Guardians – Plaid Hat Games – Review

"Do you want this game….yes! The art is delightful, the options plentiful, the strategy layered, and the re-play-ability is high."

Theme and What is it?

In a destabilized government Guardians have been working to restore peace.  These heroes have unique inhuman capabilities.  However, just as there are good super heroes, there are bad ones as well.  There are loyalists and renegades fighting for control of strategic locations.  Players take on the roles of these heroes and villains with card decks unique to each character.

Gameplay Mechanics

During set-up, 4 location cards are placed between players.  Each location has effects that aid or hinder progress.  A flag token is placed at each location in the middle of the card.  When players do combat in one of these areas and knock out an opponent, the flag gets pulled 2 spaces towards them.  There are different numbers of spaces the flag must be pulled on each location card.  Some cards only need the flag to be pulled to their side once and others must move many spaces.  Once a character has attacked, they become exhausted and are turned on their side.

Another way to move the flag token towards your side of the playing field is to ensure that your enemy is not at your location and your fighter is ready to go at the beginning of you next turn.  That means, if your hero is not exhausted and no enemy is in your location you get to pull the flag 1 space towards you.  This is tricky. 

There are 4 locations and you play with 3 characters.  Each location card is worth different values towards winning the game.  You decide where to put your characters based on their abilities, health, attack values, and possible pay off at a location.  You can place as many of your fighters at a location as you desire.

But wait, there is more! Each turn gives you options to move, attack, use a card, or draw a new card from your own personal deck. 

A deck consists of 3 characters’ special ability decks and a basic deck.  They are all shuffled together, and 5 cards are drawn at the beginning of the game.  After that, you may choose to draw another card as one of the 3 actions (2 for a 4 player game) per turn or as part of a card or location effect.  There are unique reaction cards that can be played after an attack as well.  The cherry on top is an ultimate card ability for each character.

To use the ultimate powers, you must charge them.  Using certain cards gives you a charge token you may place on one of your ultimate power cards.  When you have reached the appropriate charge level, your character may activate that power.  Use them wisely though!  They can only be used once. 

There are some other special tokens in Guardians.  With these other tokens you can lock an opponent so they can’t use their unique abilities, immobilize them so they cannot move, or give them a shield so they will take no damage during the enemy’s next turn.

The game ends when a player has collected 9 total points.  These points are located on the location cards and range from 1 to 3.  When the flag token moves all the way to a player’s side, they can score the location and take the card.  It is replaced with a new card from the location deck.

To sum it up, there are 5 phases for each player’s turn.  First, they move the control token towards them if no enemy is at their location and they are not exhausted.  Secondly, they ready any exhausted heroes and place any knocked out heroes at a location of their choice.  Thirdly, they take 3 actions (2 actions when in a 4 player game).  Fourthly, they score the locations where the flag token has moved all the way to their side.  Lastly, they get to draw one card and discard down to 8.

Initial Impressions

I opened the box and was a little disappointed by only finding a deck of cards and some things to punch out.  It looked like such a big box!  Bigger means better right?  But wow, was I surprised when I found out how much table real estate it took up. 

Without a doubt, the designer had super powers!  My distress over un-boxing such a small game turned to awe.  How can so much game be packed in such a small punch? 

Game Build Quality

The cards have a good feel to them, and the tokens are thick and sturdy.  It is also nice that they are large enough to be able to be picked up easily.  Everything fits into the box well.  In fact, everything fits in 1/3 the box space.  It hints towards room for expansions.

It is evident that thought has been put into this game.  Stories about each character are included in the rule book.  Heroes make comments at the bottom of each card in keeping with their personalities.  A nice touch when you want to get in character and smack down an opponent obnoxiously.

Artistic Direction

The art is fantastic.  Whether it is character cards or half page spreads in the rule book, everything is detailed and unique.  No short cuts on the super heroes here!  The location cards are larger and include nice artwork as well.  Each of the 10 hero decks contain 4 different images.  Throw in characters and locations and I counted no less than 61 separate masterpieces.

Fun Factor

I love lots of choices in a game.  Guardians delivers!  I want to play and play until I learn a game’s strategy and there is plenty to explore in this box.  When you have 10 heroes and only play 3 per game there is a lot to try out. 

This game was easy to teach.  Most everything is contained on the cards and each player has a reference card explaining all they need to know.  This makes it a joy to pull out with a newbie.  Sometimes you like a game, but it is a chore to teach a new person.  So, it doesn’t get to the table as often as desired.  Guardians is NOT that game.

Another thing about this game is that it is balanced for male and female roles.  5 and 5!  Gasp!  So, ladies, don’t be afraid to play this game and bring the heat.

Age Range & Weight

Guardians is for ages 14 and up.  I’d say that’s accurate.  It’s easy to learn but there is so much depth of strategy in the hero abilities.  Someone who is really thinking through their actions and building up a plan might railroad a younger strategist.  Unless, of course, you have a strategic prodigy and then throw that idea out.

Conclusions

How did they do it?  How did such a big game get into such a little deck of cards?  It can eat a small table in a single bound.  And I love it!  I want to play over and over until I see all the different things that can happen or learn how a different character behaves.

Do you want this game….yes!  The art is delightful, the options plentiful, the strategy layered, and the re-play-ability is high.  If you like unique abilities, cards, area control, and super heroes this is going to be up your alley.