Gloomhaven Red Guard Guide – Cards, Builds, Perks, Enhancements & Items

Last Updated on November 4, 2023 by Samuel Franklin

Gloomhaven Red Guard Guide – Cards, Builds, Perks, Enhancements & Items

In this guide to the Jaws of Lion Red Guard character we’ll dive into the bruiser and Shield Spikes variants that players have available when playing this durable red class in Gloomhaven. Providing information on card options during your journey and building further on this with perks, enhancements and item selection you’ll find a realisable front line hero that fits perfectly into many Gloomhaven party compositions and styles.

Like the other Valrath in the broader story these well mannered and gentle demonic looking humanoids provide fantastic problem solving and diplomacy that has lead many to positions of power in human society. Some have retained their roots as protectors in society though with this particular caste wearing distinctive red armour that is paired with a deadly chained sickle and durable shield that they hire out as a mercenary. The Red Guard is one of several Valrath available to players and was introduced in the Jaws of the Lions expansion as a durable fighter intended to move around the front lines dealing damage, absorbing damage and contributing various utility. In order to achieve this the Red Guard is equipped with shields, disarms and pulls that allow you to manipulate the battlefield in your parties favour while also bringing some sources of direct damage to overcome enemy shielding. Despite the medium hand size of 10 the Red Guard has high flexibility and survivability with many top and bottom attacks that do more than your standard attack or move action framework.

For information and build guides on other Gloomhaven character options visit our Gloomhaven classes overview and the related Gloomhaven class tier list. Note that from this point onwards this guide contains full card spoilers for this class and minor item spoilers (general themes only and not specific non starting items).

Table of Contents:
Red Guard Cards, Perks, Enhancements and Items Overview
Red Guard Cards Detailed
Red Guard Perks Detailed
Red Guard Enhancements Detailed
Red Guard Items Detailed

Gloomhaven Red Guard Guide Overview

In the overview section of the Red Guard guide you’ll find a quick reference to my recommendations when playing as the Red Guard in Gloomhaven and Jaws of the Lion content. Providing your card choices from level 1 to 9 alongside perks, enhancements and equipment you can reference this page quickly while playing to build your Red Guard without detracting from gameplay time. For additional information on these choices and alternative routes for the Red Guard visit the detailed section further down the page.

This Red Guard overview section primarily details how to play a flexible bruiser role that means you provide a blend of damage and defence to your team although I have also included the route for the alternative Shield Spikes build. The Red Guard was truly the first Gloomhaven character I played where it feels like there are two viable and distinct build paths available to players with one (that I consider the default way) being a blend of damage, damage absorption and utility with the other being Shield Spikes where your objective is to generate as much shield as possible while reflecting damage back onto your enemies while using the persistent effect of the Shield Spikes card.

The default path is what I recommend for the Red Guard particularly in the 2-3 player party sizes where you need to bring your own reliable sources of damage to your party to ensure you can move through scenarios at an acceptable pace. That being said I have also played a Red Guard Shield Spikes build at a 4 player party size that was highly effective and fun although I only recommend it for 4 mercenary party sizes or 3 party sizes if you are the only melee fighter.


Red Guard Cards Overview

For the default Red Guard build:

    • Level 1: Remove Blade Dance, Precision Strike and Flame Shroud to create your starting deck of cards
    • Level 2: Harvest Sickle replaces Warrior of the Sun
    • Level 3: Strangling Chain replaces Shield of the Desert
    • Level 4: Burn Away The Dark replaces Shocking Advance
    • Level 5: Sand Devil replaces Twirling Stabs
    • Level 6: Flying Sickle replaces Blinding Sickle
    • Level 7: Horns of the Beast replaces Flaming Sickle
    • Level 8: Prismatic Sickle replaces Shield Spikes
    • Level 9: Honourable Fury replaces Harvest Sickle

For the Shield Spikes Red Guard build:

    • Level 1: Remove Blade Dance, Precision Strike and Twirling Stabs to create your starting deck of cards
    • Level 2: Barbaric Instincts replaces Blinding Sickle
    • Level 3: Strangling Chain replaces Shield of the Desert
    • Level 4: Burn Away The Dark replaces Shocking Advance
    • Level 5: Sand Devil replaces Warrior of the Sun
    • Level 6: Flying Sickle replaces Healing Sands
    • Level 7: Horns of the Beast replaces Flame Sickle
    • Level 8: No Fear replaces Desert Night
    • Level 9: Soaring Shield replaces Flame Shroud

Red Guard Perks Priority Overview

  • Remove two -1 cards (take twice)
  • Remove one -2 card and add one +1 card
  • Replace one -1 card with one +1 card (take twice)
  • Remove four +0s
  • Replace one +1 card with one +2 fire card (take twice)
  • Replace one +0 card with one +1 wound card
  • Add one +1 fire/light card
  • Add one +1 shield card (take twice and for the Shield Spikes build take this after removing four +0s instead)

Red Guard Enhancements Priority Overview

For the default Red Guard build:

  • Add Poison to the top of Strangling Chain
  • Add Strengthen to the top of Healing Sands
  • Add attack or other debuffs (wound, poison) to top core attack cards (Desert Night, Swift Strength, Flying Sickle, Prismatic Sickle)

For the Shield Spikes Red Guard build:

  • Add Shield to the top of Barbaric Instincts
  • Add Shield to the bottom of Swift Strength
  • Add Poison to the top of Strangling Chain
  • Add Shield to the bottom of Soaring Shield

Red Guard Items Priority Overview

  • Minor Stamina Potion
  • Boots of Striding
  • Minor Healing Potion
  • War Hammer
  • Iron Helmet
  • Heater Shield


Gloomhaven Red Guard Guide Detailed

In the detailed section I discuss the specific choices you will make in both the default and Shield Spikes build which have very different decisions pathways albeit not much deviation within each build path. The detailed section covers cards, perks, enhancements and equipment options for both builds while diving into the reasons behind them so you can maximise these decisions.

Red Guard Cards Detailed

The Red Guard card choices vary dramatically between default and Shield Spikes builds to ensure you have the tools necessary to perform the tasks that each build desires. These recommended card options also detail some of the reasons behind decisions so that you can adjust as you see necessary to your specific party playing group.

For the default Red Guard build:

  • Starting Cards: For the default Red Guard we remove our weakest cards that are clearly Blade Dance and Precision Strike given the weak burn options they provide and reliance on element generation that we can’t quite support yet. The third weakest card is much closer with a few options depending on playstyle and party but I generally remove Flame Shroud although for larger scenarios or shield heavy scenarios you can add it back and remove Warrior of the Sun.
  • Level 2 Cards: Harvest Sickle provides the Red Guard with a solid attack 4 and while it is only 2 range as a melee focused character this is rarely an issue for us. The bottom move and loot is also actually pretty strong towards the end of a scenario when combined with boots to help our party obtain every piece of dropped gold for our funds.
  • Level 3 Cards: Strangling Chain is a clear winner for us here as it helps us address our lower movement value cards so far with a solid move 4 with the immobilise providing some value when we step up to a ranged enemy that forces a disadvantaged attack. Ideally though we should be using the top in co-ordination with our team and when fire is available as it allows us to add a significant amount of damage to a single target. Doubling down further on this theme adding poison to this attack through the enhancement mechanic is highly effective as we should always be the first attacker when using this card.
  • Level 4 Cards: Level 4 is one of our toughest choices yet as Radiant Sickle looks quite nice at first glance with a good attack and bottom that allows us to both move and heal which is always an attractive action combination. Unfortunately it competes against Burn Away The Dark that allows us to disarm an enemy when we move towards them or wound a large number of enemies around us with the top action which simply brings us more value.
  • Level 5 Cards: Like all Jaws of the Lions characters you have only a single choice at level 5 with the Red Guard acquiring the Sand Devil that suits our playstyle nicely. With this card I recommend you utilise the move 5 bottom for most of a scenario before activating the persistent top action towards the later stages where enemy density and difficulty usually increases.
  • Level 6 Cards: Flying Sickle really helps to push our damage to another level and gives us a longer range pull that helps make traps one of our best friends during a scenario which means there really is no competition from Fierce Brilliance at this level for card choices.
  • Level 7 Cards: Level 7 is an interesting choice with Vicious Ballet potentially being a repeatable 9 attack provided we are at least in a 3 party size and if you have a large apart of melee allies it can definitely be a tempting choice. If this works for you then you’ll need to be careful of your replacement card given you need to hold onto the required elemental generation. Instead of this I recommend you take the reliable Horns of the Beast as it allows us to starting replace our weaker fire generators in Shield Spikes and Flaming Sickle. Either is a perfectly acceptable replacement at level 7 depending on your needs as you’ll likely drop the other one next level anyway as we’re starting to quickly run out of bad cards to exchange.
  • Level 8 Cards: Level 8 for the default build path is an easy choice given one card offers us no value and thus we take Prismatic Sickle that offers so much elemental generation alongside a solid attack and repeatable loot 2 and allows us to start removing one of our weaker sickle themed cards. This card is an incredible setup tool for a number of card combinations such as our soon to come level 9 card.
  • Level 9 Cards: Level 9 for the Red Guard is once again a clear split between the builds and thus for the standard default pathway we will be taking Honourable Fury that adds another short range attack to our options while having the ability to empower it to a high attack 7 with advantage.

For the Shield Spikes Red Guard build:

  • Starting Cards: Similar to the standard build we will want to remove the obvious weaker cards of Blade Dance and Precision Strike. However, given the bottom of Flame Shroud has some shield potential when fire is available we’ll want to cut one of the weaker attacks we have which puts Twirling Stabs on the chopping block instead.
  • Level 2 Cards: Taking a different level 2 option from the default path we want to grab Barbaric Instincts as it provides us another opportunity to acquire shield and can be enhanced in time to a solid 2 shield and with the bottom of Flame Shield may even produce a 3 shield round once we obtain the enhancement.
  • Level 3 Cards: No change from the default build above.
  • Level 4 Cards: No change from the default build above.
  • Level 5 Cards: Similar to default Red Guard build the Sun Devil offers great value and even more to the Shield Spikes build as we can utilise the muddle to improve the outcomes of the attacks we need to take from enemies to trigger our damage. It’s sad to let go one of our shield cards to fit it in but we can’t generally afford to lose our other cards that provide so much utility. The level 5 to 8 range for the Shield Spikes build is a little rough so as an alternative you could transition to something closer to the default build until that point.
  • Level 6 Cards: While we take Flying Sickle for the same reasons as the default build it’s difficult to fit into our hand and if your team has someone else to heal we will sadly have to let go of our self healing card in Healing Sands as the 4 health is simply becoming less and less effective. A potential alternative is the removal of Flaming Sickle but that severely hurts our flame elemental generation and hurts our flexibility significantly right now.
  • Level 7 Cards: No change from the default build above.
  • Level 8 Cards: Unlike the default Red Guard build path level 8 we get our dream card in No Fear with a 1 initiative that ensures we always go first and combined with our soon to come level 9 card provides us a dream combo of jump into a pack of enemies and let them hurt themselves on the spikes of our shield.
  • Level 9 Cards: Soaring Shield is our level 9 choice with the bottom offering us a much needed jump to get into the thick of it and if we use this after a Flying Sickle we will be able to create an incredible 3 shield from our bottom action. This makes it a perfectly fitting replacement for Flame Shroud to replace our bottom shield action.


Red Guard Perks Detailed

The default and Shield Spikes builds follow a similar perk pathway as the focus is similar in removing negative values and acquiring another potential source of elemental generation as it adds some flexibility to our attack patterns as otherwise it is a fine balance between generation and usage that can quickly be thrown off. One difference though is is in the Shield Spikes build I’d grab the +1 shield attack modifiers earlier (after the zero removal) as we are never disappointed with a little extra shield to save our health pool and even provide damage given the design of the build.


Red Guard Enhancements Detailed

Like other components of the two Red Guard builds so far the enhancements do deviate although both will want to enhance the top of Strangling Chain eventually as it’s a powerful team weapon to have on many scenarios with tough targets that we want to burst down.

For the default damage build the Red Guard doesn’t really need much else to be effective although giving ourselves a source of strengthen can pay dividends on Healing Sands to setup an attack as we move between rooms in a scenario. Alternatively with extra gold we can double down on debuffs like wound on poison or simply add 1 base damage to our core attack cards like Desert Night, Swift Strength, Flying Sickle and Prismatic Sickle although these are far from mandatory additions to our kit.

On the other hand the Shield Spikes Red Guard build wants to quickly add an additional shield value to our core shield cards to help mitigate the growing base damage values that enemies bring as we level up while also being highly cost effective as it serves us as both offense and defence. I still recommend grabbing the Strangling Chain poison upgrade noted above but this should come after our two cheaper early game shield value upgrades of Barbaric Instincts and Swift Strength.


Red Guard Items Detailed

The Red Guard has plenty of decent item choices although most notably we don’t have the ignore negative item effects that other base Gloomhaven characters have and as such we don’t want a heavy armour that will reduce our strong damage output. This means for early game items we look towards the Iron Helmet and Heater Shield for defences while grabbing minor potions (Stamina and Healing), War Hammer to give us more team utility when necessary and boot upgrades.

Beyond these equipment pieces the Red Guard has plenty of options with items that provide shield values particularly attractive for the Shield Spikes build and still decent for the regular build as we will be taking the odd attack from an enemy. Other themed items to keep an eye on for both builds are stuns, items that change our attacks to area of effect and healing items that simply help us with the Red Guard playstyle.

Written by
Samuel Franklin
Samuel Franklin is the founder and lead editor of the Games Finder team and enjoys video games across all genres and platforms.

Gloomhaven is one of Sam’s favourite board games and he finds himself regularly playing the convenient digital version alone and with friends. He enjoys the tactical turn based combat and unique characters that Gloomhaven offers with his favourite being the Spellweaver.

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