This is the first of a new series exploring the world of Eä created by Para Bellum. Conquest has two distinct games: The Last Argument of Kings, a rank and flank massed infantry game and First Blood which is a skirmish game. In this series we’ll be focusing on The Last Argument of Kings, classic rank and flank fantasy warfare.
Special thanks to Para Bellum for providing a significant amount of review material. In addition, if you want to get 10% off and support Goonhammer, make your Conquest purchase by clicking here for US/Canada or here for EU/rest of world. You’ll also need to enter code “goonhammer” at checkout. Look, we don’t make the rules, that’s just how it works!
What Is Conquest?
Conquest is a game about managing chaos.
The heart of this game is the reinforcement mechanic – the brilliant, scintillating idea from which everything else flows. It works as follows: Light units arrive on the table on a 4 or less on turns one and two and then automatically on turn three; medium units arrive on a 2 or less turn two, 4 or less turn three, automatically on turn four, heavy units arrive on a 2 or less turn three, 4 or less turn four, automatically on turn five. One unit each turn will arrive automatically as well, so it’s not entirely down to luck, but managing your list will still help! The game lasts about 10 turns. From this simple rule the entire game flows.
The first thing you’ll notice is how fast the game is to start playing. There is no lengthy deployment phase – as soon as you’re both standing at the table you’re already playing. Someone takes their turn and marches in a light unit from a battlefield edge. Light units have awful stats and they can’t even control objectives, but what they can do is push forward your reinforcement line. When your medium units start arriving they’ll be able to come in either from your battlefield edge or the table flank behind your furthest forwards light unit. Immediately the skirmishers engage and the results of this initial conflict immediately starts to define the landscape of the battle.
Immediately all the choices are reactive. My enemy’s light cav got into my archers early and so now I need to deploy a medium combat block to clear that out rather than going for an objective. A dangerous unit has appeared on the right and so I need to dedicate my hardest hitters over there. As you solve the crisis of the early game you transition into the disaster of the midgame. Nobody will be quite where you want them to be. Your enemy sees your biggest commitments and counter-deploys them, or refuses a flank and leaves an expensive unit standing alone. Grinding engagements establish in the centre as the lines lock and a stalemate starts to ensue. Points begin being scored. And into this crisis comes the heavy units.
Heavy units are incredible. Point for point they are vastly superior to their medium cousins and light units can only look at them with despair. But, like the rook in chess, they are balanced by potentially having to spend five full turns before they can finally take a swing in anger. When they arrive it is always a cinematic moment; the Winged Hussars arriving in the nick of time to save the day with a crushing cavalry charge, or a legion of grey-eyed killers arriving after the battle is lost with nothing to do but avenge their fallen friends.
This is the rhythm of Conquest. This is why you should play. Because it consistently delivers huge shocks of emotional energy depending on how and when things reinforce. You might roll poorly on your early reinforcement rolls and find yourself with one unit on the table against an opponent’s entire army and it feels like being crushingly outnumbered. You might have a unit surrounded on three sides, slowly being worn down, desperately surviving until your reinforcement knights can crash into the engagement and turn the tide.
It feels good, consistently. I’ve played a dozen games of Conquest so far and none of them felt boring or by the numbers. My opponent described the game as “Warhammer Fantasy but designed in 2022, and I mean that in the best way possible” – and that’s absolutely what it’s looking to deliver. I can see the echoes of the Old World here clearly, from the enormous customization offered to your character models to the strange but familiar echoes of the factions.
The models are about 38mm scale on 28mm bases that slot into square movement stands. This sounds weird but in practice it means that an infantryman stands like a space marine, and space marines are kind of the optimal sized figures to see and paint details clearly on. Each stand holds 4 infantry models or 1 brute or cavalry model. Monsters are also on round bases but have their own, larger, square stand. A “normal” sized game is somewhere between 1250-2000 points and played on a 6’x4′ table. The game lasts around 10 turns and generally takes 1-2 hours to play. This is fast. Even for new players games wrap up quickly and a lot happens during those games. It’s not even that things are dying particularly quickly and one side will have tabled the other by that time, it’s more that there are very few moments in the system where things bog down or require multiple dice rolls – and that for the first few turns the game is essentially a skirmish.
All of the rules are completely free to download from the Para Bellum website for both the core rules of the game, each faction’s unique rules and units, and a tournament pack of scenarios to play.
This game uses six sided dice and uses characteristics as a threshold; if you have a Defence value of 2 then you will succeed your saves on a 1 or a 2, any roll above a 2 will fail. This can take a little getting used to depending on the wargames you normally play. Seeing 6’s and being mad about them is a whole new experience!
The Hundred Kingdoms are, thematically, Warhammer Fantasy’s Empire – they’re inspired by the politics of the Holy Roman Empire. Mechanically, they’re Bretonnians. Their warriors are the absolutely solid unremarkable baseline average around which the rest of the game is balanced. While their infantry will hold the line their real power is in the devastating charges of their cavalry.
While they may seem very baseline, the specific political situation of the Hundred Kingdoms is quietly fascinating. Remnants of a continent spanning empire before the disaster that bought down the Old Dominion, the lords of the Hundred Kingdoms are currently refusing to elect a new Emperor and the throne is vacant. The Imperial Regent, though, is a highly competent and driven individual determined to bring the lords to heel. While the nobility had most of the Legions disbanded, the Regent worked to transform those that remained to him – glorified garrison troops and tax collectors – into a premier fighting force that he uses to thumb the scales of various internal wars and border clashes. The situation is unstable in the best way; a power vacuum at the top and emerging claimant factions means that there is enormous potential for unique stories and narratives.
The Spires are the familiar-but-different answer to Chaos – though mechanically, they perhaps have the most in common with infantry heavy Skaven. Their progression is unusual: their basic infantry is garbage, mindless drones assembled in vats, immune systems so compromised that they won’t survive the battle one way or another. Their medium infantry, though, represents highly skilled clone warriors of unusual and sometime shocking talent. They simply lack heavy infantry, instead turning to a range of monstrous and nightmarish horrors – and these horrors are surprisingly cheap and disposable, so you can bring a lot of them.
The Spires are aliens; refugees from a dying civilization beyond the stars. Upon arriving in Ea they immediately slammed the door behind them, leaving the rest of their civilization to burn and die. This meant that they got to be the big dogs on a primitive alien planet, and that really set the tone for the rest of their stay. Their technology is centered in biology – creating, healing, and then overclocking. Their signature trick is enhancing terrible units with so many chemicals that they crash into their opponents in a bloodcrazed rage, punching way above their value, and then dying immediately afterwards from the burnout.
Alternate future history prophecy what if fanfiction where Loki murdered Heimdallr early, causing the fire giants to decisively win Ragnarok. The Aesir and Vanir are all dead, the giants won, and bought with them an age of misery and darkness. It was only later that the Einherjar – the fallen warriors who sleep awaiting the final battle – awoke, too late to save the world but perhaps in time to avenge it. They are post apocalyptic, but it was the wrong apocalypse, and they are very mad about that.
The Nords are an army about breaking the Reinforcement mechanic open. Unlike other factions they pack enormously high quality infantry into their Light slots and have wide access to rules that allow them to bring their units on from the battlefield faster than anyone else. Their style is a massive, initial surge and overwhelming assault, then settling back to endure the counterattack as their enemy’s quality pieces arrive to drive them back.
Dwarves forged in service to dragons, the Dweghom managed to mine their way to the God of War. War offered them power to fight the dragons in glorious revolution, and in return all he asked was… war. The Dweghom won the battle and exterminated the dragons, but the cost was that the war did not end. Their kingdoms consumed each other in ceaseless battle for centuries until they finally came together to create an order of memory wizards who would be able to make sense of their tangled and bitter past. In an exquisite comedic beat, all of these Mnemancers promptly disagreed with each other and the wars immediately resumed.
The Dwegholm are familiar as dwarves – tough, elite and heavily armoured, though like much of Conquest ranged units are uncommon and there is no siege weaponry. They are set apart by a surprising tendency towards speed – army wide buffs to movement speed along with swift battle constructs gives the army an edge of dynamic aggression to support its armoured core.
The Spires never met a problem they could not bioengineer their way out of. The W’adrhun were them bioengineering their way out of the problems of ‘total civilizational collapse’ with a side of ‘the creation of a dark god’. Conceptualized as the perfect warrior species they would one day use to conquer their alien homeland, the W’adrhun instead found purpose in serving as the outer line of the defense of the Spires.
The immediate draw of the W’adrhun is the dinosaurs – the glorious, feathered dinosaurs. Theirs is a beastmaster vibe, with a focus on exotic creatures to supplement the lightly armoured and highly dangerous infantry. They’re the Orc faction with a focus on their warcrys – they wind up powerful chants to deliver as linebreaker effects at decisive moments.
The precursors to the Hundred Kingdoms, the Old Dominion did what any human civilization at the height of its power and glory attempts: try to kill God. They pulled it off, too, making slaughtered angels rain from the sky and turning their patron deity into a hideous inside-out nightmare. The cataclysm was so awful that even the cobblestones of the old capitol became so cursed as to spontaneously animate as war golems.
The Old Dominion has the aesthetic of an undead Byzantine empire. Relic legionaries backed by ghosts, horrors, and darkness. Their units are tough, expensive and immune to anything involving the Resolve characteristic. On its face this just means they don’t take morale damage, but it actually also makes them uniquely skillful and disciplined in battle. Many complex maneuvers, like withdrawing or changing formations when engaged, rely on passing Resolve checks, and with the Old Dominion doing that automatically they can perform risky maneuvers with eerie precision. It makes them feel like highly disciplined Romans amidst all of the ghostly horror that they bring with them.
Founded long before the Hundred Kingdoms were even refugees gathering and huddling together, barely surviving against the horrors of the night, the City States were already flourishing with the highest levels of education and philosophy. They hold the remnants of knowledge from the the of the Old Dominion, or at least would have others believe that they do.
Ancient Greece and Greek mythos combined into a faction you get to put down on the tabletop and dominate your opponents with unique tactics and line-breaking minotaurs. Not just that, but clockwork automata: some of the most advanced technology to be found in all of Eä.
The Last Argument
Conquest feels like a modern take on a timeless genre. The Rank and Flank space is well explored across a great many systems and editions, but this is a new and fresh take on it. All of the game design choices have been made from a position of enormous experience and deep thought, all directed towards producing a game that plays much, much faster than it should given its sheer size. Even the activation cards – a system we’ll discuss more in a future article – cuts down enormously on the time-consuming indecision that can slow games with similar alternating-activation mechanics.