Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Board Game Review - Conquest of the Fallen Lands

Before I get started here, allow me to remind all you loyal readers that you've got two more days to send in your pictures for the Spread the Word contest. I've had several great entries so far - one guy gave a copy of the flyer to Rob Daviau! - but I've got lots of prizes, and as long as you send in something, your odds of coming away with a prize are pretty damned good. Like approaching 1.

So with the blatant self-promotion out of the way, allow me to discuss one hell of a good game that you've never even heard of before. And the reason you haven't heard of this game is because it's published by a little one-horse company out of Seattle called Assa Games (I may, as I write this review, 'conveniently' leave off the last 'a' now and then). The publishers are also the designers, and honestly, that doesn't usually bode well. Most self-published games rate somewhere between crappy and soul-suckingly horrendous. Small Box Games is one exception; Ass Games (see, I did it already) is another. Except that, where Small Box Games manages to release games on a pretty regular basis, Assa has only managed one. It's a good game, but I wonder why they don't ever pull their heads out and make another one.

Anyway, the theory behind Conquest of the Fallen Lands is that monsters have taken over this remote realm. The entire countryside (which is composed of randomly-placed hexagons) is occupied by the forces of evil, and you and your fellow noblemen feel obliged to kick them out. Of course, once you invade, you're probably stuck there fighting insurgents without an exit strategy, but that happens after the game is over, so it's not our problem.

Every noble starts off with two loyal followers. These can be any combination of mages, craftsmen or warriors. Sadly, vice presidents are not potential followers, which is a shame because then you could get really juicy contracts to redevelop the area after you kick out the orcs. You'll have to get by with Blackwater knights and Halliburton craftsmen.

In order to take over a section of the Fallen Lands, you'll need to play troop cards. You can afford these if you call on your warriors. They have to be volunteers - that goes without saying. Institute a draft and everyone will be coming home tomorrow.

Every troop card has a cost in warriors, craftsmen or wizards (or combination of those). You need three craftsmen to build a catapult, two warriors to put together a team of light cavalry, and two craftsmen plus two wizards to fabricate a war golem. You need forty-two contractors to build a toilet seat, which is probably why there aren't any in the game.

Troop cards have two values. Their attack value is a measure of how well they'll fight at the front of the battle, and for the first field you take, that number is all that matters. You'll probably start off slow, taking out a couple one-point orc stragglers, but you'll need some pretty hefty firepower to take out the dragon, and the Orcish Republican Guard will require considerable support.

And to get that support, each troop card on the field lends its support value to any hexes next to it. So if you've got archers in one spot, and cannons next to them, even light cavalry can take a pretty tough opponent. Since your troops all stay on the field for the whole game, you'll start small and build up, so that the game builds to a big finish. Then you're stuck there for a hundred years, but that's a small price to pay for the spread of democracy.

You can also build fortifications in lands you already occupy. Craftsmen can turn a previously conquered area into a green zone, and the forts you erect can add their support to attacks on outlying areas.

To really mix things up, you can make your wizards go to work casting spells, making wondrous devices, and calling in tactical air strikes. The magic cards can really turn the game on its head - your opponents may be eyeballing a field they think you can't take, and then BAM! one troop surge later, you're in there.

Of course, you can't go attacking your fellow liberators. You're one big coalition for world peace. So even if your opponent wants the same spot as you, he can't grab it if you get there first. And if you're a great big military force that generates a historically significant national debt to support an oversized army but still somehow can't find the cash to armor your siege engines, you'll probably be able to grab a lot of land from the guy who placed all his troops in stupid places while you went in and grabbed the capital city.

The goal of the game is to get paid. Every time you grab land, you get cash equal to the strength of the troops you had to defeat to get there. Happily, the Fallen Lands are rich in resources, so you can really clean up if you can take out the big enemies. This is probably why you're not going after the Tin Despot Lands - they don't have anything to steal (their people have to eat dirt, for crying out loud!), even if they do pose a more significant threat, and you can't win if you're broke. Of course, that money might be spent before the game is over - you've got to keep recruiting if you want to stay in the game. You'll need to hire more warriors, and then more wizards, and then more warriors, and more craftsmen, and more warriors, and you might wind up with a barrel full of pork for your trouble.

Once the entire country is liberated, it's time to count up your money. The player with the most cash wins. You don't even have to do real accounting - you get to keep all the money, and you don't even have to pay back the national debt. You can leave that for the people who have to clean up the mess you made in the Fallen Lands. Maybe it's for the best that you decided against bringing freedom to the Chaotic Lands - that's a mess you won't ever be able to resolve, as previous leaders have illustrated by getting their asses handed to them. Plus the Chaotic Lands don't have oil.

Conquest of the Fallen Lands is a really good game. It's a shame the creators don't make more games - I would play them. Considering the low budget production for the game, it's surprising how fun the game is to play. It would be more interesting if you could fight your fellow liberators, especially if you could claim friendly fire and offer a big mea culpa and a shrug, but that would sort of ruin the whole concept.

Maybe later Assa Games will make a game where two equally incompetent lords compete to be the next prince by offering empty promises and pointless-but-charismatic speeches, while a rival prince takes Geritol and talks really slow. The primary qualifications of the rival lords could be basically handy gimmicks that make the peasants think they're part of history. That might be a fun game, too.


Clever, nearly luck-free game
Lots of forethought required to stay competitive
Plays pretty fast, and turns go quickly
Opportunities for not-so-subtle political commentary abound

A little too Euro for lots of people
A little too Ameritrash for lots of other people
Fairly crappy art and components (but don't let it sway you - this is still a good game)

Most retailers won't carry Conquest of the Fallen Lands, but you can buy it direct from the publishers:


Hendal said...

Another great review, and you are right, I have never heard of this one. I will be checking this one out.

Thanks for the heads up!

Other reviews I would love to see:

Space Hulk
Quest for Faysylwood
Star Wars, Queen Gambit
Galaxy Trucker

Matt Drake said...

I wouldn't mind taking a crack at some of those myself. I would love to get my hands on a copy of Space Hulk, and I've been wanting to try Galaxy Trucker for a while. Queen's Gambit was like the tree from which the Heroscape apple fell. I'll see what I can do.

Hendal said...

So now I really need Queen's Gambit. Thank God I don't have kids so I can afford all these game I must have! 3 reviews a week, 2 are good, that is only a hundred games a year, lets say 60 I must have - he he

Cutthroat Caverns looks interesting also.