Designed by Eric M. Lang, Nate French, and Brad Andres. Published by Fantasy Flight Games. Released in 2014. For 2 Players ages 14+. Plays in 30-60 minutes. Copy purchased by reviewer.
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only card-based war.
At this point, Warhammer 40k is approaching being better known for all the other games and media that gets produced from the setting than the actual miniatures game. Books, pen and paper RPGs, movies, video games, and plenty of spin-off tabletop and board games have been produced over the years. Hell, there has even been card games produced previously before Fantasy Flight Games partnered with Games Workshop in 2008 to continues all things role-playing, board, and card game related.
This time around, Fantasy Flight Games is throwing their Living Card Game format at the property. For those not familiar, Living Card Games, or LCG, is Fantasy Flight Game’s name of their format for collectible card games. Eschewing the traditional model of random booster packs, LGC come in core sets and expansions that contain a fixed set of cards. No more hunting around for rare cards, you simply have all the cards you need to build with – as long as you’re keeping up with the new releases. Basically, you’ll always have the entire card pool available to you. So your deck building isn’t inhibited by having a playset of some $50 card. LCGs are the great way to get into a CCG without breaking the bank, though there is a much smaller resell market if you’re ever looking to get out.
Something that Warhammer 40,000: Conquest really nails is capturing the iconic Warhammer 40k universe, which is great to introduce someone who happens to be a fan of the setting. In almost no time you can have squads of Space Marines bringing the hammer of the Imperium down on berserking Orks, or the dastardly Dark Eldar scheming across from their equally tricky cousins the Eldar. Fantasy Flight Games does an excellent job of finding the central thread or theme to the races and working that into their mechanics. The Imperial Guard army puts a lot of emphasis on support structures and spawning lots of little guardsmen, whereas for example the Tau are centered on upgrading their units with attachments to build monstrously powerful mecha-styled units. With seven factions in the box, Space Marines, Tau, Eldar, Dark Eldar, Chaos, Orks, and Astra Miltarum (Imperial Guard), there’s a lot of replayablity with just the core set.
Further augmenting each decks strategy is the warlord. The warlord is the commander and general of the deck who starts the game on the field, and not only are they powerful units in their own right they also bring various special abilities to the fray. The warlords serve a bunch of different purposes in game. They determine where your reserve forces are committed each turn, where you want battles to occur and also as a secondary win condition, if your warlord is killed you lose. Each warlord also brings a suite of cards with them. When deck building you’re required to include these cards in the deck, and vice versa they can’t be included in a deck that doesn’t have that warlord. It limits construction a little, and higher level competitive play may likely hinge on what warlord is required to bring the least duds, but it’s an interesting way to promote the ‘build around’ nature of many of the warlords abilities as well as introducing a few really powerful cards without them taking over every deck.
One aspect about warlords that I was disappointed to see FFG not explore, though it honestly makes sense for the core set, is that they determine what your starting hand and resources are. All of the initial warlords are the same, but there’s a bunch of design space that can be delved into around balancing warlords that might, for instance, offer large starting hands, but fewer resources.
The game itself is simple to play and mostly intuitive once you grasp the basic interactions, but there’s a lot of strategy and planning to consider just below the surface. Setup is pretty damn easy, and Conquest can be played pretty much anywhere there’s a decent amount of flat surface. After selecting decks, players will shuffle up the 10 planet cards before dealing out seven of them. Five of the planets will be face up and two will start the game hidden facedown, and the last three are not used this time around. Each planet has a number of elements to it. The planets are worth a number of cards and resources when you’re in control of it, there’s also a battle ability that will occur once a battle has been won at the planet and finally and most importantly each planet has type symbols. The primary win condition in Conquest is to capture three planets that share a type.
After drawing their starting hands and resources, play begins with players taking turns deploying their units to the available planets. Once both players are finished, the game moves to the command phase. During this phase, the players will both secretly choose which planet to commit their warlord to – for the X:Wing miniatures players the little dials will be all too familiar. Some of the best games of Conquest will come down to the cat and mouse nature of trying to guess where the enemy warlord is going to be. The secondary objective of winning through killing the warlord ensures you’re never quite down and out even when your opponent is ahead. After commitment is completed each planet will check to see who control it with the most control icons on their units. Warlords also supersede all normal control, unless the enemy warlord is present to oppose them.
Battles will then occur at the first planet in the row and at any planet that the warlord is present at. During battles, each player will take turns exhausting, tapping, units to deal their listed damage against an enemy. Once a unit has more damage list on it than its health it is removed, though warlords have a second bloodied state. Not only do you need to take into account the raw listed stats on each card, but there are plenty of action cards to consider as well that may suddenly upset the tide of a battle. Most cards also have a shield value, and can be discarded to suddenly ignore some number of damage. You’ll need to balance having enough cards to continue to deploy fresh units to the field, but then also saving your units at key moments. Battle is decided once one player either destroys all the opposing units, or the oppositions elects to retreat and fight another day. If the battle occurred at the first planet then it is captured permanently, added to that players scoring area, and the next planet in line becomes the new first planet. Each player will collect some set resources and cards at the end of the turn, warlords return back the headquarters, and then the next round starts with deployment again.
When Conquest is at its best, a lot of the strategy comes down to figuring out where you want your points of contention to be; usually it will involve your third matching planet in the row. Like a good game of chess, you need to think a few turns ahead. Games can sometimes though devolve into a bit of a one sided stomping though. The secondary objective of killing the warlord helps, but if you make some key mistakes early it can easily feel like it’s impossible to get back into the game. But for the most part, even when losing badly, the game is a lot of fun to play. The natural back and forth nature to the game makes it pretty easy to pick up, but there’s still a lot to master.
Once you’ve got a few games under your belt, then you’re going to want to explore deck building. Unfortunately this is a bit weak at the moment, even when mixing two full core sets together. Having so many factions alleviates matters, just giving you a lot of variety just out of the box, but with all the various rules of what cards can be shared between factions there’s just not a lot of interesting choices to be made for the most part. Most of the cool units and action cards are restricted to that specific faction, so deck building mostly feels like swapping the boring generic units around. You might have a cool idea for a deck, and just find that there’s simply no way to support it with the current pool of cards.
This is however and issues that tends to be endemic to the Living Card Game genre, and one that gets quickly rectified with expansions. There are already three announced expansions for Warhammer 40,000: Conquest with new warlords, along with their signature cards, and more cards for the other factions. So hopefully before long Warhammer 40,000: Conquest will be as richly dense as some of the other LGC properties.
In keeping with Fantasy Flight Games standards, everything physical about the product is just excellent. The card art and design captures the Warhammer 40k universe really well, and the game box is a nice heavy cardboard stock. It’s perfect for fitting a bunch of sleeved decks, the rules, and the various tokens you need in order to play, making for a nice portable play experience.
Bottom Line: Like a good core set should, Warhammer 40,000: Conquest gives you enough to gets started with some ample replayability. However, once you move past that you may find the initial deckbuilding pool lacking until additional expansion packs become available.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of Living Card Games, the Warhammer 40k universe, or just looking to get in at ground level on a brand-new CCG environment, go grab Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, but you’ll probably want to pre-order the first few expansions while you’re at it.[rating=4.5]