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Matt Drake
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I don't think I'm a very good nerd. I'm definitely a nerd - don't get me wrong - but I don't think I'm very good at it. Like, I haven't been watching Battlestar Galactica, and I don't really care if I ever see Watchmen. The only reason the Princess Leia slave outfit appeals to me is because the girl is almost naked - it could have been a bikini on a Victoria's Secret model and got the exact same thrill factor. And to really bring home how bad I am at being a nerd, I've never really been all that into Conan.

Now before you pull my geek badge, allow me some points in my defense. First, I have read a lot of the comic books. I saw the movie when I was a kid. I know that King Conan ruled Aquilonia. I also know that I would totally do Brigitte Nielsen, whether or not she was dressed as Red Sonja (I saw a picture of her from 2008, and she is aging quite well. Not Morgan Fairchild well, but still pretty damned good). I like Conan, I just always thought parts of it were silly, and I thought Howard was kind of a crappy writer.

So while I was interested in a Conan board game, I wasn't quite as giddy as some of the guys I play games with now and then. I'll be hard-pressed to turn down a good game with friends, though, so we rolled that puppy out last weekend and I have to say - it's a tall glass of pure distilled Kentucky awesome.

Even if you're not a Conanophile, even if you never bothered to see that second Conan movie, Age of Conan is going to rock your face off. Hell, just the components are ten pounds of gorgeous in a five pound bag. There are different sculpts for every group (as there should be - even I know that Aquilonians don't look like Stygians, though until I played this game I didn't even know Turan existed). The board is huge and beautiful, and the cards are amazing, and even the freaking dice are nice. I'll grant you that the colors are a tad garish, but when you sit down at the table and this behemoth is set up all over the place, you're going to be glad you decided to drop a car payment on a wargame.

And there can be no mistake - this is definitely a wargame. Even if you only know about Conan from stories your friends told, you still know a Conan game has to have some pretty considerable violence. Heck, there are counters called 'Crom! Count the dead!' and at the end of the game, the player with the most of them gets a pretty nice little point boost. You can send out emissaries to make allies, but if you want to win the game, you have to stomp other kingdoms into the mud.

Age of Conan also includes one of my favorites gimmicks - dice that tell you what you can do on your turn. I love when a game does this. You roll a bunch of dice, and they have different symbols on them, and you choose one and do that. Like you might choose a military die to start a war, or choose an intrigue die to try your hand at some politics. If you're close to the end of the pool, there won't be as many dice left, so part of the strategy behind choosing a die is trying to remove options for the guy who comes after you. This particular mechanic is brilliantly executed, and ensures that to be competitive, you have to balance a long-term strategy with short-term flexibility. Plus one of the dice lets you take turns with Conan.

The Conan part of this game is continued genius. It's an extended tantric orgasm of genius. Every so often, everyone will bid to try to control Conan and profit from his adventures, and having Conan on your side can be a powerful help. Plus if Conan is in your country, you don't want your neighbor to be able to control him, because he can also do a pretty slick job of slapping you around like a vampire witch.

The theme in Age of Conan is executed with what approaches flawless integration of game and source material. Sorcery will help the Stygians turn the tides of battles, while military superiority will push the Aquilonians to victory. Conan may show up and run roughshod over a region one day, and then be helping to repel invaders the next. And to round it all out, the game ends when one brazen player attempts to make Conan the king (or when nobody does and Conan gets bored and moves into a trailer with his old lady to make handcrafted wrought-iron sculptures).

Crowning Conan is unlikely, risky and difficult - but it can be done, and while it doesn't necessarily guarantee a win, it's pretty close to it, because the player who can make Conan the king of his country gets a pile of points. The downside is that if he tries and fails, Conan chops off his head and turns it into a cereal bowl, so you really don't want to blow this if you decide to give it a shot.

And that brings me around to some of my complaints. Just because it's a concentrated espresso shot of kick-ass does not mean the Age of Conan is without flaws. My biggest beef is that a couple good swings of luck is all a crappy player needs to win. You can play with a genius unrivaled since Napoleon Bonaparte and still lose because another guy happens to pull the right card at the right time. You can roll the action dice and wind up without one single thing you can use to further your plans. You can set a gigantic army against an incredibly tiny one and be completely repulsed. I may be old-fashioned, but if I play better than anyone else at the table, I want to win.

Part of the reason that I mind the luck in this game is because it takes so long to play. It's one thing to lose a game after an hour because the dice flipped you the bird, but it's a real whip to lose the game after five hours just because the wrong card hit the table at the wrong time.

But two complaints are not enough to make Age of Conan anything but white lightning kick-ass. This is still one hell of a fun game, and even if you're not a fan of huge Austrian barbarians with lantern jaws, Age of Conan is one of the most thematically perfect, deeply intelligent, and just plain thrilling wargames I've played in my whole life.

Summary

Pros:
Absolutely amazing components
Perfectly executed theme
Lots and lots to do

Cons:
Takes forever
Unbalancing amounts of luck
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Jon Day
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Good review, but I have to echo the above comment that none of the 4 players I played with at London On Board had any fun playing the game.

The board spaces are far too small for the components, the dice mechanic was just frustrating (in our game we had very few military dice - Conan comes up far too often) and there were next to no interesting decisions to be made all game. I was able to win largely through some lucky card draws allowing me to convert Conan dice into Military dice and therefore be one of the only players actually able to increase their empire.

The control of Conan was also largey irrelevant as there were so many conan dice drawn his adventures barely lasted one round allowing the controlling player at most one or two moves.

Our game took just over 3 hours (after rules explanation), but after the first hour it was plain that we weren't enjoying ourselves.

I won't play this one again, but perhaps people more into the theme will be more willing to bear with its problems.

Edited for clarification.
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Yoki Erdtman
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VixenTorGames wrote:
Part of the reason that I mind the luck in this game is because it takes so long to play. It's one thing to lose a game after an hour because the dice flipped you the bird, but it's a real whip to lose the game after five hours just because the wrong card hit the table at the wrong time.

Summary

Pros:
Absolutely amazing components
Perfectly executed theme
Lots and lots to do

Cons:
Takes forever
Unbalancing amounts of luck

I always enjoy your reviews Matt, and agree on most points. I too think they captured the theme fantastically well, and you always have tons of choices in what to do next.

I don't think the game comes with "unbalancing amounts of luck," or at least I don't mind the level of luck in the game.

However, have you really played a five hour game of Age of Conan? That's crazy! The First Age along with extensive rules instructions ran about an hour when I demoed the game at Spiel, and that was the first time I played it myself. The last two thirds of the game go much faster as people knew how to play then. The game should never go over three hours IMO, and should clock in under two once one person knows the rules well enough to teach the others.
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Tim Kelly
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Great review. Thanks! One thing I've noticed with repeated plays (7 so far) is: even if the only die left in the pool isn't your desired choice for that turn, with 3-4 options for each die, there's always something one can do to improve one's position in the game.
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W. Beljo
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jond wrote:
(in our game we had very few military dice - Conan comes up far too often)


The probability for military actions is the same as for court actions. In fact because of the wild side there is a higher probability for military if you prefer. (Additional there a these cards which can change the fate dices)

In a full game I guess you roll the 7 Fate dices 2 to 3 times per age.
So per game you should see in regular 20 to 30 military actions. Conan actions should be the half of the military actions.

In our game the lack of military actions wasn`t a problem.

In assumption of the lack of military actions why couldn`t the others profit from their cards or intrigue actions?

You are free to ignore this game, but I guess you had experienced an more unusual game.

Yokiboy wrote:

However, have you really played a five hour game of Age of Conan? .

Our first game was a 5h game too.
But I guess the next one would be much faster. (3 to 3.5h)
 
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Matt Drake
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Yokiboy wrote:
However, have you really played a five hour game of Age of Conan?

Yes, that's why I said that.
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Matt Drake
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Yokiboy wrote:
I don't think the game comes with "unbalancing amounts of luck," or at least I don't mind the level of luck in the game.


I don't much mind the luck, but I've definitely seen it be unbalancing. In our first game, one player was taking a beating. I mean, he had lost. Two of us were competing for the lead, and pounding each other back and forth, with the fourth player kind of doing his own thing over on the side.

Then the Conan adventure ended in the homeland of the guy who was getting whipped all over the place. It was the third age, so that guy (who had a really weak table position and really no way to win) got lucky on the strategy cards and was able to add a 6 to his Conan bid, thereby controlling Conan. He had the most women (which seems to occur mostly be accident - I had the most monsters, but I can't really take credit for that happening). So when the age ended, he crowned Conan. The bonus won him the game, despite having been thoroughly kicked around for most of the game. That's pretty unbalancing luck, when the guy in the worst table position can win the game because the cards dropped just right for him.

But that's also Conan. And it's an absolutely awesome game, regardless of whether you can get beat by the dice or cards.
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VixenTorGames wrote:
Yokiboy wrote:
However, have you really played a five hour game of Age of Conan?

Yes, that's why I said that.

Alright, it just sounded hypothetical when you said:
VixenTorGames wrote:
It's one thing to lose a game after an hour because the dice flipped you the bird, but it's a real whip to lose the game after five hours just because the wrong card hit the table at the wrong time.

Did that five hours include punching components, and breaking everything else out for the first time, and maybe reading the rules aloud or some such activity? It just sounds way excessive to me, and I would not enjoy it as a 5-hour game.

Granted I had studied the rules in detail before I first demoed the game. I created my own reference document and quickly adopted a spiel to get people introduced to the main parts of the game. The first few demos were far from flawless, and I was nervous as heck, but even then they were far off from being on pace for turning into 5-hour sessions.
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dave
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Thanks for the review. I'm still on the fence on getting this game and haven't played it yet, but your opponent's win sounds awesome--crowning Conan with the most women, that's classic. In hindsight, was there anyway that you could have prevented him from getting the most women, thus preventing this outcome, however unlikely it might have been? The key to great games are ways to mitigate the luck factor.

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I taught the game to three different groups of newbies recently and all three games clocked in at 4 hours. I give about 20 min. of rules explanation, quick and dirty, letting them learn and retain more as we go. And I set the Artifact Cards aside until the second age, as per Yoki's suggestion.

I, too, felt there are too many C+C actions and not enough Military after the first two games. But my last game had plenty of Military actions, so that does vary.

My only remaining complaint (and where I agree with the OP) is that the Conan adventures are too short. I would have preferred fewer adventures (and thus fewer game stopping bids) that played out over more turns, giving me more to do with Conan once I won the bid.

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Tom Hancock
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Guys- the timing mechanism for the game is the adventure tokens being taken. If you don't roll any crown and conan icons for a turn or two, that can add a LOT of time for the game. Our game took 5 hours, but that was because there were at least 2 turns without a single crown and conan action, meaning that far less adventure tokens were being taken. That will lengthen the game.

This is a really nice review and I agree with you that the theme is executed very well and that the luck and shitty pacing are a problem. I wrote a review titled "Age of..... Slownan" that is posted over on fortressat.com talking about these same problems with the game.

The adventure tokens are huge- and as you say they are mostly luck. They also aren't a lot of fun. Killing people is fun. Taking a vp token, not so much.

I feel lukewarm about the game.
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Matt Drake
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Yokiboy wrote:

Did that five hours include punching components, and breaking everything else out for the first time, and maybe reading the rules aloud or some such activity? It just sounds way excessive to me, and I would not enjoy it as a 5-hour game.

Nope. It does include a couple breaks, though.

I have no problem with long games, but this can take a while.
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Tom Hancock
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The length is effected by how the action dice roll. A couple statistically unlikely rolls can really effect the length.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I agree with Tom that the Strategy Dice have an influence on game length. The other big factor is Crowning Conan - the game is shortened if somebody attempts it. If they do so after the 1st adventure of the 3rd Age, it will finish much faster.
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VixenTorGames wrote:
I like Conan, I just always thought parts of it were silly, and I thought Howard was kind of a crappy writer.


Nice review - I enjoyed reading it.

I think the impact of Robert E. Howard's writing on an entire gaming category here on the Geek - let alone his creation of a literary genre - and his immense personal influence on thousands of creative artists and writers over the last 70+ years, plus his popularity with numerous generations of fans, reaches an epic level of crappy that all writers would love to achieve.

Del Rey just released the ninth volume in the epic and diverse works of Robert E. Howard - since you enjoy the Age of Conan so much - maybe he is worth checking out again?

www.randomhouse.com/delrey/catalog/results.pperl?author_like...

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Alan Richbourg
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Matt - glad you enjoyed our game. We'll have to find time for another before too long. I always enjoy reading your excellently written reviews.



Yoki - for some reason every game I play takes many times longer than other people report. This was especially true in our game due to 2 of the players having trouble with the rules all game long. If it had been just me and Matt, for example, we would have rocked straight through (with just me slowing things down a bit). It's a tribute to the simplicity of the game that lots of different levels of gamers can get into it though.
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Yoki Erdtman
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chargetheguns wrote:
Yoki - for some reason every game I play takes many times longer than other people report. This was especially true in our game due to 2 of the players having trouble with the rules all game long. If it had been just me and Matt, for example, we would have rocked straight through (with just me slowing things down a bit). It's a tribute to the simplicity of the game that lots of different levels of gamers can get into it though.

I'm the same way Alan, but it was different with Conan, because the designers put a time limit of one complete Age or 1 hour per demo, whichever came first. Therefore, I did my best to keep the pace up so we could complete an Age before it was time for another group at the demo table.

I had also studied the rules and prepared myself more than I normally do for a new game, as I wanted to do my best to represent Nexus well. It also helped having the designers at hand for any rules ambiguities.

My own copy is still in transit, but I am very much looking forward to seeing what happens when I play it with my buddies, but at least for the first game I will probably stick with playing poorly in order to keep the pace up.

Oh btw, Alan, who are you at that table, and who's Matt?
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Alan - still playing Viktory II? How long is that taking your group? Longer than Conan?
 
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chargetheguns wrote:
Matt - glad you enjoyed our game. We'll have to find time for another before too long. I always enjoy reading your excellently written reviews.

Yoki - for some reason every game I play takes many times longer than other people report. This was especially true in our game due to 2 of the players having trouble with the rules all game long. If it had been just me and Matt, for example, we would have rocked straight through (with just me slowing things down a bit). It's a tribute to the simplicity of the game that lots of different levels of gamers can get into it though.


It's always nice to "rock straight through" a game Alan, but when doing so causes you to forget or almost forget to do things, or to do them in the wrong order, that to me is not much of a positive tradeoff, and makes me question the premise that there were only two of us in that game who took some time to fully assimilate the rules.
The only reason Matt was ahead of the learning curve was that he had studied the rules in anticipation of teaching the game to us (something which was never really done, by either you or him). It's fine to play a "learning" game and just learn by doing - this is really the best way to learn, anyway - but players shouldn't then be accused of slowing down the game for not having mastered the rules the second time they play it.

btw - great review Matt, but I think this discussion points up that we ALL need more plays under our belt before we can make any educated statements about Conan, positive or negative. meeple
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Yoki - I'm front left. I'll leave the rest as a not-too-difficult mystery.

Tim - haven't played Victory II in quite a while. Conan time-length seems more predictable though. Victory II seems to lock up into stalemates pretty often. We do use the capital-capture-ends-it variation to reduce play time.

Stephen - no offense intended, my friend. I like taking amply time myself, and if I go faster, it's only (usually) out of deferrence to faster players. I find I tend to forget things during games no matter how slow we go. Sorry if you feel I didn't teach the game well. I know there's one point I need to clear up next time we meet. Anyway I think it's not so much assimilating the rules for you and me; we had our hands full with more "what" to do rather than "how".
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Quote:

I don't much mind the luck, but I've definitely seen it be unbalancing. In our first game, one player was taking a beating. I mean, he had lost. Two of us were competing for the lead, and pounding each other back and forth, with the fourth player kind of doing his own thing over on the side.

Then the Conan adventure ended in the homeland of the guy who was getting whipped all over the place. It was the third age, so that guy (who had a really weak table position and really no way to win) got lucky on the strategy cards and was able to add a 6 to his Conan bid, thereby controlling Conan. He had the most women (which seems to occur mostly be accident - I had the most monsters, but I can't really take credit for that happening). So when the age ended, he crowned Conan. The bonus won him the game, despite having been thoroughly kicked around for most of the game. That's pretty unbalancing luck, when the guy in the worst table position can win the game because the cards dropped just right for him.


Sounds to me like a well deserved win in a correctly played game. He had the most women because he took adventure tokens when other players were wasting precious time and resources on inefficient imperial campaigns. He crowned Conan because he planned ahead and saved his six bid for the critical turn when Conan was close to his kingdom in the third age and he knew he had the most women.

The game isn't won by the largest empire, but by the player who scores most efficiently. Being "kicked around" in the early game means almost nothing. The rewards for successful defensive play in this game are very small and seldom worth the costs.
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Matt Drake
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daengle wrote:
Sounds to me like a well deserved win in a correctly played game. He had the most women because he took adventure tokens when other players were wasting precious time and resources on inefficient imperial campaigns. He crowned Conan because he planned ahead and saved his six bid for the critical turn when Conan was close to his kingdom in the third age and he knew he had the most women.

He had the most women because when it was his turn, women came up. He traded in nearly half of the tokens he got. Another player kept every single token, and had a ton of them, but just didn't manage to have women available when it was his turn.

And the crown guy did not have his 6. I had mine, but I had five strategy cards, and my best was a 3. He had his 5, and a 6 strategy card, with just two cards in his hand.

And Conan wasn't close to his kingdom. Conan was IN his kingdom. The next-to-last adventure ended in his country, so Conan automatically went there, and since he was controlling Conan (see my abysmal card-drawing skills, mentioned above), he just declined to move Conan when it was his turn to move him.

Then the dice came up with no military, three straight intrigue, and four Conan+Crown. We could try to stall, but it was going to take a maximum of four to five turns to end the game, and nobody could snatch up land without event cards (I had one I had saved for just such an occasion, and managed to snatch one more area on the last turn of the game). He crowned Conan, and still only won by two points.

No, that was a lucky win. It was the right move to take advantage of that luck and crown Conan, but the stars freaking aligned to give it to him. Like I said, I don't mind the luck, but it's definitely there, and it's definitely unbalancing.
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Dave...I won that game....I had collected wenches(witches or ladies if you like) totalling up 13 friggin' points...nobody else wanted the ladies. I too had studied all the strategy on the geek and played possum for most of the game.I built forts in the pictish wilderness and the game board outskirts. In the third age, I recieved the kingdom card that allowed me to reclaim my 6 bidding token. Thus, I brought CONAN to Hyporboria to crown him king!!!!! Conan played a big part in the game. I used him to drop raider tokens on Matt and the rest....this can really devastate your opponents. Believe you this barbarians....my win was a RIGHTEOUS win!!!!! ...
...and to hear the lamentation of the chortling & whinnying women.....and my fellow gamers.........
THAT IS BEST IN LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


chezzilla

Below is our board prior to the game at Alan's castle keep



Here is da CONAN boyz from left to right...
Alan, Matt, chezzilla, Stephen

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Matt Drake
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chezzilla wrote:
Dave...I won that game....I had collected wenches(witches or ladies if you like) totalling up 13 friggin' points...nobody else wanted the ladies. I too had studied all the strategy on the geek and played possum for most of the game.I built forts in the pictish wilderness and the game board outskirts. In the third age, I recieved the kingdom card that allowed me to reclaim my 6 bidding token. Thus, I brought CONAN to Hyporboria to crown him king!!!!! Conan played a big part in the game. I used him to drop raider tokens on Matt and the rest....this can really devastate your opponents. Believe you this barbarians....my win was a RIGHTEUOS win!!!!! ...and to hear the lamentation of the women.....and my fellow gamers...THAT IS BEST IN LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whatever, you delusional old man. Don't make me tell these nice people about how you won Starcraft.
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Quote:
Whatever, you delusional old man. Don't make me tell these nice people about how you won Starcraft.



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