I just finished my first game of D&D Conquest of Nerath. What did I think? Read on!
(spoiler alert: it was pretty cool)
Conquest of Nerath is a really interesting example of asymmetrical game balance. Each of the four factions has different strengths; for example, the Vailin Alliance has a strong navy, while the Iron Circle is better on land.
I had hypothesized that the game might end up feeling repetitive, since the starting conditions are exactly the same every game, even including turn order. However, since each faction has different tactical considerations, all you have to do to mix things up is play a different faction from game to game.
The dungeons add a fun element of unpredictability. Some dungeon guardians are stronger than others, so a single wizard who can manage against most monsters might end up fighting a medusa or a powerful dragon and lose the battle. But the treasure cards are extremely powerful and have some pretty major game-changing effects, so it's usually worth the risk. For example, I got Winged Boots, which allows my wizards and fighters to fly, while the Iron Circle player earned a treasure that let his dragons score two hits instead of one with certain attack rolls.
I'm a little disappointed with the rules for naval movement - it's quite slow. Ships can't move after loading troops, so it's mostly impossible to make surprise naval attacks. That's fine in a longer game, but in a short game (like I played for my first time) the seas don't provide much in the way of tactical opportunity. I'd like to see if a strong navy makes a greater impact when the game goes on for a while, since you could attack the entire other side of the board.
Wizards and dragons seem to be the most powerful pieces by a long shot. Wizards have the First Strike ability, which allows them to attack and deal damage before the enemy gets to roll, so a good wizard strike can result in a safe and easy victory. Dragons, as flying pieces, also add a powerful tactical consideration in that they can fly over enemy troops without engaging them. A player with a lot of dragons in play forces his enemies to guard all of their territory, as opposed to just the front line, because the dragons could fly over the front line and capture undefended spaces. And with a few event cards that add a super-powerful breath weapon, the dragons can really be a game changer.
None of the players ever bothered buying footsoldiers, which on second thought could have been a good idea. Our perspective was that they weren't worth the gold because they only attack with d6 (and you need a 6 or higher to hit), but having a large number of footsoldiers is good for absorbing hits, and the greater number of dice could end up providing better odds than only a couple of stronger units. The downside is that you can only carry two pieces on a ship at a time, and it's better to carry two fighters than two footsoldiers.
The only downside I can see is the same one present in Risk: in a long game, it's very possible that one player might have too few resources to fight back, or even be knocked out before the others. That's never fun.
Overall, Conquest of Nerath was a lot of fun, and I hope to play a longer game soon!