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Boardgame Banter: Warhammer 40k Conquest

I’m still rather addicted to Netrunner; the incredible amount of strategic depth to be found in it, the wonderfully active community and Living Card Game business model all work in tandem to make it just a constant pleasure to engage with. It’s also been quite successful for Fantasy Flight, who’ve now taken the LCG business model back to a one of their most popular franchises with Warhammer 40k: Conquest.

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Right out of the gate: this game really needs to be commended for how well it nails the iconic style of the Warhammer 40k universe. The art style, gameplay mechanics and the whole overall structure feels like something that belongs to the 40K universe. If you’re a fan of the setting to any degree then this game is truly a treat as it captures the 40K aesthetic near perfectly.

In addition to delivering the theme in a stellar fashion, the game does an exceptional job at finding the core ideal of each faction’s theme and incorporating that into the mechanics. The Imperial Guard for example has a heavy focus on deploying support structures to bolster their units, who they spawn in droves.The Tau on the other hand rely on upgrading their units to create devastatingly powerful mech style units, while the Eldar rely on some nasty trickery to confuse and distract their enemy.

Seven factions are included in the core set, namely: The Space Marines, Eldar, Dark Eldar, Tau, Orks, Chaos and Astra Miltarum ( a.k.a The Imperial Guard). There’s a lot of bang for your buck right here as the seven factions add a great deal of replayability to the game. Now is also a great time to jump on it considering that the game is a fairly recent release and has had only one expansion released thus far.

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The game sees two players squaring off against one another in an attempt to conquer several planets in the Traxis sector. These planets are randomly assigned at the start of match and each planet has several affinities attached by way of symbols on the card. To win the match a player needs to collect three planets with a common symbol.

Each round will see the two players clash on every planet starting with the leftmost one. After the conflict there has been resolved the game moves on to the second planet and so on/ and so forth until each planet’s conflict has been resolved.

After lining up the planets and drawing their starting hand form the respective decks players are allocated a set amount of Resources that act as the currency for deploying units and triggering abilities. More Resources are allocated as players advance through the game, bolster their armies and capture planets.

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Each deck features a Warlord who’ll serve as the commander of your army on the field. These units  are quite formidable purely in terms of how much damage they can take and deal and each one’s special ability contributes to their particular factions play style. They also serve as a secondary victory condition as killing the opposing player’s Warlord nets you victory. The Warlords are on of the  core components of the game as they dictate so much of what goes down during a match and depending on how a player utilizes them they can by just as much of a liability as they are an asset.

The first phase of a round sees each player drawing a card from their deck and gaining their allotted resources. They then start spending Resources to spawn and deploy units to the planet of their choosing. Once this is finished the game moves on to the command phase where players will secretly choose the planet they will send their Warlord to. This is done via a dial to ensure that both players are able to choose in secret and reveal their choices at the same time.

Battle will then start to occur on the first planet and move on from there. During battles players take turns exhausting and tapping units to deal damage to one another’s forces. Each card has allotted damage and health numbers. Once a unit receives more damage than is listed on the card it’s removed from play, though Warlords have a second bloodied state that allows them to retreat.

Warhammer 40k Conquest

It’s almost a game of just measuring raw stats against one another, but action cards serve to alleviate what might otherwise be a monotonous combat system. Each of these trigger and event or upgrade that can drastically sway the tide of battle and it pays to learn the ins and outs of each faction’s abilities as you can prepare accordingly.

Most cards also have a shield value, meaning that they can be discarded to negate the amount of damage listed on the shield icon. Balancing the amount of cards you hold on to and the amount of damage you want to ignore is a wonderful mechanic as it avoids players holding an overbearing amount of cards (something a lot of other games are guilty of).

If your Warlord happens to be on a planet then you automatically win on that planet, though you run the risk of throwing them into the line of fire by doing so. Battle is decided once one player either destroys all the opposing units or chooses to retreat his units off the planet.

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The final phase sees battle wrapping up on a planet and moving on to the next. Once battle has occurred on the first planet then it is captured permanently by the victor and it’s added to that players scoring area, with the next planet becoming the new first planet for the next round.

At it’s best and most upbeat Conquest provides an intensely strategic experience that relies heavily on your aptitude for reading your opponent and planning ahead. It’s like Chess on a grand scale in that a good player will learn think several moves ahead of the competition. It can be fantastic at times and the general even balancing of factions eliminates a lot of luck based tactics.

The secondary win condition is actually a massive point in the game’s favor as it serves to alleviate the problem of one side getting continually stomped into the ground; because even if you’re outgunned on all sides a last ditch attempt at assassinating the enemy Warlord might just see you emerging victorious.

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Even though I’m quite enamoured with this game overall it has quite a few problems. Recovering from early mistakes can be nearly impossible at times and even small blunders can open you up to dire ramifications. Deck building is also very weak at the moment, though the large amount of factions more than makes up for that. You can mix and match various faction cards with a neat affinity system, but this is restricted to the lesser units, meaning that the most interesting of possible cross faction combos is out of reach for the time being.

But that’s the beauty of this being a LCG: these problems are very easily addressed with expansions. I greatly enjoyed what I’ve played of Conquest and I sincerely hope it sees the same success as Netrunner. The core gameplay is very solid, the theme and quality of the whole game is just exceptional and it’s just wonderful game to tinker around with.

Sam Fourie

Ever so slightly unhinged, this one spends most of his time playing or writing about video games. Also dabbles heavily in tabletop, comics and the occasional bout of music creation.

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