About a year ago, a sweet looking new game showed up on the shelves of my game store in Joplin. It was called Defenders of The Realm. And, once I found out it was cooperative, I decided that I really must try it!
"Defenders of the Realm is just Pandemic with monsters and dice." Well, there are definite similarities - but, no. Defenders truly does stand on it's own as a different game. In Defenders of the Realm, players will alternate taking turns - each turn consisting of performing actions, drawing Hero Cards, and then drawing "Darkness Spreads" cards (which bring out minions and move Generals). If the heroes are able to kill all four evil Generals before any of the loss conditions occurs, the they win. If a General (or five minions) enters Monarch City, the land becomes entirely tainted, or if you run out of minions, then you lose. When performing actions, you can move, attack minions, heal the land of taint (not available in Pandemic), build magic gates, listen for rumors at an inn (not in Pandemic), and a few other things - the number you can perform is based on the number of hit points your hero has remaining (also different from Pandemic).
|Generals also look awesome|
The next thing that I like about Defenders of the Realm is that the game gets more difficult as you do well - not just as you keep playing it (like both Pandemic and Forbidden Island). There is a "War Status" track in Defenders - and each time that you defeat a General, the War Status is increased. As the War Status increases, more Darkness Spreads are drawn. However, not all of these cards bring out more minions. Each Darkness Spreads card has both minions that are brought out and a picture of where a certain General will attack (if he is in position). As the War Status increases, more cards will be drawn, but some of these cards will only be used to help Generals move forward - after all, as you defeat Generals, less of the "Generals move" icons will be applicable. So, this War Status keeps the game from getting much easier as you keep playing.
|I hope you roll well.|
Now, for my first true con - I felt like the game should scale your hand limit based on the number of players. Specifically, in a solo game. Each player has a hand limit of 10 cards. This works fine in most games, as all of the players are collecting cards to attack a General together. However, in a single player game (assuming you're not pretending that it is multiplayer and using several characters), you can only have 10 cards in your hand at the end of any given turn (during the turn it can be higher by listening for rumors at the inn). This makes it impossible to attack a General with more than about 12 dice. And, as I just mentioned about die rolling, this is far from a sure victory!
|Where are Windy Pass and Raven Forest??|
The final con that I will mention is that my copy of Defenders seemed to be a production anomaly. My "Special Action" Hero cards were a smidge bigger than my other Hero cards - this made them hard to shuffle, and also hurt your thumbs when you tried it. I also received an extra copy of the Wizard and the Undead General character cards (fortunately nothing was missing). I haven't heard anyone else say they had any issues with this game, so I'm assuming that I somehow just received a rare bad copy. I'd also guess that if I asked, the people at Eagle Games would replace my Hero deck for me so that the cards were all the same size, but I got my copy for free from them, so I decided not to press my luck! Oh, and I also thought it would have been cool if the different minions had different molds - instead, they all look the same, but with different colors. Since the game is $85 MSRP, I thought this could be a nice touch, but it doesn't affect gameplay.
Overall, I give Defenders of the Realm a 7.5/10. This score is only this low because the game costs $85 MSRP, and I felt like (though I like the game) I may have been disappointed if I had paid that much. (And, this is making me reconsider whether I should even factor in the price of games when I do my reviews.) If you enjoy cooperative games and fantasy themes (and don't hate dice), then you will love Defenders. If you like cooperative games (and don't hate dice), then you will like Defenders. If you hate dice rolling, then stay away.
I'm not the only person to review this one - if you're looking for more opinions, you might check out the Board Game Family's Defenders of the Realm Review, or even Play Board Game's Defenders of the Realm Review. Or, if you want to read about other cooperative games, you might check out Knizia's Lord of the Rings, Castle Panic, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.
I would like to thank Eagle Games for providing me with a copy of Defenders of the Realm to help rebuild my game collection after the tornado.