Para Bellum’s Conquest has become a breakout hit. I sat down with one of the visionaries behind the company, and game, to learn about its past, present, and future.
Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings came seemingly out of the blue intent on both being a siren’s call for Warhammer Fantasy ex-pats, while also carving out its own legacy through a creative, and particularly deep amount of world-building.
I recently had a change to have a long conversation with Stavros Halkias, Founder of Para-Bellum, and one of the visionaries behind the game and its quirky, fascinating world. To say that we learned a lot about the sort of hands the game finds itself in, would be an understatement!
Tell me about yourself and what you do at Para Bellum.
What is there to say that we haven’t said already… Let me see. I’ve been a wargamer since my parents bought me a 2nd edition Warhammer 40K box when I was 8. They bought it in October and hid it in a closet until Christmas. I somehow found it (never having been the most perceptive of creatures) and proceeded to bring it down and ogle it every time they left the house. By the time I finally got to open it there was probably water damage from all the drooling I had done. Since then I went on to study economics and military history and always kept my passion for the hobby alive. I’ve played Fantasy, 40K, Confrontation, Hordes, Infinity. I love each system, some more for the background than their rules, but I see the awesomeness in them all. As far as Para Bellum goes, I do a little bit of everything. The biggest challenge in establishing para bellum, one we didn’t appreciate in the beginning, was not the difficulty of going into plastics. That difficulty we knew and were braced for. The real challenge was establishing a product development team that could deliver new product EVERY month. It’s like finally finishing an Ironman run and having one of the judges give you a lukewarm glass of water and an indifferent pat on the back at the finish line and say: ‘Rest up, youre doing this again tomorrow.’ What keeps you going is not that megre reward at the finish line, it’s cheering from the sidelines. The people that see what you are doing and love it. I don’t handle compliments or too much flattery, but seeing our miniatures painted or reading a battle report makes me so damn proud it is difficult to describe. As far as what I do in the company it is hard to describe. One role is clear. Creative Director: Every piece of art, every miniature you guys see goes through my hands. I am also in the happy position of being the person who comes up with the background for the world (Konstantinos does the actual stories and narratives, I focus more on the world building.. more of a macro guy) it means I have a lot of creative control over the entire product line. It is not total, as we give our artists a lot of free rein. If your artists are not challenging you, pushing your boundaries and those of the industry, I think you are doing something wrong. The other role, Founder, is a lot more nebulous. Best way to summarize it is that I am the only person who understands every step of the production and sales chain from alpha to omega as I was there when it was built… So basically I am the ultimate question answerer. And there are a LOT of questions that need answering.
What in your experience makes Conquest special, and different in a crowded game field?
I would argue that the mass battle rank and file sector is not crowded at all… But the wargaming sector might be. The core idea behind conquest is very very simple. We have a team of veteran wargamers from all sorts of wargames who devoted themselves to making this game.We tried to incorporate the best of each wargame and community and style into our own. But the heart of what makes Conquest different is the respect we have for TIME. This is from two angles: The first is it is becoming evident that people don’t have time for 4-6 hour games, so Conquest had to play within a 2 hr window. We achieved that, and the more veteran the gamer, the faster the games go. Our playtesters have enough experience to complete full games in under 1 hr. The second critical issue regarding time is that we added it to the game turn. By doing away with each player activating all of his units at once, we added not just what to do with a unit and who to, but when. Coupled with the lack of knowledge of your opponents activation sequence, how each player builds his command stack and activates his troops is a critical decision, adding a whole new level of strategy to the genre that is, in our opinion, currently lacking.
What are some of the design philosophies surrounding Conquest?
There were two key components we wanted to emphasize when working on Conquest: Fog of War and decision making. The first one is simple: Generals should not have perfect knowledge of their enemies. To this end, army lists are disclosed, if needed or challenged, at the end of a match not before. With our rolling reinforcements rule, this means generals have a general idea of what their opponent might bring, but no detailed knowledge. Coupled with the command stack mechanic and sequential activation, we wanted to focus on the decisions of the generals and their adapting to changing battlefield conditions. Dice are their own god and will favor one player or the other, but we felt that too many games (not talking about high level tournament play) were largely determined by how the army list was constructed and the army deployed rather than the decisions the player made. We have done everything possible to change that. We had some cool ideas about being able to buy multiple grades of units: so for example you could buy men at arms at three ranks: recruit, veteran and legendary, and your opponent would have to scout out the unit by bringing light troops close enough to determine their potency before meeting them in battle… Loved the idea but it slowed the game and army building to a crawl. Maybe we will bring it back as an alternate ruleset one day.
What other games do PB employees play, and do these every inform or inspire elements of your own games and plans?
Where to start? 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, Confrontation, Warmachine/Hordes, Infinity, Bolt Action, Battletech, Dropzone Commander, Warmaster, Robotech… The list goes on. The inspiration for the lore came mostly from books, mostly Tolkien and Steven Eriksson. As for influences in the rules, that was mostly down to our own player experiences, so I am pretty sure people will catch echoes or shadows of many systems in there. We tried to keep only what works and are continuously looking at the rules to keep them updated.
PB seems really intensely focused on its very loyal fans. Are programs such as your Vanguard system and Organized Play kits proving successful in growing your community?
The Vanguard Program has been critical to growing our community. Most people see our game and hold off based on the basic premise: Who am I going to play with? The Vanguard Program gives those motivated players, (you know the ones, the ones in your club or gaming group that want to get you hooked on to that new game they saw they loved and won’t leave you alone?) a real incentive to go out and build a community around the game. It also makes it a lot easier for retailers to manage the product as they are bombarded with more than 1800!!!!! new releases a year. By being in the store, showcasing our miniatures and simply being a focal point around which a community can grow, Vanguards have been critical. The organized play kits are hitting the stores this month. We are hoping to have 2-3 different kits each year, each with a different mini, rewards and scenario booklet. what we think will make the Organized play kits critical for community building is that they won’t focus only on competitive play. As of Season 1 (we started with Season 0 to get store owners and distributors up to speed and iron out any kinks we encounter) more than half the OP Booklet will be a series of linked scenarios outlining the biggest events in the Living World, linking what is happening on the online map directly with what you are playing at your store or club. But on a more personal level our Vanguards are how we stay in touch with our community: We’ve put in a lot of effort into our game to please you guys and know we ask for a lot in return, so what to hear your questions and your opinions. We really can’t go wrong if we are making a profitable game and answering your concerns. As a player, how many times have you wondered why a company took a particular direction? Why they disregarded your army in favor of others? Why they updated the rules but left the important bits out? Why on earth do they not spend time proofreading the roles and disambiguating them? This is also the heart of the Vanguard system: making sure player feedback reaches the heart of the company.
Where do you see Conquest in ten years? Any specific goals or hopes?
Oooof. God. So many… at the heart of it is Conquest. We have 18 factions written into the world, and several sub-factions could easily become whole armies in and of themselves. The dream is to create a whole product line, not stay at one product. We are all storytellers at heart and want to make a series of games that take you from Adventurer, to Hero, to Leader, to General and ultimately to King. So the idea is to create an RPG (the world was created to accommodate both a wargame and an RPG), that takes care of the Adventurer. Hero would be our dungeon crawler, set in Yggdrasil, the hybrid Spire, created by both the Weavers and Spires, starts to awaken. As Nidhogg, one of the last surviving dragons trapped in its roots plots his escape from his millennial prison and one of the Fallen Lords (read undead) suddenly takes a keen interest in the legends surrounding the ‘Well of Wisdom’ found at its roots. Leader would be taken care of by our skirmish game (this being the reason our models have both square and round bases). General is obviously Conquest. And King would be some ridiculously complex game with whole armies, economies and research while also incorporating heroes and magic… oh and also allowing for cross compatibility so that not only the miniatures of one but the characters of each could be converted to play in the others. So yeah. a lot to get cracking on.
Other ways to use your models can really help new games grow. With the recent reveals of a skirmish and dungeon-crawl version of the game in the future, can you give us any kind of preview of what those might be?
We hope to have the fully fledged Skirmish system ready before the end of the year. This will be a stand alone game, not simply a feeder mechanism for Conquest. As for the dungeon crawl… see above
Teases in general for the next releases? Further out releases? Maybe an exclusive piece of news for our readers?
Well… The upcoming Household Guard and Gilded Legion along with the Avatara have already been rather comprehensively spoiled… We have announced a collectors edition Conquest rulebook called the Companion that will include lore, art as well as updated rules expanding character customisation… Beyond that, I see Nord Huskarls and Dweghom Flameforged on the horizon and I hear the drum beats of the W’ardrhun beyond even them
Is there anything else you would like to say to the FLG community?
Thank you for the time, effort and passion you have shown so far. We know how hard it is to ask you to build a new miniature army from scratch. We are doing everything possible to stick by you guys and it’s why we invested into developing our own tool making and design departments. We are in it for the long haul and its going to be a great ride
I want to thank Stavros for his time, especially while the logistics of keep a game producted and thriving has suddenly become that much more challenging.
Exciting times ahead as this team seems filled to the brim with real gamers still very much in touch with what makes a game both good, and fun!
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