Tag Archives: Richard Launius

Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews Presents – Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror
The year is 1926, and it is the height of the Roaring Twenties. Flappers dance till dawn in smoke-filled speakeasies drinking alcohol supplied by rum runners and the mob. It’s a celebration to end all celebrations in the aftermath of the war to end all wars.
Yet a dark shadow grows in the city of Arkham. Alien entities known as Ancient Ones lurk in the emptiness beyond space and time, writhing at the gates between worlds. These gates have begun to open and must be closed before the Ancient Ones make our world their ruined domination.
Only a handful of investigators stand against the Arkham HorrorWill they Prevail?

Arkham Horror is a cooperative adventure game themed around H.P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Players choose from 16 Investigators and take to the streets of Arkham. Before the game, one of the eight Ancient Ones is chosen and it’s up to the Investigators to prevent it from breaking into our world. During the course of the game, players will upgrade their characters by acquiring skills, allies, items, weapons, and spells. It’s up to the players to clean out the streets of Arkham by fighting many different types of monsters, but their main goal is to close portals to other dimensions that are opening up around town. With too many portals open the Ancient One awakens and the players only have one last chance to save the world. Defeat the Ancient One in combat!

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Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews Presents – Ace Detective

Ace Detective

The year is 1941. Within eight months, the United States will join in the war raging in Europe and brewing in the Pacific. However for the moment, the lives of most Americans continue in relative peace…unless you live in the City by the Bay.

In San Francisco crimes, mysteries, and good old-fashioned murder present unique challenges to detectives and residents alike – especially if you happen to be a detective investigating a dirty backroom deal inside a neon lit nightclub, or a future criminal plotting against a spouse under a flickering streetlamp. It is up to you, the players, to create the story.

Ace Detective – which features color and black/white artwork from the grand masters of detective pulp Black Mask Magazine – is a noir storytelling card game that rewards imagination and the turn of a good tale. Play your cards right, tell your story, and be rewarded with the plot points needed to place clues on the suspects of the crime. But be careful as everyone in this gritty city is competing to tell his or her own story…

…to become the true ace detective.


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“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews – Richard Launius

Hello and welcome Richard Launius to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. Richard is a game designer with a pedigree of great games under his belt including a game that after 7 years STILL holds a commanding position in the top 100 board games of all time over at boardgamegeek.com. That distinction alone should be enough to cement a game designers name into the minds of fans. Richard has many other memorable game design credits including the fantastic fantasy based co-operative game Defenders of the Realm, the dice based game Elder Sign, the expansion to Mansions of Madness – Seasons of the Witch, and the recently released Dragon Rampage! 2012 should also see the release of the Noir card game Ace Detective and the super hero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics!

2D6.orgRichard, could you please introduce yourself and for those who may not know, tell us how you became involved in the board game industry and what first inspired you to design board games?

RL: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers. As an introduction I would share that I worked for 32 years in various AT&T Yellow Pages subsidiaries managing everything from art departments, to publishing, ultimately to the entire technology organization for the last 12 years of my tenure. During this time I also designed games on the side and upon retiring 2 years ago began designing games full time.

I do not think there is any one thing that inspired me to do game designs. I have always enjoyed being creative and using my art skills in a hobby (gaming) that I truly love. Although I designed some games in college as a special Winter Term course, but real design started for me in writing role-playing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu and that exercise in creative storytelling became the catalyst that formed my vision for future board games – a focus on theme and adventure and designing my games so that they provide an experience and not just a winner. My goal in design is for the game to create a memorable story in each session.

2D6.org: Are you currently a full time game designer?

RL: Yes, I am the owner of King Richard Games, LLC, and focus on game designs that I contract to publishers.

2D6.org: What were some of your favorite games when you first got into the board game hobby and what are some of your more recent favorites? Do you find yourself attracted first to theme or gameplay when looking at new games?

RL: When I first started board gaming in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s there were not a lot of choices as we experience today. In fact I suspect that there were less games published annually then are published monthly now. I played mostly sports games back then, games like Paydirt and Pennant Race but I really started getting into gaming with Battle Cry (The Milton Bradley Edition), Dogfight,  Road Kill, Amoeba Wars, Dune, Wizards Quest and several other non-historical War Games as they came out. Then Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast came along and I started playing Dungeonquest, Talisman, Dracula, and Knights of Camelot, and the whole Warhammer Fantasy and 40k.

Now, I prefer games that are heavy in theme and prefer coop games to competitive, but I play both. Beyond my designs I really I enjoy Cosmic Encounters, Star War Queens Gambit, Yggdrasil, Conquest of Planet Earth, Roma, Chaos in the Old World, Dracula (FFG), Civilization (FFG), Ghost Stories, Musketeers Du Roy, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Epic Thunderstone to name a few. Now, as most people who know me are aware, I may or may not play them by the written rules.

2D6.org: When you are working on or designing new games, do you find yourself coming up with a theme and then creating mechanics for it or do you start with the mechanics first and then work on the theme?

RL: I always start with a theme. Not much more I can really say to this except to add that game design for me is more art than science. I work to create the theme in the best way possible that will engage the players and build a story. Once I know the theme and the game objectives, the mechanics are developed to work with them.

2D6.org: There are definitely strong ties to the works of H P Lovecraft showing in some of your game designs. Is Pulp Horror a theme that you enjoy designing and find yourself really attracted to? Are there any other themes you would really like to explore but have not done so ye? Are there any genres or themes that you feel are neglected? Have you ever considered creating a game with a Steam-Punk theme?

RL: Yes, I definitely love the mythos and pulp horror theme created by HP Lovecraft and really enjoy designing games in that world. But for me, any theme that enables adventure and great storytelling is a theme I would like to designs games for. Themes I prefer include epic Fantasy, Science Fiction set in the post-apocalyptic world, Space Adventure (not warfare), Pirate Adventure, Time Travel, and Gangsters and the gritty world of Detective Noir. While I like the theme of Steam-Punk, I have not to date considered doing a game based on the theme. I have some ideas for a game with a Space Cowboy theme and can see how Steam-Punk might fit into it.

2D6.org: Can we look forward to a return to the world of H.P. Lovecraft in any of your future game designs after Infernal Relics?

RL: I hope to do more stories for Mansions of Madness, but beyond existing games I have several in the works that draw from Lovecraft. My game Ace Detective published by 8th Summit Games is currently at the printer and for the KickStarter supporters they will get the Strange Tales Expansion that enables the telling of horror tales, including HP Lovecraft tales and quotes from his stories on the Narration cards. Additionally, 8th Summit plans on publishing Mythos Tales in 2013 designed by myself and Jason Maxwell (SMERSH) in which two players work through ever changing stories by controlling the actions of the characters in the story.  I have also been working on another light storytelling game with Jim Dietz (Jolly Rogers Games) entitled Cthulhu’s Vault. Last, but not least, I hope to do some mechanics updating on Trail of the Brotherhood next year and move it forward in publishing again (based on publishing issues this game has experienced, it truly [has] been cursed by Cthulhu), and I am currently in an early game design of a mythos combat game with the working title The Ceremony in which players use their characters to defeat a cult ceremony and the deadly tentacles from the creature they have summoned.

2D6.org: Deck building games have become more and more popular in the industry and you are set to add your own unique spin to card games with the release of Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields and Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics. Do you feel there are still undiscovered mechanics to explore with deck building games or are we heading towards the proverbial wall? Do you think there is a limit to what can be done, gameplay wise, in a card game?

RL: While neither of those games are deck building, but rather playing with unique decks. I do believe that the deck building mechanic can be implemented into many adventure games uniquely and effectively.   I also think we will continue to see it with a mix of other mechanics in several games for years to come and personally like that kind of mix.

2D6.org: Defenders of the Realm is your own original game design that you are now re-imagining as a card game format with Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields. How do you feel about other board games, Shadows over Camelot for example, doing the same?

RL: I think that the key to taking a game from board to card media is only successful if the new game provides a different (and interesting) experience for the players. In the case of Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, while the game uses the same world and characters, game play changes dramatically. First of all, the game moves from cooperative to competitive. Therefore, the players will have a very different experience when playing it, but the key characters and locations from the board game will be very familiar. As for me, I prefer to see new games rather than card versions of the same game, but if implemented in a way to bring a different experience for the players I certainly support both.

2D6.org: Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, is a new direction for the property, where did the idea come from and would you tell us about some of the design processes and decisions that went into designing the game?

RL: Not long after the board game was published I wanted to create a competitive card game from the Defenders of the Realm Universe simply because I enjoy card games as well as board games and felt the universe of the realm would support this type of game. My idea was to create a competitive game using the locations and characters (Heroes and Dark Lord Generals & Minions) in the game. It just so happened that I had already created very successful mechanics that fit the game perfectly in a Marvel Superhero series, but because of licensing no publishing company seemed interested in looking at it. So, using the basic mechanics from my Mutant Wars: X-Men VS The Brotherhood, along with a number of changes to better fit the fantasy world Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields was created. I think the game will appeal to a lot of gamers, both those that enjoy the Defenders board game and others that enjoy head to head competitive play as well.

2D6.org: You have a reputation for being an extremely easy to approach designer often giving tips and advice to other game designers at conventions. Is this how you became involved in the Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics expansion? How has this collaborative experience been for you? Can we look forward to more collaborative designs between you and other developers or do you prefer to follow your own designs?

RL: Thank you for the compliment, and I hope people do see me as highly approachable because I enjoy talking, interacting, and gaming with pretty much everyone.  In the case of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics, I really loved the game and as such had been designing some new Heroes, Villains and Environments and began posting a few pictures onto the BGG page for the game. I think Christopher saw them and contacted me and asked me if I would like to assist in the Relics expansion as he believed that some of creations looked to be a good fit. I was more than glad to work with them and the experience was an enjoyable one. Christopher and all the folks at Greater Than Games are a creative and energetic group. I really like all the stuff they have come out with up until now and predict they will continue to bring fun and exciting games to the market for many years to come. I hope to do more collaborative work with various designers and companies in the future. While I have several of my own game designs in development at the present (Alien Uprising and The Ceremony to name a couple), I also have several designs I am doing with other people (Caverns of Gold, Chronos Wars, Mythos Tales, and my favorite working title Master Villain, Super Spies, and Schemes of Mass Destruction.

2D6.org: Kickstarter, love it or hate it, has become a popular topic these days with consumers, designers, and publishers. You are in the unique position of being a very well regarded designer who has very popular game designs produced through publishers and Kickstarter. What are some of your feelings and opinions on kickstarter.com and crowd funding in general, specifically from the position of a game designer? As a designer do you prefer using an established publisher over Kickstarter.com?

RL: This is an interesting question and one that is not easy to answer. It seems clear to me that KickStarter has revolutionized the game publishing industry for better or worse. I believe that it has put the end to the P500 for most companies and suspect that it will for all before too long. As for me, I am neither pro nor con in relation to KickStarter since even if my games go onto KickStarter, the majority of the KS work (and there is quite a bit of communication and support while the project is active on KS) is done by the publisher. I cannot speak for all designers, but for me the KickStarter process does impact me in that the publisher requests additional work to be done on games as they get ready to post them to KS. This additional work is related to developing what I refer to as KS “Bling” – extra stuff that only KS supporters get, and the special awards that come at the various levels of investment. Now, the creation of this stuff can be very time consuming to designers, at least they are for me as I try to make sure the “Bling” is valuable to the players buying the game and actually have real value in the playing of the game. So, the biggest impact KS has for me is that it delays the completion of new projects I am working on as I am drawn back into designs that have already been contracted to publishers. So, to answer your question, I would prefer the publisher not use KickStarter because it slows down my work on new games, but I understand and support any publishers that choose the KS path to publication.

2D6.org: Kickstarter is a great opportunity for game designers new and old to get projects up and running. From a customers perspective there is concern about a distinct lack of play testing and polish, do you feel this is a valid concern? I realize publishers can create lackluster games but there is a perception that publishers have a vested financial incentive to see a games success and are less likely to release a sub par property. Do you think Kickstarter.com for lack of better wording has shifted the risk onto the consumer?

RL: I do not think games that go through KickStarter have any less play testing than games published through the normal Publisher cycle. I do however recognize that there are a lot of projects that just may not have been that good of a game that goes up on KickStarter with a nice video and good artwork which drives a lot of supporters. Many of these games would never have been picked up and published by a game company because the game play is not that good, or if it had been picked up by a publisher the game may have had extensive development (a process that usually makes a game better in my opinion), so I think it is possible that people may be disappointed with many of these games they support when they finally play them. I believe that players are often taking a chance when they support a KS project much like financial novices investing the Stock Market, at times their analysis may have them purchasing a loser rather than the winner they originally thought it would be.

2D6.org: Do you think publishers using Kickstarter.com will lead to lower overall quality since a publisher isn’t as financially tied to the success of a game?

RL:  No, I think the quality of games from publishers will remain high quality regardless of how they fund the project. First of all, the publisher is not just trying to just sell a minimum number of games. Their business plans focus on a higher sales volume than an individual that just wanting to get their game on the market. In fact, most publishers are looking to put out a game that will be reprinted multiple times.  I think a bigger issue related to with publishers using KickStarter is that their production schedule is much slower, delaying by months when a game is published. When not using KS, the publisher begins their production of the product much quicker and pushes it to market quicker because they have invested their capital into publishing the game and want to get it on the market to recover their investment and make a profit. With KickStarter, they must wait for the funding and either have no capital investment or a minimal capital investment since they are using the funds invested by the game supporters. That is not to say they do not work to get it out in a timely manner, but rather that the process is automatically slower and they have less financial pressure to get it published.

2D6.org: Arkham Horror is a fantastic co-operative game with numerous great expansions that really expand the gameplay and challenge of the base game. With multiple expansions the game can get a little overwhelming for a new player to dive into though. What would you suggest as the optimal order to purchase the expansions and can we look forward to any more expansions coming out?

RL: It is true that Arkham Horror can be intimidating to new players, but it is also true that once players get a grasp of the rules the game is not really difficult to play and expanding it becomes a natural process. When it comes to expansions, I am a proponent of playing the base game many times prior to adding expansions. When you do add expansions, I would recommend that the first expansion to get would be the Dunwich expansion. Even if the players do not want to add the additional board when they get the Dunwich expansion, they can easily add the Injury and Mania decks into play, dropping the base game rules for losing all Sanity or Stamina. Players also gain new Investigators, additional adventures to each location in Arkham, new Great Old Ones, and new Monsters. I also think the Dunwich extended board is a nice addition for players to use as their first expanded board. After Dunwich I would add some of the smaller box sets; The King in Yellow, The Dark Pharaoh, The Lurker in the Threshold. The other expansions are all good, and I highly recommend getting them, but this is a good start.

2D6.org: Can we look forward to any more boxed expansions for Defenders of the Realm, or is the Dragon Expansion the only big box expansion planned? Any future plans for Dragon Rampage?

RL: I certainly hope so. Eagle Games has been slow as late to get more out, but there are several complete and ready to publish. These expansions include Generals of the Dark Lord with 4 new Generals and rules for their minions, Companions and Catacombs, a boxed set of the Great Battles for the Realm (a nice set of the summer league battles as well as a couple of new battles with miniatures and tokens), one more Hero Expansion IV, Quests of the Realm, The Troll Alliance, and possibly a new edition of the game. While Eagle Games has been slow in getting the expansions out this year, they continue to express their intent to me that they will publish many of these expansions – and at present have been sending me sketches of the new art for the 2nd edition of Defenders of the Realm.

As far as Dragon Rampage, the chance for new heroes, additional cards for each existing hero and some new Treasure and Dragon Rampage cards would be a nice edition, but whether anything is published will rely upon improved sales results. Since the game has just not gotten much attention or sales results, it is doubtful, but since people that play it continue to like the game, I remain hopeful.

2D6.org: Finally Ace Detective looks like an interesting story telling game. Good Story Telling games are pretty rare in the board game industry, with Tales of the Arabian Nights being the most popular. Where did you get the idea for Ace Detective, can you tell us more about the game, and how was it working with 8th Summit Games?

RL: Ace Detective is a unique game in which the creativity of the players drive the real fun and make the gaming experience memorable. Unlike Tales of Arabian Nights, there is no reading paragraphs in a choose your adventure type of game, but rather the play of cards that represent People, Places, Action, Mood, Clues and Special Events that the players will use their imaginations to build their story around. There is 1 Detective character that is the star of the game, and 4 Suspects in each mystery that players use in their tale, working at the same time to place clue tokens on them to ultimately reveal the guilty party. While there is a winner based on Clue placement, the real fun of the game comes in the stories that are told.

The original Ace Detective design was first created in the mid-80’s, not long after I designed the 1st edition of Arkham Horror. The idea came from a game I used to play with my children when driving on trips (you know, the time before DVDs and video games could be played on long trips) where I would start a story and then they would pick the next direction of the tale at certain points and we will build on those ideas forward. Of course, the stories we created were more like a fairy tale, but it is from that that experience coupled with the movie Hammett (a fictional story about Dashell Hammett) that gave me the idea to create a structured storytelling game on the detective noir. It was probably 3 years ago that I pulled the old files from the game and created a more update game that is the game being published at this time. Although I always showed the box for the game to publishers all expressed they were not interested in storytelling games without even looking at the game, so no one even looked at it until Jason from 8th Summit Games pulled it out of my prototype closet and wanted to publish it. He had already played it and liked it and wanted his new company to focus on storytelling games, so Ace Detective was a perfect fit.

Jason Maxwell, the owner of 8th Summit Games is a longtime friend and an excellent business person and game designer in his own right. He has been great to work with and together we developed Ace Detective to make the game mechanics more refined to ensure a better storytelling and game experience. Jason has been great to work with because he really loves this project and wants it to be the best it can be, to that end he managed to get the rights to many of the old Black Mask pulp magazine cover art that I had used in the prototype, making the game as attractive to look at as it is to play.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Ace Detective, the setting is 1940 – 1941 San Francisco, the city on the bay where the fog is thick and the intrigue even thicker. The players are given the basic information about a crime, the key suspects and the lead detective around whom they will craft their story using cards from their hand to tell brief segments each turn. The game provides the structure in which the game will unfold, but with creative players no two tales will ever be the same, even when investigated the same crime. I think creative people will really enjoy Ace Detective and the any stories that can be told with the cards. The KickStarter supporter also could get the Strange Tales Expansion, adding cards that bring in Gothic Horror, Lovecraft quotes, and Suspect Secrets where by the players can craft a story on everything from Vampires to Alien Invasions from Outer Space, to Lovecraft Cursed Statues and Depraved Cultists.

We at 2D6.org would like to thank Richard for taking the time out of his very busy schedule for this interview. We look forward to his future releases and can’t wait to see what they will bring!


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20 Questions With… Richard Launius! A News Segment Where You Ask The Questions!

Few are the people creative, passionate, and in some cases stubborn enough to make a good board game. Fewer still are those who can make not just one, but many board games that can stand the test of time in a hobby that is known for it’s occasional devotion to the “Cult of the new”. Yet award winning game designer Richard Launius has done exactly that! 2012 marks the 7 year anniversary of the Fantasy Flight Games version of Arkham Horror a game that to this day makes its way to gaming tables and is still ranked in the top 100 games of all time over at boardgamegeek.com. That distinction alone would be enough to cement a game designers name into the minds of fans yet he is far from a one hit wonder. Other games to his credit include the fantastic fantasy based co-operative game Defenders of the Realm, the dice based game Elder Sign, the expansion to Mansions of Madness – Seasons of the Witch, and the recently released Dragon Rampage!

Richard also has more games and expansions coming out including the Noir card game Ace Detective and the super hero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics!

Not only is he a great game designer but just spend some time talking to Richard and you will find he’s extremely friendly, very approachable, and passionate about gaming. I am sure there are many game designers who could give a nod of thanks to Richard for either direct or indirect influence into their own game designs.

Now is the chance to ask YOUR questions! Richard Launius has graciously agreed to be our guest for “20 Questions” where You submit your questions, WE at 2D6.org gather the 20 most popular questions, and then we conduct an interview!

Curious about future designs being worked on? Clamoring for a sneak peak at Ace Detective? Ready to bring the heroic battle for the Multiverse up a notch or two? Now is the chance to ask your questions!


-Reply Below-

Nothing is worse than Question and Answer segment where the questions you care about the most are never asked. We need  YOU to submit  your questions, you have until  Friday The 7th of September, then we will contact Richard for the interview!


Richard Launius spent the majority of his professional career working in various executive positions within the AT&T Advertising & Publishing line of business, retiring as an Executive Director after 32 years of service. After retirement he now dedicates his full attention to designing games through his company King Richard LLC. Richard was active in various forms of design even during his career with AT&T. Leaning strongly on his Fine Arts degree, in 1981 Richard designed the uniform the Chicago White Sox wore from 1982 – 1986. Over the years Richard has written published scenarios for the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu, and worked on several computer game designs in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. These computer designs included Scavengers of the Mutant World and Star Legions, the 3rd game of the Star Fleet series.

In 1986, Richard’s original Arkham Horror board game design won the Origins HG Wells Best Science Fiction Board Game Award. In 2005 Richard teamed up with Kevin Wilson to redesign the Fantasy Flight Games publication of Arkham Horror, and worked with Kevin and Fantasy Flight Games on several expansions. Since then Richard has gone on to publish the epic fantasy cooperative game Defenders of the Realm with Eagle Games, as well as the Dragon and 3 Heroes expansions. Richard and Kevin Wilson teamed up again to design Elder Sign, another cooperative adventure game set in the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft published by FFG. Also among Richard’s more recent publications are; Season of the Witch, and expansion adventure for Mansions of Madness by FFG, and Dragon Rampage, a competitive fantasy game by Eagle Games. Other games in process of publication include Ace Detective, a story-telling game of Detective Noir in the 1940s from 8th Summit Games, Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, a strategic competitive fantasy battle game from Eagle Games, Pirates VS Dinosaurs, a swashbuckling adventure game from Jolly Rogers Games, Run, Fight, or Die! a zombie dice game from Lock N Load, Relics expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse, Mythos Tales by 8th Summit, and Legends of the American Frontier by Game Salute.


Richard and Carolyn, his wife of 35 years, live in the Atlanta Georgia area. They have three children and 3 grandchildren they enjoy spending time with.

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Defenders of the Realm – A Written Review

Defenders of the Realm by Richard Launius – Published by Eagle Games

In the ancient Citadel of Monarch City, the King calls to arms the finest Heroes to defend against a Darkness that engulfs the land. You and your allies must embark on a journey to defend the countryside, repair the tainted lands, and defeat the four Generals and their Minions before any of them enter the Citadel. They approach from all sides, fast populating Orcs, fierce Dragons, Undead that bring fear, and foul Demons! All will be tainting the land in their wake. There are several paths to defeat, but only one path to victory. Only the most valiant Hero will be crowned King’s Champion.”

* * * * * * *

‘Defenders of the Realm’ is a fantasy themed cooperative board game for 1-4 players ages 13+ with a suggested play time of 90-120 minutes. Each player takes control of a fantasy hero drawn from one of the many typical fantasy stereotypes such as a Paladin, Cleric, or Wizard. Player’s will have assume a pivotal role in a war that is almost reminiscent of fantasy novels such as “Lord of the Rings”, where a small band of heroes and their efforts prove to be instramental in stopping the invaders from destroying the realm! Players will roam far and wide across a large map representing various locations in the realm while completing quests, fighting off minions, and gathering strength in an effort to defeat the evil Generals. Be wary though, for each time a General is defeated the war effort will become tenser as the Generals advance quicker, more Minions spawn, and quests become more challenging.

Can you defeat the Generals before they can march on Monarch City or their vile Minions can corrupt the land beyond repair? It is a time for brave heroes too rise up to the challenge and join together. Remember though, when it is all over only one hero will be declared “The King’s Champion”!

What’s In The Box

Defenders of the Realm comes in a large almost “Coffin” sized box that has some nice dividers to separate all the games bits for easy set up and storage. Normally dividers prove to be pretty useless but with the amount of miniatures and the decent layout of the dividers they actually work well. The box contains well over 100 plastic miniatures representing the Minions, Generals, and player’s heroes; it’s a veritable smorgasbord of plastic gaming goodness.

The complete component list:

– 1 Large Game Board

– 8 Hero Character Cards

– 8 Hero Miniatures

– 4 General Character Cards

– 4 General Miniatures

– 100 Minions Broken Down as Follows

o 25 Black to represent Varkolak’s Undead

o 25 Blue to represent Sapphire’s Dragonkin

o 25 Red to represent Balazarg’s Demons

o 25 Green to represent Gorgutt’s Orcs

– War Status Board

– Deck of Darkness Spreads Cards

– Deck of Hero Cards

– Deck of Quest Cards

– 12 Tainted Crystals

– 5 Magic Gate Tokens

– 12 Dice – 3 per color (Black, Blue, Red, Green)

– 7 Status Tokens (War Status, 4 General Wound Markers, and Eagle Rider Status)

– 42 Life Tokens

All of this is available for a $79.99 MSRP but of course some astute price hunting could easily net you up to $20.00 in savings.

With 112 plastic miniatures in the box there is definitely a perceived value with the purchase of the game. Even considering that there are only 13 different sculpts the sheer quantity of plastic is quite staggering. The miniatures are manufactured using a softer bendable plastic that is slowly becoming the standard in the board game industry. The softer plastic has the advantage of durability which is great if you just want to toss all the miniatures into the box at the end of a game and not have to worry about swords and other bits breaking. Yet for the true hobbyist, who really enjoys painting their miniatures, the softer plastic can be troublesome to paint compared to the hard plastic used in games such as Star Trek Fleet Captains or the late 80’s Games Workshop games.


The sculpts themselves for the most part are ok and except for the sculpt used for the dragon Sapphire I would actually describe them as minimalist. The minions are literally faceless drones wearing hooded robes and carrying a knife. The Generals are slightly lower quality with minimal detail flourishes to the point that if you were to paint Balazarg his face would become a near featureless blob. The heroes are about the same quality as the Generals with some parts appearing to be far too thin for the plastic used which seems to add to the “Less Detailed” look of the miniatures. The best way to describe them is that the plastic either didn’t pour into the moulds completely or the moulds themselves were not carved deeply enough to allow finer details (I am leaning towards the latter). As a final note some purchasers state their Dragon General miniature would not stand up, luckily Eagle did include a base to glue him too if you have this issue (I personally didn’t need to use the base since my Sapphire stands up perfectly fine).

‘Defenders of the Realm’ includes a lot of cards, enough in fact that you could easily play some games without ever reshuffling the decks. The cards have some great artwork on the back done in classic ‘Larry Elmore’ style. The front of most cards contain full color artwork, large easily legible text, and are color coded for ease of play (while the colors of the cards assist in using the cards abilities, a color blind person would not have any trouble playing the game). The cards themselves are on the thinner side, with a laminate to increase longevity, and are unevenly cut. I actually have to have the stack of “Hero Cards” stacked slightly “messy” otherwise you can pick out all the purple cards at a glance (they are all larger then the location cards in the Hero deck. The Hero Cards and Darkness Spreads cards are standard size but the Quest cards are the small half sized cards which feel very thin. While I have never been a fan of mini-cards I can appreciate how they help keep a players “play area” less cluttered.

The game board is large, colorful, and durable. The board has text that is easily legible, the spaces are color coded (but again color blind friendly thanks to the text), and there is some fantastic artwork on the board. The artwork has a unique style to it that may be off putting to some but I personally appreciate it. The spaces show a quick “glimpse” of the area reminiscent of an image through a “Crystal Ball” setting a nice tone and theme to the game. The spaces are also very large and able to hold multiple miniatures at a time (a good thing when you consider 5 or more miniatures in a space can be quite common), “Pandemic” should be taking notes here. Like “Arkham Horror” the game could have used some game rule charts imprinted on the board for quick reference such as minion “To Hit” numbers (anyone who has taped a copy of the overrun charts etc from Arkham Horror on a corner of the board will understand what I mean here). The board is definitely large enough for these kinds of charts and while it could be argued that these numbers will be eventually memorized by players, it would have been nice during those early learning games.

The rulebook is fairly well laid out and is an easy read thanks to a bit of humor as bits of it are presented from the viewpoint of the “Bad Guys”. The text is large and there are numerous gameplay examples and images to help clarify the rules throughout the book. The back page also has a nice player action phase summary. While there isn’t a table of contents the rules are laid out in the order they will be encountered which will speed things up when rules need to be looked up. To be fair though the game is really easy to learn and the included player aids make it so that after a few plays you can pretty much toss out the rulebook and never miss it.

The cardboard used for the game is really nice and thick, with each Hero and General getting their own board. The General and Hero boards include relevant game play information and are nicely designed. The same can be said about the “War Status Board” with a nice summarization of the relevant rules.

There are 12 dice in 4 different colors included in the game. They are very nice, hefty, full sized dice with the pips engraved into them for longevity. The final bit is the plastic “Crystals” used to represent when a location on the board has become too corrupted by the vile Minions. They are a nice touch in a game that could have easily used cheap wooden cubes or simple cardboard tokens.

Components And Presentation Verdict: 7.0/10 The board and the cardboard used for the game show some real attention to quality. The miniatures really add to the thematic feel of the game especially in this day and age where cardboard bits or wooden cubes are becoming more and more common. I would have liked some higher quality sculpts on the miniatures though and some variety in the minion sculpts would have been nice to see too. Finally the cardstock and quality of the cut for the cards was a disappointment for me.

How Does It Play?

Defenders of the Realm, is a cooperative board game where the players will use strategy, card management, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of cooperation in an effort to defeat 4 vicious Generals marching on the capital city of Monarch. On a players turn they will travel to various regions on the board stemming the tide of minions spawning all over the place, while trying to complete quests that will grant them special abilities to make them stronger or to slow down the growing armies of the Generals. Players get action points each turn based on their currently remaining hit points (creating an interesting mechanic where players will strive to avoid injury). Players then use Action Points to move, fight, use special abilities, or heal the land of the taint caused when too many minions occupy the same location on the board. The player’s eventual goal is to gather enough Hero cards matching the color of a General so they can fight and possibly defeat that General. Players win if they manage to defeat all 4 Generals and lose if any of the 4 Generals move into Monarch City, a Darkness Spreads Card identifies minions to be placed on the board and you do not have enough minions to meet the requirements of the card, the last of the 12 Tainted Crystals is added to the board, or if 5 enemy minions are in Monarch City at any time.

Great, Now What Do All These Bits Do? 

The Darkness Spreads cards create the main antagonist mechanism of the game. At the end of each player’s turn they will draw 1-3 (depending on the current “War Status”) Darkness Spreads cards. The cards will depict 2 locations on the top and 1 location on the bottom half of the card. The two top locations will spawn minions in the color and amount depicted on the card and the bottom location will depict a location the depicted General will advance too if the General is on the space just prior to it, for example Balazarg will only advance to “Angel Tear Falls” if the card depicts that location and Balazarg is currently at “Raven Forest”. A general will also spawn Minions at the location as depicted on the bottom of the card if the General moves to that space and Generals will never move backwards due to a Darkness Spreads Card.

Each of the 4 Generals has their own statistic card with Hit Points (how many hits they can take before being defeated), the minimum roll on a D6 required to score a hit, special combat skills, and some thematic text. During set up place a wound marker on the hit point track at the highest number and each time the General takes a wound move the token 1 space towards the skull. Once the token reaches the skull the General is defeated and the player who landed the killing blow takes the General card as a reminder they now automatically slay any of that Generals Minions (forgoing the Die/Dice roll) in combat

Each Hero Statistic Card lists the unique special abilities that the hero has access too during the game. In the lower left hand corner is listed the hero’s starting Action/Hit Point tokens. Heroes have different Hit Points which helps balance out player abilities ranging from the Eagle Riders 4 Hit Points up to the Clerics 6 Hit Points.

There are 2 kinds of Hero cards the basic cards which match the locations on the board and the purple “Special” cards which grant the heroes special 1 use abilities and are then removed from the game. The standard cards have multiple uses. First each card can be discarded to move the number of spaces listed on the top of the card or to the location depicted if there is a Magic Gate Icon for the cost of one Action point. If a player is on the space depicted on the card the card can be discarded to place one of the 5 Gate Tokens on that space. A Hero card can also be discarded to try to remove a taint crystal from the depicted location if the player is on that space and is willing to discard that card. Finally and most importantly Hero cards can be used to engage a General in combat. The bottom of each card shows a General and depicts a number of dice (usually 1 but some cards show 2 dice). When a player engages a General in a fight they discard cards and then roll as many dice as depicted on all the cards discarded, causing wounds to the General for each successful hit.

The Life Tokens simplify the Action Phase greatly. Each player has Life Tokens equal to their starting life, when they spend an Action Point they simply flip a life token over to its back side signifying the Action Point has been spent. When a player takes damage they discard the Life Token until they are healed reducing their available action points for the turn

Each player starts with a quest card and as soon as they complete a quest (whether successfully or not) they immediately draw a new quest card. While a character cannot discard a quest they do not like, they can discard it the moment it becomes impossible to complete (for instance if it requires you to interact with a General that has been defeated). Successfully completing quests give random rewards, some are one time use, while others grant permanent abilities.

Taint Crystals add an additional sense of urgency to the game. Any time a Darkness Spreads card instructs a player to place a 4th Minion (or 3rd Demon Minion) instead of placing the Minion a Taint Crystal is placed on the space. If all 12 Taint Crystals are ever placed on the board then the players instantly lose.

As the war progresses and the heroes defeat Enemy Generals, the remaining Generals press the attack even harder. The War Status is used to track the progress of the war. As Generals are defeated, the War Status marker advances on the track increasing the number of Darkness Spreads cards that are drawn each turn.

Rulebook turn Summary.

Setup is a quick process, player’s select their hero, randomly spawn the 30 starting minions in random starting locations, draw starting cards, and then play is ready to begin.

Each players turn is broken down into 3 Phases with each player completing all 3 phases before ending their turn. Play then moves to the next player.


Players can spend one (1) action point to perform one of the following actions;

(All Actions require the use of 1 Life Token unless otherwise noted. Simply flip a Life Token Over to signify it has been spent for this turn):

Movement by Foot: Move 1 space to an adjacent location (connected by a line).

Movement by Horse: Move up to 2 locations away (connected by lines) by discarding a Hero Card with a Horse Icon on the top.

Movement by Eagle: Move up to 4 locations away (connected by lines) by discarding a Hero Card with an Eagle Icon on the top.

Movement by Magic Gate: There are two ways to move by Magic Gate:

– 1. Discard a Hero Card with a Magic Gate icon and move to the location on the card or to any Magic Gate on the board.

– 2. When there are multiple Magic Gates on the board, you may move from one Magic Gate to any other Magic Gate for a single action and no card is required.

Perform a Special Skill: Some heroes have unique skills that may require 1 or more actions to perform. If a skill requires an action, it will be noted on the Hero Character Card. Otherwise, the skill can be executed without the use of an action.

Build a Magic Gate: When a hero is on a location and also has a card matching that location, he may discard that card to build a Magic Gate. Place a Magic Gate token on that location to show that the gate has been built.

Rumors at the Inn: A hero may spend up to 2 actions at an Inn to listen for rumors. When doing so, call out a card color (Red, Green, Blue, or Black) and draw 2 cards for each action spent listening for rumors. Keep all cards that match the called color, as well as any Purple (Special) cards that were drawn.

Heal the Land: If the hero is on a tainted location, discard a Hero Card that matches the location color and roll 2 dice. If a 5 or more is rolled on either die, the hero removes 1 Tainted Crystal from that location. Only 1 Tainted Crystal may be removed per action.

Healing Wounds: Heroes may heal themselves. The number of Life Tokens recovered depends on the location.

Engage Minions in Combat: Roll a die for each enemy minion in the same location as the hero. The dice rolled should match their target’s color.

Attack an Enemy General: If a hero is in the same location as an Enemy General and all enemy minions there have been eliminated (or no minions were present to begin with), the hero can attack the General by playing any number of Hero Cards bearing that General’s portrait. The hero rolls one die for each die on the played Hero Cards (shown next to the General at the bottom of the Hero Card, some cards have 2 dice, most have 1).


Combat uses an interesting mechanic, players roll colored dice matching the color of the Minion(s) on that space. Any rolled die that matches the color of a Minion and scores a hit instantly slays that Minion (different Minions have Different to hit rolls, Orcs are weak and die on a 3 or higher on a green die, while Dragon Minions are tough requiring a 5 or Higher on a Blue die to defeat). For example a player on a space with 2 Blue Minions and 1 Red Minion would spend 1 combat action to roll 1 red die and 2 blue dice. If the red die yields a 4 or higher the Red Minion is defeated and if the blue dice yield a 5 or higher then a Blue Minion is slain for each die that yields a 5 or higher.

If a hero ends their turn in a space with Minions, they take damage (depending on the number of Minions in the space) and must discard Life Tokens until they heal by using a Healing Wounds Action.


Players can (and should) team up to defeat a General by simply having all heroes on the same space with the General. Once all heroes who wish to participate in the fight are on the space with the General, the last player to move to the space (as long as they have 1 Action Point to start the fight) announces the battle. Simply play hero cards matching the General being fought. Then the hero(s) rolls one die for each die on the played Hero Card(s) (shown next to the image of the General at the bottom of the Hero Card, some cards have 2 dice, but most have only 1). Each roll equal to or greater than the to hit number of the General (for simplicities sake it is the same target number used to hit a Minion) scores a hit and moves the Generals wound token 1 space on the wound path. If players score enough hits the General is slain and the player who scored the final hit becomes the slayer who can now slay that Generals minions without rolling a combat die. Of course all the Generals have special powers making it much more challenging than a simple roll of the dice.

If the hero(s) fails to defeat the General, the hero(s) must suffer the Hero Defeated penalties on the General’s Character Card. The hero is moved to Monarch City, his bleeding body carried back to the King to heal and fight another day. Finally the General begins to heal its wounds based on the color of the space the Wound Marker was advanced to.


The active player draws 2 Hero Cards and adds them to their hand, if they have more than 10 cards, they must discard down to 10 cards (this can be done after drawing).


The current player draws 1-3 Darkness Spreads cards (depending on the war status), places Minions on the board, and then potentially moves a General (or two if you are really unlucky) one space.

Check for Overruns and Tainted Land: The maximum number of minions that may exist in any location outside of Monarch City is 3. When a 4th minion (or 3rd Demon) is to be added to a location, the location becomes too destroyed for humanity to survive in that area and the land becomes Overrun and Tainted. Instead of adding the 4th minion, a Tainted Crystal is placed on that location and minions advance to surrounding locations. Add 1 minion of the same color that caused the overrun (which will also be the same color that is on the Darkness Spreads Card) to all adjacent (connected by a line) locations. A General does not count as a minion when determining Overruns and Tainted Land. During an overrun, any “overrun minions” that would increase the number of minions in an adjacent location beyond 3, Taint the land but they do NOT cause any additional overruns and no minions are added to the overrun locations that become Tainted.

The current players turn is now over and it is the next players turn.

 A sample game might look something like this:

A player is playing the Eagle Rider Hero who has 4 Hit Points (4 Actions per turn) and one of his special abilities is the ability to be in one of two attack modes, Air or Ground (Ground allows him to re roll missed attacks, Air allows him to end his turn in a space with Minions and not take damage). The Eagle Rider’s other important ability is they can move up to 4 spaces for the cost of 1 Action Point.

The Eagle Rider spends an Action Point (flipping over a Life Token signifying it has been spent) to move 3 spaces to a location containing 2 Red Minions and 1 Blue Minion. The Eagle Rider then spends a 2nd Action Point (flipping over a Life Token signifying it has been spent) to engage the Minions in combat and rolls 2 Red Dice and 1 Blue Die (the colors of the Minions in the Location). The Eagle Rider rolls a 1 and a 5 on the red dice and a 3 on the blue die resulting in only one Minion (a red Minion) defeated. The Eagle Rider spends a 3rd Action Point (flipping over a Life Token signifying it has been spent) and re-engages the 2 remaining Minions in combat, this time rolling a 4 on the Red die and a 5 on the Blue die slaying the 2 remaining Minions. The Eagle Rider spends his 4th and final Action Point (flipping over the last Life Token signifying it has been spent) to move 4 spaces ending their turn on a space with 3 Dragon Minions (luckily he is in Air attack mode saving him from damage; otherwise he would take 3 wounds). The Eagle Rider draws 2 Hero cards bringing their hand up to 11 cards and forcing them to discard 1 card unless they have a purple card they wish to play now (the hand limit is 10).

The 3rd Phase now begins and the Eagle Rider player draws a Darkness Spreads card which directs them to place 2 Red Minions in the Withered Hills, 2 Black Minions in the Enchanted Glade, and if Gorgutt is currently in “Thorny Woods” (he is!) he moves one space to “Amarak Peak” spawning 2 additional Green Minions at “Amarak Peak”! There is already 1 Blue Minion at “Amarak Peak” bringing the total Minions at “Amarak Peak” to 3. If one more Minion spawns here then an Overrun and Taint will occur at “Amarak Peak”!

Simplicity of The Rules: 8.25/10 The rules are actually pretty simple especially for anyone who has experience with games like Pandemic. Once you are familiar with the rules you will rarely if ever need to crack open the rulebook. The game does have quite a few ambiguities caused by interactions of the cards though especially “Varkolak’s” immunity power which has an extensive FAQ available to download and peruse. Honestly though I played this game for months before even knowing the FAQ existed and found out I only had one ruling incorrect with a quest reward so it’s not as difficult as some would lead you  to believe.

 Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?

 As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.

Defenders of the Realm is a cooperative game for 1-4 players ages 13 and up. Larry Elmore did the artwork for the game and I would say for the most part it has a slightly more mature look to it. Nothing overly gory mind you (a compliment to Mr. Elmore and his ability to create artwork that is dark without resorting to the cheap gore factor that some fall back upon) but the imagery is dark. There is a demon on the game board, Varkolak the undead general reminds me of some of the fantastic Dragonlance settings paintings of the Death Knights, and even Balazarg has a slightly dark look. The game mechanics on the other hand are really not that deep and each player can discuss there plans with the other players which can help the younger players. Some of the Heroes can be easier for younger players to use, I would recommend the Eagle Rider to any younger player with his 4 movement and damage immunity.

Overall though, ages 9-10 seems like a decent starting age for the game complexity wise with the only caveat being your feelings on the artwork. While the artwork isn’t prevalent, there really isn’t a way to hide it all.

Family Friendliness Verdict:7.5/10 Cooperative games can make for a great family gaming experience, Forbidden Island is still a family favorite in my household for that reason alone. ‘Defenders of the Realm’ has a strong cooperative team feel and encourages players to help each other especially if they want to defeat the Generals. The different heroes can also make the game play easier for younger players. If not for the artwork, this would be a fantastic companion or even replacement for Forbidden Island.

Defenders plays in about 90 minutes to 120 minutes depending on how many players are playing. While the game is playable solo, the max hand limit of 10 cards forces you to play with 2 heroes unless of course you have a semi-masochistic streak and really want a challenge. Most games will be played with 2 to 4 heroes and while it has some decent balancing mechanics, it is easier with more players. The perfect balance of challenge seems to sit at 3 players, with 4 players being easier and 2 players being more challenging. If you want a 4 player game to be more challenging I would suggest removing the Eagle Rider, Paladin, and Wizard from the Hero pool since their special abilities are fairly powerful. If you would like an easier 2 player game I would suggest having one person use the Eagle Rider hero.


* Fun cooperative game.

* Built in randomizers add to replay value.

* The randomness of combat makes outcomes less of a “sure thing”.

* Copious amounts of plastic really adds to the theme, if the Minions were replaced with wooden cubes it would have really detracted from the game.

* Lots of room for expansions adding new Heroes, new Generals, and new challenges.

* Well designed box holds all the components well.

* Like most cooperative games the rules allow for solo play.


* The randomness of the dice can get frustrating at times.

* Some days it just seems like the cards are “Stacked against you”.

* The sculpts could have used more/better detail

* The thin cardstock used for the cards and the terrible job cutting the cards.

* Some minor rules discrepancies caused by card interaction will frustrate players who hesitate to make a call and go with it.

* There are some balance issues, they are far from game breaking, but some heroes are just better then other heroes in some groups.

But Is It Fun?

Mechanically Defenders of the Realm is a well designed game, to the point that you could basically  toss almost any theme at it and have a pretty entertaining game, which says a lot about the games mechanics. Don’t think I am implying that the theme is pasted on though, far from it, Defenders has an epic feel to it and leaves me feeling like I am part of an intrepid band of adventurers trying to stop an evil army of marauders. Defenders makes me feel like I am part of the war for Middle Earth much in the same way that the classic game “Freedom in the Galaxy” makes me feel like I am part of the Star Wars universe. You can definitely see where the inspiration comes from.

‘Defenders’ feels like an evolution of the cooperative game Pandemic and has basically shelved Pandemic for my play group. Whether it is the theme or the randomized none deterministic mechanics that leaves every action with a chance of failure, the game really works with my gaming group. Although it can get frustrating when you just cannot get the dice to work in your favor, I can remember many times when a “Sure thing” fight with a General ended in abysmal failure. Gorgutt especially of all the generals with his ability to parry hits on a roll of a one has led to many an “Aaarrghhhh” moment but that just adds to the determination of the group. The dragon Minions can also be frustrating requiring a 5 or higher to defeat but thankfully they are supposed to appear less often (but some days the cards are stacked against you). This alone can kill this game for some players, if you get frustrated by randomizers like this you will not enjoy Defenders of the Realm and I would suggest you look into Pandemic.

I think Defenders of the Realm does a few things better than Pandemic though. First unlike Pandemic since you cannot trade cards you are forced to group up “like a heroic party” to take out the Generals. Additionally the added quest cards give players something else to do and they grant heroes additionally abilities making the quests something players want to strive towards completing. Yet in the later parts of the game questing becomes a greater risk as the quests become harder to complete! I really want to avoid making this review a Pandemic comparison so I’ll end the comparisons here.

I have mentioned this a few times already but I am glad that Eagle went with actual sculpts for the Minions instead of either tokens or generic wooden cubes. Not only do they add to the theme of the game, they also help make the game board feel like a living world. I would have preferred the Minions to each have a unique sculpt though and think this could have been done without adding too much to the cost of the game. Imagine if the black Minions would have been Skeletons or the green Minions had been Orcs that would have made the game look even more thematic and exciting. I do understand the logic that including generic Minions allows future expansions to match them to any possible future Generals, my contention is that more thematic Minions wouldn’t have hurt the potential of future expansions in the least.

The sculpts also could have used some work. While they are not terrible you can definitely see the quality difference between the miniatures in Defenders and the miniatures in games such as the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System games. I could almost accept the less detailed quality of the Minions (Minions are faceless cannon fodder after all), if the Generals and Heroes had been higher quality sculpts.

Eagle did a great job on all the cardboard included in the game, using thick card stock that seems durable and has yet to peel or start to fall apart, I cannot say the same for the cards though. While the thin card stock is mildly frustrating, the fact that if I stack the hero cards in a clean stack I can pick out the purple cards 100% of the time is a definite quality control negative.

The artwork is very well done including the art on the game board. I like the over-sized game board, one of my largest complaints with Pandemic (ok one last comparison…) is that the spaces were far too small for the game pieces. This is definitely not the case with Defenders where you can fit a Large Dragon, a couple Minions, and some heroes all in one game space on the board. I also appreciate the artistic style of the game board it feels like I am gazing through a crystal ball at a tiny segment of a location in a large fantasy realm.

Overall though Defenders doesn’t do anything new that will convert you if you do not enjoy cooperative games. A dominant personality can still ruin the enjoyment of the game (although this is a personality flaw not a game flaw in my opinion), bad luck can really ruin the best laid plans, and aside from the “Kings Champion” rules that allow players to pick an overall winner it is still a players versus the game board experience. The game can be slightly more challenging with multiple ways to lose and only 1 way to win which is a definite plus.

 Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.0/10 If you enjoy a good cooperative game, like a fantasy theme, and enjoy random outcomes to your decisions pick up a copy of Defenders of the Realm! You will not be disappointed.


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