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Subject: Review - DOTR a Critical Review rss

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Colin Degnan
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I am a HUGE fan of cooperative board games, and so I am going through and reviewing all of the cooperative board games I own to provide additional insight for people who are new into the cooperative board game world. Hope you enjoy!



DOTR is a cooperative board game that consists of 1-5 players that roam the land of Monarch City, defeating minions, completing quests, and ultimately defeating the Generals that are marching towards Monarch City. The goal of the game is to protect Monarch City from the onslaught of minions and Generals that plagues the land.

Win factor:
Defeat all four Generals

Lose factor:
A General reaches Monarch city
12 tainted crystals infect the land
5 minions breach the castle walls in Monarch City

Each player chooses a hero (ex. Dwarf, Ranger, Paladin, etc.) to be and have multiple special abilities based on their individual character.

Each hero has a turn that is broken into 3 separate phases:

Phase 1: Day Phase – This phase is where Heroes can use their action tokens to move across the board, fight minions or Generals, complete quests, eliminate tainted crystals from the land, or put out fires that are ravaging from dragons. You can also hook up with other heroes to take on the generals (and this is usually a good idea as the Generals are not to be taken lightly).

Phase 2: Evening Phase – This is where the Hero who was running around slaughtering minions, completing quests or defeating Generals can take a break, and receive 2 Hero cards from the Hero deck.

Phase 3: Night Phase – Similar to a child’s dream, this is when the minions build up their strength. You will draw a Darkness Spread card which will depict two separate locations and a number of minions that need to be placed there. Also on the card will be one of the 4 Generals, and a location. If the General’s next location is on the Darkness Spread card, the General moves, and has additional minions placed with him on this new location. This slow creep of the Generals is what drives the Hero’s to press onwards and protect Monarch City!

The hard part of this game is that as you defeat Generals, the amount of Darkness Spread cards increases depending upon the level of War you are in (Early, Mid or Late war). This mechanic provides additional pressure to the Heroes once they begin taking on the General’s directly.



8/10

I know that for many of my fellow gamer friends, one of the important aspects of a game is the art and design of the game. Some games can have a poor gameplay mechanics, but people still tend to play them due to the how beautiful the game looks. DOTR is no exception to this. Whenever I set up a game to play DOTR, I always like to take a step back and just look at the board. Having minion pieces that are not cardboard cutouts, but instead are plastic miniatures makes the board come to life. Now I do have all of the minion expansions as well as the first Dragon expansion, and so these minions and Dragons spice up the board even more! When you play this game, you feel like you are taking on actual monsters instead of cardboard cutouts in your living room.

Why DOTR does not get a 10/10 from me is due to the board itself. Although the board is very sturdy and has stood the test of time at my house, the way the certain places on the board are depicted is distracting to me. Each location is essentially “blown up” and in a circle that matches the color of the minions that will spawn there through the darkness spread cards. So essentially the board has a beautiful landscape that was crafted by Richard Launius and Larry Elmore but then a significant portion of it is blocked by these circles. It reminds me a lot of Arkam Horror, but to me, does not work as well. Arkam is depicting a street with roads, so I don’t really care about the locations being big and sticking out on the board. But for this game, I wanted to feel like I was playing on a landscape that had cursed plains, and crystal hills that I could actually see. To me, the large circles makes the board feel fake. For a comparison, the board of Legends of Andor gives me the sense that I am physically in the land of Andor. There may be lines to break up the certain sections I am in, but there are no dispaportionate pictures on the board.

The other difficulty with the board is when you are first playing this game, it takes for EVER to find certain locations. I cannot tell you how long I spent trying to find a certain location, only to realize that a General was standing on it so I couldn’t see the name. . . One way that this could be mitigated is through a simple chart system. At the top of the board place letters A-F, and on the side place numbers from 1-6. Then on the Darkness Spreads or Quest cards you can still use the names of the locations, and at the bottom of the card put A6. Then the players know the general area to look, and they can move on with the game (credit my brother-in-law for this idea).



5.5/10

To me, the theme of this game is somewhat lacking. It is not a bad theme; it is just an overused theme. Heroes defeating monsters to protect a city. This is about as cookie cutter as you can get.

With that being said, if you are looking for a basic theme to introduce someone to the fantasy world, this is your game. The mechanics are simple, the game is cooperative so you can help them understand the fantasy characters (ex. Why is it that the Elf Lord can move through green spaces for free?), and non-gamers and gamers alike will be able to understand the theme of the game with ease.

One of the aspects of this game that I really do enjoy and increases my “theme” score is the opportunity for quests. I will speak more on the quests in the Gameplay Mechanics sections, but just wanted to point out that providing the opportunity to complete quests for personal (and team) gain is a huge plus for me, as this follows the theme of a fantasy world perfectly.



5/10

Unfortunately, game play mechanics is where this game begins to lose its appeal for me. Have you ever had one of those days where your luck is not on your side? If so, you will not want to play this game when that happens, because 90% of what you do in this game depends on dice rolls. That’s right, the quests, defeating minions and defeating Generals all are based off of how well you can chuck dice, and get the result you want.

Now, you might be thinking, c’mon most games have luck one way or another, and I agree they do. The hard part with this game is that it is so incredibly lucked base, even if you have the perfect strategy you still will not succeed without luck being on your side. Games such as Ghost Stories does a great job of mitigating the luck of the dice roll with Tao tokens. Games such as Pandemic use luck through card draws, but also provide predictability when you have epidemics. There is little planning you can do when you draw three darkness spread cards that move one of the Generals 3 spaces in three turns. The dice rolls and darkness spread cards are just too random to feel like you have any control over your destiny in this game.

With that being said, there are many mechanics of this game I do enjoy, such as how each race of minion has a slightly different difficulty to defeat (Orcs 3+ to hit, Undead and Demons 4+ to hit, Dragonkin 5+ to hit). Also they all have different abilities (demons taint at 3, undead can cause wounds for fear, Orcs multiply quickly).

I really enjoy the quests in this game. In a game of Pandemic, you just start clearing diseases, and that is pretty much all you can do. However, this game provides you with quests that you can complete and hopefully power yourself up before taking out a General. Now most of the quests are luck driven (rolling dice) so once again if your luck is not on your side you are going to have a rough time with this game J

The other mechanic this game provides that many other cooperative games do not is the urgency factor. After each General is defeated, the game gets harder and harder. In a game of Pandemic, if we eradicate a disease, we just made the game that much easier. In a game of DOTR, if we take out 3 Generals, you will be drawing 3 Darkness spread cards, putting minions out like crazy, and that last General will be on Monarch city’s doorstep in no time! What is so cool about this mechanic is that the difficulty of this game ramps up after each success. Most games you get a bonus for completing a portion of the game (Pandemic, curing a disease), instead this game kicks you in the rear and makes it that much harder. I love hard cooperative games!

The final mechanic that I do enjoy in this game is the fact that your action tokens are also considered your health tokens. If you are wounded, you are handicapped in more ways than one. Not only are you closer to being killed, you also have less actions during your future turns (or current turn dependent on when you obtain your wounds). I am always hesitant to take wounds because I want all of my actions for the next turn!



5.5/10

DOTR has some good cooperative aspects mentioned below:

Attacking a General: The designers did a great job in making a General fight feel like a “boss” fight. In order to attack a General, you must be on the space of the General with no other minions present. When trying to attack the Generals together, this can be somewhat difficult if the General happens to move due to a Darkness Spreads card. Once all heroes are on the same space as the General, the active hero can decide to attack the General, and the other heroes can choose to join in the fight. Each hero then uses their hero cards in their hand to determine the amount of dice they can throw to try and defeat the General. In my opinion, this cooperative mechanic is beneficial as it keeps all heroes interested in their fellow heroes turns.

Also, many of the hero cards are considered “special” cards and can be played out of turn. Being able to play cards during your fellow teammates turns once again increases the cooperative aspect of this game.

The downside to the cooperative aspect of this game has to do with how often the cooperative aspects above are utilized. There will be many turns where your fellow heroes will not need a special card played or will not be attacking a General. If playing with four or five players this causes a significant amount of downtime for a player who is waiting for their turn to come back around.



9/10

Due to how much randomness there is in setting up this game and playing the game through the Darkens Spread cards as well as all the different options of heroes, this game scores high on replayability. Each game will have a different feel as you may go for a different General to defeat first based on the team’s hero cards and special abilities.



9/10

The difficulty of this game is so customizable I am giving this a high rating. If you have the Dragon expansion and the Minion expansions as well as the alternative Generals, you can ramp up or ease up the game to your desire.
In my opinion, the base game without any expansions is medium difficulty at best. Once you add in the harder minions, and the Dragon Generals, you will have a difficult time winning even 50% of the time.



In my experience DOTR plays well with 4 to 5 players. Although your turn takes longer to come around due to the player count, you have a much more likely chance of winning with more heroes. This has to do with the hand limit. Each player has a hand limit of 10 cards (some heroes do have special abilities to hold more cards, but most do not), which can make it very difficult to obtain sufficient hero cards to take out the Generals. And if you try to take out a General in a 2 player game and fail, it is very difficult to recover.

With 4 or 5 players you can spread out and conquer. When taking out a General you may only need 2 or 3 Heroes and can leave one out of the fight in case it goes bad. You also have more special abilities available to the team with more players.

You can mitigate this by having players play multiple heroes. To me though, this takes me out of the world even more because I no longer feel like I am no longer a Hero, but instead am just a puppeteer in the background. You can also play with larger hand sizes, which I can honestly say I have yet to try. My guess is this could certainly help mitigate the 2 player difficulty.



In my opinion this game is great for non-gamers. Someone who is familiar with the fantasy world, and wants a beautiful game that has minimal strategy and is cooperative will love this game. Also, this game is great for younger players. Kids who are even as young as 7 or 8 may not be able to handle games with more strategy, but they can understand the simple mechanics of the game. Also as it is cooperative, older players can help them with the nuance of the game (when to attack a General vs. completing a quest etc.).

In my opinion for gamers, this game is not strategic enough to merit playing with other gamers. Instead games that are based less on luck, and more on thinking ahead would be up a gamers ally. With that being said, if you are a gamer and playing a game with non-gamers, this one is a great choice. It will be easy for non-gamers to understand, and can be a gateway for some non-gamers to get into board games 






Personally, this game falls too short on some of the important aspects (gameplay mechanics, strategy, etc.) to warrant keeping this game. I am a father of 2 boys (2.5 years old, and 1 week old) and so I am torn if I want to keep this game to teach them in about 5-7 years. In the end, I have games such as Castle Panic, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert that are easier to set up, more fun to play, and are more strategic than DOTR. I enjoy games that are strategic instead of luck based, and this is really the deciding factor for me.



If you want to check my other reviews, I have a geeklist.

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Runcible Spoon
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People are free like/dislike any game (or portion of a game) and are entitled to that opinion, but...

Luck

Lightningbolt1312 wrote:
...because 90% of what you do in this game depends on dice rolls.


This is a serious exaggeration.

It is not the case that 90% of the decisions are merely a die roll. Some of those decisions are of course in service of setting oneself up in relationship to resolving an encounter (or something else) using dice, but the representation above is inaccurate.

The game has players with special powers, villains with special powers, hand management, point to point movement, decisions about who should go where at what time and so on...90% of the decisions are not merely a die roll.

It is interesting that you see luck in the dice in DOTR but not in Castle Panic/Forbidden Island/Desert card draws (You mention those three games at the end of your review as games with more strategy).

There is a lot of luck mitigation in DOTR, which is another layer of strategy that one must manage to do well, that is not present to the same degree in those games. Arguably there is more luck involved in Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. I happen to like all 3 games but I recognize them for what they are. I think you have missed this as well.

Also this:

Quote:
The hard part with this game is that it is so incredibly lucked base, even if you have the perfect strategy you still will not succeed without luck being on your side.


This is definitely not true.

It is about probability management. So much so that some users (a user?) on BGG published a set of boss encounter tables and how many cards the players need to succeed at a particular rate. You can in fact have a very good idea of how well you will succeed in a particular encounter.

When you save up enough cards to have 85%, 90%, 95%, 98% chance of winning a boss encounter you don't "need luck on your side" but rather the decisions that players have made have set them up for a high likelihood of success. In fact, walking in with a 98% success rate has the reverse problem, it is a bit anti-climatic. So no, it is not the case that you need "luck on your side."

Strategy and Tactics

Strategy is long term planning. Tactics are short term planning.

You mention that Castle Panic / Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert as strategy games in a way that DOTR is not. This is incorrect. They are tactical games, not strategy games. You respond to threats turn to turn with, at most, a planning horizon of up to 2 turns, and sometimes just 1, because the important features of the game state change that fast.

Non-gamers

I also would not play this with non-gamers. This is a fairly involved (in terms of time and rules) and surprisingly heavy (again, many rules exceptions and nuances that require looking up) co-op with a theme (fantasy) that frequently does not appeal to non-gamers. This is definitely a gamers game, which is why you never see it on lists from the dice tower/rahdo/etc. of 'games for non-gamers.'


Final Thoughts

Your review is fairly comprehensive, and organized written reviews on BGG are not as common as they once where so you have contributed there, I just happen to disagree on a few particular points. I hope you don't mind some small and measured disagreement. Thanks for the review.

Edits: a couple of small fixes
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Colin Degnan
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First off, I would like to say that I love this type of response, and fully appreciate that you disagree with me and have called me out on some of my opinions. This is what I need to help become a better gamer and it never hurts to get another person’s opinion. Please see my responses below:

Luck – I completely understand where you are getting at here, and 90% luck may be a bit of an exaggeration. However, I do not think that the hero special powers and the few Hero cards that assist in mitigating luck is sufficient to make this game strategic enough for me. For games such as Forbidden Desert, there is luck with the set-up of the board and the initial draws of the cards, but once the initial part of the game has been set up, luck becomes a very small factor in the game. Instead you are strategizing over multiple turns how best to handle the initial luck of the game. A game such as Castle Panic I agree is quite luck based as well, so I should not have included that here for strategy (more thinking for the kids on this one).

“Luck on your side” – Your comments about probability management I disagree with. I have gone to a General fight trying to take out Onyx or Gorgutt with hands that are 90% green or black (this is with 2 or three players mind you) and ready to win, but due to the simple luck of the roll, there were too many counterstrikes or parry’s that we end up missing and one of the characters are killed. Also we have had it the other way where we just annihilate the General because we threw so many cards at them and we rolled exceptionally well. And I agree that this is almost anticlimactic. This large variability is something that I do not like as much, but that is just my opinion.

Maybe what the issue for me is more that I dislike games that are decided with dice rolls? Not sure I will have to reflect on that more. I am getting Pathfinder and I hear that is a lot about dice rolling too, so I will see if I have the same reaction to this game. Also, final note on this I only played this game about a half a dozen times or so. So maybe I would have enjoyed it more playing a few more times and hacking out a better strategy? I also did play many of those games with nongamers and so it was more difficult to get a coherent strategy as they are not accustom to this type of game.

Strategy vs. Tactics – This is my favorite part of your post! I had not thought of the difference here, and you are completely correct that games such as Castle Panic and even Forbidden Island is all about short term planning, tactics only (There is some strategy with savings cards for bigger bosses in Castle Panic etc. but all of that is pretty basic strategies). I would disagree with Forbidden Desert being tactical only, as when I play this game we are usually strategizing 3-4 turns ahead, trying to find ways to get water, clear sand and obtain the artifacts as efficiently as possible. Sure there will be times we need to change our strategy to deal with an immediate issue, but this game begs for a more strategic thought process instead of a simple reactive process.

Non-gamers – I actually still disagree with you, as when I played this with some of my non-gamer friends it was one of their favorites. They were not into fantasy, but the board, beautiful playing pieces, and I think “simple” mechanics allowed them to jump into the game without much difficulty (non-gamers included 20 some year olds, and a couple 60 year olds with no gaming experience). But that is just my opinion . However as mentioned above, maybe that is why our strategy as team lacked during our playthroughs.

Final Thoughts – love the disagreement; please keep it coming so I can continue to grow in appreciating games etc. Thank you for the response.
Colin
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Ian Allen
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Nice review. I disagree with a bit of it as well.
I agree more with Runcible Spoon's response.

There is some luck in this game but there is also a fair amount of strategy going on. Do you work on damage control, quests, card collecting? How do you best use your unique abilities vs. the board and in conjunction with the other players special abilities? Is it time to use a Special Card or not? Which cards do we save vs. discard while moving and which Generals do we try to go after first?
When fighting the general do you discard a Special card that you will probably really need later in order to use it for extra dice or save it and hope you have enough? How long do you wait for everyone to join you before attacking the general you have saved cards for? If you wait too long he might move and you will have to waste a lot of time getting everyone to him again.
There is a lot of push-your-luck risk vs. reward type decisions in this game.

I think this game is a bit heavy for most non-gamers. I am talking the Apples-to-Apples crowd here.

I have played it with gamers many times and had a great experience.

We usually don't attack a general until we have enough cards that we are pretty sure we are going to win. However the longer you wait, the worse everything else is getting on the board. Also you can only hold so many cards, so at some point you just have to go for it.

I think its a great game and I love the fact that it gets harder and speeds up the more generals you kill. My favorite part are the unique character abilities and trying to make them work their best in the environment. There are so many characters with the expansions you hardly ever play the same character twice. Sometimes you end up with a group of heavy hitters and things go well - other times you might end up with the Bad News Bears and have to work your butt off to succeed.

I also like that its so difficult that we don't always win. I'd say we have about a 60% win rate with random character draws.

There is more going on here than in Pandemic, so to me - once I played this I no longer needed to own Pandemic.

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On a side note - while I really like this game and have owned every expansion ...Dragon, characters, Minions and Generals, etc. etc., I have decided that I like the base game plus the character expansions and Global Effects best and don't care for the Dragon Expansion or the Minions/Generals stuff.
The reason for this is that they make the game harder, but don't make it more interesting.
I don't need for Defenders to be harder - its already hard enough. I like it fine with the 1st 4 Generals from the Basic game and their troops - coupled with as many different character choices as you can get.

Richard Launius is a master of coming up with ways to make this game harder, and if you feel your group is winning too much - those extra expansions can certainly fix that.

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Matt Smith
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While I get where the OP is coming from w.r.t. the luck of dice rolls, I tend to align more with Runcible Spoon in that player decisions have a greater impact on the success of the team than the dice. Also, mathematically speaking, having many dice rolls in a game should lead to a more average distribution across the set of dice rolls. The one area of this game where that can break down is when fighting the Generals. Those dice rolls have a much larger impact on the team's success than a dice roll against minions, or for a quest result. But as Runcible Spoon said, the team can and should make decisions throughout the game that lead to mitigating the luck of the dice against the Generals.
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Colin Degnan
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Matt,

I think you have hit the point dead on. When we have played the biggest issue for "luck" has been the Generals. Which I guess from a thematic perspective does make sense as they are supposed to be difficult. The problem when playing only 2 players is you can't sit around and wait to either pick up the right cards to mitigate dice rolling (battle luck) or find a quest that helps against Generals. We also were playing with the bigger quest deck which at first I liked, but now come to think of it may have hindered our experience. A lot of the quests in the large quest deck have very negative effects, so we were hesitant to complete them.

The piece of luck that just can never be mitigated (unless a quest card shows up or you are the Wizard) is the Darkness Spreads cards. We had a game where we drew 3 bounty bay cards in a row and so all of a sudden 3 crystals were out on the board and there was so many Dragonkin. We tried getting as much blue cards we could to defeat the Dragon General, but going to the inn's was not helping and we kept discarding cards.

Anyways, you are right there is more strategy in the game than I originally posed in this review, however in my personal preference, I would prefer to play other games than DOTR. Beautiful game, but not my cup of tea.
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Ian Allen
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I wouldn't play this game 2 player myself.

I think its best with 4 or 5.

That may be part of the problem.

I personally find playing multiple characters in any game annoying.
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Colin Degnan
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So I think i figured it out. When I played with 4 players it was with nongamers and the two player games were with another gamer. I think I would of had a better experience in the four player game with gamers. So essentially I am having a full swap of my opinion. Ha! Anyways I will have to round up four gamers and try. Also use only the normal generals and minions. Thanks for the feedback!
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Dan Beckler
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Just wanted to mention that the game natively supports only 1-4 players, not 1-5. However, Richard Launius did provide some optional rules here on BGG to expand the game to accommodate a 5th and 6th player - involves adjusting the Darkness Spreads deck for the most part.
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Gary Bradley
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Beware getting rid of the game before your kids are old enough to appreciate it.....for me, THIS is the game that got my kids solidly into gaming, after a few shaky starts, and clunkers like Pandemic nearly killing it off forever. And Defenders remains their favourite game. And we have played Forbidden Island/Desert and Castle Panic, and none of them come close to this one as far as the kids are concerned.

I personally feel the 3 other games mentioned above have nowhere near the tactical and strategic depth that Defenders has. In fact in all 3 of those games, the optimum moves each turn are often blatantly obvious and not tactics are required at all.
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