Since this was originally conceived as one long post, let's jump right back in!
In order to visualize how a game of Vanguard might play out, let's look at the game board:
(credit to the Freedomduo blog for this image, as the watermark states. They're a useful place to go for fresh reveals of new cards as they're announced in Japan!)
As you might remember from Garmore's card above, there were two very prominent symbols in his effect text: (R) and (V). The layout of this field should elucidate that somewhat; flanking the red circle in the center are five green circles emblazoned with the letter "R." These are your Rearguard Circles, and they serve as the place in which you Call the cards that will support your primary unit in battle with their effects and their attacks. The red circle, so rudely covered by the player's face-down card, is the Vanguard Circle; in-lore, the card in this circle is meant to represent you, the player. It is unique; the centerpiece of your formation and the primary target for attack. Unlike the Reargards flanking it, when a unit Vanguard Circle suffers a hit in battle, it is not destroyed - rather, this is the moment in which the player adds one card to his or her Damage Zone. Also unlike the Rearguard Units surrounding it, the Vanguard receives special powers when attacking. These, however, will be detailed further below.
Other than the six circles in the center of the mat, take notice of the other zones: There's the zone for the player's Main Deck, as well as the Drop Zone on the right. The left houses the Damage Zone and the Generation Zone, which plays hosts to the G-Units that comprise the player's G-Deck. This just leaves the two outliers at the top of the field: the Trigger Zone, which simply serves as a temporary housing for cards during Trigger Checks, which occur at certain stages of the game, and the Guardian Circle, the blue region with the letter G in the top center. The Guardian Circle is where a unit's Shield Value comes into play; it is this zone which holds the cards serving as your units' defense over the course of combat.
So, how does a game begin? First, each player must take their deck of fifty cards and place it in the Main Deck zone, as well as their G-Deck of up to sixteen cards, which is of course to be placed in the Generation Zone. After this, each player searches through their deck to search for a Grade 0 unit, which is placed face-down on the Vanguard Circle. The deck is then shuffled, and each player draws five cards. Cardfight Vanguard includes a generous Mulligan rule, wherein each player is allowed to return any number of these opening five cards in order to re-draw the same number of cards returned - this can be done exactly once. An important goal for a typical player would be to ensure that, by the end of this mulligan, their hand includes at least one card of each Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 to guarantee a smooth playing strategy.
Under standard tournament rules, turn order is determined purely randomly. Whichever randomization is chosen - be it rock paper scissors, a dice roll, or something similar, the winner must go first. Once the Grade 0 Vanguards are placed, the mulligans are performed, and the turn order is determined, the game begins. The first action of any game is to turn the Grade 0 Vanguard on your side of the field face-up; feel free to yell Stand up, Vanguard!! as you do so, ignoring any concerned stares of players nearby.
Here, we should detail the various phases of a standard turn of Vanguard:
- The Stand Phase - During this phase, the turn player turns all of his or her Rested units into the upright Standing position.
- The Draw Phase - The player simply draws one card. It is important to note that the player who goes first does indeed draw a card on their first turn, unlike in some other games. Also, do keep that order in mind - Stand, then Draw. Tournament play will nitpick this.
- The Ride Phase - During this phase, the turn player is allowed to take one card from their hand that is of equal Grade OR one Grade higher than the card currently sitting in their Vanguard circle, and Ride it. "Ride" is the term that this game utilizes to describe the act of placing the chosen card on top of the card currently in the Vanguard circle. The previous Vanguard enters a stack below the new Vanguard, which is referred to as the Soul; the Soul can, in turn, be used to pay the cost for certain effects.
- The Stride Phase - If both players have Grade 3 Vanguards, then this phase may come into play. By fulfilling the conditions to Stride, a player may search through their Generation Zone and choose a G-Unit with a red border to place on top of their Vanguard. This cost is simple - the player must choose cards from their hand whose total grades add up to 3, and send them to the Drop Zone. The selected G-Unit is placed from its face-down position in the Generation Zone face-up onto the Vanguard Circle, with its center offset from the current Vanguard just enough that the underlying card's Name and Power can be seen. This Unit which underlies the Stride Unit is known as the Heart, and it donates both of these things - the name and power - to the grade 4 Stride Unit. It is important to note that once the Vanguard is serving as the Heart of a Stride Unit, that Stride Unit carries both its own name AND the name of the Heart. This is also where that 15000+ comes into play; a Stride Unit has this 15,000 power in addition to whatever power its Heart contains. A Stride unit does not, however, gain its heart's effects under normal circumstances.
- The Main Phase - This is where the real work begins. During the Main Phase, the turn player has the ability to call any number of units from their hand as they like - provided those units have a Grade equal to or less than that of their Vanguard. Players may move cards which are already on their field around, as well - however, they are only allowed to move a card vertically. That is to say, a Rearguard may move from the Rearguard Circle in the upper left to the Rearguard Circle in the lower left, or from the upper right to the lower right. The Rearguard Circle in the middle back is immobile, as a Rearguard cannot move to the Vanguard Circle without aid of a special effect specifically saying that they are allowed to do so. Certain Unit Abilities are also activated at this time - most notably, ones denoted by a blue box containing the letters "ACT" within them, short for "Activate." One thing to note is that, if the turn player has a full field, but wishes to call another unit from their hand, they are capable of doing so by choosing a unit on their field and Retiring it. A Retired unit is placed in the Drop Zone, and the player may only selectively Retire a unit if they wish to call another in its place or through the use of an ability that demands they do so.
- The Battle Phase - This is the one difference between the player that goes first in a game of Vanguard and the player that goes second; during the first turn of the game, the turn player may not declare any attacks. Outside of that, however, battle phases and combat will likely occur during every turn of the game. Once the formations are made, it's time for battle. This phase is complicated, and so it will require a bit more detail than the rest:
First, let's detail the Boost ability. Much like the Intercept ability wielded by our good friend Beast Knight, Garmore, the Boost ability is one specific to certain Grades of Units - in this case, Grades 0 and 1. You see, unaided by certain special effects, a unit may only Attack from a Rearguard Circle in the Front Row or from the Vanguard Circle, also in the Front Row. Obviously, the units in the Back Row don't just sit there and twiddle their thumbs all day; they can help out too! In order to attack, first the turn player must select a standing unit and Rest it, turning it sideways. Then, if they wish, they may select a Unit in the circle directly behind the attacking Unit with the Boost ability and Rest that one as well. Doing so adds the Boosting Unit's Power - that is, the number immediately to the right of the sword icon on the bottom of the card - to that of the attacking Unit. Boosting is a continuous action - for as long as that battle is occurring until it's resolved, the Boosting Unit will supply the attacking Unit with power as long as it is alive. That does, however, mean that if the Boosting Unit were to Retire for any reason before the battle is resolved, the Boost will disappear along with it.
Next, it's finally time to detail the ins and outs of Power calculation. One major factor to note is that a Unit's Power value serves as both its offense and its defense. The Power is the number which you must look to when calculating how offensively potent your attack is - and the Power of the opponent's Unit which is being targeted is the number referred to when calculating whether the attack hits or not. Determining the difference between an attack that hits or misses is simple; if the attacking unit has equal or greater Power than that of the attack target, then the attack Hits; if the power is less than that of the attack target, then the attack Misses. Regarding successful attacks, If the target is a Rearguard, then the Rearguard is Retired. As stated before, however, a Vanguard will never be destroyed - as such, if the target of a successful attack is indeed the Vanguard, then a Damage Check is performed; one for each point of critical held by the attacking Unit.
This Damage Check is the first mentioned instance in which a Trigger effect comes into play. In order to perform a Damage Check, the player whose Vanguard was hit first picks up one card and places it face-up in the Trigger Zone. If the card revealed does in fact have the emblem of a Trigger, then the effects are applied - if the number of cards currently in the checking player's Damage Zone is equal or less than that of the attacking player when a Heal Trigger is revealed, then the damaged player may remove one card from their Damage Zone and place it in the Drop Zone. If a Draw Trigger is revealed, then the damaged player may draw a card. If any Trigger is revealed, then the damaged player may apply the 5000 Power bonus to any of their units, and this bonus lasts until the turn ends. If no trigger is revealed, then the Damage Check simply ends. Once the Damage Check is performed and any Trigger effects are applied, the damaged player then takes the card revealed in the Damage Check and places it directly in the Damage Zone face-up. Once a damage check has been performed for each point of Critical of the attacking Unit, the turn continues as normal.
One might ask, given the information outlined above, how a Unit can possibly be missed by an attack executed by the combined power of two Units! This is where that oh-so-mysterious Shield value comes into play. You see, in Cardfight!! Vanguard, a player's hand serves as both their offense and their defense. While it does indeed comprise of the units that a player is allowed to Call to the battlefield, it also holds the units that the player is allowed to Call for their defense. Defensive units are called to the Guardian Circle, only during an active attack. After the attack is declared, the Units in question are Rested, and the Boosting and attacking powers are combined, the player receiving the attack is allowed to place any number of Units from their hand into the Guardian Circle. This call plays by the same rules as one to a Rearguard Circle - only units of equal grade or lower than the player's Vanguard may apply. When placed in the Guardian Circle, the Called unit's Shield is added to the targeted unit's Power, and this combined number is compared with that of the boosted attack.
For clarification, let's run down a few scenarios involving attacking Rearguards:
-Player A rests a Rearguard with 9000 power in their front row, then boosts it using a Unit with 6000 power in the circle immediately behind the attacking Unit. The combined power is 15000, and is then compared with Player B's Vanguard, a unit with 11,000 power. Player B then takes a card from his or her hand with a shield of 5000, and places it in the Guardian Circle. Added to their Vanguard, their power is now 16,000. Since 15000 is less than 16000, the attack misses; the unit that was placed in the Guardian Circle is Retired to the drop zone, but other than that, nothing happens.
-Player A rests a Rearguard with 9000 power in their front row, and has no card behind it in order to Boost. The attack target is an opponent's Rearguard in the front row which also has 9000 power, and Player B opts not to guard in order to conserve cards in his or her hand. Because 9000 is equal to 9000, the battle goes in the attacker's favor, and the defending Rearguard is retired.
-Player A rests a Rearguard with 9000 power in their front row, then boosts it using a Unit with 7000 power in the circle immediately behind the attacking Unit. The target is a Vanguard with 11,000 power, and Player B opts to Guard with a Unit which has a Shield of 5000. Because the combined attacking Power is 16000, and the Vanguard gains 5000 power, placing it at 16000 as well, the powers are equal; once again, the result of a tied battle is ruled in favor of the attacker, and the attack hits. Player B then performs a damage check due to their Vanguard suffering a hit, and once the battle is resolved, the unit in the Guardian Circle is Retired to the Drop Zone. Having wasted a card for no benefit, Player B feels shame.
-Player A rests a Rearguard with 9000 power in their front row, then boosts it using a Unit with 7000 power in the circle immediately behind the attacking Unit. The target is a Vanguard with 11,000 power, and Player B opts to Guard with two Units, both of whom have a Shield of 10,000. Since the Rearguard's attacking power is 16,000, and the Vanguard's power combined with the two Shields is 31,000, Player B has succeeded! The attack misses, and no damage is taken. However, due to the fact that simply one card of 10,000 Shield would have risen their Vanguard to 21,000 power, a number which is also greater than 16,000, Player B has once again wasted a card, and should feel shame.
With that finally out of the way, we may now round back onto the special abilities wielded by a player's Vanguard, as well as the final two abilities contained by units of Grade 3 and Grade 4. When a player's Vanguard attacks, it works much the same as when a Rearguard attacks - rest the vanguard, then rest a unit with the Boost ability behind the Vanguard if you wish to do so, add their power, and compare to the attack target. Unlike a Rearguard attack, however, there is an extra step added to battle - one known as a Drive Check. The flow of a Vanguard's attack goes like so: First, the Vanguard is chosen as the attacker and Rested. A booster may be selected to add to its power, and once done, the targeted player has the opportunity to place cards in the Guardian Circle in order to defend. After all Guardians are called, a Drive Check may begin. In order to perform a Drive Check, the attacking player picks up one card from the top of his or her deck and places it face-up in the Trigger Zone. if a Unit with a Trigger Emblem is revealed, then success! The attacking player may apply the effects of the Trigger however he or she wishes. Once that is done, the checked Trigger is added to the attacker's hand. If no trigger is revealed, then nothing happens; the revealed card, however, is still added to the attacking player's hand. Because of this, and because there is no penalty to having an attack miss, all players should generally plan to attack with their Vanguard every tun in order to increase the size of their hand.
For an ordinary Unit, the attacking player only performs one Drive Check for each Vanguard attack. This changes, however, once the player Rides a Grade 3 Vanguard. Grade 3 Vanguard carry the ability known as Twin Drive!! which, as its name implies, allows them to perform two Drive Checks in sequence instead of one when attacking from the Vanguard Circle. Grade 4 Stride Units are even more extreme; these red bordered cards hold the ability known as Triple Drive!!! which, once again, allows them to perform three Drive Checks in sequence when attacking from the Vanguard Circle.
Just like before, let's run down a few possible scenarios brought about by Drive Checks:
-Player A rests their Vanguard, a Grade 3 Unit with 11,000 Power. This Vanguard is boosted by a Grade 1 Unit with 7000 Power, for a total of 18,000. The attack target is Player B's Vanguard, also a Unit with 11,000 Power. Player B decides to place one Unit with 10,000 Shield into the Guardian Circle, raising their Vanguard up to 21,000 Power. Player A's drive checks begin, but Player A reveals no units with a Trigger. Cursing under his or her breath, Player A begrudgingly adds the Normal Units to his or her hand, and proceeds with the rest of the turn as Player B Retires the called Guardian.
-Player A rests their Vanguard, a Grade 3 Unit with 11,000 Power. This Vanguard is boosted by a Grade 1 Unit with 7000 Power, for a total of 18,000. The attack target is Player B's Vanguard, also a Unit with 11,000 Power. Player B decides to place one Unit with 10,000 Shield into the Guardian Circle, raising their Vanguard up to 21,000 Power. Hold it!! Player A reveals a Critical Trigger! Applying the 5000 power to the Vanguard as well as the bonus point of Critical, the Vanguard's power is now 23,000! And, oh, woe is Player B! The second Trigger Check also reveals a Critical Trigger! Wily Player A knows that the Vanguard already has more than 21,000 power, so while the second bonus Critical will rest with the Vanguard, a Unit already guaranteed to hit, the second round of 5000 power is passed over to a Rearguard which has yet to attack. Cursing their miserable existence, Player B is forced to perform three Damage Checks, one for each point of Critical the successful attacking Vanguard had, and to make matters worse, that 10,000 points of shield did nothing, but must be Retired to the Drop Zone regardless!
-Player A rests their Vanguard, a Grade 3 Unit with 11,000 Power. This Vanguard is boosted by a Grade 1 Unit with 7000 Power, for a total of 18,000. The attack target is Player B's Vanguard, also a Unit with 11,000 Power. Wise to their earlier mistake, Player B decides to place two Units with 10,000 Shield each in the Guardian Circle. The Trigger Checks are performed, and Player A reveals no Triggers - Oh, the misfortune! Player B has used one more card than was necessary! However, there is something to be said for security - even if Player A had revealed two triggers again, Player B would not have been able to be hit by that Vanguard attack even if all 10,000 bonus Power was given to the Vanguard.
-Player A rests their Vanguard, a Grade 3 Unit with 11,000 Power. This Vanguard, however, is now boosted by a Grade 1 Unit that has a special ability which boosts it up to 10,000 Power, for a total of 21,000! The attack target is Player B's Vanguard, also a Unit with 11,000 Power. Realizing that in the event of a tie, the attacking Unit hits, Player B grumbles at the fact that one mere 10,000 point shield will not be enough to Guard Player A's Vanguard attack. Once again, Player B places two 10,000 point Shields while crossing fingers in hopes of avoiding another round of two revealed Triggers in a row... Player A performs the first Drive Check - Critical Trigger! Contemplating for a moment, Player A decides not to risk the bonus 5000 power going to waste, and applies it to a standing Rearguard, which will hopefully be able to make better use of it. A wise decision, as well, given that the second Drive Check revealed no trigger! Player B Retires the exhausted Guardians, safe in the knowledge that 26,000 power would not have been enough to protect the Vanguard from Player A's onslaught, making the second 10,000 Shield justified even though it wound up being 31,000 power defending against a mere 21,000, then prepares to defend the powered-up Rearguard.
-Once again, Player A rests their Grade 3 Vanguard and 10,000 point Boosting Grade 1. With Player B at five damage and the knowledge that six damage means the end of the game, things are coming down to the wire! Unfortunately for Player B, all that resides in their hand is one remaining 10,000 point Shield... not enough to Guard Player A's 21,000 point attack. Player B does, however, have some Rearguards left... Including a Grade 2 in the front! Grade 2's, after all, carry the Intercept ability, allowing them to move from a front row Rearguard circle directly into the Guardian Circle! Placing that 10,000 point Shield and moving the Grade 2 Unit into the Guardian Circle, Player B now has 26,000 Power up against 21,000, and it's all down to the Drive Checks... Player A reveals no Trigger on the first check, and then the second.. A Heal Trigger! Player A only has four damage to Player B's five, and so Player A does not get to move a card from the Damage Zone to the Drop Zone, but the 5000 power still applies! Grumbling, Player B commences their Damage Check... Zounds! A Heal Trigger for Player B, as well! As previously stated, Player A has four damage, and Player B has five.. Because the Damage Check has yet to move to the Damage Zone to serve as that sixth and final Damage, the game is not yet over! Player B recovers one point of Damage, and gives their Vanguard a 5000 Power boost to help survive through the rest of the turn, then moves the checked Heal Trigger into the Damage Zone, retaining five points of Damage which allows them to hang on by a thread!
-Utilizing the same set-up as on the previous turns, Player A rests their 11,000 Power Vanguard as well as their 10,000 Power Boosting Grade 1 for 21,000. Running low on resources, Player B can only spare two cards to defend - once again, it's down to two 10,000 point Shields for a total of 31,000 defending Power. Oh, the luck! Player A's first Drive Check reveals a Draw Trigger! Adding one card to the hand, Player A considers the situation... Unsure of their ability to survive Player B's next turn of attacking, Player A decides to go for it! Bequeathing the 5000 bonus Power from the Draw Trigger to the Vanguard, Player A nervously reaches out to perform the second Drive Check, with results of the game hinging on a Trigger resting on top of the deck. The players lock eyes, until... Success! One final Critical Trigger to seal it! With Player B at five damage already, Player A decides to apply both the Power and the Critical to the Vanguard, matching Player B's 31,000 point for point with a two Critical attack. Player B performs a damage check; having revealed no Heal Trigger, the game is over, with Player A emerging the victor!
Once either the attacking player has Rested all units in their front row, or has decided to end their attacking for one reason or another, the Battle Phase is over, leaving only one phase left...
- The End Phase This phase is primarily for resolution. On this phase, all power bestowed by Trigger effects expires, and any card text that pertains to the end of the turn occurs here. This is also the phase in which a Stride Unit which has been placed on the Vanguard Circle returns to the Generation Zone. This Stride Unit is placed in that zone face-up, which effectively means that the player cannot use that particular card as a Stride again unless it is once again flipped face-down using an effect. The End Phase primarily serves as a gateway to the next turn, in which the opponent gets to establish their formation in order to respond to you.
And there we have it! So ends this inaugural blog post, a hopefully coherent overview of the general flow of a game of Cardfight!! Vanguard. For those wanting to see more, I currently intend to update this with cursory glances at the various Clans within the game, so look forward to that. Feel free to pester me on Twitch Chat, or using whatever private messaging system that may or may not exist on this site about it; I'm a relatively strong player with several high-level tournament results, so I've got a fair bit of background knowledge regarding the subject! Love and respect, Allies, and have a good time dudes!
*Author's note 2 - There are four Garmores in the game currently, and each hyperlinked word in this note leads to a different one of the four artworks. My personal favorite is the third one - Great Silver Wolf, Garmore. Sadly, all of them are a bit antiquated to have any hope of carrying a player to victory, though Great Silver Wolf was one of the best cards in the game for well over a year. Also, of interest to some video game nerds, when I started playing this game I did some sleuthing, and it turns out that there's a Daisuke Izuka who's been in the credits as an art designer on a fair few of the Fire Emblem games. He's also an artist for some cards in the Fire Emblem: Cipher Trading Card Game which is currently exclusively in Japan, so it may very well be the same guy! Also, Iuh... Kinda sorta own around 26 copies of Great Silver Wolf, Garmore alone. They're only a dollar each and I can't help myself.
*Author's note 3: this is the last one I swear I'm sorry - I'm thinking about using this blog space as a repository for my musings on video games, as well. I've been trying to get my thoughts on Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne down on paper in particular for a few months, so look forward to that if I ever get off my lazy ass. Unfortunately, I have no real means of capturing screenshots outside of my PS4, so... Yeah. Also of note is that I shamelessly ganked all of the images on this post from various wikis and such, so credit to the various websites that hosted the images!