Date of publication: 2009
Publisher: Nexus game/Fantasy Flight game
Number of players: 2-4
Suited for: Age 12 to adults
First of all, I need to clarify, board game is my new hobby. Therefore, this is literally, my first board game review. All things must have a beginning, and I am going write my first board game review on "Age of Conan the strategy board game".
Age of Conan, is the first board game I purchased in my life. I picked this game, as my stepping stone into the world of board games, because I am a huge fan of Robert E. Howard, and I also like the character Conan and the Hyborian age. I've played the MMO computer game, Age of Conan, but I just didn't like it very much. However, in the past, I have seen this board game on the shelves of bookshops and the like, and I was always curious about it.
I purchased the game from Fantasy Flight Game during its Christmas special sales, for 25 bucks (it is usually around 80 bucks). I don't have anyone to play with me yet, but I have played about 5 solo games now, and developed an AI rule for my solo sessions. By now, I think I know enough about the game to write a review. Just keep in mind, my review is based on solo playthroughs.
Age of Conan, is a thematic war game, set in Robert E. Howard's literary invention, Conan the Cimmerian. If you are unfamiliar with Howard's Conan stories. The world of Conan was called the Hyborian Age, it is a pseudo historical era dated about 15,000 years ago. During the time of Hyborian Age, the world was one continent, populated by different civilizations.
Official promotion trailer for Age of Conan: The strategy board game
This game supports 2-4 players. Each player takes control over one of the four dominant civilizations from Hyborian age, seeking to expand their empires through military conquests and diplomacy. At the same time, Conan, wanders around in the Hyborian continent, embarking personal adventures. In this game, no one really controls Conan (a very interesting gameplay mechanism I will explain later), however, a smart player will try to incorporate Conan's movements on the map into his/her strategy for maximum benefit.
This game comes with high quality components. It has a rule book, a very big and sturdy board, 2 sets of dices, lots of cards, tokens, and 170 pieces of plastic miniatures (including 1 Conan miniature and an adventure marker). There are 4 kingdoms for the players to choose from: Aquilonia, Hyperborea, Stygia, and Turan. Each of these kingdoms have their own set of kingdom cards, miniatures, and they are different to each other. This means, the player need to use different strategies when playing as a different kingdom.
The art works on the cards are very beautiful, the board is big and beautifully drawn. The plastic miniatures are very detailed, and are divided into 4 kingdoms. Each kingdom has different looking miniatures, with their corresponding color codes. Each kingdom has 4 types of components/units: Soldier, Emmisory, fort, and tower. The soldier units are used in military contests, emmisory units are used in intrigue contests, forts are markers for player controlled provinces won through military conquests, while towers are markers for player controlled provinces through intrigue contests.
The core mechanics of this game is a bit complex, I will not provide a detailed walkthrough here, but simply outline the general rules. Essentially, this game has 2 major aspects. The first aspect, is the part when the player bids for control of Conan and his adventures. The second aspect, is the actual war game itself (conquering pronvinces, sending emmisories etc..). In order to give you an idea of how this works, I will explain the role of Conan first.
The role of Conan in this game:
As I have mentioned before, in Age of Conan, no one really controls Conan. So you might wonder, how does this work? Personally, I think the control mechanism of Conan in this game, is absolutely genius! Let me explain.
In this game, the goal for each player is to gain as much "empire point" through his/her playthrough. This can be done by conquering pronvinces on the map, or achieving certain objectives in the game.
One of the roles of Conan, is to dictate the time and progress of this game. Age of Conan is played in 3 ages. Each age consists of 4 Conan adventures. The Conan adventures are played out using an adventure deck. At the beginning of every adventure, a new adventure card is drawn, the destination is shown on the card, with the number of adventure tracks/tokens shown at the bottom of the card. The adventure tokens, represent the length of the adventure in play. The players then bid for Conan, the player with the highest bid, recives the right to control Conan for that adventure, and collects adventure tokens while he guides Conan to progress with the adventure. Collecting adventure tokens, is one of the ways to win the game (but not the only way to win). After an adventure is completed, a new adventure card is drawn, and the bidding process starts again. The completion of 4 adventures, symbolizes the end of an age. This is the time when scores are rewarded to each player, and new Conan adventure decks are set up for the next age/phase. So essentially, the timing in Age of Conan, has 3 phases.
But the role of Conan doesn't end here. The player who wins the bid for Conan (the Conan player), receives certain benefits when Conan is in the province he/she is trying to conquer. At the same time, if a non-Conan player is attacking a province where Conan is at, then Conan works against him/her. On top of this, the Conan player can also drop "raider coins" in other player's provinces, causing his/her opponents to loose empire points if the raids are not resolved properly at the end of an age.
Finally, in the 3rd age. If the Conan player manages to guide Conan to his/her home province at an end of an adventure. He/she can end the game early, by crowning Conan. A successful attempt to crown Conan, reward the player with massive number of empire points, which might help the player to win in the end. However, if you fail, then Conan laughs in your face and cut your head off! (meaning the player looses the game immediately and is out of the game).
In summary, in this game, a cunning player will try to take advantage of Conan's presence, or use Conan to sabotage his opponents' progress. Conan acts as a force of nature, the legendary Cimmerian wanders around on the map for his own personal interests. What tends to happen is Conan can be an aid to your plan in this round, but can suddenly work against you in the next round. Personally, I think the way Conan is presented in this game, is very faithful to the way Conan was envisioned in Robert E. Howard's original short stories.
The war game part:
The major part of this game, is the contest for dominance. Each player takes turns to perform his/her actions. The actions are determined by rolling 7 fate dice. Afterward, the player pick a dice from the dice pool, to engage in either: military action (conquering pronvinces), intrigue action (winning provinces through diplomacy), or court action (playing even cards, drawing more cards etc..).
The military and intrigue contests are played out by throwing 6 dices. The player wins the contest by scorcing more hits than his opponent's hit score from the dice throw. There are 3 types of military contests: campaign, siege, and battle. Campaign is when the player attacks an uncontrolled, neutral province. Siege, is when the player attacks a province owned by another player. Battle, is when two players' armies meet in a neutral province. When a player conquers a pronvince through military contests, the player gains empire points. Intrigue contests, shares similar principle as military contests, but when a player wins an intrigue contest, he/she gets gold instead of empire points.
The player can also buid card decks. Each kingdom, has an unique set of "kingdom cards", and there is also a set of strategy cards, with 2 functions: 1) used to bid for Conan, and 2) adding bonuses during contests. These cards, are essential to help the players to win contests. The player can increase his/her card deck, by drawing cards when the court action is chosen during his/her turn. In my experience, it is not very easy to win a contest without using these cards.
What I think about this game:
Learning curve: (7/10) - As a new comer to the world of board games, I found the initial learning curve of this game a bit steep. There are many rules to learn. For me, the gameplay only started to flow smoothly when I finally mastered the rules in my 3rd playthrough. Veterans to board games (war games) might find the rules easy to learn, but for new comers and casual gamers, the learning curve could be slightly steep. The good thing is, the rules are intiuitive and not very confusing, anyone should be able to get the rough idea of the rules after 1 sitting. While mastering 90% of all game rules after 2 playthroughs. Once you are familiarized with the rules, the gameplay flows very smoothly. I think it might be slightly difficult for younger players (kids) to learn the complex rules in this game. In other words, I think this game is more suitable for adults who have better reading, and comprehension abilities.
Component/production quality: (9/10) - This game has very high quality components. The board is beautiful, the presentation of the board feels like an ancient artifact I dug out in some forgotten desert. It captures the theme really well. The cards are thick, glossy and have beautiful art works. There are plenty of plastic miniatures, these pieces are highly detailed, the Conan miniature looks especially amazing. Overall, this game is asthetically pleasing to look at, and the components are robust and sturdy.
Replayability: (8/10) - In my 5 playthroughs, every playthrough is different. The fact there are 4 kingdoms with different abilities, also means the player needs to adapt a different strategy when playing a different kingdom, further adding to the replay value.