Age of Conan – Boardgame Review
Age of Conan. Boardgame Review. Publisher: Nexus Games International – US Distribution: Fantasy Flight Games. Developers: Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, Francesco Nepitello. $79.95
Passed Inspection: Incredible level of strategy using Fate Dice and Objective Cards, beautiful artwork and miniatures, very true to the Robert E. Howard stories.
Failed Basic: Available actions are random each turn; weak as a two-player game.
The Conan franchise has produced a nice legacy of gaming; classic role-playing games from TSR and Mongoose Publishing, an ill-starred collectible card game, and even a series of those solitaire "if you go right turn to page 27" adventure books. But it was only recently (late 2009) that the full-blooded adventure series was married to a strategic wargame, and the results are impressive.
…wargamers seeking a challenging game of tactical depth can stop looking.
Age of Conan is produced by the European company Nexus Games, distributed here in the states by Fantasy Flight Games. It features beautiful artwork, wonderfully sculpted figures (including a great Conan miniature), and some of the deepest strategy play I’ve seen in a game for some time.
The game has two to four players choosing a kingdom to run; mysterious Hyperborea, civilized Aquilonia, Turan the desert kingdom, or the corrupt and corrupting Stygia. Kingdoms begin with five army figures and five emissaries in their home province (Hyperborea and Stygia begin with only four emissaries but get two Sorcery tokens to start); the figure sculpts are different for each nationality. Each kingdom has their own deck of 21 Kingdom Strategy cards which is keyed to the kingdom’s "style"; so Stygia gets human sacrifices and sorcerous research, while Aquilonia has military drafts and noble commanders. Players also draw cards throughout the game from a deck of 37 common Strategy Cards that everyone can use.
Players begin the game by randomly distributing the four artifact cards; Sword Of Atlantis, Heart Of Tammuz, Crown Of Serpents, and a card designating one player as the Conan Player. All four cards are used in a four-player game; with fewer players, one or two of the artifacts are "lost" (set aside). And then Age of Conan begins its magic.
From a deck of twelve Objective Cards, draw four cards; these are what the kingdoms are trying to accomplish. That’s right, Mr. Blitz Gamer, you can’t win by an attack-attack-attack strategy against the other players. Some of the goals you are trying to accomplish include War Against The Pirates (control two coastal territories) or Power Behind The Thrones (have more emissaries in play than any other kingdom). Each goal accomplished by the end of the Age nets you a certain number of victory points indicated on the card.
So how long is an Age? Four Conan Adventure cards, that’s how long. A deck of 27 full color cards covers every Conan adventure Robert E.Howard ever wrote, novels and short stories. Take the top four cards from the deck and keep them face-down, setting them on the Adventure Track on the gameboard. Flip over the top card, place the silver obelisk piece in the province indicated on the card (marking Conan’s destination), and randomly select a few adventure tiles — more on them later. Once Conan has completed four adventures, the Age ends and a new one begins. A more perfect "game turn record track" has not been invented yet.
At the start of each adventure players bid for control of Conan by playing and discarding one strategy card along with a "bid chit" (each kingdom begins with five of these, numbered 0 and 3 through 6). High bidder gains control of Conan and can move his piece for the current adventure. Now the Conan player rolls the seven blue Fate Dice. These special six-sided dice have symbols instead of numbers on their faces. The symbols indicate which kind of Action can be taken; Court, Military, Intrigue, Military / Intrigue (two faces of this one), and Wild. Beginning with the Conan player, each player chooses one die and removes it (temporarily) from the game, performing the action allowed. So the pool of actions continues to dwindle until there is only one die left; once that action is taken, the next player to go re-rolls all seven Fate Dice and can choose his action from among them.
Military Actions involve moving your armies either to reinforce a friendly province or into an adjacent province to conquer it (if neutral) or invade it (if controlled by another player). Emissaries take Intrigue Actions, where you seek to ally yourself with a neutral province or undermine the alliances other players have made. Court Actions allow you to choose up to two cards from your Kingdom deck and / or the general Strategy deck of cards. A Wild die can be used to perform any single action.
A Court action also allows the player to have a Conan adventure. If the Conan player gets a Court action, he can move Conan one province towards his destination and gains one adventure tile; a non-Conan player can gain one adventure tile with a Court action. Adventure tiles, in true Conan fashion, represent what is most important in life; treasure, monsters, and women. Tiles can be turned in immediately to gain either gold or points of sorcery, or they can be held until the end of the Age when the artifact cards are re-distrbuted; artifacts tend to be stolen or lost! At the end of each age, whoever has the most monster tiles gains the Sword Of Atlantis with its Military bonus; the Crown Of Serpents (with its Intrigue bonus) goes to whoever has the most treasure tiles, while the Heart Of Tammuz (reduced gold cost to play some kingdom strategy cards) goes to who has collected the most women.
As Conan is moved, the Conan player can place Raider tokens in neighboring provinces simulating both Conan’s rather destructive tendencies and tribes of savages or bandits who roam the Hyborian age. Raiders make military and intrigue actions against the province more difficult. Once Conan reaches his destination, the adventure is completed; flip over the next adventure card, place the obelisk in the new destination province, bid for control of Conan, and continue playing. When all four adventures are completed, there is an Age Change mini-phase in which Artifacts are exchanged, collected gold coins are spent on troops and forts, Victory Points are counted, new Objective cards drawn, and four new Adventure cards selected. After twelve adventures (three Ages), the player with the most Victory Points has become King.
Contests, whether Military or Intrigue, are conducted using Challenge Dice, six special six-sided dice which have as faces hits, shields, axes, and blanks. As attacker you want to roll more hits than your opponent rolls shields; playing a strategy card allows you to count axes or even shields as hits (while the defender can play a strategy card to count axes or hits as shields). Some Kingdom Strategy Cards are special military units or characters who can affect the battle; these cost gold coins to play. The number of dice you roll depends on the circumstance; a military contest rolls a die for each military unit involved, Intrigue depends on the number of emissaries and friendly provinces adjacent to the target, and so on. Sorcery tokens can be spent to re-roll Challenge Dice.
No Hyborian Blitzkreig. No Nail The Leader. The strategy in this game is dizzying. Want to stop your opponent from invading a province? Take the last Military die from the action pool to attack some small power. Currently leading in points? Make sure no one else is able to accomplish the current Objectives. Not doing too well and it’s the third Conan adventure of this Age? Gather up as many monster tiles as you can and get the Sword Of Atlantis so you can go on a major military offensive next Age. In control of Conan? You can end the current Age whenever you want by moving Conan into the correct province. Like a three-dimensional chess match, you are forced to keep your eye on all possible strategies while following only one. The Conan Adventures, the Fate Dice, the Objective Cards, and the moves of the other players coalesce into an ebb and flow not found in most other games.
Age of Conan is a good-looking game, with great artwork and well-crafted miniatures (10 different Hyborian sculpts). And it plays as well as it looks, a game of layered strategy with a broad range of options constantly available to players. This is a game any Howard fan must own, and those wargamers seeking a challenging game of tactical depth can stop looking. And you get snake temples on your gaming table. You can’t ask for much more (except a Red Sonja miniature).
Solitaire Rating: 2 of 5
Armchair General Rating: 95%
About the Author
Sean Stevenson started wargaming with SPI and has spent the past 35 years as a freelance game designer and playtester. When not playing any of the 1000+ games in his personal collection, he can be found reading a book on Colonial America or running one of several Pittsburgh area bookstores.