Welcome to the Guardians CCG Page

This is a site dedicated to the Guardians collectible card game released by FPG in the mid '90s. This was a great game featuring beautiful artwork and a complex battle system. The game is now out of print and some cards are extremely difficult to find.

Here you will find alternate rules and game mods (including solo play), homebrew cards, and links to other Guardians sites.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Complexity of Guardians vs. the Novice Player, Part 1

In my previous post I talked about all the different factors that come into play in a game of Guardians. Let's revisit that list:

Guardians, Mortals, Elementals, Externals, Bribery, Off-color Bonuses, Terrain Bonuses, Command Cards, Shields, Movement, Flying, Strongholds, Vitality, Channelers, Channeling Receivers, CMP, Stronghold Upgrades, Stronghold Downgrades, Creature Magic Items, Accessories, Storage Depots, Storage Hands, Creature Pens, Text Boxes, Ranged Attacks, Secondary Attacks, Spells, Standard Bearers, Shield/Terrain, AOEs, Healing, Destruction, Immunity, Power Stones, Reinforcing, Retreating, Stronghold Bonuses, LDL, MDL, LUC, Upcards, Placing Terrain, Disputed Terrain, Winning the Space, Rubbling Strongholds, Draw and Organize Phase, Movement Phase, Combat Phase, Terrain Settlement Phase, Vitality Limits, Stacking Penalties, Unchallenged Cards, Creature Class, Creature Size, Play Deck, Discard Pile, Base Draw...

Whew! I didn't think that was ever going to end!

One of the things that makes Guardians so wonderful is all the different mechanics that can be utilized to achieve victory. However, those same mechanics hold Guardians back from widespread appeal. Trying to remember all the terms, rules, and exceptions is an exercise in frustration. I believe this is one of the reasons why Guardians was not accepted on a widespread level as other games like Magic, Warlord, Pokeman, and World of Warcraft. Those games are easy to pick up and play in a matter of minutes, while Guardians is far more complex. Described as a combination of "the card play of Magic with the strategy of Chess", that's not really a good analogy for Guardians. The original Magic the Gathering game contained far fewer rules, and a person could learn how to play in about 5 to 10 minutes. Chess consists of only 6 unique pieces per side, each with movement limits, on a 8 by 8 square board. Not to simplify Chess too much - it is a very strategic game - but rather I'm referring to the ease with which  the pieces and movements can be learned.

Guardians is a far different beast, and has so many features that it seems unnecessarily complex to learn. This has for certain limited the pool of players that would be interested in playing. Case in point is my roommate Kelly, during the time in which we first obtained the game. We didn't really understand the concept of secondary attacks at first. After I did some more reading, I tried to explain it to Kelly, but at that point he was done. There was too much to remember: movement mechanics, combat modifiers, and all the other rules simply overloaded his brain. It is, indeed, too much to remember for the casual gamer. This resulted in leaving me stuck with a bunch of cards and no one to play against.

So I present the following questions:

1.  Can Guardians be made simpler to teach the rules and entice more people to play?

2.  Is there an easier way to teach someone to play other than the tiny rulebook, the FAQ, and CJ's excellent rules supplement?

In this post, which is the first of 2 parts, I'm going to focus on the first question. I believe there is a way to simplify Guardians so that people can learn it in about 10 minutes. I present to you two lists: one of things to keep, and one of things to get rid of, in this simpler environment. My reasoning will appear afterwards.

Things to keep: Guardians, Strongholds, Shields, Creatures (Mortals, Externals, Elementals), Spells, Bribery, Off-color Bonuses, Movement, Vitality, Channeling Receivers, CMP, Text Boxes, Destruction, Immunity, Power Stones, Retreating, Stronghold Bonuses, LDL, MDL, LUC, Upcards, Winning the Space, Rubbling Strongholds, Draw and Organize Phase, Movement Phase, Combat Phase, Terrain Settlement Phase, Vitality Limits, Storage Hands, Play Decks, Discard Piles, placing Terrain, and Base Draw.

Things to get rid of: Command Cards, Channelers, Stronghold Upgrades, Stronghold Downgrades, Creature Magic Items, Hand Magic Items, Accessories, Storage Depots, Creature Pens, Secondary Attacks, AOEs, Terrain Bonuses, Flying, Ranged Attacks, Standard Bearers, Shield/Terrain, Healing, Reinforcing, Disputed Terrain, Stacking Penalties, Creature Class, Creature Size, and Unchallenged Cards.

Now, before you get the pitchforks out, let me clarify this. I'm not advocating changing the rules; I'm calling for removing some of the concepts for the sole purpose of teaching the game. As someone learned the game and became comfortable with it, you could introduce these removed concepts little by little back into the game environment. Here's why I chose what I did:

The two most complex parts of the game are combat and managing Shields. Combat in particular is problematic; while all the different factors that come into play make things interesting, it overloads a new player:

"Okay, play your command card. I'm playing mine too. Mine dispels yours, they contradict each other but mine has the higher upcard number. Now go ahead and play your first match up creature. Wow, that's a big creature, I'm going to bribe it. Your going to cast a spell? Okay I play Dispel Magic and dispel your Spell. Your creature goes back to your Creature Pen. My creature is now an unchallenged card. Okay, play your next attacker. You've got an AOE, I lose one of my creatures, it is not immune to fear. No bribery is occurring, so apply your off-color bonus, terrain bonus, and Standard Bearer bonus. I'm going to spend a stone and channel to my creature, which is enough to beat yours. Okay play your next attacker. No bribery again, apply your off-color bonus. No that creatures does not get a Terrain bonus. It does get your Standard Bearer bonus. Okay I'm going to use a range attack to defeat your creature. Did you want to bribe my range attacker? No, okay so your creature is beaten. You still have creatures left, so you can do secondary attacks. No, all your bonuses from the first creatures go away. Are you going to channel? Okay then you can apply your off-color bonus, Terrain bonus and Standard Bearer bonus. You add all that to the primary attacker's total..."

It sounds easy enough for those of us experienced in playing, but to the novice that is just ridiculous. By stripping away secondary attacks, AOEs, Terrain bonuses, ranged attacks, standard bearers, and unchallenged cards you simplify the environment greatly. As I stated above, this stuff isn't going away, it's just going on the back burner until the novice is ready to tackle it. Similarly, by stripping away flying, stacking penalties, reinforcing, healing, standard bearers, and Shield/Terrain, you greatly simplify Shield management.

I firmly believe that a simpler learning environment would draw in new players. As they learn the game and become hooked, the more advanced concepts become easier to for them to comprehend. Like anything learned, you need to establish a good foundation in order to build up to higher concepts and complexities.

In the next post (part 2), I'll tackle the second question: is there an easier way to teach someone to play other than the tiny rulebook, the FAQ, and CJ's excellent rules supplement?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Spells vs. Hand Magic Items: What's The Difference?

The Problem

I define a Spell as a magical action taken by a Vierkun, either in response to an opposing action, or as a basis for setting up other actions or establishing an environment favorable to the Vierkun and/or unfavorable to an opponent. Think of it as an incantation from a spellbook, as words that have power, or as an energy that can be bent or shaped to one's will. A Spell is "stored" in the Storage Depot, and is discarded when used, unless the card text states otherwise.

My definition of a Magic Item is a physical object, rather than an action, that is used in a way that achieves an output similar to a spell. The difference lies in it being a tangible object that you can hold in your hand, such as a magic wand, a magic sword, or a magical potion. A Hand Magic Item, or HMI for short, is also "stored" in the Storage Depot and discarded when used, unless the card states otherwise.

There are 26 HMIs and 74 Spells in Guardians, including all expansions through Necropolis Park. Quick, considering only the cards from the Revised set and not any of the expansions, tell me how many cards affect or reference only Spells and do not affect HMIs?

If you said zero, you're correct.

To recap, what do a Spell and a HMI have in common?
  • They are both stored in the Storage Depot
  • They are both double bordered on the back
  • They are discarded when used (unless otherwise specified)
  • They can be played at anytime (unless otherwise specified)
  • They are both dispelled by Dispel Magic
  • No cards in the base set differentiate between a Spell and a HMI
When Guardians was first created, there was literally no difference between a Spell and a HMI, other than the appearance of the card types, and the concept I outlined above, where one is an action and the other is an object. Note that I am not talking about Creature Magic Items (or Accessories, which came later), as these are very different from HMIs.

This is something that has been bothering me for a long time, as I tried to figure out why HMIs even exist. If they work exactly like a Spell, and can be dispelled like a Spell by Dispel Magic, why are they needed? Sure, I guess it's neat having magic doohickeys that do things, but wouldn't it be less confusing to just create a Spell that achieves the same effect, and let Creature Magic Items simply be Magic Items?

Take a look at all the things you must consider when playing a game: Guardians, Mortals, Elementals, Externals, Bribery, Off-color Bonuses, Terrain Bonuses, Command Cards, Shields, Movement, Flying, Strongholds, Vitality, Channelers, Channeling Receivers, CMP, Stronghold Upgrades, Stronghold Downgrades, Creature Magic Items, Accessories, Storage Depots, Storage Hands, Creature Pens, Text Boxes, Ranged Attacks, Secondary Attacks, Spells, Standard Bearers, AOEs, Healing, Destruction, Immunity, Power Stones, Reinforcing, Retreating, Stronghold Bonuses, LDL, MDL, LUC, and Upcards (I'm sure I've left a few out but you get the idea). Is having two different card types that act exactly the same way really necessary in this type of an environment?

(Subject for a future post: the unnecessary complexity of Guardians, or "trying to do too much")

In theory, the first expansion, Dagger Isle, gave the game designers a second chance to establish differences between Spells and HMIs in the form of new cards. In actuality, Dagger Isle only added one card that affects HMIs and Spells differently. That card was Champs the Wonder Dog, which retrieves (any) Magic Items. It also happens to be the only broken/banned card in the game, so that difference was very quickly nullified.

It wasn't until Drifter's Nexus was released that distinctions between HMIs and Spells began to be made on multiple cards. In fact, the Guardians released in both the Drifter's Nexus and Necropolis Park expansions each have abilities tied to that distinction. Let's take a look at HMIs and the cards that affect them:


A list of Hand Magic Items (HMIs)

10 Gallon Voodoo Hat
40,000 Useless Warhammers
Anvil of Heaviness
Champs, the Wonder Dog
Eye of Missile Mayhem
Hammer of Doom
Head of Gudea
Holy Grail
Little Voodoo Hat
Medallion of Skyphos
Monolith of Power
Obelisk of Bablos
Oppressed Slaves
Oscar the Wonder Chimp
Potion of Movement Essence
Rock of Far Rolling
Rocks of Skull Cracking
Rooster
Rosetta Stone
Sarcophagus of Haidra
Shroud of Grahzue
Standard of the Elements
Tablet of Ancathus
The Great Balderoon
Voodoo Hat
Voodoo Hat Rack

Total = 26


Cards That Distinguish Magic Items (and HMIs) From Spells

Sikura (Drifter's Nexus) - a Guardian that can dispel any Spell for 2 Power Stones. It cannot dispel (any) Magic Items or Command Card abilities.

Eisnmir (Necropolis Park) - a Guardian that draws a card whenever an opponent plays a HMI.

Cratur Hobbs (Drifter's Nexus) - a 4 Vitality External Command Card that allows you to bribe a creature by discarding any Magic Item from your Storage Hand.

Oscar the Wonder Chimp (Drifter's Nexus) - a HMI that returns a Spell just cast to your Storage Hand for one Power Stone. It is the opposite of Champs - Oscar can retrieve Spells but not Magic Items.

Zelda, Bag Lady Bug (Drifter's Nexus) - a 2 Vitality Mortal who gains +4 Vitality for each HMI discarded from your Storage Hand.

Geldspar (Necropolis Park) - a 4 Vitality External that prevents HMIs from being played.

Pharaoh Djoser (Necropolis Park) - a 2 Vitality External Command Card that prevents Spells from being played.

Sebek, Queen of Magicians (Necropolis Park) - a 6 Vitality External Command Card that allows you to discard a Spell to choose and draw another Spell from your draw deck.


Analysis

Including Champs, that's only nine cards in the game that make a distinction between HMIs and Spells. Six of those nine cards are costly to play, requiring discarding a card or burning a Power Stone to function, and have a negative effect on the use of HMIs, which in turn has a negative effect on playing Eisnmir. Nine out of 676 is a very small number and does little to address my contention that HMIs are unnecessary and that the same effect could have been achieved with a Spell.


Suggestions

It's clear that the difference between Spells and HMIs was becoming more important to the designers as time went on, since DN and NP both introduced a Guardian (probably the most important card in the game) that played upon that difference. It is sad to note, however, that there are only 26 HMIs out of a total 676 cards in the game. Many of them in DN are some of the rarest cards in the game (Standard of the Elements, Little Voodoo Hat, Rosetta Stone, Oscar the Wonder Chimp, etc.), so you don't expect to see those in play often (if at all). That is a very small number of cards to be worried about. Sure, some of them are frequently used, such as Hammer of Doom or Holy Grail, but it is still a tiny subset of the game.

The small number of HMIs comes into play when studying Sikura and Eisnmir. Sikura cannot dispel HMIs, which increases their usefulness, but the small number of cards means the threat to Sikura is minimal. In contrast, Eisnmir was the one card in the entire game that held the greatest potential to make HMIs very important (and different from Spells), through the use of card advantage. However, by making the card draw dependent on your opponent playing HMIs (rather than yourself playing them), that small number of HMIs means that Eisnmir's ability is much weaker than Sikura's. I have seen many opponents play Sikura, and many decks designed around Sikura's ability; I have never played against Eisnmir, nor have I ever seen a deck designed around Eisnmir's ability.

So what exactly can be done about HMIs being just like Spells? I'm not sure there is a good answer to that question. The cards have been created and printed and they are what they are; that's not going to change. Even in the Champion's Odyssey set that I designed, the only HMI that I created was my take on the Stanley the Wonder Goat artwork that Phil provided - and it could have just as easily been a Spell. Here's a couple of thoughts on how implementing some house rules for HMIs could make them more easily differentiated from Spells, more frequently used, and just shake up your playing environment for a change of pace. You could apply one idea, some of them, or all of them:

1. Start the game with some of your HMIs already in your Storage Hand prior to your opening draw. This requires fishing them out of your deck before starting the game and then shuffling the remainder of the deck. You could probably limit the number that you start with to be equal to your Guardian's base draw, but for maximum chaos, start with as many HMIs in your Storage Hand as you want (observing the Storage Hand limit at the end of the turn, off course)!

2. If you are going to play Eisnmir, change its text to draw a card whenever you play a HMI. If you want to get really crazy, make it you or your opponent. This could encourage people to play Eisnmir more while loading up on HMIs. Think about it: HMIs not only make Eisnmir better, Sikura can't dispel them, and with as much as Sikura is used, there would be some great battles between Eisnmir and Sikura.

3. Count all HMIs as Spells. This contradicts the advantages of options #1 & #2, but supports my contention that HMIs and Spells are the same.


Conclusion

None of these ideas are perfect, in fact they all might be terrible, but I couldn't really think of something better. To me, there is a fundamental mechanic missing that makes Spells and HMIs different. Maybe that's by design - maybe they are just different for "flavor", and maybe I'm just being cranky by demanding that there be a difference. But in a game full of flavor and loaded with complexity, is it really necessary that they be different? Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Buster Scrimbo's Card Profile #5: Dork Age

Type:  Spell
Set:  Necropolis Park

Text:  "Play as a Command Card. Your Creatures WIN any primary match-ups in which they are beaten by more than 10 Vitality, unless the match-up opponent is a Guardian."



Buster Scrimbo's Analysis:

"That daggum Tookle! Always gots lots o' l'il folk runnin' 'round and makin' a mess o' things...eatin' all the food and drinkin' all the beer that they can git their grubby mitts on, stealin' folks gold, and just generally causin' havoc...then when ye try to put a stop to such nonsense, it be like kickin' over a beehive and watchin' the evil little beasties come after ye with their stingers! Rumor be that one o' Tookle's wee folk found this Spell when snoopin' 'round the Necropolis and mass-produced it. Those midgets be up to no good if ye ask me! And that feller on the Spell's artwork looks like he might be mad...ye'd have to be, to create a Spell like this.

Anyhoo, the last thing Tookle needs be more help, but this Spell be doing that very thing. Sure, lots o' folks could use this spell, but Tookle benefits the most. Those l'il folks take a whollopin' in combat, but now when they get smacked down, they can beat anything from Dragon Wing Lords to Old Nick. It shuts down channelin' (who wants to channel into a matchup in order to lose?), and the more combat modifiers the opposin' fella has, the more likely he be to lose. But the pain don't end there, no sir. You ain't seen nothin' until you seen a handful o' Idiots rush into combat and beat everything thanks to this dadgum Spell! Thank the Gaurdians that there be some ways to counter it, mainly Dispel Magic or Sikura's ability, but in a pinch, the standard Tookle counter o' a good-sized AOE will fend off the annoyin' critters. Or ye could use 40,000 Useless Warhammers, which evens things out quite bit and might give ye an advantage if ye got some modifiers.

Say, did I ever tell ye about the time when I was in Mystfall and talked to the King about startin' some Fairy-tossing contests? My money woulda been on that Huge Rock Giant fella, but it were just a fool's dream since the King got bent outta shape and had ME tossed through that fool Gateway! Hoowee, talk about whackin' a hornet's nest..."