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Siegfried, Snow White, D'Artagnan, Red Riding Hood, and the other heroes of the twelve realms are being reunited for one last great adventure. The Dark Lords have joined forces to completely conquer and subjugate all the known Lands, and only the combined efforts of all the greatest heroes can halt their nefarious plan.
12 Realms is a fast, lighthearted cooperative miniature game for 1 to 6 players. All players must band together to stop the Dark Lords' overwhelming hordes from pillaging the 12 Realms. Individual invaders can be defeated by using each hero's different talents, but to vanquish the Dark Lords you must claim a powerful artifact.
In their quest to stop the invasion, the heroes can travel together between different lands, or they can try to single-handedly defend a Realm. Each of the 12 Realms is an individual land, with different treasures and events, and populated by unique creatures.
Players: 1 - 6
Time: 40 minutes
Ages: 8 and up
Weight: 1,513 grams
Average Rating: 3.5 in 2 reviews
Pop Quiz! What does Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Siegfried, and D’Artagnan have in common? Why, they all happen to be some of the heroes featured in the latest game published by MAGE Company…the same folks who brought you “Wrong Chemistry”. In “12 Realms”, players will take on the role of various heroes who must band together to stop the Lords of Darkness. It’s advertised as a fast and lighthearted cooperative experience, two qualities I always look for in the games I play. That begs the question: “How does it fare when the smoke finally clears?” Before I answer that, I’d like to thank the folks at MAGE Company and Game Salute for providing me with a free press copy.
Realm Maps – These four separate maps serve as the board in which players will be moving around and attempting to thwart the Lords of Darkness. The number of maps used in a game depends on how many people are playing.
Hero Miniatures & Boards – Each hero in the game has a miniature and an accompanying board (similar to a hero/stat sheet). There are a total of eight heroes, each with unique skills and abilities.
Cards, Tokens, & Dice – There are way too many components under this category to mention, though I can sum it up by saying that each realm map has its own set of unique card/tokens to be used when playing the game. There are also talent tokens that are used by heroes to perform actions. Event cards mix things up a bit and gold coins serve as the currency for players to make use of during play. A black talent die and a white area die are also included to assist in the resolution of random events. There’s more, but I’ll save your sanity by stopping there.
There’s a bit involved with setting up the game, so I’ll simply opt to mention the highlights. First, players will need to decide how many realms to use. The more realms you have, the more difficult the game…though the number of players does factor into the difficulty as well. The realms that are going to be used for the game are “active” realms. Each realm has its own set of cards and tokens, so the “sleeping” realms and their respective components will be placed back in the box.
All of the Lord of Darkness cards from the active realms are revealed, with only one being chosen per realm…players will need to pay attention to the difficulty levels listed on the individual cards. Those that are chosen are placed near their respective realms, along with the appropriate realm tokens. The Lords of Darkness cards not chosen go back into the box. The rest of the active realm cards are shuffled into one large draw pile.
Each player chooses a hero and takes that hero’s miniature & board. The miniature is placed on any realm so as long as it starts in the town area. Players also receive enough red talent tokens to place onto their hero card, which track talents as they are used (exploited) and gained (refreshed). Town cards are shuffled separately into their own deck…these contain items that players can purchase during the game. Finally, the realms are populated with artifacts & treasures, with the invasion markers being placed near the invasion track situated at the bottom of the realm boards.
The game takes place over a series of turns, which are broken up into three phases: Invasion, Perform Actions, and Refresh.
Invasion – During the Invasion phase, the invasion marker on each realm is moved up by one for each invader currently on that realm (including the Lord of Darkness located there). Powers are then resolved appropriately. After that, two realm cards are drawn for each realm plus one extra, populating invaders and resolving artifacts/treasures as appropriate.
Perform Actions – In this phase, each player will take turns performing actions. This can involve moving, confronting an invader, claiming a treasure/artifact, trading, visiting town, and traveling. Some actions or situations involve the use of the talent tokens situated on a character card.
Refresh – Finally, the Refresh phase involves players refreshing (or making available) their exploited talent tokens.
This will continue until the game ends in either a collective victory or defeat. Players will be attempting to defeat every realm’s Lord of Darkness before any one invasion maker (on any of the realms) reaches “20”. The former results in victory, while the latter results in defeat.
The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you a general idea as to how the game is played. For more information, please refer to the links at the end of this article.
Firstly, I need to commend the folks who designed and constructed the components used in the game. They are, without a doubt, highly detailed and beautiful to look at. My only gripe is that the hero minis came separated from their base, requiring the user to superglue them together. This may or may not be the standard when it comes to minis, but casual gamer families may not understand (or appreciate) the extra work. I thought that the art styles featured in each individual realm were superb and I liked how they each had their own “personality” if you will. The Cherry Blossom realm, for example, consisted of mainly reddish/pinkish hues while the Fairy Forest had a green colors associated with it. The realm cards were equally thematic, tying with their individual realms in easy to recognize ways. The manual was fairly detailed, but didn’t include a component listing…something I feel is standard in most games nowadays. With the number of components being on the high side, a components section would help newcomers significantly.
The learning curve was a bit on the steep side…not because of the gameplay itself, but because of all of the components that were included. I’m not complaining mind you, but it’s easy to imagine how the less initiated to board games could be intimidated by all of these pieces. The nice thing about “12 Realms” is that it’s fairly flexible. Players have control over how many realms they use, in addition to how many Lords of Darkness to include per realm. It’s relatively easy to make the game either very simple or very hard, depending on your threshold for pain. For an easier experience, use fewer realms and more players. If the latter isn’t possible, you could control more than one hero (keeping their character cards and inventory separate).
The cooperative experience is definitely a profound one in that players either sink or swim together, much like in “Pandemic”. I like the fact that players have the freedom to split up and cover more ground, or work together in the same realm and combat invaders together. The former strategy is favored a bit more, considering that all it takes to lose is one realm reaching its “20″ on the invader track. The game also encourages cooperative play through trading, especially toward the latter half of the game. The Lord of Darkness over a particular realm will eventually show up, and players will need the required artifacts in order to challenge them. As such, players are encouraged to work together in order to meet these requirements.
If you are feeling the need to play competitively instead of cooperatively, there are a few different variants listed in the manual that might suit your fancy. “The Dark Player” variant, for example, controls all of the invaders and where they spawn (based on their affiliation). This dungeon master of sorts will be doing everything in his or her power to see that the Lords of Darkness succeed in their goal. Other variants simply exist to increase the difficulty a bit, for those of you who like a challenge. The “Black Fortress” variant uses…well…black fortress miniatures that are placed onto a realm when the invasion marker reaches “7+”. Invaders in said realm can’t be challenged until this black fortress is destroyed, which can potentially make the invasion marker run away from you if you don’t deal with that threat immediately.
In the end, “12 Realms” stands tall as a solid cooperative experience, backed by an impressive array of beautifully crafted components. Don’t let its cutesy nature fool you…there’s enough here to challenge even the most dedicated cooperative game fans. The art and gameplay mechanics are family-friendly, which is a bonus to game families with younger children. The learning curve and the price (currently $70.00 as of 11/21/13) may scare off casual gamer families, though I’m fairly confident that given time, they’d be able to conquer the former. This is one instance where it helps to have an experienced gamer in the family, as the manual does have a fair amount of detail. All in all, a wonderful game!
Final Verdict: 8/10
Design by Ignazio Corrao
Published by mage Company
1 - 6 Players, 1 1/2 - 2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.
Cooperative games are all the rage, with seemingly a dozen or more released each year. While there were a few cooperative games back in the 80s and 90s -- most notably Scotland Yard and Stop Thief -- the genre began gaining in popularity with the release of Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings at the turn of the century. From that point on, a steady stream of cooperative games has been released just about every year. The themes have included everything from ghosts to firefighters and policemen to infectious diseases.
With the popularity of the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time, it should come as no surprise that the fairy tale theme has now been incorporated into a cooperative game. 12 Realms by Ignazio Corrao was originally released in 2010, but this year has seen the system enhanced with the release of numerous expansions. As such, the game is once again receiving attention.
Set in a fantasy land populated by legions of evil creatures and characters, players assume the role of "good" fairy tale characters, including Snow White, Red Riding Hood, the Nutcracker and even the Sugar Plum Fairy. Hmmm ... not exactly the type of characters that inspire machismo in most gamers. Still, these characters must unite to dispel the Dark Lords and their minions who threaten to subjugate the fantasy lands under their evil dominion.
Each hero receives a player board upon which she will track her abilities and collect artifacts and items found during her adventures. Each character begins with a set of skills -- swiftness, combat, charm, magic, etc. -- as well as a unique power or ability. The realm is formed by combining several smaller boards, each representing a realm within the fantasy world. Each realm, which is divided into six territories, has its own Dark Lord, associated minions, and artifacts. The challenge is to defeat the Dark Lords in each of the regions before one of them advances his influence to the end of the track (20 spaces).
As with many cooperative games (Pandemic, Defenders of the Realm, etc.), each turn begins with the evil minions expanding. This is done by drawing a number of Realm cards (2 per realm plus 1) and placing new invaders in the realms as indicated. The actual territories within a realm where they are placed is determined by dice rolls ... a lot of them. This usually causes an abundance of new invaders to appear, often forcing players to alter their plans so they can deal with these new threats. Before the cards are drawn, however, the invasion marker of each realm is advanced along the track a number of spaces equal to the number of invaders in that realm. When the marker reaches the latter stages of the track, that realm's Dark Lord appears. If the marker reaches the end of the track--which is only a space or two beyond the appearance of the Dark Lord--evil has prevailed and the players are defeated.
A player's turn is usually quite quick and basic. To move from territory to territory within a realm, a player must expend swiftness tokens. Thus, she is only able to move as far as the number of swiftness tokens she possesses. Once a token is expended, it may not be used again during that turn. Moving into a new realm requires the player to be in the realms sole town, at which point she can transport to the town in a different realm. However, her turn immediately ends. This is extremely limiting, as without a special artifact or ability, a player is unable to assist in defeating minions in other realms on the same turn. This has proven to be quite restrictive and frustrating in the games I've played.
During a turn, a player may confront invaders, claim treasures or artifacts, trade with other players in the same territory, or even purchase items from the town. Confronting invaders means expending the necessary tokens as indicated on the invader token (swords, charm, magic, etc.). Some invaders are more difficult to defeat, and some require random dice rolls to determine what is needed. Further, some have special powers that are enacted when they appear or are defeated. Sometimes only certain characters have the necessary tokens or abilities to best them. Of course, if that character is in a different realm, it may take awhile before she can arrive on the scene to be of assistance.
Treasures and artifacts appear in the realms at the initial set-up and when cards revealed at the beginning of each turn. Treasures grant characters gold coins, which can be used to purchase items when visiting the towns or, in some cases, defeat invaders. Artifacts are needed to ultimately defeat the Dark Lords. There are three unique artifacts in each realm, and all three must be in the possession of one player in order to defeat that realm's Dark Lord. Each artifact requires the expenditure of specific tokens in order to be retrieved. Many times only specific characters possess those abilities, and sometimes none do. In this case, the missing abilities can only be acquired by obtaining specific items from the towns.
It is important to acquire various items at the towns. To do so, a player must expend a swiftness token, draw two town cards, and purchase one. The cost is in coins, with the more valuable items costing more. These cards usually grant player special abilities or additional ability tokens, all of which are usually needed in order to ultimately acquire the needed artifacts and defeat the Dark Lords. Thus, consistently securing coins via treasures is an important task.
As mentioned, players must gather the three artifacts in order to defeat a realm's Dark Lord. These artifacts only appear when their cards surface, which due to the randomness of the draw could be late in the game. A realm's Dark Lord will only appear when the invasion marker (which advances each turn based on the number of invaders present in a realm) reaches space 16 or beyond on that realm's 20-space invader track. If the marker reaches space 20, all is lost. So, once the Dark Lord appears, there is usually only a turn--or at most two--to get the artifacts into the hands of one character, who must get to that realm and defeat the Dark Lord. The restrictions on jumping from realm to realm only complicate this task.
After all players have completed their turns, all expended tokens are restored. Thus, players begin each turn at full strength with all of their skills refreshed. There is no "healing" or resting required. Invasion markers are advanced and new Realm cards drawn to once again populate the board with more invaders.
A typical game will take 1 1/2 - 2 hours to complete. All of our games have been tense, with defeat occurring more often than not. That is a good feature of a cooperative game, as you want to always feel that tension of being on the verge of doom. The game does a good job of forcing players to stamp out fires that occur each turn with the appearance of more and more invaders. There is that constant feel of scurrying about the realms in an effort to keep the invaders at bay and delay the advancement of the invasion markers. Only when all three artifacts appear and are acquired will the players want the Dark Lords to make their appearance. However, that is largely based on the luck of the draw, which can prove quite frustrating.
There is some atmosphere to the game created by the unique Dark Lords and their associated minions. The town cards also provide some flavor, with items ranging from magic chalices and Berserker axes to characters such as the Guild Thief and Golden Knight. There is even a Flying Pig than can be used to transport a player to a different realm without losing the remainder of his turn. This latter item can be extremely useful.
While the game has its strong points, there are some drawbacks. The main one seems to be the difficult in moving from realm-to-realm. As mentioned, without the aid of a special ability or item, this can only be accomplished by moving from one town the next, after which the remainder of one's turn is lost. In a game that requires players to be able to move quickly around the board in order to combat ever-changing threats, this movement limitation is simply too restrictive. The consequence is that many characters are destined to spend most, if not all of the game stuck in one realm. This can and does prove limiting and frustrating.
The luck of the draw also plays a significant role. The appearance of the invaders works well, but appearance--or non-appearance--of the artifacts can significantly affect the game and diminish the chances (and enjoyment) of the players. I have experienced games wherein a key artifact or two do not appear until the Dark Lords are present, making it virtually impossible to acquire them and then reach the Dark Lord to do battle. When there is no chance to win, it eliminates the fun. A better method should have been devised to regulate the appearance of the artifacts.
The set-up instructions call for a specific number of boards based on the number of players. What is perplexing is that this number doesn't change when playing with 4 - 6 players. It is extremely difficult to defeat all of the Dark Lords when playing with only four players, so some modification of these numbers seems in order.
There are advanced rules that add more elements to the game, some of which add flexibility and further options. Expansions continue this trend, but only true fans of the game will likely feel the need to acquire them.
12 Realms is a noble effort at incorporating the fairy tale theme into the cooperative game environment. It does have a similar feel as cooperative games such as Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm, but the cooperative aspect isn't as strong as many characters tend to remain in one realm for most of the game and individual character powers are not as complimentary as in those other titles. While there is a high level of tension, there is also a considerable frustration factor due to the realm-to-realm movement restrictions and luck-of-the-draw, which can stymie players' efforts. Fortunately, these two issues can likely be rectified with some house rules, which will hopefully make it more appealing and satisfying.