Expeditions: Conquistador is a Kickstarter funded game. Kickstarter is a neat idea and I totally respect it as a way to fundraise, but I don’t think it will ever work for computer games. Blizzard got where it is today by releasing games “when they’re done”, but Kickstarter games are released on a tight schedule, and generally have to match what they said they were going to be in the Kickstarter campaign, with little room for improvement or refinements that would make a better game than what was advertised. The campaign in this case reached the $70,000 goal with a few bucks to spare, and they did release the game quickly. Props for that… past that, I wish they’d refined the game.
The basic premise is you are a conquistador, in command of a dozen or so troops, in the new world in search of treasure. I’ve loved these sorts of games since 7 Cities of Gold from 1984, and I like the idea that the game does things old school: it’s all turn-based. Animations are basic, but the simulated oil painting artwork is very nice and does a great job of evoking the characters and situations of the game.
“…unfortunately, the game is tough to enjoy.”
Past that, unfortunately, the game is tough to enjoy. Even with the display settings turned down, movement is fairly clunky, and it takes several clicks to move even a little on the big map of the island (there are two campaigns, on an island and then the mainland). Moving strategically isn’t just crude, it’s also painful. You can only see an inch or so in any direction, and scrolling left or right, or zooming out, only adds another inch… all the tweaking in the world won’t let you plan past 1/3 of a day’s march through the roads and jungles. The game is only playable in small doses for me: my eyeballs ache from all the peering, straining, and struggling to see just a little bit more past the tip of my nose.
Combat is likewise fairly constrained, although you can slowly, slowly, scroll across the whole map. There’s some fun to be had here, as your soldiers gain skills as they gain levels (or “get promoted”, rather), allowing for some tactics during combat. The pathing is painful, however, as your troops seem to prefer going through enemy zones of control, triggering opportunity attacks. You can, of course, slowly move your soldier one or two hexes at a time, keeping with the theme of “everything is slower than it needs to be” for the game.
Anyone who can endure the slogging will find a few treasures in the design. Every day you make camp, and order your troops to guard (to prevent random theft), patrol (find random loot), hunt (to find random food, rather important in the game), tinker (construct and invent new things to make the other tasks easier), and treat your wounded troops. There’s an “auto assign”, but it’s not so good, and you’ll have to micromanage to if you want to tinker or heal your troops. Healing is a slow process, requiring much medicine and a little bit of luck (leveling up a doctor is a good idea). Untreated injuries can easily cause a soldier to sicken and die.
A player can conquer as a bloodthirsty conquistador (with his handful of troops), or try to talk and negotiate his way to riches. The payoff for having such a small army is your soldiers are individuals. Some will be happy with slaughter, and will lose morale, even leave you if you try non-violent solutions to problems… and the reverse is true for your more pacifistic troops. They can be equipped with plenty of arms and armor (you get generic “equipment points”, which turn into pieces of equipment after enough are granted). Random events and storylines add much to the game, along with numerous subplots and side quests that can be handled many ways.
There’s just barely enough here to make a passable game, but it’s a near thing, and only those who can handle the short-sightedness of the design will likely get the most out of it.