23 Jan Guardians: A Cardgame Flying Under the Radar
As an avid board gamer, I get a large variety of games to the table. Engine building, card and dice drafting, worker placements—there’s really a large disparity in the genre of the games that hit my table. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I have a real sweet spot in my heart for head-to-head card games for two players. Given my affinity for this style of game, I recently saw Plaid Hat Games’ release of Guardians. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the art immediately intrigued me. Typically, I research a game quite heavily before purchasing it, but this one just spoke to me. If I’m honest with myself, this often ends horribly for me. When I pick a game based on its art, I usually find it collecting dust on my shelf rather quickly after making the acquisition. This time was different, though.
In Guardians, each player drafts three heroes. Each of the heroes has a small deck of cards and an ultimate card. Players remove the three heroes and their corresponding ultimate cards from the decks and proceed to shuffle each deck together. This deck is used throughout the game to utilize each hero. From there, four location cards are flipped over and, in turn order, players place their heroes at the locations they would like to occupy. At this point, players begin the general course of play.
Players go back and forth playing four actions each turn, trying to create scenarios where they gain more control over specific locations, with the goal of acquiring a total of 9 points. Locations are worth 1, 2, or 3 points. The higher-value locations require more effort to acquire as well, so they can pay off big if you can take them. Typically, the best way to acquire a location is to K.O. enemy heroes at the locale, but this can also be accomplished through having active heroes in locations where the opponent doesn’t have any hero, or exhausted heroes. This typically results in players chasing each other around trying to deliver the greatest blows at the most opportune times. Doing so will surely lead to victory.
What most impressed me about this game is how it deals with K.O.’d heroes. When a hero is K.O.’d, they are removed from the table. Once a player with any defeated heroes starts their turn, they are able to add all of the heroes they lost back to the table at full strength. This is such a clever mechanic. Players knocking out opponents can create such satisfying, powerful blows to an opponent, yet the opponent doesn’t feel devastated because they are well aware that they will be coming back at full strength. Additionally, the player on the offensive can only score a maximum of 3 points from one location, so the defending opponent doesn’t feel like they have lost too much, considering that the total score required to win is 9 points. This means that the offensive player gets the satisfaction of doing something truly amazing to decimate the opponent, and the defensive player always feels ready to get back in the fight. This is a really difficult feeling to convey in a head-to-head game, but Guardians has definitely achieved it.
Lastly, the game comes with 10 heroes, so the number of deck combinations is phenomenal. Each hero adds something different to the mix, so each combination is unique. After two plays, I found myself trying to figure out what group of heroes would be my favorite. This led to multiple plays in the same sitting, and the drafting sometimes forces a player into the position of grabbing a hero they didn’t really expect to use. That unknown element adds a certain degree of interest to every play.
Overall, Guardians has a unique feel to it. Games play pretty quick and often remain competitive no matter what heroes are paired together. Guardians has been flying under the radar in the board gaming community, so I felt a need to bring attention to a truly great production.