Age of ............ Slownan?

Age of ............ Slownan? Hot

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Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Few games have generated the level of anticipation and fanboy anxiety that of Age of Conan has. Although nearly any game designed with this incredible license would generate a lot of hype, the fact that Age of Conan was being designed by the team of Nepitello, Maggi and Meglio just raised expectations even more. 

Who wouldn't be excited about this game? After all,

Mongol General: What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

Sounds like a outstanding board game to me.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure this one delivers.

 I'm withholding final judgment for now, but my first play was completely uninspiring. It had some good things going for it but also had some things I didn't like. I am definitely going to play it a few more times before I give up on it, but if the next two plays are similar to the first experience, then color me disappointed.

 

To sum it up, I went in expecting this:

conan.jpg


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And instead, I got something a little less meaty:

 


Components

The components are spectacular. These designers have learned from previous snafus and really came through. The miniatures are fantastic, with lots of little detail. There are army units and emissaries, which are like diplomats. They have separate distinctive sculpts for each kingdom, which is sweet.

The forts and towers are the same for each kingdom, but they all look good too. If you are familiar with the stories, the kingdoms' miniatures evoke the flavor of their namesakes well. Each kingdom also gets a unique set of kingdom cards, which are beautiful and match the flavor of each of the kingdom factions.

 

The many cards all have excellent art and graphic design. The tokens and dice are also top of the line. The board is beautiful, not too big, and doesn't have large unused areas. You are definitely getting your money's worth from a component perspective with this game.

Rules

The rules are well organized and pretty simple. The book itself is very good; do not be scared by the 24 pages. The rules could probably be compressed down to around 10 pages if the designers had wished. They opted for more pictures and examples. The definitions of things like province, friendly, army, etc. are used inconsistently in the rules. This may be a translation issue, I don't know.

The player aid is very good, it describes the process and flow of the game well and contains the specifics on the different types of battles to help keep things clear as you learn the game. It also contains the victory point conditions, so its useful as a reference for that. My only complaint about it is that it doesn't have the gold costs printed inside.

 

 

 

Gameplay

The game is basically a risk variant with some other mechanics thrown in. There are artifacts, which you bid adventure tokens to get. Conan goes on “adventures” which amount to flipping a card which says where he is moving next. Players bid an unnamed resource (and strategy cards) for control of Conan in a blind auction. They then get to take a Conan action, which amounts to drawing an adventure tile and moving Conan towards his adventure destination. Along the way, he can drop raider tokens to mess with opponents or provide a combat bonus for the Conan player. This also serves as a timing mechanism for the game.

Conan isn't the main mechanic of the game, but more of an overlay. For most of the action, the game uses the action dice mechanic from war of the ring, but the dice are a shared pool. The seven dice are rolled. Then, on each player's turn he chooses one from the pool and takes the action shown on its face. The available actions are

Military

Intrigue

Conan + Court

Military OR Intrigue

Wild (Military OR Intrigue OR Court)

Military actions allow you to move armies and/or attack a neutral province to make it yours and place a fort there, or attack an enemy province to make it neutral. You roll dice equal to the number of army units you have in the battle. Your opponent rolls the number of units, or the number printed on the map, whichever is greater. You get bonuses for strategy cards and highest total of hits wins. This is the primary way of scoring vps before the end game scoring.

Intrigue actions allow you to move emissaries and/or intrigue a neutral province to place a tower there. You roll dice equal to one plus the number of adjacent provinces you either control or have an emissary in, your opponent rolls the number printed on the map. You get bonuses for strategy cards and highest total of hits wins. This is the primary way of obtaining gold before the end of age phase.

Court actions allow you to draw cards from the strategy deck or your kingdom deck.

The Conan action allows you to take an adventure tile, or if you control Conan that turn, you can move him and place a raider token. Adventure tokens are used for end game scoring and to bid on the artifacts.

Basically, you are taking provinces militarily for vps and intriguing provinces for gold. You are also trying to obtain adventure tokens for the artifacts and final vp scoring. You place your towers and forts. You have a chance to build cities and buy new units in between the three phases of the game.

At the end, you score vps for the forts you have on the board, plus bonuses are awarded for many things such as most battles against a human opponent won (crom tokens) most money, and most of each of the three types of adventure tokens.

One great mechanic is the ability to “crown Conan” in the third age. When the end of the game draws near, if you think you have dominance, you can name an adventure token type. If you have the most, you gain an extra vp bonus for crowning Conan, and no other players can earn vps for their adventure tokens. This nearly assures the win if you pull it off, but if you call dominance and don't have it, Conan laughs in your face and cleaves your skull! You lose and are eliminated.

 

The Good

  1. Asymmetrical starting positions – The four kingdoms have a lot of different flavor. The starting positions on the board are different, the starting number of armies are different, and each kingdom has a different deck of cards unique to it that provide a lot of flavor. This is a breath of fresh air in a game with simple rules like this one. You aren't playing green, you are playing stygia, and it shows in actual game terms.

  2. The strategy cards are really well done. Each one has a value used to bid for Conan, a bonus for combat, only usable in certain areas, and a bonus for intrigue only used in certain areas. This three-headed use of the cards makes hand management in the game interesting and lends some flavor to the Conan bidding as you try to decide- do I send my most powerful advisor to try to woo Conan, or do I save him to help in my upcoming military campaign? Hand management is where the three subsystems of the game (Conan, military, and intrigue) come together, and its a great mechanic.

  3. Simple rules, looks like it would scale well from 2 to 4, long fantasy wargame with fantastic pieces. Takes a lot of the good mechanics from War of the Ring and implements them without a huge FAQ. Fits all that into a game you can pull out on a weeknight with new players and still have a good time.

The Bad

1.      I'm supposed to crush my enemies and see them driven before me... instead I'm collecting vp tokens?           The player interaction is about as minimal as it can be for this type of game. It isn't princes of florence  or anything, but it isn't what you would expect for a game that looks like a light wargame. There is no incentive to attack another player until all of the neutral provinces have been snatched up. Its a three hour game and you won't touch anyone else until the third hour or so. Despite the fact that the emissaries and intrigue actions are a big part of the game, there are no alliances or anything like that. Other than the late game battles, the only interaction is the typical euro-style “select a resource before your opponent” crap with adventure tokens. The adventure tokens have no flavor. Instead of having a flavorful adventure resolution mechanic, you just have Conan marching all over the place doing nothing while everyone collects vp tokens. This is a key mechanic in the game, one of the most powerful ways to win because it effects so many other things. It reminds me of Android, in a bad way, with its tacked on half-euro token collecting garbage.

  1. Slownan the barbarian.... the pace is awful. This might be better with 2 or 3 players (we played with 4) but it was just mind-bogglingly slow. It takes a couple of intrigue actions to set up a successful intrigue. You need to build your hand to successfully do a military action, plus move your armies around the board. Basically, doing anything takes several turns. The board at the end of a 4 hour game isn't all that different than it was when you started. Everyone has expanded a good bit and beat on each other a couple times, and then the game ends. Some people are going to tell you that its a quick 2 hour game. Well, that depends on the dice. If no Conan and Crown symbols are rolled for a couple of turns, that slows the game down a lot. It happened to us and our game was probably extended by around an hour because of it.

  2. Where the hell is Conan? - This guy on the board reminds me more of Forrest Gump. Several times during the game, I was tempted to holler, run, forrest, run, because all Conan does is walk back and forth across the board. When he is present in a battle, he may not effect it at all if no Conan icons were rolled. We had a good time joking around about Conan being drunk or not showing up to work that day, or whatever, but honestly for a game at least partially about Conan, he does as little as possible... what a lazy ass. Conan is bland and vanilla, and makes the game feel like a generic fantasy game instead of a Hyborean one.

    Conclusion


I have only played once, and I am sure my opinion is going to change once I play again, but I do not have high hopes for this game. It is the tofurkey of ameritrash games... it smells like turkey, its shaped like turkey, but that shit does not taste like turkey. Age of Conan looks, smells, and in some ways plays like a great ameritrash game, or at least a suped up risk variant. Unfortunately, when you see it close up you realize its a tofu-like imposter.

 Age of Conan is a turn the crank, spit out the vps style game where you play a little risk mini-game (roll dice, woohoo) in between to pass the time. Its almost saved by the insanely good components and the conan flavor contributed by the kingdom cards, but in the end it fell flat for me.

 I will certainly play it again, and perhaps it will prove my initial impressions wrong, but this isn't the game I was hoping for.

Age of ............ Slownan? There Will Be Games
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