Type: Card Driven Game (CDG) 

Time to play: 30-40 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 3 Player (1-4 Players)

Tiny Epic is known for their small game boxes that pack a punch and Defenders (the second edition here) is no exception. This game has the company turn its attention to co-operative game mechanics and the team goal of keeping a central city card alive. However, this game injects randomness in turn order to bring a challenge to the players through a deck of cards that include a series of monsters and the player turns.

Each turn you will bring in a new card to the deck, and turn through the deck to play out the actions. When a monster turns up, you resolve the attacks. When your cards turn up you take a turn. Very simple, very clean. This basic mechanic makes it easy to pick up and easy to enjoy.

Monsters damage outer regions, and if those fall they will hit the capital. The only way to stop theses monsters are to have players present in the region being attacked. If the player is there, and has enough health then they can stand guard of the region and stop the damage. This can be important when “dire” enemies turn up who have conditional effects that hurt the players – and make the game even harder!

However, these dire enemies is extremely important because they drop artifacts when you defend against them. Those artifacts need to be gathered up and can be kept for advantages in the game or to help achieve the final victory! What’s the final victory? Well, after you run out of cards to add to the deck, you reveal an epic foe – a final boss whom you have to defeat to win the game.

Defeat this big boss (like the end of level boss from a side-scrolling adventure), and you claim the win. However, this big boss will also bring additional difficulty to staying alive. Ramping up the difficulty and leaving you in a state that you will lose if it persists for too long.

The game then is constantly working against you. A deck that gets harder and harder until an epic foe is revealed. Small mercies occur when regions are overrun and monsters die clearing the area. However, as each region falls the capital is hit by the attacks that would land there – the fall of the capital is the loss condition for the game.

You though, as the heroes of the realm, have the chance to defend, the chance to secure (or heal) the outer regions and the chance to use asymmetric special abilities to help your other allies. Stand and fight, until you can fight no more and must retreat to the capital for health. Then, back to fighting. All very circular and light.

However, remembering the cards that come out of the draw pile helps you prepare for the next round. Your turns will happen at a random point in the round, so you need to prepare to go late or plan carefully if you go early. This rotation adds challenge without adding too much complexity.

Also, the turns stay short and quick. A few action points and not many choices often leaves you taking obvious actions but with one or two gambles as the game progresses and you need to make harder choices.

Keep your cool, and you should get to the final monster. Try and beat them quickly or they will overwhelm you. However, their abilities normally make this challenging and those earlier collected artifacts become essential.

Whilst this is simple, it’s fun and fills a gap it’s designed for. The yet unplayed box of the expansion promises to add more complexity, but I am enjoying this quick and simple co-op. I can see one challenge though – there’s no hidden information. That means that an experienced (or louder player) can quarterback the other players turns. Tricky and often a frustration for players. The game could be seen as a solo with multiple players, but this is slightly unfair in the need for players to spread out and combat different problems (yes a well oiled solo player will find this a cakewalk, but I would struggle a bit).

Last notes,

  • If you like a quick filler with a co-op nature for the end of a night – this is light and fun, with plenty of variation
  • If you have an alpha player, they might just tell you that your job is to defend the mountains and you should just do that…
  • If you win, try again and see what a new epic foe brings to the table!