Much has been said about the similarities between Guardians, the new area-control card game, and multiplayer hero-shooter video game Overwatch. Whether you spot a peculiar resemblance between the winged Valkyrie in Guardians and Overwatch’s flying healer Mercy or the description of Whiplash sounds a bit like a certain speedy Brit, it is obvious where the game’s inspiration came from.
While this has certainly raised eyebrows, the idea of a hero-based card game, where each character comes with their own set of abilities and a special ultimate power, is completely plausible. So, leaving the originality of the theme and its heroes to one side, let’s divert the focus to the actual gameplay. Unfortunately, it also fails to impress, being completely competent but entirely unexciting.
In Guardians, players choose three different heroes, each with individual decks, and fight over a series of slightly generic futuristic-looking locations. Heroes either deal their base damage or gain additional powers through cards that can be played as one of three actions each turn. It is clear that there was intent for heroes to create combos by chaining abilities; to an extent that works, but lacks a significant enough effect on the overall course of each match. This is mainly because the cards’ abilities land in a middle ground; some of them are no doubt useful during the fight, but they are also entirely bland and not a single card stands out.
Think of a slightly different game, Marvel Dice Masters: the feeling of nervous excitement while drawing dice out of the bag immediately stands out. Each die represents a character, whose ability you carefully curated before the start of the game. The draw of the dice is usually preceded by (not entirely serious) pleading to get a certain character ability because you know at which points those could turn the tide of the game. The characters stand out not only because they are from famous comics, but because their abilities define them and make a significant impact on the fight. There is a level of investment in your chosen roster of characters and the fun through triggering their abilities at the right time is the game’s reward to the player.
That is the feeling that Guardians, which should have been all about making its heroes unique and exciting to control, misses. If not for the artwork – which is admittedly quite nice – it would have been hard to tell some of the characters apart.
Guardians is fine. Its gameplay is fine: well-balanced with no overtly overpowered heroes. Its artwork is fine: a sci-fi style you’ve likely seen in several board games before. Its heroes are fine: fairly forgettable minus the aforementioned resemblances to more memorable characters, but with glimpses of the varying personalities that could have been. The game components are fine: perfectly serviceable for what is required by the gameplay, but without any standout elements. Play Guardians and you will have a perfectly fine time.
Unfortunately, with so many games already out there and more being released every month, ‘fine’ is sometimes simply not good enough.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Guardians’ heroes do not leave much of an impression. They are distinctive only in look and description, while their personalities fail to shine in the gameplay, making the game itself solid but forgettable.
Designer: Callin Flores
Artist: Lloyd Hoshide
Time: 30-45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.