upstate New York
Just finished my first game with Richard's new variant: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/59200/defenders-of-the...
The four randomly selected heroes: Sorceress, Ranger, Cleric, & Wizard.
After three full rounds, all four generals were on the board, each by their card naturally placing them there. Two heroes had each completed two quests, the cleric & sorceress one each; and there had been one overrun and 2 taints. Only the wizard and ranger had reached level two! One magic gate had been built in the Thorny Woods.
Then, during 3 of the next 5 turns, Balazarg advanced twice and Varkolak once, plus two more overruns occured, causing 3 taints. The sorceress joined the others at level two (but the cleric wouldn't reach level two until racking up wounds on the 2nd general.) Things looked grim!
However, the generals' advancements and minion placements evened out enough for the heroes to claw their way to level 3 (except for the cleric) whilst scouring the land and accumulating hero cards and special cards, as per my strategy suggestions in an earlier post. The first general to fall was Balazarg, followed by Varkolak 3 turns later. Gorgutt was pushed back from the gates of Monarch City, then the heroes easily finished him off before toasting Sapphire amongst the Ancient Ruins.
This variant added about 40 minutes to the game, half of that running those extra three rounds before the generals appeared, the rest in the additional time it took to win the game due to the lowered abilities of the heroes. Only the wizard and sorceress reached their full levels.
One of the keys to victory was arranging for the wizard to be the demon and undead slayer. Thus he was able to teleport to minion hot spots to scour the land.
Fortunately, only four "one's" were rolled against the experienced minions; however, the actions spent healing rather than taking out minions no doubt led to at least one additional taint, perhaps two. At one point there were 11 taints, but we ended with only 7, due to two special cards played after one successful healing action.
Overall, I *very much* like the additional attention paid to fulfilling quests and the added emphasis on building magic gates during this new early phase of action. Watching the heroes "grow" in their abilities is also quite enjoyable, heightening the feeling of accomplishment as they reach their full potential AND adding quite a bit of tension and anticipation as they near that next level amidst the growing threats.
Having those extra quest rewards made a big difference late in the game, of course, but if you are the type of player who would rather win on dice rolls than by cards played, then you might not appreciate this variant as much as the base/advanced game. I suspect this will be my preferred way of playing (time allowing) -- at least until the Dragons Expansion is released.
Next, I'll try combining this with the Winds of War variant.