There is danger in the West...
Ferocious orcs are raiding and pillaging, and behind them comes the mighty dragon, Golianth.
You are a Guardian, one of the five rival heroes sworn to defend the realm. The King has decreed that you must work together to send weapons and shields, search for ancient artifacts and call on the power of magical spells, all while bringing villagers to safety within the Castle.
There are many Guardians, but there can only be one Guardian of the Realm, the leader who will lead their combined strength to victory. Bring the greatest resources to the Council and save the most villagers and you will be named the Guardian of the Realm.
Guardian’s Call is a bluffing game in the vein of Sheriff of Nottingham. In this game, players take turns offering each other cards, face-down. The person making the offer claims the cards to be of a particular type, and the player receiving the offer declares whether she believes the offer to be true or not. It is a sort of “next-step” game for families or hobbyists.
Guardian’s Call is the first game I have played from Skybound. As a comic geek, I knew them primarily from The Walking Dead, but I was interested to see what kinds of games they could create.
In this game, players represent rival Guardians, mighty clan leaders sworn to defend the land. They take turns offering each other aid in their mutual quest to protect, but their offers may not always be… sincere.
The goal of Guardian’s Call is to earn the most points. There are a few ways to do this, but the primary method involves collecting cards. The central game system revolves around a deck, made up of Weapons, Shields, Artifacts, Villagers, Spells, and Curses. Throughout the game, players maintain a hand of these cards, drawing them either blindly from the deck, or from the 5 face-up cards in the market.
Each player has a tableau which outlines what the 6 types of cards do. In addition, they all receive tiles corresponding to each other character in the game.
On a player’s turn, she begins by refreshing the market to 5 cards, if it has fewer. She may then draw cards until she either has 6 in hand or simply wishes to stop drawing.
Next, using cards from her hand, she makes an offer to another player. This is where the character tiles come in; when a player makes an offer to an opponent, she flips that opponent’s tile face-down. She may not make this player another offer she has done so for every other player (that is, until all her tiles are face-down, and she refreshes them). In essence, this ensures that all players interact with each other roughly equally.
To make an offer, the current player selects a number of cards from her hand of a single type (e.g. 3 Shields, 2 Weapons, etc.). She places them face-down in front of the player to whom she is making the offer, and states what they are. It is important to note that she is allowed to bluff and claim that the cards are something they are not. (In fact, in the case of Curse cards, she MUST bluff.)
The receiving player then decides whether he believes her offer to be what she claimed, or not – basically, “yes, I believe you,” or “no, I think you’re lying.” Once he has decided, the cards are revealed. If he guessed correctly, he takes the cards and adds them to his tableau. Otherwise, the player offering the cards keeps them for herself. Whichever player does not take cards receives a coin.
In the case of Curse cards, if the receiving player calls the bluff, the active player suffers a penalty, and vice versa. Curses cause their owner to lose a card, but any player who suffers a curse also takes a coin, as a sort of compensation.
Coins provide opportunities to purchase cards directly from the market, which can be quite powerful. Additionally, they may be used to remove a curse card from the market for 5 points. Everyone also has an Affinity, a particular type of card that earns them a coin when they receive it. This individual player characteristic, though a fairly minor detail, strengthens the metagame by allowing players to make tempting offers, suited specifically to a particular player.
In the bottom half of the deck are the “Council” and “War” cards. The former signals that the game is nearing the end and triggers a scoring phase, and the latter ends the game after the current round. If players have fulfilled the conditions of any of the 3 central Quest cards when the appropriate card (Council or War) comes out, they earn its points immediately.
At the end of the game, players total up their scores to determine the winner. Points can come from a variety of places, including Quests, leftover coins, and cards like Treasures, Weapons, and Shields. The player with the most points is the winner!
I should mention that I glossed over a few details for the sake of brevity, but that should give a decent introduction to the gameplay and “flavor” of Guardian’s Call. To provide a comparison, it feels like a meatier Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s the same basic idea – draw cards, select some to play, and (maybe) tell the truth about what they are – but Guardian’s Call inserts some ideas of its own.
For example, it does away with the bribery of Sheriff, and it digs a deeper rabbit hole when it comes to bluffing. Players will find themselves thinking, “He is claiming to offer me cards that would give me coins; that seems too good to be true. Is he trying to trick me and hand me curses? Or are they cards that he actually wants, and he is hoping I will guess incorrectly so he can keep them?” It can quickly turn into one of those Princess Bride, “I can CLEARLY not choose the cup in front of me!” situations.
The game’s production is excellent, from its attractive art to its user-friendly player aids to its sleek GameTrayz insert. Occasionally, newer publishers skimp on components, but I am happy to say that is not the case here. Guardian’s Call looks and feels like a high-quality product.
As far as a recommendation goes, I think the success of this game will depend largely upon personal tastes. Obviously, it’s important that players enjoy bluffing games – that goes without saying – but there is more to it than that. I know some people who feel like Sheriff of Nottingham does not offer enough meaningful gameplay, and to those people, I might recommend Guardian’s Call instead. The depth of play is slightly elevated; it feels a little less like a party game and a little more like a strategy game. That said, players who enjoy simplistic silliness in bluffing games may want to look elsewhere. This one likely won’t produce the same level of laughter as some of its peers. Ultimately, it just comes down to what players want out of the game.
While Guardian’s Call didn’t blow my mind, it did get me excited to see what else Skybound has in store. I will definitely be keeping an eye on their future releases.
A review copy was provided by Skybound.
+ Deep metagame with interesting bluffing decisions
+ Great production quality
+ Will feel familiar to anyone who has played bluffing games before
- Theme does not come through strongly
- Does not introduce anything extremely new and different