Full disclosure: A review copy of Fantasy Defense was provided by Nice Game Publishing.
I actually don’t play that many tower defense games, weirdly enough, or solo games. The last game I really solo’ed to any degree was Unbroken, which was a while ago. I guess Jabberwocky had a solo game in it, sure, but the most I’ll solo is playing a few open-information games against myself to get a feel for how the game is played with and against different strategies. It’s weird but it gets the job done and I often feel more comfortable reviewing a game after that. That said, I do occasionally take on some solo games, and so to that end let’s check out Fantasy Defense, a 1- or 2-player game from Nice Game Publishing, who also brought us Terrible Monster, reviewed just a couple weeks ago.
In Fantasy Defense, the orcs are coming! They’re gonna just … ruin your city, and you’d prefer to put a stop to that. Rather than ask them what they want, you’re going to jump to conclusions and take them on with either humans or elves to do them up a ridiculous violence. Be careful, though, as going it alone is … ridiculously difficult. May be best to bring a friend along for the ride. Will you be able to save your city? Or will everything change when the orc nation attacks?
So, first thing’s first: if you’re playing solo, remove everything with a 2P on it from the game and set it aside; I’ll cover 2P setup at the end.
This means you’ll set out 7 Gates in front of you:
You’ll also make an Invader Deck. That’s a Boss card on the bottom:
Elites (red backs) on top of it:
Another boss card, and then the standard enemies (blue backs):
Now, you’ll want to choose between the Elves or the Humans:
Each will come with two sets of Starting Spells and a Starting Character for each one, which you can see in the center of the photo.
And a player aid, so, use that. Shuffle the rest of the cards for your chosen set and draw four.
Set out the Morale Board and set your Morale at 20 (you might just want to go for 25 if you’re playing solo):
Either way, you should be all good to start!
For two players, you’ll use all the cards with 2P (remove the 1P boss cards) and set up as normally, but you’ll put six gates in front of each player, opposite each other. Then you’re ready to start!
Alright, so, the game here is that Invaders are going to come knocking on your door and you’ve gotta put a stop to them the only way you know how: fightin’. If you can do that, you’ll defend the city. If not, well, it won’t matter too much, because you’ll be dead. So there’s that.
The game is played over multiple rounds, ending if you defeat every Invader or if the City’s Morale falls below 1. Here’s how it progresses:
During this phase, draw new Invaders. In a solo game, draw three and assign them to the leftmost open Gate or rightmost open Gate, depending on the arrow on their card. In a two-player game, alternate assigning three to one player and two to the other. If all gates are full, do not draw any more cards. There’s a certain enemy called an Infiltrator — it has an X symbol on it. When it’s drawn, you must discard a unit from your hand. If it’s a Boss and you’re playing two-players, both players must discard a card.
In a two-player game, a Boss will occupy both players’ gates.
During this phase, deploy any number of defenders to gates around the city. Some defenders have effects when they’re deployed, others have ongoing effects, and some have no effects at all! They all have Combat Values, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re matching them up against Invaders they can defeat. You can also use your two Spell Cards, but only once per game, unless otherwise stated. They just get flipped over on use. Bosses are not affected by Defender abilities or spells, by the way. Also, the 2P bosses have two combat values on them. The first boss takes the lower value, the second one takes the higher value.
In a two-player game, you may also give your co-player a card from your hand at any point during this phase, but only one. You can use Spells on either player’s Gate, but you can only deploy defenders to your gate.
Now the Invaders attack! At each Gate with an Invader, match their Combat Value against the sum of your defenders’ Combat Values (and the Gate Defense Bonus, pictured on the gate itself). Here’s how it breaks down:
- Invaders <= Defenders: Defenders win! Discard the Invader.
- Invaders > Defenders: The Invaders win! Decrease the City’s Morale by half the value of the Invader’s Pillage Value (the number on the bottom-center of their card).
- No Defenders Present: Ouch. Decrease the City’s Morale by the Invader’s Pillage Value.
Regardless of the outcome, for every Gate where a battle occurred, discard one of the defenders at that gate. If there are no defenders there, well, you can’t discard any, so don’t.
If you’re fighting a boss, you team up with your co-player and must achieve a total combat value that’s stronger than the boss. This means that undefeated Bosses will also pillage twice, so be careful.
Draw 5 cards. If you can’t, well, you don’t get to draw any more. Good luck! Start the next round.
End of Game
If the Invaders are all defeated, you win! If the City drops below 1 Morale, you lose! That’s about all.
Player Count Differences
So there’s some structural differences to the game played at two (and if you don’t like those you can just team up to play the solo game), but also, my general finding is that a two-player game is significantly easier than the solo game. At least, a two-player game appears to be winnable, whereas we’ve been struggling with the 1P game. If you’re up for an intense challenge, try it solo, but I think I’ll probably stick with the two-player game, myself.
- Combos! Certain combos are just better for your overall success in the game. For instance, Humans have a card that increases in combat power for every card of that type on a Gate. That means with five of them, their combat value total is 25! That can kill most things. Elves are no stranger to this either — they have a few cards that can instantly kill monsters, and ways to put cards back into your hand so that they can be played again. Doing that is a quick way to clear the board and still have time to take out some other Invaders. The Elves actually have a 12CV card that must be discarded every time, but also a card that lets you bring discarded cards back into play. Hm, it certainly seems like one could formulate a combo from those cards, if one tried.
- Don’t let both bosses get out onto the board. They’re hard to beat, and if you let one get out there you have to split your focus between both rather than being able to start moving towards one end, which is super problematic. You want to be mostly done with those bosses pretty quickly.
- Each boss only hits one side of the board. Once you know which side one of them is going to end up on, you know exactly where the other one is going. Use that to plan accordingly so, well, you don’t end up pushing all your people to the wrong side.
- Don’t forget about your Spells. They’re really good! Just kind of situational, so don’t hold on to them for a rainy day and then end up dying without using them. That’s less good.
- Don’t let your best defenders get knocked out. It may be worth taking some Morale damage to prevent the strongest of your heroes from being eliminated before they can help you with the bosses. That’s not always possible, but you should at least try. You could also opt to send out your weaker heroes along with strong ones, but make sure you don’t churn through your weaker heroes too quickly; a lot of them have pretty solid powers.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art’s pretty great. I don’t love generic fantasy art as a rule, but it’s very well-done and colorful.
- Plays super quickly. Usually it’s because you lost, but, hey, whatever. At least it’s pretty fast.
- Not too tough to learn, either. It’s honestly kinda just worth playing a quick game to like, figure out the rules and lose, but, it’s not too tough to wrap your head around the core game either way.
- Portable, too. You can fit it all in a Quiver or a small bag, which is my ongoing definition of portability.
- The two decks have very different strategies. That’s a nice bit of replay value, rather than just having another deck with the same stuff for the cooperative mode, so, appreciated.
- The cooperative mode is very nice. Both players are playing simultaneously and have the opportunity to consult each other, so there’s not much in the way of downtime, and you can keep hands private if you want to avoid one player telling the other what to do. Honestly, it’s my preferred way to play the game, and not just because it’s easier. Though that’s a major component of why I prefer it, so, well, that’s also true.
- The rulebook has a few misses. There’s nothing explaining how the 2P boss works, which is a bit frustrating. Again, though, if it’s the first time you’ve seen it, it’s the lower value; second boss gets the higher value.
- An insert would have been nice. Everything kind of rattles around in the box, which is fine, but an insert would have been a solid way to store everything without things getting messed up.
- Name’s a bit generic. It’s hard to search for without getting a bunch of fantasy football bits, which is probably unfortunate from an SEO perspective.
- Hoo whee the solo mode is hard. I like to think I’m okay at games and I keep getting absolutely bodied in the solo game. I’m really hoping the expansion will help a bit with managing that, but, I’m getting absolutely mangled. I haven’t played a solo game that’s been quite this hard before; usually in others I feel like I’m at least doing okay. It can be somewhat dissatisfying to lose every time in solo, though, so it might have been nice to have a wider range of difficulty levels to be more accessible to new players. Even scaling to 25 Morale frequently isn’t enough to save me. EDITOR’S NOTE: I actually won, haha. Still brutal, though.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Fantasy Defense is pretty solid! I think what’d I’d like to see in an update / additional expansion would be some ways to moderate the difficulty of the solo mode, as it’s a bit too hard for me as it currently stands, but it’s short enough that I don’t mind too much. Plus, I’ll get it eventually. It’s got a nice presentation, solid art, and it’s a definitely fun tower defense game. I particularly like the collaborative elements of the two-player game, and I think that’s about where I’d like the difficulty level to be targeted for the solo mode. It’s not bad that it’s too hard for me, currently, but it will eventually hit a point where I feel less inclined to play because I keep getting crushed. Until then, I hear rumors of a campaign mode in the expansion, so I’m going to check that one out and report back on it next week. Until then, if you’re looking for a heck of a solo challenge or you like the idea of a nice two-player cooperative tower defense game, I’d recommend taking Fantasy Defense for a spin! It’s solid.