What is Guild Ball?Guild Ball is a small scale, skirmish style, table top miniatures game based on medieval mob football. For any who have not read the wikipedia article on medieval mob football, it's well worth the read! Go read it, then come back and finish this blog post.
Guild Ball players field a team of 6 players onto a 3'x3' "pitch", with the pitch allowing for as little to as much terrain as the players prefer. There is a ball, a kick-off, and actions in the game such as "tackles" (European tackles where a player takes the ball, not American tackles where the opponent is clobbered) and "shots" that directly relate to a football (soccer) game. There are also damaging attacks, knockdowns, pushes and dodges, and more esoteric (Noxious Blast) abilities that relate directly to a combat oriented miniatures war game. Players proceed through alternating model activations to accumulate victory points both by scoring goals and taking out opposing players in order to win the game.
- Game: Guild Ball
- Company: Steamforged Games
- Website: http://guildball.com/
- Players: 2
- Play time: typically 60 - 90 minutes
Who are the teams?Guild Ball launched it's first season with eight teams immediately available. This is a fairly impressive feat for a new company, especially considering that most of the teams consisted of 7 different players. This allowed for a game launch that included 58 models. Guild Ball is already preparing for season two where they will release a ninth team (the Hunters Guild) and additional models for each of the existing 8 guilds. Here's a quick overview of the current (Season 1) guilds in the game:
How's it play?Guild Ball plays primarily like a skirmish game, with the primary objective of the game to move a ball token to the opposite side of the field and put it on a goal marker. There is plenty of combat available within the game, providing satisfaction to any "war gaming" player who likes skirmish games. The use of specific "character plays" and the individual "character traits" on the models provide a level of complexity that will appeal to Malifaux and Warmachine/Hordes players.
Although Guild Ball has removed itself from the typical "sports ball game" grid in favor of the open table of a skirmish game, it still delivers a strong "sports ball game" flavor. Actions such as Tackle (taking the ball from an opponent), Knockdown (knocking opponents prone), pushes and dodges (moving the active model or the target model), kicking (passing the ball to another model or the open field) and the goal shot (kicking the ball into the goal) really bring out a strong sports feel for the game. The greater emphasis on goals providing more victory points than taking out an opposing model also encourage a "sports game" approach to the game. The combination of this focus and the ability to return "taken out" players to the game in later turns removes the killing aspect that's typically a primary focus for tabletop miniature games.
Guild Ball establishes itself as a modern skirmish game through the use of an action point system that enabled each team a limited resource to perform actions. Guild Ball adds another limited resource called momentum which can be earned through the turn and provides additional benefits to the models.
What's innovative or different?
The Guild Ball creators have gone to great lengths in the design of the game to adhere to a philosophy of choice in the game. This means there is not really any aspect where a model cannot do something, they typically can perform an action but are not optimal at doing it or the action is not as efficient. They have done a great job of creating a game where "everything is permissible, but everything is not always a good choice". Although I enjoy playing control style forces in skirmish game, this concept of not having a "hard stop" or "hard counter" to actions is very enjoyable and they have accomplished their goal so far.
The combination of focusing on characters for each player and using medieval guilds as the background forces opens up a lot of future design space for the game. All the models in the game represent specific personalities in the players, each model being a singular character in the game. This means there are no generic "troopers" on the field, each player gets their own specific abilities, traits, and play style. The backdrop of Guilds allows for a wide canvas of choices to add new teams to the game while also providing a fairly deep pool of choices for the players that can be added within each guild. Guild Ball took an additional step around this design space by not including point costs for players in the game. Each team is fielded with 1 Captain, 1 Mascot, and 4 other players. This means that all players need to be balanced against each other while providing different styles of play. To date the developers have performed superbly in not creating a conflict where one player is clearly a better choice or an upgrade to another, forcing players to choose abilities and play styles on a character by character basis. When choosing a specific player for a team you often need to weigh what abilities that player brings to the field against what abilities your losing by not bringing an alternate player on the team.
Overall quality of the gameEvaluating the overall quality of the game takes on two views when looking at a tabletop miniature game. There is the quality of the rules and game play, then the quality of the miniatures themselves.
The miniatures for this game are simply beautiful. I felt that the original metal models that Wyrd produced were some of the best models in my experience. The Guild Ball models equal and in many cases surpass the quality of those original metal models from Wyrd. The models look fantastic and assemble and prime nicely. Painting these models goes to a different level which bears specific comment. The Guild Ball creators come from a modeling and painting background and their experience comes through strongly with how these models look when painted. The creators have worked with the digital sculptors to provide a combination of different textures, layers, and flow to the models that achieves a result I have not seen in other miniatures. The Guild Ball models consistently look good with both a fairly amateur "table top" quality paint job (consisting of base, wash, highlight, dry-brush) and a professional quality paint job utilizing multiple layers and high level techniques. These are the first model I've seen achieve this effect, and they deliver on it incredibly well.
The game itself is fantastic. It is very well put together from a rules standpoint and only has some small factors that indicate it's from a first time game developer. There are only a couple of specific rules I find to be "gamey", by which I mean they are not naturally intuitive and as such may appear to be exploitative when used. Overall this is an excellent game with solid quality rules and excellent model and game balance.
Recommendation and thoughtsAfter reading this far it should be no surprise that I strongly recommend this game. I was originally adverse due to the "sports ball" nature of the game, and I have subsequently found that not to be an issue. The complexity of the abilities combined with the 6 model skirmish nature of the game is really compelling for me. The game balance, distinct team play styles, and model look all make this a top game in my opinion. Concluding the kickstarter with 5 teams in my possession further demonstrates my recommendation for the game.
I have really enjoyed playing Guild Ball and it is one of my primary games currently. I am always looking for new opponents and am excited to see the game grow in the US market. This has completely replaced the gap in my gaming created by Malifaux Second edition and I cannot recommend it enough.