Conquest of Nerath

By: Paul Millen

Published: April 27, 2012 Posted in: Board Games

Undead, hobgoblins, elves and humans tumble out of the dungeons to wail on each other o’er the hills and dales in this month’s treasure box of plastic men and card thingums.  It’s…

Yes, the typically agoraphobic denizens of Dungeons and Dragons now have a tactical wargame, cast from the sleeves of Wizards of the Coast with a cry of “Behold!  An Axis & Allies with dragons!”  Each player takes control of a Warring Realm with a suitably grandiose fantasy title and must wrest their enemies’ territories from them to gain those precious VPs.

Grand.  Lovely, intriguing unit types like these…

…battering the salty shite out of each other over a massive, lovely board.  But, there are a mu-hillion of these unit pieces, and the board’s divided up into about 7000 separate regions.

When Nerath’s set up, it looks like this…

Ugh, I hate learning rules.  It is the worst part of board gaming.  Right up there with all the tiresome female attention.   And look at Nerath, it REEKS of complexity.  Just look at it all – and it comes with nearly every kind of dice from D6 to D20.  A fantasy brawl on this scale… it’s going to cost you a bit of study time, right?  Well, actually, not all that really.  This guy can explain it to you slowly in eight minutes.  And now I can skip a few lines of basic rule-blab.

Stuff that may first appear a nightmare of complexity are actually your friends, there to help cut back on the un-fun drudge work wargames like to impose.  The board, for example, has all the info displayed in little icons to get the units set-up correctly, no need to keep referring to the rule book.  The big bag of varied D’s from 6 to 20 actually ensure the combat involves minimal calculations – it’s basically number recognition which we can all 2o ri6ht?  In every battle a 6+ scores a hit, just roll the coloured die that corresponds to your unit; grunts roll a D6, fighters a D10, dragons a D20 and etcetera.  Count up your hits and it’s pretty much a case of removing that number of enemy units from the board.  All this is to say that Conquest of Nerath is an extremely easy, slinky little animal that lets you get to the meat of things pretty quickly.

The ‘meat’ being The Act of War.  You’re all there to do War on each other and Nerath isn’t coy about this.  There’s no foreplay, no po-faced pushing units around before anything interesting actually happens.  From turn one, there are territories you can reach and armies to attack them with.  There’s immediately a momentum that continues throughout the game; you lose income from losing territories certainly, but you don’t gain any victory points by defending, nor do you gain any by recapturing lost starting territories – the way to win is to press the attack.  Combat is the fundamental premise of Nerath, wiping out your opponent’s units and moving in to occupy their territory.  But there’s a lot of flavour garnishing this basic mechanic.  There’s some other cool stuff going on, of which I will now tell you.

Other Cool Stuff Going On

The armies are all a bit different – while everyone shares the same unit types, each army has their own event deck containing cards that can be played to swing the tide of battle.  A lot of the effects are pretty similar, adding extra units at the start of battle, immediately conquering empty terrain and so forth, but the decks broadly represent the background of the realm they belong to.  The mercantile, elfy Vailin Alliance contain a lot of seafaring bonuses for example.

The decks are shuffled during set-up and you take a card from the top at the start of each turn so there’s a bit of a randomised element to the bonuses you’ll get, and when, in each game.

Interesting unit types – entirely straightforward yet adding to the game’s tactical variety.  There are flying units like dragons and elementals that can flank and move across impassable terrain, there are warships that can transport units across the seas, siege engines, wizards, rampaging monsters and castles to build and capture – once you have a castle you can add extra units to its territory so they’re essential for bolstering your front lines.  There are also hero units that are able to…

Explore Dungeons – there are dungeon regions on the board, if you move a wizard or fighter unit onto them, flip the dungeon token and vanquish the beast within.  Manage to do this and you get powerful treasure cards that incur a lasting benefit to your realm and provide another source of victory points.

Not So Cool Stuff

Over all, Nerath is a wonderfully crafted game in rule system and components both.  The models are very pretty, tokens included are sensible and useful, the artwork on the board is great and it all fits tidily within a carefully designed plastic box insert, a detail which never fails to get me excited.  A niggle however: there are these reference cards, with game info on the front and back:

They’re also designed to hold your event deck and discards, and in the case of the ‘general’ reference card, the dungeon, gold tokens and the treasure cards, thus:

But observe what happens when you want to check the other side…

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!  Yeah, odd design choice.

But it’s a minor complaint really for what is a very impressive title.

So…

Conquest of Nerath doesn’t have the nuance of Chaos in the Old World, it doesn’t have the complexity of Axis & Allies but it’s less fiddly than both and brings a sense of massed fantasy battles to the tabletop with its own D&D twist and minimal rule learning.  It really is a very fun game indeed with short, medium and long victory conditions, a free-for-all and team coop modes.  It is flexibility incarnate, and not exhausting to explain to newcomers.  Seriously, you’ll almost probably love it.

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Paul Millen