With territories scattered across the globe, surrounded by enemies, all of us intent on world domination, some tough decisions had to be made. Jill, John and Paul are fighting over South America. Frank is making advances into Africa and Jo is contesting Australia with Samantha. With only token resistance in North America I concentrate my forces in Oregon and Alaska, ready to sweep across the States and consolidate my position. Soon the world will be mine!
Conquest is a computerisation of old board game Risk, and does a fairly faithful job of it. For anyone who doesn't know Risk, the aim is to conquer the world by strategic use of your armies. Conquer countries by moving your armies into them from bordering countries. In this way you can spread across the world. You can make as many attacks in a turn as you like, but bear in mind that conquered territories need at least one military unit to occupy them and that you cannot attack your own countries. Each turn you also have the opportunity to move some or all of your armies from a single country into a neighbouring country that you also own - good for consolidating forces or bolstering a border defence.
Each turn you receive extra units - the number of these depends on the rules by which you play, but by default you receive one for every three countries you control (but at least three in any event) with bonuses for occupying whole continents. If you successfully conquered at least one enemy territory last turn you also get a card, of which you can hold up to five; "cash in" combinations of three to gain extra troops. Risk fans will be disappointed to hear, however, that the mission cards of the board game are not present.
In Conquest you start off by distributing your armies across the world, after which each player takes turns to attack and move. You can play against up to seven enemies, which can be either human or computer, and network/internet games are also possible. You can set the computer players as clever or stupid (alas, not individually) and even edit their personalities, and you can play different maps as well. If all of a player's territories are conquered, that player is out (and the conqueror claims any bonus cards they may have collected). Attacks are simulated by dice rolls - you attack/defend with up to three dice, depending on how many units are on each side - and occasionally a certain battle or a lost cause can suddenly surprise you due to this.
So far, so Risk. How does it play? Conquest is nearly entirely mouse controlled - if you want to edit the names or personalities of the AI players, a keyboard is handy - and everything is done via mouse clicks and dragging. New armies can be assigned by dragging a number of them from the bottom of the screen (in handy quantities of 1, 2, 5, etc, or you can assign "All" in one go) or by clicking on one of your territories to assign a single unit. Once assigned, a unit cannot be retrieved, so be careful where you click/drop.
Attacks are performed by dragging the armies from one of your territories to a bordering/connected enemy one. You cannot "attack" another of your territories, so a common mistake is to battle your way into a corner and have your armies cut off by your own advances. You can, however, attack as many times as you like in a turn, so it is possible to sweep across the continent with a large army and take out whole forces in one go. Attacks can be done with one, two or three dice, or you can ask the computer to use "All" (three dice repeatedly until the enemy falls or you are down to three troops - whichever comes first). If you conquer an enemy territory you get to specify how many of your troops should stay in the first territory - unless you use "All", which moves them all regardless. After you've finished all your attacks you can move one army (in whole or split in two groups) from one of your territories to a neighbouring one. Then the other players move.
Graphics are a complicated item to score. The main interface is entirely Windows based and largely consists of text boxes, menus and so on. This is all fine if a little bland. The maps themselves are variable in quality as they are designed by a number of authors - the standard World map is rather good and "Two Volcanoes" is rather cartoony, but I found "Polygon" to be a bit of a disappointment. The fixed size of the bitmap files means that the game cannot be resized - maximising it merely pushes it into the corner. Resizable maps would be nice but may limit the ability of the player to make their own. There are options to display only movable troops, or all troops (ie. that you have one in each of your territories, but they cannot be moved) and to display as graphics or as numbers. Given that some computer players amass armies into the hundreds I prefer the numbers! Sound is very limited, as is understandable, and you may quickly decide to turn off the game sounds of marching, fanfares etc.
Conquest is surprisingly addictive, and it is taking a great force of will to write this review rather than have another campaign to conquer the islands of Atlantis or to test out my own creation, a map modelled on the human body. This is surprising as the game seems unwilling to give much in the way of instructions. Game hints (which can be turned off) tell you how to do such things as assign troops and attack, but don't explain any basic strategies or such simple things as how many troops you have to disseminate at the start. This particular value seems to vary. My own initial games were generally short and I resorted to Risk guides online - why is there no basic guide of this sort available here?
There are a few oddities (they could not be called bugs) about the game. One of these is the option to rename and recolour players - this doesn't apply to any game you may be playing at the time. You can rename yourself, but remain listed on this and all future campaigns as "You", which gets confusing when there are multiple human players on the same computer. While the way a game is "saved" and resumed when you quit is very handy, a game will happily continue when all human players are gone and the old "Game Over" will reappear if you quit after a game reaches a conclusion. This is not perhaps so bad, but while computer players are battling in the background the occasional report that X has conquered a continent or that Y has been eliminated will cancel any menus you may be trying to click on.
All this aside, Conquest is a fun and simple game that can fill a coffee break but will happily fill an afternoon. Play network games or solo, play the standard maps or download/create more - in any event, it is highly addictive - beware!
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