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Subject: Defense Grid Review rss

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Jon Fromm
United States
Cameron Park
California
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Defense Grid: The Board Game is the tower defense game to end all tower defense games. Bold hyperbole, but fitting none the less.

I was fortunate enough to stumble into a prototype copy at a Seattle charity game night. My session consisted of a 4 player game of the intro scenario, which features a limited variety of towers and aliens. Full disclosure: I have never played the Defense Grid video game and had no prior knowledge of the IP. The other 3 in my group are fans of the franchise.

Gameplay:
Defense Grid has all of the tropes and characteristics of a great tower defense game. The board is a modular hexagon type with a serpentine path for the alien attackers. The aliens advance down the path until they reach the core (tower) at which point they steal a power core. The aliens then exit the board by reversing their way down the path. Players utilize asymmetrical hands of cards to simultaneously and cooperatively build, upgrade, and activate defense towers. Following this activation phase the aliens are moved, A new wave of aliens are added, hands of cards are replenished, and the process repeats. The strength of aliens (HP) increases with each wave. The alien types have unique abilities that complicate the player activation phase. The towers have unique abilities, ranges, and areas of effect. For this play though we were limited to guns (rapid fire), cannons (heavy damage over long range), infernos (area effect), and lasers (mid level weapon). The aliens included swarmers (draw the fire of turrets in range), walkers (armored s.t. they negate 1 point of damage from each attack), and Bulwarks (shielded s.t. each attack eliminates 1 shield point and negates damage).

Experience:
FUN! Fun Fun Fun! The teach was brief but thorough. The content of the cards and player aides, coupled with the physical traits of the components made the game very intuitive. This is a very easy game to learn and grasp (at least for anyone familiar with a tower defense game). My group took to the game like fish take to water. I suspect that we played the scenario at a near optimal level. The decision space of the game is delightfully deep. There are rules about line of sight that made tower placement very critical. Players have to coordinate card usage to activate and boost tower abilities. Unneeded cards can be discarded for energy (currency). Building, improving, and firing can be done in any order which is a little odd at first. We were able to make good use of this later into the game by activating weaker towers to kill off swarmer units, use the currency earned from the kills to upgrade cannons, use the cannons to kill the Walkers, and then use the currency from that to build guns to soften the Bulwarks. There are a lot of knobs to turn here. However, the mechanics make these actions very effortless. It's important to note that each player has a unique ability. We ended up structuring specific turns around these abilities, matching them with specific waves. My ability allowed me to kill all units on a single hex, so we used this against the Bulwarks. One player gave us extra currency for kills so we utilized this when the board was full of swarmers. You get the idea. The game is a pure co-op. We did not have any alpha gamer issues. That said, this intro level might be ripe for alpha gaming with some groups. We won the scenario in a little over an hour. The aliens failed to escape with any of our cores. There were tense moments, but this scenario was designed as a demo and was ultimately rather easy. We rang the system out a bit and the mechanics are sound around the edges. Despite the ease of victory everyone playing had A LOT of fun.

Now the Big Picture
I spent a lot of time talking to the designers about the big picture for this game. All of the towers and aliens in the video game are in the board game. Most of the mechanics of the computer game are in the board game. Burn damage will not be in the base game, which drew a groan from one member of my group. The abilities of the towers are a strong thematic match to their mechanics. The Tesla tower mechanic of damage jumping from space to space was especially cool sounding. The aliens are unique and interesting. One downside of the demo was that the alien spacing was fairly predictable and clumpy. The wave design of the full game fixes that. Each scenario will utilize unique maps and alien wave arrangements. Setup will be lengthy but not difficult. The theme of the computer game resonated very strongly with the others in my group. The art and graphics style seemed especially true to the IP.

This game is designed to be a campaign game, and almost borders on a legacy game. That said, I think it will be very tolerant to players dropping in and out of the campaign. Players earn points based on how well they they succeed in winning scenarios. These points are used to customize player decks and add upgrades between games. The card that dictates the number and types of cards in each deck is the only "permanent" card tracking the progress of the campaign. By that I mean you could easily make several copies for use with different groups of players. The designers think that this "deck building" load out will help with any alpha gamer issues. It will, but it may not be a silver bullet for the uber alpha gamer who's memorized every card in the game.

This game hit all of my "must-have's" for a great tower defense game:
*Units get stronger as the scenario goes on.
*Attacking units have different vulnerabilities requiring different towers.
*Towers have interesting and unique abilities.
*Great combos can be set up.
*Then those great combos can get completely negated by a new enemy.
*There's a big variation in map layout AND path mechanic from scenario to scenario.
*Customization between games.
*Clean hitpoint tracking system - The aliens carry HP counters that are pulled off when damage is dealed and never added. Very clean, very easy.
*Exciting upgrades and powerups.


There's a few things I'd like to see that may or may not be in the full game:
*I don't know if the aliens can attack towers.
*I don't know if maps can have more than one alien attack path.
*I don't know if all of the towers and aliens are available in scenario 1 (I hope not!)

All and all this is a fantastic game, one of the best I've played this year. I had so much fun playing, even though I know nothing of the Defense Grid IP. The iconography, player aides, card content, and physical components are very very very well thought out. The full game probably deserves a heavy classification (there's a lot at work here), but the system makes everything so effortless that it feels much lighter. You WILL want to play this again and again. This is going to be an expensive game as the final version will have LOTS of minis. The replayability and depth will make it well worth the price. By release there should be about two dozen scenarios in the box with more available on-line.
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Anthony Hanses
United States
Washington
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Wow! Thanks for the awesome review and for playing the game! It was a lot of fun demoing the game at PAX and at the pre-PAX Charity event for Seattle Children's Hospital.

Just a couple of quick clarifications. We are not able to include all 20+ aliens from the video game in the board game at this time, but we hope to eventually expand the game to include all of them. All the Towers and the Boost platform will be there, but for the initial release, we are targeting including 13 of the aliens.

- Swarmer
- Walker
- Bulwark
- Lurker
- Rhino
- Healer
- Regenerator
- Spire
- Carrier
- Racer
- Decoy
- Rumbler
- Juggernaut

We are aiming for 10 Missions/Scenarios in the main box, but have lot of plans to offer both free and paid expansions if we are successful.

At least once a month we plan to offer a free new Mission online for everyone to try out. This will include a new map layout as well as wave tracker that can be printed. Some of these Missions will go far beyond the core game in terms of complexity and difficulty, while others will just be there for people to enjoy an interesting new Mission. In the expansions, once again if we are successful enough with the Kickstarter in January, we plan on adding many if not all of the missing aliens as well as new map tile sets to support units like flying units.

Finally, I would like to address your couple of questions at the end. Please feel free to ask more if you have any.

Quote:

There's a few things I'd like to see that may or may not be in the full game:
*I don't know if the aliens can attack towers.


Nope, the aliens cannot not attack back at the towers. This is part of the Defense Grid IP.

Quote:

*I don't know if maps can have more than one alien attack path.


Ohh yea! Our maps are very flexible. We have multi-entrance that combine into one path. Multi-Exit. Maps with 2 independent paths and 2 independent core housings that aliens can steal from. Tons and Tons of options. We are also planning to release some files or tools to help people design their own maps and waves for them to share with others.

Quote:

*I don't know if all of the towers and aliens are available in scenario 1 (I hope not!)


We introduce at least 1 new tower and 1 new alien each mission until you have all 9 towers and all 13 aliens. Even after all the aliens are available, we mix and match them in missions to create a bunch of new challenges for the players.

Keeping with the Defense Grid video games, once you have a tower unlocked, you will have it available in all later core missions, but in the monthly challenge missions we may restrict which towers you can use.

Hope this helps and thanks again for such an awesome review and run through of the game!
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Andi K
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Any chance for a german version?
 
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Anthony Hanses
United States
Washington
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Andi2012 wrote:
Any chance for a german version?


We would love to do so, but baring a big Kickstarter, it would probably be prohibitively expensive to manufacture all the language variants.

Would love to chat about how we could meet your needs. Outside of making a full boxed German (or other language) copy, would a translated manual that includes translations of all card, alien, and tower text work?

Anything else you would love to see?
 
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Karl
Austria
Salzburg
Salzburg
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I guess for most Germans it would actually be the other way around. The manual might as well be in English as at least someone on the table can read it. But the game material, the cards, especially ones not open on the table are the real problem.
 
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Andi K
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@Anthony Hanses

Thanks for the reply.

The only way would be a full translation.

Hm. Or there would be text translations to print, cut, and
do it in a card sleeve.
 
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Anthony Hanses
United States
Washington
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Andi2012 wrote:
@Anthony Hanses

Thanks for the reply.

The only way would be a full translation.

Hm. Or there would be text translations to print, cut, and
do it in a card sleeve.


We could definitely do the later worst case, but might have to make it an early stretch goal.

If we did translations, we would likely focus on German, Spanish, French, Japanese, and Chinese.

Japanese and Chinese are in the list mainly because we have access to a translator that works at Nintendo that can assist us. Any other languages we would have to locate and hire a translator.
 
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Andi K
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Will you have an option for a translation in the kickstarter campaign?
 
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Anthony Hanses
United States
Washington
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Andi2012 wrote:
Will you have an option for a translation in the kickstarter campaign?


That is something we are considering. Right now, if we do offer translation options, it will likely be at a pretty high stretch goal.

The initial translation would probably be just the rules provided digital only in PDF form. Included in this would be translations of card specifics needed to play.

It is prohibitively expensive to consider full copy translation at this time. We would have to have confidence that any translated version we produced about sell at least 1500 units to justify the print run. As mentioned above, we will consider offering a print and cut option for translating cards for international markets.

For any translation work we do, we will likely plan for the following languages. Some of this is due to size of markets and some is due to us having a translator available to us.

Spanish
French
German
Japanese
Chinese

If there are another other languages you would be explicitly interested in seeing us cover, please let me know.
 
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Andi K
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Ok, print and cut will be an option.
 
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Steve
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California
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"The teach." There's a new one. I assume the learn went over well too.

I played quite a bit of the video game and had thought about how one could make a boardgame implementation. Good to see it. In the original the best way to play was just to build gun towers and nothing else. Despite that I still had fun with it. Doesn't look like that'll be an issue here. Looking forward to trying it.
 
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