Fantasy Fightclub: The Other Side of Competitive Fantasy Games

With “Total War: Warhammer” on the video-game front, and AoS growing quickly as a competitive game, what else is out there for players to get excited about?  Let’s take a look at some serious contenders on the market.

We are entering a bit of a Fantasy Game Renaissance.  As tabletop war-gaming continues its year-over-year growth as a serious, competitive exercise, we are concurrently seeing a renewed interest in fantasy as a setting across all media.  Amazon’s billion dollar investment in a new Lord of the Rings series, Total War: Warhammer taking the game to new heights of popularity (with a tournament community all its own), and Age of Sigmar becoming a GT mainstay, are all indicators that the market is really embracing this kind of material. 

I wanted to try something new, this week, by bringing you the first in what I hope can be a companion series to Fantasy Fisticuffs.  There are a handful of games, on shelves right now, that are quietly vying for their place in competitive fantasy gaming. I have sat in rooms with fellow game designers, and these are the systems whose names just keep coming up, in terms of impressive design.  Each are candidates for your tabletop, and each are distinct enough to justify being played “as well” rather than, “instead of”.

What follows are four fantasy tabletop wargames that each have serious competitive chops, and just a brief, brief, glimpse at how they achieve that.  While I am hoping to cover each in depth in the future, do let me know what games you hope to hear more about.

A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game (CMoN)

What is it?:  ASoIaF is the tabletop game set in the world of George R.R. Martin (known to many as Game of Thrones).  It is a rules-light, and fast playing take on “rank-n-flank” or “mass battles” wargaming, that makes its unique mark through the presence of a “Tactics Board”.  It is there that the game evokes the series’ iconic political gamesmanship, seeing non-combat units (such as Cersei, Petyr Baelish, and Varys) manipulating the game.

Pros:  The game’s preassembled models, and very light rules make it highly accessible.  Expect to be playing within thirty minutes of opening the box. The Tactics Board is frankly brilliant, largely filling the role of Magic from other games.  Despite being rules light, players constantly find themselves needing to make meaningful choices, and generally strong balance means skilled play is rewarded.  An EXCELLENT tournament game, to be sure.

Cons: The game’s inventory situation if frequently dire, with units going out of stock instantly, and for months on end.  It can be difficult to start, despite an excellent price-point, as many times you simply cannot buy items you want. In terms of pure aesthetics the game’s terrain tokens must be used and create an occasionally “flat”, board-game aesthetic.

The contents of one starter, at that price, is frankly insane.

Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings (Para Bellum Wargames)

What is it?:  Conquest is something special.  While other titles on this list are overt carriers of the Warhammer Fantasy torch, Para Bellum, and designer Alessio Cavatore want Conquest to hold onto the high-level concepts people loved, while completely evolving the gameplay for a modern world.  This is a nuanced take on “Mass Battles” that features both clean and accessible rules, but which do so without sacrificing the “meat”. The game evokes a real feeling of being at the ground floor of something special, making it something easy to want to be involved in from day-one.

Pros:  Woah boy.  Everything from the incredibly rich lore, to the deep and interesting army-list building feels like a masterclass in passionate game design.  The game’s meaningful choices begin at list-building and carry through every activation. Games are quick to get started with a clever rolling deployment system, and considerations have been made at every step to make this a serious, balanced, highly competitive system.  The entire set of rules is also available for free, and its two-player starter set is perhaps the most value-rich box in the industry at this time.

Cons:  The growing pains here are simply market-penetration, and how new the game is.  With less than a year on shelves, it will take some time to see this game played at your local venue, and without the backing of an established name brand, it may take a more grass-roots fanbase to build over time.

Familiar in all the best ways.

Kings of War 3rd Edition (Mantic Games)

What is it?:  KoW, now in its third edition is the rank-n-flank game which garnered the most attention in the days that followed the ending of Warhammer Fantasy.  A love-letter to that game, Kings of War very plainly wears in influences on its sleeve. Despite having its own model line, Mantic continues to support KoW as a model agnostic game, more concerned with unit foot-prints than any specific models.  Its rules have been largely improved over its editions, and it remains a very familiar, clean-playing, pro-hobbyist, Mass Battles game.

Pros:  A largely balanced set of rules make for a rock-solid tournament game, that rewards skilled play more often than army-selection.  It is quick to play, removing ideas such as pulling models as wounds, creating a game that can visually sometimes feel more an abstraction of a wargame, but making for less fiddly of an experience.  Only one player ever rolling dice during their turn means that despite being “I Go, You Go”, it can feel streamlined.

Cons: Despite improvements with each edition, armies can feel very similar.  Choosing to ere on the side of game balance, designers have opted to have fewer unique abilities, spells, etc… versus the game’s progenitor, Warhammer Fantasy.  While successful at improving the over-all balance, armies SOMETIMES lack an identity outside of raw statistics/unit costs.

Warlords of Erehwon (Warlord Games)

What is it?:  The only fantasy game on this list that isn’t a take of mass-battles, WoE at a glance has more in common with Age of Sigmar, at least aesthetically.  This model agnostic game is actually driven by a set of rules made famous by Bolt Action, and refined in Beyond the Gates of Antares, with a fog-of-war system that sees players making tactical decisions without really knowing which player will be activating the next unit.  Model counts are low, making the game inviting to new players and Rick Priestley’s rules ensure a familiar, time-tested, gameplay.

Pros:  A supplementary document released by Priestley features all of the “math” that went into designing the game’s units.  This is a refreshing bit of transparency that helps elevate a more typical/traditional game, into one where competitive players can feel confidence in knowing the value of choices they are making.  Being entirely model agnostic also means a lot of hobby freedom for those who weigh that and competitive gameplay more equally.

Cons: Being model agnostic, is ironically also a reason many retailers may not yet officially support this game system.  There really isn’t a revenue stream for them outside of a core book, which makes it less likely to see enthusiastic store owners running events.  Of the titles presented, it may also (aside from its unit activation mechanic) feel the most like games you are already playing.

Again, this is just a list of titles whose names keep coming up in my circles, but which offer something enthusiastic fans of skill-based, competitive games, will want to take notice of.

I would go so far as to say at least one of these systems is poised to really blow up at a competitive level, in the near future.  I will be excitedly covering these games as they break-out, and encourage my readers to come on the journey with me.

One thing I love about this hobby is that all the power to make or break a game is in our shared hands.  If what you LOVE about tabletop games is the test of skills, and a sense of mastery, maybe you will become the world champion of one of these games!

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

secondhandhsop

Tags:

About Mark Gottlieb

Writer, Game Designer, and owner of Fortunate Sun Studios, I have always tried to lead a life in some way built around paying back to gaming, and the gaming community. This hobby, and everyone in it, saved my life on more than a few occasions, and now I get to put my heart into helping it thrive for everyone!

25 Responses to “Fantasy Fightclub: The Other Side of Competitive Fantasy Games”

  1. Avatar
    James Ho February 14, 2020 8:03 pm #

    Conquest is such a great game! I’m excited to see Frontline Gaming start covering it in articles!

    • Mark Gottlieb
      Mark Gottlieb February 15, 2020 6:02 am #

      Based on comments alone, I’d best get cracking on more content!

  2. Avatar
    Auticus February 14, 2020 8:04 pm #

    Conquest is the game I’ve been waiting for since the balance issues of WHFB 7th issues destroyed that game, and years of poor management and poor rules design led to an entirely different game (AOS) that had nothing to do with why I got involved with wargaming in the first place.

    I’m glad to see so many rank and file games returning. It feels good to have some games that I can look forward to once again, and Conquest has captured all of that magic that I had twenty odd years ago once again.

  3. Avatar
    Audun54 February 14, 2020 8:19 pm #

    Conquest is amazing! It’s all the best parts of WHFB but tighter and faster. I’ve run a few demos so far and each time it only took 30-60 minutes for the other player to get a good comfortable handle on the rules. Really excited to see articles appear here!

  4. Avatar
    Noobllama February 14, 2020 8:48 pm #

    Have played all these games and by far conquest is my favorite

  5. Avatar
    Jason Stevenson February 14, 2020 9:43 pm #

    Conquest is Amazing, from deep lore to awesome armies, this game rocks. With an incredible set or rank and file rules and 18 factions in the Works. Huge Dragons, Giants and other huge Cloned beasts. Its everything this style of gaming lost and more.

  6. Avatar
    Andrew February 14, 2020 9:50 pm #

    I can’t wait to see what is in store for Conquest. It’s the first game I’m evangelizing to friends. Another to keep an eye on is Oathmark, from the same gent that does Frostgrave.

  7. Avatar
    Apostolos February 14, 2020 11:51 pm #

    I’d love to seen more about Conquest! The models are awesome and there seems to be a lot to support it in the background from Parabellum. Gaining traction fast!

  8. Avatar
    Andy February 15, 2020 12:39 am #

    Honestly, Conquest is the absolute best fantasy game I’ve played in over 25 years. Its slick, modern, tactically satisfying and so well balanced. I cannot wait for organised play to launch.

    Will be buzzing if you guys cover it regularly

  9. Avatar
    Sascha February 15, 2020 12:46 am #

    Awesome times to be a fantasy wargamer!

    Conquest is fast, easy to pick up rules wise, but deep enough to be tactical challenging (Alessio did an amazing job on this, again) and fun to play. The armies have enough options (list building) and the miniature range is fast growing.

  10. Avatar
    Stavros February 15, 2020 2:10 am #

    Look forward to seeing more about Conquest on Frontline. It covers the trifecta of good plastics, solid rules and deep background and lore.

    • Mark Gottlieb
      Mark Gottlieb February 15, 2020 6:32 am #

      That was definitely what I was struck by when preparing this article.

  11. Avatar
    Orcryst Gaming February 15, 2020 3:35 am #

    The conquest models are amazing to paint as well! The plastics (considering they have basically only been out a year, and have tons of time to get better) are pretty good, with very little work done to construct, but the resin… the resin characters are some of the best i’ve EVER worked with!

  12. Avatar
    Richard February 15, 2020 3:46 am #

    Conquest.

    Do yourself a favour – look up the Vanguard Program that Para Bellum are offering.It is a tabletop war gamers dream.

    With the game – the rules are the best that I have seen for a very long time and if you spend a day on the discord – you can see how passionate Para Bellum are about the game. They are not interested in the “Pay to Win” trend that seems to have occurred in the last half decade. They just want a game that every unit (soon to be abundant just look at the free! Army lists) have a place in your Army if you want it. Its a breath of fresh air…. and GW better take note that there are a lot of new competitors out in the community and maybe gamers are sick of reading 6 expensive books to roll some dice.

  13. Avatar
    Heath Aldrich February 15, 2020 6:00 am #

    I am a big fan of Conquest! It is a game that values both players time, and tactical minds. It is fun, it is fast, and a single activation can change the way the game flows, making every decision you bring to the table feel like it has value. Conquest is a great value in comparison to other mass wargames, and the fact that all the stats and point values are free for everyone online is really special.

  14. Mark Gottlieb
    Mark Gottlieb February 15, 2020 6:05 am #

    Something worth noting. I shared links to this article with the communities of all the included games from the article. I think it says something about the loyalty this game is earning for such vocal, enthusiastic support to show up.

    I’ll be throwing a lot of hours at the game this week and hope to have more for you very soon!

  15. Avatar
    Corey February 15, 2020 7:33 am #

    Having playing all of these, I do enjoy song of ice and fire but conquest has been the best fantasy game I’ve played since perhaps warmaster back in the day. It borrows some themes from it too along with older editions of WHFB.

    I highly recommend picking it up or finding a group near by to at least try it out.

  16. Avatar
    I. A Mitchell February 15, 2020 8:06 am #

    I was really impressed with how nice Conquest looks on the table, it really is quite the spectacle seeing two armies in action. The lore for the game is great, and the game mechanics are innovative. Please feature more articles. 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Charles February 15, 2020 10:17 am #

    40K, Warhammer Fantasy, AOS and X-Wing were my main games overall for at least a decade on some.

    Conquest is probably the first game since my start (2005) that I’m truly excited about.

    The smaller troops are on like a 34mm scale and everything just increases from there (monsters are HUGE)

    Beautiful big models, rules are easy to pick up (especially with the starter guide on their site), it can have so much tactical depth as well for competitive people and the lore is awesome. And their site shows they are really putting their time and money into making this a beautiful and exciting world with fun and challenge at all levels of play.

    Seeing their plans for how many factions they’re going to have and how many are coming for 2020 really have me stoked.

    When you see it on the table many of you will be extremely excited for it as well

  18. Avatar
    Kristoph09Tailz February 15, 2020 10:44 am #

    I’m loving Conquest currently- great rules set, and the lore/world building they have done is second to none in my opinion.

    I also play KOW, and that’s been a great system, I do however feel that Conquest adds so much to the rank and file game with having alternating activations and a lot more nuance, going back to playing KOW feels like a move in the wrong direction for me personally. Can’t speak to the other games- they simply haven’t interested me enough to try.

    Cheers for the content Frontline- I’ve enjoyed your stuff ever since your days of covering Heavy Gear and Dropzone commander.

  19. Avatar
    Chad February 15, 2020 12:39 pm #

    Love to see more on Conquest. I’ve been following it since I saw the models at Gencon.

    I’ve played around with all but Erehwon and I enjoy Conquest the most. Great depth to the rules, but still approachable. The deployment mechanism adds a very well done fog of war element that is lacking in so many other games.

    The setting has enough familiar elements to draw you in, but all the unique twists in the lore keep you reading once you start. Can’t wait to see more of the world fleshed out.

  20. Avatar
    NinetyNineNo February 15, 2020 5:19 pm #

    Everyone in this comment section heaping praise on Conquest and Conquest only almost feels a tad suspicious 🤔

  21. Avatar
    Audun54 February 15, 2020 5:48 pm #

    Not really, Mark said earlier he went to the main groups and forums for the games and asked people to comment, in our case it was the Conquest: The First Argumentative group on Facebook and our discord channel. It appears only the Conquest people showed up. 😛

    “Something worth noting. I shared links to this article with the communities of all the included games from the article. I think it says something about the loyalty this game is earning for such vocal, enthusiastic support to show up.

    I’ll be throwing a lot of hours at the game this week and hope to have more for you very soon!” Mark Gotlieb, 02/15/2020, 6:05am

  22. Avatar
    Chocossimo February 17, 2020 2:05 am #

    A really interesting article. I really look forward to see more coverage on all those games, especially Conquest. I honestly think Conquest is going to be the next big thing in wargaming.

    Keep it up !

  23. Avatar
    Redwoan February 21, 2020 10:51 pm #

    Such a good content. thank you and Keep it up !

Leave a Reply