by Lee Valentine
Guardians of Graxia Board Game
Published by Petroglyph (2010)
Designed by Daniel Kroegel
240 game cards, 37 terrain tiles, 136 game counters, tracker board, six plastic miniatures, rulebook, reference sheet
Guardians of Graxia ("GoG") is a tactical combat game for
1-2 players by Petroglyph. It is set in the fantasy world of Graxia,
where powerful summoners called "Guardians" open portals to gate in
creatures to fight for them. The world of Graxia has islands that float
in the sky, and the battle is sometimes waged across multiples of these
islands, with the Guardians involved opening up gateways ("portals") to
transport their warriors from one island to the next.
Like Battleground (Your Move Games), GoG features cards as
units instead of more traditional miniatures or chits. Unlike
Battleground, it is played on a quasi-hex map made up of an
offset grid of rectangular, geomorphic tiles on which the game cards are
The Guardians are capable of summoning creatures and casting other
spells using a magic point (or "mana") system. The mana is generated
each turn from territories on the board that a Guardian's warriors
control. This is similar to a variant of Magic: The Gathering
(MtG) I saw years ago in a gaming magazine (perhaps Scrye
or The Duelist). Unlike MtG, in GoG there is only
one type of mana, and control of it is a zero-sum game: if one player is
getting mana from a territory, the other player is not. While there is
enough territory for everyone in the early game, later in the game as
units get destroyed the rich can get richer while the poor get poorer,
sometimes producing a death spiral for the losing player if he takes
more casualties than his opponent.
The units in GoG have all the normal powers you would expect in a
tactical wargame: attacking, defending, and moving. Most have some sort
of unique, unit-specific power, ranging from attacking at range, to
specialized movement, healing, or more exotic powers. The central
heroes on each side of the battlefield, the Guardians, have the power to
summon up new units, however, and to open portals from one part of the
battlefield to another.
Unlike other wargames where you draft your entire army to start with, in
GoG you begin with a predetermined selection of units and then
you summon up the rest of your forces as you go along. More powerful
units cost more mana to summon, while weaker units cost less. Spells
are similarly rated with more powerful spells costing more mana to cast.
In GoG, each unit has a Health Value (read "hit points") to
determine how much damage they can sustain during the course of the game
before being eliminated. Some units have a Health Value as high as 25,
and tracking each point of damage can sometimes become tedious. Many
units are smaller, however, so they eliminate each other quickly when
they engage each other battle.
The game is played out in scenarios. Each scenario has a map, spell
lists, unit lists, and a game-winning objective specific to the
scenario. There are six two-player scenarios and six for solo play. In
solo play, there are special rules, some standard for all solo games and
some that are scenario-specific, that govern the movement and tactics of
the enemy units, giving them a limited AI ("artificial intelligence").
Battles definitely require the use of the Tracker Board, which functions
like a board and chit version of an abacus to track the values of the
attacker and defender. During a unit-on-unit attack, a variety of
values are added and subtracted from both the attacker's and defender's
battle scores, which are then halved and applied to the opposing unit as
damage. All of this can require a bit of patience.
Components and Packaging
Much of the art in GoG is identical to that found in Petroglyph's
card game, Heroes of Graxia (which I reviewed here). It is
gorgeous, full-color, fantasy art, but it is afforded less card real
estate than in Heroes of Graxia. The art covers the spectrum of
tropes commonly associated with fantasy gaming, including elves,
dwarves, giants, and dragons, to name a few.
The unit cards feature interesting icons for several game scores, but
they are sometimes a bit nuanced: a tiny sliver of red color around a
shield distinguishes the physical attack value of the unit from physical
defense, which uses an identical shield this time with a tiny highlight
of blue around it.
Each of the unit cards has a watermark effect behind the text, using a
race/faction-specific icon. Sometimes this effect is a bit too dark,
particularly on already text-heavy cards, making some cards a little
difficult to read. The game cards themselves, particularly the unit
cards, can get quite text heavy.
Units have powers that can be used only in specific phases of play, some
of which work automatically and some of which have to be intentionally
activated to take effect. These powers are noted with small colored
shapes, rather than more sophisticated icons. As a result, they are not
The 37 double-sided terrain tiles are rectangular in shape, printed with
nice, full-color graphics, on a thick cardboard. Each terrain type has
a specific game effect. Nominally you can read these as they are
printed on the tiles, but the font is small, making it difficult to
decipher at a distance. Unit cards are placed directly on top of these
tiles during play, and they can sometimes cover up important
game-related information. Larger tiles might have required a re-design
of the game, which is already somewhat space intensive. A player
handout for terrains might have been useful, but was not provided.
GoG comes with a thick, full-color, tabulation board which tracks
most of the player-related information in the game, including the
current turn number, the victory points accumulated by each player, each
player's current mana score, and the combined offensive or defensive
combat scores of all units currently engaged in a fight. Due to a
design error on the board, there is no way to track mana values within
certain ranges using just the mana counters provided.
The game comes with six detailed fantasy miniatures to represent the
Guardian each player is controlling. These are the same miniatures
included in the Heroes of Graxia game. Here they are used to
track the position of each Guardian on the board, but they are largely
optional, as the Guardian already has his card on the board.
The package is a sturdy cardboard box with great fantasy art. All the
components fit inside. Unfortunately nothing is done to separate out
the different kinds of tokens that come with the game. You'll need to
provide quite a number of gripseal bags or a plastic storage box to
store the counters in. Either would fit inside the box easily as
two-thirds of the box is mostly air. The box is sized primarily to make
it look showy, and secondarily to hold the large tracker board.
The game includes a 24-page, full-color, matte finish rulebook. While
the rulebook contains a lot of useful information, some space is spent
promoting Petroglyph and its other products. A few pages are spent
reprinting the text of all the cards and tiles. In at least one case
the reprinted text differed from the actual card text.
All too often the rulebook is lacking key information on gameplay or,
less frequently, provides contradictory information. Other times it is
buried in unexpected places in the rulebook without an index. At one
point, a phase is referred to which does not exist elsewhere in the
rulebook. Other rules left me scratching my head initially, forcing me
to just guess as to how the game worked. The rulebook has some
organizational problems, some editing problems, and probably needed an
extra "blind test" group outside of the company to work through it. It
is the low-point of the game for me.
While you will likely struggle through the rulebook during your first
reading of it, after that, if you are comfortable with inferring things
instead of requiring to be told them directly, and if you are willing to
make some things up as you go along to fill in gray areas, then you
might be surprised that there's a good game hidden behind all the fog.
If you want to be told step-by-step how to handle game setup and all
rules interactions, then GoG will have some rough edges you may
The game includes a single copy of a handout for use in calculating
combat damage. It really needed two copies each of a variety of player
handouts, including turn order, the special powers of Guardians, the
meanings of certain game terms, and a key for the card icons. It does
not come with these, nor has Petroglyph provided any of these online.
GoG offers players quite a number of tactical decisions each
game. One real plus is that other than the randomized order of cards
you draw after setup, the game itself is pure tactics. You have plenty
of control over the number and kind of cards in your hand, when you use
them, and how you use your units on the board. There are no dice
involved, so players' choices matter that much more.
I also liked the number of powers each unit had along with the diversity
of units and spells that are available to play with. This will add
substantial replay value to the game.
GoG offers about the same level of tactical play that you get
from HeroClix, but is offset by some extra bookkeeping and number
crunching that will dissuade people who like lighter, faster games.
Having occasionally played wargames from the '80s forward, I can say
that if you are a serious wargamer used to calculating lots of numbers
and referencing a fair bit of data, you may not bat an eye.
The underlying game engine is quite solid and has a lot to offer.
Unfortunately the bookkeeping was a bit tedious for me, causing me to
downgrade GoG 's gameplay rating to a "B". As a solo game
GoG can take up to 45 minutes to setup to play, with a game
lasting another 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The ratio of setup
time and bookeeping to actual game time was a deal breaker for me in
solo play, but can be cut at least in half when playing the two-player
game due the presence of an extra set of hands.
If you are a serious wargamer, for a two-player game the Guardians of
Graxia Board Game has something to offer you, provided that you
don't mind using a geomorphic map instead of open terrain, a laser
pointer, and a ruler. The product is pretty, has nice component
quality, and is certainly more portable than a typical miniatures
wargame. For the price it also has a reasonable number of play options
in terms of units and spells.
At $60, Guardians of Graxia is price competitive with other
wargames. Battleground, however, another card-based wargame,
offers a cheaper entry price, more elegant mechanics, and different
levels of rules difficulty that one can employ while playing. Summoner
Wars, another popular card-based tactical wargame, fills the
lighter end of the spectrum that typically appeals to Heroscape
players. Of course, players who prefer wargaming with painted
miniatures instead of cards may give this one a pass altogether.
If your store caters to hardcore wargamers and you carry a variety of
such games then it may be worth stocking GoG on your shelves. If
the wargamers who frequent your store are very dedicated to a single
product base, however, like Warhammer Fantasy or 40K, you
may need an alpha gamer to demo this game to make any sales initially.
Gameplay: B (game primarily suited to patient players, particularly wargamers)
Appearance: B+ (great looking art, with some problems with icons and text layout)
Rules Clarity: C
Retailer Salability: C+ (potentially higher if your store caters to serious wargamers)