Defenders of the Realm from FRED’s Eagle Games, designed by Richard Launius
Yes, I admit it…
Since I discovered the fantasy genre of literature, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… (sorry…) I have been rather fanatically keen on board games set in fantasy worlds where men are men, goblins are goblins, orcs are irritating, and the undead just need a good slap. No, I don’t have an alternative persona with pointy ears who understands woodlore and I don’t speak ancient tongues or mess with arcane magic BUT… I do love playing about in that kind of world and going on heroic quests, trying to destroy evil creatures, collect treasures and achieve renown. Fantasy boardgames meet the need. Yes, I am a Geek, a Geek I am…
But you know what? If you don’t like it, you can take your boring puny 2-handed battle axe and… I digress…
There have been quite a few board games in the fantasy genre either set in a dungeon or castle with a set of heroic adventurers on a quest. There have been others which are grander in scope where the heroes need to save a great land and with Defenders of the Realm, we have this level of grand vista. Nah, this isn’t a small fry dungeon or castle, there is a huge land out there that needs saving!
The game is set in the artistic world of Larry Elmore who is known for creating a lot of the artwork set in the Dungeons & Dragons worlds. Unlike many other strategic fantasy games, DOTR is a cooperative game for 1-4 players aged 13+ where the players work together taking on the roles of different types of heroes such as Wizard, Ranger, Rogue, Cleric, Dwarf, etc. to beat the game system driven baddie Generals. DOTR is a high pressure game as the heroes must stave off the ever growing hordes of Demons, Orcs, Dragonkin and Undead, led by four evil Generals who’s goal is to conquer the land.
The game box is quite heavy and this is because it comes with a LOT of cool stuff ranging from figures for the heroes, baddie Generals, loads of Minions for each of the 4 evil armies, character and General templates, lots of cards for Heroic quests, Hero cards and Darkness Spreads cards which build up the Minion hordes.The beautiful game board with artwork by Larry Elmore is outstanding and mounted on heavy card stock. This is a high quality production which provides a lot for your money.
Having played many fantasy games over the years, I accept that certain things are similar or variations on similar themes. So the heroes and baddies are off-the-shelf stuff. That works for me in any case and is familiar territory. You are not in any way going to find anything new and fresh as to the theme elements in DOTR and on the face of it, is disappointing as the genre in fantasy games could use some new and fresh approaches as to the content. At first glance, DOTR could be just a cookie cutter of other games.
HOWEVER, and this is the thing… this game works very well. For those of you who have played Pandemic, the mechanics are very similar. In this game, the focus is not on gathering treasure or exploring. In fact, these are side shows as your main worry is how to stem the tide of growing enemy Minions and defeat the baddie Generals before they waltz into Monarch City or corrupt enough of the land so that the 12 Tainted Crystals are placed on the board.
The players can only win by defeating the 4 enemy Generals. Also, one player is declared the King’s Champion if they defeat the most enemy Generals and complete quests to gain the most victory points. The game will beat you if any of the baddie Generals march into Monarch City, if you have no Minions left to place on the board, if the 12th Tainted Crystal is placed on the board or if 5 Minions enter Monarch City. So the deck is well and truly stacked against you meaning you all must work together to prioritize your actions and attacks to hold back the spread of the Minions.
The Minions movement is governed by the Darkness Spreads cards played each turn, and the more Minions placed, the greater chance they will corrupt areas and place Tainted Crystals. The Generals March is also controlled by the Darkness Spreads cards. The challenge for the heroes is immense.
The game mechanics are pretty straightforward and the card driven engine enables the game flow as each player takes Daytime actions such as movement, combat and healing from a list of options each requiring the use of life tokens. They must destroy Minions to get to the Generals who can heal which makes them tougher to beat. The players collect Hero Cards during the Evening phase which helps them take enhanced actions or special actions or can be used to add up the number of dice to attack a General.
Players can also agree to mass their attacks against one General which is generally the best way to beat them but this also means that whoever strikes the killing blow gets the victory points for being the slayer of the baddie. This is a nice mechanic with some risk as although you bring the most hit dice to the fight, and if its your turn you choose which of the party attacks in order, and if the dice don’t fall in your favour, one of the other players may strike the killer blow.
Pandemic-like, the Minions spread during the Night phase as they reach their maximum of limit in an area which means they spread to adjacent locations. Add the Generals’ movement and the pressure is on. Its all fairly fast and furious as you spend a lot of the game saying “oh no!” as the Minions poor over the borders of current locations, sweeping all before them. Highly stressful but in a good way.
A cohesive approach is key to success. If the players don’t align their actions with a view of managing the spread of the Minions and destroying Tainted Crystals, they will never get to the Generals. A balanced approach with some risk taking is in order. If you get to the point where you are continually down to 2-3 Crystals left then you will be on borrowed time.
Did it work for me?
Well the key question here is does Defenders of the Realm stand out from the usual fantasy stuff that regularly gets shoveled out? On a theme level, it is all very much well trodden ground, but its the Pandemic-like card-driven game engine that makes DOTR a stand out MUST BUY if you are a Pandemic and Fantasy fan. The production is class and the replayability is strong due to the mix of heroes and variable card results. This game is very good value for the money. I love the tension and decision-making. Every choice has potential consequences. This one will definitely hit my table more often. I absolutely love this game!
Yes this should work well for possibly 10+ depending on their maturity. The cooperative aspect should be good for you to work together with your kids. The theme is exciting and fun, if nothing new and will capture the younger players imagination.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 9 out of 10
For more information on Eagle Games got to http://www.eaglegames.net/