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After playing Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, I started rapidly expanding my board game collection a little over a year ago, and saw this one. Fantasy setting, cooperative gameplay, and little plastic figures to move around the board all seemed like things that I should at least give a try. So, I convinved my wife we should pick it up, and we played it. And played it. And we even played it a little more after that. Several playthroughs later, with groups ranging from one to four, I figured it was time to write a review for the game that would have helped me make my decision sooner.
Defenders is packed in a big, heavy box. Once you open it up, it will all make sense why it is. Every hero and enemy general has a plastic figure and an oversized card. All the minions share the same figure style (good and bad here) but come in four different colors. You have markers for actions, magic gates, tainted crystals, plenty of colored dice (they match the minions) for combat, and three decks of cards to play with: Hero, Darkness Spreads, and Quest cards. Everything is quite sturdy and has held up well with repeated plays. Sapphire, the blue dragon, does come with a base, and you may need to glue her to it to keep her upright. In my set, she has been able to stand on her own, so the base just sits in the box all the time. Components are pretty reasonable quality, I haven't had any broken or bent pieces with my own experiences. One thing to mention in more detail, all the minions look the same except for color. This can be upsetting to some people that need to see differences, and that I understand, but by making them generic minions, they allow the opportunity for expansions to be smaller, so they don't need to redesign figures and send an expansion that costs the same as the original. Just make sure you like lots of little bits, cause there are a lot in here (100 minions alone).
The game has a fairly long set-up time, at least until you get the hang of it. In it, you use some darkness spreads cards to populate the board with minions, and also place the four enemy generals at their start locations (also with minions present for them). After this is done, your heroes are all set up in Monarch City (yes, it is that generic) and get dealt your starting hand of hero cards.
Now, when playing the game, there is one way to win. You kill all four enemy generals. You will cooperate with the other players to accomplish this, sometimes monumental, task.
Losing, on the other hand, it very easy. You lose if any general makes it to Monarch City. You also lose if you need to place a certain color minion on a space and find you cannot. You lose if five minions are on Monarch City at one time. You also lose when you place the twelfth tainted crystal. Until you get some experience with this game, you will lose a lot, try to learn to take it in stride.
Gameplay consists of repeated player turns until a game ending condition from above occurs. On a turn, your hero can take a number of actions equal to his action points.
Move – for every action point spent, you move to an adjacent area. If you discard a hero card, you move further (horse equals two, bird equals four, gate means teleporting around)
Attack Minions – roll dice equal to the number and color of minions. If you hit the target number on a die, you kill it.
Attack Generals – when all minions are defeated at a location, use hero cards to attack a general there. If other players are present, they may join in.
Heal – depending on your location, heal a variable number of action tokens
Gather Rumors – at an Inn, spend up to 2 actions to draw cards from the hero deck, looking for a certain color (call color before drawing)
Cleanse the Land – discard the location where you are at to roll dice to try to remove a tainted crystal from that location.
Attempt Quest – move to a location and typically roll dice to try to complete a quest.
Build Magic Gate – dicard a location card for where you are at to build a magic gate there. They allow quicker movement (two locations with gates count as adjacent)
At the end of each player's turn, they draw hero cards into their hands. Following this, they draw darkness spreads cards and it shows you where to place more minions and potentially move generals along the path to Monarch City. Play then passes to the next player and continues through this sequence. During a darkness spreads cards, it notes two locations and a possible general move. Minions are placed to those locations, if you would need to place a fourth minion on a location (so there were some already there to start) you instead place a tainted crystal, and then place a minion of that color on all adjacent locations, to signify the land being overrun.
Further detail on hero cards and attacking generals. Each hero cards consists of several pieces of information. One, it lists a location on the card. This is the location used when building magic gates or attempting to cleanse the land of tainted crystals. Next, the top of the card has a picture of a horse, bird, or gate, which determines the movement advantage that the card brings by discarding it. Lastly, the bottom of the card lists one of the four generals and either one die or two dice on it. When used to attack generals, you discard hero cards for that particular general, and roll that many total dice (from all your discarded hero cards) to determine the results of the attack. So, each card will be used in one of several potential ways, and learning to balance this is one of the intricacies of the game. Lastly, there are some hero cards that are specials, they don't have locations or movement icons, and just have a text effect on the game which is quite powerful. However, playing these returns them to the box, so they don't show back up if you have to shuffle the hero deck.
Very thematic fantasy cooperative game. Most people that have any interest in fantasy settings enjoyed this game after playing it. The feeling of riding throughout the realm, killing off evil minions, completing a few quests, and taking war to the enemy generals is fairly compelling.
Bright, colorful art. Not usually a huge thing for me, but the color layout really emphasizes the theme and feel of the game. It is all about high fantasy, and the engine revolves around driving that forward.
Suprising level of challenge. You can play with the challenge by modifying the deck, but truthfully, I have never found this game to be a cake walk. Even games that we do well and progress through pretty solidly still maintain a consistent level of tension through most of the life of the game. One of the factors to add to this is the war track, where you turn more cards for minions and movement as you kill off more enemy generals.
Characters all play differently. You have several heroes to choose from in the game, and each one plays with a distinct style. They aren't all created equal. Some do seem to have more power or utility than others, but the overall feel is pretty good, and the characters you have can really affect your approach to playing the game.
Map layout will drive you insane. Until you learn the board and the arbitrary layout, you won't have a clue where the blood march versus the cursed plains are located. This makes the initial plays longer than they need to be, truthfully. It does get better, but only if you play frequently enough to learn them and keep yourself reminded of where they are situated.
Quests are misleading. Most first-time players really want to dive into the quest cards and push to completing as many as they can. What they don't realize is that, any time you aren't killing two or three minions a turn, you are falling behind and risking defeat. Most of our successful games are played when people do at most one or two quests (exluding kill so many minions of a certain color).
Different characters can be more or less challening to use. Some have reasily apparent uses in the game. Others take some time to realize their true potential. This can really frustrate early players as they may overextend a character, thinking his ability is better than it is, or underutilize one for the opposite reason. It helps a lot to have experienced players give some guidance... which leads into:
Alpha hero syndrome. One guy tells everyone what to do on their turn. This gets old fast, and is easy to fall into when someone is learning the game. Just watch out for it, it isn't any different than any other cooperative game, but the potential is there. In line with this is the 'first citizen' award that goes to the player that completed the mosts quests and/or killed the most enemy generals. This can be frustrating if most people don't care who the best winner is, but others put a lot of stock in this.
Dice. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are present in this game, and they are the mechanic that is used for everything. If you hate luck or the idea of it, this game will not be for you. If you like rolling buckets of dice, play it, you'll get to roll more dice than a good game of yahtzee.
Pandemic. If you have played Pandemic, you will notice there are similarities between the two games. This often leads to confusion and rules discrepancies, as people may try to force the rules of one onto the other. Carefully read the rulebook, and try to forget that you know how to play Pandemic. Truthfully, other than a location being overrun by minions (outbreaks in Pandemic) and the lose condition of not being able to place a minion (disease cube) onto a location, the comparisons are far more ephemeral than real. Liking one won't mean you will like the other, but most of my play group do enjoy both games, and after a handful of plays at each, they now understand the differences between them really do separate them more than most people think.
If you like cooperative games and fantasy themes, you should pick this game up. It does come with a hefty price tag, but we play it frequently enough that I don't regret purchasing this one at all. In fact, my friend's wife requires us to bring this game any time we head over to their house, because she never wants to miss an opportunity to play it. Though I did list more cons than pros, I enjoy this is a nice time spend for game night. It usually sparks some nice dicussion, has plenty of tension, and few games have been compeltely one-sided (either for or against the heroes). However, random situations can occur causing you to lose this game in about four turns if the cards come up rough, so be prepared for the game you can't do anything.
Good luck in all your gaming endeavors.
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- Last edited Sun Apr 8, 2012 2:09 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Apr 1, 2012 12:30 pm
Good review. The only thing I have to disagree with is your artwork criticism. I think the artwork is not that good in this game. It seems to be created with Photoshop in a non-polished way. Nonetheless the game is atmospheric enough and fun to play.
But there are a lot of fantasy games out there, that have better artwork on board (with a lower price tag!).
Defenders is a great cooperative game - but the artwork (and production value) suck a bit.