I promise that this will be the last Warhammer or Warhammer 40K related game I cover for a little while. For some reason it feels like there's a Warhammer everything these days. Warhammer board games, Warhammer lunch boxes, a Warhammer lingerie line at Ann Summers. I don't want to fatigue you with all this Warhammer talk, so I'll make sure to cover something a little less Warhammery next week. But what's a guy supposed to do when Warhammers of every shape and size keep flying through his door? ONLY WARHAMMER.
WARHAMMER 40K: CONQUEST
Okay, so this is another one of Fantasy Flight's “Living Card Games”. You buy the base set and then you can expand the game through regular releases of new cards. There are never any blind buys in an LCG – you can get hold of everything, which is good. It's how the current release of Netrunner works, and how the brilliant Warhammer: Invasion worked.
So, Conquest then. Every player takes a warlord card – these are the key cards in the game. Then you take a deck that fits with that warlord (you take a Space Marine deck for the Space Marine warlord) and you can also fill out the deck with some cards from factions that you can logically ally with. So your Space Marine deck can have some Imperial Guard (or Astra Militarum as Games Workshop have now named them, dunno why) in the mix.
Cards/units can do damage and take damage. They all have special abilities, of course, because WHEN HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A CARD THAT DOESN'T THESE DAYS?
In each game you lay out seven location cards, representing planets. Five of these are visible, and two are hidden. The players will deploy units/cards to the planets, to prepare for the gathering of resources and the laying of claims to the glories of the horrible universe. You will also have cards being played in front of you, to your headquarters – which is where your warlord sits until you're ready to send him (and them) into the fray.
Deploying your warlord is a super-secret top secret decision that you make by using a little super-secret top secret number wheel you can hide in your hand, secretly. Both players' warlords are deployed simultaneously, by showing your wheel – and wherever a warlord lands, a battle is certain to happen at the end of the turn.
The next phase of the game is the Command Struggle, where the planets are stripped of whatever bonuses they provide. At any planet where units are deployed, a comparison is made between the totals of the command icons on the cards of each side in the fight. The winner takes everything from the planet – extra cards or resources. If a warlord is present, the player who owns that warlord wins the command struggle automatically.
Then it's into the combat phase. Battles only take place at the first revealed planet in the queue, or any planet that has at least one warlord making a visit. And combat is simple. Players take turns exhausting cards (tapping them) and sending their attacks at opposing units. Special abilities come into play, and players can discard cards from their hand as “shield cards”, reducing damage. (This is why it's crucial to get some cards into your hand during that Command Struggle phase – shields are vital.)
The fights carry on until one side is killed or fully retreated, and the winning side takes the planet. You win the game if you win three of these planets, or if you kill an enemy warlord.
I won't go into mad detail on the rules here, because you can watch this great video if you want to know exactly how it works.
Here is my opinion, such as it has been formed inside my mind.
Eric Lang is one of the designers of Conquest, and he's a guy whose games I just love. He knows how to take some simple mechanics and make them flow smoothly – and the fundamental mechanics of this game are very simple. It's a million miles from something like Netrunner (which is great, but just a bit too much of an investment of thought for me) and even more simple than my lovely, darling Warhammer: Invasion. Conquest is a smart, tidy, fun card game with simple resolutions underpinned by some exciting interplay between cards.
With the bulk of the game being about direct head-to-head clashes between units, the cards were always going to be the crucial factor here. Do they do enough cool stuff? Do they spark off exciting little synergies and pop off nice little surprises? And they really do. Whether it be Orks or the Tau or the Space Marines or the Eldar – or any of the seven factions in this core set – there is plenty to get your teeth into here. It's tasty.
My favourite element of the game? I like that there's a front line of battle. That first planet in the queue is where the war will focus in each turn – but there will be plenty of jockeying for position on those other planets in preparation for future front-line status. It's nice.
You can teach this game in 5-10 minutes, easily, and both players can then get straight into finding out what their cards can do. You can get straight into the fight. You can play through a whole game in less than an hour and you'll definitely want to set back up and go again when you do.
Is there enough in the core set? Well, there never really feels like there is enough in these things. The cards are excellent, and so you want more of them. It's a positive that spirals into a negative. “Yeah, great. Cool. Now gimme more.” Will it be something I invest in? I'm not sure yet. I want to play a little bit more, and see how those expansion packs are working out for people. But for you?
Well, would you like a fun, fast, easy-to-play Warhammer 40K card game that sells the world of 40K really well? Do you want to be able to play a game in, say, a lunch break?
If so, I think you should check this one out.