Conan is truly a man of many faces. But the most important is face of hero. One, whose affection does not belong to anyone. He stands only alongside those he wants. But nobody is sure, that everything will not change in a blink of an eye and his powerful arm will stand by side of the enemy.
Welcome to the Hyborian world. We are invited by authors Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello. This is trinity of designers from company Ares Games, who stand behind Battle of Five Armies or even more famous War of the Ring. The game originates in 2009, published in the production of Fantasy Flight Games.
Whole fantasy world filled with gods is hidden in a large box, which extends in width, as if it wants to embrace even our land. And it all starts with the rules. Booklet grew to 24 pages of text, but we do not pay much attention to them, because we already have huge map of Conan’s world in sight. This one is oriented in portrait and in addition to various territories, we find also place for decks or some scales.
Board is the only thing, that keeps the rest of the components in their shelves. There is of course a flood of soldier miniatures, emissaries and forts, but also one hero piece of Conan. Players will also get a lot of different tokens, whether its gold coins, magic or adventure. Three-dimensional elements are represented also by a set of dice and only then we get to the flat componenst: cards. Most of them wear a lot of text and perhaps only strategy cards are a little different and affect the battle with their symbols.
Individual players must choose one of four possible lands (Aquilonia, Hyperborea, Turan and Stygia), which they may represent (these territories have their own icons). Based on its color, players will gain military (some of them are now placed in their home territory), kingdom cards (shuffled and placed face down in front of player) and betting tokens. All interested parties are also given resource tokens (finance or spells), two strategy cards and one artifact.
Unfolded game board can be equipped with decks of cards, uncovered goal and adventures cards. From the latter, one has to be chosen for Conan. Now according to it, players also placed obelisk marking goal location. Figurine of the hero starts in the province of Cimmeria. From the reserve, players draw adventure tokens, that are placed in a row. At the very end of the preparation, an auction is held. The winner will be the one controlling Conan at start.
Entire game is divided into three eras and their duration is counted on Conan’s adventures. Actions for each round are decided by seven dice of fate, which creates always different icon offer. In his turn, each player always selects one of the dice and may choose an action. Four of available icons revolves around attacking, whether by strength or intrigue. Players will then move their troops, envoy to friendly provinces and attack hostile territories. By using another icon, player can also select option to draw cards (or strategies). The last option is to move Conan, which is available for all. But if this action is chosen by player, who does not control the hero, then he takes one token from adventure route instead.
Presence of ambassadors in the area makes it friendly, because he can convice people of player good intentions. But not all areas are empty at first, as they may be settled by barbarians or enemy armies. And in this case, its time for force. At the beginning of the battle, players can play strategy cards and then roll the dice based on number of units. Their results can be hits, defense or miss.
The battle itself is still divided into siege, battle or campaign (based on who is fighting who) with their specific rules and different consequences for both sides (sometimes one of them also is a NPC). Winners usually get opportunity to occupy the territory and put their fortress or tower miniature there, while the losers have to sacrifice unit. Once the last icon from the menu of dice is selected, players reroll and round continues.
But in addition to the troops, also Conan is important part of the game. The Conan player, who has him currently under control, may in his turn also move with this hero and remove token from adventures scale. Once the scale is empty, it is necessary to evaluate the whole glorious expedition. Players will check, whether hero succeeded in arriving in his intended destination. If he managed to do so, his owner will receive a token. Otherwise, miniature is only moved to the target position, but without any reward. Its all followed by the unveiling of a new goal card and new auction for being Conan player.
After playing four adventures, there is a change of age. Controlled teritories bring revenue at this moment. Then, finally, players will have the opportunity to hire new soldiers for the acquired gold coins. Players also compete for artifacts, that are once again available with adventure tokens. A new adventure deck is made and game continues.
But the players receive particular empire points during the game for their achievements and also for conquest of territories by force or performing quests. Only after completing the third age, players can add to these points more for achievements (eg. being richest kingdom). During the last third age, current Conan player may also try to crown his hero. For it, he gets bonus points. In any case, at the end of the game whoever has the most empire points, wins.
Age of Conan is a spectacular game, there is absolutely no doubt about that. It is a fair strategy game with a variety of ways to work towards victory. Gamers must cleverly combine correct choice of the dice with actions and of course occupying advantageous positions.
Big plus is the overall atmosphere, which benefits from a sophisticated world, and of course is based on the famous novels by Robert E. Howard. It also follows an overall story, that the game can tell. Although, it is one of those traditional story about conquest of the whole world. The only element, that completely disrupts this ordinary flow is Conan and his own adventures. And this hero has a lot of power to influence the entire fight and give dominance a lesser meaning. Having the most powerful fighter at your side must count for something, right?
One of the possible drawbacks is a pretty subjective one: length of the entire match. With more opponents, you’ll get easily into pretty long struggle of two hours or more. But throughout the game, interesting development is offered and players still have lots of things to think about. So the game remains fun, even when you get to third hour of battle for Hyboria.
Thanks to this time, other characteristic of Age of Conan come to sight. Game is very unpredictable and development can often surprise. On the other hand, it will certainly not please anyone to simply suddenly lose a good lead with working strategy thanks to some bad luck. Here, of course, dice play an important role. These items belong to the whole experience and make it sufficiently random. This also keeps the tension at its maximum all the time.
Players have countless opportunities to go for each other. Game certainly is not peaceful and keeps conflict of various armies in the front at all times. When players do not fight together, their armies must handle accounts with neutral opponents occupying territories. To be the player, who is in control of Conan, is craving of all participants and can also be a very crucial regarding point gain.
Due to the deployment areas location, game is best with odd numbers, because otherwise (with three) one of the generals finds himself on the horns of the other two. Then the game is not as balanced as it could be. And larger number of players are also extends entire game time, as we have noted.
Age of Conan is an epic experience with everything, that belongs to it. Players will get the long game with random elements, which is full of battles, but also the individual adventures of one hero. The game offers pile of tactical options as players work their way towards final scoring. Although there are minor complaints about playing time or some player numbers, the overall impression is excellent. Age of Conan simply knows, how to be an excellent game, if you lean towards long, action-packed table experiences.
+ great atmosphere
+ wide range of tactics
+ playing time will allow the experience to shine
+ interesting Conan role
+ unpredictable game
+ very conflicted
+ excellent in two
- game is pretty random
- playing time with four players
- game is not well balanced in three
- everyone wants to control Conan