Friends, we have been promising you this review for almost a week, and we’re sorry for the delay. Between work schedules, temperatures in the negative 30s, a laptop charger that decided to suddenly give up the ghost, and spontaneous non-draft-saving browser shutdowns, it has been a journey trying to get this ready and posted. But no further delays! We have arrived, and I am so, so excited to tell you all about this game, because it’s awesome.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Guardian’s Call is a game of bluffing and deduction for 2-5 players from Druid City Games and Skybound Games . In the game, each player takes on the role of one of the Guardians of the realm, defending the people against the evil dragon, Golianth. You must work together to defeat him, but only reluctantly–each of the Guardians has their own agenda and their own desire for glory.
The game takes place over a sequence of turns during which players can add cards to their hands and, possibly, to their tableaux, and then must make an offer of aid to another player. The receiving player must then decide whether or not the offer is genuine; correctly deducing whether or not their opponent is being truthful will net them the cards on offer, while guessing wrong means the cards will be added to the opponent’s tableau, instead.
Points are awarded based on cards accumulated, with some card types being worth points based on who has the most, others based on how many an individual has, and others not directly worth points at all, instead moving players ahead on a scoring track or granting them high-value Treasure cards during gameplay.
The game is over once the War card is drawn and the current round is finished, and players count up all their Victory Points to determine who has brought the most resources to the Council and become the Guardian of the Realm!
First Impressions: 4.5/5
The box art is gorgeous, and immediately drew my eye. We were stoked opening up the package, because despite it being a relatively simple game, the art is dynamic and immediately engages you. The full cast of characters is assembled in all their kick-ass glory on the box cover, and, in a choice that just reinforced how much I appreciate James Hudson, Mr Cuddington and Damien Mammoliti and the whole team at Druid City, the two sides of the box lid feature our two lady Guardians, Zira and Raven. It doesn’t feel like a statement; it feels like these are two wicked-cool characters with dynamic poses and bright colours who do the job of drawing the eye to the game box. But it’s really, really nice to see.
I loved opening the rulebook for Guardian’s Call for the first time. It is well laid-out, with all the rules flowing from one to the other–no weird blocks of text that don’t quite fit anywhere, no random asides from the writers. Everything follows logically, and is clear and concise in its explanations. It’s well-written, gives you just enough flavour and enough gameplay examples to reinforce the trickier points of the game, but not so much that it’s distracting.
The game makes a real effort to get you hooked into the story from the very start, following through on the promise of the box art by providing you with a narrative blurb that we really appreciated, and then going a bit further by explaining how the gameplay itself ties into the story. In games like this, which can feel a little light on theme, the extra effort to help players become immersed in the story is really helpful.
My only negative with the rulebook was that it was devoid of the rich backstory and lore that was created for the flagship character, Zira, the Priestess. She is the current leader of the five Guardians, and appears most prominently on the box art; during the original Kickstarter campaign, the Druid City team also created an excellent, compelling video comic detailing her backstory. That video was part of what got us so excited for this game, and while it isn’t exactly a detriment, it is a shame that there is no reference to that extended, rich world of story within the rulebook itself. In fact, there’s not a lot of detail about any of the five Guardians, which, despite just being flavour text, would have made the game even more immersive and helped us feel a little more hooked into the story.
That said, it was a delight to have Druid City Games come through again in terms of representation. I’ve gushed before about how much I appreciate the design choices that were made in The Grimm Forest, another of their titles, and the emphasis on making sure the cast of characters was balanced; the same is true here. It’s really kind of awesome to see a WOC (woman of colour) essentially headlining a game, and the fact that the above content was made for her specifically, in the first place, rather than someone like white-bread Wilfrey (another Guardian, a male Paladin of somewhat advanced years), really makes it clear that they’re sticking to their mission. It’s even better because Zira isn’t just “the token lady”–she is joined by another lady Guardian, the mage Raven. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, and again, and again–more non-male character options in board games, please!
Components-wise, everything in the box is gorgeous. The tokens are a lovely, heavy cardboard, and both they and the cards have a beautiful linen finish. Everything is bright and saturated and colourful; the game has a sense of beauty and whimsy, really leaning into its fantasy theme and helping to create a vibrant world. We especially loved the bright, “molded-crayon” look of the plastic minis; I’m not much of a mini painter, at least not yet, but even if I were I think I’d prefer to leave them as is, just because they’re so much fun to look at. (For anyone wanting to paint them, though, they’re pretty lovingly detailed, and I think they’d turn out awesome.)
And the insert, whoo mama. Look–this is the first review we’re posting on our new site, so you folks probably don’t know this about me yet, but I am an absolute sucker for a well-designed insert, and Druid City and Gametrayz knocked it out of the park on this one. Everything has a place in the box, and it all fits perfectly, from custom-molded trays for the miniatures to the deep wells for the cards that easily fit them all–sleeved or not–with room to spare (for future expansions, I’m desperately hoping). The slots for the offering tokens have that beautiful little ledge in the middle that makes it a breeze to extract them from their perfectly-sized homes. The player boards and Castle track fit where they’re designed to go without any issue, and they keep everything in place, no matter how the box is moved or stored. And even the–guys, even the way the tray itself is designed, with a small flat lip around the bottom so that it will actually sit on top of the punched-out boards the way games always want you to do and which never seems to work because those thin plastic sides always find the cracks–it’s a thing of beauty.
If I had one complaint about the components–just one–it would be that I wish the player boards were as sturdy as the rest of the game components. They feel a little flimsy compared to the scoring track and the game tokens. That being said–they are essentially a glorified player aid and so aren’t really required to be much more resilient, and I do appreciate having a large, colourful sheet in front of me, showcasing the beautiful vibrant art of the Guardians, so I really can’t complain all that much; we’re just splitting hairs at this point.
All right, so I’m going to preface this with a bit of honesty–I don’t generally like bluffing and deduction games. I am bad at lying, I am bad at telling when other people are lying, I am bad at convincing people that I’m not lying–I’m just bad at them, and when you’re bad at a game, it doesn’t tend to be a lot of fun. Werewolf, Resistance–these games are not my cup of tea.
So going into Guardian’s Call, while I was excited by the theme and the concept and everything around the game, I was prepared to be pretty “meh” on the game itself. But folks? This game is fun. I loved it, despite being bad at it, and even though I received a sound thrashing at the hands of my loved ones (on my birthday, no less), I wanted to play it again. I want to play it again now, just writing this, just thinking about it, because it’s just…it’s a darn good game.
The crux of gameplay, beyond the peripheral actions of refilling Market cards and refilling your hand and all that sort of upkeep, is in making offerings of aid to other players. You can offer any number of cards, and you can claim that those cards are any type of card; the caveat being that you must be offering a set of matched cards, and you can’t lie about how many there are.
So I can offer you three Weapons, and tell you, “You have my sword, my box, and my axe!”, or I can tell you, “These three shields will defend you to the end!”–but I can’t tell you, “I have a set of spells for you, one for each of the four elements,” and I can’t tell you any of those things while holding a Weapon, a Shield, and an Artifact facedown. (I could also be boring and just say, “Here’s three Shields” or “here’s three Spells”, but the game encourages you to immerse yourself in play with a little bit of roleplaying, and doing so is a lot of fun.)
If you can correctly identify if what I’ve said is a truth or a lie, then you get to keep the cards, no matter what they are, and add them to your Tableau. If you’re wrong–if you claim I’m a liar, and I was actually telling the truth, or vice versa–then the cards come to my Tableau. But where this game differs from a lot of other, modern bluffing games is that the offer is all there is. There’s no emphasis on trying to convince someone else of what you’re saying, be it truth or lie; in fact, the game doesn’t ever really even force you to lie. You could play the entire game always telling the truth, and do relatively well.
The simplicity of it actually reminds me a lot more of the old card game Cheat!. The deduction aspect isn’t coming from how well, or poorly, players can obfuscate the truth; it’s just using what you know about the cards on the table and in their hands to determine if they’re giving you what they claim. So people like me, who are bad at lying and at reading other people, can still do relatively well–either by guessing, or by using other methods of deduction, like watching what cards you picked up off the table or keeping track of how many copies of a certain card has been played already.
Beyond that, the game design offers myriad ways to mitigate any inequity in bluffing ability:
- Guessing incorrectly will still net you valuable coins, which can be used to add cards directly to your Tableau or even to banish Curses, netting you an easy 5 Victory Points.
- Every card you do end up with has value and purpose, and even if it doesn’t help you immediately, it keeps it out of the tableaux of other players and helps narrow gaps.
- Each player has one card they have an affinity for, which gives them extra coins for each copy added to their tableau.
- The Castle track, used for scoring Villager cards and which can be worth 10 and 5 VP to the first and second place Guardian, utilizes a “skip-ahead” rule, where gaining even one card could move a player from last place to first.
- Many of the Quest objectives reward players who have fewer cards with Victory Points.
And honestly? The list goes on.
There are a few places where the rules could use some clarification: for instance, are Curses you receive added to your Tableau, and therefore valid “scratch” cards for future Curses, or are they discarded? Does exchanging Artifacts for Treasures happen immediately, or is it an action you take on your turn? Some of the rules for the Treasure cards can feel a little fuzzy, and while the rulebook does have a handy reference of all the cards, it doesn’t provide any extra insight into how those one-time abilities should be applied.
And there is something about the design of the game that makes it very easy to fall into a trap of trying to out-logic your opponents in a game, no matter how many times your wife tells you to “stop over-thinking it, Leah!”. It feels circuitous and never-ending, like your brain keeps turning around and around in circles, spinning your wheels. That can be a frustrating feeling for players who prefer the satisfaction of successfully calling out a lie with 100% certainty, rather than always feeling like you’re at least 40% guessing.
Yet those things don’t detract from how much fun Guardian’s Call is to play. So much thought and effort was put into the design of it, and it really shows. They didn’t want the game to just be fun for people who like, or are good at, these kinds of games; they wanted it to be fun and accessible to everyone, and in my opinion, it was more than successful. I didn’t do well by any stretch of the imagination, but at the end of the game, the point difference between first and last place was still only 11 points, and as mentioned–I wanted to play again.
- Beautiful art and components, exactly what we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Druid City Games.
- A-grade representation of diversity – we wouldn’t have minded a little more on that front, but the cast for the game is still admirable!
- It is a good bluffing and deduction game. Folks who enjoy those types of games will finds lots to love here, and those who consider themselves bad at bluffing may find it a kinder installment of the genre.
- We could have used just a little more depth and backstory on the characters, the world, and the lore, especially given the quality of Zira’s video.
- There’s some ambiguity in the rulebook that would benefit from either a house rule or some kind of FAQ.
- It can trap more logical players in circuitous lines of thinking, leading to more analysis-paralysis than a game of this genre should typically encourage.
Final Score: 4/5
Overall, Guardian’s Call was an excellent game, and one we’re really excited to have on our shelf! I definitely recommend checking it out when it hits stores; and in the meantime, why not check out Skybound and Druid City Games’ Kickstarter for their next title, Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak, currently in its final week!
**We were not paid to write this, but the game was supplied to us by the publisher in exchange for a thorough and honest review**