its back cover, Lords of Conquest describes itself
as 'a great strategy game'. I'd agree with that. However,
I'd hesitate to agree with its other claim: 'better
than any board game'.
is not a war game. Although it concerns itself with
conquest, it is of the most abstract kind. Lords
of Conquest is an attractive attempt at a computer
version of the type of glossy board games which keep
students who have better things to do with their time
dice-rolling and negotiating until four o'clock in the
morning. And the designers have made good use of the
opportunities for frills, extra bits and easily-adjustable
parameters afforded by the computer medium.
of Conquest presents the player with a map -- one
chosen out of many -- which is divided into territories.
These territories are under the control of one side
or another (the program allows for up to four players).
The gameplay concentrates on acquiring territories that
were the rightful property of the computer, or one of
your friends. If this were an end in itself, things
might be too simplistic: but the ultimate aim is to
build cities on your own territories by means of wealth
generated by those territories which produce resources,
so money rather than power is the real name of the game.
stylised Lords of Conquest battlegrounds
are twenty maps built into the program, representing
places like Europe, the Caribbean and the Sea of Japan
in a very stylised way. So stylised that it doesn't
really make any difference that a handful of the maps
are of fictional places like 'Boarderlands'. Some of
the maps are single land-masses, but moat have groups
of territories which are inaccessible except by crossing
the start, the player is given the opportunity to adjust
the parameters. This seems to mean the adjustment of
a few simple difficulty scales, but the nature of the
game is changed quite significantly by the player's
choices at this stage. There are five 'levels', which
govern how many types of resources are available and
what you can use them for. On the 'beginners' level
there are only two resources, gold and horses. On the
'advanced' level, you can have all five resources, gold,
horses, iron, coal and timber, and you can build boats
with them. Playing on the first two levels, which don't
allow boat building, realistically has to be restricted
to maps with single land masses. The difficulty scale
is a separate quantity, and ranges from 1 to 9. On level
1 the player is given four territories more than the
computer, and on level nine, four less.
player can also choose whether to play with a chance
level of low, medium or high. This affects the basic
nature of the gameplay too. A low chance level means
that the outcome of attacks can always be predicted,
and so the game is very severely strategic. A high chance
level means, essentially, that dice are rolled. An attack
which is numerically stacked against the opponent has
a high percentage chance of succeeding, but there is
always a random element and any attack can fail -- or
indeed, succeed. I found it to be more natural and more
interesting to play on the high chance level. The rulebook
promises a tougher computer opponent on low chance,
but the game seems to be designed for dice-rolling.
selecting for a few minor options, like whether or not
to be regaled with music, the player is presented with
a blank map and asked to make a choice of territories.
Computer and player select alternately until the whole
map is claimed, and this part of the game is as important
as any other, so much so that first choice of territory
is one of the advantages you can select for yourself,
and I preferred it to first attack. The safety of a
territory depends very much on how many territories
of your own surrounds it, so it's a good idea to get
your resource-producing areas nicely embedded. The computer's
tactic at this stage seems to be to prevent you building
up too strong a power-block, and to place its territories
beside any of yours that look valuable.
played the beginner's level first of all, but soon realised
that the game is much more interesting when all five
resources are in play. Certain territories, bearing
the appropriate symbol, produce resources every turn.
During the selection stage the resource-producing territories
are obviously the ones to take first, and the game revolves
around the capture of the enemy's.
game is organised into multi-stage turns, supposedly
representing years. Firstly, except in the first turn,
both sides have the chance to use their resources to
build either a weapon, a boat or a city. Weapons are
invaluable in combat and cost either two gold or one
iron and one coal. Boats can be bought with three timber
or three gold. Cities, which win the game, cost four
gold or one each of the other resources. Cities are
a good buy because they count towards the victory condition,
they have an attack/defence value in themselves, and
they double the production of their own territories
and those surrounding it. You can choose where to site
any developed item, and because of the relative immobility
of weapons this needs careful thought.
production phase follows, and you can watch wealth rolling
into the computer's coffers or your own. On the high
chance level, production might not happen. The reasons
given for this are entertaining, and display the cheerfully
artificial nature of the game. So far I've seen 'legalistic
excesses', 'outbreak of sanity', 'terrible heresies',
'feverish apathy' and 'astounding prophecies' preventing
production. I'm still waiting for 'feeble excuses prevent
the highest game level you can move weapons and horses
in the next phase. I preferred to play without this
refinement. The restricted movement of the second-highest
level seemed to make things harder, and call for more
careful planning of strategies. You do get the opportunity
to move your stockpile -- the territory in which all
your wealth is kept -- which is advisable if it looks
like the enemy might be in position to capture it.
real business of the game comes in the next phase, which
is conquest. Every territory which is bordered by an
opposing territory has some sort of chance of being
attacked. Its defence value is worked out in straightforward
numerical terms, and is determined by how many friendly
territories surround it, and whether it or any territories
next to it have a horse or weapon or city in them. After
a bit of practice it's easy to work out roughly what
attacking and defending values are, but you don't have
to do it yourself -- there's always an information menu
available, which tells you the force count of any territory
on the map.
practice, I found that it was a great advantage to be
the first boat-owner on the board. The computer doesn't
seem to anticipate attacks by boat very well, and if
you load your ship with a horse and a weapon, its total
attacking value is seven.
game can be over quite quickly, especially on those
maps which only have a few territories. There is no
facility to quit a game if you see your position is
hopeless, but the computer opponent is adept at it.
Lords of Conquest is the only game I've ever
played in which the computer is programmed to be a bad
loser. It abandons a game with surprising abruptness
with messages like 'I know I'd win if we kept on, but
I've lost interest for some reason' and 'You must have
cheated, but I can't see how'. This can get irritating!
you've played out all twenty maps you can ask the computer
to generate a new one randomly or create one yourself.