Welcome back, readers, to Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be taking a departure from our strategy articles, and look into the design decisions between one of my favorite games, Guild Ball. Guild ball is a game with a ton of deep strategy and is most definitely one of those games that is easy to learn but hard to master. It’s a super deep game of tempo, resource management, and planning ahead. It rewards familiarity with the game to a deep level. Honestly, Guild Ball is a game that I constantly adore from nearly every aspect; in today’s article, however, I’m going to focus on specifically the design aspects.
When Guild Ball is boiled down to the base parts, there are 3 things about the game that really draw me in. The resource system is Guild Ball is very deep and interactive, with multiple uses for the two main resources of the game. The complexity of the game is something that contributes to how easy the game is to learn and is a huge positive point for the game. Finally, Guild Ball brings to it a huge depth and that depth makes it an interesting game to play even after you have played hundreds of games.
First off, let’s talk about Guild Ball’s resource system. Guild Ball has 2 main resources: influence and momentum. Influence is given to you based on the models that you take in your team, and can be used to move further, make attacks, and use special moves on the character’s card called character plays. Influence essentially tells how much a model can do in a given turn. The other main resource is momentum, which is produced by characters selecting certain results from their attacks or succeeding on passes with the ball. It can then be used to remove negative conditions on models, move a model after one of the passes, make a shot on the goal, or heal the wounds off of a model.
Guild Ball, like many other games, is a game about resource manipulation and control. The fact that it has two main resources, unlike many games which only have one, adds a huge amount of depth to the game. In addition, those two resources play completely different. Neither one can substitute for the other, except in very specific circumstances. This, of course, does not touch on the numerous other resources in the game – wounds on models, activations of models, movement… Guild ball is rife with resources and engines to turn those resources into each other. The web of interactions that those multiple resources creates is core to Guild Ball, and I love that!
While Guild Ball has those multiple resources, learning the game is actually quite easy. All a player will need to memorize are the core rules to the game – which can be condensed into a roughly 20 page rulebook – and a few symbols on the cards. Those symbols are all reasonably self descriptive, and every model’s rules are on the card. Unlike games such as Warmachine/Hordes – with 12+ symbols to learn – or Warhammer 40K – with rules kept in a book that require multiple flips through the index to find – Guild Ball keeps its base rules simple and puts the majority of the rules on a model’s card.
In addition to this, Guild Ball is very accessible to new players, both on a rules side and a price point side. I have taught a number of players Guild Ball within 20 minutes, mostly because of the ease of describing what a model can do. They can move – either a jog or a sprint – and use their influence to make attacks, kicks, or plays. The win conditions in this game are easy as well. If you score a goal, you get 4 points, while each player dealt enough damage to be removed from the field will give you two points. 12 points is all you need to win! The basics of Guild Ball are super easy to understand.
The price point of Guild Ball is also very affordable. The game’s starter box, Kick Off, only costs $75, and contains literally everything you will need for a game – 2 teams, dice, a board, widgets, the whole nine yards. In addition, each team of 6 players costs between $60 to $80, making it very affordable for a player interested in a new team to pick them up. These low costs make the game very attractive for a player who is not previously invested in miniatures games, making it an excellent entry choice for a player new to the genre.
Do not fool yourself, however. Guild Ball is an intensely deep game that takes huge amounts of effort to master. As I mentioned earlier, the multiple resources at play in a Guild Ball game make every decision matter. Multiple games I have played have come down to the difference between a single result of an attack or a single misposition. The web of possibilities that happen as a result of the interplay of those resources and the different engines they power make the game incredibly deep. Even if both teams take the same models, the game can turn into an entirely different one because of one or two scatter rolls.
The other thing that makes Guild Ball difficult to master is how unpracticable the majority of the game is. While the first turn can be practiced due to the lack of interaction from your opponent, the ability of your opponent to make choices that directly impact your models – both their positioning and their ability to make certain moves – makes the game extremely interactive. There is not a single strategy in the game that does not have any kind of counterplay, and the different plays, traits, and playbooks on each character make the game incredibly deep and interesting.
When it comes down to it, Guild Ball is one of my favorite games because it obeys the classic adage of a good tabletop game – it is easy to learn, and hard to master. While the game’s base rules are not incredibly complex, they do create a deep well of possible interactions and engines. Mark Rosewater, of Magic: the Gathering fame, called the ability to create complexity out of simple pieces “elegance”. I cannot think of another miniatures game as elegant as Guild Ball, and that elegance is what keeps me coming back to the game and supporting it as much as I do. If you’re interested in small army skirmish games, or even miniatures games at all, I cannot recommend Guild Ball more.
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As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!