A great adventure is about to begin. Our three heroes are ready for their last battle. Robin Hood with his bow on his back, the Nutcracker with his sabre ready to strike, and Red Riding Hood with her crossbow in her hand. They are going to fight a battle to save the world from the Dark Lords and their minions. Can they unite their forces to save a world that was once happy and carefree? Can you help them?
What do you get for your money?
You get 4 Realm boards, about 200 Invader, treasure, artefact and Dark Lords tokens, 40 plastic gold coins, 76 Realm cards, 41 Town cards, 12 Event cards, 8 Hero player-boards , 4 wooden Invasion markers , 8 Hero miniatures, 4 Fortress miniatures, 1 Area die, 1 Talent die, the rules and a reference sheet.
How do you play the game?
12 Realms is a cooperative game for 1 to 6 players set in several fairytale-like worlds. Every player picks a different fairytale character with special powers and you fight the bad guys until the big bosses arrives in the realms and you have to beat these Dark Lords to win the game.
Let’s start with the characters. You got Snow White, Red Riding Hood, D’Artagnan and five others. Everyone has its own miniature and a two-sided player board. On one side you’ll find its talents and on the other, advanced, side you’ll also find its talents, but now with an added special power. These talents are Combat, Magic, Craft, Charm, Swiftness and Gold. You will use these talents, or exploit them as it’s been called in this game, to perform all kinds of actions throughout the game.
A lot of items or enemies, if not all, have a vulnerability. This basically tells you the type and amount of talent you’ll have to exploit to defeat or claim an enemy or item.
The game start with the players choosing which realm to include in the game. The basic game tells you to add one realm per player. A realm is divided into a Town region and six other regions. At the bottom of every realm board you’ll find an invasion track. This track shows you how far along the game is and when the Dark Lord arrives. Whenever the invasion marker passes over the last space, the game ends and you are all defeated. However, every realm has its own track, so one realm could be a safe haven, while the other realms can become crowded with enemies.
Every realm has its own set of treasures, artefacts and a deck of invader cards with corresponding tokens.
Most importantly, every realm has its own two Dark Lords and you have to choose one of them and place it somewhere where anyone can see. Then you shuffle together all the invader cards of the realms you’ve chosen, place some treasure and artefact tokens on every board and put one player miniature in the town of every realm. The game can begin.
A round consists of three phases. The invasion phase, the perform action phase and the refresh phase. During the invasion phase you first move the invasion marker forward one spot per invader in that realm. When the marker reaches the sixteenth spot, the Dark Lord enters the Realm. When the markers passes the last spot, the game ends in defeat.
After you’ve updated the track, you resolve invader powers when there are any. Then you draw two invader cards per realm plus one extra. Every card shows an invader, treasure or artefact belonging to one of the realms. You then place their tokens onto the realm board it belongs to in an area randomly chosen by the roll of the area die.
In the next phase each player, in player order, performs as much actions as long he or she has enough talent tokens to pay for these actions. You can move from one area to another by exploiting swiftness tokens, you can confront invaders by exploiting the tokens shown on the invader token, you can claim a treasure or you can claim an artefact. Every realm has three artefact and you need all three to eventually confront the Dark Lord. You can can also trade tokens with any player in the same area and lastly, you can visit the town, exploit a swiftness token, and draw two town cards and pick one of them if you can pay the gold it requires. Town cards give you extra stuff. Sometimes gold, sometimes new talents, sometimes other cool powers.
I said lastly, but in fact you can also choose to end your turn in a town to travel from one realm to another.
Once everyone is done, you refresh all of your exploited talent tokens and a new round begins.
Whenever you defeat a Dark Lord, that realm is ‘closed’ and no invader from that realm will come into play. When you’ve defeated every Dark Lord you win the game and when one invasion marker moves past number 20 before that happens, you will all lose.
12 Realms is a pretty simple, very straightforward, family style, cooperative game. There’s no doubt about that. Although the rules could have been written a lot better, once you know how, it’s very easy to play.
Easy to learn, easy to teach, but also easy in terms of its difficulty level. The game is sometimes too easy. And that’s a problem. Because the game length depends on whether you are able to defeat and clear your realm of the invaders. No invaders, means no progress on your invasion track, which means it takes longer for the Dark Lord to arrive in your realm, which means it can take a while to win the game. You sometimes have to decide not to attack your enemies just to keep the invasion marker moving and it’s not there’s a whole lot of stuff to do besides attacking invaders. The game, in its most basic mode, therefore sometimes outstays its welcome.
Luckily, the game comes with some nice variants to make it more difficult to beat and more challenging. These variants don’t make the game more difficult to teach. So I think they don’t make it less of a family game and I definitely recommend adding them to the game once you’ve played it once or twice to familiarise yourself with the mechanisms.
The Black Fortress is one I think is mandatory to add in every game. It appears in ’round seven’ and is a safe haven for the invaders and you’ll have to destroy the fortress before you can attack the invaders in that area. This keeps the game going.
You can add a Dark Player to control the Invaders and give her the option to pick Events from the Event deck every turn.
You can also choose to add more Realms to the game or add other, mostly promo, variants to make the game more difficult or, if you want, easier or more balanced, like when you add the buildings and trade cards.
That’s one of the things I like about this game. You can add or leave out certain elements to change the game and make it a bit more diverse. You can adjust it to the mood you are in.
OK, now let’s talk about the mechanism itself. The different talents every character has are interesting, but every character does feel quit the same when you use the basic side of the character board. Yes, they all have different talents, but that doesn’t mean they feel different once you exploit these talents and move the tokens from one side of your board to the other. Therefore I prefer the other side of the board, where every character has a special action, which is much more interesting.
One other thing I have to say is that the game sometimes feels unbalanced. That’s mainly because of the way the invaders are added to the game. Firstly, you randomly draw a couple of invader cards and then you randomly assign these invaders to an area by rolling a die. This means that because of the card drawing some realms can quickly be overrun by invaders while other realms are kept out of shot. Which means that some players have very few things to do in their turn. Yes, they can go to another realm, but they have to end their turn early to do so, plus the invaders from their realm will come out eventually, so it’s a big risk. This all means that some games will feel too easy, while others might feel impossible to win and you can’t, sometimes, do anything about it.
You also have to be aware that the more you increase the difficulty level, the more you have to think about the characters you choose. When you play the easy game, you’ll have time enough to level up, but when you play a more difficult game, you have to stand your ground right from the get go.
Flavour and Theme
You could say it’s a motley crew of characters and worlds. They don’t really fit together. However, I do think it works and it gives the game an unique fairytale flavour.
Do I think it’s incredibly thematic. No, not really, it’s quite a mechanical game, the exploiting of the different talents, although can be explained in a thematic way, doesn’t feel thematic at all.
The game looks stunning. Really gorgeous. The miniatures are cool and become even more beautiful if you find the time to paint them. The different illustration on the cards are great and the realms look different and all are very colourful.
If you want to, you can even buy miniatures for every dark lord and the different buildings in the game. They don’t functionally add anything to the game, but will make the game even more eye catching than it already is.
Quality of the components
I have no complaints about the components. Maybe for the ‘miniature people’ among us the miniatures of this game are far from perfect, but for me they are fine.
It’s a family game and for me the basic game is a bit to easy and boring even. However, if you add more realms or the variants I described above, the game becomes much more interesting and challenging, which makes it much more fun. It never becomes too difficult though, so it remains to have that nice family vibe.
The random distribution of invaders sometimes bugs me, but overall you probably have just as much incredibly easy games as hard games.
The fact that you can add all this little expansions, variants and different characters also adds to the fun of the game.
I think it plays good with every player count. In theory. Because I think a game with more than four players takes a bit too long for what it is.
So, in the end 12 Realms is a nice and good-looking family game, which you can customize to your desire. This makes every games slightly different and adds to the replay value of the game. It does, however, never become a gamer game. Which isn’t a bad thing, but for me it needs a bit more in order to keep it interesting.
It needs something more. And you can get more. There are several expansions, like Ancestors Legacy and Bedtime Story, which will be on Kickstarter at the end of May, but I’ll talk about that later.