Monday, September 26, 2011

IPad app review: Conquest


Conquest by Sean O'Connor is a Risk-style strategy game designed for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.  There is a free version that is the same as the full price game but comes with only one map.  Conquer the world by deploying your armies, invading countries and rolling the nuclear dice*.

(* - dice may not actually be nuclear)

How does it work?

The player, along with a host of either computer-controlled ones, or real human ones, has a certain number of armies that are placed in countries.  On each turn, the player can choose to invade a neighbouring country by dragging a sufficiently-sized army to that country.  Up to three (computer-controlled) dice are rolled in attack and two in defense.  Where one dice is higher than the other, an army is lost.  In the case of ties, victory is given to the defense.  If a country loses all its occupying armies, the invading army becomes ruler, imposes martial law and erects statues of themselves all round the capital.  Alright, maybe not.

A minimum of 3 armies are given to each player at the beginning of a turn as reinforcements.  The more countries that are under a players influence, more armies are given as reinforcements.  If a player controls a whole territory (such as Africa), extra bonus armies are given.  To spice things up, after a player has successfully invaded a country, they are given a card.  Collect 3 cards of the same type, and they get yet another army bonus of varying amounts.  3 _different_ cards results in the biggest bonus of 12 armies. 

It sounds complicated but after a couple of turns, it becomes second nature.


The graphics are colourful but extremely basic.  I'm from the school they knocked down to make the old-school so basic graphics don't faze me.  It's all in the gameplay.  And there's a difference between bad graphics and basic.  Basic means no frills, but functional.  Bad is just ... bad.  Some of the maps will scroll and zoom while others are annoyingly static.  It's easy to see where armies are, who is dominating the game board and how many cards your opponents are carrying.  The maps are drawn nice enough and if you're used to the original Risk board game, you'll instantly recognise the standard World one.  There's a little animation as your armies crush an opposing force (or the other way round) but it really is little.


It's poor, it grates and within seconds you'll be reaching for the mute button.  It's basically some explosion sounds, the odd cavalry trumpet charge and that's about it.  I've never had the sound on long enough to hear anything else.  I advise you do the same.


Brilliant, in a word.  Addictive would be another.  Past all that basic-ness, there's something strangely compelling about Conquest.  The computer AI, on the very hard level, is a strong opponent.  Like most AI in video games, it does follow a pattern but hats off to the author here as he has managed to fit in a surprising amount of depth to the automated opponents.  Even though there is a pattern, it doesn't necessarily make it easier to play.  There are one or two maps where it seems nigh on impossible to get any kind of breakthrough.  Of course, the dice rolls and cards are random it just *seems* like every opponent is out to get you, making it a very challenging game.

Settings and Maps

There are various settings that allow different modes of play with changeable rules for card bonuses, start-up and how battles are calculated, extending longevity.  The paid-for version comes with something in the region of an extra twenty maps in addition to the bog-standard Risk-like World one.  Disappointingly, a couple are virtually unplayable due to the confusing map layouts but most provide a varied and exciting challenge.  Twin Volcanoes is particularly good with an extremely well-balanced game board.  There are also maps covering England, London (really), Russia, Middle Earth, star galaxies and others.  On its App Store page, Conquest is promising to deliver more maps soon (March 2011).  They've been saying it for a couple of months now so I wait in anticipation.

Differences to Risk

  • Each country in Conquest is assumed to have at least one army in it even if it's blank.  The number of available armies to attack is one less than is _actually_ in that country.  I can see why they've done this as it allows countries with only 1 army to be represented by its colour alone to avoid lots of numbers cluttering the view.  Oh my goodness, that was geeky.
  • There are no objective cards.  In Conquest, it's kill or be killed.  Destroy all opponents.  Nuke 'em!  Nuke 'em!
  • There are no actual 'Nukes' in the game, despite my previous statement.
  • There are no actual little soldiers to play with and make huh-huh-hu-hu-hur machine gun noises.  It _is_ a video game after all.  You can still make the noises but you'll look really weird on the train.  Stops people sitting next to you though.

Bad Bits

  • It cheats like a good 'un.  I'm absolutely, positively, confidently, _almost_ sure about this.  It's convenient to only give me a 4-army bonus when I could really do with 12 and ooh look, you're just about to wipe me out by invading Spain.  How _very_ convenient ... you cheating f**********d w**t r*****ly testicle.
  • The light blue army is incredibly vicious.  It's got it in for me, I'm sure.  This highlights a slight fault in the AI as it will nearly always attack the human player, even when there are glaringly more obvious moves available.  Grrr.  The AI is forming a clique.  Next thing: We'll all be slaves to our machine masters.
  • The lower than very hard-level levels are not very hard (I'm not sure that worked as a sentence).  They tend to bunch together in countries, building up a huge army size but not actually attacking anything.  Get out there and fight soldier, what are you?  A man or a mouse?
  • Squeek.
  • It can be frustrating trying to gain any kind of advantage on some of the maps.  London in particular is very difficult especially with the AI's propensity for bullying and picking on humans.

Personally, I always look beyond the graphics of a game as I'm a 'veteran' of video game playing so with that in mind, Conquest is incredibly compelling.  At the end of the day, it basically consists of pushing numbers around a board but has a well-balanced level of strategy in spite of that.  It doesn't have any frills because it doesn't need them.  Perhaps a modicum of imagination is needed to look beyond the numbers and imagine they are real armies, playing out Armageddon in the palm of your hand.  It makes *me* feel like an omnipotent deity, with the power to rule and destroy mankind, to crush rebellions, to impose my will on whole nations of people, to rule with an iron fist and to declare the whole world under the debauched machinations of Papa The Magnificent.  Welcome to my world now, welcome to ... Papadonia.  And all in my lunch hour too, while I eat a packet of Pickled Onion Star Raiders and a Sainsburys Value pie.  Muaha. Muahaha. Muahahaha. Muahahahaha.

Final word: It's a terrific example of substance over style and is a game I thoroughly recommend, particularly for fans of the Risk board game. 

Available from the App Store for £1.19.  Seriously, £1.19 is a stupidly cheap price for a great time-filler as this.  For comparison, £1.19 will buy a small thimble of petrol, or half a bacon sandwich from Greggs, or 4 pages of a copy of Mayfair (the middle pages of course).

You'll like this if ... you have ambitions of world-wide dominance.
You won't like this if ... you'd rather watch Lark Rise to Candleford instead.

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