The first thing that jumps out at you about fantasy miniatures game Conquest is its models - because they’re huge! Scaled to 38mm instead of the usual 28mm, they have a real presence as they tower over your infantry figures from other wargames, even enhanced warriors like Primaris Space Marines and Stormcast Eternals.
Other than that, Conquest doesn’t necessarily stand out from the pack at first glance. There are six factions available so far and most of them fall into common fantasy archetypes: knights, vikings, dwarves, orcs and such. There are no flashy gimmicks, no fancy custom dice - just buckets of good old d6s - and no pop culture licence attached. Instead, Conquest is just an absolutely superb game. In fact, it’s the most excited I’ve been about a minis game in ages. To understand why, we have to talk about the omnipresent elephant in the wargames room: Games Workshop.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a large miniature wargame company and what was once your flagship product is now underperforming. In fact, it’s underperforming so severely that you decide to literally blow up the setting and start again. That’s precisely what Games Workshop did with Warhammer Fantasy Battles when it waved goodbye to the Old World and hello to the Mortal Realms with Age of Sigmar’s release in 2015. Despite a somewhat rocky start, it’s not particularly controversial to say that the Warhammer we have now is worth the loss of the fussy mess it had become.
That’s not to say the demise of WFB didn’t leave a square hole in a lot of hearts. Unlike pretty much every other game GW makes, WFB used square bases instead of round ones to facilitate lining up your soldiers in tight, rectangular units. The idea is to represent the likes of pike blocks and lines of archers and focus on manoeuvring these formations for the best advantage. This style of game is known as rank-and-flank, itself a play on rank-and-file, because your models are arranged in ranks and charging an enemy's flank is often the best course of action.
TLAOK moves quickly. Not just by the standards of rank-and-flank, but mass battle games in general.
Of course, WFB wasn’t the only fantasy rank-and-flank game in town. There were and are alternatives, such as Kings of War and A Song of Ice and Fire, but it's a much more popular style in the land of the sheds, where the historical wargamers dwell. On top of that, they are almost always mass battle games, which means lots of minis and the associated large investment of time and money to get started. Not something one can dabble in easily.
Conquest is a fantasy miniatures wargame by studio Para Bellum that comes in two slightly different flavours: Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings is a rank-and-flank mass battle game, while Conquest: First Blood 2 covers smaller skirmishes. The rules for both are freely available from Para Bellum’s website and they use exactly the same miniatures, meaning that you can happily play both with the same collection. While FB2 is a perfectly decent skirmish game, we’re not short on those by any means, so it’s TLAOK that we’re going to focus on for now. So, why is it so great?
TLAOK moves quickly. Not just by the standards of rank-and-flank, but mass battle games in general. My first game wasn’t quite the recommended 2000 points, but around 1200, which was still enough for half-a-dozen or so units per side and well over 100 miniatures on the table. It took less than two hours, from start to finish. According to my much more experienced opponent, that’s typical of full-sized 2000 point battles once both players are familiar with the rules. As anyone who has spent an entire afternoon stuck in a game that they were clearly going to lose, that’s a huge deal.
Conquest manages this by slicing up a typical game turn and the huge possibility space of a mass battle game into discrete chunks. For starters, there is no initial deployment phase. Instead, you roll at the start of each turn to see which of your units appear on the battlefield, with only your light troops having any chance of showing up on the first turn. Each turn increases the likelihood of them appearing, while your medium and heavy units get a chance to come on as the game goes on. This effectively eliminates not only the need to spend ages setting up the game, but those slow early turns where you’re just moving units forward with nothing really happening.
The game uses alternate activations (players take turns moving and attacking with individual units, rather than your entire army at once) and you decide your activation order at the start of the turn, by arranging cards representing each unit on the table into a small deck called the Command Stack. When it’s your turn to activate a unit, you draw the top card of your deck and take two actions with the appropriate unit, before it’s back over to your opponent.
Actions cover exactly what you’d expect: marching, charging, attacking with ranged or melee weapons. With the exception of marching, you can’t take the same action twice. This speeds up the game immeasurably. Instead of having to decide between the possible actions of every unit on the table, you’re focused on a single unit and the tactical possibilities directly in front of them.
For a game still in its infancy, the quality of what’s on offer is astounding.
A good example of this is charging. Unlike a lot of games, combat in Conquest doesn’t happen automatically. Instead, you have to take a Clash action on a unit’s turn. Charges are randomised, with units charging a distance equal to their March characteristic plus a 1d6 roll in inches. This means that you’ll frequently have to choose between moving into position and then making a safe charge - tying up your enemy and, in the case of some units like cavalry, scoring impact hits - or going for a riskier long-distance charge and being able to attack afterwards.
When your armies do eventually clash, combat is quick and simple to resolve. Checks are made by rolling equal to or under the relevant characteristic on a d6. You roll your attacks against your Clash value to generate hits, your opponent rolls the number of hits against their Defence or Evasion, and any failures become wounds. At this point your opponent rolls the wounds again, this time against their Resolve characteristic. Failures become additional wounds, representing soldiers fleeing from battle piecemeal. After that, wounds are allocated and models removed as necessary. It’s quick, especially once you become familiar with your troops’ characteristics and special rules, but still has the satisfying clatter of rolling handfuls of dice, which is a hard balance to strike.
Conquest is fun and fast, but the icing on the cake is the high level of support from Para Bellum. Alongside rules, army lists and excellent army building tools for both TLAOK and FB2 are available on the publisher’s website. There’s piles of lore, information on tournaments and an entire Living World campaign that allows you to direct the story of Conquest going forward. For a game still in its infancy, the quality of what’s on offer is astounding.
The only wrinkle is that, for anyone used to Games Workshop’s plastic miniatures, the quality of Para Bellum’s product isn’t quite up to that standard. The sculpts are imaginative and generally gorgeous, with even more generic troops like the knights of the Hundred Kingdoms being packed full of character and having an almost Dark Souls vibe. It’s the engineering side of things that lets things down, with mould lines aplenty, especially on older models, and some occasionally fiddly assembly. It’s nothing that should put anyone off, especially if you have any prior modelling experience, but worth being aware of.
Conquest, especially The Last Argument of Kings, is fast, elegant and exciting - words that I never thought I’d say about a fantasy rank-and-flank game. For those still mourning the demise of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, it scratches a nostalgic itch while providing an entirely fresh take. For everyone else, it’s the perfect way to experience the joys of massed armies clashing without being bogged down in the mud of overly complex and stodgy rules.