The enemy is close at hand. The time of the final battle draws near.So, floridly, ran the intro for a series of little books I devised in the late '90s with my schoolfriend Nick Henfrey. (I don't mean we were at school in the late '90s, that was much earlier; I just want you to know that the RGS Guildford is to blame.)
Your own forces and those of your foe face each other across the dusty plain. Sunlight glints like droplets of fresh blood on bronze shields and polished armour. Swords and spear-tips bristle above the ranks.
Horns and war-drums sound. The troops advance grimly. Each warrior has sworn to fight and even die on your behalf. As their general, you must make sure their sacrifices are not in vain.
To beat your opponent you must strike through to his fortress. Your armies are equally matched in strength, but that is not the only factor that will count in this battle. Luck and skill are even more important.
They were square-format books, quite short, and each page looked a bit like the image above. Here's how they were played:
As you see there, we called the series Conquerors (like conkers, geddit?) and although the prototype was done using fantasy characters, we intended you could have all sorts of themes: Wild West, superheroes, horror, gladiators, aliens, and so on.
Find someone else with a Conquerors book and challenge them to a duel.
You both start at the first spread in the book, where you will see there are four characters to choose from. Holding the book up in front of you, decide secretly which of the four you are sending into battle. When you and your opponent have both chosen, you hold out your books to each other with the character you have chosen facing towards the other person. Reciting your character's catchphrase is optional.
Now compare the characters to see who wins. For example, say you chose Greebo the Hog and your opponent chose Sir Grim of Grinn. Sir Grim is CAVALRY and Greebo's results table shows that he beats CAVALRY opponents, so you have won that round. The winner moves on to the next spread while the loser remains on the same spread.
Both of you then decide which character to send into the next round of battle as before. Last round's loser can choose the same character as before if he wishes, or one of the others on that spread.
If you draw with your opponent, both of you move on to the next spread. The winner is the first to win through to the end of their book.
The reason you never saw a Conquerors book is that publishers, almost without exception, hated the idea. One said to me, "I cannot conceive of any reason why we would ever publish such a thing." The exception was Richard Scrivener at Puffin - the only male editor who we pitched it to, indeed possibly the only man in a senior position in children's publishing back then. Richard saw that boys of 6-10 years would have a lot of fun with something like this in the playground. No, it wasn't getting them to read Sir Walter Scott, nor to abandon their doubtless woeful and (so it was thought then) culturally programmed interest in violence, gusto and gore. It was Top Gear for small boys.
Unfortunately, though Richard and I worked at it, we couldn't get the costings right and the series never got started. By that time Jamie and I had started working at Eidos on our RTS game Plague (later Warrior Kings) and so I didn't have the time to chase up Conquerors further.
Anyway, although designed as books, Conquerors can equally well be played as a card game. And, as many readers of Fabled Lands and Dragon Warriors now have sons or nephews of the right age, I'm going to post up some cards over the next few days and you can give it a whirl.