Monday, August 05, 2013

Tabletop Gaming - Review - Defenders of the Realm

Defenders of the Realm @ BGG
Back when the main cooperative games we had were Arkham Horror and Pandemic, I asked a friend for any other recommendations. What we got was a Pandemic-like game that was actually reliably hard!

The game itself isn't very hard to set up at all and it gets randomized per the cards you draw to determine where pieces are placed. In the end of the setup, it generally looks like this:

Game all setup
 Defenders of the Realm is all about defeating 4 Generals that start in roughly the four corners of the board while they spread minions across the board and slowly progress to Monarch City at the centre of the board.

This all seems easy enough and I was told by said friend above that it in fact seems easy even to newcomers from the get go but there is a catch:

  • Each Darkness Spreads phase you draw 1 card and resolve it. 
  • Depending how many Generals have been defeated, you may then have to draw two or even three of these cards, resolving them as well.
  • If the Minion pool for a General is empty when you need to place one on the board, game over!
  • If the pool of Taint Crystals is empty when you have to draw one, game over!.
  • And as previously mentioned, if a General gets to Monarch City, game over!
    • It is also game over! when 5 Minions make their way into Monarch City but that only occurs through certain cards.
There is therefore a few ways to lose but only one way to win: Defeat all four Generals before the above conditions occur. 

In saying that, the game is very luck heavy. At a base level, you are drawing cards to assist you in defeat the General. Each card has a die (or two) at the bottom showing a number on them (same number depending on General) and to attack a General, you must have X of those cards to roll X dice to try and damage him. In our recent game, we lacked Green cards to try and take the General that stormed into Monarch City. Additionally, the same goes for the Darkness Spreads deck where you may have it lucky at times and others bad things just keep happening. As it is said, it is in the luck of the dice.. or cards in this regard.

At an estimate, the duration of this game I would say could be up to 2 hours depending on how much talking is done and planning between phases. Once you get the hang of it though, it could be done in 1 to 1.5 hours.

With regards to table space, this game as much as it looks like it takes up a decent amount of room, it is still only a max of 4 players and hence doesn't really take up as much room as you may expect from other board games. I find it to be a good balance as then there is a 1:1 ratio of Heroes to Generals. This doesn't mean though that it isn't beatable with less than 3 by any means.

I cannot go any further without mentioning quality. The board and cards are all of good quality. The cards themselves of the decks are actually thicker than normal and I approve of that while the Hero/General boards are of the same thickness as the board itself. This was one of the other aspects of the game that we loved compared to some other games where the card stock may be thinner than normal and need sleeving; Defenders of the Realm is not the case for this at all.

And now I come to the heroes! There is a good amount of variety in the heroes, both in how many there are as well as the special abilities they bring to the table. Some would say the Cleric is always a must have (can remove Tainted Crystals more easily) while others maybe the Sorceress is another needed on the table (can 'change' into a Minion each turn to not be noticed by that type). Whichever way you look at it, it all comes down to how the players work together to accomplish the goals at hand.

For me, coming from Pandemic (hard but not as hard as this) and Arkham Horror (more wins than losses), Defenders of the Realm was a welcome edition to the table where we have played easily 10 or more games now and none of them have been a win yet.

In fact, the best game my wife and I have done I believe was with 2 Heroes each and we managed to get 3 Generals defeated before we lost and each time we lose this game, we love that feeling of trying so hard and failing because when we DO win: We would have earned it.
Game over man! Game over!
The game we played prior to this review is just above in that image where with 3 heroes, we managed 1 General to be killed but the game was over when Gorgutt ('Green' General) marched into Monarch City unopposed. We knew from near the start that it would be a huge uphill battle as the Minions kept coming and coming and coming. We tried to stem the tide, we laughed and cried at moments, and in the end we bowed our heads in the loss and will revisit the Realm gladly to fight again another day!

If you want a challenge in a fantasy setting for up to 4 players and the potential to go against not just 1 dragon (Sapphire, Blue General) but 4 dragons (expansion) then this may well be the game for you to look into!