Defenders of the Realm is a cooperative game unlike any cooperative game you’ve ever played. O.k., that’s a lie, but it would be too easy to compare it to another well-known game which shall remain nameless. For the sake of this review, let’s pretend that it’s a totally unique and innovative game, and see if it sounds like a fun way to spend a couple of hours with friends.
“In the ancient Citadel of Monarch City, the King calls to arms the finest Heroes to defend against a Darkness that engulfs the land. You and your allies must embark on a journey to defend the countryside, repair the tainted lands, and defeat the four creature factions before any of them enter the City. And they approach from all sides! Fast populating Orcs! Fierce Dragons! Undead that bring Fear! And Demons! All tainting the land in their wake.”
In this game of adventure and heroism, you will be playing one of 8 Heroes, each with their own specialities and abilities appropriate to their character:
The Wizard. He can teleport to anywhere without using a card, throw Fireballs, and has great Wisdom which allows you to discard the first drawn card from the Darkness Spreads deck.
The Paladin. Has, of course, a Noble Steed which allows him to move 2 spaces instead of 1, Bravery which means Undead do not scare him, and an Aura of Righteousness which allows him to ignore one wound.
The Rogue. Being a free spirit has it’s advantages like Hiding in The Shadows so she is not harmed by minions in her space, Thievery which lets her draw an extra Hero card if she ends the turn where there’s a treasure chest, and she’s Crafty which benefits her when she’s trying to pick up rumors at an inn.
The Ranger. Being familiar with the woods, the Ranger gets an advantage when he starts his turn or fights in a green space, and he has a longbow for firing into the next area.
The Eagle Rider. Riding an eagle lets him move 4 spaces without using a card, a Fresh Mount in Monarch City or any blue area means you get an extra action, and he can attack from the air so that the enemy cannot harm him at the end of your turn.
The Cleric. Using a Blessed Attack gives her extra strength against the Undead and Demon minions, she can Turn Undead from the space you end you turn, and she can Sanctify the Land which has been Tainted by the enemy.
The Dwarf. Mountain Lore gives the dwarf an extra action if he starts in a red area, Dragon Slayer lets him re-roll combat dice against Dragonkin, and his Armor & Toughness lets him ignore a wound.
Sorceress. As a Shape Shifter she can disguise herself as any type of evil minion which lets her remain in a space with them without harm and also Ambush them, adding strength to her attacks. Visions gives her an extra die when Healing the Land or for Quest rolls.
All of these strengths and abilities give you a lot of choices as you spend your actions moving around the countryside, battling evil minions, popping into inns to listen for rumors or on a Quest to gain items or help.
Each turn a character will spend his life points, which vary by character from 4 to 6, as actions to try to defeat the evil forces attacking Monarch City from all sides. Your goal is to defeat all four of the Generals before they or their minions reach the city, the land is too Tainted to support humans, or all of the minions have entered the land.
If in your battles you take a wound, the life point is set aside and cannot be used for actions until you Heal yourself. I like this linking of actions to damage; it was new to me and I think it’s an interesting twist as well as being thematic.
After your actions are spent, you draw 2 Hero cards to add to your hand. These come in the four colors of the evil forces: Red for Demons which Taint the land quicker than other forces, Green for Orcs which multiply quickly, Black for the Undead which do extra harm just from the fright they give you, and Blue for the Dragonkin which are stronger and harder to defeat. There are also special cards that give you extra help in defeating the enemy.
The cards are multi-purpose so there is a touch of hand management forcing you to decide how to use them. At the top is an icon which allows you to use the card for movement: a horse to move 2 spaces, an eagle to move 4 spaces, or a magic gate to move between gates or to the space shown in the center of the card. At the bottom of the card is one or two dice which are used to fight the Generals.
At the end of your turn, Darkness Spreads. One to three cards are drawn, depending on how many Generals you’ve managed to kill, which tell where new minions show up and if a General moves a step closer to Monarch City. If a fourth minion would be placed in an area, it becomes too crowded to sustain, Tainting the Land and overrunning into adjacent areas. If all 12 of the Tainted Land crystals are placed on the board, your country (and the game) are lost.
When you and your fellow heroes have gathered what you consider to be enough cards of a particular color, you head off to do battle with that General. I say “what you consider” because you will be rolling dice, and also because a couple of the Generals have abilities that can put a real dent in your plans. The Orc commander will Parry a hit for every “1” you roll. The Demon leader has magic that can corrupt your soul, making you eliminate a card you were going to use against him for every “1” you roll prior to battle. These can seriously destroy your battle plans! In a solo game I played, I had 10 dice to use against the Demon General and rolled eight “1”s before the battle. That left me with only 2 dice to roll for hits. Would you believe I rolled two “1”s? This is when you must tell yourself, “It’s only a game; it’s only a game.”
That’s it; easy rules but difficult to win. This is not simply a puzzle to figure out because there are too many random elements. If you don’t like the luck of the draw; or, like me, the dice laugh at you, this may not be the game for you. If you want to immerse yourself in a game with a friend or three, cheer your good fortune and curse your bad luck, this game will fill that bill better than many others of its genre, be it adventure, dungeon crawler, fantasy, or cooperative.
Two final comments, the negative one first. The font used in this game is not a favorite of mine; I find it very hard to read at a glance, often mistaking the decorative “t” for a “c”. My husband keeps calling Bounty Bay Bouncy Bay. Is that where the mermaids hide during all of this fighting?
And finally, the positive. The designer, Richard Launius, is very active on the Geek, answering questions, asking for suggestions, and offering up a constant stream of new content to be downloaded.