Review – Conquest of Nerath

From Hub_142, August 2011

It would be unfair on Wizards of the Coast to describe Conquest of Nerath as “Risk* with dragons” because it is so much more than that but “Risk with dragons” might be the absolute easiest, certainly quickest, way to describe it. However, I won’t stop there because I’m not that lazy. After reading the 24 page A4 rulebook I realised just how much more complex Conquest of Nerath is.

Conquest of Nerath is a game for two to four people and sees you controlling one of four realms’ armies as you hack, slash, plunder and burn your way to world domination. Here we have humans and dwarves as the Nerathian League. Elves make up the Vailin Alliance. Warlocks and their undead armies form the Dark Empire of Karkoth and goblins, orcs, mercenaries and other general ne’er do wells come under the Iron Circle banner. You can either play a free-for-all game or alliances can be formed between Nerath and Vailin and between Karkoth and the Iron Circle; as one would expect, baddies stick together. There are even rules included for alliance play so there’s no need for dodgy “house rules” like everyone plays during the annual family outing of Monopoly. Come on, we all do it.

Each realm has the same kinds of units from footsoldiers and wizards to dragons and warships with siege engines, monsters and Storm Elementals in between! Where Karkoth have their Skeletal Warriors, Nerath have their Human Infantry, the Iron Circle have their Hobgoblin Soldiers and so on. The names are just cosmetic, though, as the units of each similar type fight in the same manner and win, or lose, in the same way also.  Some units have “special abilities” but nothing realm specific.

The differences between the armies come in the shape of Event cards that are specific to each realm and also the amount of gold each realm begins the game with and recuperates during play. Players start the game with two event cards and draw a new one at the start of their turn. These can range from increasing a specific unit’s attack roll for that turn, to adding units to the board or gold to the coffers.

To win the game you have to collect a set number of victory points. The number of points needed to win determines how long the game should last. A short game has a target of 13 points, a medium game sees you battling for 20 points and a long game is won by controlling all of the capital cities in the game or by collecting 8 treasures which is not as easy as it sounds by a long shot!

The first game we played was intended to be a short one but after setting up and getting used to the rules and sequence of play it seemed anything but short! Once we got used to things the game sped up. It’s a good idea to allow a few hours to play through this. The medium and long games will eat an evening.

Points are won by capturing enemy lands, conquering enemy capitals and by playing Treasure cards. The two former options are done in the standard fashion; attack, kill and destroy via the medium of a die roll! Treasure cards, however, can only be won by defeating the denizens of one of ten dungeons scattered throughout the lands. This is easier said than done as only Hero class units can enter dungeons, these being the Fighter and Wizard classes, and the Dungeon Guardians – who some might think are just innocent creatures seeking an alternative lifestyle – can be kick-ass hard to beat!

Sequence of play is familiar with movement, fighting, repositioning, reinforcing and collecting income being the main blocks. Fighting then has its own turn of events that allows attacking, pressing the attack or retreating, and exploring dungeons again has a set turn of events. Luckily there are plenty of quick reference sheets provided.

Interesting point: even the order of play is set in the rules and the bad guys, the stinky undead armies of Karkoth, get to go first! Still, they start with less gold than everyone else so it all evens out.

My only niggles, and one shared by some of my co-players, was that it might’ve been fun if each realm had more specific army units but, understandably, this would’ve added to the complexity of the game. Pressing attacks was also a bit confusing until we got into the flow of the game. We felt it a bit unusual that an attacking side could choose to continue fighting until it either won or lost but that was a small thing and we got used to it eventually. It’s a bit like when a referee allows extra time in a football match until Manchester United eventually score a goal…

Overall I found it a fun game to play through though it’s not one that can be picked up quickly. For around £50 quid there is lots of replay value and the whole package is of a very high quality – never have I seen a plastic box insert made to hold all the pieces, cards and dice of a game so well for storage! The artwork is eye-catching and the figures, though small, are nicely detailed and made to withstand heavy hands.

*Don’t know what Risk is? Basically it’s a strategic board-game based on world conquest and first released in 1957. Go wiki!