Disclaimer: I haven’t played this map yet. That said…
Guardians looks like it can be quite unforgiving in the top and bottom positions, especially if the Zombie Dwarves go north and south, respectively. Your struggling friend is playing the Humans, who are faced with a couple obvious problems on this map that need to resolved pretty much immediately, or else things get much harder:
- Two Giant Caverns, one which might be blighted before the game starts.
- A line of settlements leading the Human Zombies straight to Bards Plain.
If this situation doesn’t get locked down right away, the secondary threats become magnified:
- An indefensible Mana Pool in the northwest.
- Blighted Gryphons to the south.
My guess is that your friend, being a new player, suffered from at least one of three common new-player problems at the outset of the game, and together they conspired to make the situation harder for him:
- Few or no rare Hero Cards (specifically Houndmasters).
- An insufficient appreciation for the importance of careful play in the first hours of the game.
- An insufficient appreciation for the power of compulsion effects.
None of these are faults, and all improve with experience! But, they do tend to make games harder. For instance, in the starting position that BlightedPea posted, that big stack of Zombie Humans is only about 12h from Bards Plain at the outset of the game. Fallen Human Fortresses generate a lot of Zombie strength, so saving Bards Plain has to be the top priority (followed by wiping out the graveyard at Badgers Barrow).
Now, the Humans have many ways to save it, but they all basically require that you make your first card drop a Houndmaster, Wizard, or Dragonhelm Knight in order to reach it in time. In other words, you must recognize that it needs rescue at the outset of the game, or else whatever you deploy (six hours in at best) could be too late. A very common mistake I see newer players making (especially with the Humans for some reason) is focusing on raw military power much too early, dropping a Mighty General or 20 Knights as their first card, when they really need to get some compulsion effects onto the field right away. It took me until about halfway through all the single player missions to get an appreciation for compulsion: it was about when I moved from the Elf missions to the Orc missions, and suddenly realized how much I missed the endless cheap crowd control.
Of course some maps are harder than others. I certainly agree with you on that point, and I’d even extend it: I think some races are much harder to succeed with than others, especially as a new player. The devs have done a great job giving each race a very distinct playstyle, and until you understand what those playstyles are, it can be quite difficult to understand how a race is supposed to function at all (e.g. my first multiplayer games as the Trolls were not pretty).
On your point of introductory maps: I consider the single player campaigns (on normal difficulty) to be pretty good introductions to most of the strengths and weaknesses of each race. They provide a lot of experience with the most important concepts, and at the end of the day, experience is the best teacher there is. I definitely recommend playing through all of them!
And finally, before you start your next game, have him pop over to the Strategy Guides and take a look at a guide to the race he’s going to play. There’s a lot of good information over there.
And feel free to PM me if you need another player