Troll hoards are invading the land, and you and the other Guardians have been called by the King to defend the realm. Can you pull together the best combination of weapons, shields and spells, while also bringing the most villagers to safety?
What Is Guardian’s Call?
Guardian’s Call is a bluffing, card-collecting game for 2–5 players. Games take about 30 minutes. The game is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, but hurry–they did a short 10-day campaign, and it ends on Friday of this week (October 13). A $39 pledge will get you a copy of the game.
Guardian’s Call Components
Included with the game are:
- 1 Castle Game Board
- 5 Guardian player boards
- 20 offer tokens (four per player)
- 120 Guardian game cards
- 16 Quest cards
- 20 Treasure cards
- 70 Victory point tokens
- 40 Coin tokens
- 1 Starting player token
- 5 Player meeples
Note that I was sent a prototype of the game for review purposes. All photos in this review are of that prototype, so the art and appearance of the components may change.
Given that I was looking at a prototype, the game had a very nice, refined look to it. The artwork is particularly nice. The Guardians cards—which make up the bulk of the game—are divided into six sets: weapons, shields, artifacts, villagers, spells, and curses. While each set is made up of identical cards, the art in each nicely represents what it is supposed to. I use board games in some of my web design classes to talk about interface design, and this is one that gets that right: while the cards are also labeled, they would be clear without the label. The weapons show a bunch of swords and daggers, while the spells show a magical scroll. None of us while playing ever had to stop and say, “wait, which card is this again?” Which is surprisingly rare in games, but again kudos to Guardian’s designer for getting this right.
The game boards were merely printed on heavy paper, but I assume that the final version will be thicker cardboard. The five characters are mostly the same, with the only differences being the name and gender of the character and the one type of card they prefer to collect. The bulk of the card, though, is made up of a reference panel, detailing exactly how each card type scores at the end, which again was nice as it not only meant that I didn’t have to dig through the rules to find that info at the end of the game, it also meant that that key information is readily available to all players at all times.
How to Play Guardian’s Call
The game was very quick to set up and features a rule set that’s simple enough to be quickly grasped by everyone.
The Castle board is placed in the middle of the table. Each player takes a character and their corresponding player card, and places their Meeple in the starting space on the Castle. The money and victory tokens are placed near the board. Each player also takes their set of offer tokens, which represent each of the other players. (When playing with fewer than 5 players, some of these tokens are removed since those characters aren’t in play.)
Stacks of victory point tokens are placed on the Castle board in the indicated spots. These stacks each contain, from top to bottom, a 5 point, 4 point, 3 point, 2 point, and 1 point token.
The Quest cards are shuffled and three are turned face up. The Treasure cards are shuffled and placed in a deck face-down near the board.
To set up the Guardian cards, you remove the two special cards from the deck that represent the Council and War. The deck is then shuffled, and three cards are dealt to each player. Then, five cards are turned face-up to form the card pool.
The deck is now split into four roughly equal stacks. The War card is shuffled into one, and the Council into another. The deck is then put back together into a single stack, with the set containing the War card at the bottom and the one containing the Council card immediately above it, with the remaining cards placed on top of those.
The youngest player gets the Starting Player token.
On each turn, players begin by drawing. They may draw as many cards as they like from either the card pool (the set up face-up cards) or the main deck, until they have 6 cards in their hand. Note that drawing is always optional. Then, they make an offer to another player.
The offer is the key component of the game. The current player takes a number of cards that are all of the same type and passes them facedown to another player, turning the offer token that represents that player over. The current player then tells the other player what they are offering. However, they don’t have to tell the truth. So for instance, you can choose 3 weapons from your hand and tell the other player you are passing them 3 weapons, but you could also say that you are passing 3 villagers.
The person who is being passed the cards then needs to decide whether or not the current player is lying. They state this belief clearly (“I don’t think you’re telling the truth”). Then, the cards are revealed. If the person to whom the cards were being passed guessed correctly, then they take those cards and place them face-up in front of them as part of their tableau. If they guessed incorrectly, the player who was passing the cards keeps them as part of their tableau.
For example, say I were to take 3 weapons and pass them to you and say, “I am passing you three shields.” You think I’m lying–that I’m not passing you shields–and say so. Because you were right, you take the cards (the weapons I actually passed) and place them in your tableau.
However, in that same scenario as above, you decided to trust me and said, “yes, I think you’re passing me shields,” you would reveal the cards and discover that I had lied. In that case, I get to take the weapons and add them to my tableau.
In either case, the player who does not end up getting cards collects a coin for their troubles.
If you want to pass Curses, you must lie and claim they are something else. The player who ends up taking the curses loses one or more cards from their tableau, depending on how many curses were passed.
The offer tokens force you to make an offer to each other player before you can offer something to a player again. This way, no one player is going to be left out by constantly getting skipped.
Play passes to the next player on the left. Before they go, the card pool is refreshed if necessary, ensuring that there are always five face-up cards at the start of each player’s turn.
The coins you earn can be spent on an optional step in your turn. After drawing, but before making an offer, you can spend three coins to take a card from the card pool and add it directly to your tableau. This becomes important late in the game when you’re competing with another player to get the most of a certain card. You can also pay five coins to remove a curse from the card pool, which also gains you five victory points.
Finally, you can discard three artifacts from your tableau and draw two Treasure cards. You keep one and discard the other. All of the treasures give you victory points, but some bestow other magical effects as well.
The game proceeds until the Council card is drawn and the first set of points are scored. Whichever player is furthest along the track on the Castle board scores ten points, and the second place player scores five. (You move your Meeple on the Castle track every time you add a Villager to your tableau.) The Quests are also checked at this point, and anyone who has completed the Quests marked for the Council gains points.
Play then resumes until the War card is drawn, at which point the game immediately ends. The Castle track and Quests again score, but so do the remaining cards. The player with the most Weapons scores 20 points, with second most scoring 10. Shields score points for everyone, based on a sliding scale printed on the Character cards. The Spells are wild cards and when placed on the tableau can be added to any other stack, so they are a good way to bump up your weapons or shields or villagers.
Why You Should Play Guardian’s Call
Guardian’s Call definitely reminded my family of Sheriff of Nottingham, but with added levels of strategy. The bluffing is both more straightforward and at times more difficult. Because you get cards from a successful bluff, but lose them if your bluff gets called, you have to carefully consider each play. If you’re competing with another player to gain the most weapons, for instance, you can make them an offer with weapons in the hopes that they’ll guess wrong, but you take the chance that they’ll guess right, and only end up giving those cards to them, thus weakening your own position.
There’s also considerable strategy around the use of spells. When you get spell cards, you can stack them by themselves if you want and assign them later, or you can assign them right away. But once they’re assigned they can’t be moved, so you have to carefully plan that out. When we played, my daughter held on to her spells, hoping to move them all to weapons and snatch that from me at the end, but she waited too long and saw the War card drawn, and thus the game end, just before her turn.
And that’s another thing. While the mechanic of having a card in the deck trigger the end of the game, thus denying any player any real knowledge of how many turns they have left, has been used in plenty of other games, it really adds an extra element to the game, forcing you to plan those late turns even more carefully.
I also liked the idea that you have to make an offer to each of the other players before you can make a second offer to someone. Too often, games that rely on trading get caught in kingmaking scenarios where a player is excluded from key elements of the game because other players are trying to block them. Here, you don’t have any choice but to continue to involve all of the players.
Overall, we definitely enjoyed the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final version. Keep in mind, though, that you only have a couple of days to get in and back the project, so don’t delay.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.