Defenders of the Realm does almost everything I want an adventure game to do. The character classes are powerful and diverse. The combat mechanic is simple but satisfying. The sidequests are motivating and useful. Above all, it’s a cooperative game. You and your friends are actually allies working together (like in every adventure story ever) instead of trying to save the realm before the other hero does it.
For those experienced with co-op games (especially Pandemic) there will be some familiar devices. Each turn, your hero takes a number of actions to move around, fight monsters, accomplish side quests, or gather power. At the end of your turn, you draw 2 hero cards (that can help in a variety of ways) and then advance evil. When evil advances, minions are added to at random locations around the board. When there are too many in one location they break out (like a Pandemic virus) to neighboring locations causing more monsters and more problems to appear. Additionally, there are 4 generals of the monstrous hoards that move ever closer to the capitol city and leave more minions in their wake.
|Good art and components enhance the play|
Winning the game involves defeating each of these generals. Generals feel sufficiently different from each other and epic in their scale. They make for a very satisfying fight which you can attempt all on your own or team up with any players that want to get in on the action.
There is a light competitive component which amounts to little more than Legolas' and Gimli's competition to see who could get the most orc kills in the Lord of the Rings movies. You get victory points for every side quest and general you defeat. The person with the most victory points is awarded "best defender of the realm" or something like that. This amounts to making you the MVP of the game and NOT the winner so it’s a fun incentive to try to be the best without getting in the way of the cooperative spirit of the game.
All in all, it was an amazing first play and I am excited to play again. Despite its high price tag, Defenders of the Realm has been added to my list of "must own" games. Its awesome gameplay, beautiful components (Larry Elmore art is a big plus in my book), and solid co-op mechanics have won me over completely. I suspect it will top my list of adventure games and cooperative games for some time to come.