Fancy a Kick About? – Guildball, Game Review

In amongst my Mordheim games I’ve managed to play a couple of other things as well. One of the newest games to sweep the Spartans club is Guidball, which has picked up fans like the newest football superstar. And like that superstar the game is fun, charming, looks good and plays like an absolute animal.

The premise is that the different guilds in the city play a ball game that’s essentially a cross between football (soccer) and a gladiatorial blood bath. There is a ball, and it is technically the best way of scoring points in a single action (four per goal, 12 will win you the game). However, you can also get points for knocking out other players (2 a time) and some teams are much better at that then the actual passing-shooting game.

There are a plethora of parallels with Bloodbowl – scoring is the easiest way to get points, player on player violence, sometimes you forget exactly where the ball is or simply that the ball exists – and is pretty fun. However, the dice systems is much simpler. Rather than opposed rolls based on individual statistics, requiring some time complicated comparisons with particular rules, the attacker (‘tackler’) rolls their tackle dice and has to hit a target number on the defenders card, deducting successes for whatever armour they might have. Simple, right?

It gets a little more complicated. Dependent on the number of successes you roll, each character has different moves or actions they can take. These are listed for easy reference on their character cards and is a surprisingly simple choice once you’re familiar with your characters. As each character has a different moves list (‘playbook’) it can take a bit of time to figure out who does what and when, unlike Bloodbowl where people just get hurt or don’t. Each character also has an HP tracker, so there are squishy folks and hard-as-nails folks, making the pitch into a tactical battlefield.

I’ve played two games and enjoyed them both. Where I’ve used the word ‘complicated’ above, or implied it, for either Guildball or Bloodbowl this is a comparative term. Both are simple games to pick up and play. Guildball’s advantage is that it’s played with D6’s rather than specialised dice, and the variety of characters means that even if two people play the same guild they can have very different teams. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily better, but it is definitely a good game and well put together. If you enjoyed Bloodbowl I would definitely give Guildball a try. The buy in is around £40-£50 depending on who and what expansions you choose but all in all, for a miniatures game, that’s not that bad.

Game One – Alchemists VS Butchers

For my first game I played against Bekkie, one of the newer additions to the club and – as I was reminded by our rules-referee Dan, very new to tabletop gaming. She was playing the Butchers guild, which is apparently a group of violent criminals who take their anger and bloodthirsty urges out on dead animals for a living. They basically do a lot of damage and not a hell of a lot else. That’s a team I understand and can get on with, but because of my diversity complex I couldn’t pick the same guild.

So I picked Alchemists, for no real reason apart from Dan advised me that they were an all round team and I thought if I learned them then I could play to my opponents’ weaknesses while I learned to play. Not a bad strategy, but retrospectively perhaps not the best as it leaves me without a particular specialism of my own.

For Guildball enthusiasts, my team consisted of Midas, Vitriol, Calculus, Mercury, Katalyst and Flask. I’ve forgotten what Bekkie played but it definitely had Ox and Boar on it. For those unfamiliar with the game, teams consist of a Captain, a Mascot and four other players. Captains are very powerful while Mascots tend to be…combination pieces for other characters, usually, and somewhat subpar by themselves. Midas does a lot of different things very well but nothing exceptionally well (apart from annoy your opponent, which works for me). Vitriol is a Striker, lots of movement and dashing about, great ability to kick/pass and a surprising amount of damage on her if played correctly.Calculus and Mercury are supportive players, able to throw out condition inflicting grenades that poison or burn people respectively, and punish people in the same way for standing too close to them. Flask is the team mascot, and explodes when it dies but can also re-trigger damage on enemies with conditions on them. Finally, Katalyst is a beast that gets better at hitting thing when they conditions.

My plan was to combo out my conditions and then chuck Katalyst into someone – he has 27hp in a game where 20 is high, and could get a total of 8 tackle dice without charging or other characters supporting if someone was poisoned, hitting them easier if they were on fire. I also hoped to run the attrition game, with my two grenadiers dragging the enemy team down not-so-gradually with a passive three damage a turn.

The plan unravelled somewhat. Vitriol started with the ball and kicked it off to onside. This was basically ignored by the Butchers who moved slightly closer to it, but much closer to my team. Fair enough, intent registered there; I proceeded to try and lay down some condition areas to hamper them and make them a bit squisher. Then I was introduced to the concept of Momentum; this is earned when players pass the ball, score or perform particular attacks (‘plays’) from their playbook. The grenadiers couldn’t build Momentum for me while throwing things, and the Influence resource (also generated by each player, allowing it to be mixed and matched around the team so your star or key players could get more limelight) needed to activate these attacks was high enough that while I got some board control I lost out on a lot of bonus Momentum.

Momentum also allows players to clear conditions on their characters. All conditions. I worked out that it was better to rebuff characters who had already activated, as it was more expensive for them to recover than recovery in a character’s activation. However, while this managed to hobble Bekkie’s somewhat insane Momentum production it mostly left us on an equal footing in that regard – she was making so many attacks that she could afford to clear her players’ conditions and keep up with what little Momentum I produced. Coupled with Katalyst’s surprisingly damage-lacking playbook, I only won because Vitriol had been ignored all game and scored a turn two goal before eliminating one of Bekkie’s characters who returned to the pitch on low life after being knocked out once. We finished with a fairly close 12-8 scoreline.

Game Two – Alchemist VS Union

I played Dyson in my second game about a week later. He made a big point that this was only his third or fourth game, but from the chat he had with Dan about his team while setting up he had clearly done a lot more research into the game and his team than my absentminded perusal on internet stores for cheap models. I swapped out Calculus and Mercury for Compound, a chunky goal keeper, and Venin, a Striker/Tackler/Damage/Tank.

I didn’t play well at all. Partly this was due to being a noob, but also partly, I like to think, due to the monumental hangover I had while playing. Venin is cool as all hell but I played him terribly, forgetting to activate his ability that made him tanky on a regular basis despite it being essentially free, and activating him first which gave him first strike capability but meant that other characters could recover from his prolific poison abilities. I truly realised how damage-light Katalyst’s playbook was – the early part of it is very tackle centric, so using him as my main damage dealer didn’t work out in any way despite the combo with Venin.

Vitriol got knocked out super early after Dyson rolled roughly 5+ to hit her on about 2/3 dice for the first two turns, although she came back early to disrupt his Striker. I also horribly misplayed Midas, confusing two of Dyson’s characters and wasting him for most of the game. Dyson played his team well, but my loss was mostly down to my failings and the early yet unlikely removal of Vitriol. I didn’t focus his players very at all, leaving a half his team on low hit points with the retrospectively terrible plan of eliminating them in one fell swoop. I never got to swoop, in a fell manner or otherwise, and lost the game 0-12.

I wasn’t put off by any means, and have signed up for a league in May – which I may drop out of as I don’t have a team of my own as yet. If I can borrow models while making purchases then I’ll stay in it, but I may switch up my characters again – or even my team. I’ve experienced approximately one ninth of the game and it would probably be a smart move to try other things out before deciding on a final team. I’ve got two weeks to try different things before picking a team so I’ll make a panic choice when Dan (League Organiser) hounds me for what I’m playing.

Pros:

  • Simple rules set and play mechanics – basically every character will be doing the same actions each turn, affected by their individual rules.
  • No points values or limits, making team creation dead simple. Aside from requiring a Captain and a Mascot, teams can be put together however a player wants.
  • Lots of diversity between the guilds and even individual players within each guild, meaning that the game has re-play-ability as well as a good potential for longevity. This is assisted by the creators designing it to run in seasons, with the release of new players and teams as time goes on.

Cons:

  • Kickstarted. While many great gems have come out of Kickstarter, not having the backing of a full company can hamper design, production, release schedules and funding. While the designers’ pitch is encouraging, only time will tell how the business plays on grass.
  • Price. Circa £50 for  team is fairly reasonable, but with upcoming releases and close to a dozen different teams trying different Guilds could quickly add up to an expensive collection.
  • Diversity brings opacity – unless you’re familiar with how all the Guilds play I can see even fairly experienced players being confused or surprised by how the different teams and players interact. Because each character is different the level of dedication required to learn, even in passing, how each one functions is fairly high. Sure, this defines the difference between competitive and casual formats & players, but it can be intimidating for new starters regardless of their level of competitiveness.

I highly recommend the game to anyone who like war band games, small model count table-top or war games, or enjoy games like Bloodbowl. It’s definitely not for the grand strategy gamers, or people who like the clash of giant armies, but I think that’s fairly obvious from my recounting. While my review might be somewhat brief or detail light, this guy has done one with a lot more specifics about the rules for people interested in that side of things. I also stole his banner image, so kudos to him for that as well!

If you can jump in on a demo game I would definitely do so, whatever your flavour of table-top gaming, and just have a kick about.

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