Review: Conquest of Nerath Takes Dungeons and Dragons to a New Realm

Nentire Vale may be a familiar setting for Dungeons & Dragons fans, but the Conquest of Nerath board game takes D&D into an entirely new realm of play: epic war gaming. That's not to say it is a game lacking D&D flavor, though. Instead of the gritty strategic gameplay of a Risk or Axis & Allies war game, Nerath spices the formula up with game-changing spells and dungeon-delving side quests. But do these additions create something uniquely great or a game with an identity crisis? Read on for the full review:

Just the Facts:

Players: 2-4

Playing Time: 120 minutes

Age: 12 to adult

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

MSRP: $79.99

Release: June 21, 2011

The Gameplay:

The gameplay in Conquest of Nerath builds upon a very familiar base of war games that have come before it. Players command large armies of miniatures in an attempt to conquer the most territories while expanding their forces and engaging in large battles along the way. On a typical turn, players will move their units, resolve combat, purchase new troops, and receive an income based on the number of territories they currently hold.

Yet while most war games remind us of hours upon hours spent rolling dice until one player quits out of submission, Conquest of Nerath aims to bottle up the entire experience in a two-hour play time. Nerath goes about this in several ways, which will be the focus of this gameplay rundown.

Frequent Combat: While most war games have players spending turn after turn assembling their forces before engaging in battle, Nerath is a game of bloodshed from turn one. Typically, players must capture and hold a large amount of territory in order to win the game, but Nerath awards a victory point for the act of capturing an enemy's starting territory. This encourages players to strike often simply to score a victory point even if they know they will not be able to retain control of the territory in later turns.

Armies also start with footholds in their neighbor's realms, encouraging early conflict, yet once these starting troops have nearly wiped each other out, reinforcements are quick to arrive due to relaxed movement rules. Flying units are allowed to end their combat in newly conquered territories, and are also granted second move during each turn. Newly deployed units are also quick to join the fight as they are granted a free move at the end of the turn in which they are first brought onto the board.

Event Cards: Each army has their own deck of event cards that can provide game-changing effects at a moment's notice. There are a wide range of powers granted by these event cards including free movements, additional troops, surprise defenses, and more. Players start with two event cards each but get to drawn an additional card at the beginning of each turn.

Dungeon Side-Quests: Even if there is no battle within reach, players can always opt to dive into one of the ten dungeon spaces on the board. However, in order to claim valuable treasure, they will have to fight their way through one or two monsters along the way. The details for the monsters in a dungeon are  kept secret until a player attempts to raid it, and combat between the raiding troops and monsters takes place just as a normal battle would (an opponent will roll the dice for the dungeon creatures). If a player is successful, they will get a powerful dungeon card that grants them both a special ability and one or two victory points, which can be kept secret until a player decides to show the treasure card in order to use its abilities.

Simplified Battles: There are only nine different types of units in Nerath, (footsoldiers, wizards, fighter, seige engines, monsters, dragons, storm elementals, castles,and warships) and each of them rolls only one die during a round of combat. This could be anything from a D6 for the footsoldier to a D20 for the dragon, but regardless of the die rolled, any result of six or more is a wound. Once the 6+ die rolls are counted up, they are easily applied to units as only the dragon has more than one wound. Every other unit that takes a wound is simply removed from battle.

The Components:

  • 1 Game board
  • 1 Rulebook
  • 1 Storage tray
  • 5 Reference cards
  • 252 Plastic figures

    • 80 Footsoldiers
    • 24 Siege Engines
    • 24 Fighters
    • 24 Wizards
    • 32 Monsters
    • 12 Castles
    • 16 Storm Elementals
    • 16 Dragons
    • 24 Warships

  • 50 Plastic chips
  • 80 Control markers
  • 2 Team markers
  • 30 Dungeon Guardian tokens
  • 80 Event cards
  • 30 Treasure cards
  • 80 Gold tokens
  • 16 Dice

    • 6 6-sided dice
    • 4 8-sided dice
    • 3 10-sided dice
    • 2 12-sided dice
    • 1 20-sided die

Holy components! You will surely get your money's worth with this game, yet the decisions made with some of Nerath's components range from pure genius to utterly puzzling. There's more good than bad, though, so let's get the negatives out of the way up front.

There are three valid complaints that can be made about the components in D&D: Conquest of Nerath. First up are the plastic chips, which are to be placed under army models to represent multiples of that unit type. The problem with these chips is that they are lifted directly from another Wizards of the Coast property, Axis & Allies, yet the Nerath models have wide bases that can sometimes mask the chips sitting underneath.

Second is the ineffective reference cards, which contain extremely helpful information on each side, yet contain outlines to place your army's event deck and discard pile atop the reference card. Storing your deck on top of the reference makes no sense if you will need to repeatedly flip the card over! The last complaint about components is the lack of dice. For a game that features epic battles where both sides attack simultaneously, there simply aren't enough dice included to have that epic standing roll-off.

Now it's time for the praise, because Nerath does a whole lot right! First up are the models, where Wizards of the Coast spared no expense. Although there are nine common unit types, the four armies have unique sculpts for each unit. These are high quality and beautiful sculpts as well, just take a look:

Even with such impressive miniatures, there is one major component in Nerath that takes the cake: the vacuum-formed insert. Let me be clear when I say that most "hardcore" board gamers despise such inserts and will immediately throw them in the trash the moment the box is opened. Usually, they will choose to re-pack their components in plastic bags or home made tuckboxes, but not with Nerath.

This is the only box insert I have ever seen where there is literally a dedicated space for every single type of component. What's more, everything closes up so tightly that it is nearly impossible to get a piece to jump into another compartment even if you flip the Nerath box over and shake it all day long. There will be no lengthy piece sorting before you get to play this game.

The production quality on all of the cards and tokens is high as well. With all of the different types of components included here, there are still no issues with warping or print quality. These problems are plaguing the board game industry, particularly with larger print run titles such as those from Wizards, so it is great to see them hit the mark here.

Final Thoughts:

If you enjoy a thematic board game, your choices are limited mostly to adventure or dungeon crawling games. With a few exceptions such as Rune Wars and War of the Ring, war games are mostly historical-themed and border on being more simulation than game. If that is what you are looking for in a game, you are going to hate Conquest of Nerath! However, if you are looking for a fresh take on the genre, this game is a great choice.

The event cards and dungeon treasures are positive additions because they inject a bit of randomness and excitement into a stuffy genre. They also provide the opportunity for the D&D flavor to seep through, as the event and treasure cards often reference classic spells, monsters, and treasures. While there are a few misses, the components are generally a strong point with a few aspects such as the miniature sculpts and box insert that are downright impressive.

In the end, there is most likely a place on your game shelf for Conquest of Nerath due to it's ability to provide a war game experience in 2 hours with a dash of excitement. if you've ever been in this situation:

then you need to add Nerath to your game group's rotation.

Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game.

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