First Impression: Defenders of the Realm

Defenders of the Realm
Defenders of the Realm

Our Liege is in desperate hour! From what grievous cause have these accursed races arisen? Orcs, Dragons, Demons and the Dead make haste towards Monarch City. The King and Countryside of Monarch City is in need of valiant Heroes!

Will you answer the King’s call?

Defenders of the Realm is a 1-4 player game that definitely feels like it was inspired by Pandemic. Cooperative game? Check. Collecting card sets of the same color? Check. Special / unique player abilities? Check. Escalating threat levels as the game progresses? Check. Multiple ways to lose, with only one way to win? Check.

Dragons? No, dragons are not in Pandemic, and of course they are super-way cool. 😎

Side note: I wanted to write this entire post using the Comic Sans font, but WordPress would not let me. Something about the ’90s called and took their font back…

I should mention before I get started that I am late to this party. Not just fashionably late, but really, really late. Defenders of the Realm was initially released in 2010. I learned about it via a very circuitous route. My first exposure was to Defenders of the Last Stand by the same designer. I didn’t seek it out either! It was part of a bundle of games that I bought from someone via Facebook. When the bundle (which included the Unbreakable Bonds expansion for Runebound Third Edition) came in, I took a look at Last Stand and thought, “Wow, this is confusing.” But I also thought, “Wow, this looks like it could really be fun.” I kept it, but so far haven’t played it.

A few weeks ago some friends and I met at a local game store to play a few games. There were three of us to play and one of the games that hit the table was Defenders of the Realm. Two of us had played Pandemic before. The owner of Defenders had not. As he was explaining the rules of the game, the third guy and I kept looking at each other and saying, “Just like Pandemic.” It made it really easy for us to catch on to the concepts.

What I really liked about it though was the new fantasy theme. (“New” as in different from Pandemic.) The concept was the same. The ever expanding hordes of evil monsters (viruses) that cause the land to be tainted (outbreaks)…the infection step (Darkness Spreads)…the need to defeat the Big Boss (find a cure)…it all felt familiar, yet exciting. In Pandemic disease colors are based on the cities where they occur. In Defenders, you can have minions pop up all over the place. Orcs are especially problematic! One of the “Darkness Spreads” cards has you place a green orc minion on every green location that is currently empty. That’s a lot of orcs! Since one of the ways you can lose is to run out of minions to place, it’s important to watch out for this.

As we were playing the game, I knew I liked it. The tension…the strategic decisions…it all felt like I was really trying to manage the onslaught of approaching armies.

There are plenty of folks that dismiss the game due to the design. (Pink action tokens? Comic Sans font usage? The rainbow colored board? Scantily clad female heroes? Minion figures are all the same?) They probably have valid points. The representation of female heroes is not exactly politically correct, but the art was provided by one of my favorite artists from the ’80s (Larry Elmore) and that’s how things looked. Fantasy was a male-dominated genre, and if we wanted to see a lot of leg and dismiss the actual protective qualities of a chain-mail bikini, well, we would. 😛

Pandemic didn’t try to provide unique tokens for each disease. They’re just different color cubes.

There are other folks that dismiss the game due to the luck factor. Ha. That’s precisely one of the reasons why I enjoy the game! That feeling of rolling the exact die result that you need to pull out victory at the very last opportunity…how awesome is that? Where would Dungeons & Dragons be without dice?

Anyway, to cut this short, after playing the game hosted by my friend, I immediately set out to buy my own copy. I thought I had purchased one on eBay but the seller decided to cancel the sale after it was completed. 🙁 I ultimately found out that I could still buy it directly from the game company, although all they had were “ding-and-dent” copies. I decided to go for it, and I ordered the game.

And the Barbarian expansion.

And the Errant Paladin expansion.

And the Alternate Generals expansion.

And…of course…the Dragon expansion.

And…well, let’s just say my total order was around $300, and it came in a few weeks ago. I will have more posts about Defenders of the Realm (and its successor, at least in spirit, Defenders of the Last Stand) in the coming months. It was added to the tenth and final spot of my 10×10 Challenge and I look forward to playing it (and enhancing it with accessories) over the coming months. Stay tuned!

Normally the board game image at the very beginning of my post is an affiliate link to the Amazon web site. Since this game is a bit harder to find (although technically I’m not sure it’s out of print) the prices on Amazon are ridiculous. For that reason I am instead linking to the web store of Eagle Gryphon Games. I do not earn a referral from that link, but I definitely endorse it as a source for buying the game.

As mentioned above, I purchased a “ding-and-dent” copy. When my order came in, I had to look two (or even three) times at the box before I found a very slight scratch on the front cover. I am 100% pleased with my purchase.

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