Today we see the release of Conquest of Nerath, the newest D&D board game from Wizards of the Coast. Unlike the last two D&D board games from WotC, Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, which focused on heroes and dungeon crawling this new game is a take on large scale strategy board gaming along the lines of games like Risk or Axis & Allies. At the same time the game includes heroes that can fight alongside your larger armies and delve into dungeons to uncover powerful treasure that will help your armies attain victory over the other factions.
Conquest of Nerath is meant for play between 2, 3, or 4 players and can be played in a short game that will last around 2 hours or longer games that can go on for much longer (4+ hours). The game is quick to learn, plays well, and is incredibly fun. It appeals to fans of classic strategy board games while bringing familiar fantasy elements to the genre which is traditionally modern/historic.
Rules of the Game
The game Conquest of Nerath involves four factions battling over a map of two continents and one central island, including the Dark Empire of Karkoth (warlocks and undead), the Vailin Alliance (elves), the Iron Circle (goblins and orcs), and the Nerathan League (humans and dwarves). Every game starts with each faction having control of their assigned territories with a set number of starting units, so set up is quick and easy and doesn’t involve random region selection or placing of units from player to player. If you’re playing with four players then each player controls one faction, but if you’re playing with two or three players then each player will control an alliance of factions battling the other players.
One of the first things that I was happily surprised about with this game is that the turn order is fixed, with the Karkoth faction always taking the first turn followed by the Vailin, then Iron Circle, and Nerath goes at the end of each round of turns. Due to the fixed turn order, the game is balanced by each faction having different amounts of starting gold and different amounts of gold income at the end of every turn that allow them to buy reinforcements. I was also happy to see that the turn order will always alternate between factions on different sides if you are playing an alliance game.
Each faction contains footsoldiers, siege engines, fighters and wizards (heroes), monsters, castles, storm elementals, dragons, and warships. These units have move values that allow them to advance one or more regions on the board, attack dice between a d6 and a d20, a cost in gold required to buy the unit, and special abilities. On your turn you move every unit that you want to move including into adjacent enemy territories where you wish to attack, and once all of your moves have been designated you resolve battles. Battle resolves by rolling the appropriate die for each unit and hits are scored on any roll of a 6+ with some modifiers from special abilities, event cards, and other factors of the game.
The game is won by collecting the most victory points (for short and medium games) or by capturing all of the capital regions on the board or collecting a certain number of treasure cards. Another rule that I really like in this game is that at the end of a round if two players have the required number of victory points/treasure, then the game continues round by round until one player has more victory points/treasure. Victory points are gained by capturing enemy territories, but not by recapturing territories that you controlled at the beginning of the game so the game enforces and even requires advancement into enemy territories instead of simply losing a lot of your regions and then reclaiming them from an enemy. I found in play that this created some interesting balance in the game where one faction pushes and gains multiple points on one front they end up leaving themselves more open to lose regions on other fronts and allow other factions to gain points at the same time.
The factions are for the most part similar but the tokens for the footsoldiers, fighters, monsters, and dragons are different depending on the faction and each faction also has a unique event card deck that grants special benefits for single turns or battles. Some of the event cards are similar between factions but for the most part they create a very unique feel between the groups during play. For instance, the Karkoth faction has several “raise dead” style events that turn enemy deaths into more ground units for your side and the Vailin faction has events that focus on ranged attacks and quick movement as an elven army should. Perhaps most importantly the events are important and powerful but no one event appears to be overpowered and each player draws the same number of event cards during the game so they add an unpredictable and fun element to the game without breaking it.
Beyond the event cards, I found that each faction felt slightly different due to the fact of turn order being fixed in the game and because of the set up of the starting regions. Players who enjoy the game will want to play as each of the factions to get a feel for how each one plays out, though many players may quickly settle on a faction that they prefer such as if they like to go first or if they like to go last but have more starting gold to buy units with.
Dungeon Crawling and Strategy
The aspect of dungeon crawling in the game is secondary to the overall strategic game play, but it adds a nice level of complexity and an additional group of actions that make the game more interesting and entertaining. The only units that can enter the ten dungeons around the map are fighters and wizards and the game includes a large number and variety of monsters that can inhabit these spaces. I found the balance of having fighters and wizards on the front lines of battle and back exploring dungeons interesting, and the treasure/victory points you can gain from exploring dungeons is such that it feels like an equally viable option to attacking the other factions.
I also enjoy this aspect of the game because it gives a very strong incentive for not ignoring any one of the factions for too long, because if you do they will have a good chance to explore the dungeons in their regions. A faction with one or two treasure cards can easily get an advantage over a faction that doesn’t have any, but this is largely dependent upon the situations and the specific treasure that is found.
In addition, the game board is made up of two main continents and a central island separated by bodies of water that need to be traversed by loading ground units onto warships or with flying units. The rules for water transports and water combat are simple and engaging and allow the combat to progress smoothly across land and sea. The layout of the map also ensures that sooner or later each player is going to have to worry about getting across or around a body of water or onto one of the islands on the map, which only adds to the interesting strategic situations that come up during play.
Impressions & Opinions
Several years ago we became obsessed with the Lord of the Rings version of Risk simply because we had never played a fantasy board game on that scale, but the game was still the same and suffered from all of the same old flaws. Conquest of Nerath is the game that we wanted that version of Risk to be, and it goes beyond that by including familiar elements from games such as Axis & Allies to create a new and interesting strategy board game experience.
The game is not overly deep or complex, but it is also not overly simple and it manages to remain interesting and exciting throughout a game lasting for several hours. Many of the concerns I had about this game when I first heard about it are completely avoided in the rules, and I was surprised by how quick it was to learn and how much we enjoyed even the first game while we were still learning how the game would play out. I highly recommend picking it up if this sounds like a game that you would enjoy!