Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sincere flattery (Defenders of the Realm x3)

At last week's session we played Kozure's newest acquisition, Defenders of the Realm.

I've read that this is very similar to Pandemic, and in many ways it is. There is a map of the game world, made up of many "locations" connected by paths. There are four types of minions spreading on the board trying to destroy the world, just like the diseases in Pandemic, and it's up to the players to stop them. If more than a certain number of minions is ever on a space and the game calls for more, there is an outbreak and new minions are added to all adjoining locations. If a minion of a certain type is ever meant to be added to the board, but none are left in the supply, the game is over and the players lose. The players win by defeating the minions in each colour.

Still, there are some significant differences. The obvious thing is that "curing" the invasion of a particular colour means defeating it's boss, a creature that has specific powers and win conditions. Players have quests that they can fulfill to gain advantages, each round adds a random effect to the board, and boss battles are resolved through die rolls.

For me, one of the defining mechanic of Pandemic (other than it's cooperative nature) is the the way the infection deck stacks. Cities that have been infected previously get added to the top of the deck, creating significant tension and putting huge pressure on the players as they strategize to prevent the diseases from creating an outbreak. This facet is missing completely from DotR, which is too bad. All of the "chrome" type mechanics which have been added successfully give the game a fantasy/ D&D feel, for better and worse. I enjoyed the retheming, the quests, the boss battles, etc, but the game definitely had a looser, more random and luck-driven feel.

We actually played three times. In the first, as the cleric (me), the Paladin (Shemp) and the Ranger (Kozure) an unfortunate series of card draws led to our demise before we all had our second turn (one card put a single orc on every empty green space, and the next put an additional orc in all locations with only a single orc. Guess what, no more orcs.

In our second game, we bumbled around the board with the same party and ultimately tried to defeat the demon lord. Although the odds were on our side, we failed and never managed to recover. The game ended with another loss before even defeating a single boss.

In our third game, we were firing on all cylinders. We switched the party to the sorcerer (me), the wizard (Shemp) and the Eagle Rider (Kozure) and got to work. Having recalled the mistake we made in our early games of pandemic, putting too much time and resources on removing disease cubes instead of attacking the source, we focussed much more on defeating bosses as early as possible. The demon boss was first on our hit list once again, though this time we defeated him. We then went for undead boss and orc, ending with the dragon. We successfully beat the game!

I found the game quite fun, though the game mechanics are not quite as tight as Pandemic. The comparison reminds me of Dominion and Thunderstone, actually. Dominion is clearly the better developed game, but the chrome of Thunderstone makes it enjoyable in it's own way, and maybe better for a different crowd.

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