Welcome aboard, gentlebeings of the universe! My name is Andrew, AKA “Wake” (at one point, my local community had no less than three different Andrews out of a dozen players; sacrifices had to be made). I’m here to welcome you to what will be an ongoing series exploring thoughts on everybody’s favorite rag-tag bunch of ne’er-do-wells: the Guardians of the Galaxy.
A little bit about myself and my gaming background- I started like many gamers with Warhammer, waaaaaay back some two and a half decades ago in my early teens. In the interim, I’ve dabbled in everything from Games Workshop to Privateer Press to Wyrd Miniatures to Steamforged Games, but have found my consistent favorites to be GW’s Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game, Guild Ball, and of course (given that I’m writing for this site), Marvel Crisis Protocol, which along with MESBG has become my main game.
A lifelong Marvel fan, I started collecting MCP back at launch, but for a long time, the figures sat on my shelf. Honestly, I was kind of afraid to paint them- despite having painted for decades, I had this irrational fear of messing up my childhood heroes. Plus, my son had just been born a few months before, so I was a little busy. You other parents out there get it.
Right as things were looking like maybe I could find the time to give the game a whirl, the pandemic hit. For months, we were stuck in our homes. As a teacher and the parent of a then six month old, my world became consumed by two directives: protect my family and figure out how to help my students navigate whatever education would need to be for as long as this whole *gestures vaguely at everything* thing was going to last. As a result, my MCP experience was largely confined to finally getting some paint on the models I’d been avoiding. Fortunately, despite my fears, painting them turned out to be a lot of fun and a welcome break from the stress of the pandemic. (This would also be the appropriate place to shout out my wonderful and extremely patient wife, who fought through the Ultron All Will Be Metal ultimate encounter with me repeatedly as cabin fever set in!)
Fast forward to Fall 2021. I had gotten a handle on teaching through the pandemic. I’d survived a year of hybrid school. My wife and I were vaccinated and boosted. One of the stores in my area was slowly opening up to gaming again, required masks, and was trying to get MCP off the ground. With my wife’s approval, I decided to venture out.
At first, I thought I’d go with my initial plan and play Avengers. Steve Rogers is one of my favorite superheroes, and I had spent the pandemic happily painting my way through the models in release order, so I had a lot of Avengers done. When I went to game night, however, a deep-seated gaming proclivity that I and others suffer from reared its ugly head.
I am, in fact, a snowflake gamer. By which I mean, I want to play the thing nobody else is playing, and I want to make it MINE, follow it through thick and thin, and be the most _____________ player you ever met, the guy people in the local community think of when they think of the faction.
I don’t know if you remember the Dark Times before the errata of Nov. ’21, but that era was…rough…for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Made up of models generally considered sub-par, with a leadership charitably described as ‘neat in concept’ (and it was), they were not exactly tearing up the meta.
I loved them immediately.
I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it was the obviously excellent film series. Maybe it was because they were pretty universally considered one of (if not the) the worst affiliations in the game at the time, and I’m a sucker for misfit toys. Maybe it’s because when I started reading comics again as an adult, the series that spoke to me the most were the absolutely exceptional “Annihilation” and “Annihilation: Conquest” arcs, which introduced Nova (the original Nova, Richard Rider; another of my all-time favorite characters) as the awesome all-grown-up hero he has become and also gave us the version of the Guardians of the Galaxy that eventually became the inspiration for the movie. (TL,DR- a very different Peter Quill is given his pick of all the loser cosmic heroes of the 1980s languishing in a Kree prison in order to form a “dirty dozen” to break into Hala and try to take down the Phalanx, who have seized the Kree Empire, assimilated many of the galaxy’s heroes, and among other things been co-opted by Ultron, because of course they have. Enter Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Bug- where is my Bug model, AMG?, Mantis, the latest iteration of Captain Universe, and Deathcry, the latter of whom have been largely forgotten for totally forgivable reasons.) Spinning out of Annihilation: Conquest, Abnett and Lanning took Nova and the Guardians on a truly spectacular run of storytelling that added Drax and Gamora, among others, and the rest is history.
For whatever reason, something about the Guardians really just spoke to me. I could have snowflaked in a dozen different directions, but I picked this one, and boy am I glad I did. They have given me countless hours of fun, both painting and playing them (and after the Nov. ’21 errata, they’re actually good!). In this blog, I’m going to do my humble best to convince you that they can do the same for you.
We’ll start off today with a breakdown of the affiliation’s overall playstyle and discuss some of the things the team does well (and some they don’t). In subsequent articles, we’ll talk about the team’s core characters, and then move on to unaffiliated splash characters that are particularly interesting, some thoughts on team tactics cards, and some on crisis selection. Beyond that…we’ll see where the future takes us! Literally every release that comes out, I immediately enter into a fevered theorycrafting of “how could this fit into Guardians?” After all, one of the best things about the affiliation is that it’s so flexible, there are an almost infinite number of ways to legitimately play it. I’ll do my best to bring you all along on my adventures and misadventures with the crew of the Milano.
Right, enough about me- this isn’t entirely a puff piece. Let’s get to it!
Why Play the Guardians?
Do you love re-rolls? Of course you do. Enough said!
In all seriousness- the Leadership is good. Really good. Three models getting a two-die reroll on any attack, defense, or dodge roll during the round is very strong. The level of consistency this can bring to the game really has to be played with to fully appreciate. Wild effects become things you can legitimately hope for, if not plan around. Characters spike at weird times and push through unbelievable damage or survive things they have no business surviving. It also provides one of the best boosts to unaffiliated characters of any Leadership out there. There are so many models that just excel in Guardians, sometimes even characters who struggle a little bit elsewhere. Thor, Ghost Rider, Ebony Maw, and the Hulk…all (and more!) are popular amongst the Guardians community, and with good reason.
Beyond dice fixing, though- what do the Guardians bring to the table that one of the game’s (many) other affiliations doesn’t?
This is a tricky question to answer, and one that is kind of core to the Guardians’ identity- they aren’t really the best at anything. There’s an important caveat to this, however: they also aren’t bad at pretty much anything, either.
The Guardians play a strong attrition game, though they’re not up there on the level of a team like the Black Order in terms of raw ability to reach out and murder you. They can also be good at objective play, with a number of highly mobile (Angela, Gamora, Star-Lord, and to some degree Ronan) or durable (Drax, Groot, and weirdly, Rocket) pieces, but they’re not able to do that as well as the premier objective-players such as Web Warriors and Criminal Syndicate. With an inexpensive but very effective stable of characters, they can go wide very well (in fact, this was kind of their thing in their original incarnation), but they’re no Sam Spam. Likewise, they can play just fine as a moderately tall affiliation (Star-Lord, Gamora, Angela and a heavy hitter like the Hulk, for example, or three Guardians and two big guns). However, they’re not going to be crazy tall, as you always want at least three really good Winging It targets and frankly their models are too cheap to go wildly tall and still stay affiliated.
What this all adds up to is an extremely flexible affiliation that can play a variety of gameplans, and critically can pivot between those plans as a game develops to respond to the situation on the table. They may not hit quite as hard as Black Order, but their output is impressive, and they play a wider variety of objectives better. They don’t play objectives quite as well as Web Warriors, but they hit much harder. With a Guardians squad on the table, you can be confident that you can play a reactive gameplan and almost always have a path to victory, as long as you read the board state well and respond accordingly.
What they don’t have is too much in the way of “jank” plays. The Guardians are not your go-to team for trying to abuse crises. They largely want to just play a fair game, confident that they are adaptable enough to win on the tabletop rather than in in turn zero. If you’re a player like me who wants to get the models on the table and make the decisions you make in the game your focus rather than choreographing play patterns ahead of time, they’re going to be just perfect for you.
(I should add the disclaimer here that working out intricate first turn plays and other ways to leverage crises and characters to achieve victory is a 100% legitimate way to play the game, and I intend no disrespect to players who do- it’s just not my preferred playstyle! Fortunately for me, Guardians aren’t all that good at it anyways.)
At the risk of repeating myself, it is critical that you understand before we go any further that you are to some degree placing yourself at the mercy of the dice by playing this affiliation. The leadership helps (a lot), but this is an affiliation that is defined in part by its characters’ collective propensity to throw more dice than their threat level would normally indicate. Sometimes the dice are going to go hot for you and you’re going to destroy the universe. Sometimes they will abandon you and you’ll have to improvise like crazy. This is a higher variance team than some of the others who can try to win without rolling dice, even with three sets of rerolls a turn. You can take steps to mitigate it, but it’s just part of who they are. Make sure you’re comfortable with that before you board the Milano- there’s no turning around once the ship has lifted off!
- A very solid and flexible pool of affiliated characters.
- Individual characters who are highly specialized and perform their particular role extremely well (often better than other comparably costed characters).
- A cheap core to build around (only 7 or 8 threat for three strong affiliated characters).
- The ability to build a very strong wide squad at any threat level.
- A great, flexible leadership that is useful to almost any model- this affiliation is great at splashing in characters from outside and can really make them sing (sometimes even better than their parent affiliations).
- Some very strong tactics cards associated with their characters.
- No glaring weaknesses on crises (though there are certainly a few they don’t love- looking at you, Super-Powered Scoundrels).
- Highly specialized characters- you need to have the right Guardian for the right job, or you’re in for some tough sledding.
- You should pretty much forget about ever getting priority after turn one- it’ll happen every once in a while if you play against a similarly wide team, but as a general rule, you’re going to outnumber most opponents.
- Poor displacement tech- the Guardians have very few models that can throw or even push other models easily. Fortunately, this affiliation excels at splashing in other characters.
- Only two team tactics cards- and while you can make a case for them both, they’re not setting the world on fire. First Class, Wakanda Forever/Siege of Darkness, or Mothership/Asteroid M, these are not.
- No glaring strengths on crises, either- the Guardians are rarely the worst affiliation at any given crisis combination, but they are also rarely the best.
Next Up: Characters and Affiliated Tactics Cards
All right! In my totally unqualified new blog-writer opinion, that feels like enough for an intro post. Thanks for joining me on this trip out to the wild outskirts of known space, and let me know what you think of the series so far!
Anytime you want to chat Guardians or anything else MCP-related, you can find me on Discord at Wake Drannor. Feel free to send me a message or look me up on the Across the Bifrost discord, MCP Fanserver discord (shout out to the absolutely awesome Guardians of the Galaxy channel there), or any one of a half a dozen other MCP discords.
Until next time, thanks for reading!