Time for another board game review! This time around we’ll be discussing Defenders of the Realm from Eagle-Gryphon Games.
DotR is a fantasy-themed cooperative game designed to test your luck and skills at defending the main stronghold of Monarch City. Four evil generals are marching their armies toward the city, aiming to conquer it for themselves. Your job is to help defeat these generals before they even make it to the city.
Players can choose one of several characters (Cleric, Dwarf, Eagle Rider, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard), and each one has unique abilities that can help you conquer the invading armies. And each character gets a corresponding mini to represent them on the board.
The evil generals represent four different races that are invading the land: Demons, Undead, Orcs, and Dragonkin.
The game starts with enemies spread out on the board. You choose the locations for them by drawing cards from the “Darkness Spreads” deck. Three enemy minions are placed with each general in their starting location. Then two minions in six locations, and one more minion in six locations, each corresponding to the color of minions shown on the cards drawn. (There are two locations per card.)
In this game, there are many ways to lose, and only one way to win. You must defeat the generals before they make it to Monarch City. If you run out of any color of minions, you lose. Run out of tainted land crystals, you lose. A general makes it to Monarch City, you lose. You get the idea… The game is meant to be challenging, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few (or more than a few, in our case) plays to win the game.
Players get a number of actions equal to the number of tokens that their character displays on their character tile. Actions consist of moving (on foot, by horse, or by eagle), attacking enemy minions in your current location, building a magic gate (to teleport to other magic gates), listening for rumors at an inn, attempting to heal the land in your current location, initiating combat against a general, healing your character’s wounds, or performing a special character skill. You lose actions as your character takes wounds in the game, and the way to get them back is to heal yourself.
Movement is simple. Moving to an adjacent location is a single action on foot. You can move two spaces on a horse, if you discard a hero card with a horse symbol on it. And you can move up to four spaces by eagle, if you discard a hero card with an eagle on it. Otherwise, you can spend an action to teleport from a magic gate to any other magic gate. Or you can discard a card with a gate on it to move to any magic gate on the board or the location on the card.
At the end of each player’s turn, they draw two cards from the Hero Deck, and then flip Darkness Spreads cards as indicated on the War Status tile to spawn new minions around the board, and to see if any generals advance toward Monarch City.
As enemy minions spawn around the board each turn, you can attack and remove them from the board. Attacking enemies simply involves rolling a single die for each minion in the space you’re attacking. A single action attacks all minions in one location. If the to-hit requirement is met, a minion is killed with a single wound. (The to-hit requirement is different for each race. Orcs need 3 or higher, demons and undead need 4 or higher, and dragonkin need 5 or higher on the die to hit them.) Ending your turn in a space with enemies in it means your character takes a wound for each enemy there. So, it often makes sense to leave that space on your last action, if you’re unsure you can wipe them out.
The more challenging parts of this game are when you need to start healing yourself or the land. If you end up with more than three minions in a single location when you’re spawning more minions each turn, the land in that location has been tainted (you place a tainted crystal there) and you place one minion of the color that spawned the overrun on each adjacent location on the board. These additional minions can also taint adjacent locations, if they cause more than three minions to spawn there. (You never put more than three on a location, it just spawns an overrun, sort of like Pandemic. Adjacent locations do not spawn overruns in a chain reaction, like in Pandemic, fortunately. But this is difficult enough as it is!) You must defeat minions as you play in order to fill up the supply again, otherwise you can run out of minions of one color and lose the game.
The tainted crystals represent evil corrupting each location as the enemy moves through. Overruns taint the land, as mentioned earlier. And each location can contain multiple crystals, if you cause overruns more than once. However, demons also taint the land with only three minions in one location. (They must all be demons.) So, that can happen without causing an overrun. You can try to heal the land, which may be necessary if you’re running low on tainted crystals. After all, if you run out of crystals, you lose the game. Healing the land requires an attempt. You must go to the tainted location, discard a hero card matching that location’s color, and then roll two dice. On a 5 or 6 you are successful and may remove one tainted crystal from that spot.
Hero cards come into play when fighting off the evil generals. If you initiate combat against a general, you discard hero cards that you’ve collected that show dice matching the color of the general you’re going to fight. You may discard any number of cards, but you have to choose that number before starting the fight. Then you roll however many dice were displayed on all of the cards you discarded, attempting to hit and kill the general. (Each general has a different to-hit requirement. For instance, the orc general is hit on a 3 or higher, making it the easiest to hit. The blue dragon requires a 5 or higher to hit, making it the most difficult to hit.) Each hit is tracked as a wound on the general’s description tile. But, if you don’t defeat the general in a single battle, there are generally some rough consequences to be had. Because of this, you can attack jointly. Other players can assemble where the general is located, and then the last person to arrive can initiate combat. Then all players can combine their cards to roll dice and attack the general, making for an easier battle.
Some hero cards also have special abilities on them that can be played at any time. These special abilities could mean additional attacks on a general, preventing minions from spawning, and more. So, these cards are very valuable. Use them wisely!
There are also optional quest cards that players can complete. These quest cards hold the potential for some huge bonuses. But can you spare the time to complete them and still defend Monarch City?
Overall, there’s a fair balance between strategy and luck in this game. Bad rolls or card draws can make the game extremely difficult. But, it can go both ways. Good rolls or card draws can make the game pretty easy. We’ve generally seen a pretty nice balance, though. So, the game plays pretty evenly, most of the time.
Time requirements for setup and play are definitely a factor. If you’re looking for a short game, this isn’t it. Our games typically take a couple of hours or so. It’s not the longest game, but it’s not a quickie, either. And the complexity will appeal to some gamers, but not others. So, keep in mind with whom you’ll be playing. The game also has a lot of pieces. There’s a lot of value here. But that also means a higher price tag. Amazon currently has it for around $63.
We really enjoy Defenders of the Realm. It plays differently each time, and provides a nice, cooperative challenge. There’s enough variety and complexity that it keeps us engaged. And we love the fantasy theme. Plus there are a ton of expansions from the publisher for new characters, minions, generals, and expanded decks of cards that we need to try!
Two thumbs up from us on this one. Great game!