Conquest of the Empire
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Do you have what it takes to become the next Emperor of Rome?
It is the 2nd century AD and the 200-year Pax Romana of Augustus Caesar has come to an end. With the death of the Philosopher-Scholar Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire is without a competent leader. Disorder reigns and civil war looms. Mars will be pleased. It is a time for war. It is a time for Conquest of the Empire!
Over 300 historically accurate, professionally sculpted miniatures are included in this detailed board game. Plus, Conquest of the Empire is really two games for the price of one! Included in every box are rules for both the original classic game, as well as all new advanced rules that give the game additional depth and strategy!
"Will you be the next emperor of Rome ... or food
for the lions?" and
"It's two, two, two, two games in one"
Players of Conquest of the Empire take on the role of potential Caesars in the second century A.D. The 200 year Pax Romana has come to an end and someone must arise to unite the land. Who that person is will be determined through land and sea battles across the empire.
Interestingly, Conquest of the Empire contains two games in the box: the main game, which is a re-issue of a fun, but flawed MB Gamemaster game and Conquest of the Empire II, a new design by Glenn Drover based loosely on Martin Wallace's brilliant Struggle of Empires. Since the original game is more likely to appeal to our regular readers, I'll focus on that one, but that isn't to say that COEII is a bad game. In fact, it is the game more likely to see heavy play among my group for a few reasons that I'll mention later.
COE is a pretty basic light war game and, as such, follows a familiar formula. Players start by placing their initial allotment of troops on the board on one of seven provinces. After initial set-up, players take turns moving troops around the board engaging in combat in order to expand their empire.
Combat is handled using special dice (a mechanic which I'll be the first to admit I'm a sucker for). Players organize their forces into Battle Legions and then roll a number of dice equal to the number of troops allocated for combat. The dice have symbols that match the different unit types (Infantry, Calvary, Galleys, Catapults). Players then match the rolled symbols with the units in the combat-each match is a hit. Pieces are removed and combat continues until one player retreats or in completely destroyed.
After a player has completed movement and combat, they collect tribute based on the number of provinces under their control. Money collected in this phase is then used to purchase new units, cities, and roads.
The game continues until only one player remains on the board or all remaining players agree on the new Caesar.
It's hard for me to describe just how impressed I am with Conquest of the Empire. Though it was always hard not to respect Eagle's production values, in the past I've had some issues with Eagle Games products, especially their rules and playtesting. Here, we have a short, simple rule set that polishes the previous edition's rough areas without producing new problems. Furthermore, the more strategic COE II rules that are included in the box (though not as clearly written) make for an amazing value. I was a big fan of the original COE and remain one to this day, but I really like Drover's new design (CO II), especially the fact that it can be played in less than three hours and features no player elimination. I'll try to do a follow-up review on COE II when I've had more time to get it to the table.
As far as the original's game play goes, I love the fact that tributes are acquired mid-turn instead of at the beginning of the turn. This really rewards aggressive play and is one of the reasons COE doesn't suffer from the "wait/amass troops/attack" rhythm of similar light war games.
I also enjoy the feel that building cities, upgrading them, and building roads between them provides. A much greater sense of empire building is present in the game than in other combat-heavy games with the same theme.
Finally, a component review follows, but I must say that the quality of the components, including the amazingly over-sized map, adds quite a bit to the gaming experience. This baby draws a crowd from across the room, and it simply feels cool to play with all those marvelous bits.
All those elements taken into consideration make Conquest of the Empire my current choice for game of the year. It would be in my top five with just the basic rules, but the excellent COE II just pushes it over the edge.
Conquest of the Empire's box absolutely crammed full of goodness. The game comes with nearly 400 large, well-sculpted miniatures representing the various combat units. These are so detailed that the catapults even feature moving arms. I especially liked that the miniatures were ready to play. So often with games this size it can take hours to carefully remove the minis from their sprues. With COE, these were separated, bagged and ready to go.
The game also includes large plastic coins to represent tribute and high-impact dice with symbols imbedded in the plastic (no stickers here).
Finally, the map has to be seen to be believed. It is huge (46 x 36 inches) and well drawn by Paul Niemeyer. I actually have to add the extension to my dining room table in order to place the map and have a place for the players to organize their pieces.
Pros: Smooth, fast-playing combat
Nice synergy between rules and theme
Have I mentioned those gorgeous components?
A second, fine set of rules included in the box
Cons: Might last too long to get it to the table as often
as I'd like
Players can be eliminated early and have a long time to wait
This game rocks. Without the modified rules, catapults become a limited commodity that all players race to purchase. In the original game the 30 or so catapults that came with the game were an intentional game limit, so you only ever fought a battle till the number of catapults lost in a round equalled the number you could purchase back during the purchasing phase.
I am in total agreement concerning the playability, speed, and enjoyment of this game. It really is by far the best game of this series-- way better than axis and allies and fortress.. you don't need weeks to play and the strategy and side shifting make it way more enjoyable than dip. or really any of the other strategy board games. I wish it were around more. Its a great 2-3 hour play
Conquest of the Empire is the finest of the MB Gamemaster Series games; it's a multiplayer struggle to be the last man standing (but nowhere near as acrimonious as Diplomacy). As a pretender to the title of Caesar, you marshal your infantry, cavalry, and catapults, and collect tribute from provinces under your control. All troops must be led either by a general or your caesar (but don't lose him).
Building cities allows you to collect more tribute, and allows you to hook up your provinces to facilitate quick movement (one of the neater parts of the game--you can move from Asia Minor to Carthage in one turn, thanks to those roads). Galleys allow you to sail across the sea and engage in naval combat. At two points in the game, inflation hits and the prices for units double, then triple, which puts the squeeze on the players who have not expanded their influence or taken others out of the game. A turn consists of movement, combat, purchasing, then placing your units (always in your home capitol). Combat is handled through targeting a unit in your opponent's force, then rolling a die. The presence of a catapult or fortified city may allow you to hit that target better, a feature called 'combat advantage'. We have found that gaining combat advantage is just a luck fest using the normal rules, though, so we play by the Burns House Rules.
We have found that the Burns House Rules really do a lot to make the game fairer in a couple of ways: the players are more balanced, and catapults are not tanks. They are these:
1. No more than two catapults in a legion.
2. Catapults can be hit on a 4 or more when they become the only units in an attacking force. So you need to 'screen' them with other units. I must credit my sources, though--I got this off the Internet from Mike Montesa. Thanks!
3. Arabia and Tingitana are worth 10.
4. Mesopotamia is adjacent to Arabia (this is unclear on the board). This, plus the previous rule, go a long way to balancing out Numidia and Egyptus, who start off without much access to cash.
5. You have to lose both capitol and caesar to be knocked out of the game. If you lose one, the taker gets 50 tribute as a bonus, and you get your caesar back (if that's what you lost).
6. Italia starts first. This is important, as Italia is one of the weakest positions on the board.
I may yet have more tweaking to do; reducing the number of catapults in a legion makes the game play better, but has the effect of lengthening the game. But all in all, my group has found that with these rules, Conquest of the Empire is a very satisfying war game. It's hard to come by nowadays, sadly, but if Avalon Hill's recent reincarnation as a Hasbro division becomes successful, then I would bet that they would consider this gem for a re-release.
Whether you own the game or not, if you're interested in discussing Conquest of the Empire further, let me invite you to a Yahoo! Group devoted to the game, administered by Don Hessong.
Great board and pieces. Its a grand strategy game and is a must own.
By Ryan B.
Originally Published: September 25th, 2005
In 1984, Milton Bradley produced a game called Conquest of the Empire which was part of their highly touted Gamemaster Series of boardgames. As is well known to many people, the game garnered devotees all over the world. Over time, however, the game went out of print, leaving a legacy of fond remembrances and a supply scarcity which often led to exorbitant prices for anyone contemplating trying to obtain an original copy of the game.
In 2003, Eagle Games announced a partnership with Larry Harris, the original designer of Conquest of the Empire, to bring the game back to a whole new legion of enthusiasts. In addition, Eagle Games promised a newer, improved version of the game for those fans who had been hoping for a reprint of the original. Arriving just ahead of the Christmas season, Conquest of the Empire is here....with a bonus.
The Eagle Games version of Conquest of the Empire comes with two rules sets... which means one box and two game experiences. To give full credence to each, Gamefest will do a two part review, taking a look at each game event separately. We will start with reviewing the updated original version by Larry Harris and we will follow that with the all new second rules set, at a later date.
With the Eagle Games version of Conquest of the Empire, one can almost hear the thundering hooves of a thousand cavalry and envision the furls of row upon row of crimson standards set to the "pom pom pom" cavalcade of drums. The production values are fully immersive with this effort and the components have a huge "wow" factor. The rich hues of the sunset colored board are only exceeded in splendor by a board size that can only be described as colossal... 3ft by 4ft. While common to the Eagle Games historical mix, the board is nonetheless impressive in its sheer dimension. When the playing pieces are set upon Conquest's highly artistic and graphical map, it is very difficult to arrest your gaze from anything that is not the glory of the Roman Empire. This is Paul Niemeyer's finest work for Eagle Games and each region on the map has ample room for playing pieces.
The game playing pieces are comprised of plastic catapults, infantry, cavalry, generals and of course, your Caesar. In a change worth noting, each of these pieces comes in their own assortment of colors: red, purple, blue, yellow, green and black. This is different in one very real sense from the original which had a common color pool that was shared and drawn from by all players. Because you have your own color to draw your supply from, this means that each player individually manages their own pool of resources rather than managing a group pooling of those resources. This will be discussed a little further when discussing the changes in gameplay. Roads, cities and the fortifications for those cities continue to be shared in common lot, however, and remain communal and finite. They are colored in light beige.
As to be expected, Eagle Games puts everything into the quality of their components. This does leave a lack of desirable storage for the game but it is seemingly offset by an endless fascination with the stunning quality of the playing pieces, cards, and tokens by almost anyone who sits down to play this version of the game. In fact, our version weighed in at a hefty 7.2 pounds. So the game literally has weight. Another nice thing is that the plastic pieces come already off the sprues and bagged for you. This means you don't have to spend any time cutting pieces off sprues before you begin the game.
The cards (not used in the "classic" version) are on very solid stock and should have no problem holding up to repeated playings. The large plastic talents (coins) represent a durable effort at managing monetary transactions and have unique detail. They come in two denominations, silver (5 talents) and gold (10 talents). An inventory count of the plastic playing pieces indicated everything was properly accounted for, however, there is a typographical error in the rulebook concerning the inventory of pieces. There are only 10 cavalry of each color, not 20 as described. There may also be a small discrepancy in the number of coins received in the game. As far as we can note, this is not nearly enough to affect gameplay and at any rate you may well find that your version has everything accounted for.
Everyone that we have encountered has really given kudos to Eagle Games for their tremendous production values and the high "toy" factor of their playing pieces. Frequently commented upon is how the pieces immeasurably add to the viability and perspective of playing within the historical period. A faint criticism can be had in that it is difficult to tell your Caesar and the generals apart from common infantry. This is one game where you need to be certain of exactly what pieces are being moved from one territory to the next.
The premise behind Conquest of the Empire is to achieve the capture your opponents Caesars, one by one, until you alone remain as Caesar of the Roman Empire. As players eliminate each individual opponent, they acquire their respective units, territory, cities/roads and money. On almost every turn you will complete these actions in the following order: 1. Movement of Pieces. 2. Resolve Combat Resulting From Movement. 3. Collect Tribute based on Current Positions after Combat. 4. Use the Resulting Tribute to Purchase New Pieces. 5. Place those Pieces. Each player completes all of these actions before moving on to the next players turn.
Six territories make up the starting points: Macedonia, Italia, Hispania, Egypta, Galatia and Numidia.
The movement between territory is simple. Units move on the map according to their movement allowance for their respective turn. Movement over long distances can be strategically simplified by the building of cities and roads in between, which count as a single movement. The main premise to remember is that in order to move combat units, they must be accompanied by either your general or your Caesar. The danger in moving your Caesar, of course, is the potential vulnerability in exposing him to capture. This is because if a battle is lost, then your generals and/or Caesar may be captured... dependent on how the battle is resolved.
How combat is performed marks a key difference in philosophy that separates the old and new version of the game. In order to more completely explore the differences and improvements in the 2005 version of Conquest of the Empire, we have to talk briefly about the older version of the game published by Milton Bradley. In the erstwhile 1984 version of Conquest of the Empire, players rolled dice for each unit in their army against the target unit they were attacking. Catapult units received a "hit" bonus which essentially reduced the number showing on the die required to score a "hit". In the old version of the game, catapults were considered especially powerful.... to the point of being too much so. This was potentially compounded because everyone purchased from a common pool of units.
Let's look at an example. Because of the finite supply of units, once all catapult pieces were purchased and put into play..... then no other catapult units were available unless a piece was eliminated in battle. One person who could afford to amass enough catapult units could make it virtually impossible for anyone else playing to be able to stop them. While being able to command powerful combat pieces was a popular draw for the old version of the game, the rules did create what many consider to be a flawed imbalance.
The 2005 version of Conquest of the Empire rectifies this.
As noted, one of the widespread complaints about the 1984 original version was the strength of the catapult unit relative to the other units in the game. Eagle Games has attempted to fix this in their version of the "classic" game via an innovative new system. Combat situations are now resolved by rolling special combat dice for every unit in the battling legion. Each of the dice depict pictures of the various units. The infantry unit is depicted on two sides of the die. Once a player rolls the assigned number of dice, he/she matches up the die faces with the units comprised in his/her battle legion. Each matched die face is counted as a "hit".
So has the catapult issue been solved? In fact, it has. There has even been discussion from those people who have had advanced screenings of the game that now the infantry units may be stronger. To get further clarification on what the new catapult unit brings to the table and how balance is achieved in the game, we turned to Keith Blume at Eagle Games and asked him about the benefits of catapults and cavalry relative to the infantry pieces. Here is what he had to say:
"As armies get bigger you roll more dice (in the classic rules, 1 per unit in your battle legion). It is possible that people may only look at the fact that there are infantry icons on two sides of the six-sided dice. So they might be thinking... "I should only buy infantry because they have twice as much chance to hit as any other unit AND the other units are more expensive." But there is more to it than that. What also should be considered is the likelihood that you will roll something other than an infantry on the die. Remember, 66% of the time you will roll something other than an infantry pictogram. So as you add more dice, it becomes more beneficial to have a mixed force. Let's take an extreme example. Let's say you were rolling 10 dice. The likelihood that you would roll infantry pictograms on every die is highly unlikely. Obviously, at some point in time it is beneficial to obtain the other units to improve your chances of "hits" across all units that may show up on the dice."
Additionally, this creates for some interesting decisions in the game because while the composition of your forces determines the number "hits" you score when you roll the dice... it is your opponent which decides which pieces are actually eliminated from his or her legion. Hence, there are always tough choices in how you will maintain the balance, makeup and scope of your forces as they become casualties in battle. Trust us when we say this creates some real tension in the gameplay.
Speaking of which, another interesting dynamic in the game that is worth noting revolves around economics. During the "collect tribute" phase of the game, money is collected for each territory/city you control, in the form of tribute. An interesting mechanism occurs when a player reaches the tribute level of 105 talents. At that point, inflation doubles the cost of the units available that you may wish to purchase. This immediately applies for everyone. At tribute level of 205 talents, the cost triples. Triggering inflation may actually be a viable strategy for the player that can afford it, to put pressure on the other players capacity to purchase new units.
Final Review Comments
Unanimously, everyone loves the component offering in the new Conquest of the Empire. Individual game participants who helped review the game agreed, without dispute, that the new 2005 Conquest of the Empire "Classic" rules were a definitive improvement over the original version of the game. In the "review game" which was played, there was an initial concern over game balance issues when one of the players was eliminated in the first 15 minutes of play and another player threatened immediate dominance. The "elimination" was due more to the inadvertent strategy of a player leaving his Caesar primarily unguarded, making for an easy capture.
The game participants were surprised, however, that with some careful planning by the rest of the group the game allowed itself to be brought back to an effective balance between all parties. This is really a credit to the design team of Larry Harris with help from Glenn Drover. The gameplay was markedly fluid, strategic and well-reasoned. It is no easy acheivement for a game to be able to say that a great deal of "result" can be accomplished with careful game planning... especially when the game mechanics involve some dice rolling. This version of Conquest of the Empire, however, can proudly proclaim it. Combat was also well thought out in the Eagle Games version and the "catapult issue" of the older Milton Bradley version is effectively resolved.
For those people who enjoy manipulating the power of various "weaponry at disposal" to achieve combat primacy, you will not find it in this game. This game is far more about combat resource management rather than the utilization of tactical battle strength/deployment. In other words, "balance of forces" is a more important operative phrase for this game rather than the "power of pieces". This is actually good because it better reflects the epoch in which Roman era conflicts were fought. Combat in Roman times was a simpler, though no less brutal affair and these rules are an elegant simulation of that fact.
Please note that there is an "elimination' aspect to the game that players need to contend with and most participants voiced a concern over the duration of the game... which can be a little extensive with 6 players. We safely conclude that you should estimate a minimum of one hour of playing time for every player who is participating in the game. A high percentage of people playing the "review game" indicated that the gaming experience had an enjoyable fun factor, making it worthy of the time it takes to sit down to Conquest of the Empire. One person noted that the "fun factor" increased to "fairly high" once the game got going. The replay factor may be slightly diminished due to the duration of the game and a lack of willingness of all players to accept playing a boardgame of this type. With an excessive duration, some people may also become tired with the pacing and start to use the "go for broke" approach to combat. So that is also a consideration to take into account.
Conquest of the Empire was designed for social interaction. Alliances can be made, generals ransomed and deals sought. As the reviewer, I was fortunate to play with a great group of guys and this also makes a difference in the game experience. This game's agreement for social interaction is an overlooked treasure that potentially makes it so much fun. What is great about Conquest of the Empire is that it has no pretensions toward being a complicated "wargame" and yet the thought needed to do well in this game is great. The rules book, which has been deemed by some people as Eagle Games "achilles heel" in the past is very, very clear this time. The pairing of Larry Harris and Glenn Drover for the design is truly a significant one... it would be great to see them partner on subsequent titles. Eagle Games has truly inherited the mantle of the Gamemaster Series and if you are a fan of this type of game, the 2005 edition of Conquest of the Empire will be a magnificent addition to your collection.
We would be hard pressed to see how Eagle Games could have improved on this very impressive effort for the genre. Stay tuned for the second part of this review where we will assess the game using the Conquest of the Empire II rules!
Scoring with "5 stars" being the highest rating...
Components: ***** Fun Factor: **** Balance: **** Replay Value: *** Duration: ** Overall Rating: **** (4 stars)
In my younger days and college years, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I'd never acquire Conquest of the Empire -- at that point one of the GameMaster series by Milton Bradley. I had the "big three", Axis and Allies, Fortress America, and Samurai Swords, but Conquest was more elusive and didn't seem to be in many stores. Then, I read on the internet that the game was a good one but had "broken" rules about catapults. This, added to the games rarity, pretty much convinced me that I'd never pick up the game.
Then I heard that Eagle Games had acquired the rights and were going to reprint it. Wow! I mean, I consider Eagle Games to be the successors of the GameMaster series, and now they were going to make one of the games I had wished for into a purchasable reality with their incredible component quality! (Waiting on Fortress America, still). When I finally saw the finished product, I was blown away by how it looked; and I was expecting it to look great! Conquest of the Empire (Eagle Games, 2005 -- Larry Harris and Glenn Drover) comes with TWO sets of rules for two almost completely different games. One set of rules is an improved version of the original rules of the game -- a rule set redone by Larry Harris with input from Glen. But another set of rules is included, a set done by Glen Drover but heavily based on (and attributed to) the rules to Struggle of Empires by Martin Wallace. Both games involve the struggle between would-be-Caesars and their competition to control the ancient Roman Empire in the second century. Players take the role of their "Caesar", attempting to conquer all other players either by total destruction (the first game) or most points (the second).
I've had a chance to play through both rule sets; and while I'm not sure I would buy the game on the strength of the first rule set (although I'm sure there are plenty of people who will enjoy it), the rules based on Mr. Wallace's game are tremendous; and I had a real blast playing them. They're certainly abstract, and I almost feel guilty for using such beautiful pieces and such a massive board to play what is closer to a "Eurogame".
Some comments on the game... (Game #1 refers to Harris' design, and #2 refers to Drover's design.)
There's a lot more that I can say about both versions, but the burning question is -- which one is better? For me, it's a no brainer -- version # 2 is more enjoyable for me. I like the fact that it's much shorter, that it has less downtime, and that it offers a wide range of possibilities. It's possible to do well without much combat, which might scare of some prospective players, but they would probably enjoy version # 1 better, anyway. For me, Struggle of Empires was a magnificent (but fairly complicated and long game). Conquest has taken that system, streamlined and made it more accessible, while at the same time adding in some of the best components in a game ever.
But why quibble? The best feature of Conquest of the Empire is that you get two complete games in one box! I loved version # 2 and had a fairly fun time with # 1, while some of the people I played with had the opposite reaction. Yes, Conquest carries a fairly hefty price tag but compared to the huge amount of toys in it (it weighs a lot!), you're certainly getting your money's worth. And having games inside that will appeal to both war gamers and Eurogamers -- the value of the new Conquest is amazing. If you're interested in an empire building game, whether you like combat as a focus or not, this is an excellent game to purchase. Just pick the rules set that best suits you. Either way, the beautiful components are yours to have fun with.
"Real men play board games."