If I were to recap my wargaming past, I don’t imagine anyone would be surprised to learn it began with Games Workshop – thought maybe a little when I say it wasn’t Warhammer. I remember when I first saw an advert on TV for The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, afterwards shouting “MUM!!” and begging that we could by the first issue; little did I know that it was the beginning of a hobby and passion for small plastic soldiers that I would enjoy almost 20 years later! I was then introduced to Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and Warhammer 40k. It was with Games workshop that I would enjoy wargaming… until now.
The game was Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings. At first I thought it was based around the Early Middle Ages (no ‘Dark Age’ crap) but soon learned it was fantasy. I was immediately taken by the look of it. However, it was the idea of a rank and flank style of game that kept making me hesitate. But, after seeing some online reviews and some really good introductory game videos by On Tabletop, on Youtube, I was sold and wanted to start playing it as soon as possible. Sadly, this was at the beginning of 2020, and literally a couple of weeks after getting my box set and rushing to get all the models assembled to start playing, the pandemic hit the UK and the dawn of the lockdowns began. Luckily, one of the guys who plays it managed to set up an Excel simulator for the game – now with terrain features and all – and so I have managed to play the game many times now, even over lockdown, and hoping that regular physical gaming can soon pick up again with lockdown in the UK easing up. This game has become very important to me, for several reasons, and I want to tell you about it.
Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings is set in a grim fantasy world called Ea. It is a vast world with many different factions (apparently, Para Bellum are hoping for 18 factions in total). Of these factions, 5 are officially released, 1 faction confirmed for early 2022, and 2 factions that we know of, but no release date is yet set for them. The 5 factions released are the One Hundred Kingdoms (Medieval style armies and lost of knights and cavalry); the Nords (fantasy Vikings with various Norse mythological creatures like trolls, wargs and even Jotnar – check them out, the models are massive!); The Dweghom (equivalent of very angry Dwarves who warred with the dragons and won – badass!); The Spire (an alien species who visited Ea, experimented on the local wildlife but are now stuck her and live in massive Spire constructs); The Wadhrun (Creations of the Spire but now their own civilisations, very Orc looking, with dinosaurs – basically Orcs riding Dinos!)
The factions, the lore, and the setting are brilliant, and I think those who enjoyed the lore and themes of Warhammer fantasy would certainly appreciate and enjoy it from this aspect – but the main thing to me is how fun the game is to play and how it truly encourages thematic armies.
To begin with, you don’t just select any unit you want and pay points for, you have to pick a character who then gives you access to certain units that they would have command over in the lore. This is know as the character’s warband. For example, an imperial officer, of the One Hundred Kingdoms, grants me access to the regiments Men at Arms, Crossbowmen, Rangers, Steel Legion, and Guilded Legion. You can choose as many characters as you like – so long as you have the points to spend – and each tend to provide some commonly shared regiments which are normally more standard and common regiments, opening choices of more specialised regiments – the Steel Legion and Guilded Legion are only available to the Imperial Officer. Not only that, but within a warband, these regiments are divided into Mainstay and Restricted Units. The mainstay units are the bread-and-butter regiment under that character, and often those who had a much more numerous pool of bodies anyway, such as a Noble Lord being having militia – ordinary people conscripted in their masses – as one of his Mainstay units. Restricted units represent those units that are fewer in number, or to be rarely seen at all under that character; these are often the very elite units, and sometimes stuff of legends, like the Dragon Slayers of the Dweghom – the most elite regiment of the Dweghom and so whose numbers are, indeed, very few. This makes planning an army very interesting as to get the better units, you first must spend points on the associated character; not only that but you must always have at least equal or more mainstay regiments than restricted. It means tactical list building from the outset, and helps reduce normal, boring, strategies of just spamming the table will one or two different units. It can still happen, but none of the crap seen in other games – looking at you, Warhammer 40k.
But the gameplay, this is what really has Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings stand out amongst other games. At the start of the game, turn 1, there are literally no units on the table. Yep, that’s right – turn one and no armies are present! This is because you roll to see what units enter the game when and from where. Each turn is split into different phases. The first is called the Reinforcement Phase. It’s in this phase that determines what regiment enters the tabletop. Each regiment is classed as either light, medium, or heavy; light regiments can enter the board on turn one and two on a 3+ and enter automatically on turn 3; medium units can enter on turn 2 on a 5+, turn 3 on 3+, and automatically on turn 4; heavy regiments are the same but can only attempt to enter on turn 3 onwards. This mechanic is meant to stimulate lights units entering (normally in the form of scouting or ranged units) and skirmishing, with the medium units (often the main battle line regiment) entering to join battle after initial skirmishing, and the heavy units (the more elite) entering during the later stages of battle as reinforcements. Once this is done, you then make your activation pile. The game works in the alternating activations mechanism, but before anything activates, each player creates a activation using cards that come with each regiment when bought; the top card is the first regiment to activate and the bottom the card the last. This pile cannot be changed when made, and creates a sense of planning what to do, but also trying to predict what your opponent will try to activate first. Players then roll off in the supremacy phase to see who activates first; the player who has fewer activations, can declare to add or subtract their roll by one – sometimes you will want to go second. After this, the player who rolled highest draws their first card and that regiment then activates. During play, a regiment can perform two actions, and can choose between moving, charging, spending an action to improve either their shooting or fighting, shooting and fighting in combat.
The gameplay does, what many other wargames don’t – provide a game based on the uncertainties, fortune’s shifting favour, and adaptability that are so well recorded in the battles these games take their inspiration from. I don’t see 40k (or many ‘war’-games for that matter) as wargames, but as just games. Yes, there are armies, and yes the fact that dice rolling does play a pivotal part in providing uncertainty, and the excitement, but 40k’s recent evolutions in 8th, and now 9th Edition, has had it lose its essence as a wargame – the removal of vehicular cones of vision is a prime example of this. I still love Warhammer, but to me it’s not a wargame anymore. Conquest on the other hand, does none of the handholding or strategical shortcuts that Warhammer 40k does. At the start of the game, there is no guarantee I will even have any of my models on the board in the first couple of turns, or at a crucial point in the game, when I’m planning on being able to activate my regiment first and I lose the roll off and my opponent can counter my strategy with theirs – these are the moments I want in a wargame, where I am playing, but always alert for Fortune to shift her favour, as she did to the great generals of the past. One game I played, I even my light regiments failed to come onto the board before turn 3, and my mediums and heavies also failing to enter when I wanted; a third of the game through (games normally last up to 10 turns), and I hadn’t even moved a regiment or model yet, meaning I had to completely throw out my initial strategy and adapt to the new reality, while my opponent’s army was confidently marching up the board towards me and the objectives. To some, this uncertainty as to how they see the initial or early turns for game play out may not seem fun. To me, it’s this precise unknowing that makes a wargame, as even the greatest general is subject to the laws of luck and chance. I love it!
So yeah, if you are interested in trying a new wargame out, or even looking at getting into the hobby in general, take a Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings – a game of great gameplay, deep and rich lore, and beautiful models. To me, it’s my favourite wargame – no argument required!