Conquest of Nerath Review

Conquest of Nerath is WotC's latest board game that takes a departure from their previous cooperation adventure games, instead pitting sometimes allied groups of 2-4 players against each other as they wage war across the implied setting. My previous experience with strategy board games is limited to basically, "that one time I played Axis & Allies like, six years ago or something". Oh yeah, I tried to give StarCraft a shot, but the whole reverse order bullshit made it very hard to teach other people and eventually I just gave up and played StarCraft 2. At any rate Conquest of Nerath promises to rope me in through a combination of the D&D brand and simple, straightforward mechanics and game play that coincidentally reminds me of Axis & Allies.

I'm only going to go over things in brief, so if you want to check out the rules yourself, you can find them free (and legally!) here.

The map is divided into two land masses that each serve as the starting point for a pair of opposing factions, with an island plopped in the center, and both land and sea are in turn divided into territories or regions. Each faction begins with a set number of units and cash. Aside from starting composition the factions differ in the appearance of most units, their starting position, what their Event cards do, and on what turn they act (each faction has a set turn order). The rulebook makes it a point to sum up these strength and weaknesses, for example stating that, "Karkoth has an aggressive starting position but has the weakest Event cards".

There are nine unit types: footsoldier, siege engine, monster, fighter, wizard, castle, storm elemental, dragon, and warship. Statistically each unit is the same between factions, though in most cases they are cosmetically different. For example, a Karkoth footsoldier is a skeleton, while Vailin has an archer. Some units have special traits, such as being able to attack first (and thereby thinning the opposing force so long as they don't have First Strike units), or inflicting more damage while attacking.

Each player's turn is divided into six steps; drawing an Event card, moving any units you want, fighting, repositioning, reinforcing, and collecting income:

  • Draw: Drawing an Event card is exactly as it sounds; you get one, play it if it says to "Play Immediately", or hold onto it for later. There's no cap, so you don't have to worry about discarding.
  • Move: Each unit has a move value, usually 1 or 2 (dragons have 3). Obviously, you don't have to move all your stuff, and you don't have to move them the full speed.
  • Fight Battles: Fighting is as easy as moving your units into a territory occupied by an enemy, and is resolved about as easily: both sides roll an associated attack die for each unit--from the lowly footsoldier's d6 to the dragon's d20--with a 6 or higher scoring a "hit". Once a round of combat is over, you just allocate the damage taken to your units however you see fit. Most units die in one hit, though dragons can take two and fully heal after combat if they aren't killed. 
  • Reposition: Some units, namely dragons and storm elementals, get to move again. Also, dungeons get new monsters (meaning you can loot them again on your next turn).
  • Reinforce: Once combat is wrapped up you can reinforce you forces by spending gold, training as many units as you want at your capital or four at any castles you've built in the field. 
  • Collect Income: Finally at the end of your turn you collect gold based on the number of new territories you control and the number of starting territories that you don't.

Despite all the fighting going on, you can still find time for adventure. Fighters and wizards can go into dungeon spaces and fight monsters, gaining additional gold and treasure cards for their efforts. Unfortunately the monsters aren't pushovers and can also possess traits like First Strike (your wizards are useless) or making it so that only an eight or higher hits...and both types of hero units only use d10s for their attacks. On the other hand, being able to get an item that lets you do something like add in a free footsoldier once per turn (in addition to a one-shot addition of three) and a Victory Point can make the risk worthwhile.

This game looks very fun and easy to both teach and play, especially in comparison to other board games like StarCraft and Arkham Horror. Hell, even the other D&D adventure games are more complicated than this, but I don't look at it as a drawback. Being able to go dungeon crawling for loot is a nice touch, which gives is a distinct D&D feel as well as a nice risk versus reward mechanic.

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