Review: Conquest

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When it comes to indie strategy games with hex tiles, there aren’t a whole lot of them; especially compared to other genres like platformers. So when something like Conquest comes along, it’s nice to go back to that state of mind of when you were younger and played the hell out of Panzer General.

Conquest does a lot of things right, but it remains to be seen whether it will stand the test of time or whether it will just be a stepping stone for Proxy Studios.

Conquest (PC)
Developer: Proxy Studios
Released: October 2, 2010
MSRP: $9.99

The first thing you should know about Conquest is that it is a turn-based game, but turns play out simultaneously at the end of a round. If you never played one of those games before, imagine seeing a lonely tank in the hex next to you. You can try to attack that tank in that hex, but chances are that it will move away as you move in for a kill. Or a whole army will move in on that same hex you’re moving to yourself, obliterating your seemingly easy kill. Compared to traditional turn-based strategy, you have to think one extra step ahead of every move you take.

In its most basic form, Conquest is a game of land grabbing and control of resources — with one type of resource and three unit types for combat. Cities are your primary resource, and they need to be garrisoned by at least one unit to produce new units. Combat is pretty basic, but does offer some depth to those looking for it.

Units come in a rock-paper-scissors variety of troopers, tanks and bomber aircraft. Troopers get cut down by tanks, but they receive bonuses when flanking or when using mountain tiles. Tanks perform worse in mountains, but cut down troopers elsewhere. Bombers destroy tanks, but if they don’t end a turn at least one tile next to a controlled city, they die. Troopers also enjoy increased damage against bombers, turning bombers into more of a support attack role than an all around offensive unit.

While that sounds simple enough — or perhaps a bit boring for some — it’s when you combine this combat system with simultaneous turn-resolution that you quickly realize you have to think ahead more than usual. A game is won by whoever controls most of the map by the end of the last turn. So you can’t afford to sit around defending a small area when the enemy is capturing most of the map’s cities. But when you go on the offense, it’s easy to be outflanked and ambushed by the AI in the first couple of games.

Adding to the complexity are commander items that become accessible after a number of turns. Every two turns you receive a satellite to reveal one tile on the map, which has a recurring fog of war for your enemy to hide in. Satellites become your eyes when planning offense, or for keeping track of holes in your defense.

Every four turns you get a missile strike that you can use to utterly destroy whatever is in one tile, meaning you have to balance a large offensive force with the risk of it being instantly destroyed by an opponent’s missile. Finally you receive a drop pod with a small army every six turns, which helps with reinforcing troops or surprise attacks.

The main ideas in Conquest are simple but solid enough. You have to use the terrain and the fog of war to outwit your opponent, while capturing enough cities to out-produce him or her. When it comes to the actual fighting, you have to plan where your opponent will move and try to come out with a net advantage in attack power.

For instance, a bomber versus a trooper and a tank will result in the bomber winning. But only if your opponent didn’t just move the trooper and tank out of that hex, and didn’t send two tanks and three troopers into the hex-based trap of turn-based death. Balancing the environment, unit production and keeping net gains in attack power throughout a match is no easy feat. Luckily, matches don’t last very long and you get the gist of it after a couple of matches.

The sad thing is, all of this screams for human opponents. Except practically nobody is playing it online. There’s a ranked and an unranked room, which were perpetually empty every time I tried to find a game. The singleplayer doesn’t have any campaign of sorts, so unless you are happy enough to keep playing against AI over and over again until you found a winning strategy that always works, there isn’t a whole lot of game to play in Conquest.

You can configure a match for things like number of players, teams, the amount of terrain type hexes, turn length, or the maximum amount of turns available. So in a way, you can create a bit more longevity through this process, and the game does look pretty nice — even if you can’t zoom out very far. But it’s kind of having two sets of spaceship Lego. You can have fun with combinations of components for a while, but eventually you’ll want to do something more with it. And without wheels, you can’t build a Lego space car.

Conquest screams for an active multiplayer community which it just doesn’t have. There’s a handful of players you can schedule a match with in the game’s forums, but don’t expect to jump in a match at any time. Perhaps it’s not deep enough for fans of the simultaneous turn-based strategy genre, which is probably not the biggest fan base to start with. Perhaps some more singleplayer content would’ve helped to counter the lack of actual gameplay options available to you if you buy the game.

As it stands, it’s hard to recommend Conquest to anyone but the hardcore turn-based strategy fan. It is by no means a bad game, but essentially it’s just a very niche multiplayer game with very few active players. If you’ve been looking for a game like this to appease your turn-based hunger though, give the demo a try with some likeminded friends.

Score: 6 — Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

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