A couple of Saturdays back, I was invited to an epic gameday at my buddy's house in the Indianapolis area. The original date was in October, but after the unexpected death of my father I had to reschedule. So, he, another friend from Southern Ohio and his daughter, and myself and my daughter all met up, finally, and had a hell of a time. We played a variety of cool games, such as Hive, which was very interesting and not nearly as simple as I'd have thought by looking at it, Zooloretto, which I subsequently ended up getting through a trade, and one of my new favorite games, Conquest of the Fallen Lands. This game was such fun that I wrote to the boys at Assa for a review copy, but they never responded. In fact, I have another buddy who is sending me his spare copy all the way from the lovely, and recently accidentally invaded, Costa Rica. Thanks, Tom!
Anyhow, this game is a tile-based romp where the players are heroic types who need to rid the countryside of all the nasties that tend to overrun said countrysides. You do this by retaking territories, which are comprised solely of the tiles themselves, and to retake a territory, you simply need to have enough soldiers to take that territory. No dice roll, unfortunately, but instead of randomness being injected, they've put a supply chain system in place. It's one of the neatest area control games I've ever played, although it won't be upsetting my beloved El Grande anytime soon, and not just because it's not packed with a small wooden dildo like El Grande is.
The art, as you can see from the box cover, is not Boris Vallejo's fantasy art, but it's actually pretty neat and the game adheres to the theme fairly well. That being said, the gameplay is such that you're not really all that concerned with the theme, so it could've been a game about a pimp putting his merchandise in the best areas for Johns, so the theme isn't really all that important to the game. The components are of good quality, and included are five sets of colored stones that act as markers for your conquests, a ton of little square cards that depict your allies such as mages, soldiers, and workmen, and a bunch of cards which act as your soldiers, bases, and your spells. In addition to that, there's a really easy to navigate rulebook that is clear, concise, and readable, as well as 61hexagonal tiles that make up the game map. Finally, there's a bunch of coin tokens in varying denominations that act as both the coin of the realm with which to purchase allies with as well as acting as victory points. All in all, I was very impressed with the stuff in the box, it really is very pleasing to the eye, and it's all very durable.
The exact setup is dependent upon the number of players, but in all cases you're starting the game by placing the tiles, each emblazoned with a value, randomly in any shape you deem to be interesting. This is the actual gameboard upon which you will be playing, and once you've got that set up, players simply choose a color and retrieve that color's marker stones. Once the fistfights over who gets to be Mr. Pink are done, each player draws eight cards from the deck, 25 coins, and two allies. All in all, we're talking about five minutes from start to finish to set the game up.
Gameplay is just as straightforward as the setup, which is lovely. On your turn, you may spend coins to buy an ally for five pence a pop, then you may play cards to cast spells or take over territories. Each soldier card has an Attack value and a Support value, and to take a territory over you must play that card right on top of the tile, provided you have enough Attack and Support points to meet or exceed the value of the tile. The supply chain aspect kicks in when you do this, because your soldiers are generally not all that strong, with a common Attack value being one or two points, and you may only play one card to any one territory.
To take higher valued territories, you need Support. This is managed by adding the Attack value of the card you wish to play, to the combined Support values of all your soldiers in territories adjacent to the target territory. Thus, if you wish to invade an area and own five territories adjacent to it that have soldiers with a Support value of one on them, you have a combined Attack value of five plus the Attack value of the card you wish to play upon that territory. It's not "mathy" at all, and only a complete imbecile would get confused, so I was in luck in playing this because if it involved counting past 10, I'd have to remove my pants, and my buddy certainly wouldn't have appreciated that.
There are also fortification cards that can be played upon territories you already control, and these beef up the Support value of that territory, so it's best to hold onto them until you are nearby a very strong territory, such as a 12 point territory. Now you're probably wondering about the allies I spoke of before, because they seemed to be important since you need to give up five victory points to buy them. Well, they are.
In order to actually play a card at all, you need to meet the ally requirement on the card. For instance, if you are playing a soldier that has a little image of a workman, you need to have an available workman to do so. If you choose to play that card, you must immediately flip the ally card over to indicate that he's done his deed for the day, and that ally can no longer be implemented for further destruction and havoc that round. Once you've taken over a territory, you gain the value of that territory in coins, which can be retained as victory points or spent down the road on allies.
Beneficial spells can also be cast, and these are activated in a very similar way to the soldiers, although these require the activation of your allied mages instead of soldiers and workmen as is the standard for the soldiers. These spells vary greatly in what they do, from denying a key territory to allowing you to multiply your force for a turn. We played several different spells during our game, and they are indeed integral to gameplay, not an afterthought. In fact, the most significant play of our first game was when my friend's wife was kind enough to play an area-denial spell upon a 12 value territory that effectively removed my ability to expand any further by blocking my strongest fortress from supporting my troops.
Once you've expanded the influence of your empire, you may then opt to discard cards and gain new cards at a ratio of two to one, and in addition to any cards you got through trading in that manner, you may take one card for free just for being so heroic. Finally, you may take another free card for any Mages you did not activate on your turn. Once you've replenished your hand, you flip your allies back to the face up side, and your turn is over.
The game ends when the last territory has been taken over, or if no players can play any further cards. It is at this point that you regret buying so many allies, because your coins on hand are the sole determining factor of victory. The player with the most victory points wins, and the game is over. All in all, this is a very, very fun, replayable game that I cannot see getting old anytime soon. I'm waiting with bated breath for my Costa Rican copy from Tim Tim Timmy!
What Makes This Conquer Crappier Games:
- So easy to learn, a caveman can do it (TM)
- Fast plays and minimal downtime make this game epic fun
- Neat, light hearted art makes the game fun to look at
- Light enough to not stroke out while playing, but complex strategies can be devised and executed
What Made The Lands Fall In The First Place:
- Lack of much direct player interaction makes this far less backstabbity than I'd otherwise have liked
This is one of the more fun area control games I've ever played, and I'd absolutely abandon Small World for this ten times out of ten. It's not incredibly deep, and there's not a tremendous amount of direct player interaction, but it certainly isn't multiplayer solitaire. I highly recommend it after three plays, and I'm seriously jazzed about getting a copy from my buddy. If you have a spouse that likes light, friendly games with a splash of cut throat, this is the one you want. Just a great, fun little game.
You can learn more about Conquest of the Fallen Lands at the Assa website here:
If you didn't get my reference to Boris Vallejo, then you not only may be an uncultured swine, you apparently do not like nakedness, either. Google Boris Vallejo, and learn about the best fantasy artist of your lifetime. He makes Larry Elmore look like a 9 year old, novice finger painter.