Forest Guardians by Marta Viader (user Bunyol de Vent on BGG) is off to an impressive start. Winner in the 2020 - 9 Card Game Print and Play Design Contest on BoardGameGeek for Best Solitaire Game, Best New Designer and Best Original Artwork (plus runner up for Most Innovative Mechanic and Most Thematic Game, and third in Best Overall Game).
Best artwork, you say? Oh yes.
The official blurb reads: "In this solo strategy card game, the player must fight the evil cat knights to avoid the destruction of the forest and its entire tribe." And just like with the Amazon guardians, the odds won't be in your favour. Five enemies are placed in a half circle. Every round, you pick one of your heroes to step forward and take them on. Each one of your heroes has their specific way of dealing damage, and their own vulnerabilities too. For example, Sarah storms straight ahead and hits real hard, but then she'll get hit from the flanks.
Enemies also have special skills. One will retaliate, one will hit twice as hard, another will change the formation. And there is one (#5) you are going to hate in particular, as it protects the others from taking damage.
Once you are familiar with all attacks and special skills, the game only takes five minutes to lose. Of these five minutes, the first three are spent thinking about your first move. As this is not a random luck game, you have to figure out a strategy as well as you can. You won't win against the overwhelming enemy force by winging it. Thinking a little longer before you act (thus turning it into a 10 minute game) will most certainly help you. This also makes it more thematic: it would be weird to be able to have these mice just storm ahead and take the cat army down just like that.
Forest Guardians may be a small and short game, but it's thinky. Because, even if you manage to keep one of your heroes alive until the end, a situation may arise in which you can't take out the last enemy - when they're in a position that's out of reach. Which also counts as a loss.
I've had some good fights, but don't rely on me to save the forests yet. I need more tries to play smarter.
The files for Forest Guardians can be downloaded from the contest entry thread on BGG. It will be published by Button Shy Games in several languages soon.