Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
Dragons are invading your 8-bit kingdom, kidnapping your townsfolk, and laying waste to their villages. In Pixel Guardians, you and your guardians are the last line of defense, fighting off the dragons with attacks, spells and distracting them with treasure. Does this game burn bright like a fireball, or does it simply drag on? Read on to find out!
Pixel Guardians is a card game for 2-4 players that plays in under 30 minutes.
In Pixel Guardians, players are competing to conquer dragons as they appear in the kingdom. Players play attack cards to capture the head, body segments, and tail of each dragon by matching up symbols on both the attack card and the dragon part. Different parts are worth varying point values, with bonuses given for rescuing villagers. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!
How to Play
Game play in Pixel Guardians begins with the Dragon deck, which is made up of cards representing the head, body segments, and tail sections of 5 different colors of dragon (red, green, blue, yellow and rainbow/wild). As cards get drawn from the Dragon deck and added to the play area, similar colors of dragon parts are linked up until a full dragon is formed, at which point the dragon is able to be attacked by the players. Each head is worth 2 points, as is each body segment with a villager in distress. Standard body segments and tails are worth 1 point each. Also in the Dragon deck are Summoner cards that force you to draw cards until a full dragon is completed, and Fireball cards that set back player progress in finishing off the dragon.
The Guardian deck provides actions for the players to take, usually in the form of attacks. Attack cards allow players to conquer segments of the dragon, which will score them points at the end of the game. Players target segments that have a matching symbol as the attack card they play from their hand, and place a conquest token on that dragon segment. Once a dragon is filled with conquest tokens, the players then claim their segments and add them to their victory pile. Some attack cards have multiple symbols, which can be used to conquer two segments if those symbols are adjacent on a dragon. Trump attack cards allow players to replace another player’s conquest token with their own, while Wild attack cards match any symbol on a dragon segment.
There are some other cards that come up in the Guardian deck that are not strictly attacks, but are very powerful. Spells are insta-kills for dragons of a specific color, allowing the player casting the spell to claim all unconquered dragon segments. Treasure allows a player to eliminate a dragon with no one scoring any points, which is powerful if many players have invested several turns into attempting to conquer a dragon. Chains essentially lock a dragon on the field of play, preventing them from being lured away by Treasure cards.
Play begins with each player having a hand of 3 cards and 3 dragon cards dealt into the play area. At the beginning of each player’s turn, a dragon card is revealed and added to the layout, then each player can take two action points worth of actions, either by playing cards (for their AP cost) or drawing from the Guardian deck or Dragon deck. Play continues until the dragon deck is exhausted and all the remaining dragons left on the table are conquered. The player with the greatest number of points wins!
Pixel Guardians is designed to be easy to learn and quick to play, and it succeeds at both of these goals. In teaching this game to my wife and our game group, we were off and running in less than 5 minutes, which works for a game like this. There were a few nitpicky rules questions that came up from the power-gamers, but nothing that could not be explained with a minimum of effort. With 2 and 4 players, all games were finished in under 20 minutes.
Since players can only attack dragons once they are ‘whole,’ there were portions of games where no attacks could be taken since there were no whole dragons. All players were flipping over Dragon cards, and no whole dragons were being completed. This created quite a bit of frustration due to repetitiveness of the game. The Summoner cards worked to alleviate this during one of our games, but the other Summoner card was literally at the bottom of the deck. Rules tweaks for deck stacking (a la Pandemic) or increasing the number of Summoner cards could be a good fix.
Game play is very straightforward and simple. The “take that” aspect of the Trump cards and the pattern matching aspect of the cards with two crystal symbols both added strategy to planning your attack. The Treasure cards also added some elements of deviousness to the game, as a player could undo all the work the rest of the players had done by simply luring the dragon away. In all our games, the Spell cards were feast or famine, having no effect due to game state or causing a landslide win for the player who was able to acquire and play it at just the right time. As mentioned above, adding more of these cards to the Guardian deck would help to eliminate the repetitiveness that sometimes bogged down our games.
Pixel Guardians is a very accessible card game that is perfect for gamers and non-gamers alike as well as both for adults and children. Simple rules and quick game play combine with a fun theme and nostalgic graphics for a game that works well when you’re just not that into playing a game that is super-heavy.
Pixel Guardians is currently in funding in Kickstarter. If you’d like to become a backer, a $24 pledge will get you a copy of the game and any applicable stretch rewards. There are also other backer levels if you’d like to get an advanced copy of the game through Print and Play files, or if you want to pick up another one of Epic Scale Games’s titles in a bundle. Pixel Guardians is scheduled to be produced and delivered for November 2015, and you have until Thursday, September 18th to become a backer. Head on over and check out this game!
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review