Sunday, 31 May 2015

Guild Ball - An Overall Sort-Of Review, Part 1: Team Lineups

Last year we mentioned a new tabletop system we were backing on Kickstarter, named Guild Ball, and a couple of weeks back we posted a brief article showing off the contents of our pledge after they'd arrived.  To summarise, we were extremely impressed with the components, and were left feeling excited about our impending first games.
Now in that article we mentioned that we wouldn't be reviewing the gameplay of Guild Ball, wanting to keep the focus of Games & Tea on out-the-box games, but frankly we were so enamoured with the gameplay that we couldn't resist putting together another article giving it our overall thoughts.
The reason we've never been interested in reviewing full tabletop systems over board/card games is that there are too many variables to go into - we like to talk about turn sequences, game components and so on, but when there's an infinite possibility of actions to choose from each turn, and the components are determined by the shopping habits and play style of each individual hobbyist, it can be a struggle to keep the article at a decent length!  As such this will be slightly different from our usual review format, and we hope you bare with us and still find it an enjoyable and educational read.

So for those who missed the Kickstarter, and missed our fanboy gushings over the game, and haven't seen it at the UK Games Expo (and so on and so on...), Guild Ball is a tabletop miniatures game which is half way between a sports game and a skirmish game.  It's set in the fictional Empire of the Free Cities, where the great guilds all play each other at the titular game - a medieval mob football style game.
The guilds are all based on areas of industry, and at the time of Season 1 there are 7 guilds to choose from; Butchers, Fishermen, Brewers, Masons (the Teamaster's personal favourites), Alchemists (the Tea Boy's personal favourites), Morticians and Engineers.  While not a guild, there is also the Union, which can be fielded as a team, but who's members are also free to play for a selection of the other guilds.

Each team consists of 6 players.  The captain and the mascot are both mandatory, and whilst we expect that later seasons will give us a selection, at this early stage in Guild Ball's life each guild only has one to choose from.  The remaining 4 places are where players get to customise their teams, and tweak them to match their preferred style of gameplay as they start to build up experience.
This is where Guild Ball stands out from the only other major sports-based game on the market right now - Dreadball.  It isn't simply a case of "These are your strikers, they kick the ball," and "These are your defenders, they stop your opponent from kicking the ball", each player has unique stats and abilities.  So instead you have "This is Harmony, she can do all of these wonderful things", and "This is Mist, he's basically Batman".  While the Union players are free agents and as such work as individuals, the guild-specific players all tend to have abilities to work off eachother.  In the Masons Guild, for example, the team starlet - Harmony - gets an armour bonus when close to their heavy hitter - Brick - as he's protective over her.  The team captain - Honour - gets an attack bonus when going after the same player as the mascot - Marbles.  Now this does mean that it will take a few games before any new players even begin to squeeze the maximum potential out of their lineup, but the trade off for this is that the team rosters have an incredible degree of flexibility, helping players to become invested in their chosen guild rather than having to go down the route of collecting multiple teams to get any kind of replay value from the game.

Just to give an example, here are two of the starting lineups for the Teamaster's Masons Guild.  The top team is pure Masons, and so there's a lot of synergy going on there.  In the bottom team, 3 of the players have been dropped out in favour of Masons-compatible Union players, so while the team no longer gels quite so well, it's now much quicker and favoured towards fast strikes.

At the point of Season 1, most guilds have 7 players on their own roster, with 4 compatible Union players to choose from as well.  So with the captain and mascot slots filled, this leaves 9 choices to fill the 4 remaining spaces, giving the players plenty of freedom to build a team to suit their style of play.
And speaking of style of play, how do they work?  Each player comes with a stat card, which tells players what they can do whilst at the same time allowing them to keep track of the damage done to that player...

The top bar of each card gives the player's stats, which come under 6 categories:

  • MOV determines their base and maximum move distance, so for example 6"/8" means they can jog 6" or sprint/charge 8".  The higher this number, the quicker the player.
  • TAC is the number of dice in their dice pool when attacking another player, so a higher TAC means a stronger attack.
  • KICK is the size of their kicking dice pool and the maximum kick distance, so 3/8" would mean an 8" kick range and 3 dice to try and succeed in that kick.  The higher these numbers, the better chance of scoring goals and successful passes.
  • DEF is the player's base defense, and is the target number an attacker must roll in order to hit the player.
  • ARM is the player's armour, and dictates how much damage is deflected before getting through to the soft and squishy player underneath.
  • INF determines how much influence the player generates, and how much they can be allocated.  So 2/4 means they'll generate 2 influence, but can be allocated up to 4.  We'll go into influence in detail in the second part of the review, but in a nutshell it's the currency used to perform almost any action.  Attacking, sprinting, passing, shooting - all of these require influence.
The Character Traits on the front of the card address any passive abilities the players possess, such as DEF boosts in the presence of other player, MOV bonuses, and so forth.  The bottom of the card shows the players damage boxes - once these have been depleted then the player is knocked out.
The rear of the card tells you their base size and melee range, the details of any activated abilities, and explains how they cause damage in combat.  Again, this will be further addressed in the next article.

Before we wrap this article up, we should also take a moment to talk about the quality of the miniatures, as this is a tabletop system and so the hobby element is a key part.

First of all, the sculpts themselves.  Long gone are the days of hunched-over Space Marines, shuffling awkwardly around the battlefields of the 41st Millennium.  These days, most miniature-based games do provide nicely detailed and dynamic models for hobbyists to enjoy.  Guild Ball is no exception, and in fact has left us salivating over some of the nicest models we've ever had the pleasure of owning.  The poses are incredibly dynamic for the best part, and even the ones which aren't don't feel disappointing.

In terms of casting quality and assembly, Guild Ball's quality shines through.  There's very little cleanup work required on the miniatures, with mercifully few mold lines and little to no flash on those we've built so far.  They also fit together very nicely, and don't generally require the fine tools of a NASA engineer and the steady hands of a neurosurgeon to assemble them correctly.  The only criticism we'd put forward is that the blisters include character artwork, but not an image of the built miniature, so we have on a couple of occasions found ourselves wondering where pieces go.  In fact one of our Union models - Snakeskin - came with a dagger sheath which ended up in the spare bits box, as it didn't have an obvious place to go and the model seemed complete without it!

So that's all we really have to say on the subject of the teams.  The model quality is astounding, the player lineup happily full of variety, and the synergy throughout the teams works to give Guild Ball an excellent learning curve.
Tune in for the second half of the review, where we'll talk about the gameplay, including how that influence works, gathering momentum, and the consequences of beating an otter into unconsciousness.

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