Saturday, July 2, 2011

Conquest of Nerath -- Yep, it's D&D meets A&A

When I saw the promotional materials for the new Wizards of the Coast game Conquest of Nerath my first thought was "looks like Dungeons & Dragons meets Axis & Allies."

Well, first impressions aren't always wrong, after all, and saying Nerath is D&D meets A&A turns out to be a quite fair shorthand description.

It is not fair to say that the Dungeons and Dragons theme has just been slapped on to Axis & Allies, however. It's more accurate to say that the underlying game engine driving A&A has been repurposed to explore new strategic situations ans tactical combinations. A lot will seem familiar to veeram A&A players, but a dragon, for example, is not just a relabeled heavy bomber, but has its own unique tactical interactions.

The stargeic situtaion is completely different, of course, Unconstrained by historical facts or actual geography, the world of Nerath features much more evenly matched combatants. While each "nation" has the same force pool to draw from, each also has a unique deck of cards that provide a different "flavor" for each.

Combat is also unique and provides a D&D flavor by using different polyhedral dice for each kind of troop. The "hit" number is always 6+, but a lowly foot soldier rolls a D6 and therefore has just a 1 in 6 chance of a hit while a fighter rolls a D10 and therefore have a 5 in 10 chance of a hit.

The four nations each have a home area in a corner of the board, but they also have forward outposts in enemy territory. The central island has territory from all four nations on it, so conflict will be immediate.

One part of Conquest of Nerath that has no analog in Axis in Allies is the dungeons. Scattered across the board are dungeon spaces. Each is guarded by one or two hidden monsters that can only be attacked by two types of player units termed heroes: wizards and fighters. Players attack the space with a party of wizards and fighters and fight a battle against the guards. If the guards are defeated then the player can draw a treasure cards. These generally have powerful game effects and provide victory points as well.

Victory in the game is determined by victory points. Conquering an enemy home territory is worth one VP< capturing the enemy capital is worth 5 VP and most treasure cards provide VP as well, usually one or two each. The game can be played as a four-way free-for-all or as two alliances. Game lengths can be varied by setting different levels of victory pints needed.

There's a lot going on in this game, but based on my first play I noticed that the interrelationships between the units ny not be what an A&A player might expect. For example, the "foot soldiers" each side has are not as useful as their A&A analog of infantry. While A&A infantry is more powerful on defense, Nerath foot soldiers are equally worthless on attack and defense. While a fighter only costs twice as much as a foot soldier he is five times more likely to hit, moves twice as fast, can explore dungeons and can fight at sea aboard a ship. While a dragon costs five times as much as a foot soldier, it flies 3 areas each time it moves and it moves twice per turn,it rolls a D20 in its attack, and it takes 2 hits to destroy. The end result is that infantry will be much less common in this game than is typical in A&A, I expect.

A final word on component quality. Everything is the typical high-quality presentation we've seen with WOTC products. Nice cards, well-sculpted miniatures, thick counters, etc. Players may want to beef up the number of dice -- the plethora of dice sizes (D6,D8,D10,D12, D20) means that there aren't that many of each type and as an A&A-0style game you know you'll be throwing fistfuls. And there's just one player aid card summarizing the build costs and combat capabilities of the units. You'll want to make copies. This was not a good decision and is really inexplicbale, as Axis & Allies games have always included such cards for every player's reference during play or put the information on the boards.

Overall, though, a nice product and the table consensus was that this will see a lot of table time.

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