Friday, 5 April 2013

World Conquerors

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

World Conquerors is played over four rounds, and your objective is to have achieved being the largest empire during the game. Not necessarily at game end, just at any point in the game. Imagine Genghis Khan. Every turn, the active player is given a certain number of resource cubes, which he uses to expand his territory. Such free cubes increase every turn, so there is a constant escalation throughout the game. When you successfully conquer a territory, you need to place a cube there to claim it. When your attack fails, you need to pay one or more cubes. This penalty increases every time you fail, so you can lose cubes very quickly. When you attack across an ocean, you need to pay cubes even before the battle starts, and pay again if you lose the battle. The naval transport cost equals the current battle loss penalty, so it too can get very expensive. There are two ways to gain extra cubes. If an opponents starts an empire in a territory you control, you lose the territory, but your reward is the current resource bonus; so this is usually a good thing. Also if you achieve the national objective of your current empire, you get the current resource bonus too.

I bet many people playing this will get this question, "What... is this like Risk?".

Your expansion is limited by your resources, but what really drives the game is the leader cards. Everyone gets some cards at the start of the game, and at the start of any player's turn, everyone gets to draw a new card. A card represents a historical leader, and can be used in a number of ways. You can use a card to start an empire. The empire would have a special ability and a national objective. You would get a leader pawn placed in the home territory of your empire. The leader pawn lets you reroll a die during any battle in the territory where it is located or in an adjacent territory. You can use your card to place a general. A general behaves just like a leader. The only difference is if your leader dies you lose your empire ability. You can also use your card as a single-use special ability card.

At the end of your turn, you check if you have achieved a bigger empire than before. If so, you mark this on the achievement scale. At game end, whoever is further along this scale wins.

A leader card. If used to start an empire, the start location is Far East (top right), the national objective is to conquer the whole of Asia (bottom right), and the empire advantage is the text after the R icon. The text after the A icon is for when you use the card as a one-time special ability.

The Play

Han, Allen and I did a 3-player game. This game looks like Risk, and combat resolution feels like Risk, but it is quicker and less tedious. You only get to place one cube in a territory, so there are no stacks and stacks of infantry to whittle down. The basic combat resolution is that both sides roll one die each, and defender wins ties. You get to roll more dice if your attacking (or defending) territory is adjacent to other territories you control. This adjacency rule means you need to plan for the spatial element when you launch an attack. You want to minimise attacking territories surrounded by many other hostile territories.

The board has only 18 territories. That doesn't sound like much, but I find that your resource cubes get used up very quickly. Just a few consecutive losses, and you'll already be paying an arm and a leg for each loss. There is a fair bit of luck in the game. There are ways you can mitigate your risks, but there is no sure win or sure loss. Sometimes when the angin* comes you will simply be unstoppable.

The game is all about the abilities and flavour on the leader cards. The map, the battle system, and the resource mechanism are nothing particularly fancy. The fun is in the cards. And they teach you some history too. You want to make the most of your cards, picking the most suitable ones to start empires, and using others effectively to spawn generals and as single-use special actions. You also want to manoeuvre the board situation so that it will suit your next empire.

I started my first empire in the Far East. Allen started in the Middle East near the centre of the board. Han started in the Americas. Unfortunately for me my Asian empire was soon destroyed, and after that I switched to working on starting African empires. That didn't quite work out, because I was blocked by the Middle East. Middle East is a special, single-territory region. If anyone attacks Middle East, the attacker always rolls one die, and the defender two, regardless of who controls the adjacent territories. So Middle East is a tough nut, and it got me bottled up in the Sahara for quite a while.

Middle East is the black territory on the left.

The bigger pawns are the leaders, and the smaller ones the generals.

Han quickly conquered the Americas, and since invading the Americas required an amphibious assault (i.e. up front payment of shipping fee), neither Allen nor I were keen about it. That gave Han a free hand to snipe at our territories in the other regions. He already controlled the Americas, and there was nothing else to do but to attack elsewhere. Meanwhile Allen and I bickered over territories in the contiguous Europe-Africa-Asia land mass. Eventually Han won the game, having achieved an empire size of 13 (out of the max of 18). In hindsight, Allen and I should have persisted in attacking the Americas.

*angin - Malaysian slang meaning a streak of good luck. Literally it means wind.

Game end score. Han (yellow) won by a mile. I (green) was last.

The Thoughts

World Conquerors is a light wargame that may seem a little Risk-like but it is more streamlined, it has a fixed number of rounds, and it is driven by a rather different underlying engine, which creates a feeling of escalation all the way to the final round. It is important to gauge the pace and judge the board situation, so that you pick the right moment to strike for the highest empire size. The leader cards are fun. They drive the game, provide variability, and sometimes also entertain. There is a fair bit of luck (and I'm not saying this just because I lost miserably), but good card play and positioning are rewarded.

Washington is cute. You get an advantage if you attack the player controlling Britain. Ooh... we have a rebel here!

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