Conan the Barbarian

by Mark Nelson

The UKVB holds three variants based on R.E. Howard’s `Conan’ books, namely:

fh02/05       Hyborian Age II / Burt Labelle
fh04/11-12  Hyborian Dip / Jim Peters
fh07/07 Hyboria II /  Warner Airey        

Hyborian Age I isn’t in the UKVB, I’ll just pause to mention that it was designed by Gary Gygax before he went onto better (?) things.

Hyborian Age II is a five-player variant starting in 3700, set after Conan became King.  The players are: Aquilonia, Turan, The Federation (representing the countries of Ophir, Corinthia and Koth), Cimmeria and Stygia.  Only Stygia starts with a Fleet unit and no power may build more than one fleet a year.

There are five special neutral supply centres.  If you own one of these provinces then it acts as an home supply centre.  The map has several mountain and desert provinces which are impassable.  There are two signs of poor design on the map: Aquilonia and the Federation have adjacent home supply centres (Venice/Trieste in the regular game) and there is a neutral supply centre adjacent to a Cimmerian home supply centre and an Aquilonian home supply centre.

Quick Comment: Simple rules and map variant. Possible two minor problems with the start-up.

Hyborian Diplomacy is an eleven-player variant, but there are optional rules for down to two.  The rules for fewer players consist of putting the powers that are not played into CD with their supply centres garrisoned.  This procedure has the merit of allowing the variant to cater for 2-11 players.

There are no fleets in this game, all units are amphibious.  This approach was used in many 1960s/1970s variants where the map consisted mostly of non-coastal land provinces. All but nine of the neutral supply centres are garrisoned, making for a slow game.  The victory conditions depend upon which power you play: if you start with three or four supply centres, four powers start with three and two with four, then you need to own 25 supply centres whilst if you start with five or six, four powers start with five and one power with six, you require ownership of thirty-five centres. There are two optional rules which effectively give the GM an opportunity to play an additional power, they are best ignored, a comment also made by Steve Agar in Variants & Uncles 6 (April 1981).

I can’t agree with Steve Agar’s 1981 comment that “this is an exceptionally well designed game”.  There are a large number of centres on the board, there are only armies and it seems to me that the board will quickly become clustered.  With no convoy possibilities movement of units to the front will be slow and lugubrious.

Quick Comment: Simple rule/map variant.  No special rules to recreate the atmosphere of the game.  Probable a very slow game.

Hyboria II, in the words of the designer, “does not seek to parallel any one particular story, but is designed to capture the flavour of the Hyborian Age.”

This is a seven player variant with the powers being: Aquilonia, Cimmeria, Koth, Nemedia, Turan, Stygia and Zingara. There are thirty-three supply centres in the game but as supply centres may be destroyed throughout the course of the game the victory condition is ownership of a majority of remaining supply centre.  There are two seasons per year and the years have `names’, the year names rotate in a nine-year cycle (so that year ten has the same name as year one etc.).

A special feature of this variant is  `magic points’: Koth, Nemedia, Stygia, Turan and Zingara use magic points to create Leaders and then weapons;  Aquilonia uses magic points to build defences to specific weapon and Cimmeria is forbidden from using them.

Leaders may, unsurprisingly, led units, adding  one to the strength of it provided the unit is not supporting. They may move up to two provinces a turn and if they are not leading then this movement is secret.  A power may only try to create a leader once, if the attempt is unsuccessful you may not try and try again.

A power that has a leader unit may try to convert it into a weapon, once again the attempt may be made only once and failure results in the destruction of the leader.  A weapon is a 3A, supporting only as a 1A,  moving up to two provinces a turn which can destroy supply centres and destroys any unit that it dislodges.  A weapon can be destroyed either by a specific Aquilonian defence or if it attempts to occupy the same province as another weapon.

Aquilonia controls Conan.  He   is a leader unit which adds one to the strength of any unit that he is ordering.  Aquilonia can also use magic points to build a defence to a specific weapon, e.g. build defence to Koth weapon.  Conan can also raise four Raider units. These have strength of one-half, they may capture supply centres but if dislodged they disband.  If an Aquilonia home centre is captured Conan can raise a resistance unit, a single army which may be built in any unoccupied Aquilonia home centres regardless of current ownership.

When Cimmeria owns five, or more, centres it may create a double army and when it owns ten, or more, the double army becomes a triple army.  All Cimmerian units act as double units when they occupy, move from, or attempt to enter a home province.

There are several neutral armies on the board, mountains are passable but give -1 on attacks through them (so a supported attack through a mountain does not dislodge a single unit) and only Zingara, Turan and Stygia may build fleets.

Quick Comment: A moderately complex map/rule variant, but you only need to read through the rules once to get the gist of things.