Okay, so I’m pretty late to the bandwagon with this one. But we've had trouble getting Defenders of the Realm in the UK: first it took ages to land on our shores, then it apparently sold out on pre-orders, and shipping from abroad was horrendous. Then when it did arrive the cost was much higher than we'd anticipated. But we've finally managed to bag a brand new copy and might I just say: thank heavens for that!
We played through our first two games at the weekend - 2 two-player games. First game I was the Ranger and Mmzomba was the much more mobile Paladin. I picked the Ranger because it’s always been my favourite class (Fellowship of the Ring, aged 12, Strider, nuff said) and the green forestry abilities looked cool. I also really liked the idea of shooting at adjacent enemies without any comeuppance. I don’t really blame the Ranger for this but boy, oh boy, did my uppance come.
The Paladin has some fancified skills too, particularly his ability to sit contemplatively on his horse, leaning on an enemy minion’s head with one hand and pontificating about righteous smiting whilst they flail at him uselessly with their short arms; i.e. he takes no damage from remaining in a space with one minion.
The rules were easy to pick up, although we mucked up the taints a little bit in the first game and had to do a bit of real life 'Ctrl+Z'ing after starting an unstoppable taint/overrun chain which clearly shouldn't have happened in the first place... But, you know, no harm done.
So we gingerly set off, worrying about how many cards we’d need to take a general out, and how quickly the bad guys were spawning as we burned a couple of our cards in moving around a bit further, and hammering on the minions where we could. Where possible I tried to leap from green space to green space, netting me an extra action and a bonus to attacks, but even against weak-ass orcs I still rolled a shocking number of snake eyes, even for me, and I’m generally a terrible roller.
Nevertheless we got our game on and we managed to beat up on two generals, making exactly the right number of rolls to kill them one after the other. We rejoiced and took our respective Slayer cards with every intention of showing off our newfound might on the petty minions sprawling across the world. And then we got absolutely hammered. Out of seemingly nowhere, the Orcs spawned through their last few minions leaving none left to draw from when another Orc was to be placed. Eek! Gorgutt took Monarch City and stuck our heads on spikes.
Second game, Mmzomba was the Sorceress and I took the Wizard and we relished our new skillsets. The Wizard’s once per turn teleport is amazing, and the choice of burning a card to fireball enemies added a really nice touch. I almost forgot to use his Wisdom ability to discard Darkness Spreads cards, but we fared much better this time. The Sorceress is super-hard too, taking on the forms of her enemies; she was jumping into their midst and then slaying the hapless Minions left, right and centre. At one point the Sorceress had cleared the entire right side of the board, whilst a Dragonkin minion sat at Monarch City quaking in his boots at her approach. Side-note: After years of balking at the ugly Sorceress from Talisman 2nd edition this particular sorceress is a breath of fresh air!
My Wizard’s teleporting ability allowed me to actually start finishing off quests, which is something we neglected to do entirely in game 1, due to the constant fire-fighting of trying to clear down cursed evil minions. Before long I had reaped 5 Rewards and towards the end of the game I even bagged myself some nifty Boots of Speed; two extra actions per turn = mega awesome.
Despite some close calls we cleaned up, took down all 4 generals and annihilated their armies en route. Very different feel to both games but really enjoyed it and can't wait to get another session in.
I loved Arkham Horror (epic coop play by the same designer), but I think Defenders really has the edge over it, much cleaner play and a real epic feel to battling the four very different generals. The Darkness Spreads cards deliver the same sort of relentless tension as the Waters Rise cards from Forbidden Island, and presumably the Pandemic equivalent too - only instead of collecting the Treasures (Generals) this time they’re trying to eat you!
The game plays quickly - I’d say one and a half to two hours max for two players but it flies by, turns go at a pace, and you’re also very invested in other players’ turns, which is nice. Coming from a 2nd edition AD&D background I’m loving the Elmore artwork and the board looks fantastic too, ignore the naysayers, people.
Following the DotR forums was like being teased whilst not having the game. But watching the game designer, Richard Launius, breathing more life into the game with PnP expansions, answering everyone's questions, building a comprehensive FAQ and describing the thematic reasons behind all his design decisions is just fantastic. There are a few designers out there who could really do with taking a page out of his book and keeping up with (and repeatedly exceeding the expectations of) their fans.
All in all, this is a really excellent game. I’m only sorry it took us so long to get hold of a copy. Right, I'm off to go hunt some orc/defend some realm/get my arse handed to me by Sapphire again...