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Review: Guildhall

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It’s the dark ages and there are pigs running all over the place causing chaos and disorder.  It’s your job to hire some farmers to pick up those pigs so that everyone else can finally get some work done.  That’s the man for the job right there on the cover.  He’s so good at his job that he’s holding 2 pigs, better hire him quick and give him some good benefits before someone else recruits him to their own guild!  There are some representatives from the other various occupations too but most of them look shady and it’s really hard to look away from that farmer’s big old nose.  And don’t mind that guy in the back left, he’s absolutely not about to kill someone.  I think that pretty much sums up Guildhall, now let’s go watch that dancer without having to worry about getting run over by a herd of pigs.

How it Plays

Guildhall is a card game that utilizes set collection and hand management. The cards represent 6 different occupations that come in 5 colors which are evenly distributed and shuffled into a shared deck. Players take turns playing cards into an area in front of them called their guildhall. Collecting all five colors in a given occupation results in a completed chapter which may be cashed in for points.

A completed chapter of Dancers.

On their turn players may take 2 actions which is often just playing a card from their hand into an action area. When a card is played it will perform an ability which is determined by its occupation and how many of that occupation are already in the owning player’s guildhall. Abilities mainly deal with moving cards around from various areas (a player’s hand, the guildhalls, discard pile, and draw pile) and become more powerful as more of their occupation are in the guildhall. If a specific card (for example, a Red Farmer) is in a player’s guildhall they may not play another copy of that card until it is removed either by completing the chapter or moving it with an ability. Players may also discard any number of cards and draw back up to 6 cards or discard 1 or 2 completed chapter to take a victory point card from the available supply. The victory point cards range in value from 2 to 9 points, those worth less points have powerful abilities that are activated when they are gained. Once a player has used both of their actions the cards in their action area are moved into their guildhall.

One of the occupations, the Farmer, allows for vp tokens to be gained. These are an alternate source of points and are added to the victory point cards to determine the total point count. The game ends immediately when a player has 20 points between their vp chips and cards, that player is the winner.

The Farmer and his precious VP chips.

 

Should you join the guild?

Guildhall has the appeal of being a quick playing game with an extremely simple ruleset. Most of the game boils down to moving cards from one location to another until you can collect all five colors of the same occupation to turn in for points. However you are working within the limitations of what cards are available (in your hand, in the discard pile, and in your opponents’ guilds) and what abilities you can currently use. Properly managing the timing of your actions so that you can best take advantage of the available cards without providing too much opportunity for your opponents is the trick.

There is a lot of opportunity for clever play and a big part of the fun in Guildhall is discovering and exploiting the combination of powers provided by the occupations. For instance, the Assassin causes an opponent to discard a card of your choice from their guildhall. Then follow that up with playing a Historian and you can pull that card from the discard pile and add it to your Guildhall. This is a rather simple example but illustrates how one occupation can provide opportunities for another. Another layer is added with the VP cards that contain abilities, these closely resemble the abilities provided by the occupations so they will often work well in combination with your current occupations.

Who would have thought that an Assassin and Historian would work so well together?

As mentioned above, timing is perhaps the key strategic concept in this game. The occupations get more powerful as you add more of them to your guildhall but once a full set is collected they flip and become a completed chapter which will have you starting over again at the bottom tier ability. You may want to milk those powerful abilities as long as possible by moving cards around to prevent completion but this increases the risk that other players will take notice and interfere before you can complete the chapter.

One of the first things that will prove to be discouraging to new players is figuring out how to deal with duplicate cards, meaning cards that you have in hand that are already in your guildhall. The most obvious thing to do is just discard the duplicates and hope for unique cards from the draw. Doing this and drawing a new hand full of duplicates can be quite aggravating as you watch others play every single card they drew without effort. There are plenty of ways to deal with your duplicates without having to discard them but it can take some patience and sometimes you just don’t have what you need to do this and so your best option can be to stick with the luck of the draw.

Some of the Victory Point cards.

The ability to pick on the leader can make for pretty tense end game by keeping the scores pretty close. This does occasionally creates situations where all the players are about to win and are just executing their plans in a race to the finish. In the case of a particularly close finish a lucky draw can decide the winner as players scramble for the last card in their chapters to grab their final victory card. I personally think that strategic play is generally rewarded over the course of the game and although your plans can fall apart if you jump out into the lead it prevents a player from running away with the game if they get the perfect draw.

I found the iconography in the game to be very consistent and easy to interpret. The icons clearly indicate what types of ability is to occur (move card, gain vp tokens, take additional actions) and what areas cards are moving between (your hand, the guildhalls, discard pile, draw pile). There aren’t even very many distinct cards in the game so it’s easy to go through them one at a time and explain what the icons mean.

That may look like a bunch of icons at first but it quickly makes sense.

Adding to the great iconography, the card layout is great and easy to scan for the information that you need quickly. Each occupation has it’s own symbol for sorting and the colors also have a distinct symbol to further distinguish them (and help for color blindness). The occupations each have a portrait that takes up most of the card but doesn’t distract from the useful information and helps to further identify the occupation easily.

Summary

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros

  • Quick play with plenty of meaningful decisions
  • Simple ruleset allows for easy teaching
  • Good level of interaction between players
  • Clever tension between completing sets and utilizing powerful abilities

Cons:

  • Bad draws can make the game aggravating
  • Tight end game can be determined by lucky draws
  • The 2 player game can lack card variety while the 4 player game can go too long
8.0 Very Good

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

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