Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game

I may have mentioned many moons ago, backing not one but two Conan the Barbarian based games on Kickstarter.  Last year proved to be Conan's year on the Crowdfunding sites, with at leas four different games appearing over the year.  Xmas Eve saw my copy of the first of the games I funded arrive and finally after a bit of a break due to study I was able to get the game to the table a couple of times last week.

Age Of Conan: the Strategy Board game, is as the name implies an area control strategy game, in simplest terms it has a passing resemblance to games like risk, but it is more sophisticated, and whilst of course these additional complexities add to the learning curve, the reward is a far more interesting game.
 Early game view of the Board
Between two and four players each take control of one of the major kingdoms of Hyboria - Aquilonia, Hyperboria, Turan or Stygia, beginning the game with a small supply of gold, an army and a number of emissaries.  With these they will seek to expand their power either by politicking and trading or in conquest.  The actions a player may take on a turn are dependent on the results of a set of dice rolled once every 7 actions - only the displayed actions are available until all the dice have been used - a single die is taken by a player and then used to initiate peaceful or hostile actions, or to gather cards and possible utilise Conan.  

Combat resolution sees armies set about a campaign that may require 2 to 4 victories to be complete, an activity which may take time or can be accelerated at the cost of men.  Cards are played to confer advantages, and certain other cards may be retained for repeated use.  Diplomacy carried out by emissaries operates similarly, but relies on a network of friends to succeed and offers different - largely financial - rewards.  Players may attack one another, and this can lead to sieges and great battles.

As to our titular hero, it is fair to say he acts for no man save the man whose cause serves Conan himself best - be it acquiring the trophies of combat, of lust, or of gold.  Players bid at the start of the game and periodically throughout it to 'control' Conan, who travels the world seeking adventure and fortunes.  Some of which end up in his sponsors pockets.  Whenever a player takes a die for Conan he or she can also gather cards which may aid in their attempts to conquer the known world.

A three way contest develops
There are three ages in the game, reflecting Conan's career, at the end of every fourth adventure for Conan an age ends and certain victory conditions are checked for scoring and players may buy additional resources/troops and reset their cards in play.  Victory is based on a number of factors, but controlling land and using Conan to gather you riches are both important and it is vital to balance both.

We played it twice in fairly quick succession, and I have to say it was a great game.  There are a number of balancing factors built into the game that mean that superiority on the battlefield is not the only way you can win, and careful governance of your resources will be rewarded.  There are also degrees of luck in the order dice and rolling of other dice to resolve combat (all dice in the game are custom printed with relevant faces) which ensure no one can ever be too certain of an outcome.

Play of a full three-age game is likely to be around the three hour mark so it is probably in the range of longer boardgames by today's standards, but that investment of time is rewarded.  Similarly the investment in the game offers rich returns in the form of beautiful cards and counters, custom dice and well over 100 plastic miniatures.

This game comes highly recommended, particularly for the wargamer who likes to dip his toe into boardgames now and then.  It feels like playing a campaign sped up to an evening, and I'm sure you could very easily replace the board game combat resolution with a traditional wargame if one preferred.  It wouldn't take too much to figure out.

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