Editorial | 6/24/2011 at 8:59 AM

Co-Op Casual Friday: Defenders of the Realm

It's time once again for more board game coverage for Co-Op Casual Friday.  Just as co-op has become an extremely popular feature in video games, it is for board games as well.  Today, we take a look at Defenders of the Realm, an excellent co-op game that blends concepts from Pandemic with fantasy characters who would be very much at home in any D&D campaign.

Pandemic was the first board game ever featured here at Co-Optimus, and it is one of the best out there, as its rating at boardgamegeek.com can attest.  The virus spreading mechanic is perhaps the most innovative feature of Pandemic, with a similar system used for its "little brother", Forbidden Island.  This mechanic, where outbreaks flow from one city to the next, also nicely simulates the spread of an advancing army, and it is on this basis that Defenders of the Realm is built.

Four enemy generals are working together to invade Monarch City, and the defense of the land is in the hands of a small group of mighty adventurers.  The generals start on the outskirts of the kingdom, but as the turns go by, they move ever closer to the capital.  Additionally, they send minions to harass the different locations on the map.  The players must coordinate their attacks, balancing minion battles with confronting the generals.  As each general falls, the pace of the game speeds up dramatically, and only a well balanced, thoughtful party of heroes will be able to defend the realm successfully.

I am a big fan of different powers and abilities for players in board games, and Defenders of the Realm is a great example of this feature.  Eight heroes are included in the game, ranging from the arcane Wizard and Sorceress to the martial Paladin and Dwarf.  Each hero can break the rules in some way.  The Wizard can teleport across the board, the Ranger can attack adjacent locations, and the Rogue can hide from enemies in the same location without taking damage.  The powers give the heroes a nice classic fantasy feel, and add much replayability to the game.

Combat in Defenders of the Realm involves rolling lots of colorful six-sided dice.  By spending one of his or her action points (which also double as health), the player can attack all minions present at the current location.  Green orcs are the easiest to hit, requiring only a three, while the blue dragonkin are extremely tough, needing a five or better to kill.  Red demons and black undead both take a four or better to destroy.  

Generals are fought similarly, but in this case, every character at the general's location can participate at once. Throughout the game, you collect cards, each of which has a color corresponding to a particular opponent.  These cards can be traded in for dice to roll against the generals.  Unlike their minions, however, each general has abilities that make them tough to kill. The orc general is easier to hit, but any ones or twos rolled parry your attacks!  The demon general steals cards from your hand, depleting your chances to take him down.  The undead leader has a fear effect, cancelling any reroll abilties the players may have.  Sapphire, the blue dragon, is the toughest of all: she regenerates completely if not slain in one battle.  Failure to defeat a general costs players health and cards, almost ensuring that the realm will fall.

The quality of the game's components is extremely high.  The miniatures used in the game are numerous and well detailed.  The cards are sturdy, with a nice linen finish.  Best of all, the art in Defenders of the Realm is by Larry Elmore, a famous fantasy artist well-known for being the primary artist for D&D's Dragonlance saga, as well as many other RPGs.  The character art in particular is amazing.  The enormous game board map is also illustrated by Elmore.  For fans of classic fantasy, the game is a real treat just to look at.

Defenders of the Realm is without a doubt my favorite co-op board game.  It takes the innovation of Pandemic and really runs with it, combining it with a simple but effective combat system and setting it in a beautiful fantasy world.  Though it has been available for less than a year, it has already spawned a large expansion with more generals, all of them dragons, and smaller expansions with new heroes are on the way soon.  If you are like me, and have a weak spot for swords and sorcery, plastic miniatures, and cooperation, you will find no better game than Defenders of the Realm.