Off the Shelf #6: Guildhall

It’s been a bit since I’ve done one of these, but I’m currently review copy free, so we’re back! If you need a reminder, Off the Shelf is my series where I critically re-examine games off my game shelf, and today, we’ll be looking at

image by BGG user AEGTodd

Guildhall is a 2012 card game designed by Hope S. Hwang and published by AEG. It’s for 2-4 players, and it’s a hand management/set collection game where you’re trying to build up a prosperous guildhall in a medieval town.

My first logged play was in 2013, and I got it later that year for Christmas. I have 13 logged plays on BGG, but I’ve played it a bunch online as well. AEG has done a number of different versions of this game since it was first released – an expansion (Job Faire) that was released in 2013, a Legend of the Five Rings tie-in released in 2014, a series of three Guildhall Fantasy games in 2016, and an Advanced Guildhall Fantasy game in 2017. I just have the original. I haven’t played the physical game much lately, but I do play online quite a bit at

The game basically consists of six cards – the Assassin, the Dancer, the Farmer, the Historian, the Trader, and the Weaver. However, there are 120 cards in the game – four copies of each card in each of five different colors. At the start of the game, you’re dealt nine cards. You can choose to discard some and draw back up to nine, and then you play three out in front of you so you have a hand of six. You’re playing into what are known as chapters, and each chapter consists of cards with the same name, but every card must be a different color.

On your turn, you will take two actions. Your options are to discard and draw, play cards, or purchase VP cards. To discard and draw, you simply discard as many cards as you want from your hand, then draw back up to six.

If you want to play a card, you just put it own in front of you (not in a chapter yet). You then get to take the action of the card. At the end of your turn, cards you play will go into your guildhall, so be careful with what you play – remember, every card in a chapter has to be a different color. Also, you can’t play the same profession twice in

Each profession has its own action, and the strength of these actions goes up depending on how many cards are already in their chapter.

  • The Assassin allows you to remove a card from an opponent’s chapter. If you already have two Assassins in your guildhall, you can remove one card from each of two different chapters, and if you already have four Assassins, you can remove any two cards, even from the same chapter. Removed cards go in the discard pile.
  • The Dancer allows you to draw a card for every Dancer you already have in the Guildhall. So, if there’s one already there, you can draw one card. Plus, it gives you an extra action.
  • The Farmer gives you one point if you already have at least one Farmer in your Guildhall. If you have at least three, it gives you two points.
  • The Historian allows you to take the top card off the discard pile and put it directly into your Guildhall. If you already have two Historians in your Guildhall, you can search the discard pile and take something into your Guildhall. Or, if you already have four, you can search the discard for two cards.
  • The Trader allows you to trade any one card from your Guildhall with any one card of an opponent, and they can’t do anything about it. Having two Traders already in your Guildhall allows you to do a two-for-two trade. Having four Traders allows you two trade an entire chapter for an opponent’s chapter. This means you could trade a one-card chapter for a four-card chapter (you can’t trade completed chapters).
  • The Weaver lets you take a card from your hand and put it straight into your Guildhall. Having two Weavers lets you put two cards in your Guildhall, but you have to take one card back. Four Weavers lets you put any number of cards from your hand in your Guildhall, but you take back two.

It should be noted that you can always do a lower level of action. For example, if you have two Weavers, you can still just put one card in your Guildhall.

The third action option is to buy a VP card. When you have five cards in a chapter (five different colors), it is completed and flipped face down. You can now start a new chapter of that type. You can have up to three completed chapters at a time, but you’ll want to spend them on VP cards. Each VP costs 1-2 completed chapters, and is worth 2-9 points. The single chapter cards are 2-5 points, while the doubles are 7 or 9. So why would you want to buy one for fewer points? Well, sometimes, the 5 or 9 point cards just aren’t available. Also, the lower valued cards have extra actions you can do, like draw cards, steal cards, get extra actions, and so on.

The game continues with players taking turns until someone has scored at least 20 points. They win immediately.

Guildhall: The Characters

One of the things I’ve always loved about this game is the absolute economy of the design. There are 120 cards in the game (excluding the scoring cards, which we’ll get to shortly). But there are four copies of each card, so there are really only 30 cards in the game. However, since there are five colors of each Guild, the game really boils down to just six cards. And those six cards can be further combined into three groups – Guilds that give you something (the Dancer gives you cards, the Farmer gives you points); Guilds that add to your Guildhall (the Weaver adds from your hand, the Historian adds from the discards); and Guilds that take something from your opponent (the Assassin removes cards completely, the Trader takes something and gives something in return).

It’s really remarkable to me how well this game plays with just these six cards. Of course, each card can do something different depending on how many of that type you have in your Guildhall already. There are reminders on the bottom of each to tell you when each better power triggers, and you really have to understand the symbols of the game to be able to make sense of them at first. Once you know the symbols, however, you usually already know what each card does and don’t need the reminders. It’s still nice to have them.

Guildhall: Some scoring cards.

But those six cards are not the only thing to be aware of in the game. You’ll always have five points cards available, and you’ll need to choose wisely when selecting them. The 7 and 9 pointers can only be claimed with two completed Chapters, while the 2-5 pointers can be claimed with just one. Why wouldn’t you just take the top scoring ones? Having 5 or 9 points is great, but it doesn’t do anything else. The seven pointer gives you two extra actions. And then you can see some of the variety of extra actions in the example above – this 4 gives an extra action; this 3 allows you to take any number of cards from your hand and put it straight in your Guildhall; and this 2 allows you to steal an entire Chapter from an opponent and put it in your Guildhall. So choose well, and remember you typically only have two actions to do stuff.

It’s really easy to overlook the actions on the scoring cards, but don’t – there are seven things that you could possibly do by taking a Scoring action. You could get 1-2 more actions; you could take a card from another player’s GH and put it in yours; you could draw five cards; you could add cards from your hand to your GH; you could trade one card from your GH for two cards from someone else’s; or you could just outright steal a whole chapter from someone. Stronger powers tend to be on weaker scoring cards (the chapter steal is from a 2 pointer), but you can set up some combos using these scorers if you play your cards right. So to speak.

Thematically, the game isn’t wholly immersive. There’s a loose thematic connection with the roles – the Assassin kills cards, the Farm grows points, the Dancer attracts visitors, the Trader trades, the Historian visits the archives, and the Weaver weaves…cards…into the GH. OK, the Weaver seems weaker than the rest thematically, but it’s still a good card.

As with any turn-based game, there can be problems with Analysis Paralysis. But the game is fairly intuitive, and people familiar with it can race through. The game can get a little combative, especially if people are throwing out Assassins all over the place. I played with some 12-year-old girls once, and they were BLOODTHIRSTY. They didn’t even care about winning or losing, they just wanted to play all the Assassins.

Still, even though it’s combative, there’s enough of a chance for revenge that it doesn’t seem too egregious. The game works well for different player counts, though I mostly tend to play two-player online these days. With more people, there’s the potential for ganging up, but again, I don’t think it’s that big of a problem with this game.

To sum up, Guildhall is a fantastic game, featuring a great economy of design, interesting gameplay, and an engaging way to spend thirty minutes. It’s one I am glad to have in my collection, and I don’t see it going away any time soon.

Game in progress

I’ve been ranking these games as I go through this series, and Guildhall is an easy choice for the new #1 game. I suspect it will remain fairly high in the rankings, though it won’t stay #1 forever. That’s all for today – thanks for reading!


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