|The Guardians: Explore|
Designer: Jonathon Ruland
Publisher: Jonathon Ruland
A few weeks ago I received a copy of The Guardians: Explore to preview. This is the first game by designer Jonathon Ruland and it is quite eye catching. The Kickstarter just launched on Tuesday, September 15th and is available for $40. Check out the campaign here: https://bit.ly/TheGuardiansX
In The Guardians: Explore the players are kids defending their home town, Arthursburg, from attacking monsters. The game is played in two phases. Initially there is a deck creation phase that consists of two seven-card drafts and a deck refinement step. This is followed by the meat of the game where players battle monsters and build their decks with some more traditional deck-building mechanics. But this isn't really a game about deck-building. It's more about deck refinement. You'll start the game with 17 cards in your deck, 10 of which you've chosen through the drafting process. And then through the course of the game you'll actually want to strip down your deck even further, getting rid of the other 7 weaker cards that you start the game with and replacing them with stronger cards from the general pool. But not just any cards will do. There are some really tight interactions in the card types that you'll want to watch out for.
|The heroes prepare to defend Arthursburg!|
Setup and Deck Creation Phase
There is a lot going on in this game and setup takes a little while. There are several types of cards that need to be sorted, shuffled and arranged, boss monsters that need to be selected, locations need to be set out, and lots of bits distributed to the players. If you keep everything well organized it should go pretty quickly, but there is a lot crammed into the little prototype box I received. The pictures of the production box look bigger, so with decent inserts to keep components organized setup hopefully won't be too bad, especially after your first game or two. I do wonder if the locations will remain cards in the final game since they seem like they could be placed on a game board. In the prototype the ten locations are square cards that are arranged in the same order every time. Maybe there are plans for additional locations in the future, but in the current version it just adds more pieces that need to be sorted and arranged (it looks like in a previous iteration of the game there were more locations to choose from, so maybe a stretch goal?).
|There are a lot of components in this game. |
Most are cards, but there's a lot packed
into the box!
|The basic Practice Swing and Explore cards are pretty weak, |
but don't trash them too early in the game without having
enough Attack and Energy producing cards to make
up for their small benefits.
|The Drafting Suggestions are super helpful in figuring out|
what card types work well together.
|Starting out the drafting you'll have two Super Cards and have seven|
Guardian cards to draft from. Sometimes it'll be a difficult choice,
sometimes it'll be obvious what card to keep before passing the rest.
|From the cards above I have three that will work out with my Super|
cards from the first draft hand. I'll take the Tiger Cub and hope I
can work on bolstering the Elf Super card's abilities.
|Well, after drafting 14 cards it turns out I have more that help |
with the Pulverize Super card.
|Time to start refining the deck. I'll get rid of the four cards that |
support the Elf Super as well as that Super card. Now I have to
hope Pulverize will help me smash monsters!
|This looks like a pretty decent starting deck of 17 cards.|
Once each player has painstakingly created their starting deck they are ready to set out and defend Arthursburg from the invading zombies, orcs, robots, spiders, and warlocks. There will be eight total Battle rounds in a standard game (four in an Apprentice game), with two of those rounds being battles against the Boss. That doesn't give players much time to hone their skills by building and refining their decks, especially when they also need to be fighting monsters. But again, the game's underlying strategy is a bit deceptive here. The game isn't just about defeating monsters. The game can technically be played without ever once battling a monster (although that's not a winning strategy). Players earn points for defeating monsters, but in order to do so they need to keep refining their decks, weeding out weak cards and adding in stronger cards that hopefully complement other cards they already have in their decks.
Each Battle round has several steps. Players will start with four cards from their deck (usually drawn after the previous round's Battle). First each player gets to go to one of ten locations and take the action there. The catch is they can only go to locations that are safe and not currently invaded by monsters. Initially that will only be the Home location, but as monsters are defeated more choices will open up. Some locations give extra attack strength, some give extra energy, some let you gain new cards or trash cards that don't fit in with your strategy, and some have some more unique abilities.
|The town locations have been invaded by monsters!|
|The first round everyone goes to Home and gets a chance to |
refine their deck just a little more.
|Home lets me draw two cards, discard two cards, and then trash|
up to two cards, which can help me get rid of some weaker cards.
|The hand played great for me! The card I drew with the |
Wolf Pup let me draw another two cards. Now I have
two Persistent items that will give me benefits for the
rest of the game and I've reached 11 attack strength.
Time to go monster huntin'!
|11 Attack is enough to take on two monsters at the Hill!|
|The monsters are defeated and I'll move my Blanket Fort to the |
hill to protect it from new invaders. Now the Hill will be available
to use during the next round's Location step.
|Killed monsters go in my Trophy pile and are worth points |
at the end of the game.
|The bosses are big baddies and must be defeated in a single round.|
|The final bosses are super tough to defeat, but it still |
seems a bit anticlimactic.
I'd be remiss if I neglected to spend a paragraph on the artwork in The Guardians: Explore. Let me just say that it is phenomenal! The prototype copy of the game I received had a few areas where the art felt unfinished, like in the text areas of a few cards - the plain white backgrounds felt unfinished compared to everything else, but overall the artwork in the game is incredible. There are a number of artists involved in the project and each card lists the name of the artist. Between that tidbit and the way cards are numbered and identified by set it looks like the intention is to keep expanding the game, adding new cards, factions, monsters, and characters. And with that will undoubtedly come new artwork. And I can't wait to see what comes next. The game components are beautiful even in the prototype game I received. I hope the game is a success so that we get more incredible artwork!
|Each set of Guardians cards features a panoramic image that |
spans all the related cards.
|Every piece of art in the game is stunning!|
The Guardians Explore is a gorgeously illustrated game that turns deckbuilding on its head. The two-phase game lets you create a custom deck through a drafting phase and then requires you to carefully add to and constantly refine your deck throughout the battle phase of the game. This interesting mechanic takes a while to wrap your head around, but once you do you find an incredible amount of depth to the card interactions and game strategy.
I did find it a bit fiddly (particularly with tracking energy and attack strength per turn, and the amount of damage done to bosses), and it occasionally felt a little unbalanced, but I think the unbalancing was mostly due to my inexperience with the card interactions. A few things felt tacked on (like some of the card abilities that affect other players) and some felt a little lackluster, particularly the Boss battles. Unless there are plans for new locations to mix things up a bit I think a board would be much better. Even thicker tiles for the locations would be better than the cards, which were easily bumped while moving characters and monsters. But overall the game played very well, which is quite something for a designer's first game with this much complexity.
If you are a fan of deck creation games like Magic: The Gathering (particularly the drafting variations) or deck builders with a lot of in-game interaction with NPCs, like Ascension or Legendary then you should definitely give this a try. If you don't like complex interactions between cards and having to familiarize yourself with effective combinations then you might want to look elsewhere. I'm sure there are plans to expand the game, adding even more complex and interesting cards and interactions, so this is probably a game that will easily turn into a collectible kind of game. Not a CCG like Magic, but probably something with regular expansion sets like Dominion or Star Realms. It's going to be interesting seeing where this game goes, whether this is your type of game or not. Regardless though, the game is solid and worth checking out even if it's just to see the amazing artwork.
So check out the campaign for The Guardians: Explore today! https://bit.ly/TheGuardiansX
This review is of a prototype game. Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.
Battle Round two saw me heading to the Garage to get a few more cards to enhance my deck and then killing another two monsters.
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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.