12 Realms Review

12 Realms Board game review
The forces of darkness are invading the realms of fables and fairy tales and it’s your job to keep those invaders back and vanquish the Dark Lord behind the attack. In 12 Realms you, and up to five friends, take the roles of fairy tale favourites such as Snow White, D’Artagnan, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Robin Hood and attempt to repel the incoming invaders and defeat the Dark Lord. To save the day all the heroes have to do is collect the three pieces of the magical artefact and then vanquish the Dark Lord before time runs out and the realm is overwhelmed.

12 Realms is played out over a number of beautiful colourful boards each one representing a mythical land from fairy tales or literature. Even though the game is called 12 Realms you’ll only be playing with up to four; the enchanted forest, the land of Swan Lake, a pirates’ island and an oriental inspired blossom filled land. Each player gets custodian of their own land, unless you’re playing with more than four, and turn by turn the land will be invaded by a menagerie of horrible monsters of fable. Keeping control of these invaders is key, as each realm has its own invasion track that rises depending on the number of invaders in the realm. Players must defeat the Dark Lord before this track gets too high or its game over, and if only one realm fails all realms fail.
A three realm game of 12 Realms in action
A three realm game of 12 Realms in action
Each character has a different set of talents and they’ll exhaust these talents to move, remove enemies, pick up treasure or go shopping in the town. It’s a system that runs very smoothly; to take actions merely discard one of the talent tokens off your character sheet. Each invader requires different talents to be removed from the game, some can be bought out by gold, some outmanoeuvred, some tricked or others simply shown the pointed end of a sword. Some larger invaders require multiple talents to be dispatched but the system is the same. Gathering treasure or the pieces of the artefact required to destroy the Dark Lord also required the use of a player’s talents and this is where the game shows its biggest problem.

12 Realms board game review Robin Hood
Robin Hood was a cat, who knew?
There’s a good chance that your character will not have the necessary talents relative to their realm. They won’t be able to pick up the treasures or defeat their invaders, and if you can’t pick up treasure you can’t buy the equipment you need to give you those missing talents. It’s a horrible endless cycle that can leave a player doing nothing but crowd control in their realm hoping that either they can defeat an invader that gives them gold or get a brief respite to pop into another realm and hoover up the treasure there. With a large enough variety of players it all balances out as players can swap between realms to find where their talents work out best but with too few, and especially in a single player game, the choice of character completely defines the difficulty of the game and can actually make the game impossible.

12 Realms Dark Tower
The Dark Tower protects the invaders until it is destroyed, quick send in the wrecking crew.
12 Realms was a Kickstarter success and it shows; there are a lot of extra components in the box. Some of improve the aesthetics and feel of the game; nice miniatures for the main characters and gold coins both add a bit of extra sparkle. There’s also a whole bunch of optional add–ons; dark towers that can protect invaders, extra shops for additional buying options and realm wide effects. These can be pick and mixed to vary the difficulty and there’s a handy chart with suggested combinations. Some of these do feel a little too much like random add-ons and some don’t fit into the game as smoothly as others.

12 Realms equipment cards
Keep your Rosetta stone close to hand.
12 Realms problems aren’t in the game itself though; it’s a nice light co-op. It also has a great advantage going for it in that each players has their own realm to look after but each player needs to succeed, one failure means a failure for all. It means that the opportunity for the director, that player who turns up in every cooperative game and tells everyone what to do, can be told to bugger off and keep to his own realm. The best games still end up with people working as a team as players who are ahead of the curve can jump realms, sometimes on a flying pig, and lend a hand to keep things ahead of the Dark Lords.

Unfortunately there’s something about 12 Realms that feels a little under done. Both the rulebook and iconography could have done with a little more work as both are awkward to understand at first. This is best shown in the town upgrade cards. Trying to decipher the card’s ability from the imagery alone is almost impossible and you need to have the latest FAQ at hand. Some of the cards representing the invaders helpfully show which talents are needed to vanquish them but sometimes these cards disagree with the talents shown on the invaders token. The biggest of these issues though is the talents needed to pick up treasure. If you can’t claim treasure then you can’t buy extra abilities to aid you in your quest but all the treasures for the realm show the same talent. The rules state that when treasures are placed they should be done so randomly so why is this done if every treasure is the same. You can’t help but feel that every treasure is supposed to be different.

12 Realms miniatures
The full compliment of 12 Realms heroes.
The great thing about board games is they don’t stand still, broken rules can be fixed and tokens re-skinned. And all those things that are not working in 12 Realms can be fixed with an updated rule book and some minor changes. None of this takes away from the beautiful board, the finely detailed miniatures and the feeling of camaraderie as you take down a Dark Lord together. These troublesome rules don’t ruin a light cooperative action game but the emphasis here is on the word light. If you consider yourself a hard-core gamer than 12 Realms is not for you, it just doesn’t make you feel involved enough and at many points in the game your decision of what to do during your turn is obvious. The fact that market decks are random also means that hunting for the talent you need to complete your realm may just involve sitting on a shop and hoping for the best. 12 Realms is a game more suited to the lighter gamer, and more so then if the theme appeals. Trying to sell the concept of the Sugar Plum Fairy fighting a Pirate King can be a hard sell to some people.

In the end 12 Realms isn’t a bad game but at the same time it’s not a great game, if you’re into lighter cooperative games and the theme of fairies, Swan Lake and pirates appeals to you then give 12 Realms a look.

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