I am Broccoli, most intelligent vegetable!
I will destroy you all!
As a bit of background, I am a former Magic: The Gathering (MtG) player, but I haven't played since the Urza cycles. One of my greatest distastes for MtG was the possibility of getting "land shafted" or "card shafted" and having one player get totally stomped, through no fault of their own. These days, I tend to prefer cooperative games, since it typically results in less AP issues, and when someone gets stomped, we all get stomped together. I tell you these things because they both directly impact my opinion of this game. On one hand, I constantly still have a certain itch that MtG used to scratch, and on the other, I typically don't play that many head-to-head games anymore.
This made Conquest Tactics an interesting proposition for me. It has certain aspects that I enjoyed about MtG: deck building, summoning creatures, resource management, and spellcasting, and it also neatly does away with those aspects I liked the least: potential for a "resource screw" and being a "collectable" game with rares and random packs. However, it is also a straight-up, head-to-head battle, which is something I've strayed away from recently. Despite my misgivings about the latter, I decided to give the kickstarter for it a shot, and I have actually found this to be a very cool and engrossing game. I'll give more of my thoughts after the game summary.
I'm not going to go into a great deal of details here, as the rules are posted online. I'm just going to touch briefly on the various phases, as you'll need to be familiar with them for the forthcoming review.
While the core set comes with 3 pre-constructed decks, the game allows for deck building. To be clear, I don't mean Dominion-style deck building. I mean the old-fashioned MtG style building where you sit down with a bunch of cards and create a deck before you ever play the game. Similar to MtG, the game provides rules for deck-building (no more than 5 copies of a single troop, no more than 3 of a single spell/skill, etc).
The objective of the game is actually NOT specifically to kill your opponent or their troops. In fact, your "opponent" doesn't exist. He has no life points nor is he targetable. Each player has a base that provides static benefits and can be attacked, but destroying this is not your opponent's (only) objective either. Instead, as part of constructing your deck, you include 4 Victory cards that specify conditions that will earn you a "victory". To be fair, killing a certain value of enemy troops and defeating an opponent's base are typical victory conditions, but these are not the ONLY Victory cards there are. Some earn points for having lower level troops defeat higher level troops and others earn points for "invading" your opponent's side of the board. The first player to win 3 victories wins the game.
The game is played on a 5x5 grid. Each player deploys a "base" and selects an initial army of 20 tactical points worth of troops and deploys them on their side of the grid.
The game uses the acronym TRIUMPH for it's phases. Each phase is briefly summarized.
Each player resets their tactical points to a pre-defined total (It begins at 5 and increases by 2 every round).
Each player draws up to a hand of 5 cards, or +1 if they already have 5 or more.
Players exchange the Initiative token (used to break ties for who goes first).
Up the Field
Players take turns advancing their troops.
Players take turns deploying cards and spells. They also have the option to "upgrade" troops. This increases their stats and abilities for a significantly cheaper cost than summoning the advanced troop and heals the troop some.
This is where most of the action takes place. Players take turns spending tactical points to have their troops move, attack, cast spells, and use abilities.
Here you resolve any "halt" actions, and you check for satisfying Victory conditions.
Note: I kickstarted the game. I'm unclear if there are versions that were published prior to Kickstarter or not, but my components are from Kickstarter. I have found the components to be great. The board is sufficiently large, and the tactical point sliders are easy to read. You could probably use a few more tokens for tracking wounds, but it's not a big deal. I've seen some complaints about the cardstock, but I always sleeve any cards in a game, and I did with this one. Sleeved, the cards seem fine to me. I didn't spend a lot of time examining them outside sleeves, so YMMV, but with sleeves, the cards seem great.
I really like the art for this game. I think the images are rich and varied, and I like how each faction really seems to have it's own artistic flavor. As a side note, the flavor text on the cards are really well written. They do a good job of providing information about the "realm", and some are very humorous as well.
I really, really like this game. As stated above, it scratches that MtG itch, but it gets rid of most of the problems I had with it. It is expandable, but not collectable (no random boosters). While there is definitely resource management, each player starts each turn with a set number of Tactical Points, so there's no "land shafting". You are drawing cards from a shuffled deck, so randomly "useless" hands are possible, but in the Mobilize phase, you can discard cards for extra deployment points, so you can easily empty your hand and draw a whole new one next turn, so this is rarely a problem. Additionally, having each player select 20 points worth of stuff at the beginning of the game serves 2 very important purposes. 1) It further alleviates the "bad opening hand" scenario, and 2) it gets the game going with a bang. Any veteran MtG player can tell you about how boring the first 3-4 turns of a game can be. "I put down a land, your turn." I also LOVE the mechanism of upgrading troops. I haven't seen anything like it in similar games (not saying it doesn't exist, just that I haven't seen them), and I think it adds a really interesting aspect to the game. It lets you decide whether you want to swarm your opponent with hordes of cheap troops, or continuously upgrade a smaller number of more powerful troops (or some combination of the 2). Since it also heals the troop, it even provides a mechanism to stave off death of a "favorite" troop.
While all of these aspects are incredibly cool, I think one thing that really sets this game apart is the Victory cards. Changing the game from just a slugfest to a game where you can engineer your deck to exploit specific Victory conditions really makes a difference. Even if your opponent just chooses all the "kill enemy troop" type objectives, he still has to be aware of what conditions you've chosen for your deck, or he could lose well before getting enough kills. Additionally, it helps assuage my issues with direct head-to-head games. This one is less about attacking your opponent and more about completing your victory conditions while preventing your opponent from completing his. It creates a certain level of indirection that makes the game feel less adversarial to me.
There are obvious comparisons between this game and others. The one that is most obvious to me is Summoner Wars. Even the designer thinks so: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1895600797/conquest-tact... I've played Summoner Wars several times at BGGCon, and while I liked it, for some reason it never grabbed me enough to invoke a purchase. The art for SW actually kinda bothers me, and the dice rolling made the game unappealing to me. Also, it's deck construction just always seemed kinda limited to me. By no means am I saying Summoner Wars is a bad game; I'm just saying that between the 2, I prefer Conquest Tactics. IMHO, where Conquest Tactics has SW beat is the varied victory conditions, the leveling-up mechanic for troops, and lack of dice. As with many things, YMMV, I know lots of people love rolling dice
I think it's a great game. For me, it scratches the pre-constructed deck itch, and I personally can't wait to see more. More factions, more victory conditions, and more troops/spells will greatly expand the potential for this game, and I'm looking forward to snagging them.
If you missed out on the first kickstarter, there is currently one running for the expansion, and there are rewards that include the starter set as well http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1895600797/conquest-tact...
Glad to see that someone else likes the game as well!!