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Subject: Lucca Conan and Games: Preview/Review from a demonstrator rss

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Marco Signore
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During the 2008 edition of Lucca Games (Italy), I've been given the honour of being the offical demonstrator for Age of Conan boardgame (I will also post pictures of the event soon), in the Nexus stand. In four days of continuous play (from 9 a.m to 7 p.m.) I've played and taught to play enough games to gain a decent understanding of both rules and mechanics of this highly expected boardgame. I've talked at lenght with one of the authors (Roberto Di Meglio) and so I've decided to write this preview/review.
I will not focus on the rules, as many other reviews in this forum (from demo games) have already told you about "the rulebook"; I will instead attempt to offer a deep insight into what is the final "version" of the game, and its gameplay.
WARNING: Please note that some of the game terms will be different in the English Rules. This is because the Demo copy in Lucca was in Italian, therefore I have not been able to read the English rules.

Box content
Judging from the "final" demo copy of the game, the box will contain a rich hoard of materials that will enhance the gaming experience. The game, as most of you may have learned, is for 2, 3 or 4 players. Each player takes the role of one of the major Powers in Hyborea during the Age of Conan: Aquilonia, Turan, Stygia, and Hyperborea. In a 2-players game, only Aquilonia and Turan will play. The 3rd player will take Stygia, and Hyperborea is reserved for the 4th player.
Each Power has its uniquely sculpted Military units and Emissaries (Diplomatic units), while Fortresses and Towers are similar for all players (but of course different in colour). Furthermore, each Power has its own card deck, called Reign (or Realm) deck. Each power starts with 4 Military units, and 4 Emissaries.
Finally, each player takes 3 Gold counters. Aquilonia and Turan take one more Military unit, while Stygia and Hyperborea take 2 Sorcery counters each. Then each player draws two cards from his own Reign deck and two card from the Strategy deck, which is a "common" deck of cards that have several uses (see below).

The Game Map
The game map is about half the size of the War of the Ring map. The game can be easily played on almost every table (unlike War of the Ring).
The map is divided in 4 main sections.
On the top of the map there are the Adventure section and the Objectives section.
The main map represents Hyborea, subdivided in 4 main regions, differently coloured: the North (Purple), the East (Yellow), the Central Hyborea (Brick red), and the South (Green). Each main region is further divided into Provinces, which in turn bear, printed on them: its name, a number (2,3, or 4), and a series of coloured circles, that represent Terrains (see below). The player provinces have only their name printed on, and they cannot be attacked, conquered, or diplomatically annexed.
All the other provinces start as Neutral.
Finally, we find an area dedicated to both the Strategy card deck, and the Fate dice pool. On the bottom of the map we find the Score Track (Empire points).

The game: Conan Adventures and Ages
The aim of the game is to have more Empire points than anyone else at the end of the game. The game is divided in three Ages, and it ends either when the Third Age ends, or during the Third Age whenever Conan is crowned king.
Each age lasts 4 Adventures. Let me explain a bit more about Conan's Adventures, then. During the game, while the players vie for the control of Hyborea, Conan moves around the map to accomplish quests, called Adventured, that are represented by a deck of Adventure cards. on each Age, 4 cards are drawn and the first is turned face up. That will be the first Adventure. Each Adventure card shows a target location (a Province on the map) and has a number of steps, that in turn are represented, in the game, by Resource counters. There are just three resources: Monsters, Treasures, and Women (the only things that matter for Conan,
after all). The couters are placed in the Adventure track under the Adventure cards space on the map. These counters are used for several reasons. First, they can be immdediately exchanged for either Gold or Sorcery counters. Second, they can be used to bid for the control of special Artifats (I will tell more of them later). Finally, they are used to crown Conan during the Third Age.
Whenever the Resource counters in the Adventure track are exhausted, the
Adventure is over, and a new Adventure card is drawn. When the 4th Adventure is over, an Age ends, and the score is calculated.
If, at the end of an Adventure, Conan is in the "target" province, the Adventure is successful, and the player who controls Conan (see below) gains a further Resource counter. Otherwise, no one gains anything.

The Game: Empire points and Artifacts
Now, let us see how to gain Empire points.
Empire points are mainly gained via Military occupation of Neutral provinces (or Enemy ones, once you have destroyed their garrison AND Fortress). Whenever one occupies a Province with an Army, a Fortress is placed there, and the corresponding points are gained. When an Age ends, the Fortresses give further points. A Military conquest uses (of course) Soldiers. There are also Objective cards in play, and each one gives normally 1 to 2 Empire points if fulfilled. Note that several players may fulfill any given objective, so that they ALL gain points. If an Objective card is fulfilled, it is discarded and a new Objective card is drawn. Otherwise, the Objective remains in play until it is fulfilled. Objectives are checked only at the end of an Age.
Finally, at the end of the game one can gain Empire points also in other ways, such as crowning Conan, being the Richest empire, and/or controlling the majority of one or more Resource types. It is also possible to gain control of a Province with an Intrigue action (that is:
diplomatically), and then a Tower is placed in the conquered province; but in this case the player gains Gold but not Empire points. Once a player places a Tower in a Province, he cannot attack that province again (unless, of course, he loses the province to an enemy player). For the Intrigue actions, Emissaries are used, instead of Armies (Soldiers).
Artifact cards are to be mentioned at this point: they represent powerful Hyborea Artifact (The Heart of Tammuz, the Crown of the Cobra, and the Sword of Atlantis), and are used to gain particular benefits during the game. Each player controls only ONE artifact at any given time. Artifact are gained randomly at the beginning of the game, and after each Era they are obtained by bidding Resource counters.

The Game: Combat Dice and Actions
Both Military and Intrigue action are resolved with special combat dice. The attacker rolls the appropriate number of dice (usually one for each Army or one for each Emissary in or around the contested Province, and always a maximum of 5 dice, 6 in special instances), and the defender does the same. If the defender is a Neutral Province, the dice rolled are equal to the number printed on the Province. The winner is the side who rolls more successes. Some symbols on the dice can be used as successes only by playing the appropriate Strategy card.

Intrigue actions are relatively easy: whoever wins the first round wins the Province. On the contrary, Military actions are a long and complex affair. They give Empire points, so they are vital to the game.
You may remember that each Province has a series of circles that represent Terrains (Hills, Forests, Plains, and Cities). Well, each Military action allows to fight for just ONE of the Terrains in a given Province. Victory means that the attacker may step on the next Terrain, and he must either Force March (lose one Soldier) or wait for his next turn to attack again. When the attacker wins a battle in the last Terrain of a Province, he conquers it, and places a Fortress on the Province, gaining Empire points. The Strategy cards can be played in Military actions but only on the appropriate kind of terrain.
Whenever there is a battle between players, each victory eliminates an enemy unit (first Soldiers, then Towers or Fortresses), and when the last unit is gone, the province becomes Neutral (so it can be conquered again). Winning a battle against another player gives to the victor a "Crom counts the dead" token (which is exchanged for an Empire point at the end of the game).

The Game: Conan
OK, the game is called "Age of Conan". Then let us talk about Conan himself! It is vital to obtain the "control" of Conan (I would use the word "control" with caution, if you know Conan...).When a player controls Conan, he can draw a Resource counter and move Conan at the beginning of each of his turns. So if you control Conan you gain a lot of Resources. Furthermore if Conan successfully completes an Adventure (even because of another player's action) the player controlling Conan immediately gains another Resource counter.
So how you can hope to control Conan? Each Strategy cards shows on its upper right corner a number, and each player also has 6 numeric counters. Both these numbers show the Face of Conan symbol. Before the Dice of Fate are rolled (more of it below), players will bid a Strategy card AND a numeric counter to gain control of the Cimmerian. Cards used in the bid are always discarded, numeric counters are usually discarded (except the "3" counter). The player who bids more controls Conan and becomes the "Conan" player.

The Game: Fate and the Dice
Then we will talk about the Dice of Fate.
As in War of the Ring, in Age of Conan there are some special dice (seven of them) called the Dice of Fate. The "Conan" player will roll the 7 dice, and place them in the Fate pool on the map. In turn, starting with the Conan player, each player will select ONE and only one action die, discarding it and taking the corresponding action. This means that by selecting an action, you take it away from other players. Whenever the dice of Fate are exhausted, a new bid for Conan is played, and the process continues.
The possible actions are: Military action, Intrigue (diplomatic) action, and Conan - Court actions (on the dice there are also two more symbols: a "Crom" action, which is a jolly, and a double symbol Military/Intrigue which allows a player to choose EITHER one or the other action).
The Conan - Court action is the most complex one to explain. First the player plays a Conan action: if he is the Conan player, he can move Conan and place a Raider counter (a counter which gives some problems to the other players); if he is NOT the Conan player, he can take a Resource counter from the Adventure track (thus accelerating the end of a quest...). Then, the player takes a Court action (either plays a Court card from his hand - Court cards are from the Reign deck, or draws cards).

The Game: Gold and Sorcery
The last thing I will talk about is the use of Gold and Sorcery counters.
Gold is used during the turns to activate Power cards (cards from the Reign deck that "upgrade" military or diplomatic units), and to pay for the "upkeep" of these cards as well. Also, at the end of each Age, Gold is used to buy units and cards.
Sorcery tokens are commonly used to reroll ALL the combat dice, but Stygia and Hyperborea may use them to activate special effects from their own Reign cards.

Personal Impressions
After four days and at least 40 games played I think that this game simply rocks. I have had some perplexity about War of the Ring because it is sort of "guided" in many ways, being it a perfect reproduction of the book. Age of Conan instead is completely free. Players have very high degree of freedom in the choice of actions. Furthermore the interaction between players is nearly perfect, as pretty much anything you choose to do will influence other players.
The Fate mechanics are much better than in War of the Rings, and the gameplay is under two hours with 4 players - with very little downtime (almost none), and continuous action. The game scales perfectly with any number of players, and conflict between players are very very common.

The balance of the game is well done, and each Power has a very appropriate Reign deck that helps to recreate the Age of Conan feeling. There are many strategies to win, and none (at this moment) works better than the other. The Luck factor is present but does not break the balance of the game (furthermore, I cannot conceive a wargame without dice).
Battles are a complex task to undertake, the supremacy in the Military field is not easy to obtain, and completely conquer an enemy province is a long and bloody affair; diplomacy gives you easy money but reduces the number of Empire points you may gain.
Strategy cards are important in many ways so you have to decide whether to use them in Intrigue, Military or Conan Bidding actions. A very very good game indeed!

All in all this game works perfectly and I think it is a vast
improvement over the already successful War of the Ring, that will please any fantasy player. The saga of Conan is very well rendered in this ludic form, and I think that this game will further place the Authors in the Gotha of Game Designers. Age of Conan really has all the numbers to rise and shine above the gaming landscape.
So, to use the words of Conan himself: Enough Talk!
Let's fight!
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Vincent Waciuk
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Crom under his mountain would approve of this review. When you stand before Crom you will surely be granted a seat in the Hall of Warriors.
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Stefano Tine'
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Angra wrote:

The balance of the game is well done, and each Power has a very appropriate Reign deck that helps to recreate the Age of Conan feeling. There are many strategies to win, and none (at this moment) works better than the other. The Luck factor is present but does not break the balance of the game (furthermore, I cannot conceive a wargame without dice).
Battles are a complex task to undertake, the supremacy in the Military field is not easy to obtain, and completely conquer an enemy province is a long and bloody affair; diplomacy gives you easy money but reduces the number of Empire points you may gain.
Strategy cards are important in many ways so you have to decide whether to use them in Intrigue, Military or Conan Bidding actions. A very very good game indeed!


I was one of the lucky few you demonstrated the game to. Unfortunately, I only got to play one Era, really not enough to get a complete feeling for the game (I would have played more, if the other testers would have went along with it.. but I don't really approve of people monopolizing the one demo table for hours on end, anyway).

I didn't really get to see the real power of the various cards and tokens (especially the chaos tokens), or even of the objectives. Heck, I didn't even have a chance to play a diplomatic action once, and we never got to the point of battling each other (just neutrals).

For what I did manage to try out, my only qualms are a minor annoyance with diplomatic cards (the 2-3 and 2-4 region markers are confusing.. but I guess one will get used to them with practice) and more important one about the luck factor. Be that because I had the Sword (too strong?) or I don't know what, but I felt like I was winning all my dice contests, whereas opponents were not so lucky.. I suppose, and hope, luck will even out on the 3 eras of a real game, on average, but I am not sure dices could not have been avoided alltogether in favour of some cleverer mechanic, instead.

Nevertheless, I left the table with a sense of having had fun and having confirmed this game in my must buy list.

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Frank Böttcher
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Very good review. And also some new info's. Don't understand why they don't post the full rules.
 
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Dan Fielding
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The translation and editing of the rules for WOTR could have been better.

Are they going to hire a certified translator this time, and then give it to some native English speakers (both American and UK dialect) to make sure that the concepts are clearly presented and well organized?
 
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Martin Söderberg
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great review!
Do you know what the crossed bones behind three of the numbers on the board means?
Tundre, Ghulistan etc.

take care!
 
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Francesco Nepitello
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Gronak wrote:
The translation and editing of the rules for WOTR could have been better.

Are they going to hire a certified translator this time, and then give it to some native English speakers (both American and UK dialect) to make sure that the concepts are clearly presented and well organized?


The English rules for Conan have been translated by FFG.
 
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Francesco Nepitello
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abel_set wrote:
great review!
Do you know what the crossed bones behind three of the numbers on the board means?
Tundre, Ghulistan etc.

take care!


They indicate that a province is 'savage', and cannot be made an ally to your kingdom (only subjugated).

Francesco
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Marco Signore
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Francesco Nepitello wrote:
abel_set wrote:
great review!
Do you know what the crossed bones behind three of the numbers on the board means?
Tundre, Ghulistan etc.

take care!


They indicate that a province is 'savage', and cannot be made an ally to your kingdom (only subjugated).

Francesco


That is: you cannot make an Intrigue attack against a "savage" (or "wild") province, I suppose because they lack a central government that can be influenced by any Intrigue. Also, savage or wild (I don't know how they will be called in the definitive rules) provinces are important for at least two Objective cards.

Furthermore, in the demo board there was a misprint, but the savage/wild provinces will be four, not three (the Picts are savages as well).

(edited to make it clearer, I'm a horrible writer)
 
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Dan Fielding
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>
The English rules for Conan have been translated by FFG.
>

Same people who did WOTR? What about the editing & organizing the rules -- WOTR could have been much better (as proved by "The Actual Rules" etc).

They should give the rules to someone who has never seen the game, who can discover inconsistencies and point out sections that are not clearly explained or could be interpreted in more than one way.

I'm looking forward to the Conan theme, but not to a repeat of the WOTR rules presentation.

And hopefully the font size on the cards will be large !
 
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Daniel Edwards
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I love war of the ring but the rules were stunningly awful.

I say this as a lawyer who makes his living drafting complex contracts in plain english.

Give me the draft rules and I'll fix them in exchange for a free copy of the game
 
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David desJardins
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myopia wrote:
drafting complex contracts in plain english.


Doesn't that violate some legal code of ethics?
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As an English speaking play tester for AoC, I can say that the English version of the rules went through several revisions during the play testing process, and the stream of questions and comments about the rules continually improved them from a comprehension perspective. I expect the final rules will be very readable and helpful.

I'm also really looking forward to seeing the final version of the game. AoC has enough dice-rolling-combat-smackdown-ale swilling-and ass kicking-ness to it to get your blood heated up, but enough strategy and detail to keep your mind highly engaged. I think it will appeal to a wide spectrum of gamers.
 
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Jeremy Yoder
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Is it safe to say that AoC is far less rules-heavy and "fiddly" than WotR? That's the impression I've gotten, and what 1 or 2 others have said elsewhere, but I'd like another opinion. (Or is it only slightest less complex?)

I completely lost a couple of players in WotR because there was so much to take in. Those are also the reasons why I eventually gave up on WotR as they overshadowed the potentially fun elements.
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David desJardins
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JYoder wrote:
Is it safe to say that AoC is far less rules-heavy and "fiddly" than WotR?


I'm scratching my head at how War of the Ring (First Edition) could possibly be called "rules heavy". It has a lower BGG "weight" than Caylus! The rules may be written in a way that's hard to understand, in places. But the actual game mechanics seem really simple.
 
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Jeremy Yoder
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JYoder wrote:
Is it safe to say that AoC is far less rules-heavy and "fiddly" than WotR?


I'm scratching my head at how War of the Ring (First Edition) could possibly be called "rules heavy". It has a lower BGG "weight" than Caylus! The rules may be written in a way that's hard to understand, in places. But the actual game mechanics seem really simple.


At first I thought you were joking, but I guess not. Even those who love WotR admit it has a very high learning curve and is quite fiddly. Or maybe you're simply trying to come off as smarter than most. In any case, the majority will disagree with you as numerous posts of frustration over this game have shown.
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David desJardins
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JYoder wrote:
Even those who love WotR admit it has a very high learning curve and is quite fiddly.


I really don't believe this is true. I've read this forum for years and never heard that point of view. If the game really has such a steep learning curve, why do BGG users assign it a lower weight than Caylus, a game which I think virtually no one would call "rules-heavy"?

Quote:
In any case, the majority will disagree with you as numerous posts of frustration over this game have shown.


I've heard considerable frustration that the rules are poorly written and that makes the game hard to learn. But that's an entirely different concern.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JYoder wrote:
Is it safe to say that AoC is far less rules-heavy and "fiddly" than WotR?


I'm scratching my head at how War of the Ring (First Edition) could possibly be called "rules heavy". It has a lower BGG "weight" than Caylus! The rules may be written in a way that's hard to understand, in places. But the actual game mechanics seem really simple.


I think you are missing the point, Jeremy asked if the game was less "rules heavy" AND "fiddly". "Rules heavy" translates to "lots of rules" and "fiddly" translates to "there are independent rules for many individual situations". This does not have to have direct relationship with experienced game weight.
 
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eikka wrote:
"Rules heavy" translates to "lots of rules" and "fiddly" translates to "there are independent rules for many individual situations".


Do you think that WOTR has lots of independent rules for many individual situations?

I still think the game only seems complicated because of how the rules are written, and unclear text on cards, etc.
 
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Dan Fielding
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A separate BGG rating category for "clarity of rules presentation" would be helpful. Then "weight" would relate only to pure mechanics with the presumption that they are understood.
 
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Gronak wrote:
A separate BGG rating category for "clarity of rules presentation" would be helpful. Then "weight" would relate only to pure mechanics with the presumption that they are understood.


I guess "weight" could mean a lot of different things to different people. Chess has a relatively high BGG weight, even though it has simple rules to teach and simple mechanisms once they are understood. But people think it's weighty because of the decisions. So, in retrospect, using the game's weight as a measure of rule complexity probably doesn't make much sense.
 
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Jim Nave
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JYoder wrote:
Is it safe to say that AoC is far less rules-heavy and "fiddly" than WotR?


I'm scratching my head at how War of the Ring (First Edition) could possibly be called "rules heavy". It has a lower BGG "weight" than Caylus! The rules may be written in a way that's hard to understand, in places. But the actual game mechanics seem really simple.


I'm not totally sure how WOTR isn't rules heavy. I often pull out the rulebook and show it to friends just for the shock value.

We've played WOTR a couple dozen times and are still finding little rules that we've overlooked.

*shrugs*
 
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Jim Nave
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Does 2 - 4 players translate to the same type of 2 - 4 players that Memoir 44 or WOTR has? Two, two person teams?
 
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Rauli Kettunen
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gjnave wrote:
Does 2 - 4 players translate to the same type of 2 - 4 players that Memoir 44 or WOTR has? Two, two person teams?


Each player runs their own nation, so every man/woman looks out for number 1.
 
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