24th Jul2017

‘Conan: Nordheim’ [Expansion] Review

by Matthew Smail

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In Monolith’s incredibly atmospheric board game adaptation of Conan, players control the titular hero and his ally’s through a broad range of individual scenarios, each inspired by famous scenes from Robert E. Howard’s novels. The latest expansion to Conan is Nordheim, which sees Conan and a select few of his pals (plus a brand new one) do battle in the frozen north, as they track the beautiful but treacherous Atali, daughter of the Frost Giant Ymir.

Taking place across four individual scenarios that feel as if they take place sequentially over the course of perhaps a day or two, Nordheim is pleasingly thematic. The first scenario begins with Conan, Belit, Shevatos and a new hero, Niord as they encircle a camp of Vanir atop a steep climb. Niord wields dual blades and brings with him a small band of five Aesir warriors. Both Niord and his allies are fearsome in battle, with a real focus on close quarters combat that makes the first and second scenarios feel incredibly visceral.

Whilst the first scenario pitches two large and reasonably well matched forces against each other in a brutal slugfest, the second takes place on the same battlefield, but turns the table in favour of the Overlord, as Niord’s fallen shieldmates begin to return from the dead as zombies. A cruel Necromancer and a Dark Beast from the core box bring a change of pace to proceedings, especially because the Necromancer can’t be hurt until Conan and his companions meet certain conditions.

The Frost Giant brothers appear for the first time in the third scenario, as Atali flees to them to escape the wrath of Conan and Niord, who are still in hot pursuit. Both this scenario (and the last one) use the second side of the large, beautifully painted board included in the Nordheim expansion, which represents a less harsh, wooden environment. The brothers make for impressive foes, each rolling two heavy dice, and with the special rule that should one fall, the other will become enraged, doubling the strength of his attack.

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This battle is likely to be the pinnacle of the Nordheim expansion for many, although I personally loved playing the first and second scenarios back to back. The Frost Giants are incredibly fearsome, but in a scenario where only Conan and Niord oppose them, it isn’t possible to include too many other models because of the already steep challenge for the hero players. As a result, scenario three has a fairly Spartan setup, with the brothers as its focus and an ever hungry pack of wolves emerging sporadically from the treeline to nip at Conan’s heels.

Scenario four features even less characters, and features a one vs one battle between Conan and Atali. This scenario features several special rules, and feels a bit like the final boss battle in a video game. Atali struggles desperately to escape Conan, and uses witchcraft and misdirection to slow him down. For every turn he fails to damage her, she moves one step closer to vanishing into the dense and impenetrable snowstorm that rages around them. This is a tense battle, but it isn’t necessarily of the kind of fighting that I love most about the Conan game, although it does demonstrate the flexibility of the unique fatigue/wound engine that Monolith have built.

One thing that I particularly liked about Nordheim is how each scenario accommodates a different number of players, from five in the first to two in the last. I don’t know if this is meant to cater for the fact that you could (theoretically) play all of the scenarios in a single day, but would likely suffer from a dwindling gaming group, or if you’re perhaps just supposed to pick and choose scenarios. A good, experienced Overlord could easily adapt scenario three to accommodate more heroes and more Vanir, or you could even use the Frost Giant brothers in an earlier scenario, which is a setup that might look like the one I’ve used in the pictures throughout this article.

As always, the board quality in Norhdeim is exceptional, with both sides of the board painted in incredible detail. The miniatures (of which there are over twenty) are high quality and built to the same standard as the rest of the Conan series. I was disappointed that the box didn’t contain any wolf miniatures, although they are used in several scenarios, and I was also a little bit dismayed to see that both Frost Giant brothers share the exact same mould. There is no variety among the Vanir and Aesir Warriors, or the Flocking Crow minis either, but that’s not such a problem considering their rank and file nature.

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Atali and Niord are beautiful, dynamic sculpts, with Niord screaming in rage and holding his dual blades high above his head. Atali is close to naked, in the same style as almost every other female character in Conan, but at least in Nordheim that is somewhat fitting with her canon storyline. I’m not going to comment too much on the representation of women in Conan as that has been discussed to death, but what I will say is, Nordheim doesn’t improve things, so steer clear if that was your hope.

The Nordheim expansion for Conan is a short, sharp and highly thematic burst of additional content. The quality is incredibly high, and the scenarios work really well, although if I was to be critical, I might say that the last one is very, very light on content, whilst the Frost Giant brothers are criminally underused. The middle page of the scenario book is reserved for a double spread image of a naked, sultry Atali, and I do feel like a fifth scenario should really have lived there. It feels to me as if Nordheim is perhaps the kind of pro-level expansion that will lead to some excellent fan made scenarios, but what exists in the box is a tiny bit light.

In summary, anyone who is fully committed to a pimped out Conan set featuring all expansions should buy Nordheim without hesitation. The additional hero, ally models, Frost Giants and so on will really enhance your ability to create custom scenarios, and the new board is truly beautiful. For anyone who can gather a gaming group to play Norhdeim as a back-to-back campaign, you’ll also enjoy doing so, although working out how to keep things inclusive in scenario three and four will be down to you. If, however, you have the core set and are looking to expand your collection with a bit more of the same, then there are probably other expansions you should consider before you pack Conan’s loincloth and send him off to Nordheim.

**** 4/5

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