Conan Review - The Challenge Comes Before Playing!

Whichever way you look, we seem to find a tactical skirmish miniatures game. Especially from Kickstarter, as apparently all you have to do to get a game funded is show off some fancy models and you're set. Conan however is a theme which I can get behind for this genre. You could play as your favourite heroes from the movies (of which I've only seen a couple of them once for Arnie nostalgia purposes so my knowledge is very limited) and face off against different enemies and monsters even though we've seen them time and time again in every fantasy miniatures game ever.

I wanted to get this played and reviewed at the start of the year, but I was held up not only by other games that needed reviewing but also a massive problem with the game, that being its horrific rulebook. It was no surprise of mine to hear that everyone was slating Conan for the low quality rulebook which made it a burden to learn and play. Bad rulebooks feature pretty highly in my Top Ten list of "things publishers annoy me with". Time is precious for me and if a publisher can't take the time to fulfill a fundamental requirement of every board game in existence then I'm less willing to take the time to play your game. I don't think I'm been fussy here. I expect a dentist to have suitable qualifications before he sticks a whirring drill down my gob and equally I expect a board game to have a functional, approachable rule book when I give you money for it.

Thankfully though the publishers did recently publish a revised PDF on their website that we could download as a revised rulebook and which would feature in an upcoming reprint. Reluctantly I decided that I would tackle Conan head on using this instead to see if it did the trick and if it was worth the wait and effort.




Designer: Frederic Henry / Pascal Bernard / Laurent Pouchain
Publisher: Monolith
Age: 14+
Players: 2-5
Time: 90-120 Minutes
RRP: £92.99


From Board Game Geek

Conan, designed by Fred Henry and based on the Conan universe by Robert E. Howard, is a scenario-based semi-cooperative asymmetric miniatures board game. One player is the Opponent, playing the Opposition forces, and the other players (1 to 4) play Conan and his companions: Shevatas the thief, Hadrathus the Priest/Sorcerer, Belit the pirate queen, Valeria the warrior, etc. The game is based purely on Robert E. Howard's novels and short stories (and not the movies or other non-Howardian material). The publisher has hired Patrice Louinet, a Howard expert, to make sure the art and the scenarios are compatible with Howard's vision.
Each game is a scenario, played on a map. There will be several maps — Pictish Village, Underground temple, Tavern, Pirate ship, etc. — and each map can have several scenarios set on it. The game is fast, one hour approximately. It's possible to play several scenarios in a campaign, but you can also play each scenario individually. There will be a dozen playable scenarios in the base box.


HE CAN'T READ BUT HE SURE CAN FIGHT


As with all of these Kickstarter miniature games the price tag for Conan is pretty obscene. But you're getting a collection of "mostly" well sculpted miniatures and some gorgeous artwork for the exchange. Some miniatures fared better than others. I love what's been done on the boards especially to showcase the different scenarios, it's some of the best I've seen in the genre. Of course storage is going to be a pain as it barely fits in the original box with just the Retail components. If you bought into the exclusives (which I hate when Kickstarter projects do this), this is going to be a shelf hog.

There are some questionable design choices with the graphics though. To separate each space for a model to move to you have these really thin white line strokes which on certain maps require pinpoint eyesight on zoom mode to spot easily. If you don't have good lighting, I can see this being a pain. As well as this the line of sight rules are based on drawing a line between the centres of each space represented by large dots. Whereas this is simple to follow, it also doesn't really work thematically. Often your line will scrape some barrel or edge of a circular wall and by definition should count as invalid for ranged combat. But anybody can look at this and see clearly that any idiot in that space could simply step left and be fine. This is why other miniature games draw from a corner instead and also why ranged combat doesn't happen as frequently as I would like in this game.

But oh my word, as I mentioned above, the rulebooks in this box are some of the worst I've seen EVER. Period. I'm thrown straight into a round sequence chart without it even telling me first how to play and nowhere does it give me a components list. Apparently you're just supposed to guess what each token is for. And it doesn't stop there. The wording is translated badly, the layout is all over the place and as a result it's almost unplayable out of the box. You may be able to work out what's what eventually, but in no reality is it worth that much hassle.

Now Monolith has since mid January 2017 published official revised rulebooks on their website which will feature in an upcoming reprint in book form. These are a lot better, but still miss out some key aspects that make rules checking a fiddly process. But at least you can actually play the game using them and as such, downloading these first is a mandatory requirement before you do anything else. So much for the money you spent on those books.


FREEDOM OF ALMOST EVERYTHING


So a bit of a mixed start, but let's improve on that. One of the unique aspects of Conan is how Heroes and the Overlord manage their turns. Both use a number of gems to power their various actions and have to rest up in order to recover them quickly, but you have complete flexibility over what actions you can do subject to a maximum exertion limit. On top of that there is no official turn order in Conan. The Heroes can perform their actions in any order they see fit and so players can discuss tactics in detail before execution to set up all important turns. Other than the amount of gems you have available, you really do have literal freedom of choice.

In contrast the Overlord doesn't have many different actions available, but instead has a line of unit tiles on his "Book of Skelos" (which more accurately should be called "The Plastic Tray of Skelos" that he can activate in a turn. The cost in gems for each tile is increased the further down the line however and activating a unit pushes the tile back meaning a subsequent activation costs a lot more unless you start using your other units. Dead units can be removed permanently at a cost to make everything else cheaper also. I found this to be a cool mini-game of sorts as you are not blocked from using a unit twice, but you have to pay for it and so you're not only using tactics on the field, but trying to be efficient with your gem spending.

Certainly the game is based mostly on luck, but some items and the use of gems can mitigate this with re-rolls. However of course a bad run of luck is going to screw you no matter which way you look at it. This does create a problem though. When your hero is damaged you have to lose gems permanently unless you can heal them back, except healing is extremely rare in Conan. So if you receive a painful blow early, you could have your actions severely limited for the rest of the game, and that's just not fun for the player if your Overlord is relentless. The wizard character in particular can become next to useless if hurt badly.


QUICK AND PAINLESS


Conan can wrap up if you have conquered the initial period of constant rules checking in around 90-120 minutes. That's not bad for a skirmish miniature game when others in the genre seem to take forever. You'd expect it to take a lot less time however, but player discussion of tactics is what extends this. Even so it doesn't feel like it drags out too long and less players will shorten this further.

There's a lot of scenarios in the book, each of which are very different in terms of complexity, objectives, setting and even player count. One for example is purely for 1 v 1 gameplay. You've therefore got quite a fair bit of replay value in the retail box before you've tried every single one. But to go beyond in terms of scenarios and miniatures you have to invest heavily in expansions, otherwise you'll be facing the same things too often.


VERDICT ON CONAN


It's easily said that Conan looks great on the table. Decent models and some really good artwork make for a head-turner from passers by. The rulebook inside the box is however atrocious and almost renders the game unplayable. It is essential you download the revised PDF from the Monolith website and when you see the difference, you won't be able to fathom how it started off so wrong. However, once you get past the initial learning curve and imperfect rulebook, Conan is actually a reasonable amount of fun to play, though certainly not perfect.

The use of gems to power your actions coupled with a 100% freedom of choice in the turn order is what separates this game from many others in the genre. Players freely discuss their tactics and have to micro-manage their skills. The Overlord also gets an interesting mini-game to play with managing their unit selection, tryin to get the most out of them for as cheap as possible. However a bad start can cripple the Heroes chances and if you get hurt too much you're reduced to doing very little for the rest of the game with almost no way to heal yourself.

There's a good amount of replay value here and stays true to the theme it's based on. I feel some aspects could have been executed better though and it's going to require a chunk of your wallet up front, but generally it's a decent affair. I'd try it first with someone who's taken the time to study the rulebook throughly though.



BROKEN RATING - 7 DECAPITATED HEADS




YOU WILL LIKE CONAN IF:



You want a tactical skirmish miniature game that isn't bogged down in complexity.


You want to resolve a game within 90-120 minutes, it feels quicker than most other contenders.


You're a sucker for miniatures and gorgeous artwork.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE CONAN IF:



You hate bad rulebooks - the boxed version is horrific and a revised PDF download is essential.


You're bored with the influx of skirmish miniature games on the market right now.


You don't want to invest a ton of money into the system to get the most out of it.



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