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Subject: Conan Balance Discussion Forum: Note OP Offers No Suggestions Just Questions? rss

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Brett Petersen
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I hear a lot of people discussing the lack of balance in the game. So I decided to get the bottom of this and try and understand what people expect when they use that term.

First, my opinion, is Conan is impossible to balanced without killing the theme and that the game errors on the side of theme and fluidity at the expense of balance and I am okay with that. (I hereby understand that my opinion is worthless I just want people to understand where I am coming from)

1. Why is Conan impossible to balance?
A. Everyone will play heroes and overlord differently. An effective tactic in one game does not necessarily promise the same result in the same scenario in future plays. Conan by design gives players a lot of freedom and that freedom impacts the final result.

B. The Scenarios have imbalance pre-written into them. Although it might not be accurate, the crows system is an effort to say how difficult a scenario will be for the heroes or overlord to win. We might assume that with 100 plays of the same scenario that a one crow scenario heroes win 75%, two crows 50%, and three crows 25%. I have made these up but you get the idea.

C. The dice undercut and chance of balance. I have seen Conan max out and roll 6 red dice and only get 7 hits. It made it so the heroes loss a one crow scenario.

D. The fluidity of Conan makes tradition dungeon crawler tactics less effective. I believe the system in Conan although simple presents a new set of challenges that take multiple plays in order to understand. Even the lack of formal turn structure, heroes can go back and forth spending gems, can throw off players thinking. Simple line of sight basically eliminates the usual slow crawl you might do in Level 7 OP or Imperial Assault. There are no technical calculations for ranged attacks. The simplicity of these traditionally more complex rule sets makes Conan inherently quick and sloppy.

There might be other reasons I have not thought of. So why would I defend a game so imbalanced and ridiculous?

1. It's Conan. In all seriousness, other than the fact that Conan can die, it is a pretty good representation of the Conan stories and the feel of an action story. For those who like theme it is pretty thick. There are moments in almost every game that are great stories and good fun.

2. It plays quick, both in game play and time. I have never had a game last over 2 hours. Also, when things happen on the board you can respond quickly. Moving three spaces on a Conan board means something.

3. After years of other one vs. many games my group has found it to be a refreshing take on the genres. We have loved the simple line of sight, fast movement, and the attack choices i.e. go big or small. The gem management has impacted the game greatly. In three of the scenarios had the hero had one more gem they would have won.

I agree that parts of the game are messed up.

I believe a lot of the imbalance has come from misplayed rules and unclear parts of scenarios. In most cases one misunderstood rule can flip a whole scenario. Hopefully, Monolith will fix this in the new rules and scenario book.

I hate yellow dice... enough said

That the company has yet to create a logical system to switch out characters and equipment. While the individual mechanics of the game, scenarios etc. are impossible to balance, I believe there can be a balanced way created to change out heroes and overlord tiles.

I am sure I have missed somethings, I dislike typing

So here is where the discussion happens

When you discuss balance what do you mean? What is your definition of balance? What are your recommendations to balance the game/scenarios/characters/equipment etc. (while still staying within the spirit of the game)?

Can a game like Conan really be balanced?

Please be respectful and remember it's just your opinion.
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Shawn Garbett
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I think an anti-experience system might suffice. For example, a multi-part scenario, at the end of each part the losing side gets a bonus. Now, that doesn't truly solve the balance in each sub-scenario, but if a team is really kicking it out it'd automatically get harder for them.
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Ben Turner
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I think I broadly agree that balance isn't that important for the base game as presented. I'd compare it to Space Hulk; some of those scenarios were super-hard for one side, but they were also all tons of fun every time.

Where lack of balance becomes troublesome is all that extra content that fools like me invested in. Whilst hope that Monolith is planning to release content that uses all of this extra plastic I paid for, I suspect they are mostly banking on fans creating scenarios, or subbing in the new heroes on existing scenarios.

And it's here, with no guidelines on how to do that, that I can forsee problems. Subbing in new heroes for old ones in established scenarios might totally change the difficulty of the mission (due to some powers being amazing in the right circumstances) making it impossible / a snooze-fest.

Maybe simple experience will bring us a way to use all this extra stuff (still not sure why I'll ever need 30+ skeletons...) but it's in this area that I think the crazy balance of Conan might hit issues. The base game, as written, is a ton of fun and has some fun content which often does come down to some sweet, amazing, swingy dice rolls. And I love that.
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Zachary Ruiz
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First off, I agree with you completely about the theme and feel of the game. It's not a traditional Dungeon Crawler in the vein of Descent or Dungeon Saga, and that's a big part of why I like it. There aren't massive decks of skill cards and hardwired "roles" for different characters. Plus is plays fast and the combat is cinematic. Every attack, from the number of gems, to the skills used, to the result, can easily be imagined as a scene from a Howard short story. But yeah, I understand people have complaints.

I think a lot of people want each scenario to have a 50:50 possibility for either side to win. I don't think this is either a) achievable or b) needed. Certain scenarios will be harder for one side or the other, there's no way around that. You can tweak victory conditions all you want but at some level this will always be true.

I think it might help to add "minor victory" conditions, instead of two victory conditions with Win:Loss you can add in a pair of Minor Win:Minor Loss conditions. Say getting one of the two objectives in "In the Clutches of the Picts", or killing a Hero in "In the Heart of Darkness" even if Skulthus dies. These would give the traditionally "losing" side a minor victory and probably change how player approach the game, since it's not all or nothing.

BUT, at the heart of it, I think the fundamental fix for all balance problems is to play this game more like an RPG than a competitive board game. I know lots of people will disagree, but it's my opinion. Play relaxed, don't try to find optimal "solutions" to scenarios and you will find the game is a lot less "unbalanced" than you think.

But I'll give some practical solutions. Swapping out characters can help make scenarios easier or harder (I've made a point system, and I've seen at least two others on these forums), but lots of the balance issues stem from the number of Gems the Overlord starts with and the starting positions of all the Units.

If you have a Kickstarter version of the game, Conan Warlord, Savage Belit (as long as there are no allies), and Pelias will all be power-ups for the heroes over the Base game characters. Try that as a straight swap (give Belit an extra weapon) and the scenarios where the heroes are "too weak" will be more balanced.

For the Overlord, adding two Gems to the total amount they start with usually opens up tons of options. Especially in scenarios where the Overlord has to keep somebody alive, every gem is precious (as they can be used to roll extra Defense dice).
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I don't think people really expect perfect balance in this game and most of the comments here are not worried about it.

The only bad thing regarding balance are scenarios that are impossible to lose. I'm not even worried about the scenarios that are impossible to win if the overlord hordes gems to save someone as that's not playing quite as intended.

Peoples biggest issue was lack of ability to change up heros in scenarios or use addons at all. They wanted a more robust campaign system
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Mark Ramsey
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I've posted about balance and have asked questions without offering suggestions. In these cases I'm wondering if (because of the terrible rules) am I missing something or playing something wrong? Or, is the scenario truly meant to be that unbalanced?
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Donato
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In the playtest-versions of the scenario's the Overlord was more powerful than in the final versions.

It seems that the balance in the playtest-versions was 70/30 in favor of the Overlord and in the final versions 70/30 in favor of the Heroes. This is of course more fitting for the Conan setting, but it can make the game a bit more boring for the players and it has a negative impact on the replayability of the scenario's. If the players know that they will win, why play the scenario multiple times?

I think there need to come an errata from Monolith that buffs the Overlord a bit more. Or at least give 'advanced rules' that do this. Of course groups can also come up with rules to do this, but it is better if there are official rules.

This buffing of the Heroes creates the strange situation that the wizard Hadrathus - with his Mitra's Halo cast - can go after Picts and kill them in combat. Hadrathus with his Halo is completely immune to the attacks of Hyenas. This might be fun for the Hadrathus-player but it is not fitting for the setting. Picts should be equals to Conan not targets for a wizard.

 
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In the first scenario (i believe is "in the clutch of the picts) we are currently on a 1-5 record for the heroes. The last attempt was their only victory, and we had cut 2 gems off the overlord (for a 3 heroes setup) to help them a bit. Other attemps were completely out of reach for Heroes by the end of turn 8.

So clearly some scenarios are harder than others, and that above-mentionned scenario is rated a 1 crow...it's really not easy for heroes. So the rating system doesn't help us here (shame really).

It does feellike Space Hulk though, so in that regard, it doesn't prevent Conan from being a very fun game.

Some heroes from the stretch goals and add-ons are also much stronger than the suggested ones, so they can be switched in as a balancing move. We have no guidelines for this, in order to find a satisfactory mix. Problem is, the variables are too great to really analyse a scenario in order to provide calculated balance. Here's what i could identify:

Map used
Number and ID of suggested heroes
Heroes starting location
Heroes starting fatigue state
Starting equipment
Type and number of allies allowed, including their starting location
Objectives complexity
Number of objectives
Events effects and number
Enemy tiles selected
Enemy tiles starting position on the river
Number of Enemy tiles
Number of Enemy units per tiles
Starting location of enemy units
Presence of specific skills like blocking and misfortune
Overlord leader and monster life points
Overlord gems
Overlord starting fatigue state
Overlord gem recovery
Spells available for spellcaster heroes and overlord
Chest number
Chest(s) location
Chest(s) difficulty
Equipment stored in chests
Enemy units starting locations
Time limit (if any)
What side that starts the game


And that's probably not all of it...and then, you add the participants playstyle to make every game different. So i think "balance" can only reached as a general concensus about a specific combination of these factors, rather than a statistical analysis of results. Conan is more something to tailor in your gaming group than a competitive game, in the end.





 
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The crows are not an indication of the difficulty for the heroes but the complexity of the scenarios special rules.
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Brett Petersen
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Pyramidou wrote:
The crows are not an indication of the difficulty for the heroes but the complexity of the scenarios special rules.


Page 9 of the Overlord book literally says difficulty of the scenario.
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Oak Wolf
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And the objectives of that scenario are quite difficult since you go blindsided to find the princess, the overlord has 2 blocking units and the other objective has 3 armor, legs and 5 hit points.
 
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James
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The birds do represent the complexity of the scenario.

If that sentence were in the Overlord's manual, then "difficulty" could be alternately misunderstood as difficulty for the Overlord, of course. No, this just wasn't conveyed clearly in the translation, possibly even in the original, I can't say. It's easily enough misunderstood.
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Mark Ramsey
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thatach wrote:
Pyramidou wrote:
The crows are not an indication of the difficulty for the heroes but the complexity of the scenarios special rules.


Page 9 of the Overlord book literally says difficulty of the scenario.


So now we get to guess whether this means difficulty for the heroes, or for the overlord, or for overall understanding of the scenario.
 
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agentdonald wrote:
...
It seems that the balance in the playtest-versions was 70/30 in favor of the Overlord and in the final versions 70/30 in favor of the Heroes. This is of course more fitting for the Conan setting, but it can make the game a bit more boring for the players and it has a negative impact on the replayability of the scenario's. If the players know that they will win, why play the scenario multiple times?
...

don't have yet a complete overview how all the scenarios play myself.
I would agree with you that a higher loss ratio for the heroes would tend ton increase the re-playability - why try a new tactic if the first one worked.
If you can't hit the 50:50 balance anyhow rig it towards the bad guy - coop style.

I wouldn't even have a problem from the thematic side, hero stories are always a bit against the odds; they usually just keep quiet about those that fail, a habit that can be applied at the gaming table by the use of copious amounts of alcohol ...


 
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Shawn Garbett
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I'm gonna quote myself from another [geekurl=https://boardgamegeek.com/article/24108438#24108438]thread[/geekurl].

CyberGarp wrote:

What is balance? 50/50 chance of winning human vs cylon? That would require around 200 plays to determine if it was close to 50/50. If you really want to test the hypothesis with some decent accuracy, 500 plays would be required. Why does it require so many plays? Binomial estimation, aka the ratio of wins is terribly inefficient and subject to a lot of random noise.

Also, one could define balance as 50/50 chance of any individual being on the winning side. This would bias the game towards cylons, being fewer of them.

To make it even muddier, a group of players matures over time and winning side can shift as players improve their game play.

In the end, tweaking a game for your table's enjoyment is perfectly fine. I encourage it. I feel that slavish devotion to the rules can interfere with having fun. However, be careful with what you're defining as balance and don't let a few plays convince you that you've achieved it.


What I'm pointing out here for BSG, is relevant here. To know that one has achieved balance in a binomial outcome (2 sides, one wins) you're gonna have to play through 200+ times. And that's for players following the same exact strategy every time, with the same scenario and they can't be capable of learning new tricks. So, while this balance is sought after, the reality is there is a serious lack of evidence that it's ever achieved, and success is declared based on a feeling.

Self balancing games are possible, e.g. mechanics like bidding at the core of the game create some self-balancing. Power-grid with current loser gets most advantageous market position is another. In the end with a tactical combat game like this, such mechanics aren't easy to integrate. If each side has a reasonable path to victory, it's probably the best that can be hoped for.

The idea of tweaking OL gems for the success rate of a group, sounds like the most direct approach. It will vary from group to group how much to tweak.
 
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Balance to me means that an OL and hero player of equal experience and ability (though how do you really define that?) should have a roughly equal chance of winning a given scenario.

I have no problem per se with a given scenario being slanted one way or the other but I would like it to be clear to the players from the outset. For example, if they rated each scenario for both the OL player and the heroes: So the 'Tigress' scenario would have a 3 rating for the OL and a 1 rating for the heroes (I agree with what others have said above: the raven ratings as they stand represent complexity, not difficulty), meaning it is very challenging for the OL and easy for the heroes. Then, the players know what to expect (this is a real challenge for the OL: can you do it?). That would also be nice so that if you play with younger players you can ease them in with a not too challenging scenario.

But worse for me is that the game really mandates certain strategies if you want to be successful. The OP makes mention of he freedom the players have but that is only really on the surface. Whilst it's true they can do almost anything it's usually very apparent that there's one thing they should do. And this is also the reason some people say the scenarios are unbalanced and others insist they are. If one doesn't play optimally then sure, it can be a crap shoot. But typically we've found there's a certain strategy for one side or the other in a given scenario that makes it extremely difficult for the other side to win

For example: if the OL plays his Snake effectively in 'The Clutches of the Picts' he should win most of the time. The key is to use the Blocking skill, as indeed it is in many of the scenarios. In another thread I saw someone claim this scenario was balanced: this whilst mentioning the princess was placed in the hut with they hyenas and Conan was able to reach Zogar Zag in turn 1 Well, sure: if the OL doesn't know what he's doing then of course the heroes have a great chance. But if the OL is competent then most games will end with him victorious.

But the problem is more nuanced than this to me: a certain strategy is proscribed to the OL if he wants to win. If he wants to follow another strategy he will probably lose most of the time. There is very little scope for ingenuity and variety. I don't want to 'discover' the designer's intended strategies. I want to create my own. The freedom that the OP quite rightly says should be in the game isn't.. if you're playing to win. And if you're not playing to win... to me that's just bashing action figures together shouting 'pow!'. I grew out of that a long time ago and don't find any amusement in it.

So we have too often found that even the advantaged side didn't enjoy a given scenario because the parameters for their play was so narrow and it made the game uninteresting for them. Also, look how the scenarios are built: seas scenarios where the characters can't go in the water, balconies and walls you can leave from... but it's hardly ever worth doing. Again, the game looks to have a lot of variety and cool potential... but in practice not so much.

The other thing I have found frustrating is how defensive the OL is often encouraged to play. Usually in games of this nature the OL / DM or whatever terminology is used expects to play aggressively, harrying the heroes with monsters. Too often in Conan the OL is protecting and saving gems. We often find he doesn't want to use both, or sometimes even any of his tile activations. In the 'Clutches of the Picts' the OL has often found it not really worth bothering to activate his Pict Hunters, saving the gems for activating / defending the Snake and Zag. I think scenarios encouraging an aggressive OL are better for this game. Make him try to kill the heroes... not wait out a time limit by dropping big Blocking monsters on Conan.

 
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anthony
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I dont expect scenarios to be 'balanced' (I agree the term is subjective) but I do expect that each side have a reasonable chance at victory so that the scenario is tense. What I dont expect are that several of the scenarios can be over in a turn or two; that is simply poor design no matter how you try to spin it.

I also agree with the assessment that the scenarios that favour the OL have the most replay value. We have played In the Clutches of the Picts more than any other simply because the numerous OL victories cause the players to want to try different strategies or simply want to try to win at all..

On the issue of aggressive OL play; for that to happen the OL needs the correct tools. 2 unit activations often causes the OL to not bother activating the base units as he needs his activations elsewhere (usually on blocking units).

I admit to not knowing how to solve this issue because of how the river works; allowing more activations will mean the OL just keeps using the 1 slot to activate the whole river.

But he does need to be able to activate those rank and file units to be more aggressive OR the rank and file need to be better to make it worthwhile to activate them.

I do love this game; it has great source material and some interesting ideas. But the more I play the more the cracks are starting to show...
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Kaganishu Khan
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The problem lies in the completely open information for everyone, and the pre-set equipment and heroes.

Also, in the pre-set arrangement of the river tiles.

Imperial Assault might be known to some of you, and its a game that is generally considered to be VERY unforgiving in many scenarios to one side. But we found that if you dont play with fully open information, or without knowledge about all the details of a scenario, it works quite well.

Descent 2 is another of such cases: Complete information allows for complete planning and optimization. Pre-set equipment and characters cause no variance in hero strategy. Pre-set monsters and river tiles do the same for the overlord.

In Imperial Assault, the Imperial player can pick a few "open groups" for his setup to use, so the players arent entirely sure what they will face. A system like that would be very important to strategy and tactics, and I am considering creating a series of scenarios with exactly that feature : the overlord may pick and choose some parts, and the heroes likewise.
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Brandon Holmes
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I have to say for a modern game I am shocked it is not as you describe Khaunshar. The scenarios should not be so delicate they can't handle options for choosing between groups of npcs, heroes or even diverse item decks. Hopefully scenarios start being created as you describe. Would add so much replayability.
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Paweł Bedz
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Conan is an adventure! If you are in search for perfectly balanced gam,e - go play chess or cheekers It is about having fun and unfold some story. Not about crunching numbers and playing the system...
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Stephan Beal
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bholmes4 wrote:
The scenarios should not be so delicate they can't handle options for choosing between groups of npcs, heroes or even diverse item decks.


A thought experiment:

let's imagine that we have some historical scenario, e.g. The Battle of Gettysburg. Now, to mix things up, we swap out one team's muskets with M-16's.

Is the scenario then "delicate" when the team with assault rifles wins every session?

Alternately, what if we replace one of the generals with The Hulk? Is the scenario "delicate" if it doesn't survive that?

Scenarios, as depicted in most war games, depict a given situation, and may or may not retain any balance when "spontaneously adapted" to other situations. That doesn't make them "delicate," though it does arguably makes them "inflexible."

i'm exaggerating, of course, but only a bit.

Unlike many (most?) war games, Conan does not (cannot) have a reliable point-cost system. The closest one can get to estimating balance using a (custom) point system in Conan is a rough ballpark figure, as each variable of the system affects other variables, which affects others, which make point costs for any given feature of the game fluctuate wildly depending on the given scenario. e.g. how much is the Leap skill actually worth in a scenario with 10 Leap-able spaces, compared to one with 3 Leap-able spaces? What if crossing those 3 spaces is required for success in that latter scenario, whereas crossing the 10 from the former scenario are not? How does that affect the point value of Leap? Those questions are not answerable, and thus skills (etc.) cannot have fixed point costs in Conan.

Ergo, balancing a scenario in Conan is not a math problem, but is necessarily a matter of trial and error. Tossing another element into it, or swapping one element with an "incompatible" one, may very well affect the balance. Does that make the scenario "delicate"? Only the sense that the balance for a given scenario is indeed a delicate thing.
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Brandon Holmes
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But I am not expecting to use Optimus Prime or Luke Skywalker, I'd like to use Valeria or one of the many characters made for this game. I'd like to see how finding an axe change things Over always being a spear in the chests.

The truth is I just don't see the appeal in this sort of static style scenario. Obviously some people are in to it so this is a good game for them. One of the guys in my group prefers this style as he can think about scenarios before we play and strategize. I prefer the unexpected to happen and see how I can think and react on the fly to it. I find it keeps things fresh and interesting but some people prefer the control of predicatability.

Meh, to each their own. I will trade or sell my copy and move on to a game more my style. Too many games to get hung up on one.
 
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Stephan Beal
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bholmes4 wrote:
But I am not expecting to use Optimus Prime or Luke Skywalker, I'd like to use Valeria or one of the many characters made for this game. I'd like to see how finding an axe change things Over always being a spear in the chests.


If all characters were equivalent, it wouldn't matter who we swapped them out with, but where's the fun if all the characters are functionally equivalent?

bholmes4 wrote:
The truth is I just don't see the appeal in this sort of static style scenario.


FWIW, i'm right there with you :/. i far prefer a solid point system so that i can quickly throw together whatever skirmish i want, rather than story-based scenarios which change half the rules of the game, but Conan isn't like that :/.

bholmes4 wrote:
Meh, to each their own. I will trade or sell my copy and move on to a game more my style. Too many games to get hung up on one.


If i wasn't so "thematically attached" to Conan i would probably be in the same boat, but i bought it because "Conan, man, CONAN!" so i've gotta accept it for what it is. But i also feel that what it is, and how it does it, is damned good, so i don't feel completely let down by its take on scenario design. It was the gem/fatigue mechanics which really enchanted me/sold me on the game in the first place, to the extent that i then didn't even bother to consider how the scenarios actually get built.
 
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Nathan Hoffmann
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sgbeal wrote:
If all characters were equivalent, it wouldn't matter who we swapped them out with, but where's the fun if all the characters are functionally equivalent?


A key, a lockpick, a battering ram, and some C4 can all open a door, but they aren't the same experience. Being equivalent isn't the same as being identical.
 
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