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Lee Howard

19 March 2023

Defend the Rook

Defend the Rook is an interesting mixture of roguelike tactics and board game combat with a dash of tower defense, I’m sure there is a drinking game out there for that many genres in one game! The Sydney, Australia-based husband-and-wife team One Up Plus has developed a couple of games on Steam and mobile, Spellsword Cards: Demontide (2019) and Dungeontop (2020), are both variations on deck-builders. Defend the Rook was developed by One Up Plus and published by Klabater. It was initially released on Steam at the end of 2021 and is now released on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and 5 on 16th March 2023.


In Defend the Rook you have been employed by the queen to defend her lands for a bag of gems. You play the Magister, a mysterious-looking character with his purple cloak, big purple hat, and black mask. For reasons unknown, he can play a board game that controls the fate of a nation saving everyone from evil invaders.

​After the short introduction movie, with some interesting cartoon graphics and the only piece of voiceover work in the whole game, I jumped into my first attempt. I was prompted to play the tutorial, my normal gaming style is to jump in and let the game show me the way, so I accepted.

The tutorial is solid, you start off with just your Rook, and you’re shown how to move the piece around and attack, then the game drops in your three heroes. The Warrior is great at melee and has lots of hit points. The Rogue, who seems to do the most damage and can move around the board the most, and the Sorceress who carries out ranged attacks. The tutorial completes with the tower defense elements and a battle.


The controls are very simple and didn’t take me long to be flying around the screen selecting pieces to move and attack. You have to be careful once you make a move though, as once you make the move you cannot undo it. I did notice while moving the square select cursor I could not move diagonally (left, right, up, and down), this took me a bit of getting used to for the first few battles.

Feeling confident I started my first game; the first step is to lay out your tower defense. There is a barrel that taunts the enemy so they attack it. I don’t understand why a barrel would make someone angry enough to attack, but a man can control people's fate with a game board, so it seemed normal. Freeze traps that damage and stun enemies, and 3 towers for short, medium, and long-range attacks. The Rook and three heroes start at the bottom left of the board with some baddies dotted about the board. There are 3 spells, a healing spell, a healing mushroom spell, and a stun all enemies on the board spell. I managed to work my way through the first wave of 5 battles easily enough, after each wave you are prompted to upgrade a hero with various permanent or temporary upgrades.

​A quick cut scene between the Magister and the Queen (no voice acting this time), and onto the next area. Just before you enter the next area, you have the option to spend your hard-earned experience on upgrades for your party, and your gold on your defenses


I was feeling pleased with myself as I plodded through the 2nd area until I hit wave 5 and the boss battle, I was completely destroyed in no time at all. This came as a bit of a shock and I had my doubts about the difficult ramp-up.

After a quick cartoon declaring I had lost, the game then made more sense. The first run is a cut-down version of the game, letting you get used to the mechanics. I wouldn’t be surprised if you always get defeated by the second boss.

The Roguelike features now kick in, I had earned a couple of gems in the first run, and I could spend them on permanently improving my heroes, contraptions, or spells. I had options for changing my spell load-out, and the ability to add different levels of difficulty.

I was impressed with my first run, so I attempted another run-through and managed to make it to the final area, but I was ultimately defeated by the final boss. I had a greater understanding of tactics and 4 gems to spend to help improve my next run.


At some point I should talk about the plot, to be honest, the plot is a little flimsy and the twist is not really that shocking, it feels like the story is just an excuse to play a combat board game.

The music has a Game of Thrones feel to it, but is very repetitive and does nothing to help with the tension or suspense of the story. The sound effects are the same, they do an ok job when pieces are moved around the board, and a few explosions and yells when pieces are defeated. One thing I feel they missed out on was having a voice-over on all of the cutscenes. It starts promising as the first cutscene has the Magister and Queen have a full voice-over back and forth, unfortunately, they stopped there.

​I like the graphics, they are bright and colorful with nice attention to detail, the cartoon style is well drawn for the menu system, and everything is clear and easy to read. The 3D board view has great-looking pieces with animations showing movement and attacks. 98% of the time you can see health, power, and armor, I did have a couple of occasions where I could not make out the stats and sometimes I would lose track of the square the cursor selected. Despite these issues overall a great job on the look and feel of the game.

Defend the Rook is not played for the art style or amazing music, Defend the Rook is played for the gameplay, and it does a really good job. It feels like the sort of game you can jump into and play a few runs while killing time, the Xbox achievement list forces you to play in a few different ways, which is exactly what an achievement list should do. Defend the Rook is a solid addition to the current roguelike game catalog, the price makes it worth a look if you have a roguelike itch to scratch.


The Bad

- Easy to learn
- Colorful graphics
- Varied ways to play
- Great price

- Repetitive music
- Weak story

The Good

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