The Empire of Arcadium is under threat—armies of Drakka approach through the Terminus Valley. The humans, elves, and dwarves have been recruited by the emperor to defend Arcadium, building towers that will fire upon the Drakka and petitioning the emperor for favors that may help turn the tide of war.
What Is Terminus Breach TD?
Terminus Breach TD is a semi-cooperative tower defense board game for 1 to 3 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 1 to 3 hours to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $69 for a copy of the game (or $99 for the deluxe edition). The gameplay isn’t too difficult, so younger players who have the patience for a longer game (with a heavy amount of arithmetic) would do fine.
Terminus Breach TD Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Game board
- 9 Character sheets (3 Human, 3 Elf, and 3 Dwarf)
- 30 Tower cards (10 per faction)
- 30 Terrain cards
- 10 Build Spot cards
- 175 Drakka cards
- 27 Level Up cards (3 per character)
- 16 Tower Cover cards
- Progress sheet
- 45 Imperial Favor cards
- 6 Imperial Sanction cards
- 15 Petition tokens
- 12 War Chest tokens
- 12 Spy Network tokens
- 65 Damage tokens (in varying values)
- 3 Progress Tracker tokens
- 100 Gold Piece tokens (in varying denominations)
- 24 Blessings
- 50 VP tokens (in varying values)
- 6-sided die
The deluxe version, which has a $99 pledge, will have tiles instead of cards for the towers, wooden tokens for the petitions, spy networks, war chests, and markers, and a metal die, along with a box sleeve.
As you can see, there’s a lot in the box, and the components photo above only shows a portion of the game board, which is a large six-fold board that takes up a significant amount of space on the table. The square cards, used for the towers, terrain, and build sites, are coaster-sized, and the Drakka (monster) cards are half of that, so that two monsters can fit into each board space. The terrain cards and build spot cards allow you to customize the board layout; the rulebook has three difficulty settings, but you could easily create your own layouts as well.
Not all of the artwork was complete for the prototype, so there’s a sampling of the Drakka, towers, and character illustrations. It gives you a sense of the style, which has a bold, graphic quality. I like the Drakka and the towers, though I found the characters to be a little overly cartoony. I’m definitely interested in seeing the rest of the towers, though—the prototype I had only had illustrations for the air/ground towers for each faction.
How to Play Terminus Breach TD
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to earn the most Victory Points over the course of 5 battles. The game is semi-cooperative, in that players must survive the waves of enemies, but they also have individual scores.
Set the board in the center of the table, and arrange the terrain and build spot cards according to one of the maps shown in the rulebook (which includes normal, heroic, and legendary). Set the battle cards, imperial favors, imperial sanctions, tower cover cards, and tokens within reach. Place the tracker board nearby, set at Wave 1, Battle 1, and Panic Level 0.
Each player chooses a faction (human, elf, dwarf) and a character. Each faction has a military leader, a political leader, and a spiritual leader, which give them different goals to level up. Military leaders are focused on killing Drakka, political leaders are focused on imperial favors, and spiritual leaders are a mix of the two. Each faction also has its own particular strengths: humans can fire more shots, elves have longer range shots, and dwarves do more damage per shot. After choosing your faction and character, take the character sheet and level up cards for that character, along with all of the towers for that faction. The starting war allowance is 450 gold, divided evenly among the players.
Choose a start player. Then, each player builds a tower going in turn order, and then each player builds a second tower going in reverse order—all towers must be built on available build spots. Each tower card has two levels on the front, and two levels on the back, with a gold cost shown in the top right corner. You must start with the lowest level, and upgrading to the next level costs the gold amount shown. In the setup phase, you may upgrade your towers as much as you can afford, but you may only build two towers per player.
The game is ready to begin!
The game takes place over 5 battles, with 3 waves of Drakka in each battle. Drakka will advance and players will attack during each wave, and then scoring occurs at the end of each battle.
Each round has the following phases:
- Advance – Drakka on the board move forward.
- Draw – New Drakka are added to the board.
- Defend – Players take turns activating their towers.
- Resolve – Collect bounty or petitions, and trade in petitions.
- Develop – Spend gold to build or upgrade towers.
During the Advance phase, you start from the end of the path (where the Drakka will exit the board) and advance the cards in each space, making your way back toward the beginning of the path. Each space on the path can hold two Drakka, a flying Drakka on top, and a ground Drakka on the bottom. Each Drakka will move forward on the path up to its speed (printed in the arrow on its card), as long as that space is open. If not, it will move as far as it can and then stop. If any Drakka advance off the board, you increase the Panic Level by the Drakka’s threat level.
The starting player rolls the die, and then adds the battle modifier, which ranges from 2 in the first battle to 9 in the final battle. That indicates how many Drakka cards will be drawn from the deck. As each card is drawn, it enters the board and moves as many spaces as it can according to its speed. If it cannot enter the board at all because there are no empty spaces it can reach, it is “trampled” and simply discarded.
In turn order, each player defends by shooting all of their towers. Each tower shows its damage per shot, range, number of shots per turn, and whether it can hit flying creatures or only ground creatures. Range can be counted diagonally or orthogonally. Mark damage on the Drakka cards using the damage tokens. If you meet or exceed the toughness level of a Drakka (shown as a shield on the card), then the Drakka is killed and goes face-up onto your character sheet in the “Dead Drakka” space.
Note that every tower must shoot as much as it is able, though you can choose any eligible targets.
You may also play imperial favor cards. There are five types of cards. Tax Collector and Spy have one-time effects, but also accumulate to gain War Chests and Spy Networks, which will award you gold and victory points at the end of a battle. Combust, Falconry, and Apathy have one-time effects: increase damage, increase range, or slow down enemies. You can gain imperial favors by trading in sets of petitions or by spending 25 gold per battle. (For instance, if you are in Battle 3, you would spend 75 gold per favor.)
After every player has defended, you collect the bounty for the face-up Drakka on your character sheet, adding up the gold points and collecting it from the bank, and then turn those Drakka cards face-down. If you do not collect any bounty, then you gain a petition token instead. You may now trade in petitions for imperial favors if you wish—it costs 2 petitions for 1 favor, 3 for 3, or 5 for 5. You may also trade 5 petitions for 1 imperial sanction. These are even more powerful cards: Carnage lets you destroy all Drakka in 3 connected squares, and you’ll earn the bounty for them. Invocation lets you put your +5 blessing on any tower, which will increase its damage by 5 per shot. Renovate lets you upgrade any tower for free.
Finally, you get to spend that gold you’ve (maybe) been earning! You can build new towers or upgrade existing ones. To upgrade a tower, you must pay the cost printed on the next level. The tower cover half-cards are used to cover half of the tower card, so that the current level is showing. If you upgrade to level 3, you flip the tower card over.
The attack towers must be built on build spots, and holy towers are built on terrain: elves build on forests, dwarves build on mountains, and humans can build on either but must pay an extra 25 gold to clear the terrain first.
Each faction has air/ground towers that can hit flying and ground targets, heavy ground towers that can only shoot at ground targets but do more damage, and a holy tower that adds blessings to nearby towers. As you upgrade attack towers, you may increase damage, range, or number of shots. Upgrading holy towers will increase the number of blessings you can bestow or the distance at which you may bestow them.
End of Wave
At the end of the wave, you advance the wave marker, rotate the starting player clockwise, and then start a new wave.
End of Battle
After 3 waves, the battle ends, so you will advance the battle marker (and reset to wave 1). You also score points.
First, collect all of your dead Drakka from your character sheet—each one is worth 1 point. You also count your total tower levels, which are worth 1 point each. (So if you have a Level 3 tower and a Level 2 tower, that’s 5 points.) Spy networks (gained by accumulating spies) will award points, and War Chests (gained by playing tax collectors) will give you gold. Finally, you may pay 100 gold for additional points, though that is typically done with leftover gold at the end of the game.
Move your dead Drakka to your graveyard pile (off your character sheet)—you may still need these for tracking total number of kills for leveling up, but you won’t score for them any more. Remove the battle deck and replace it with the next battle deck.
Each player has three level up cards—the conditions for leveling up are on the front, and the rewards are on the back. If you achieve the conditions, you may flip the card over at any time, which interrupts the gameplay until you resolve the rewards.
The game ends under two conditions: players survive all 5 battles, or the panic level reaches 10 and forces you all to retreat.
You also score points based on your character level (25 points per level). At the beginning of the game, you are level 0, and you can go as high as level 3.
The player with the most points wins, with ties going to the player with the most gold.
Why You Should Play Terminus Breach TD
I’ve enjoyed playing a lot of digital tower defense games, but I haven’t played too many tower defense tabletop games. The only one that I’ve played myself is The King’s Armory, which I wrote about back in 2013.
There are a host of other games that use the term “tower defense,” but not all of them use the same definition of that phrase. In this case, designer Matt Lloyd was aiming for some particular features:
- a path that enemies take across the board
- towers you build and upgrade that fire at enemies
- awards for killing enemies
- penalties if enemies make it to the end of the path
There are lots of variations in the digital realm, of course, but Lloyd told me he really wanted to go for the classic tower defense feel. The King’s Armory throws in things like a player character that can run around on the board, but Terminus Breach TD sticks with the towers, and it does result in an experience that is pretty close to the digital games.
At the beginning of the game, the enemies are fairly weak and slow, but even then you may not be able to kill them off right away. The flying imp only has 15 hit points and moves 2 spaces per wave—but your towers might be doing 1 or 2 damage apiece, and you wonder how you’re ever going to kill them. But once you manage to make a few kills and earn some gold, you can start upgrading your towers, and they become more and more effective.
Of course, so do the monsters! The flying nightmare has 45 hit points and moves 4 spaces per wave. The fenmaze minotaur has a whopping 66 hit points and races along the path at 7 spaces per wave.
As you progress from battle to battle, stronger Drakka start showing up, but there are still some of the weaker ones as well. That means sometimes you can prevent a faster monster from getting too far if you leave a long chain of slow monsters in front of it, giving you more time to shoot at it. Some of the players I played with felt that maybe we could try a variant where you always move the fastest Drakka first (rather than just starting from the ones closest to the end of the path), because then faster monsters could skip and hop their way to the front—it would definitely make the game more challenging!
I haven’t gotten to play Terminus Breach TD many times, but I have tried both the normal and heroic maps, and I’ve managed to win on both maps while keeping the panic level at 0. We also were playing fairly cooperatively, rather than trying to interfere with each other for points—I imagine if we had been using spy cards to sabotage each other’s towers, more monsters may have gotten past us and raised the panic level. That said, I do think the difficulty level could be increased a little bit just to raise the tension somewhat. There were times during both games where things looked pretty bad, but by the end we felt like we’d built up enough towers that we weren’t too worried.
I have mixed feelings about semi-cooperative games: you need to work together to prevent the city from falling, but then one person wins because they have the most victory points. Marvel Legendary also used this sort of scoring system, where you needed to defeat a Mastermind, but players were still competing for points. It’s an interesting concept, forcing players to choose between being selfish and helping the entire group, but it will feel very different depending on your group of gamers. Players who like to be cooperative may just skip the points and try to beat the game, which will make it easier; cutthroat players may spend too much time sabotaging each other, and then nobody wins. It does fit the theme, though, with the humans, elves, and dwarves all trying to compete for the greatest glory in the eyes of the emperor. (I picture Legolas and Gimli keeping score during the battle.)
The different leaders—military, political, and spiritual—mix up the gameplay, too. The military leader is the one that is most like traditional tower defense: your goal is to kill Drakka, and your rewards for leveling up help you kill even more Drakka. The political leader, on the other hand, feels kind of strange. You want to avoid killing so that you can get petitions, trading them in for favors so that you can build up your war chests and spy networks. You might score some points by using your spy cards to kill Drakka, and you earn money from tax collectors, but upgrading your towers isn’t quite as important for part of the game.
In a 3-player game, I won as the political leader because I just built in the very back of the map and let the military dwarf take out most of the Drakka before they even reached me—but despite the vast numbers of kills the dwarf got, I still outpaced him with my spy network points. Thematically, it was a good fit because I was the human, and the elf and dwarf did all the dirty work while I went and petitioned the emperor and got a lot of favors. But mechanically, it does feel a little funny to be playing a tower defense game but not really focusing on the towers. That said, every player could choose their military leader if they wanted to, and it would be more like a traditional tower defense game for everyone, but there might also be a lot more competition for kills because that would be the best way to earn gold for upgrades.
The game can be a little bit fiddly—moving the Drakka and their damage counters around after every wave—but it’s not terribly so. We got pretty good at figuring out where the Drakka would advance and getting new Drakka placed between waves, and it didn’t feel like things were getting bogged down. Of course, a tabletop game will always be a bit slower than a video game when it comes to upkeep, since that’s all done automatically for you in a video game.
The only other thing on my wishlist is that it could accommodate four players. One of the reasons I didn’t get to play the prototype as much as I’d hoped before launch is that I kept ending up with too many people at game night for it. I think it’ll be great for gamers who play a lot of solo games or couples who play games together, but often if I invite people for games I’ll end up with 4 or 5, and so Terminus Breach TD didn’t fit the bill. Lloyd mentioned plans for an expansion in the future that could add another player, but that will depend on the success of the core game first.
If you’ve got the right number of players, though, the core game is pretty solid. There’s a mix of luck (in the card draws and the die rolls) and strategy in where you place your towers, how you upgrade your towers, and which Drakka you shoot at each turn. It always feels great when you can take out a Drakka with the exact amount of damage needed—you know none of your attack power was wasted.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing Terminus Breach TD—it does a good job bringing the feel of classic tower defense games to the tabletop. I will probably try the legendary map soon to see if I can beat that one as well. I’d also like to experiment with the different characters. So far I’ve mostly seen the “typical” classes in play: military dwarf, political human, and spiritual elf, but you can play against type—I’m curious if that makes the game more challenging. If you like tower defense games and you’d like to see how it feels as a board game, Terminus Breach TD is worth checking out!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Terminus Breach TD Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.