Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blocks of War II: Wizard Kings

The second block game to get the "Gaming With Chuck" treatment, is Columbia Games' excellent fantasy wargame, Wizard Kings.
Classic Orcs/Elves matchup, right out of the box

This is a terrific design, from 2000, following on the 1998 release of Victory: The Blocks of War. In both cases, the game itself is sort of a "game kit" in that it gives you some maps (which are geomorphic), a pair of generic armies, and some rules. The games themselves are actually scenarios that use some subset of the bits that come in the box. The scenario can be as simple as "Each side chooses 100G of pieces, and come on the map from opposite sides. The last man standing wins". Not very exciting, but certainly a scenario. Now with the same pieces, a totally separate scenario can be played next time - very cool indeed (although this is true of almost all scenario based games).

The base game comes with four maps (in the first edition, maps numbered 1 through 4 - there are 8 more maps available from Columbia Games as add-ons, and there are four more numbered 13-16 in the second edition box set). An impressive variety of terrain types are represented on the maps, and all sorts of terrain configurations become available.

At the beginning of the match, players select their armies based on a Gold Piece (point) value. As with Hellenes, this is a classic Columbia style design, where the blocks take hits over time. When "purchasing" a unit for a scenario, therefore, each successive level of the unit must be bought (up to the block's maximum, usually three or four). The blocks are then placed on the board, in the cities on your side of the map if playing the basic scenario, and the game starts.

There are seven different armies available for play. This has changed between editions, but with the first edition of the game (which I own) the armies were Elves and Orcs (both came with the box set); Dwarves; Amazons; Norsemen; Undead; and Beastmen known as the Ferkin (more like Pigmen than Beastmen). Each army has a unique set of unit types, but all involve a wizard, as well as an assortment of other unit types.  In the second edition, the Ferkin are replaced with a generic Human Medieval army.  The other big differences between the two editions are in how additional armies are acquired.  In the first edition, the game came with complete Orc and Elf armies.  You could purchase the other five armies, each separately, for a couple of bucks each.  With the second edition, you get a handful of blocks in the main set for each army, and you purchase reinforcement packs which come with random new blocks and stickers, enough for some in each army.  With the second edition, you automatically get some blocks for each army whether you like it or not (who wouldn't?).  There were also Chaos Mercenary sets (which included a bunch of monster, and enough blocks to assign four to each of the seven main armies), and the Were-Creatures set, which added optional rules to use phases of the moon to enhance/limit Were Creatures, and another set of four blocks and stickers for each of the seven Races/Armies.  The third big difference between the sets are the maps - the first edition comes with maps 1-4.  The second edition comes with maps 13-16.

Multi-player game in progress
The game plays very well, and the pacing and advancement of the game are fun, if sometimes a bit slow. When playing the standard scenario, which is simple conquest of the cities belonging to your opponent, the game can devolve into a big slugathon. But when playing any of the multitude of scenarios available (or making some up) the game becomes much more interesting.

Other than Magic, which is represented by a list of spells that your wizard can cast (each army is different, which gives good variety and more "feel" to the individual armies), the tactical combat rules are similar to other block games. Each unit has an initiative rating, and a combat ability rating. The initiative is a letter which gives general order for the blocks (lettered, 'A', 'B' and 'C'). Then the combat ability is a number, below which a dice rolled for that unit will score. Unlike Hellenes, there is no card play (although on the excellent support fansite, Wizard Kings Wiki, there is a variant that used cards very similar to how they appear in Hammer of the Scots - a variant that continues to intrigue me), there is no route capability in combat. Other than scenario specific, cities do not need to be besieged.

The game is fun, interesting (if you like fantasy), ripe for scenario development, and suitable for multi-player play (which is great, if you want something more than a typical 2 player wargame). Recommended, and a great block game.

After some movement and combat, it is then time to reconstitute.  In most scenarios this means that you now have Gold Pieces (points) in order to either add to reduced levels of blocks out there, or to buy new blocks (and maybe enhance them up a few levels).

I played a couple of rounds lately with my daughter, and she had a great time.  She then helped me set up my next game of WK, and picked Orcs vs. the Undead.  An uppity Necromancer wanted to take over the land of the Goblinoid hordes.  It was a good game - the cheap easily replaced Orc Army light infantry kept coming back after a slaughter, whereas many of the units in the Undead Army are quite expensive, so even when they did return from the dead, it took a couple of turns to build up their strength.

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