Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: Dwarf Kings Hold Ancient Grudge

Huzzah, I finally get around to reviewing the bloody game!!!

Before you read this review of Ancient Grudge, you might like to read and familiarise yourself with my other reviews and articles on Dwarf Kings Hold:

OK so I have a confession to make here. Firstly I've had this boxed set sitting in my house for some time now, and I've promised a review of it for a fair old while... but... I felt there were some snags to me doing this review in the first place. Firstly it isn't a standalone game, it's an add on for two standalone games within the same series, as such it's a bit of a difficult one to review anyway. But it's also a bit of a game changer, because it's not just more of the same, it changes the games paradigm. Secondly I'm sort of invested in it personally. Inside the front cover of the rulebook you'll see my name under playtesters... so I wanted to be certain that what I was saying about the game wasn't being swung unfairly one way or the other by my involvement with its production, and that has taken some time to asses. Genuinely. Thirdly I really quite like Jake Thornton and I think he's a top bloke... and I wanted to make sure my 'mate' blinkers weren't on with this product review. So that's where I'm coming from, if you're are still interested in what I have to say about it then please read on...

Product Description

To the left you can see the view of the box as you open it to view the contents. I'm not going to lie to you here, there's not a lot of stuff compared to the other Dwarf Kings Hold games. There are 5 plastic spru's, these provide you with 2 Dwarf Ironwatch figures, 2 Elf Scout figures, 3 Zombie figures and 4 Ghouls, that's 11 plastic miniatures in total. That's obviously way down on the 30 or so miniatures you get in Dead Rising and the 28 miniatures you get with Green Manace! There is a 21 page black and white rulebook, which is the same size as all the other rulebooks in the series, and its the rules contained within it that is really what you are buying. You also get two floor tiles one 3 by 6 squares and a larger 6 by 6 square tile. Again these are significantly down on the amount of tiles you get in Both Dead Rising and Green Menace, which both contain 29 tiles each. There are also far fewer counters with Ancient Grudge having only 9, while its bigger brothers had 75 and 73 respectively for Dead Rising and Green Menace. There aren't any dice in Ancient Grudge, but given that you need the other games to make use of these rules, you'll have dice from those games... and almost certainly countless others too! Where Ancient Grudge scores a victory over the other two though is that it includes a very nice metal Dwarf Berserker. Result!

The Elf Scout spru
Gameplay 8 out of 10

This is the section I've really struggled to score properly with this add-on. On it's own it is pretty much useless, not entirely... but it is. It was designed to plug into both Green Menace and Dead Rising. So does it do that? Yes it does. It actually does it really well, but if you only have Dead Rising OR Green Menace its benefit is lessened somewhat, despite Ancient Grudge giving you profiles for all the races and all the warrior options within those races. If you've played both games extensively though there is no question you'll get an awful lot more out of this game add-on than if you haven't. If you've played both Dead Rising and Green Menace so many times you've developed nicknames for the tactics and strategies used then there is no question in my mind that you will really enjoy what Ancient Grudge has to offer. If however you simply pull either, or both Dead Rising and Green Menace down from your shelf infrequently then I'm not too sure what is contained within this box would make you play the game more, or even help you get more out of it. I view Ancient Grudge therefore as being an add-on for Dwarf Kings Hold veterans.

Dwarf Ironwatch spru
If you are a happily sated veteran then Ancient Grudge will add new things to the mix that will spice things up and make you want to come back for more. It'll give you new experiences, and indeed give you the tools to better shape your own experiences. So if that sounds like you then you can bump the gameplay score up to a pretty darn healthy 8.5 out of ten. If you have yet to maximise your enjoyment of the previous two games, and you aren't somebody who has played it on a regular basis then I'd drop the score down to a 7.5 out of 10. That's not because the rules contained are bad, they're not, but you are unlikely to get the most out of it as a product. And I doubt whether there is anything contained within the box that would fundamentally change your viewpoint on the games core mechanics or gameplay, despite what's contained within the box shaking things up a fair old amount. It still remains firmly a Dwarf Kings Hold game.

Zombie spru
So what does it shake up? Firstly it brings more shooting options into the game... actually it just brings more options full stop to the game. Each of the four factions in the game, Dwarfs, Necromancers, Orcs and Elves all get a bit of an Adventurer 'bump'.  There are even named characters added to the mix now, which is fun. To go along with these new options there are rules governing new traits, skills and special abilities. In terms of options within the Dwarf King Hold universe, Ancient Grudge gives you a lot more choice. The game even gives you rules for 3 and 4 player games, or even more players if you have the miniatures, tiles and tokens to do it. In short the contents of the Ancient Grudge rulebook just add more and more options for you to play with, and that in and of itself would have been enough for most of us. There are also two further scenarios in the book to play out too. But, none of that is the real change that Ancient Grudge brings to the Dwarf Kings Hold universe.

Ghoul spru
Nope, the real change is points values and army lists in effect. Now I'll be honest, this could've gone hideously wrong and been a complete and utter mess. That it hasn't is actually a testament to Jake Thornton's skill as a games designer (you can send me the £5 in the mail later Jake), because board games invariably offer many different ways of leveling the playing field. Many avid wargamers when then first make that step across to board games often struggle with certain premises in board games. They will often struggle with the fixed forces available, and will feel that maybe things aren't 'balanced'. It's a bit of a curse really that word 'balance' in board games, quite often the missions are what 'balances' the games out, not the forces themselves. When designing a board game you can repeatedly play test the missions, tweak the maps and force lists as well as the goals to get things just 'so'. That's how balance often works in board games. But more often than not many board games ignore the idea of perfect balance, and will often give one side the advantage deliberately to create a compelling challenge and narrative.

A picture mercilessly borrowed from my Dead Rising review. What?

In short board games aren't wargames, so adding a wargaming element retrospectively to Dwarf Kings Hold as a game would have been a tricky task, because the balance in the missions thus far has been close to perfect. Many hours of play have play have given rise to this opinion. So I was apprehensive at first when Jake mentioned the dreaded 'points system'. But I needn't have worried, because he had a cunning plan, and that plan was bidding. In an attempt to get you guys to self regulate and balance Jakes added bidding into the process. I won't reprint the table for the scenario points limits on page 6 of the rulebook, nor will I tell you the points for each option in each faction. But I will tell you basically how it works. You pick a scenario form the 15 scenarios across all the games, you then bid down on the points as it were for the first player or second player spots. What I've done is set the points for the first player say 22. Then you start bidding down from a set number for the opponent, until one of you thinks they can't achieve the mission if they go any lower.

I've wracked up an impressive bill trying to store my images online, so...

It's not perfect, and it is open to abuse by seasoned veterans. For instance sometimes you can bid far, far too low on a mission, or not force your opponent to bid low enough to give yourself a chance.  But you learn, and you learn quick! In effect it adds a tactical element to the front end of the game that I quite like. It's almost like bartering, no actually it's exactly like bartering, and you can use it to try and gain an edge. It also means that in effect Jake gave himself a little bit of leeway within the points system. In short he didn't have to get the point values spot on, plus it is really difficult to do so anyway, because an Elf's effectiveness relative to an Orc or Dwarf is very different, and the bidding process allows both players to take that differential into account. As I say it's not perfect, but it was the best solution available, and it has added a further layer of tactics to the game, which in itself is a bit of a result. So as it stands Dwarf Kings Hold allows you to balance the games you play not only between factions on all scenarios now, but also between players of differing skill levels.

I'm trying to be environmentally friendly and re-use images where I can!

In short Ancient Grudge feels like it's taken the Dwarf Kings Hold story onto a sort of mini conclusion. I said to Jake many months ago now that Ancient Grudge felt like the closing scene to Act I of Dwarf Kings Hold. Act I Scene 3 if you will; The game matures into a sort of skirmish game on a board with 4 fully fledged factions, with multiple choices. It breaths new life into what has gone before, and lets you go back and reengage with the original two boxed sets all over again from a fresh perspective. But it doesn't feel like the story for Dwarf Kings Hold is finished, not by a long shot. I feel there are more things that can be added onto the core mechanics as they now stand. A missions book for instance containing way more missions to fight over would be a very welcome addition, as would more races and indeed more troop options for the 4 current factions. If you own both Green Menace and Dead Rising, you really ought to give Ancient Grudge a closer look.

Detail 7.5 out of 10

Well there aren't too many card components, but those that there are, are finished to a pretty high standard. The artwork as always is wonderfully characterful and gives me a bit of a nostalgia hit, for of all things top down Dungeon Computer Games such as Baulders Gate and their ilk, and maybe even a bit of Dungeon Keeper. The two floor tiles certainly continue the series' rich vein of tile art. The tokens are pretty much the same tokens we've seen elsewhere in the series. They all do their part in adding to the atmosphere and vibe of the game. But as before it's the detail of the miniatures that sets the game apart from other board games. Sure PVC board game miniatures are getting better all the time, in fact they're doing so at an alarming rate, to the point that I'm personally starting to wander whether this is the next big material in our hobby. But, for now you can't beat a proper hard plastic, or a metal miniature for me. Mantics miniatures are a step above most other board games components out their, because they're designed to go on the tabletop as components for a wargame, as such their detail levels are different, and it's a shrewd move on Mantics part to have used their miniatures in other products.

Quality 7.5 out of 10

Lets get the not so good out of the way first. I'm not a fan of the card components for any of the Dwarf Kings Hold Games, and in all honesty the card components for Ancient Grudge do very little to change that. Sure they have a plastic coating on their underside, and a glossy surface that should mean they won't fall apart after one use. But, they are very thin and after repeated use do become a bit dog eared over time. You notice this most on the tokens, which of course you are handling on a very regular basis. If there is anything that lets the games down on the quality side it's this. I'm not so bothered about the black and white pamphlet type rulebook, sure it'd be nice to have a larger full colour book, but it's not needed, and it does keep the cost of the game down. The actual gaming components though, like tiles and tokens... there shouldn't be cost cutting with those for me, and I think it feels a bit like there is.

As I've said in the section above on detail, I can't fault the quality of the printing or the design of the artwork, it all looks splendid and is clearly high quality stuff, it's just the components construction. Again I think because of the quality of the tiles, the fact that they don't fit together jigsaw stylie is possibly a very good thing, not just because it gives you greater scope in how you can arrange them, but also because it reduces the likelihood of them being damaged while putting them together and pulling them apart. It probably gives them considerably more lifetime. As for the miniatures? Well dealing with Mr metal Dwarf Berserker first, I think he's a really nice little miniature. There was a little bit of flashing on mine and a fairly pronounced mould line, but again nothing a veteran of many miniatures like I am should be too concerned about. I really like the level of detail on him and it has all been cast very well and this shows up in the reproduction.

Moving onto the plastic miniatures I'm again going to come to the defence of Mantic and champion their plastic miniatures. Ronnie was right in the interview he did with me yesterday, their miniatures are affordable and reasonably priced. That does not in any way mean they're poor quality or 'cheap'. I've constantly banged on about how I think my Mantic Orcs rock, and I like the Undead range that they do, their skellies, ghouls and zombies genuinely do knock Games Workshops into a cocked hat, and for a fraction of the price. The level of detailing on them is actually better than many of the Games Workshops plastic range. True I don't particularly like the look of Mantics Elves, but I can't deny that they're detailed, or a good product. I just don't like how spindly they are. The casting on the plastic spru's I had within my ancient Grudge boxed set was all top notch with minimal mould lines. I would however like to see a bit more spacing between the base of the miniatures and the spru's frames, as getting clippers in to cut them off the frame can be a pain sometimes. As I say, the only downside is really the quality of those card components and the rulebook.

Service 8 out of 10

I actually got my copy of Dwarf Kings Hold: Ancient Grudge on the day of release. Meaning Mantic were wise enough to send it to me via post so it'd get to me on launch day. It came in a lovely white Mantic box, with plenty of packaging to make sure that it wasn't damaged. they even threw in a couple of spru's of stuff for free. Bargain. I've ordered a fair few things from Mantic so far and never been disappointed with their service thus far.

The full collection of plastic miniatures

Price 7 out of 10

you see now price on this product is a difficult one to gauge. With add-ons to things we always expect them to be really, really cheap. But in many respects add-ons can cost more to develop, but we as consumers very rarely care or give a damn about such things. Ancient Grudge cost me £24.99 from Mantic. You can obviously pick it up cheaper elsewhere of you take a look around the Internet. It is in effect £10 cheaper than both Dead Rising and Green Menace, but in terms of actual physical 'stuff', it  contains a hell of a lot less than £10's worth price differential would suggest, or in my opinion it does. True the metal Dwarf mini is nice, and admittedly on his own he's worth £6.49. But I guess I just didn't feel as though I'd got as much value for money out of this box in terms of 'stuff' as I did with the others. The rules though, well for me they're what makes the asking price more palatable. But here's the thing, to make the most of Ancient Grudge you'll need to have brough both Dead Rising and Green Menace at £34.99 each, so dropping £70 or thereabouts before spending a further £24.99. When you look at it like that the entire collection doesn't come cheap. They do offer a bundle on their webstore for £89.99, which is a saving of £4.98. Still a big asking price, but you do get a lot of gaming for that fee.

Overall 8 out of 10

I like Ancient Grudge, as I've said before I think it feels very much like the closing scene to Act I of the Dwarf Kings Hold series of games. It makes you realise there's still more to come from the series, and probably not just adding more race to the mix, although that would be welcome too. If you've played and enjoyed the first two games then you really must grab yourself a copy of Ancient Grudge. I think it really is that simple. You'll derive hours and hours of extra gameplay from the rules contained within this box set, and the additional mini's will be a welcome boost to your collection as well. It'll breath a bit of new life into the game for you, and almost certainly give you further gaming nights, and for £24.99 that sounds like entertainment money well spent for me. If however you've only got either Dead Rising or Green Menace then the stuff contained within Ancient Grudge might not necessarily mean as much to you, or indeed if you are still happy playing the current scenarios and haven't pushed those games as far as they can go. But for me, Ancient Grudge elevates Dwarf Kings Hold to the next level, and has added a significant amount of replay value. Peace out!

PS. with 4 days to go the Kings of War Kickstarter campaign has raced to a total of $171,226's and seems to be going very strong! So, if you want a [iece of the action make sure you don't miss out.

PPS. Talking about a piece of the action, on Saturday the 23rd of June 2012, I'll be posting a competition for one lucky follower to win the entire Dwarf Kings Hold collection from Mantic Games, signed by the games creator Jake Thornton.


  1. Nice review. I really think the mantic undead figures are the new standard for warhammer armies. I know you aren't a fan of 8th edition, but zombies are really popular right now and the GW figures are terrible in comparison, Mantic must be churning a lot of those out. I've certainly used skeles, ghouls and zombies in my forces and am eagerly awaiting a look at the new were wolves.

    I've not picked up the Dwarf Kings hold yet, but sorely tempted after reading this. I've got project Pandora hidden away for an upcoming Birthday so if I enjoy that, I'll find it hard to resist much longer. Do you plan to review Pandora?

    1. Yep I plan on reviewing project Pandora... tomorrow!!! :P

      It's a great little game (Pandora). As for Dwarf Kings Hold I;d still advise getting all three boxes if you can afford it. If not then start with Dead rising and progress the Green Menace if you enjoy your experiences. Then if you want more grab yourself Ancient Grudge.


  2. Looking at the photos it seems like the tiles might want to spin or move around when touched. have you found this an issue?

    1. I think like a lot of these things it depends. On a high gloss lounge table they do want to move around, no question. Especially when there are cats involved!!! But when you play the game on a wood pine kitchen table it's not that bad at all. I have used bits of blu tac though when playing to hold the pieces in place.

    2. If you play on a tablecloth then they tend to more stable too. That's true of any tile-based game, and I used to have a piece of black felt for exactly that purpose :)

    3. You see Jake I could try playing on a tablecloth... BUT... the bloody cats would have the entire thing on the floor quicker than I could say meow. :P

      For me it's blu-tac for the the win... or whatever none branded tacky substance you prefer to use.

  3. I'm tempted by the amount of minis available on the Kickstarter campaign but I'm not sure I'd ever finish painting enough figures to make an army and as I have a self-imposed rule about not fielding unpainted minis that's a real issue for me.

    1. Well if you can't commit to painting them and you have that rule... then I'd steer clear buddy. I know we all get shiny syndrome where new toy soldiers are involved. But for many our eyes are bigger than our paint brushes. I'm pretty sure games companies rely on this... but I'm not a games company. Don't do it if you can't see yourself finishing them.

    2. Definitely fighting the shiny syndrome. Fought and lost with the Bushido campaign. With KoW it'll be close but I think I can hold out, sorry Mantic!

    3. Damn! I didn't manage to hold out.
      I was doing fine until I found out I could build an army of Ogres - that's only about forty figures for a 1800 point army!
      It may not be competitive but it'll look mighty fine.
      The even better news is they won't arrive until next year so I'll have time to reduce the current painting queue (or maybe just add some extra storage).

    4. Ah well, we all have our weaknesses. Mine tend to be gateau, cashew nuts, rulebooks and of course new shinies!!!

  4. I wasn't following your blog when you reviewed the other games and I've generally avoided most of mantic's stuff so far. I don't think their stuff is bad, per se, it's just their chosen aesthetic style for most figures does not match what I like. But looking at Dwarf King's Hold I've now spent the last 2 hours reading your reviews (and others), watching gameplay vids and looking at dwarves and elves and orcs and undead from different mini lines for what I might use as stand-in minis that DO match my aesthetics. I quite like mantic's undead, and their orcs look pretty good, but I can't stand their elves or dwarves. Again, not a knock on their quality, I just REALLY dislike the style they went with for those 2 armies, especially the elves who are always my favorites in fantasy settings.

    But their board games look great, so a question about the models in game: do weapon loadouts matter? in Dead Rising and Green Menace, is a skeleton a skeleton whether it has a spear or a sword, a shield or none? And is a dwarf a dwarf if it has axe and shield or a 2 handed axe? What about the orcs and elves? One of the video reviews mentioned that some of the undead are revenants and had plumes on their helmets to tell them apart, but all the lists of box contents just say x many undead/dwarves/orcs/elves. If the tiles and boxes were higher quality I'd just throw caution to the wind and purchase it already but the games are expensive enough that I'm trying to figure out how much I'm willing to spend on making this game look how I want it to look before I actually spend anything on this game.

    1. The rules are not very picky about battle gear except in a few key examples where it reflects a particular skill. Mostly the model's equipment is unimportant.

      If you're talking about the first set then the differences are between Dwarfs with 2H weapons and those with 1H weapons and shields. The Undead have elites and normal skellies. As long as you can distinguish between 2 types on each side it doesn't really matter what they look like. The only rule that might upset you here is Shieldbash, which kind of implies that the model has a shield, but again - it's your game to play with your friends, so if you want to imagine that it's just a shoulder barge and nothing to do with a shield then go for it.

      A similar situation applies to Green Menace.

      Once you get into the realms of Ancient Grudge then you have more options on each side to chose from and will need to be able to tell different types apart. However, there's no requirement for this to be in any specific manner. It's easiest to distinguish archers by giving them bows, but you could just paint their hats blue and use that. As long as you can tell. It's also worth noting that even with the expanded lists in Ancient Grudge, what you're being offered is choice. You are unlikely to have all of the different options on the table at a single moment, and so the challenge of distinguishing models is not as great as you might imagine.

      Overall, I don't see you having any major issue swapping out whatever models you wanted and still playing fine.

    2. @Elladrion... what he said.

      There you go your questions answered by the games designer Jake Thornton himself. I could try adding something further, but it'd be redundant... oh... hang on, I just did. :P

  5. How would these games be for playing with a seven year old?

    1. I have played Dead Rising and Green Menace with an 8 year old child. I think the earlier missions , which are designed to be between 15 to 20 mins long are the perfect length to keep a young child's attention. The rules aren't too hard, but possibly are too hard for this age group, but it is a gateway / entrance product and if you play 'with' the small child as opposed to 'against' the small child you'll be fine. As a word of advice, go for Green Menace, kids love the idea of rampaging Orcs chasing after poncy elves.


  6. I agree with a lot of what you've got to say there, although I would hazard that Ancient Grudge isn't worth the money if you only have Green Menace.

    The included miniatures are very heavily skewed towards expanding Dead Rising, which wouldn't be so bad if AG contained the basic Dwarf & Skeleton rules/stats from DR - as it is, to make much use of the expansion GM owners are looking at a further outlay for more Orcs & Elves or for the other starter as well. Not too much of an issue if you've got a pile of Mantic's miniatures, but I'd imagine it would be quite annoying if you hadn't.

    1. You see... now that hadn't occured to me with Ancient Grudge because I've got an entire army of Mantic Orcs to call upon and have actually had a good number of Mantic elf spru's sent to me as free samples. See all this time reviewing it and that had not occured to me. That's for pointing that out.