Defenders Of The Last Stand – Post Apocalyptic Board Games Just Got Pwned

pic3075584_mdLet’s just cut to the chase: If you have even a passing interest in co-op or post-apocalyptic games, stop reading, go to the 8th Summit webstore, and buy this bad ass game. Like, now, unless you despised Defenders of the Realm’s (Realm) mechanics, which is a very valid reason not to buy this. Defenders of the Last Stand (Last Stand) is like a son who took over the father’s roadside gift stand and turned it into Target. I cannot express clearly enough how much I feel that this is a fantastic game that has crushed all other post-apocalyptic board games beneath it’s hole-laden, ancient Air Jordans.

I am a post-apocalyptic connoisseur or addict, if you prefer, and thus I am absolutely biased to want to like this game, simply based on the setting of a desolate, dangerous wasteland and the  theme of desperation and survival-at-all-costs. So, take my gushing review of this (see below) with that in mind. That said, if the new mechanics, sly humor, and subtle homages had been put into Realm, it would’ve been even better than it already was. Here comes the interesting bit, though: All of the players who played this found it to be fantastic, including my wife who isn’t a big fan of post-apocalyptic anything, didn’t care for Mad Max that much, and who has never even heard of A Boy and his Dog.

DefLas1Unlike so many games these days, the setting and theme are integral within the game itself. While it could be argued that Last Stand is simply a re-skin of Realm with some chrome bolted on, the person who would be arguing is probably pretty lazy and hasn’t really played it much, if at all. It’s not a re-skinning , it’s a complete overhaul and re-envisioning of the system, complete with actual adventure, which Realm was lacking in many ways. It’s not just mechanical, either, it’s the total integration between the setting, aesthetic, mechanical, and theme. Nothing is out of place, and it may end up being viewed as Mr. Launius’ magnum opus, potentially even eclipsing Arkham Horror in its grasp of the setting and ability to deliver a narrative experience that envelopes the player in its world. It doesn’t need flavor text to realize the setting…it just does it intrinsically.

The main concept of the game is that you’ve got four hordes of raider tribes bearing down on the last bastion of civilization, and players are tasked with sabotaging and defeating the tribes’ leaders, adventuring through the wastes to find ancient artifacts which will aid their cause, and destroying raiders and their resource caches to cripple their ability to wage war. Each character’s life and actions are tied together, so the more hurt they become, the less actions they get per turn. There’s tons of card playing and dice chucking, so this game falls squarely on the side of Ameritrash where its spiritual predecessor was much more of a hybrid game. The game has a large variety of characters, each with their own special powers as well as stat lines, and each has a particular role that it fills well, with no real “jack of all trades” among them. Because I bought it right from 8th Summit, I got the extras, so I even got some cool extra characters!

I’m sure you want to know about the big differences between Last Stand and Realm, and I’m here to tell you that the biggest difference is intangible; where Realm’s fantasy setting is generic, Last Stand’s setting is well-developed, immersive, and an integral part of the experience. Where Realm was one of the first, true hybrid games that blend Euro-style mechanics and Ameritrash-style randomness, Last Stand dispenses with virtually all of the Euro and focuses almost solely on the adventure, fighting, and integration of the setting into the gameplay.

The game isn’t easy, either; it can be brutally hard or moderately hard, depending on how things shake out, and it can be played solo or with a large group. If I have any complaint, it’s the same complaint that I’d be giving  most other games: once you’ve played it four times, you’ve probably seen most of the adventure cards and items in the game. The design mitigates this a bit by using a moving token mechanic that has adventures that match specific spaces, so until you’ve done an adventure at each available adventure space, you won’t see them all. In our experience, though, you pretty much end up seeing the same five or six spaces’ cards, so maybe it was a great idea that wasn’t executed well, or just bad luck. Also, “THE Last Stand”seems stupid, as a name. On the board,  the name of the central city is “Last Stand”, not “The Last Stand”. What the hell is that about?

Deflas3Michael Barnes has said that he found the game to be middling at best, and quite ugly, and I can certainly see someone saying so, although I disagree vehemently on all of his claims but  one: the miniatures are absolutely  awful. I saw the Kickstarter samples and these look exactly like them, except that they look like they were dunked into solvent and allowed to be consumed in it for a good spell. They’re just muddy and have very little detail. Also, the motorcycle miniatures are massive, and while basically in line, scale-wise, with the other models they take up a huge amount of space on the board and look weird. That said, I love everything else about the aesthetic. The fonts, the board art, the card art, everything. They even have a player aid that really works well.

Basically, I’ve become a super-fan of the game since I purchased it, and it’s become a staple at our house. I’ll always say “YES!” when given the opportunity to play, and the only limiting factor in this getting to the table a lot more than it has is that the length can be a bit too much for weekdays. Four player sessions usually take about two hours, or a hair more, when we’ve won, so planning to play this is much more  of an event than a pickup game. I can’t recommend this enough. I can’t wait for an expansion or something, because unlike Defenders of the Realm, where I wasn’t  terribly compelled to buy a bunch of expansions, despite really enjoying the hell out of that game, this is just a league above, and I’ll be spending mucho dinero on expansions if I’m given the opportunity to do so.

Why I’d Defend Last Stand To The End:
– The integral setting and theme makes this a cohesive adventure game
– There’s a lot going on, but the game manages it very well
– The adventure “feels” like adventure games should
– It’s got a very “open world” vibe, and your options are always legion
– We all loved the art and writing throughout

Why I’m More Inclined To Side With The Raiders:
– Is the name on the box a misprint?
– The rulebook is missing some key rules…like big ones
– The miniatures are muddy as fuck, which is a production problem

Overall:
We just love this game. I mean, there’s hooting and hollering, dice rolling, and the kind of excitement that many board games promise but fail to deliver. Surprisingly, there is some “brain burning” as players are faced with very tough choices, but at the end of the day, they don’t feel scripted, and we never felt really pigeonholed into doing something because the game wants you to. It’s very open, and it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year, perhaps ever.

Rating:
4.75/5 Stars

You can learn more about Defenders of Last Stand here: https://8thsummit.net/product/defenders-of-the-last-stand-with-kickstarter-extras/

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