Monday, 14 May 2018

Mighty Kingdoms - Mighty Empires for Kings of War - a kid's dream 25-odd years in the making

As a child in the late 80s into the early 90s I wanted what all cool kids wanted: world conquest. When Mighty Empires got released (the original cardboard tile edition) I jumped on the opportunity. I can not recall whether there was parental nagging or personal saving (via pocket money from parental nagging...), but I scored myself a copy of this great, huge boxed set with a million possibilities inside. My friends and I never really played a full campaign through with miniatures, as the time required meant it inevitably ended up getting packed away before it was done, although we did get a few games in playing it as a board game.

While not all of my miniatures made the trip from the past to the present, presumably being sucked into the warp of chaos or something along the way, my Mighty Empires boxed set did happily come through, and in quite good condition. And now that I had a regular gaming group (albeit for Kings of War, not Warhammer) the idea of playing a Kings of War campaign across a hexy world started to nag at the back of my mind.

The idea of the campaign was only half formed, but being in a more fiscally stable position than I was in a child, I indulged in some purchases that I had been pining over for decades. The metal additions for Mighty Empires have held their value quite well, presumably being a short casting run at the time; they seem to be quite rare. I held out for not insanely priced opportunities, and over a few years managed to grab a necropolis, stone circle, some wizard towers, some mines and two undead army banners through a combination of trades and purchases. I also grabbed a second base set that seemed to be going pretty cheap that was without its box. I am not sure how complete it was as I did not do an inventory when it arrived, but it seemed at least mostly there from my excited rifle through. It swiftly got assimilated into my original box with my original components.

While lamenting in a Facebook group about how I missed out on a sale of some other undead banners I wanted so as I could have a full empire's worth, an esteemed gentleman by the name of Richie Nga piped up with word that he had just uncovered some from his own collection, and offered to fling them to me for the price of postage alone. I was convinced this was a scam, as no one is that kind to strangers on the internet. But with postage not being too much I figured it was worth a punt; he seemed pretty forthright and genuine. Low and behold, a few weeks later the undead banners arrived, packed better than most miniatures I had paid real money for. I now had enough to use for a complete empire without having to sub in plastics to fill it out. I was ecstatic!

Discussing the burgeoning expansion of my small set of additional components with some friends, I was pointed in the direction of Ral Partha Europe's range of components for their hex "Empires" game. I am pretty sure the game itself was just a token effort to justify making the cities and whatnot, which people were just buying for Mighty Empires. Regardless, I grabbed a fortified city-like thing as an undead capital, and a few extra mines to boot. Shown here alongside some regular components, for scale.

So over this period I would occasionally dig out the set and have a mock up of a map just for the nostalgia, and well, making the map is fun in itself.

Back in my childhood I had painted all of one banner, for my undead. Some sort of storm motif going on, with the people attempted to be painted as zombies, and the shields bearing a very mature raised skeletal middle finger.

Finally the itching in my skull started to leak out as a rule set written to fix some of my issues with the original rules, while retaining the original flavour but adapting for Kings of War's more streamlined rules.

I put those rules I was writing up as a Creative Commons licensed document on GitHub. This was for several reasons. One, I believe in sharing and contributing to creative projects without need for financial compensation. Two, I was starting to use Git more at work and wanted a project to muck about with while I learned how to use it properly. And three, GitHub allows easy feedback and tracking of changes and modifications that I would want to do to the rules based on play testing and feedback. You can find it here: Mighty Kingdoms on GitLab. I chose to call it "Mighty Kingdoms" as a combination of it being based off my memory of Mighty Empires rules, yet aimed at Kings of War. Update: Post Microsoft buying GitHub I have moved to GitLab (I've updated the link). Master branch is what we're using locally. Test is where I'm doing the development and updates as we learn from playing.

Some of the issues I had with the original Mighty Empires rules were around the randomness. Certain events or happenings could just screw one or two players completely while leaving others alone. Sure, the probabilities were similar for everyone, but the impact was ridiculously unbalanced. Dragon rage, agents and spies, and equinox spells all added "excitement", but at the cost of potentially wiping out someone's 10+ hours of slow empire building in a few fell dice rolls. Also they were just more components to keep track of and possibly paint when I had the vague notion of bringing the board to the local club for campaign games.

I playtested the rules a little with a mate, and a few obvious bad things shook out pretty quickly. The risk/reward of bee-lining for an opponent's capital city was rather skewed to the reward end of things, so the rules got adapted to have armies just die if they lost a line of supply back to their own capital before winter. Capitals also got to "respawn" for free at another of the player's cities, just losing their capital bonus for that turn while they rebuilt, instead of having to pay a full upgrade cost. There were also a few iterations of tracking each army's wins and losses, and advancing or penalising them based on their wins and defeats. It started with tables for special abilities and stats gained and lost, but it was a lot of messy bookkeeping and not actually much fun. The next iteration was simply bonus and penalty to Unit Strength based on routing enemies or being routed (with anything below 0 counting as 0 in-game, and anything above 3 counting as 3 in-game). This was cleaner and easier to track

Balancing the map aspect and the tabletop aspect at once was a lot to juggle, so I roughed up some quick rules for combat similar to how Mighty Empires did for playing as a board game, but with less rock-paper-scissors randomness. This let me do some more testing with a few friends over a long game night, without needing to run off and use miniatures for battles.

One of the local Kings of War organisers, Tas, was getting keen to start a campaign for the local scene, so I started on the practical logistics of how to build a map and bring it to the club. Doing some brainstorming on some Facebook groups again lead to the idea of magnets and a whiteboard. I had a ton of rare earth magnets from magnetising units to trays for Kings of War, I just needed a surface to stick them to. I started looking around at local second hand stores for a whiteboard, while I bought some magnet stickers (like fridge magnet material) for the tiles and also started magnetising the settlements and armies, testing their strength on some steel trays from an army case.

These pieces are miniature metal, so quite heavy. Lots of magnets were required.

The plastic fortresses just needed one magnet each.

The villages did not have any cavity under them for rare earth magnets, so they had to get more of the sticker sheet.

The armies were also lacking cavities, so I used a dremel to grind out the rear of the curved base and replace it with a magnet.

I also got cracking on painting the settlements (which has stalled at this stage), giving them all a quick half-assed zenithal prime. Fortresses in black and grey, cities in bone and white, and villages in green and light green as seen above.

Tas needed to know how many players we would be able to support, so I went to work on my dining table laying out the largest map I could make with my two sets of tiles.

After laying it all out, the answer was 12. We could support 12 players, where each kingdom's starting 7 tiles (a capital hex and the 6 tiles around it) were separated from all other kingdoms by at least one tile, but not much more than that. Things will be cosy.

I still had not found a whiteboard, but I had also made an unfortunate discovery. While various parts were pretty sticky individually with their magnets direct to the steel trays, when stacked up on the cardboard hex tiles they were only strong enough to stop them sliding around at gentle angles (magnetic force tapers off with the cube of the distance between the objects, in case you were wondering). There would be no way to tilt the map sideways for storage and still keep everything on it.

Unperturbed by this I ramped up my whiteboard hunting. Officeworks seemed like the best bet, but then I found a cheaper, bigger one on ebay. The larger size of 1200 x 900mm was what a full sized map would require anyway, so I got that delivered to my work as it was too big for a parcel locker.

I was sure if I dropped the back seat of my car (a 2 door sport sedan) I would be able to fit it in, the gap was pretty big through to the back seat..... I was wrong. But that was OK, I'd just take the whiteboard out of the box and it would fit then, for sure.... 20 minutes later my girlfriend arrives and we fit it into her hatchback. This will put a wrinkle on bringing it to the club. I'll need to either borrow my girlfriend's car, or hit up Tas for a lift.

It is finally home, inside (it does not fit through my front door horizontally, either), and time to get making the map. We are less than a week out from the campaign and I have to get this done.

I make a map using every single tile I own. Well, not counting the few white dwarf magazine tiles cut out and glued to cereal box cardboard. They can stay in the box at this stage.

Of course I could not resist setting up a starting kingdom or two and taking a quick photo.

Then we are off to the club! Of the 12 who wanted to play, only 10 follow through, and of those, only 6 make it for the first night. We just do some basic exploring for the missing 4 players, while the rest of us jockey for position.

Some players are making custom flags and tokens for their kingdoms, plus I made up a few for some people too. Not everyone was completely ready on the night, so there were some post-it notes filling in.

There was one small battle of 500 points between some elves and abyssals. The abyssals won that skirmish.

We managed to get through one whole year (6 turns of summer movement, plus one winter phase) by the end of that first evening, and are excited for next fortnight. However we realise the only practical way we can transport this is by removing all the armies, settlements and tokens and just leaving the map. We take some snapshots of each kingdom, take some notes of the status of each player, and pack it up for the night.


Oldhammer hobby posse - keeping me enthused about old school hobby mojo - Captain CrooksChristianMr Papafakis, and Inspector Fish.

Local Kings of War organisers - Wedgetail (Tas) for getting the theoretical into the practical realm with the actual logistics and organising end of things for this campaign (the important stuff); and President Cro (working with Tas) who organise tournaments and generally keep the local Canberra Kings of War scene thriving.


  1. This project looks like a lot of work, with a lot of fun as a payoff. You'll likely find over the course of a few sessions the most efficient ways to manage it, then you'll be sweet for the next campaign :D
    Sort of makes me want to model a miniature elven castle in solidarity...

  2. Never knew Ral Partha made those tiles before. Interesting tidbit Mr Salem :)

    Although I'm not entirely sold on the rules changes you made, I'm really jealous of you for getting to play ME again. It's a great campaign system and brings back a tonne of good memories to me.

    And one last thing, could you add a "follower" button to your blog?

    Great read mate :)

    1. Follower button added!

      I'm certainly keen to play a more in-depth campaign at some stage, closer to the original Mighty Empires rules, but I think it would have to be with a smaller group just for the logistics of it.