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Oct 15, 2011

The enlightened Guardian lays his plans well ahead

Guardians of Graxia Complete
(Map Pack #1 + Elves & Dwarves Expansion)
Game Category: Strategy - Turn Based, Fantasy
Developer / Distributor: Petroglyph / Petroglyph
Release Date: 11 Nov 2010
Rating: ESRB - Not rated

Guardians of Graxia
Click on images to shop online
Guardians of Graxia Map Pack
Map Pack #1
Guardians of Graxia Elves & Dwarves
Elves & Dwarves
[Ed. (as in editor at large...) - I must repeat that today's review does not in any way contain a subliminal message about Good Old Games - whose initials are GOG]

When I visited my local (Singapore) hobby game shop, I happened to notice this huge board game boxed set. The box was pretty heavy and it sported some impressive artwork and cool looking game cards and bits within. The title of the game was thought provoking as well - "Guardians of Graxia" (shortened to GoG for this review); that made me want to find out more about the game on Board Game Geek.

Come on in and win the day with the Guardians of Graxia
When I reached home that evening, I googled up GoG to see whether the game was any good. Lo and behold, the links that got coughed out by the Google search engine at that time also included news about the PC version of the game.

No need to read everything here... just play the tutorial
I would only dish out my hard earned cash on a board game only after I have had a chance to read the rules, or tried out the game at the local store. Here however was a chance to actually play GoG on my PC before deciding on investing in the board game. To get to the point, I went to my favourite game portal and purchased the PC version of GoG with nary a thought.

Now that a few months has passed since my purchase, you may ask, do I regret the purchase of GoG in any way?

Of course not!

Game Play
GoG is a turn-based strategy card game that has you fighting for islands that are floating high up in the skies of Graxia.

In the original PC game release, you get to pick from four powerful Guardians who will lead your army against the robust AI as you battle your way through a challenging campaign. The PC version is an accurate digital version of the game that sports lovely animated 3D graphics and special effects that will surely liven up your day.

GoG comes with a campaign that takes you through a single tutorial and 5 challenging maps; skirmish mode adds another 4 maps. As you can see, with only 4 guardians and 9 maps in total, I would kind of agree with the comments in the forums complaining about the lack of content in the game.

Picking a skirmish map to play
You'll be glad to know though that the developers have heard our concerns and addressed it by releasing both a map pack and an expansion for the main game. With Map Pack #1, you get another 10 skirmish maps, and 5 new powerful units, while the Elves and Dwarves expansion throws in two new guardians, 14 new units, and 6 new skirmish maps.

If you were looking for multiplayer, then I must say - too bad, sorry, no go, zilch, nada. Don't expect to find the word Internet or LAN anywhere. A patch may be possible in the future, but for now, you can only play against the AI.

Luckily, the AI is a pretty good challenge.

The tutorial is pretty good in teaching the basics
The tutorial teaches you the basics quite well, so it's worth playing through it at least once. Here's what you will learn while playing your battles:
  • Guardian Selection - You normally get to choose a Guardian after selecting a skirmish map (see screenshot below). In the case of the campaign however, you will be playing with Draknal Trueblood. 
  • Unit Preplacement - After placing your Guardian on a starting tile, you will choose to buy several units from the cards dealt out before you. Each unit costs some mana, so spend your initial allotment of mana points wisely. You have to finish placing your units before you can move on to the next stage.
  • Initial Draw - The next phase deals you eight cards - four of these will be unit cards, while the other half are spell cards. The eight cards represent your Starting Hand. In other card games (like Magic: The Gathering), you get a mulligan if you don't like your starting cards; not so for GoG.
Pick your Guardian; both the Dwarf and Elf are
new additions in the expansion pack
A round in the game is divided into four phases:
  • 1 - Card Drawing and Card Buying Phase: You are dealt 4 free cards; you can either pick Units or Spells. Units are the troops used to fight against your enemy, while spells generally give your troops special abilities to employ against your enemies. After getting your freebies, you are allowed to buy more cards at the cost of 5 mana points each. You can only have a maximum of 12 cards in your hand, so choose carefully.
  • 2 - Command Phase: This is where you move your units, play special unit abilities, shield your units, and use spells that can be employed during the Command Phase. If you are ready to take on your opponent, you can select a unit and get it to attack an adjacent enemy unit. If you do this, you enter the Battle Phase. I'll explain the Battle Phase later below.

Time to pay for more cards
  • 3 - Mana Collection and 2nd Card Buying Phase: Each tile that is claimed by your side (denoted by a circular white marker) will award you mana points. You can use the mana points to buy even more cards, again at 5 mana points apiece.
  • 4 - Victory Conditions: The game checks if you have completed the map objective. If so, you win the game. There are two types of victories - a Standard Victory and the much more challenging Guardian Victory. You can read about your objectives by clicking on the gold cup icon at the bottom right (above your hand of cards).
Battles play out like most Trading Card Games out there, the most significant difference though is that your cards don't tap (turn sideways) to denote they have been used. Once a spell card has been used in GoG, they are discarded.

Familiarizing myself with the objectives once again
Battles are divided into the following steps:
  1. Determine Battle Value: Both sides will have their BV calculated. BV is dependent on many factors such as a unit's attack and defense, the terrain they are on, the friendly support they have on adjacent tiles, and any passive battle abilties they may have.
  2. Play Spell Cards or activate Battle Abilities: You can throw out a spell card from your hand to help your unit or to hinder your enemy. You can also activate any battle abilities unique to your units. You keep doing this until both yourself and the AI choose to pass.
  3. Sacrifice a card: This stage is optional, you can choose not to sacrifice a card if you don't want to. Sacrificing a card does not cost you any mana, instead the Sacrifice value (found at the bottom left of all cards and shaped like a drop of blood) is used to empower your unit or to weaken your enemy. You can refer to the Battle Box to see the outcome of your battle. Choosing the right card means the difference between life and death for your units.
  4. Determine Battle damage: Units that reach zero health are taken out of the game.
  5. Retreat or Advance: If you have been defeated and earned substantial damage, your unit will retreat. At the same time, the other player can advance and occupy the tile, causing it to become his territory.
Pay attention to the Battle Box (at top centre)
GoG is definitely one of the most visually appealing PC video games I have ever seen being translated from an actual board game. The tiles are essentially square pieces of land floating in the sky. You can rotate the camera any way you wish (except viewing the map from below). A flick of the mouse wheel and you will either zoom in or out. The detail of the terrain looks great when zoomed in.

The 3D units perform all sorts of animations - movement, attack, and also defense. It's fun watching all the different variety of units. According to Petroglyph: you'll find Dragons, Elves, Goblins, Humans, Orcs, Skeletons, Wraiths and many others!

Another aspect that should be commended is the artwork for the cards. They look spectacular when zoomed out and you can tell that a lot of effort has gone into reproducing them on the PC.

The graphics is truly the best aspect of Guardians of Graxia
The music in GoG is generally good and epic in feel, although I thought that one or two of the pieces tend to loop way too soon. I would truly appreciate longer tracks and even more musical variety that add to the fantasy vibes that represent the world of Graxia.

The units typically utter some unintelligible sounds when they are selected, so I felt the voice work to be rather uninspiring. The sound effects of spells being cast, and units attacking or defending were generally of good quality.

Night on Graxia
  • The campaign is quite a fun challenge to complete. If you love complexity and lots of strategic choices, this is the game for you.
  • You may lament that Map Pack #1 should have been included in the original game, but in my opinion the original GoG is already worth it's weight in gold considering the very good graphics and entertaining game play concepts a la Magic: The Gathering card game.
  • The skirmish maps are well designed and require you to think carefully before committing to a certain strategy.
  • The addition of two new Guardians in the Elves & Dwarves expansion pack provides for even more strategic choices in the game.
  • The AI presents quite a good challenge.
Beautiful graphics throughout
  • The game presents a steep learning curve that not every gamer would prefer. 
  • The large maps will require a few hours to complete. Make sure you set aside enough time to finish what you started. You can save halfway through the game, but it can be quite disconcerting to continue such a huge battle as there are many things that can be happening in this game. 
  • This leads to another problem, the more units you have, the longer will be the game. You can't turn off or speed up animations, so a lot of time is spent viewing them.
  • Although each map has two objectives, you will really need every trick under your sleeve to win the Guardian victory. Achieving them however is really worth all the effort!
  • There are absolutely no multiplayer modes in the game.
  • You don't get a deck constructor with GoG. The cards will be dealt to you randomly.
A randomly generated map
Guardians of Graxia (including Map Pack #1 and the Elves and Dwarves Expansion) could do well with more maps and expansion packs and the addition of multiplayer play. I love the mechanics of the game, and absolutely marvel at the intelligent design of the card system. There is great potential here to make the game into a full fledged AAA game complete with map and campaign editor, and more features.

The existence of this game proves that we should not only support indie game developers, but we should embrace them as the alternative to the occasional garbage that the big game companies sometimes produce.

Development of Guardians of Graxia may seem to be in hiatus, but that's because Petroglyph is concentrating on other brands in their game lineup. Here's hoping for more Guardians of Graxia content from a developer who has earned my respect.

You need to rely on Portal technology to cross the chasm...
I can't believe I just said that (thanks Valve!)
Daily PC Game Review Score: 7 / 10
Review Date: 15 Oct 2011


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