Steve Crow
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Iowa City
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I posted a relatively critical review of the Villains standalone a month or so ago. One of my criticisms was that while obviously it showed that the designers were experienced with the project, it didn't seem to add anything truly new and unique to the game. Perhaps that was because it was a standalone, and nobody wanted to dump lots of new mechanics on it. It's an understandable design approach, but it made for a product that myself and my players found a bit of a drag.

So that brings us to Guardians, which is anything but a drag. More than any of its predecessors, big or small, Guardians not only adds some new mechanics, but basically builds the set around them. We don't get new mechanics but have them limited primarily to one character (Teleport, Versatile), or a mechanic that several people have, but it really doesn't interact specifically with the villains and schemes (Wall-Crawling, Focus).

With the Guardians set, we get Artifacts and Shards. These are major game changer: all five characters have them, and they play a part in the villains and their schemes.

Shards: They give a +1 to whoever has them. If a player chooses to use them, they’re discarded. If a player beats a villain or mastermind, they get to take one of their shards and put the rest back in pool. So we get tokens as well as cards in this expansion. Apparently the color on them doesn’t matter. Yet. Unless you’re anal-retentive about giving the right color shard to the matching Infinity Gem. You are limited by a pool of 60 points. If people are sitting on 60 then no more go out, to players or villains or masterminds.

Both villain groups, the Kree Starforce and the Infinity Gems, do things with shards. One of the Masterminds, the Supreme Intelligence, does things with shards. Gamora has three cards that give her shards and one card that negates a villain or mastermind's attached. However, each Guardian has at least one way to get shards.

Shards are a big game changer because they're storable combat pluses. Being able to accumulate even one per turn makes almost any Mastermind beatable in six turns. Galactus with a two-color match is a 14, which is pretty tough. Use +6 combat from shards and he's not so tough.

Artifacts: These are hero cards that once you play them, they stay out in front of you and have an ongoing effect. So Drax for instance has Knives of the Hunter, which gives him +1 combat once per turn. Starlord has three artifacts. Groot doesn’t get an artifact. The Infinity Gem villain group are also artifacts: you beat them, they go into your discard and you can later play them as artifacts.

The heroes: Groot’s rare is 5 recruit and (cost of next hero you recruit) = (# of shards you get). One of his cards gives him two shards and lets him spend shards for recruit (and possibly give another player a shard). One card lets him draw an extra card at the end of the turn. And the last one triggers off of strength to KO a card and get a shard.

Rocket’s rare is 5 combat and triggers off of a tech for +1 combat for each Master Strike that has been played. His artifact gives him a shard for each Ambush and Master Strike completed. Gritty Scavenger gives him 2 recruit and lets him discard a card to draw a card. And Trigger Happy triggers off of a Guardian and gives him one shard for each Guardian he's already played.

As noted, Starlord is the master of artifacts. One gives a shard each turn, the other lets him draw an extra card each turn. And artifacts stack... His rare, Sentient Spaceship, gives him 1 shard per artifact he controls. His second common, Legendary Outlaw, is kind of eh. It lets him use another player's artifact, which is great if you're playing with other Guardians. Or if another player stocked up on Starlords. Otherwise, not so much.

Drax is kind of the eh character of the set. His aforementioned Knives of the Hunter is nice, but it pales next to the common Starlord artifact that provides one shard per turn. His rare is the combat equivalent of the Silver Surfer: double your final combat. That doubles his combat pluses from shards and Knives as well, so it's pretty potent. The Destroyer is the screw over card of the set: it triggers off of a Guardian. Everybody has to reveal an Instinct card or lose an artifact, and Drax gets one shard per lost artifact. Shards as mentioned are nice, but it's not a strong payoff for messing up your fellow players. His fourth card, Interstellar Tracker, lets him discard or put back the top card of his deck, and trigger off of Instinct to KO it if he wants.

Gamora as noted is all about the shards. Her rare is an artifact that gives her two shards per turn, and lets her cash in 5 for +10 combat. Bounty Hunter is 2 recruit and lets her give a villain a shard. This is a great way to use up that one extra combat that people often seem to be stuck with. Got 4 combat and there's a Henchman on the board. Give him a shard, beat him, take the shard. Her other cards give her 2 (possibly 3) shards, and negates a villain's shards for her turn.

With the possible exception of Drax's The Destroyer, none of the cards are really useless. The artwork is good, although putting Groot on a Rocket card makes it difficult to sort it out based on looks alone.

There are two Masterminds this set, Thanos and the Supreme Intelligence. The Supreme Intelligence with Combat 9 is all about the shards. He gets them, he forces discarding based on how many he has. His Kree Starforce group also does a lot of shard manipulation. The fun card of the set is Ronan the Accuser. On an Ambush and Escape, all the players simultaneously point another player, and the one who gets the most accusations takes a wound.

Thanos is the heavy hitter of the set, and arguably the toughest villain to date, beating out Galactus. He has Combat 24!! That's reduced by 2 per Gem Artifact that any player has out. It's not easy to get the Gems out, though. One of the four schemes takes away the Gems. The Gems are tough opponents. So far we haven't seen more than four Gems out, which still leaves Thanos with a 16 combat. With shards that's easier to reach, but it's still a tough fight.

His Master Strike ability is very unpleasant. Each player hands in a non-grey hero, and becomes a Bound Soul. Losing a non-grey hero is bad enough. Three of Thanos' Master Strikes trigger off of the stack of Bound Souls. The fourth makes each play discard a Gem Artifact in play.

The Infinity Gems are the second villain group, and work for Thanos. They come out with a certain number of shards on them, but they don't affect the players. However, if you beat them, they go into your discard pile and you can play them out as an artifact. Like artifacts, they have a permanent effect, which can range from a straight combat or recruit bonus, to using dead villains to gain permanent combat bonuses, to shifting a villain in the city.

That leaves the schemes. In my Villains review I noted that we weren't very impressed with the schemes. They were all 8 twist setups, for one thing, and they just didn't seem to have the... oomph of earlier ones. Guardians addresses that here, as all four schemes are fairly exciting. One revolves around shards (and involves 5+ # of player twists), one revolves around the Infinity Gems. One is a fun little scheme tat has you build a deck of bystander cards and then insert the twist you drew and shuffle a card at random. If you draw the bystander, you get it. If not, kaboom, lots of things blow up.

The Kree-Skrull War requires you to play with both villain groups. A twist makes them all escape, and the side with the most off the board gets the twist as a "conquest card." If one side or another gets 4 conquests, they win and the players lose.

Also the designers take a page from Legendary Aliens and have a Forge the Infinity Gauntlet scheme. If a player can get four of the Infinity Gems, he turns evil and wins by himself.

-----

Overall, it's a fun package that advances the game in a way that hasn't happened before. As noted, a couple of Guardian won't be quite as strong without their Guardian teammates. And injecting Starlord or Gamora into a non Guardian game can have long-reaching consequences. Unlike Teleport or Wall-Crawling, shards affect everyone. But the cards here play pretty well with earlier sets.

Shards are also somewhat awkwardly designed, however. Their are 18 of them, two-sided. One side has a 1 value, the others have 2, 3, and 5. There are six colors, three of each, but the color makes no difference. You need to make change and this involves a lot of flipping and sorting through counters to do so. Familiarity helps but it's still kind of a pain.

The artwork is good, with pretty clean lines except for the Supreme Intelligence. But he's basically a head in a (really big) jar, so not much that can be done with him. Two of Rocket's cards are a bit busy: Incoming Detector makes it relatively hard to pick him out. And Trigger Happy has him with Groot, which can make it a little confusing to sort. But those are survivable.

Since shards are combat oriented, the set is heavy on the combat. Recruit can run a little short occasionally if using just the Guardians, but who will do that beyond some initial games and the occasional novelty play? Toss in a recruit-heavy hero from another set if it's a problem.

Overall, we'd rate Guardians 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. It has a very strong theme, a lot of possibilities and the shards are just the thing for taking down those Masterminds from Dark City that you've been having trouble with.
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Kim Williams
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Sounds great - thanks for the review.
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Wil
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Excellent review!

I've only played twice so far and can easily say this is my favorite expansion to date. The artifacts and shards are a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to exploring this further and mixing with other heroes as well as given the guardians a go at Legendary Encounters: Aliens.
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Steve Crow
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The one thing I'd like to see is a way to retcon previous decks to have artifacts.

Mjolnir, Captain America's Shield, Cyclops Visor, Adamantium Claws, Wings, Widow Bite, Emma's Fetish Wear... They all seem to lend themselves to artifact creation.

I suspect trying to convert them all into constantly-in-play once-per-turn artifacts would be quite complicated, if not completely infeasible.

However, if I were more game-design inclined, I'd create a scheme similar to Human/Spider DNA, that lets each player designate one card per hero, when the first person buys it, and makes it an artifact. For the rest of the game, that one card is an artifact for all players. And give some kind of villainous bonus to balance it out. (On a Master Strike, remove one artifact per player from the game and discard the rest?)

Or, alternately, create a Collector mastermind that either does the same thing, or snatches artifacts.
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Steve Crow
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Case in point: we played a Kree-Skrull War game today, with Mephisto as the bad guy. 3-player, using Rocket, Starlord, and Gamora.

First game was Angel and Dr. Octopus. We lost, but mostly due to bad draws on the city, early draw of Master Strikes, and a lack of Marvel Knights. Kree-Skrull seems more vulnerable than usual to bad/random villain deck draws. The Kree got a single card out, and then we got hit by 3 Twists in short succession. We drew the 4th one about 10 turns later and it was game over.

For the replay, we subbed out Doc Ock for Punisher, not that it made much difference for preventing wounds. Less Master Strikes, more henchmen, no Master Strikes. By about the tenth time around, one of the players had Memory Implant, Element Gun, and a couple of Legendary Outlaws, Gamora and some stealth cards from Gamora, Starlord, and Angel that triggered off her third shard on the card that gives her 2-3 shards. Even with Mephisto having a couple of shards on him from Supremor, he died shrieking in pretty quick succession.
 
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Steve Crow
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Also, beware: Guardians is very addictive.

Once you've played several games with artifacts and/or shards, most likely you'll want to play every game with them.

That's a main reason I find it compelling. Dodge is nice, but I don't feel like including dodgers in every game. I don't feel like including Versatile or Teleport types in every game. Or Wall-Crawling.

Focus, kinda. We don't seem to hit the wall that some people describe where you've recruited what you want and you need to find something else to spend Recruit points.

But Artifacts and Shards... give us more.
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Wil
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Gislef wrote:
Also, beware: Guardians is very addictive...
But Artifacts and Shards... give us more.


I definitely second this. My preference is to include shards in any game going forward. Not having it sort of feels like I'm missing out on something.

The only other mechanic in the Legendary line that has sparked that same feeling to me is "coordinate" but that's only in Legendary Encounters: Alien. Similarly though, I never want to play without it as it makes the game more enjoyable to me.

Fun additional options in both cases: shards and coordinate.
 
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