Rome May Not Have Been Built In A Day, But Empires Can Be Built In Under An Hour.
My first brush with Jeff Siadek was at Origins 2011, where he was next to the Ninja Magic booth, selling copies of Battlestations. I introduced myself and told him I was a big fan of Battlestations. We chatted, and he was a truly nice, laid back kind of dude. One might not expect him to be a designer of conflict games based on his personality, but trust me, his latest creation under the Gorilla Games brand, World Conquerors (WC), has his trademark flair for carnage. That said, unlike Battlestations which is a very long game, WC is a one hour exploration of how Hitler would interact with Napoleon, had they both lived at the same time. Suffice it to say that it would be a glorious bloodbath, although history tells me to bet against France every time.
WC was sent to me at the same time as was Banditos, and I apologize for taking so long to get this review out, because this game is incredible. Unfortunately, with it’s "Riskesque" look I had a lot of trouble finding people who wanted to play it. But, after seven plays at this point, I’m no longer having the same problem. It’s nothing like Risk except that you have some territories, some armies, and you kill stuff. And that, in my estimation, is a good thing because I despise all Risk versions but Legacy. In fact, I would have to say that WC is actually unlike any other war game I’ve played. The only game I can think of that’s even close, and by close I mean a distant relation, is Smallworld, and that’s primarily due to the ever-changing leaders and the time track.
World Conquerors is not about conquering the entire board, there’s not any player elimination, and while you’re technically playing against everyone else, there’s more of a feeling that you’re simply trying to pick off the lowest-lying fruit, which are generally wherever your enemy isn’t. "What," say you? That’s right, the object of WC isn’t to smoosh all of your opponents into little rippy bits, it’s to have the maximum amount of territories owned at one time. The catch is that you only have four rounds of battle to do it in. As such, there is no king making, and the game can be played just as well with two, three or four. Obviously, it’s harder to get as high a score in four player games as there will be more opposition, but at the end of the day, the whole premise of the game is that you’re just trying to build the largest empire you can, measured at the end of each turn, rather than dominate others. It just works remarkably well.
Now, let’s talk about the bits for all of you bit-crazies like myself out there. The game’s box, bits, and cards are all of very nice quality, with the box art having great illustrations and the cards have decent depictions of the conquerors you can play to the table during the game. There’s a ton of wooden cubes which represent single armies, and there’s beads which represent a legion of five armies, all of which are also very nice quality. In essence, I’m not unhappy that there’s no expensive plastic soldiers, a sheet of supply tokens or some such other crap, because the game just simply wouldn’t benefit from it, and as it rests, the game is really inexpensive due in part to the lack of that crap. Considering that you can get the game at Coolstuff for $26.00, you really can’t beat the value. Just as with Banditos, there’s a lot more game in the box than the low price would indicate. All in all, it’s a steal of a deal, especially after I tell you how it plays.
I think the best part of what comes in the box is the rulebook, though. There’s not a lot of things in there that require an FFG-esque 20 page FAQ with highlights and pictures. It’s really not that complex of a game, and the rules are all laid out in…wait for it…a total of eight pages, only six of which actually have rules on them. It’s definitely one of the easier games to learn and put into play, but that doesn’t mean it’s a throw away. In a way, the game reminds me of Small World, but with much more direct interaction, with more random, and with a better and more historical flavor. I’ve included a link to the rules at the bottom, and I invite you to check it out. It’s a shame there’s not more reference to the cards because the cards really are where the game play kind of melds into the finished product, so to speak.
What makes this game special and different is really in the goal. As I said, instead of conquest based on eliminating enemies, the object is to, by the end of the fourth round, have built the largest one-time empire. What this means is that you don’t need to end the game with the most territories owned, you simply need to have, at one time, had the largest empire in history. It’s unique and fascinating in its implementation, and I have to admit that it is one of the best empire builders I’ve played, based primarily on it’s terseness and lack of rubbish chrome ornamentation. This doesn’t even begin to talk about the fact that it scales well and is one of the only war games I’m aware of that can be played with three players and be a rubbish exercise in king making.
The game play is based on the idea that you start each round with a grand emperor, who are historical nasties and not-so-nasties, all of whom have special abilities. You have a set amount of armies, and you simply start taking territories by a simple roll off. Now, this is where the game really shines: If the territory has an occupying army, the defender gets to roll an extra die for each adjacent territory that is occupied, where you get to roll one for each of your territories bordering the defending territory. So, you really are simply trying to pick off the easiest targets most of the time. Now, while this isn’t much different than any other territory conquest game, what IS different is that you have very little in the way of compelling reasons to do so. Similar to Smallworld, the points you score are based solely on the number of territories you hold at the end of your turn, but unlike that game, the points are not cumulative. The highest score you ever had is your score. It’s like the song says, "I’m not as good as I once was, but I was as good once as I ever was!"
Another unique thing about the game is that the Conqueror cards are multipurpose, to say the least. One is always played at the beginning of a round as your Ruler, which gives you a bonus and a mission. Their pawn is also placed on the board in their home location, which are treated as Generals, who give you a re-roll in battle. Further, the cards can be played as Generals in and of themselves, which act like rulers in a way, but they only allow re-rolls. The third way to play a card is as an agent, which is used to help or hurt your opponents during battles, or give a bonus in some way. It’s very Clowdus-esque in the sense that each card can be played in myriad diabolical ways, and I think that the cards inexorably promote the theme and pair with it well.
As to the cards, there’s a wide variety in what they do. Some give bonuses only to one kind of battle such as a naval battle, one allows you to transpose 6’s into 9’s, one allows you to move your General pawns thus giving you more situational flexibility. The fact that they can be played three ways really makes the game exciting, and there’s a lot of cards to choose from. Unfortunately, though, you start with only three cards and during the game you only get one additional card per turn, meaning you will always have a tough decision to make regarding implementation. Do you use them as an agent to cause trouble? Do you use them as a General? Do you make them your Ruler for this turn? Some of the decisions are agonizing, which just further underscores how great the game is. The tension can be truly excruciating, and there’s several times in every game I’ve played that I wished I had one more turn, or one more card, which in my opinion is a sure way to determine whether a game’s length and pacing is a match for the game play.
Now at this point I’d normally have a complaint or two. Maybe it’s priced too high, maybe the plastic is terrible quality and can’t be easily painted, like Flying Frog’s minis, maybe the game is just too dull, too long, too short, too silly, too light, too heavy, maybe it has a pasted-on theme….SOMETHING. But honestly, there’s just nothing bad to say about this game. Turns are short, there’s a good amount of player interaction, the bits and art are all good, and it just seems to do everything right. I Can’t even call it soul-less because if there’s anything that Jeff Siadek can do to a game, it’s give it a soul. So, really, the only negative that I can mete is that perhaps the game is too random in that if you roll poorly you will be destined for failure. To me, though, it’s not a negative. Just as the Spanish Armada lost to the English back in 1588, partly due to skill, but in large part due to bad luck, so can you lose the game if you have ruddy luck. In other words, it’s a matter of taste.
Why I Love To Conquer The World, Repeatedly:
- Solid game play and unique theme make this a remarkable conquest game
- The mechanics’ implementation makes the sum greater than the parts
- A three player war game? Whatchoo Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis?? Yep, it’s true!
- One hour to rule the world!
- The price of Gorilla Games are great, and for $26 bones you’re a fool to not get this
Why This Game May Never Even Grow Up To Be A Tin Pot Dictator:
- A lot of random, so if you can’t handle that, go back to Waterloo
- AP prone players may take longer than they need to during turns, maybe
- People who like these kinds of games MIGHT find it a bit too light
It’s really simple to me – if you’re looking to get a conquest "Dudes on a Map" type game with card play and that only runs about an hour, look no further. If you’ve ever played Risk or Axis and Allies but never get it to the table due to length, look no further. Hell, if you liked Smallworld but wanted more meat, then you should definitely get this. In all cases, if you’re a fan of Ameritrash games, you should certainly do your level best to give the game a try, because as far as these kinds of games go, to pack this much game in a $26 box and an hour of play time is just spectacular. Suffice it to say, I will be very sad when this goes off to a reader’s home tomorrow, as promised him. Yes, I’m still giving away the last review copies that I got before the July 4th moratorium I imposed on the site…and this is one of the last casualties.
Rules of the game:
Buy it direct from Jeff and cut out the middle man: http://siadek.com/