Review: iConquer 2.2
Requirements: Mac OS X
Recommended: Mac OS X 10.2 (for Rendezvous and iChat support)
Trial: Feature-limited (works for 7 days; some plug-ins require full version)
When I was younger, I grew up with a variety of board games, including games like Monopoly, Stratego, and Risk. While I usually had fun playing these games, sometimes it could be hard finding the time and the people play in a full game. These are just some of the reasons that such board games were natural candidates for conversion into computer games. Can’t find enough people? Play against the computer. Don’t have enough time? Save the game and come back later.
iConquer is the latest incarnation of Risk for the Mac. Many years ago, there was a black-and-white version of Risk that I used to play on a friend’s Macintosh SE. That was followed a few years ago by Risk II, a colorized version of the classic game that offered several additional play options.
Whereas Risk II built on the original Risk by adding new concepts to the game, iConquer takes the opposite approach—start with the original idea and use every tool at your disposal to build a top-notch implementation of it. While iConquer has none of the newer game modes from Risk II, it takes advantage of many OS X features to craft a high-quality game play experience.
When you launch iConquer for the first time, it comes across like a fairly standard version of Risk. When you start a new game, you pick how many players will be in the game, how many will be human, the temperament of the computer players, and whether you want to choose your starting countries or have them randomly assigned. The map looks exactly the same as the map in the original Risk—6 continents, 42 territories, and, when the math works out correctly, each player starts with the same number of territories.
The basic iConquer map.
The game play proceeds as one would expect with Risk. Players place their armies for the first few rounds then attack neighboring territories. If you gain at least one territory in a round, you get a card that can be used towards gaining additional troops in a subsequent turn. If you hold an entire continent, you are rewarded with bonus troops. To the surprise of no one, the goal of the game is to vanquish your enemies and rule the world.
When you are playing against computer players, you can choose from among six types of players—aggressive, anti-human, cheater, defensive, unpredictable, and vindictive. Each type has different characteristics and these characteristics influence the decisions made by the players. Also, you can choose to have the player types randomly assigned or kept secret.
iConquer also features an optional statistics window that helps you keep track of the game. It displays the number of countries, cards, and armies each player possesses, as well as the number of armies they get per turn, the number of victories, and the number of defeats. Additionally, it displays the number of turns that have been played and the value of the next card set. This information can prove useful over the course of the game and it’s nice to have it in one location instead of tracking it by hand (“Wait, how many countries does purple have again?”).
Keeping track of the game’s flow.
One of iConquer’s major strengths is its expandability. It supports plug-ins for providing both new maps and new player types. To my knowledge, there currently aren’t any new player types available. However, there are at least 20 different maps available for iConquer. Getting these new maps is very simple because iConquer features a plug-in manager that is able to download and install plug-ins from the Internet.
The iConquer plug-in manager.
The plug-in manager shows you all the plug-ins that are registered with KavaSoft. A drawer connected to the bottom of the window shows a preview of the selected map with a brief description. Clicking Install downloads the map, which is immediately added to the Map menu and is available for use.
Currently, there are a number of different map types available. Some maps focus on different regions of the globe, like Europe or the contiguous United States, while others are completely fanciful, like a series of intersecting circles or the periodic table. Since the different maps bring different geographies, changing the map can completely change the dynamics of the games. For instance, some maps have easily-defensible locations while others have territories that are bordered by at least three other territories. Personally, when I’m playing against the computer, there are some maps that I absolutely dominate. There are also some maps where the computer mops the floor with me. The variety of challenges ensures that iConquer has a high replay value.
iConquer offers options for joining games hosted on the local network or on the Internet. Also, network play is one of the places iConquer really earns it stripes as a well-rounded Macintosh application.
If you’re running OS X 10.2, iConquer gains several useful networking features. First, it uses Rendezvous to find any iConquer servers running on the local network. Second, it integrates with Address Book and iChat so you can start a chat with the folks in your game by clicking a single button. If you’re computer is the one hosting the game, you can also initiate chats with individual players from inside of iConquer.
My one complaint about iConquer’s networking support is that it doesn’t support GameRanger. It seems like a lot of thought went into making it as simple as possible to play iConquer over a network, so it seems odd that support for what is likely the largest Macintosh online gaming service is missing. This omission makes it rather difficult to find a game on the spur of the moment.
Help’s on the Way
Even though iConquer is a fairly easy game to pick up, it still has a very extensive help system. In addition to explaining how to do application-related tasks (start a new game, turn on the iConquer server, etc.), iConquer has contextual help for dealing with in-game situations (placing armies, attacking, fortifying, etc.). Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see much when I looked at the Help menu, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I’m going to make this very simple. If you like Risk, buy iConquer. If you’ve never played Risk but like strategy games, try iConquer.
It’s not often that you find an enjoyable game with high replay value for under $15, but that’s exactly what you get with iConquer. I had enough fun playing around against the computer before I tried out the network option and started downloading new maps. Once I began using those two options, it was clear that I had a new time-consuming vice in my life.