Buzzworthiness: Guildhall

It’s review time!

image by BGG user AEGTodd
image by BGG user AEGTodd

One of my acquisitions this holiday season was Guildhall, designed by Hope S. Hwang and published in 2012 by AEG. Guildhall is for 2-4 players, takes 45 minutes to play, and retails for $30. The game is set in medieval times where players are trying to build an economy through gathering different professions into your guildhall, while competing with others who are trying to do the same thing.

The base game comes with 120 profession cards (6 professions, with four copies of each color card), 30 VP cards (numbered 2-9), and 52 VP tokens. In the beginning, each payer gets nine cards from which they can discard and draw up again. Each player then sets up their guildhall with three cards. Your guildhall is a little area to the side of your play area where played cards will go. This means everyone starts with six cards.

On your turn, you get two actions. There are three things you can do as an action. You can turn in 1-2 completed chapters for a VP card (a completed chapter is a group of the same profession with all different colors in your guildhall). You can discard as many cards as you want before drawing back up to six. Or you could play a card from your hand and use its ability. The cards have multiple tiers that are conditional on cards you already have in your guildhall. So the level 2 effect can be used if there’s two of that profession in your guildhall, and the level 4 effect can be used if there’s four (it’s important to remember that cards only go into your guildhall at the end of your turn, so the card you just played doesn’t count for effects). As I said, there are six professions – the Assassin allows you to discard a card or cards from an opponent’s guildhall; the Dancer allows you to draw more cards; the Farmer can give you VP tokens; the Historian allows you take a card or cards from the discard pile; the Trader allows you to trade guildhall cards (and possibly entire chapters) with another player; and the Weaver allows you to play a card or cards directly into your guildhall from your hand.

The game continues in this vein until someone has scored 20 points. That player wins.

As a supplement to this review, I ran a poll over on BGG to get some quantification of some of the domains I typically use.  The numbers you see are the ratings on a 1-10 scale, with 1 generally being low and 10 being high.  I’m providing the averages here…we’ll see if they actually give a more objective idea.  These ratings are highlighted in red to provide contrast to the review.

COMPONENTS: As mentioned, Guildhall comes with 150 cards and 52 tokens, meaning that the box is FAR bigger than it needs to be. It is smaller than a standard box, but there’s still a lot of air. The insert isn’t completely useless as the slots are big enough for the components to be separated, but overall, the box could have been smaller. Particularly if you don’t include so many cardboard tokens – I’ve never played a game where more than 10-15 get used.

As for the cards themselves, they are pretty good quality and well illustrated – you know what everything is and, once you get to know the symbols, can figure out what everything does. Color is a big part of the game as you need one of each color to complete a chapter. The colors are all easily distinguishable, and symbols are included for people who are color blind.

Overall, I give the component quality a thumbs up, even with the box that is too big for the contents. To me, that just means I can pack other small games in it (I threw out my insert already).

  • Component Quality Rating: 7.60
  • Art Rating: 6.64

THEME: The theme here is not strong. It’s medieval era, and you have six different professions you’re dealing with. The guildhall concept is good as a unifying thematic force get them together, but I’m not sure all the cards are necessarily thematically tied to what they do. The Assassin is, because you’re killing cards in other people’s guildhalls. The Historian also works thematically as you’re going through the discard pile, and the Trader allows you to trade cards with others. However, I’m not entirely clear on the thematic connections of the Dancer, Farmer, and Weaver.

Really, it’s not a big deal. This would fall more on the Euro side of the spectrum of games, so theme isn’t as important as in other products. And it’s not like you need the thematic connection to keep everything straight – there are only six professions, so you should be able to remember everything.

  • Strength of Theme: 5.00

MECHANICS: Guildhall boils down to a set collection game – there are six different professions, and you need one of each of five colors to complete the set and be able to score points. There’s a basic action selection system in effect – you get two actions on a turn, and there are really only three choices of actions. In these respects, Guildhall is a very simple game.

What sets the play of Guildhall apart is the leveling up mechanism of the cards. Each of the six professions has different things they do based on how many cards of that profession are already in your Guildhall. For example, the Assassin can normally cause an opponent to discard one card from their guildhall. However, if you already have two Assassins, you can make your opponent discard one card from each of two different chapters. And if you have four, you can make your opponent discard two cards, even if they are from the same chapter. This leveling up aspect works across all professions – the Dancer gives you more cards, the Historian allows you to look through the discard pile rather than take the top card, the Farmer gives you 2 coins instead of 1, the Trader allows you to trade more cards (and possibly entire chapters), and the Weaver allows you to play more cards from your hand.

This leveling up mechanism turns what could have been a dry lather-rinse-repeat style set collection game into one with some depth, and I appreciate that aspect. I’m not trying to knock set collection games (I really like them), but it is nice to have something new added to an old genre.

  • Mechanics Rating: 8.68

STRATEGY LEVEL: One inherent issue you’re going to have to deal with in a card game is the role that luck plays. The randomness of the cards means that strategies are going to be denpedent on what you ave in your hand. However, with only six cards in the game, that means this luck factor is mitigated to a degree. There’s enough strategy in figuring out the best way to complete chapters quickly while still getting the most out of the professions you have that luck is not really an issue. Also, as many of the VP cards give you special abilities, you have some options of what to do when scoring – it’s not just a case of taking the highest available point card, but trying to figure out what is going to be the best benefit. The biggest problem is finding the right color, but if you don’t draw them into your hand, there are still ways to get them out of the discard pile or other people’s guildhalls. So, while luck is a factor in the game, it is not as big of an issue as it may seem from the outset.

  • Luck Level: 5.00

ACCESSIBILITY: Guildhall is not a tough game to learn. I keep repeating the fact that there are only six cards, and I think that’s key to the games accessibility. It’s not threatening…there are only six roles, and they’re all different enough from each other that you can keep them separate in your mind. I have taught this game to 12 year old girls who were not big gamers, and they had a very fun time with it (of course, they mostly kept assassinating each other). I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest game to get into, but it has enough depth to keep gamers interested while maintaining the simplicity to help casual gamers get into it.

  • Accessibility Rating: 7.71

REPLAYABIITY: Again, I bring up the six cards. You would think that limits the replayability of this game, but it really does not. In fact, the different ways the cards come into your hand means that your strategy is always going to be shifting. Also, different playing styles of different players may cause you to change midgame – I’m often ticked enough at an aggressive player to go after them rather than pursue what might be a more optimal strategy.

If you don’t think the base game is going to be enough, there’s an expansion entitled Job Faire that adds six more professions. I haven’t played it so I can’t speak to the quality, but that adds lots of replayability. You still only play with six professions, but you can mix and match between sets. Still, even without the expansion, I think there’s plenty of replayability right in the base box.

  • Replayability: 8.52
  • Fun Factor: 8.33

SCALABILITY: Guildhall is a 2-4 player game, and I’ve found that it plays pretty well with all those numbers. In a four player game, of course, you’re going to have a lot more downtime between turns, but as the play of others affects what you’re going to do, there’s plenty to keep you engaged. Additionally, there’s an unofficial solo variant that was designed by BGG user GameRulesForOne that I still need to check out.

  • Recommended for 3 (88%), 2 (84%), 4 (72%)
  • Ideal Player Count: 3.22

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? If you can’t tell, I really like this game. It’s a very fresh feeling game that lifts the set collection genre to a new level. It’s fun, it’s strategic, and (a big plus) my wife likes it too. It’s one I’m going to want to keep in my collection for a while.

  • Likelihood of Recommending: 7.96

So that’s the review, #1 of the the 50 I’ll be doing this year. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

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