With some very rare free time at the hotel in London, I decided to embark upon a quick game of Barbarian Prince. This game is definitely better if you just pretend the prince in question is the one the game is almost certainly based upon, but was forced to be genericized avoid the legalities of pursuing an existing pulp-story IP.
There’s no question Barbarian Prince is based on Conan the Cimmerian himself, but it’s good because there haven’t really been that many Conan games produced. Incredibly in the last couple years we’ve seen renewed interest with one all-new game releasing in 2016 (Conan) and a new expansion coming soon for 2009’s Age of Conan. The latter wasn’t received well by fans due to the fact that you don’t actually get to play AS Conan, but I loved the re-purposing of the War of the Ring mechanics and the high quality components and artwork that’s become the standard from FFG and Ares. Before AoC your only real options for barbaric tabletop gameplay would be the very good looking but unfortunately discontinued Conan CCG or some RPGs of varying quality.
Now I’m not a huge Conan buff, but it’s a known IP, and it inspires some really quality artwork so it’s necessary that someone would have created a game early on to fill the gap. Well, Barbarian Prince filled a gap of sorts. The solo, paragraph driven Conan-themed game where you get pummeled constantly. Below you’ll hear the story of Conan (ahem… Cal Arath) and his quest for vengeance.
Cal begins his escape on the eastern bank and makes haste to cross the river before the royal guard are able to catch up with him. His position is unfortunate, as the eastern region is littered with mountains which are not only terrain that’s tough to traverse, they are scarce on food as well. After two days of wandering in the mountains Cal rolls a 6-6, which reveals some mountainous ruins. Ooooh.
The ruins don’t prove fruitful and instead Cal, in his ineptness, has trouble finding his way out of the ruins for 5 days. He’s now weak from a week of starvation but he plows forward. Eventually, perhaps by sheer luck, Cal finds a way out of the ruins and right into a Goblin Keep. Sizing up his opposition, it’s abundantly obvious that Cal is far to weak to take on multiple goblins on his own. With a roll of the dice, Cal succeeds in evading the potential captors and continues aimlessly toward the famed Tower of Zhor.
Cal visits the temple, finds a magical shield along the way (A POSITIVE MOMENT!), and continues proceeding south. His goal seems to be to reach the castles in the southern region, but the mountains have proven to be a tough obstacle. Without a supply of food, there’s nothing to eat in the mountains and the more starved he gets the less effective he is… in everything it seems.
After nearly 3 weeks, Cal is starving, and because he’s starving he’s ineffective in hunting for his own food. And because he’s clearly inept, he can’t continue moving through the countryside without getting lost for several days. But alas, eventually we make progress and move forward one hex…. into another Goblin Keep. @&^#%#!
This time Cal is no match for the Goblins, and is captured without a fight. He’s informed that he’s in line for execution, but until then he will be kept… and fed. FooD! Cal spends 12 days jailed, but they turn out to be two weeks of rest from the dangers of the real world. He’s able to eat and regain his strength, and it’s not entirely surprising the the safest place for Cal seems to be in a goblin cage.
Once nurtured back to full strength he’s eventually able to escape, wandering into a field where a wizard and his lackey are lingering. At first glance this wizard does not seem to be very approachable, but Cal tries to speak with him anyway. Apparently Cal’s accent is offensive to the wizard and the three of them prepare for battle. Cal, being outnumbered decides the best course of action is an escape, and he’s successful in eluding the two armed combatants. He’s awful at being a barbarian, but he seems quite efficient at passive avoidance.
For the next week or so Cal makes a little progress, hiking through the fields and avoiding the mountains when possible. Every now and then he proves that he’s not completely useless by hunting and catching his own food. I imagine the food he catches are less elusive prey, like hermit crabs or rocks. Things that high in fiber.
He makes the a high-risk tactical decision to traverse the desert. Cal gets lost easily, and I assume that this would be his end, but he makes it several hexes safely before reaching the edge of the desert. Strangely, or I suppose it’s not so strange at this point, Cal gets VERY lost with the countryside in visual range. He spends WEEKS trying to get out.
His short food supply is quickly depleted, and starvation sets in once again. Cal loves rolling 6-6 when hunting. Since it means he hurt himself and gathered no food. Cal is a lumbering idiot.
He miraculously makes it out of the desert, and into the hands of several thieves who had apparently been watching his follies from the edge of the plains. When Cal emerges he is in no shape for 3-on-1 combat and he basically concedes without a fight.
Cal Arath is dead. And nobody is surprised.
This game is 100% dependent on dice rolls. There’s very little strategy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to play. It’s extremely frustrating to get lost every other day when moving from hex to hex, but the random events are fun. For more than one player, a similar game that’s also a blast to watch your character get ran through the ringer is Tales of the Arabian Nights. That’s another paragraph driven game, but with some slightly modernized rules that give you a little more control over your destiny, but not THAT much more control. These games are definitely more for players who enjoy the storytelling aspect, and the mystery of discovering how your character will be maimed next.
Will I play Barbarian Prince again? I don’t know. Probably. But not for awhile. Cal needs time to study some maps first.