Overall Score 74%
Conquest! Medieval Realms
I was ready to write this one off as a shameless copy of Sean O'Connor's excellent “Slay”, but although it does undoubtedly borrow heavily in terms of gameplay mechanics, there is enough original content here that it does deserve quite a bit of credit in its own right.
“Conquest!” is a turn based strategy game that is too casual to be called a classic wargame, yet manages to offer challenging and rewarding scenarios that can last from about 10 to 20 minutes. Like Slay, in Conquest the objective in each scenario is usually to win a territorial battle-royale against 1 or more opponents. Each joined group of 2 or more hexes that a player controls award income each turn. This income is used to buy units that deploy directly to any controlled hex, or enemy controlled hex that might be adjacent to the player's territory. There is no combat per se, but a unit can deployed onto any hex that is neither occupied nor adjacent to a hex that is occupied by an enemy unit of equal or greater strength. Stronger units can be deployed to hexes that contain weaker units, and in this case the weaker units are removed from play.
Since each territory contains its own troops and must be self sufficient in terms of support for those troops, one of the best strategies for winning the game is to manoeuvre your forces such that they effectively cut off groups of enemies from their supply source. If a territory is too small to raise enough income to pay its troops at the end of the turn (including any savings that it might have built up over time), then all troops in that territory are destroyed. In this fashion, the game can ebb and flow, and allows for a player who might seem well behind to overcome an over extended or careless player.
Thus far, no credit goes to Slitherine Software, since Slay did all this a good few years ago. So, where can Conquest pick up a few points then?
Although the core game is very similar to Slay, (mind you - AI doesn't seem quite as sharp) additionally, Conquest! ships with 4 multi-mission campaigns featuring the War of the Roses and The 100 Years War which are playable from both sides. The campaigns fluff out the gameplay nicely and definitely add a bit of flavour to keep the player coming back. There is a simple to use editor that can be used to create maps and campaigns; however, I don't see any downloadable content on the game's website as yet. Like Slay, 3 tiers (strengths) of units can be deployed onto the field, but in addition there are now 3 separate classes of units that interact with each other in a rock/paper/scissors fashion. Ranged beats cavalry beats melee beats ranged. So now you not only have to watch for units that are stronger than yours, you also need to keep an eye on class types of equal strength, since a level 1 pikeman can remove a level 1 cavalry piece from the board. Melee units can be built anywhere, but other classes of units need their own buildings in a particular territory to be deployed. The stables and archery range enable the extra classes, but since these buildings are also capturable and cost money to build, care needs to be taken to protect them. Static defensive structures are also available; the tower and the keep, which block level 1 and level 2 units respectively.
Another area where the game impresses is the overall presentation. The graphics are stylish and subdued, the artwork is both functional (in terms of being able to discern different pieces quickly) and attractive, and the music and sound effects are atmospheric and of high quality. The game features multiplayer modes via a central server for matchmaking, or a direct IP connection mode if you already know who you want to play with. Also, I found navigating through the menus very intuitive as they are quite logically presented, and setting up a custom game with human or AI opponents on a randomly generated or pre-made map is a cinch. There are a few variables to select so that the user has a good idea of what the procedurally generated maps will offer in terms of fairness of starting locations and game length, as well as a preview window before the game starts. In fact, the few places where I thought that Slay let me down a little, Conquest seems to have taken up the slack.
Conquest will lend itself more towards the casual market than most strategy/war games because the rules are simple and the gameplay is inherently light. That's not to say that wargamers will not appreciate the game as well, but the appeal of Conquest should be quite broad. It's fairly good bang for your buck at £12 and I think that the replay value is quite good as well. It's a game that won't take up your entire Sunday afternon (unless you want it to!) and you could even set up a quick game in your coffee break! At the end of the day, I'm going to deduct just a few points for poaching Sean O'Connor's idea, even if it has been refined and polished into the neat little game that it is here.
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