Okay, I can now give a play report of Conquest of Nerath, having tried it firsthand.
Play was much as I expected, with a few surprises.
–Dungeons are hard to take. Venturing into one with a single hero is a risky proposition; I found it much safer to cross the threshold with two, preferably wizards because of their first strike capability. (As in MAGIC, First Strike is pretty powerful in this game.)
–Dragons, as expected, are fierce opponents, but (unless I'm missing something) using a dragon to attack an area with a single enemy counter is an instant win because of the dragon's toughness.
So how did the actual game go, you ask? Pretty good. I got the Iron Circle (goblins), in random draw, which are very balanced and would have been my first choice. Play was very even until a mistake by the Elf player opened up his flank to his nearest neighbor ... then it was quickly over.
I only have two criticisms:
1) Play seems a bit simple.
Somehow RISK 2210 seems to have more varied ways to win, Despite the racial differences and card differences, our gameplay was very similar. There were also many repeat cards. Larger card decks with more variety would have been welcome.
2) What I affectionately call Four Corner Syndrome.
Certain games, such as Nerath or Age of Mythology, make it easier to attack those players sitting on either side of you. In our game the Elf player made an all-out attack early on that failed badly, and he lost many troops. The result was a wide open field for the Karkoth player. because the medium-length game rewards taking undefended spaces the same as defended spaces, the Karkoth player just plowed through miles of near-empty territory and won the game. I was doing fine on the other side of the board, and army for army I'm confident I could have beaten the Dark Empire in a head-on conflict, but because I was all the way across the board I didn't have time to prevent his victory. This left a our taste in my mouth, which had nothing to do with sour grapes. I played well, and I'd play that way largely again, yet I lost.
There are probably similar situations in RISK 2210, yet that game only rewards taking opposed countries, and I think that's the important difference. If Nerath only rewarded taking occupied enemy areas, it would make for a fairer (albeit longer) game.
I also found myself wishing that heroes could "level up" in some fashion, like the leaders in Shogun/Samurai Swords. Winning a certain number of battles and/or surviving a dungeon should count toward a slow leader progression of some sort.
Overall, Conquest of Nerath is a solid game and I'd recommend it, giving it a B+ score. If you like RISK and similar "men on the board games" you will like Nerath,
February 05, 2012
Wizards of the Coast has really been churning out the board games recently, and most of them have been pretty good. The Castle Ravenloft series does a good job of bridging the boardgame-to-RPG gap (something that's in Wizards' interest from a marketing perspective, to be sure) but Conquest of Nerath is a different animal entirely.
I love "men on the board" games. Love 'em. Although I write RPG supplements and such, my primary love has always been board games. I was raised on all the classics, and later in the 1990s I discovered Eurogames and things wweren't really the same after that. Setters of Catan, Carcassonne, and Puerto Rico—I think of them as the big trio—taught me to view board games in a whole new way.
But even so, I delight in board games of conquest (no pun intended) and Milton Bradley's Gamemaster series was great. I was raised on RISK after all, and enjoyed it for all its faults. I found an unopened Samurai Swords (a Shogun reprint) on ebay for about $30 about 10 years ago and nearly thought I'd gone to heaven. Although much of my time is spent punching cardboard after opening the latest Fantasy Flight release (do they own a cardboard factory?) I still long for new "men-on-the-board" games. My holy grail is to find something to replace some of my "flawed" favorites:
Axis & Allies - too bloody complicated
Godstorm RISK - nice but too luck and card driven
RISK 2210 - a modern classic, but strategies become repetitive
These games are about enjoying some controlled aggression with friends. No cooperative stuff here! Players will win and other players will lose. Alliances are fickle and fleeting. And the game will take most of your evening. But strategically and emotionally, they ask the most from me and deliver the best pay-off.
Conquest of Nerath looks to be a good, middle-weight fantasy "men-on-the-board" affair. I say looks to be, because I haven't played it yet, but I've got enough board game experience under my belt that I feel I can give a decent preview.
The game cost me a hefty $80 (I frequent brick and mortar stores when possible), but production is nice. Lots of minis? Check. Gorgeous board? Check. The minis have the added benefit of being, in part, different for each player. Every player get a different dragon mold, etc., which is awesome. (The minis are closer to 15 mm scale, so they can't really serve double duty as D&D minis.) The rule book is also nicely laid out and furnished with illustrations. Rulebooks can look nice and still be confusing—the Fantasy Flight rule books fit squarely into this category I feel—but it's clear here that WotC put care into the instructions.
The game itself pits four fantasy races against each other: undead, elves, goblins, and humans. In a particularly nice touch, each race feels different. Some races start with better board positions and/or greater initial forces, whereas other forces, such as Nerath, start weak but can call in powerful reinforcements via card play. Playing this game will be different every time if you choose different races.
Gameplay looks to be right down the middle, complexity-wise. More complex than the original RISK but less than, say, Axis & Allies. Basic play involves expansion of armies into adjacent areas, but other factors come into play. Dungeons, spread across the board and lovingly named after classic D&D dungeons of legend, can be raided for magic items that grant the player benefits. A player can choose which troops to buy. Dragon or ship? Monster or heroes? Like the latter RISK variants, aggressive play is encouraged and rewarded here—no sitting back and reinforcing Australia for 5 turns in this game. Initial, non-random army placement also guarantees that you begin with at least one enemy right in your backyard, so battles will come sooner rather than later.
I'm looking forward to this one. Stay tuned for a post-play account soon!