DGS Games

Defenders of the Last Stand – First Look!

8th Summit’s post-apocalyptic free-for-all ~

Michael Eckenfels, 3 June 2017

In terms of good old fashioned board game mayhem, what games come immediately to mind? Car Wars, certainly (and it just happens I wrote more than a few nostalgia pieces on that very game in the last many months). Nuklear Winter ’68 (Lock n’ Load Publishing) is yet another. Waste Knights, Last Battle: Twilight 2000, The Omega Wars – just to name but a few – with any of them, you’ve got a wide range of different systems, complexities, and entertainment that all bring a good and ruined Earth to the table as a backdrop.

The artwork alone could give you radiation poisoning, but in a good way.

Defenders of the Last Stand is a title from 8th Summit (also known for Agents of SMERSH and Run, Fight, or Die!) that kind of comes right out of left field. I say that because while I love the post-apocalypse theme in general (not just games, but movies and books as well), I thought I’d heard of most everything made. This one, though, I came across quite by accident. It’s always nice to make discoveries like this when you least expect it.

The game was published last year (2016) and designed by Richard Launius (Arkham Horror) and Jason Maxwell (Agents of SMERSH). The company was very nice to send me a review copy when I asked for it, and I have to officially apologize here for it taking so long for me to get to it. I had hoped to play this a lot sooner.

When you first open the box, there are tons of parts to it. In fact, it reminds me of those ‘gee whiz’ days when Milton Bradley first put out the old big box, cool bits games (Axis & Allies, Shogun, Fortress America, Broadsides and Boarding Parties).

Considering the size of the game, it’s really surprising there’s only one sheet of counters to it. Most of the counters are quite large and well-designed; even the smaller ones are nice. The most important thing for counters is how eye-catching they are, because you want to easily spot them at a glance on the board.

The huge red counters are Actions. Depending on the number of players, each one gets a set number of these to spend during their turn. The reverse side of these Action counters is a Wound counter. For each Wound a character suffers, that’s one less Action they can take.

The green ones are Scavenge counters, each of which has a certain item or draw card you can choose from if your character manages to secure it during their turn. Turning these over always results in something beneficial and are very important to game play.

The gold ones at lower right are Karma tokens, which can be spent to use a character’s special ability. Each character has two ‘normal’ abilities that can be used whenever applicable, and one that requires a Karma token to be spent.

The nuclear counters are used to help further irradiate the land, thanks to Events. There’s already some areas on the board that have these in place, and as more are revealed, they can be a benefit or a curse, depending on your card draw luck.

The brown ones sandwiched in there between the Action and Karma tokens are special counters used by a particular character, which act as a way of holding up the bad guy Leaders in the game.

Finally, that large circular token at upper right is used to show an Adventure spot. These can be challenging things full of rewards, or pain.

The manual itself is great; it’s well designed and fairly clear, though at times it is difficult to locate exactly what info I need to find. As always, BGG is a good resource to go to, specifically the ‘Rules’ forum for this game. I saw that the community for this game are very quick to answer questions that cannot be answered in the rules.

The artwork quality in the manual (and throughout the game) is impressive. Hand-drawn art is indeed just that – an art. It can be hit or miss at times, but it hits on all cylinders in this game.

I mean, look at this guy. Mad Max anyone?

The map is mounted and large, and neatly designed, though the hand-drawn aspect of it does border slightly on cartoonish. Nevertheless, this is not meant to be a criticism. In fact, it’s further impressive that the artists could pull this off. The funny thing is, I couldn’t help but think of the original Wasteland PC game when looking at this map – you’ve got what looks like the Rockies along the left side, desert spaces, and possibly towns that might line up with present-day Arizona.

The Last Stand, which is in the name of the game, is at the very center and the place you must protect from four factions hell-bent on conquering it. According to the game’s lore, The Last Stand is the last outpost of civilization, and the players are Rangers (another Wasteland reference, perhaps?) that are tasked with eliminating these threats. There are a lot of said threats, though, making this game a challenge unto itself.

These four factions are numerous, and each has a powerful leader. Killing a leader is not an easy task as they have plenty of health and can deal some serious damage, and there’s four of the things, each with their own nasty little surprises. Then again, killing a leader gives the slayer of that leader some particularly nice power when combating Raiders in their faction.

Among these leaders are Bama, leader of the Road Riders; Puke, leader of the Monstrosities; Krank, leader of the Techies; and Bramble, leader of the Earthers. Each has a very distinct and nice looking piece representing them on the map.

In the foreground is Bama; in the background, Puke.

The game can be played with one to five players, and is cooperative in nature. This means easy solitaire play if you’re down for that. It’s important to note here that the game ramps up in difficulty with the more players there are, which conversely means more can be done to stop the bad guys. You see, each player takes a turn in which they spend Actions to do things on the board, and when they’re done, the bad guys get a turn. This happens after each player’s turn, so if you have three players, the bad guys get to go three times. With five players, you’re looking at the board getting overrun quite quickly.

Initial set up, which has random elements to it.

There are three scenarios in the game. The first is one that pretty much drops everyone in the middle of a chaotic mess and is quite challenging. The second is considered to be the true basic game, where everything starts out slowly but can turn messy quite fast. In the third one, you’re all needing to cooperate to build a flyer to escape the area (Thunderdome, anyone? Sweet!).

Along the way, the most important part of the player turn is when they spend Actions. Each character gets a certain number, and there’s a lot of Actions you can take (13, I think). This rather overwhelming number can easily cause analysis paralysis in any player that might be prone to this, so fair warning. It’s imperative to work together, closely, to minimize threats and bring victory to the table, so to speak.

Each of the factions (or gangs, if you prefer) are very distinctive on the board. Bama’s Road Riders, for example, are motorcycle-based and have small figures that you place on top of the motorcycles. I thought this was an interesting design choice as the figures and motorcycles are separate. The red Techies aren’t all that distinctive but are easily spotted, and the yellow Eathers are prancing, bow-wielding figures that look cool but come out of the box pointing their bows at different angles, since they’re connected to their bases by one small ankle and foot.

Bramble, the leader of the Earthers, with one of her warriors next to her.

The Monstrosities look like Slimer from Ghostbusters, but this comparison is unfair, Each Monstrosity you come across can actually be a different type of monster, which you don’t reveal until you engage it in combat. You can Scout these out as one of your possible Actions, so you can see what you might get in the way of reward if you want. The distinction here is that Monstrosities are not Raiders (which is what the other three factions’ pieces are called), and Raiders do not give rewards for defeating them individually.

My copy of the game came with another insert that included additional Adventure cards and four more Character cards. I think this was a Kickstarter reward, but I’m pretty sure it’s included in all copies of the game since this pack was inside the shrink-wrapped game. The nice thing about this pack is mostly the additional Character cards, giving you more options for fighting the bad guys.

The additional characters and Adventure cards.

As mentioned, the bad guys get a turn after every player’s turn. This is done by drawing a card to determine new Raider (or possibly Monstrosity) placement, as well as leader movement. Neither Leaders nor Raiders or Monstrosities engage in combat in ‘their’ part of a player turn – that can only occur when a player initiates it.

Bama, leader of the Road Riders, is getting a little too close to The Last Stand.

There are, in fact, three types of combat the player can engage in – one with leaders, one with Raiders, and one with Monstrosities. Each type of combat is different. For leaders, the player(s) attacking one need to reduce their health down to zero, or there’s going to be bad things happening to their characters (what happens depends on the leader they’re attacking). Essentially, you have one shot at combat with a leader to destroy him – so you’d better hope you bring some big guns.

With Monstrosities, you draw a Monstrosity card and follow the instructions to conduct combat against it. If you win, you get a reward. Simple enough, but the unknown factor makes it difficult to fathom what you’re getting your character into when battling a Monstrosity. At least with a leader, you see their health and their capabilities; you don’t know what a Monstrosity can do until you actually start a combat with them.

Raiders are much simpler – a combat action involves the player rolling one die for each Raider in the same area as them, removing one for each successful roll. The Raiders do not fight back.

Interestingly, neither Raiders nor Monstrosities actually move on the map, only leaders (and characters) do. Raiders accumulate at the end of each player’s turn, as mentioned, through card draws. You might think that means the Raiders are not a threat, and while that might be true in an early Scenario 2 game (the basic game), it’s not at all true as the game progresses. If you place three Raiders in an area, any additional Raider placements in that area cause an Overrun, which means placing a Raider in each area bordering it. It also means the placement of a Oil & Fuel Depot in that Overrun area. Also, if the Techies (the red Raider pieces) get an Overrun, their leader (Krank) gets a Tech card, which makes him more powerful.

All of this makes Overruns bad news, though it could be worse – you can’t spawn additional Overruns thanks to one. Still, the placement of an Oil & Fuel Depot is but one of the ways you can lose the game – if all 12 are placed on the board, you lose. This is but one of four ways you can lose the game, though.

Leaders can move, which is dangerous. They move via the drawn Raider cards, which sometimes instructs you to move a particular leader towards The Last Stand. They move along a pre-determined track (printed on the board), in much the same way as the State of Siege system games by VPG do things (such as in Ottoman Sunset and Hapsburg Eclipse). If a Leader moves into The Last Stand, this is another way to say buh-bye to your game.

While Bama has a car, that doesn’t make him any faster than the other leaders – I hope, anyway.

If a Raider card calls for you to place a Raider that you happen to have none for, welp…you guessed it, end of game.

As you ‘kill’ Raiders, though, and remove them from the board through combat, they return to their pool, so you can ‘restock’ it as needed. This can be greatly helped through Artifacts, which you can get from different in-game occurrences. My favorite in my first game by far was the Bazooka, which would remove all Raiders from an adjacent Area, just like that – but you’d have to roll afterwards, and on a 1 or 2, you’d have to discard the weapon. Guess how long my favorite weapon lasted in that first game? If you said “once,” you’d be right. These dice are bad news.

The perps.

Raiders and Monstrosities can only hurt you if you end your turn in an area with them. Then, you gain one Wound for each Raider present. Simple, right? What’s even simpler is going back to The Last Stand and spending an Action to heal. You need to be careful with your movements and plan accordingly, making use of your Defender cards which can grant you movement bonuses. So too can Artifact cards at times.

So many cards, so many things to gather, so many choices!

The number of cards in the game might look daunting, but it’s all pretty easy to wrap your mind around once you’ve played it a few times. I found my first playthrough to be poor, but I wasn’t following all of the rules, either. As I played it more, I was able to figure out how to make the cards work better for me. I just wish there was a way to ‘purchase’ them, say from a weapon shop or something. That might add more complexity by putting currency into the game, but I’d say Karma tokens would be a great way to spend them for this – one or two for a Common Artifact, two or three for a Unique, and so on. That might make a cool house rule to help bring these cards into the game more often, if you find they’re not making as much of an appearance as you’d like.

The Defender cards (left) and Raider cards (right).

The Defender cards are, by far, your best friend in the game. You draw some at the end of your turn, depending on what Stage of the game you’re in (the game advances through Stages as things happen in game, such as slaying a leader). These often have one of the four colors associated with each faction/leader, and a number of dice printed on them (one or two, at least that I’ve seen thus far). You can only attack a leader if you have cards in your hand that match that leader, using the number of dice stipulated in those cards.

The leader cards show their strengths on the front, including the target die rolls you’d need to hit them and their Raiders/Monstrosities. On the back are rather interesting back stories for each leader, as well as the reward that the slayer of this leader gets. Usually that ‘slayer of’ title means being able to run roughshod over their minions. While it’s limited to just their minions, it makes you pretty much an avenging angel of death for that faction.

If you think that sounds too overpowered, you haven’t played the game yet.

Adventure time!

The Adventure cards are particularly fun to play; it’s too bad they have a tendency of showing up as far away from the characters as they possibly can. Be that as it may, they add a lot of depth to the game, and remind me very much of similar systems in games such as Fortune and Glory, and that’s okay because I like that kind of thing. You have scales of success and failure, depending on how many successes you roll on an Adventure. Sometimes, though, said Adventure can be a bad thing…such as when it calls for you to turn in a particular card to get dice to roll in a test, but if you don’t have any cards for that, you’re hosed but good!

The game balances tongue-in-cheek humor very well with serious death dealing, almost as if it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. Well, flying monsters such as Puke (one of the leaders) aside, you’re already suspending disbelief, so what does it matter? The game, as any game, is supposed to be fun, and finding a portrait of Elvis or a smelly trucker hat and seeing it give you added abilities is just great fun.

 

Conclusion

Defenders of the Last Stand is just a purely awesome good time. It’s my understanding that there’s a similar game that can be considered its forefather, called Defenders of the Realm, which came out in 2010 from Eagle-Gryphon Games (the follow-on company to our old friend Glenn Drover’s company, Eagle Games, yet another producer of ‘cool bits’ games), and I can’t speak to that as I’ve never, unfortunately, played that one. This one, though, has so much going on, so many choices you can make, so many things to do, so many enemies to fight, that it might seem totally overwhelming. The card-draw play and die rolls might make this quite the exercise in randomness, but the system I think does it very fairly – you put characters into situations that they are best suited to take on, and when you cannot do that, you know you’re in for a rough time. I love the post-apocalypse theme, the artwork, the system, and the game overall, and if you’re at all a fan of the same, I highly suggest you pick this one up.

Look for a full playthrough article to come through in the near future.


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