By Phillip Melvin
The Winter Guard are a government sponsored team of extraordinary individuals with special abilities. They fight for the people of the Russian Federation and their interests around the globe. The team is formed from members of the Soviet Super-Soldiers that existed before the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. They have been described as “Russia’s answer for the Avengers.”
With only 4 characters on it’s Affiliated list, Winter Guard is one of the smallest in the game. New Affiliations often see older characters added to help pad out their selections, but in this case AMG decided to keep Winter Guard focused on only it’s key members (similar to Wakanda). All 4 Winter Guard are contained in two boxes making it an easy entry for newer players after acquiring the Core Set.
Winter Guard’s 4 Threat Leader brings a good mix of offensive and defensive abilities to support his team. 6 health on each side of his card, free damage reduction, forced re-rolls for enemy attack dice, and 4’s for Physical and Mental defense will make taking out this Leader a uphill task. A Beam 4 Gainer with 5 dice has a pretty good chance of applying the uncommon Shock Trait to targets (affected models roll 1 less die on damage rolls) as well as providing a good amount of Power if he can hit 2+ enemies. If the Beam isn’t ideal, he can also just gain 2 Power as an Action and guarantee the use of Disruption Field once each Round.
This character does have a few flaws with one of them being a Short Movement. You can speed him up for 2 Power, but that directly takes away a use of Disruption Field. He also doesn’t have the big Spender attack seen on most characters, instead bringing a situational attack for clumped up or out of LOS targets.
Luckily his Leadership ability makes up for any negative traits. A 0 Cost Condition removal each Activation is pretty great as it’ll save your crew from untimely Staggers, Defense lowering Incinerates, or Bleeds when on 1 Health. The 2nd half is a somewhat unreliable, since it requires a dice roll, but is huge for camping Secure Objectives. Fair warning though, it only protects against Pushes and not Throws or Advances.
While most Leader models might not seem worth the Threat cost out of Affiliation, Dynamo has a solid enough ruleset to fulfill his role without the Leadership ability. It’s sometimes hard to justify a 4 Threat splash but his Condition applying Beam or Disruption Field can be leveraged to great affect under certain Leaders. As an example, Hydra doesn’t have a good in Affiliation 4 Threat option and Strucker/Hyrda Skull could make good use of his abilities.
Effectively a 3 Threat support model for the affiliation. Her goal will be to save up 3 Power in order to use Dimensional Portal to threat extend an ally or Darkforce Barrier to protect herself/others from a big attack.
Power generation will a constant enemy as she only has a single target Gainer Attack. Most game’s you’ll need to just double Gainer during the early Turns in order to have access to her better abilities for key later Rounds. Luckily her 3 Cost Spender Attack won’t trick you into wasting precious Power as it’s pretty terrible and shouldn’t be used. It’s hard to think of a situation where 2 more dice and a Wild Bleed is worth the same as a use of her Portal/Barrier Superpower.
The other option for Power generation is getting up close and taking damage. However, Darkstar is pretty much a glass cannon with only 5 Health on each side and an unimpressive stat line. Patience and using her Range 4 attack from the backfield will be the key for getting the most out of this character.
While she may struggle for Power in Winter Guard, Darkstar does bring tools that make her viable as a splash option for other Affiliations. Dormammu, Red Skull Cabal or Hydra version, Magneto Brotherhood, and She-Hulk A-Force all bring Power generating Leaderships that will let her use her Portal/Barrier more often each game. Then of course there is the classic Steve Rogers Avengers where either of her Superpowers will only cost 2.
Unlike Darkstar this guy has little problem with Power generation. His Shield Throw Gainer with Wild Ricochet is a great way to build 2-4 Power per Turn. This means he can afford to use Repulsion Field against enemy attacks and lower the damage curve against all but Hulk-style punches. His Red Guardian’s Suit ability also makes single health chip damage horribly inefficient against him as he will gain 2 Power each attack. He is basically a perpetual motion machine that once going has the power to keep Repulsion Field up permanently.
Not only a defensive character, Red Guardian brings control elements in the form of Pushes and Throws. His Strike Gainer takes dice out of the equation by just having an automatic Size 3 Short Push which can clear most enemies off objectives. His 3 Cost Spender follows suit by also having an automatic Size 3 Short Throw. Both of his control elements not being reliant on roll is huge in a game where one unlucky roll can lose you the game.
While it’s a bit of a hot take, I predict that Red Guardian will be the most popular splash of the Winter Guard. He is cheap at 3 Threat, reliable regardless of support given, and has the Power generation to become a battery for cards like Inspiring Monologue or even Follow Me. Also his own Tactics Card Comrade’s Keeper gives him a similar role to Luke Cage by having a once per game bodyguard ability in any Roster that takes him (more on this card later).
For 4 Threat you get a model with 7 Health on each side but sadly one lacking damage reduction or high defensive stats. Instead he is less tanky more killy with a Wild Bleed Builder and an awesome Spender. 3 Power is a steal for putting out an attack that has 7 dice, throws Size 4 Characters, and auto applies Stagger. He also brings the only Terrain Throw in the Affiliated Core and does so at an impressive Medium Range.
Short Movement is unfortunate but somewhat alleviated by having a 50mm base, the Charge Action, and bringing Aggressive. However, most opponent will try not to trigger Aggressive so he will still probably need to double move Turn 1 to get into the action.
Sadly Ursa falls into the Darkstar camp of having pretty poor Power Generation, and can’t easily build up Power during early activations with only a Range 2 Builder. Instead he has to throw himself into the scrum, likely on top of objectives, and force the opponent to damage him to gain Power that way.
While some may splash Ursa purely for the fun of having a bear on the table, I don’t expect he will be seen that often outside of Winter Guard. He doesn’t bring anything super unique that most Affiliations can’t already get, nor does he have a great Tactics Card to make him worth the 4 Threat opportunity cost.
The Crimson Dynamo & Darkstar box comes with three cards, with only one requiring the Winter Guard Affiliation. Dark Aura Manifestation at 1st glance is a cheap way to make enemy characters roll less energy Defense dice in rather large bubble. However since it affects other characters, you’ll need to be careful otherwise your own characters may get blasted off the board with their lowered defense.
Fusion Caster, usable by Crimson Dynamo, gives him access to the big attack that is missing from his character card. Effectively a 3 Cost Spender, this card lets Dynamo go for a large attrition swing at the risk of causing significant damage to himself. For those who have played War Machine, this is basically a Beam version of his Empty the Clip attack.
Winter Rush is an Affiliated Card that requires you to spend 6 Power from amongst your Winter Guard characters. In return you get a version of Aggressive for your affiliated characters, but one that lets them move when another ally takes damage. The character who takes damage doesn’t have to be Affiliated, which is some nice flexibility, but 6 Power will take some planning to afford. Red Guardian and Crimson Dynamo will likely have to shoulder the burden of paying the bill, but the cost is well worth the amount of free movement you’ll likely get that Round.
The Red Guardian & Ursa Major box also comes with 3 Cards, with again one being Affiliated. Bear Hug is very flavorful but ultimately a dud. the Range 1 restriction means Ursa himself will likely need to waste a Move Action to get in range for it, and then the enemy can just spend 3 to ignore the effect. Even worse is if the enemy is already a Short mover and can just ignore the card entirely.
On the other hand, Comrade’s Keeper is excellent and very akin to the Luke Cage/Iron Fist card Heroes for Hire. Not only is this a Bodyguard ability that gets Red Guardian closer to the action, it also has a no size restriction Throw when he takes any amount of damage. Unlike Heroes for Hire, Red Guardian has to pay the Cost but he can easily generate the 2 Power needed so it’s practically a non-issue. For Red Guardian this is likely an auto-include whether he is taken in Affiliation or not.
The final Winter Guard card Sovereign Strike looks niche at first glance but is likely to be an Affiliation staple. At it’s most basic is a card that doesn’t take up an Action and can cause automatic damage to enemies. This is easily worth 3 Power and depending on the board state you may even get to damage multiple enemies. After a few uses though, you’ll realize its hidden benefit is removing Size 4 Terrain. Enemy teams will often bring characters who like to Throw objects to cause damage that isn’t reliant on rolling well. This card removes a piece of ammunition from the table and will make character’s like Magneto or Hulk a little less effective.
Winter Guard Overall Thoughts
- 14 Threat Core, good buy in for a new players
- Character are almost entirely identical when flipped (exception is +1 Health on Red Guardian)
- Minimal rules bloat on Character Cards
- Leadership give you an easy out for Conditions, and encourages Scenario play
- All but Ursa are good splashes into other Affiliations, especially Red Guardian with Comrade’s Keeper
- They have a Giant Bear as a character
- Overall not super killy with lower average speed
- Small Affiliation that probably won’t see much future releases, and characters aren’t Affiliated anywhere else
- Dice Luck effects part of the Leadership
- Solid but not amazing Affiliated Tactics Cards
- They have a Giant Bear as a character
Winter Guard has the makings of a good starter Faction for new players. Their rules are easy to understand and come with a Leadership that encourages Scenario play. While they are overall rather Vanilla on first glance (a solid flavor if you ask me), mastering their Red Core will be key to many victories on the tabletop.
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