- Designer: Frederick Condette
- Publisher: IELLO
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 75+ minutes
- Times played: 2+ with review copy provided by IELLO
Guardians’ Chronicles is the much anticipated all-versus-one superhero game that has been a few years in arriving to market. I first heard teasers of the game in late 2012, but the game didn’t hit the streets until Essen 2014. The subtitle of the game is “Episode 1: The Threat of Doktor Skarov”. In the multiple scenarios in this game, the Liberty Patrol (i.e. good-guy superheroes) fight off the evil Doktor Skarov and his minions.
Each scenario is set up – using different tiles, each with its own arrangement of rooms, traps, and special abilities. Doktor Skarov and his minions are arranged throughout the area, and then the Liberty Patrol is given overall objective to achieve. Each individual hero also gets a personal mission which they can try to do along the way while they are helping the team win the overall goal. The interesting thing about the “scoring” is that as the game is played, a newspaper is “written” – this is the Guardians’ Chronicles from the title. With the success or failure of each full or mini-mission, different colored articles are written in the newspaper – and at the end of the game, the team which has more stories in their color is judged to be the winner.
But, let’s get back to the gameplay. As you start, the first thing to do is to choose the scenario that the group will play. There is a book filled with scenarios that you can choose from, or the game invites you to devise your own using the components provided. There is a deck of room cards that has a single card corresponding to each tile – the card outlines all the special events/traps/other special effects that can happen on that tile. These cards should be laid out next to the board so that all players can refer to them. Once the map is in place, one player is chosen to be Doktor Skarov. This player gets the bad guy event deck and is allowed to set up his evil minions according to the setup instructions for that scenario. This setup can change based on the number of heroes in the game.
Everyone else in the game gets to choose to be one of the heroes, and gets the appropriate hero deck and ID cards. Each hero card has a lot of information on it. The most important stuff are the base attributes: Speed, Combat, Defense, Mental, and Health. There is a numeric value next to the icons of each of these attributes. Additonally, each hero has an innate special power which is in effect as long as your hero is in the game.
There are three potential levels to play as the hero – Rookie, Normal and Veteran. The Rookies have the lowest abilities (and the weakest cards) while the Veterans have better abilities and better cards. You can use these levels in two ways – if you are playing a single scenario you can use the different levels to handicap the game. If you are playing a series of scenarios, your heroes progress from Rookie to Normal to Veteran status, gaining more power with each step but then also likely having to face more difficult challenges in the successive campaigns. The game comes with two Rookie and two Veteran Power cards for each hero – you modify your hero’s deck to match his current experience level.
Each hero has his own deck of Power Cards, and the majority of these are Normal in power. Again, your starting deck may be modified by exchanging some of these Normal cards for Rookie/Veteran ones. Each of these Power Cards has two main areas – on the left are the Secret Technique modifiers and at the bottom is the Special Power text. Of note, each player has a “Weakness” card in his deck which has a global bad effect for the heroes. At some point in each cycle, each hero will have to play his Weakness card and have his teammates somehow figure out how to compensate for that handicap. Finally, each Hero has a individual special action in the bottom left corner. Make sure that you remember what your power is – it is in effect throughout the whole game, but you have to remember to apply it to the appropriate situations!
The bad guy, Dr Skarov, has his own set of lieutenants and minions that he will use to thwart the heroes in their quest. Each of the main baddies has their own character card, similar to the heroes – and Dr Skarov has his own deck of cards which are also dual-purpose in nature. They can be used either for the special event written on the cards or they can be used to modify the specs of one of the villains.
OK – back to the game. The board is setup, and players have chosen their characters and built their starting decks. Each player consults their personal mission card and rolls a die to determine what their personal mission is for the scenario. While there is an overall goal for the whole team, each individual hero can also achieve greatness by meeting the requirements of their personal goal during the game. Dr Skarov has taken his own deck and set out his initial lineup of lieutenants/minions on the board – at the start of the scenario, there is one lieutenant on each Objective room; the rest of them are spread out amongst the scenario, though never more than one per tile. Dr Skarov starts in the Control Room – where he stays until the endgame.
There are three phases to a turn: 1) Strategy, 2) Actions, 3) Clean Up.
In the strategy phase, the heroes can talk over their plans for the turn. Of course, Dr Skarov is sitting at the same table, so they need to be aware of the fact that the bad guys can hear what they’re talking about. The heroes will each choose to play 1 or 2 cards from their hand during this turn. The cards are placed to the left or right of their player card to show that they are being used for either the Special Power or the Secret Technique. Then, the Heroes determine the order in which they will play this turn by stacking their initiative cards face down on the table. The top card will be the Hero to play first this turn. Once the heroes are done, then Dr Skarov does his strategy – he is able to play as many cards as there are heroes in the game. Like the heroes, Dr Skarov can place these to the right of a character card for the secret technique or to the left of the card to use the Special Power.
Then in the Action phase, the Heroes flip up the top card in their Initiative stack and that Hero takes his turn. On a hero turn, you get three Action points –which can be used to Move, Attack, Make a Value Check or Use a Special Power.
To Move, you can move a number of rooms equal to your movement value. However, if you enter a room with an enemy, your movement stops. Also, if you start your movement in a room with an enemy, your entire move consists of moving to the next adjacent room. When you conclude your movement, you can stop on any empty space in that room. If there is no empty space to land on, you cannot end movement in that room though you can pass through.
To Attack – you can attack any adjacent space (melee) or any enemy in your line of sight (ranged) if you have a range attack ability. When you attack, you roll a number of white attack dice equal to your fighting power. You also get to roll red dice equal to any positive attack modifier on a power card. These dice are rolled, and the pips are counted up. If you roll a “POW” result, it counts as a single pip, but then you get to re-roll that die and add any further rolled pips to your total. Once you have your total figured out, you compare it to your enemy’s defense score (which may itself be modified by power cards). If your hits are equal or greater to that defense score, you put a single Damage token on that enemy (Note than many of the lesser enemies only take a single Damage hit to be destroyed.)
To make a Value Check – you are trying to overcome some challenge – be it opening a door or disarming a missile or whatever. There will be a legend somewhere on the corresponding board or card that will tell you how many orange 8-sided dice you need to roll for the challenge. It may also tell you to add a number equal to the number of players to your roll. Once you total your orange roll, if the sum is equal or less than your Mental score, you succeed in the challenge. If you fail, you add a “-1” token to the challenge which will modify all rolls against that particular challenge, thus making it easier with each successive try.
To use an action provided by a power – this is denoted on the card as either an “ACTION” or “UNIQUE ACTION”. To use either takes up one of your three actions. A regular ACTION can be done multiple times, but a UNIQUE ACTION can only be used once on your turn. Just follow the directions on the card.
So, the first hero goes through his turn and takes his three actions. Then, it’s time for the bad guys to respond. Dr Skarov chooses any Villain and takes however many actions that particular Villian gets – there is a stat on their card stating how many actions they get. Bad guys can either Move or Attack with each of their actions. At any point during the turn, Dr Skarov can play an event card from his hand and use its effect. Each Villain can only be used once a turn.
After the villain is done, then you go back to the Hero stack, flip up the next initiative card, and that hero takes his turn. The game goes back and forth between Hero and Villain until all the actions are done. Dr Skarov always gets to activate the same number of Villians as there are heroes. If he doesn’t have enough Villians left in the game, any unused Villian activations are converted into drawing more Event cards for his hand. Note that Dr Skarov cannot be activated and used until the main objective of the scenario is achieved. Once this happens, the Heroes need to defeat Dr Skarov to seal the victory.
The final portion of each round is the Clean up phase. First, Dr Skarov gets to activate a single room in the scenario. Each room has a particular action associated with it, and this will help keep the Heroes from feeling too comfortable. Then, all the cards played this turn are discarded. Dr Skarov gets to draw two new Event cards to add to his hand. The Heroes do not draw any new cards. They must simply play through their entire deck, and then once all their Power cards are played, they can pick up their whole stack to choose from again.
Then, you look at your Damage tokens on your player card. If you have equal or more Damage Tokens on your card compared to your health value, then you discard a number of tokens equal to your health value and add a Wound card to your hand. If you ever have three wound cards in your hand, your hero dies. It should be noted that Wound cards do not count as Power cards, so if your hand consists on only Wound cards, then you have to pick up your discard pile at that time.
So the game continues on this cycle until all the Heroes are dead or all of the objectives are met. If all the heroes die, Dr Skarov probably wins. If the objectives are met, then the game moves into the Final Showdown phase. The door to the control room magically opens and Dr Skarov is finally allowed to take actions. The Heroes can win the final showdown if they kill Dr Skarov. Dr Skarov can escape the base if he is able to either defeat all the heroes or defeat a single Hero and then use an Action on that same turn to make an emergency escape from the base.
Then, it’s time to see the results of the game. As you have been playing the game, you should be putting together the next edition of the local newspaper, the Guardians’ Chronicles on the table. There are two-sided tiles for the main/secondary objectives, the final showdown, and each of the individual hero objectives. As these things are resolved, the appropriate side of the tile is placed in the paper – Blue for the heroes, Red for Dr Skarov. At the end of the game, you look and see if there is more blue or red in the headlines, and that determines the overall winner – you can change the banner of the newspaper to match the color of the victorious side!
My thoughts on the game
While this sort of game isn’t usually my style, I have certainly had fun with it thus far. The puzzles presented in the scenarios that we’ve played so far are well constructed though maybe not quite as complex as Descent. Though we haven’t had enough in-depth play with the game to fully experience the Rookie/Normal/Veteran progression, I really love the idea that the characters can evolve over the course of a couple of games. The different levels of characters can also be used as an impromptu handicap system.
We have limited ourselves thus far to simple scenarios – those that are comprised of 4 room tiles, and each of those games has taken between 90-120 minutes to play. I’d expect that time to come down a little as we get more comfortable with the system, but the scenarios can be as large as 9 tiles, so this could become an all day affair if we wanted it to be! Like most games of this genre, I’m usually pretty involved in the decision making process each round and watching the game unfold that I’m usually surprised at the end of the game to see just how much time had passed while we were playing.
Like many cooperative dungeon-crawly games, the number of decisions is lower per minute than what you would get with a traditional boardgame – I have commented on this phenomenon before, mostly when I was in my Descent playing phase. That’s not necessarily a bad thing here, as you will end up spending a fair amount of time discussing over plans with your teammates, trying to figure out the best way to accomplish your goals. Oftentimes, you’ll have to take a break in the midst of a round and re-discuss your plans after an event card or a particularly bad roll changes your situation. It could also turn out that you spend much of the game doing the same thing over and over. For instance, if your character happens to the one with the best Mental score, you might find yourself doing Value Checks for most of the game to beat an objective while the brawny character will fight more often than not. I don’t say this as a negative, but something to think about if you’ve never played this style of game. It’s no different than being the healer character in Descent when it seems like you do nothing other than run around and heal everyone else while they fight.
The Rulebook could stand to be better organized or perhaps more complete. The information is haphazardly organized and there’s not a good system to find the things that you want when you are looking them up in the midst of a game. Furthermore, there are a lot of little details that I didn’t find in the rules. There are a number of FAQs available online, the largest one is in French only – but there are plenty of places online to look for help. I would definitely recommend reading through the rules on your own (maybe twice) and then checking online for a FAQ to answer any questions you might have. Additionally, if you have the time to set up your scenario in advance, you might want to do that, again to see if you have any questions that can be resolved with online assistance. Or, alternatively, if you’re like our group – if you’re comfortable just talking out and rules questions as a group and making a spot ruling, that will work too – just be prepared to come across some situations which the rules do not specifically cover.
From our perspective, this approach of making a ruling as we go is fine. We’re not overly competitive about who wins or loses with this sort of game, and we just enjoy experiencing the game and exploring it as we go. Any time that we felt like we got stuck, we just discussed the different ruling options, came to an agreement and moved on.
I think this attitude is the one meant to be taken with the game. After all, there isn’t even really a traditional scoring system to figure out who wins or loses. Instead, you build the newspaper front page and then look at which side has more color. It’s a pretty loose system, and one that encourages enjoyment of the game as a whole rather than an explicit winner/loser situation – and I like that aspect of the game.
The artwork really captures the spirit of comic book heroes, and I think it is well done. We also have had more fun than we should have with the damage chits, always exclaiming out the Batman-style wordings as we hand out the tokens! The cards and player boards are well organized and as long as you have enough space on your table for the scenario, player boards, cards, etc – it’s pretty simple to keep track of all the information you need.
Though the simple scenarios that we have played thus far do not bring the hand management aspect into play that much (we’re usually only going thru the decks 1-2 times), I do like the way that the heroes have to juggle around the Weakness and Wound cards in their deck. Obviously, you’d rather not have to play a Weakness card, but each Hero must do it once per pass through the deck. Trying to figure out when the best time to play it can be a challenge, and the heroes really need to coordinate this from the start of the game. If they all wait and are forced to play them together, it would truly be disastrous for their team. The Wound cards are also mostly negative (and it should be noted that they each have different bad abilities). You are not obligated to play these, though if you hold onto them in your hand, you may be forced to recycle your cards which may cause you to pick up other Wound cards. Remember, if you ever have 3 in your hand at once, you’re dead… so you’ll want to keep track of how and when to play them.
The replay value here looks high. With the 9 double sided tiles and a full scenario book, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself occupied with this game. When you add in the complexity of playing scenarios with the Rookie/Normal/Veteran abilities as well, you could go through scenarios multiple times even. Unlike a lot of the scenarios in other group games (again using Descent as an example), there are not really hidden pieces of information that the scenario hinges upon – thus, each can be replayed easily. Furthermore, a cursory glance online shows a growing number of user-generated scenarios already which can be downloaded. I’ll admit that I’ll probably never need to vary from the prebuilt scenarios in the booklet, but I can see some of the gamers I know really relishing the chance to make up their own stories and challenges.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y
Neutral. John P
Not for me..