Sunday, March 27, 2011

Defenders of the Realm

We recently attended Spring Meltdown, a game day at the community room of the Isley Library in Middlebury, hosted by Green Mountain Gamers. It was a pretty long drive and we had a few errands to run before it so we didn't get there until after lunch (taking the opportunity to lunch at a fairly ordinary diner in Middlebury, named Rosie's). As I was pretty tired from a week of lost sleep and the exhaustion of moving cubicle panels and furniture on Friday, I only lasted until dinnertime; we went to dinner at a local Indian restaurant (I learned I like lamb shahi khorma) and then home.

In between, we really only ended up playing one game. We arrived just about when a lot of other people had left for lunch, so the only games going on were all already going on. We spent a while waiting for another game to open up, and also set up a game we knew (Ticket to Ride) in case people wanted to accrete around us, but neither happened. We passed some time playing a game of Bananagrams (it's very different with two players -- you do a lot more disassembling and rebuilding your crossword and less adding onto it), and eventually, some friends came back from lunch and joined us. (So we ended up playing in a group of which 4/5 were the people we knew back home, but at least we were playing a game none of us own, so we were still exploring something new.)

The game we ended up playing is Defenders of the Realm, a cooperative game very reminiscent in its mechanics of Pandemic. It seems to be calibrated a bit more in favor of the enemies than Pandemic is; that is, your group will probably win less often. (That could probably be tweaked a bit, but honestly, I'm not sure which is better. In cooperative games, you probably will feel like you had the most fun if you win a fair amount of the time, but you don't want it to be a foregone conclusion or have no challenge. I don't have enough experience with them to know where the "sweet spot" is.)

In Defenders of the Realm you choose characters based on AD&D-like archetypes: sorceress, ranger, dwarf, paladin, wizard, rogue, cleric, or eagle rider. (The analogy to the various job types in Pandemic is clear, with similar kinds of special abilities.) Meanwhile, four Big Baddies -- an orc chieftain, a demon lord, an archlich, and a dragon (or something like that) -- start in various places on the board, along with lots of their minions. (These are entirely analogous to Pandemic's four diseases, except that they have slightly different powers. For instance, orcs are easier to kill but spread faster.)

Then you each take your turns moving around, killing off minions, trying to complete quests to gain special powers, trying to counter various ways the baddies can advance, and building up to congregating on one of the baddie bosses so you can kill him. The players can win only by killing all four of them, but the baddies can win in a jillion ways: by tainting too much of the land, by spreading too many minions, or by advancing to the capital city, each of which can be done by many paths. There are a few mechanics that directly mirror Pandemic things: the way "outbreaks" work (too many minions in one space spreads to adjoining spaces), the way the stakes get raised as you get closer to victory with the spread of the enemies quickening, and how, once you defeat a particular one of the four, you can effortlessly defeat it thenceforth.

Yet there are definitely a few things that don't, like quests, and a lot of other differences in things like special action cards. I think it ends up being a few notches more complex than Pandemic and thus perhaps a little more intimidating, in the sense that it'd be harder to get someone who isn't a dedicated player of modern board games interested in it, without them zoning out as you tried to explain it. I'd probably use simpler games like Ticket To Ride or Carcassone as a "gateway drug" before building towards things like Pandemic and then eventually to Defenders of the Realm.

So we'll probably eventually buy a copy, but at $55, I think we should probably wait until we've actually used the copy of Pandemic we bought months and months ago and have never actually used. Plus, someday, I want to try original-recipe Settlers of Catan, but since everyone else moved on to other games long ago (or at least the eighth expansion of the fourth sequel of Settlers), I'd probably have to buy it myself, and then start it with a bunch of newbies to Eurostyle games. I don't need more games, I need more opportunities to play them.

1 comment:

Siobhan said...

I really enjoyed the game. Though I'd like more chances to play games, too. :)