Tl;dr: Defenders of the Realm

Designer: Richard Launius
Publisher: Eagle Games
Published in: 2010
Players: 1-4 (1-6 with variant)
Playing time: 45-120 minutes
Genre: fantasy, adventure
Mechanics: co-op, dice rolling, action point system
Expansions: yes; extra heroes and bosses
BGG Page: Defenders of the Realm
Defenders of the Realm boxart

 

Buy Defenders of the Realm || Full Review

Defenders is a cooperative adventure game where you take on the role of one of several heroes trying to push back invading generals and their minions.

Minions spawn at the end of every turn at random spots on the map and can overrun into surrounding areas if too many of them are on one spot at the end of the turn. This is similar to the outbreak mechanic in Pandemic, though chain reactions are a little less lethal as minions don’t overflow over and over again. Unlike Pandemic, there’s a chance you won’t clear all the minions when you’re on the location, so it seems like a fair trade.

Taint crystals, minions, and Bidoof

Taint crystals also spread on “outbreaks.” There are only a limited number of these in the game (on purpose), so this is not a good thing.

So how does Defenders play? It’s definitely a long game – 45 minutes is probably a game where you had a quick loss or godly luck. Most games are usually two to three hours. Your first few games will probably find you losing track of time because you’ll be engrossed in talking, making decisions, and keeping track of all the rules. Once you get a hang of the game, however…well, games can drag a little.

Defenders is very much at the whim of Lady Luck, and when she’s feeling witchy, it hurts. You can spend a few hours clearing out minions and preparing for the generals only to get some really bad draws and face a game over. This is not a very satisfying feeling, as you might expect. Plus, games are really too long to just play another one until you win unless you have all afternoon.

Charizard figure with minions and Fudgeface

Sadly, crystal-loving Charizards are not allowed to serve as dei ex machina in this game, no matter how bad the current situation looks.

But at the same time, the luck and the ever pressing odds add for a good amount of drama and tension that add to the theme of the game. Theme is pretty high in the game, without adding too many fiddly rules (though there are some you’ll need to remember like having to roll different values to defeat different enemies). I would just recommend not getting too invested in your strategy, because some bad rolls or card pulls can leave you out on a limb.

I can’t give a super huge recommendation for couples, as we find the game to be best with four players. With two, that means each of us controlling two characters each – not a huge deal, but not ideal either. The game is doable with only two characters, but seems a little less balanced (fights against the generals in particular are especially difficult). With four it’s fun, but will get old with repeated plays.

Pokemon figure with Defenders figures

We’ve found four players to be optimal. Or four arms.

A game with a similar fantasy feel is the DnD series (I can only speak for the Legend of Drizzt personally), though they’re more dungeon-crawly and this is more open adventure. Both are cooperative and have you playing unique hero characters, though Drizzt feels a little more polished to me. Defenders will probably work better with a younger audience, though; although the box claims 10 and up, I would put it down to 8 or even younger if they have the attention for longer games. Conversely, I feel Drizzt’s 12 and up is more on point with its more complicated decision-making and less ease of coachability – it’s easier to guide younger people or non-gamers through Defenders than Drizzt in my opinion.

Drizzt figure vs Defenders figure

Who will win in this epic grudgematch of cooperative fantasy board game figurines? Place your bets now!

At any rate, Defenders is a pretty good game for four characters (however you want to divvy them up amongst players) excepting large amounts of luck and occasionally dragging game time once you’re familiar with the game. The theme will keep you engrossed and the cooperative aspect really does make you feel like you’re working together with other heroes to fight against the generals and their minions. That said, I would recommend it mostly to families and newer gamers as it’s a relatively simple game, but adds some nice depth over a gateway game. Just be aware that sharper players with probably outgrow it!

Dragonair figure and Sapphire figure

Bonus image: Dragonite’s original design prototype was a little more fearsome. And bluer.

Luck: 3.5/5
Strategy: 2.5/5
Theme: 4/5
Interaction: 4/5
Replayability: 3/5
Heaviness: 2.5/5
Aesthetics: 3/5
Component Quality: 4/5
Value: 4/5

Average: 7.5/10

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