I’m addicted to games, and even when I think I’m good, the cosmos works in mysterious ways to draw me back in.
Now just to be clear, I’m not talking about video games here. Sure, I guess they’re nice, and have their place and all, but what I’m really talking about is miniature games. Oh, and role-playing games. And … well … I guess a bunch of board games. The point is, there’s nothing like a game featuring little toy soldiers, or monsters, or giant, monstrous, truly immense (scale-wise) snakes. I love the look of them, the feel of them, the little battle sound-affects they somehow produce when I make them attack one another. Ahem. And if said game also features content and evokes the feel of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan tales, well, now we’re talking. And this, my friends, is what Pulposaurus’ new game CROM: Conan Rise of Monsters does — or will do, as it’s launching on Kickstarter June 13, 2017.
The stuff you can stick in its mouth. You guys have no idea… Trust me.
An Age Undreamed Of
The thing is, I’m already invested in so many miniatures games (or even just any of the aforementioned game types), including several outstanding ones coming from Kickstarter fairly soonish (Ghostbusters the Board Game II, Warpath, Mythic Battles: Pantheon, etc.), I really was not looking to get any more. Of course, I knew of CROM (because it’s Conan, and well, I’m sorta a super fan), and that after it’s first aborted attempt on Kickstarter last year, that it was due to be relaunched again sometime soon, but I honestly was not sure when. But sometimes these things just sneak up on you. Such was the case a couple weeks ago while I was looking over an update on one of my Kickstarters — Reaper’s Bones III — when I saw that Reaper mentioned that the guys from Pulposaurus would be running a demo of CROM at a local gaming store in Mesa Arizona, which coincidentally is only about 10 miles from my home. Furthermore, said demo game would be happening the very next day (May 6th). Well, if I’m honest, it would be happening that very day, as I was reading this at 1 am.
Of course, I took this as a sign, convinced my wife to let me sneak away for a couple hours to try it out (my daughter’s baby shower was that evening and we were hosting), grabbed my son and sallied forth to give it a go. If nothing else, I wanted to see the CROM terrain firsthand, which Reaper had previously teased us with on the Bones III Kickstarter for a month or two. I’m honestly not sure what the exact relationship between Pulposaurus and Reaper is regarding this upcoming game, but I get the impression that Reaper will be providing the terrain on offer. Regardless, the terrain certainly did not disappoint and I was happy to get to play a demo of CROM with my son Caeden. The guys from Pulposaurus even livestreamed it, which thrilled my son to no end, as he nearly talked my ear off about the experience in the car ride home afterward. If your interested, you can see us play here. We really did have a great time, and is case you’re curious as to why I’m such a proponent of table-top games over video games, this demo is a perfect example. In my opinion, you just can’t get this level of personal interaction from a game unless you’re actually standing at the table with an opponent. You gotta see the guy’s face when talking this level of smack.
One of the killer CROM terrain pieces I snapped a picture of before my demo of the game.
So what is CROM: Conan Rise of Monsters about? In basic terms, it’s a wargame set in Howard’s Hyborian age that pits the armies of good against the armies of evil. Players command either the army of shining Aquilonia, jewel of the Hyborian kingdoms of the west, led my the mighty barbarian king Conan, or those of ancient Sgygia to the south, seat of decadence and black magic in these pre-historic times, led by the foreboding sorcerer Thoth-Amon. The game provides each side several iconic troops, such as knights for Aquilonia and Priests of Set for Stygia, though the big monsters each side has access to are the real stars of the show. Stygia commands a truly monstrous giant snake (which is totally bad-ass in person, I gotta say) while Aquilonia has a huge, hairy oliaphant (which my son would not shut up about, so it must be pretty cool, though I was perhaps less impressed with because it stomped a mud-hole in my skeletons). Of course, Conan and Thoth-Amon, as heroes of their nations, were pretty cool too (seriously, Thoth has these mystical serpents coiling up and around him … so awesome). The best part of all this is that all the miniatures come pre-painted, so you can literally get playing right out of the box. I found the quality to be pretty good — similar but better than the various pre-painted D&D or Heroclix miniatures I seen and collected. My wife also remarked that they looked pretty good when she watched the video, which I’ll note is high praise.
Even my dad, who introduced me to Conan as a boy, has gotta be impressed with this snake. I hope. Let’s just say he was disappointed by some other’s depictions of monstrous Conan serpents…
As to the game mechanics themselves, I found them to be uncomplicated and easy to understand. The battle lasts 6 game turns — or the basic mission that my son and I played does at least — and each player takes it in turns to move and attack with a unit, with allowances for running, charging, shooting attacks, etc. Attacking and defending is performed using specialized dice, each of which has a fixed number of Swords, Shields and Sigils on it. Swords cause damage, Shields block damage, and Sigils do various things dependent upon the unit that rolled them. The system somewhat reminded me of the attack/defend system of good ‘ole HeroQuest, though more sophisticated. Of course there are a number of nuances layered upon this system, including Fate or Destiny (can’t quite recall the exact terminology here) dice that can be used each turn to improve the chances of certain actions, rolling for initiative each turn, special rules for certain terrain, special rules for the heroes and special cards each player draws each turn. It’s really these little layered nuisances that make it all work, particularly the special cards, which I found evocative and unpredictable, and which I think really drove the narrative for key moments in the battle. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend you give the videos on their Facebook a view, as Darrell Hayhurst really did a great job of explaining the rules to us as we played.
The infamous Tower of the Elephant. This glorious resin master comes in two pieces, which I only discovered while handling it and almost dropping the elephant statue to the floor. Thank Set for my cat-like reflexes, or I’d most certainly have had to spend some time on the Tree of Woe.
All in all, I really enjoyed the game. It was quick, fast-paced and evocative of the world of Conan. I will note that unlike any other Conan games I’ve seen to date, this one focuses on massed battles set in the Hyborian world of Conan. And though Conan as the King of Aquilonia never waged such battles against Thoth-Amon in Howard’s tales, he did do so in the pastiches published in the 60s that attempted to present all the Conan tales together in chronological order (and which my father regaled me with as a youth). The designers told me that the best way to look at it is as sort of What If scenarios. It works for me, and though I originally thought I might skip this one, the fact that the miniatures are pre-painted and that my 13-year old son loved it so much, have changed my mind. I look forward to playing lots more with my son. I also loved the terrain, which though it doesn’t come pre-painted, I eagerly look forward to lovingly painting myself, as I’ll be using it to litter the battlefields of my games in numerous gaming systems, whether Conan is present or not.
The Kickstarter Experience
So how’s it really going on the Kickstarter front? How am I really doing with my personally backed Kickstarters? Aside from the Kickstarters that I’m still waiting for that I mentioned earlier, some of you may remember from some of my previous articles that I’m a big fan of the platform. For those interested, I recommend this article for my more in-depth feelings on the matter. But, suffice it to say that I’m still a fan. And I really just stick to Kickstarters that are game related — miniature game related, to be exact.
So, about those Kickstarters — they’re all late. Later even than the estimated dates I gave last time, which were projections to be late. Eh. What I’ve come to understand is that Kickstarter in a process. It takes time. A lot of time, and almost certainly far more time than the creators themselves realize. They mean well. I feel like most try their best. Just, you know, China. Or other stuff. Or whatever. All in all, I feel that I’m a pretty patient guy, and that I’ve mostly taken the tribulations of the Kickstarters I’ve backed in stride. Still, in the last half year or so, I’ve learned to become even more mellow regarding these matters. Of the Kickstarters I’d backed since I last wrote an article regarding them, two have completed their shipping, the rest are in various stages of late, and I’ve added yet another.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we? First off, I was waiting for the second wave of the Conan board game by Monolith. I just received this last week, and it’s awesome stuff, though sadly the creators admitted several months ago that they poorly executed the main rule book presentation/layout (something many backers had complained of for quite a while) and so they redid it and will be sending physical copies to everyone who wants one soon. The rule book is kinda poorly done, which sucks, but I feel it’s good of Monolith to step up and correct the issue and provide it to the backers at no additional cost. I also received my lone vulture demon from Creature Caster at the beginning of the year. Of all my Kickstarters, this one bothered me the most. Yes it was very, very late — approaching two years when it finally arrived — but what really bothered me was the way the creator treated the backers. He lied, he ignored and generally just treated us with disrespect. I can handle late, but I cannot abide poor service, disrespect or lack of communication.
My painted Vulture Demon from Creature Caster. Ultimately, I’m pretty happy with my new Lord of Change.
Next we have the Warpath Kickstarter by Mantic. This one’s quite late, and it turns out that Mantic has had some issues with their original manufacturers. This has caused them to split the Kickstarter into two waves as well, the first of which they shipped to us at the beginning of the year. The first wave consisted of the main game components/rule books and all the infantry models (and one of the hard plastic vehicles). I’ve had plenty of fun assembling, painting and converting plague zombies and mutants, so that’s cool. Unfortunately, the thing that most interested me in this Kickstarter in the first place was the new hard plastic Sci Fi vehicles. These have been relegated to second wave — waves really, as Mantic is apparently having issues with the remaining vehicles and will be trickling them out to us as they get finished. At this rate, it’ll likely be the end of the year sometime before we get them all. It’s a shame, but I’m mellow. It’s all good. They’ll come when they come, and they’re gonna be awesome when they do. As long as Mantic keeps us in the loop, I’m happy.
One of the super cool space rat vehicles we’re waiting on from Mantic.
Two of my three remaining Kickstarters are about to ship soon. Reaper’s Bones III is literally gearing up to begin shipping within the week, and given their stated expected packages shipped a day once they’re ready, it shouldn’t take long — two or three weeks maybe. Ghostbusters II the board game, is running a bit behind their estimated (late) shipping expectations, but looks to begin shipping late June at this point. Just to be safe, I’m setting my expectations for July sometime. Lastly, I added another Kickstarter back in December 2016 — Mythic Battles: Pantheon. The game looks interesting, but I’m really mostly excited about the miniatures — all the classic Greek mythology stuff and it’s high quality plastics like Monolith’s Conan. Speaking of Monolith, Mythic Battles is their newest baby, sorta. They’ve partnered with another company — Mythic Games (who is designing the game and handling backer interaction) — so it’s kinda complicated. Regardless, they have the same sort of optimism that Monolith launched Conan with, insisting they’ll ship this huge game and expansions by this upcoming December. Let’s just say I’m skeptical. But I’m mellow too, so it’s all good. Besides, it looks great and I’m eagerly looking forward to it once it arrives.
Keeping the Faith
Remember what I said earlier — Kickstarter is a process. Despite all the delays I’ve talked about, don’t be discouraged. Just be aware of what you’re getting into if you decide to back a Kickstarter. There will be delays, there will be hiccups and the creators may have to make adjustments to their initial plans — the very plans they laid out to you in the beginning. Such is life. But it has been my experience that Kickstarter is a great tool for smaller gaming companies to make their visions of great, oftentimes niche, games actually become reality. Without this platform, I’d wager most of these great ideas simply would never see the light of day, as these zany creators just don’t have the clout otherwise to compete with the big boys like Wizards of the Coast or Games Workshop. And that would be a certified shame. I mean, without Kickstarter, how’s a game like Mantic’s Mars Attacks ever getting made? Honestly, I’m not even sure how such a crazy and wonderful game got made even with Kickstarter, but it did. And I’m more grateful than you can ever know.
Kickstarter requires patience, and it is certainly is not for everyone, but I say the gaming world would be a far bleaker place without it.
So what about you? Do you know what is best in life? Can you hear the horns calling you to the battlefields of CROM?
Or maybe you’ve got your eyes on another Kickstarter? Let us know in the comments.