After a full, four-person playtest of Conquest of Nerath, we can confirm one thing about the initial review: it’s awesome and ridiculously fun. We did spot one potential balance issue that you might want to consider homeruling, however.
In our epic medium-length game last night (yes, it even feels epic at medium), the Iron Circle edged out a narrow victory despite valiant efforts by Nerath and Karkoth (the elves had been exterminated at that point). It was a fantastic game full of ebbing tides, shifting alliances, broken treaties, horrific massacres and legendary battles. I’m not exaggerating when I say Conquest of Nerath has already cemented its place as a classic, one we’ll be eagerly pulling down off the gaming shelf 20 years from now for another night of conquest.
We did notice, however, that the dragon units may be a bit overpowered. The Iron Circle won largely because Ryk Perry invested most of his resources into building a massive air force of dragons. They have the longest movement in the game, fly, roll a D20 in battle, can hold territory, and require two hits to destroy. All that and they only cost five gold, two more than the other good units, Monsters and Wizards.
Where there would otherwise have been a lot of strategic decisions to make about which units worked best in certain situations, the game instead came down to who could field the most dragons. That seems counter to what the designers intended. We immediately discussed some potential nerfs to keep the dragon wars in check. Apparently, during development the dragons cost seven gold at one point, but players were a bit too precious with them. The cost was reduced to get them out onto the battlefield more often. One idea was to find the middle ground and make them cost six gold, but I don’t think this solves the problem.
For one thing, I think dragons should be somewhat precious. A nation with a dragon on its side is pretty bad-ass! It should be a big deal to build and field a dragon, not something you crank out five of every turn. In contrast, when someone builds a Warsun in Twilight Imperium, everyone stops to watch and see where it’s deployed and what poor empire is going to get crushed by it. And if one gets destroyed, there are victory cheers all around the table, just like this:
“It’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.”
I think the easiest solution is to keep the cost the same, but limit the number of dragons on the table at any one time. Conquest of Nerath includes grey and red chips that can used as place markers when you run out of the actual plastic minis for a given unit type. There are no actual limits on unit numbers for any units. To nerf dragons, simply disallow the use of plastic chips as dragon stand-ins. You can only make as many dragons as you have dragon minis (four per realm, I believe).
That way, dragons are somewhat rare since there won’t be a ton on the board at one time. They’ll seem more impressive. You don’t have to be too afraid to throw them into battle, though, because you know that you can replace any that die.