some bodies have a left shield arm fused on, whilst others have separate arms. Variety is further increased by some pieces having separate heads. It was pretty easy to construct the figures so that there weren't really any obvious doubles in the unit of 25. This was aided by there being a number of weapon options (axes, hammers etc) on the sprues. Mould lines seem to be on par with plastic kits from the likes of Games Workshop and Warlord Games, not too bad but most people will probably want to remove them. Examples of extras on the sprues include wounded Dwarves, beer mugs and goblin heads. There are also some "Dwarven Throwing Mastiffs" that play an in-game role within Kings of War. I managed to attach one to one of the Dwarves, hopefully looking like it is in mid-throw.
The Dwarf Ironwatch Warriors come as two figures per sprue, which meant it was more difficult to prevent the unit looking like it was made up of the same figures. There are two weapon options (crossbows or rifles), so by having two units of ten the effect was minimised a little. It's worth nothing that it's easy to mix and match parts with the Ironclad Warriors. The final Dwarf sprue is for the Ironbelcher cannon. As you'd expect with plastic, once you've removed the mould lines construction is easy. There are two options, either for a standard cannon, or a multiple barrelled organ gun style piece. There are two crew, a box of ammo and a pair of smoking boots (great if you're looking for a misfire counter).
The Skeletons are provided as two sprues of ten (one troop sprue and one command). Construction is similar to the Dwarves; add a torso to a set of legs and then add arms/weapons/heads as you please. Most of the weapons are swords, but there are enough spears to equip the unit with that option, and there are sickles, maces and other spikey things for a bit of variety. Other extras include a skeleton rising from the ground, a pile of bones and an undead giant rat (again with in-game rules). I definitely feel that there are enough parts here that imagination and time will run out long before I need to make two identical figures. The Revenants are wearing noticeably more armour that is also more intricate. Again there are a huge number of pieces (61 on the troop sprue) and more options than you could shake a broken femur at.
The Ghouls are provided as two per sprue and the default pose has long spindly fingers clawing out at you. There are other weapon options, but using them unfortunately requires snipping the existing hands off at the wrists. One additional extra is a rather grizzly bag of amputated hands that can be attached to a hip. Zombies come as three to a sprue, but have six head options and you can replace one set of legs with a piece that makes it look like the Zed is rising from the ground. The Balefire catapult is made from nine pieces and has a bag of skulls as ammo. There are two crew and again you can put them together in a number of different ways (handy if you're planning on multiple catapults).
The Dwarves measure around 25 mm feet to top of the head and have noticeably more leg than those made by other companies, meaning that mixing them together on the tabletop will look a bit odd. However, they still have a short but stocky look that instantly tells you that it's a Dwarf. My personal feeling is that they look better "in the plastic" than in the promotional photos, with the beards appearing to have a lot more texture to them than suggested in some of the photos I have seen. Whether or not you like the look and feel of a figure is obviously very subjective. While I think the Mantic Dwarves aren't bad, neither do they set my world on fire. I do think they represent excellent value for money though, you can pay ten times as much for a figure, but it won't be ten times better than this.
While I'm somewhat ambivalent towards the Dwarves, I think that the Undead are easily Mantic's best range yet (again, this is subjective). The Skeletons are quite tall at around 32 mm to the top of the head and have more realistic proportions than other manufacturers (again raising questions about how well they'd mix in). The sculpting seems finer and more detailed than the Dwarves and I truly think they're a bargain at the asking price. The skeletons have a static Ray Harryhausen type of feel to them, which really conjures up a clumsy, awkward reanimation. While I like the skeletons, the zombies and ghouls really are excellent. The sculpting is essentially on a par with premium metal manufacturers and it seems a bit of a shame that there isn't a greater variety of them available.
The Kings of War rules are available as a free download, so I won't go into an extensive overview here. The printed copy is twelve pages long and clearly marked as the 2010 edition. Mantic encourages players to provide feedback on the rules, with plans for the online version and army lists to be periodically updated. Unlike the majority of mainstream fantasy games, Kings of War is element based, rather than skirmish (taking the traditional definition of skirmish to be that each figure represents an individual). This means that the unit takes damage, but individual figures are not removed. This is likely to be much more familiar to historical and smaller scale gamers.
The turn phase is fairly familiar; movement is followed by shooting, then melee. Units move in blocks that can move double, change facing etc, but there are no complex wheeling moves. For both types of combat, a unit rolls a number of dice equal to its attack stat and every result equal to or higher than the unit's melee or ranged stat is a hit (there are modifiers for range, cover etc). For each hit an additional d6 is rolled, and one point of damage is inflicted for each result equal to or higher than the target's defence stat.
As a unit accumulates damage its combat effectiveness is not reduced, but the player who caused the damage will make a nerve test for the unit. This is usually calculated as 2d6 + damage - unit's nerve stat. On a total of 7 or less the unit is fine, 8-9 the unit cannot shoot and movement is limited, 10 or more the unit is removed from the game.
In essence, that's the whole game. Each army has a special rule (e.g., any Undead unit removes a point of damage every time it inflicts one or more damage on a different unit), and there are a modest number of other special rules that some units possess.
Interestingly, there are rules for playing with timed turns (using a chess clock) and three basic scenarios are included.
The first thing that strikes me about the game is that some movement trays would be a very good idea. As individual figures are not removed and the unit doesn't change formation during the game, being able to move as a whole block would help keep the game moving at a quick pace. In fact, speed of play is definitely a major focus of this ruleset. I initially thought that doing absolutely nothing during the opponent's turn would be a bit dull (no armour saves, opponent even makes the nerve test), but as the game is moving along so quickly it really didn't matter. Units are always throwing the same number of dice, there are no big tables to look up for required results and the special rules are kept to a minimum. It really feels like the rules get out of the way and let you concentrate on your in-game tactics. It also means that learning the rules is very easy. I can see how the fast-play aspects of the rule design would put some players off, but it means the game is distinctly different to Warhammer Fantasy Battle (surely the direct competitor).
The special rules add some flavour to the game by allowing bonuses to damage rolls for some weapons, or granting some units re-rolls. They also allow for dragons (flying rules and breath weapons) and wizards (who have a single simple spell that acts as a ranged attack). Each army has access to what my game group have started called their totem animal (throwing mastiffs for the Dwarves, giant rats for the Undead), which also has a special rule - these are purchased for certain units before the game starts. Again, all of these special rules are simple and lend themselves to fast play. On the downside it also means that there aren't really any specific characters that reflect the narrative building in the setting's background. There wasn't much of a feeling of being immersed in the story of a particular battle and that may be important to some people. Nevertheless I had a lot of fun playing as it didn't feel like characters dominated and the combination of the element based rules with a fantasy setting felt like a breath of fresh air to me.
The stat lines provided in the boxed set are just a subsection of the full army lists (available for free download) and are simply there to get you started. Using these lists the figures in the box add up to somewhere in the region of 300 to 350 points. This is quite a small number and there is a reference in the rules to playing with 2000 points. I felt that the game still "worked" at this low point level, but I wouldn't want to go any smaller - the speed of play definitely suggests that this is a game for big armies. After three or four test games using just the miniatures in the box it really did feel like it was time to start introducing more units. The streamlined, element based rules mean that this is long enough to be very comfortable with the mechanics, and only having a handful of units felt like we really weren't taking advantage of the focus on tactics/strategy the rules allow.
I haven't tested the rules for playing with a chess clock. This is because games with the starter set are easily finished in 30-45 mins. I can imagine that the chess clock will be a great idea in a competitive play environment; your opponent can't waste too much time (they lose if their clock runs out) and this will prevent you getting bored against someone who over analyses every move. I'll certainly give it a go as my army gets large enough to warrant it.
The Mantic motto appears to be "Big Battles - Huge Armies" and the Mhorgoth's Revenge starter is certainly aimed along those lines. The Kings of War rules are fast, which mean the game won't bog down as the number of units increases, and Mantic offer access to a large number of figures at a more than reasonable cost.
In terms of the rules, I think that those looking for very small games or a lot of detail should probably look elsewhere - this just isn't that type of game. However, if you're looking to enable a massive battle or even just want to play something light (beer & pretzels) then it's definitely worth a look. My feeling is that veterans may appreciate the tactical focus the rules allow, while beginners should be able to pick the rules up very quickly. Design and style of the figures is always going to be subjective, but the quality of the miniatures is certainly up there with the better hard plastic manufacturers. The fact that the races are fantasy stereotypes means that even if you don't want an element based game, Mantic can provide an economical way to make a large army for whatever fantasy game you play.
This brings me on to the topic of value. The starter set has in excess of 100 figures, which means that each one costs less than 40p. For the quality of miniature this is a great deal. It's even better when you look at the savings compared to normal Mantic prices, bought individually you'd be looking at around £86, more than double the retail price of the starter set. There are a couple of areas for potential improvement, the main one being I would have appreciated some terrain in the box - this would have made it more of a self contained game that I could easily recommend to newcomers to the hobby. Even a couple of simple elements would have helped in this regard. Second, the box art shows a Dwarf warlord opposing a necromancer/wizard (the titular Mhorgoth), but there are no character pieces included. I don't think they're necessary, just that there seems to be a slight disconnect between the art and contents.
I'd like to finish with a reflection on my own position with respect to this starter. I've been playing fantasy wargames since the early 90s and over the last few years I've found myself playing more detailed rulesets aimed at a handful of figures. The fast play of Kings of War combined with Mantic's prices has tempted me back to large battle games and I think that speaks for itself.
- Rules design choices make for super-fast play, potentially allowing for very large battles.
- The elegant simplicity of the rules allow you to concentrate on the tactics rather than matrix/meta gaming.
- Quality of the undead miniatures is excellent.
- Great value.
- Some players will want more depth/chrome from the rules.
- Element based rules will be unfamiliar to a lot of fantasy gamers.
- The design of the Dwarves means they may look a little odd mixed in with figures from other companies.