Monday, December 26, 2016

Conan by Monolith - a review

Faithful readers of this blog will have seen some of the superb miniatures from Monolith's boardgame "Conan". The least I could do for the Holidays was write a review!

Conan came to be in a Kickstarter campaign and became one of the most successful campaigns ever to do so. Over 16.000 backers provided more than 3 million dollars to create a boardgame based on the barbarian hero from Robert E. Howard's stories. So what has become of it?

Conan is an example of a genre that has become very popular in the last years: the miniature boardgame. The Kickstarter campaign has of course spawned a sprawl of stretch goal extensions and extras so for clearity's sake I will limit myself to the basic game: still an impressive set in it's own right and one that should be available for retail by now.

The first thing that grabs the attention is the excellent visual appeal this game offers. I am not ashamed to admit that I entered the Kickstarter campaign solely for the miniatures, before I even knew what kind of game it was. The board and card materials all are first rate prints based on exquisite artwork by several very skilled artists.

The game is a semi-cooperative boardgame. Hero players play against one opponent: the player that plays the Evil Overlord. Hero players play one or more heroes, the EOL plays all opponents. The game has several very clever innovations that will be described below.

The basic game offers four playing boards, printed back-to-back on heavy cardboard. These allow you to play scenarios on two pirate ships, a Pict village, a tavern (of course!) and a ruined fortress. The boards are dived in board areas that allow movement across the board. Movement is hampered by terrain features printed on the board (good lighting is recommended during a game!) . Line of sight is simplified by white dots printed in a board area. If you can draw a line between two white dots without crossing a terrain feature, you have line of sight.

The piece de resistance of the game really are the miniatures. They are SUPERB. Made of tough plastic they (with one or two exceptions) are beautiful sculpts with great detail. They paint up beautifully, but some will take some skill to get right, as the detail on especially the female figures is very small and finely sculpted. The figures would be an asset to any wargaming collection, even if you never play the game itself.

I was pleasantly surprised that Conan was not just a pretty game, but a good game as well! So how does it play?

The Hero players use Character cards that hold all information, weapons and skills of the Heroes. Skills and equipment enable you to do special things or roll extra dice. Nothing special here.

However, each Hero has an amount of Energy (blue plastic gems) that enable the hero to take actions. A Hero may take any action he wants in any sequence and as often as he wants. However, each action costs Energy and when Energy is exhausted, no more actions are possible. Reclaiming Energy takes time and you will get the point, dear reader: spending Energy is a lot faster then reclaiming it! This makes for interesting dilemmas. While a Hero can take a breather instead of a turn full of action, this will still not give him back all his Energy, so energy management is a crucial element of this game.

The EOL has about the same amount of Energy at his disposal as a Hero, but reclaims it faster. No luxury, since his Energy must power ALL adversaries. He does this using a clever gaming ad called The Book Of Skelos. The main feature is "The River" where he keeps his character cards. The more to the left a card is placed, the cheaper it is to activate. Once activated. the card moves to the right and can only be activated against a bigger Energy cost. The entire "River"then flows to the left. So the EOL can activate every card he wants (twice per turn) but the Energy costs may vary enormously. Here, too, energy management is the key.

The skill and combat system has cleverly and completely done away with modifiers by using special coloured dice. The yellow ones are the least effective, the red ones the most. No math is required, just pick the right number of dice of the right colour and roll them!

All this makes for a game full of well-pondered decisions while still flowing fast enough to get that action-packed feel that is essential for the world of Conan.

The game provides several scenarios to play, which may also serve as inspiration for writing your own.

There are some point of criticism of course. Some miniatures are not very good. Different sculptors worked on the game and a few of the earlier sculpts (Conan's lion being a sad example) are definitely of lesser quality. But they really are the exceptions, as the pictures will testify.

The orginal rulebook (separated in a player's book and an EOL book) provided in the Kickstarter simply sucked.

Parts of the rules were missing or badly translated from French. Inventory lists are missing  and determining what you would need for a scenario is a puzzle solved only by reading the scenario and looking at the graphics VERY closely. However, Monolith is correcting this as I write to provide a better rulebook that will be downloadable free of charge.

There is a plethora of marvellous expansions dealing with Khitai, Stygia and the North, making the longevity of this game even better.

Containing all this treasures, Conan does not come cheap. It is definitely a high-end miniature boardgame and has hit retail at prices around 120 dollars/euros. Still, I recommend it heartily! You will paint and play for ages with this game.


  1. Great review Pijlie, it mirrors my thoughts exactly. It would be a good review to post on Boardgame Geek if you haven't already done so.

  2. Thank you for the review! I haven't even dared to approach the rulebook, still shivering on the perspective of painting all those minis first. I find it interesting learning about other people's thoughts on it.