A lot of board gamers like Cthulhu and the Mythos surround it. I'm not one of them. In fact I was blissfully unaware of the Ancient One (is that right?) However just because I am not in to it, doesn't a bad game make?
Wardens gets off to a brilliant start with it's one vs all set-up. Most one vs all games I have played are either hidden movement games ala Specter Ops or dungeon crawl style games like Imperial Assault. Wardens is neither, it is a tug of war over a twisted map of the world, that is part area control and part out smarting your opponent(s). It is a game of growing in power or working together sticking to your strengths.
The Wardens are relatively weak, unless they work together. Going off and doing your own thing, even if you play to your strengths, will make you easy pickings for a smart Cthulhu. The three Wardens have a number of specialities, one controls ships on sea only, one tanks on the land, and one Airships on land and sea. One upgrades the whole team by collecting the upgrades and so on. As well as this each Warden has a different battle power.
A typical turn will see the Wardens spawn their units, then each move, attack and potentially go on an expedition or two - more on those later. They then get to move and attack with each of their armies too, an army is an collection of your units in a territory. This can be a little tricky to keep track off, but sensible rules mean it isn't often a problem.
Cthulhu, however, is a bad ass alien from another realm or something. Starting the game powerful and only growing in power as the game progresses, the Wardens can only hope to slow Cthulhu enough to obtain the five artefacts that will contain him. Only trouble is, Cthulhu has hidden them. Woven throughout Wardens is a number of mind games, and the first starts with which territories the artefacts are hidden in. At least two must be land and at least two must be sea and you must reveal one straight away. This opens up a myriad of possibilities.
Do you show the a territory near you and try and do as much damage as possible? Group together your artefacts because that's a stupid thing to do and no one would do it? Do you heavily defend those territories or bluff by leaving them wide open? It's almost a game in itself.
Cthulhu's turn is to move and possibly teleport, wiping out any player units in the same territory and sending Wardens slightly more insane. Then the starspawns, Cthulhu's units, will move and attack too. Cthulhu's units spawn at the end of their turn.
Battles are handled by a simple rock, paper, scissors mechanism with a bit more bit. Each player chooses from three tokens - attack, defend or rush. Each action beats one other and then would resolve, but they are not straight good choices. For example, attack removes one of your units and three of the enemies. If players choose the same token both lose two units.
This works really well because you have a lot of information to help you decide what to do, or more importantly what your opponent will do and counter it. A quick check of the game state shows what action would benefit your opponent and you most but they have the same information you do. Do you bluff? Double bluff? Or perhaps the mythical quadruple bluff? Decisions, decisions. And ones that will become more interesting as you get to know your quarry over the course of the game.
Battles involving Wardens are even more important because if they lose they will go up on their madness track, and a fully mad Warden turns on their former allies taking Cthulhu's side for the rest of the game. The Warden essentially stays the same in how they play except they now spawn units from the portals.
Expeditions work in a similar way. A Warden will have between 1-3 guesses at Cthulhu's intents. On a dial Cthulhu will select an icon from a possible four, that if it remains un-guessed will activate for a useful power, but if the Wardens successfully guess they get the card for the territory and any artefacts hidden there. Again, the information makes this mini game fantastically tense. Will Cthulhu choose the obvious or be more subtle? How will your fellow Wardens react if you failed to guess correctly with three chances?
The End of the World as we Know it
Wardens was a lot of fun in it's prototype state, but not perfect. Occasionally the end game can drag out to a obvious conclusion when Cthulhu has turned two of the three wardens to his side. This reminded me of the old risk issue, where we all know one player is going to win yet we carry on playing. Fortunately, after feedback, the developers are looking to put some extra win conditions in to prevent this from happening.
It would also be nice if there was more of a significance to 'going mad' as all you really do is change sides. It would be great if the madness manifested itself in some more impactful way.
Lastly, I think the Wardens could do with another way to reduce or temporary close some of the portals that appear on the map. Often by mid game there is so many portals on the map that Cthulhu can pretty much go anywhere, which can feel cheap. All this has been feedback and the designers are looking to resolve these points.