News for February 2009
Direct From The Designer 6
The second part in a four part series on Age of Conan.
Age of Conan | Published 18 February 2009

Last time we discussed the initial design and dice system found in Age of Conan, now we get to dive into the world and cards.

Hyborian Kingdoms
As it always happens with games based on established literary properties, the creation of the first game board was fairly straightforward. With a heavily thematic game, you cannot shape an existing board around a structure dictated by a gaming mechanic, but you have to recreate the original world as faithfully as possible. So, for Age of Conan it was – initially - as simple as taking one of the maps drawn in the comics or in the books and print it large enough to accommodate figures and counters on it. It was actually NOT so simple in the end, but the main work was definitely in the development, in simplifying or changing borders when needed to highlight a nation’s importance, or to lower its preeminence, and balancing the different areas of the board.

Once the general layout was defined, looking at this close set of kingdoms and provinces, we realized that we could not let players move their armies like sweeping migrations from the Black Kingdoms to Nordheim without transforming the game into ‘Hyborian Risk’, especially as in the stories no conflicts of that size take place during the life of Conan. So, to avoid breaking the various provinces in subsets of regions (which would also create problems in housing the game figures), we devised the ‘campaign track’, a string of icons printed on each kingdom, roughly depicting the minimum number of battles needed to break a kingdom’s resistance to armed aggression. Similar to the concept of sieges in WotR, the campaign track transforms combat into a long-term commitment, that will often see armies involved for different turns in a single campaign against a powerful neutral realm. While adding a lot of thematic feel to the conflict resolution and rewarding careful planning, this also makes diplomatic options a viable strategy for players looking for fast resource acquisitions (as intrigue will give players control over provinces much more quickly).

Cards, and more cards
AoC has a lot of cards; not an insane number of cards, but many of them: Kingdom decks, a Strategy deck, Objective and Artifact cards, and Conan Adventure cards. Does this show that we love cards? To me, what makes playing WotR and many other games truly enjoyable experiences is the use and interaction of well-assorted decks of cards. When a game is deeply rooted in a background of some kind, there is no question that cards can provide the thematic fuel needed to spark that moment of full immersion in the game’s source.

Just to provide an example, I cannot remember how we eventually decided to have a separate set of cards for each kingdom in the game, but I know that recently, playing Combat Commander from GMT, I really enjoyed how such a system highlighted key differences on many different levels among armed forces, by assigning an individual deck to each nation in the war.

With deeply characterized realms like Turan, Stygia, Hyperborea and Aquilonia, we had lots of opportunities to fill the cards with flavorful elements, and we decided to exploit the idea as much as possible, balancing every deck with the peculiar features of each kingdom in mind.

Looking back at what we did with War of the Ring and Battles of the Third Age, we decided to further streamline the system, by representing the special abilities of army units as Kingdom cards, alongside sorcery spells and devious actions. Even named characters, like valiant generals and cunning diplomats, were handled in the same way. The fact that cards in the final product feature artwork taken from the comics is a final grace that make me particularly eager to play the published game, when I will finally get to place in front of me general Gromel and his Black Legion!

Age of Conan
All things considered, the icing on the cake of the whole design process was tinkering with Conan’s role in the game. Without the barbarian in a preeminent position, AoC would be just yet another fantasy boardgame, so we had to really come up with something that was as engaging as the rest of the game, without making the whole ‘kingdom managing’ part feel only as a corollary. And if there is a thing that we can call a ‘leitmotiv’ through the AoC design, was that we wanted in the game the possibility of crowning him as King of a player-controlled kingdom, or eliminate the player from the game if his realm was deemed unworthy. Moreover, the insertion of a ‘character level’ perspective would allow us to feature in the game the adventures that made Conan popular, at the same time giving to the game a sense of a story being told while playing.

So, constructing the Conan mechanics was an exercise in reduction, as the multiple roles which the Barbarian could play were to be portrayed in a form that we felt was simple enough, yet retained all their evocative force.

Now, during the course of the game we have always a player that feels the power and responsibility of ‘steering’ Conan along paths that are useful to him, to hire him as a general or assassin, or to raise a revolt in an enemy province, while the barbarian encounters monsters to kill, women to conquer and treasure to spend, on his way to Zamora, Shem, or Argos. And since this role of ‘Conan player’ changes hand, everybody in the game will also eventually learn to fear crossing Conan’s path, until the very end of the game, when Conan’s favor toward a kingdom will probably mean victory or oblivion.

But this is another story, one that will explore fully in a future article, ‘Putting Conan in Age of Conan’.


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Comments (6)

Published: 3/6/2009 8:24:12 AM

Looks great. Hope to get it soon.

Published: 3/3/2009 3:52:14 PM

 I just want it perfectly clear that "preeminent" means, literally, "second-best."  And I'm not very certain that Conan's role in this game would be best described as "second-best."

Published: 2/23/2009 8:35:21 AM

waited for a game like this since spi anounced conan the adventure game in 1982 do not think it was ever made .

Published: 2/21/2009 12:51:38 PM

Thanks for the update.  I am patiently waiting the game.   The board looks great.

Published: 2/20/2009 8:02:17 PM

Looks good, but not looking foward to comic art on the cards.

Published: 2/19/2009 1:53:16 PM


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