|Age of Conan | Published 09 February 2009|
AGE OF CONAN - A DESIGNER’S RECOLLECTIONS
By Francesco Nepitello
As the rules for the game have been posted already, with this article I will focus on our lucky experience in designing another big game on a very popular literary property. So, some familiarity with at least the concept of Age of Conan is required for a better understanding of my ramblings.
It is difficult to comment on a design process when it took more than 2 years for it to come to fruition. The reasons for such a lengthy development are manifold, but in the end quite uninteresting, so I think I will spare you the boring details. Let’s just say that it is with some effort that I can recall the first time we discussed working on a Conan game!
It was shortly after we wrapped up the Marvel Heroes project that we first started talking about Conan, and we didn’t have any major commitment in line. This meant that I, Roberto and Marco were pretty free to discuss what we wanted from a Conan strategy game. We all shared a passion for the sources in general, the Milius’ movie and the comics, with Roberto acting as the R.E.H. official lorekeeper (I content myself in being mainly a comic fan, worshipper of Alcala/Buscema...), and we realized, quite early on, that a proper Conan boardgaming incarnation would not be so easy to create...
Conan the General
Let’s face it, Conan and strategy do not marry well in the mind of the casual barbarian sympathizer, as the concept of a solitary warrior braving unspeakable dangers and killing loathsome monsters does not immediately summon images of armies clashing on the field of battle. To add some problems to an already difficult design, the era depicted in the bulk of the Conan stories is not like the “Sengoku Jidai” of Japanese history, but a theatre dominated by more or less static kingdoms, facing each other with minor skirmishes that almost never flare into open warfare. Moreover, the Hyborian Age really revolves around the character of Conan himself, an individual so heroically exceptional and above any average that it would have been quite inappropriate to assign the control of the barbarian to a single player, without spoiling the game for all the other participants.
Conan “the Ringbearer”
The solution to this riddle came from the basic premise of the project: our goal was to make a strategy game, possibly with armies fighting against a background of narrative events featuring the main hero; the first gaming analogy we could think about was our very own and successful War of the Ring game. Simplifying things, in WotR we have two factions clashing on a military level, while another asset controlled by one player, the Fellowship, tries to attain its objective on another level altogether.
Adapting this simple idea to Conan, we discovered we could push the concept even further: players would compete for supremacy on a common ground as kingdoms of the Hyborian Age, while fighting for the control of another way to victory, that is Conan himself, who however is outside of the direct influence of the players.
Action Dice - now Fate Dice
Once this basic structure was defined, we started to create the mechanics, using the backbone of the WotR game: the action dice system. Now, this was actually the second time that we adapted the action dice system to another game, as we already designed the two “operational level” games of Rohan and Gondor included in the Battles of the Third Age expansion for WotR. These two battles are quite close to the original game, but in the end I think they really stand as independent entities, both in terms of mechanics and gameplay. In Conan, a much greater differentiation would emerge through the design and development stages, differences so significant that in the end I think that Age of Conan and War of the Ring can be considered just remote relatives, possibly more distant, for example, than the card-driven Hannibal and We the People.
The main reason behind this separation is due to the fact that we aimed to make AoC a true multiplayer game. The option of multiple players rolling their own iconic dice sets to generate their available actions (as in WotR) would need so many dice to make the game an expensive choice even for opulent Turanians... So, we started to explore a common set of dice, rolled to form a pool of results accessible in turn by all players. We realized that such an approach would bring additional benefits: the system, modified and polished in different iterations, proved to be a very smooth engine, able to offer players variable limited options to create tension, but also suggesting a gaming mood very suited to the source material, with players fighting over the available actions, and sometimes invited to use a die result only to prevent another player to profit from it, as a treacherous ruler must rightly do to hinder his adversaries.
Thought Hammer lists it as a March ''09 release. Haven''t seen anything here, though....
Right on Franseco, WotR is my favorite game of all time and it looks like you guys are going to hit another home run with this one. Your attention to detail is perfect. I''ll be there first day when it is released, which is when?
I''m hoping the artwork is as good as Buscema''s!
I wait for thee...