This is a classical era area control war game for 3–6 players. Tho' players are representing empires and tribes from history, this isn't a complex simulation war game. Rather, designer Mohamed Al Qadi has created an abstracted Risk-style game that's easy to play but has enough depth and opportunity for strategy to keep things interesting.
Publishers Cation Arts can be commended on the quality of production. The game comes with a large fold-out two-sided board, and you choose the side to play depending on whether you have 3/4 or 5/6 players. Along with decent quality cards, there are wooden infantry and cavalry units in the six player colours and white for the 'independent' units that occupy certain territories at the start of the game. The chunky cardboard currency coins are perhaps the only disappointment, although they are adequate for the purpose. And everything fits into a compact box that's half the size of many games with a fraction of the contents. Art for the game is by ADINB.
On your turn, you'll be able to recruit more units at each fort you control (provided you have enough food to feed them) and collect income from any territories you control that show coin icons. Each unit can be moved to an adjacent territory and, as you'd expect, if you move into an already occupied territory you'll trigger combat. A move and/or attack usually exhausts a unit but a successful attack permits a second move or attack. Unlike Risk, you can't use this to roll an army across the board on a single turn: a unit is exhausted even after a successful second attack.
If planning your moves leaves you dithering then Conqueror is not the game for you. The designer has obviously had his fill of games being ruined by indecisive players and those who overly agonise over every move. To avoid that in Conqueror, the rules specify that if you take longer than a minute to plan your moves, another player can 'bribe' one of your armies by paying you coins equal to that army's strength (infantry units have strength 1; cavalry units are strength 2) and taking control of those units and that territory. And to show the seriousness of his intent, the designer has included a 60-second sand timer in the box! Nevertheless, this rule feels more like a cri de coeur against AP (analysis paralysis) than a core game mechanic: you won't really want to determine the outcome of a game based on punishing AP players.
In this simplified and abstracted war game, you don't need to mither about supply lines but you do need to ensure that you can sustain your troops. As Napoleon would remark a millennium later, an army marches on its stomach. In Conqueror, you'll need to ensure that the territories you control have enough food icons to support the number of units you have on the board. You can always maintain up to four units subsisting without any territories with food icons but each food icon you control allows you to maintain two more units. If you lose control of a territory with a food icon and no longer have enough food for all the units you have on the board, you'll have to disband (remove) units.
Currency isn't just used to punish AP. It is also used to buy hero cards which give you single-use attack/defence bonuses. Combat is determined by totting up the strength of occupying and invading units, adding in any defensive bonus (a Great Fort icon in a territory gives a +2 bonus to the defender), adding in the effects of any hero cards played and then each adding the roll of a non-standard six-sided die (1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4). The losing player takes losses equivalent to the difference, with any surviving units forced to retreat.
A 'chronicle' card is turned over at the start of each round. This reveals an event that imposes a special rule that is an effect just for this round. Some of the chronicle cards demand that the players collectively contribute currency, so it could prove advantageous to hold some coins in reserve...
We've found Conqueror to be a fast playing game. Even dispensing with the threat of the 'bribery' rule, we were able to complete most of our games in little more than an hour. We did feel the need, however, to streamline a couple of rules. It's important to keep track of how many food icons each player controls but the rules indicate that this is counted up by players at the start of each of their turns (as part of their strict one-minute 'planning' time!). The board includes a table showing how many units are supported by each number of food icons. We found it convenient to put a unit from each player on this table and use it as a food tracker. The rules appear to put income and build as part of each player's 'planning phase' but we found this gave a huge first player advantage. For us, Conqueror worked better when we reduced this first-player advantage by starting each round with a simultaneous income/build phase, so that all players collected their builds and income at the point when the round's chronicle card was revealed.
If you like Risk (Hasbro) and you're looking for a game with a similar feel but a little more depth, then Conqueror: Final Conquest is definitely one to check out. And do give our variant rule suggestions a try.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)