Overview: It’s the Dark Ages, and you’re itching for progress. So you’ve set up a guildhall to attract professionals — and so has everyone else. Collect enough professionals to complete chapters, which score you victory points! Welcome to Guildhall, a card game released by AEG at Essen this past fall.
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Rating: Excellent. Guildhall doesn’t look like much at first glance, but offers some great gameplay.
Who Will Like It? If you’re looking for a quick-playing card game and don’t mind a little bit of backstabbing, Guildhall might suit you just fine.
The story is pretty thin, but basically you’re trying to collect professionals for your guildhall. Get five of a particular profession (all five colors) and they form a complete chapter, which you can trade in for points. While the Assassin’s action is pretty thematic — he eliminates cards from another guildhall — some of the others are less so. The game itself is really a little more abstract, with the various characters just assisting you in remembering actions, somewhat like Dominion.
The game comes with:
- 120 Profession cards (4 sets each of 6 professions in 5 colors)
- 30 Victory Point (VP) cards
- 52 Victory Point (VP) tokens
That’s basically it. When I first opened up the box and saw that this was all that it contained, I was a bit annoyed (at the large box) and skeptical, and it wasn’t high on my list to try out. But once I gave it a shot, I was pretty impressed, and probably the only thing that still bothers me about the game is that it comes in this enormous box. The insert is fine: it has wells underneath the cards to hold the tokens. But do we really need such a huge box for this game? No, not really. And in most of the games I’ve played we’ve only used a very small handful of the tokens, nowhere near 52, so you could probably get away with just a couple of those as well.
Component quality is fine: the cardboard VP tokens are nothing special but they’re nice and sturdy, and the cards are typical of other AEG titles.
The full rulebook (in English and German) is available here as a PDF.
To set up the game, you shuffle together the huge stack of profession cards, and deal 9 to each player. Then you shuffle the pile of VP cards separately, lay out five in the center of the table, and put the rest in a stack face-down. The VP tokens are placed in a pile. Each player may discard any number of cards, then draws back up to a hand of 9 cards, and finally chooses three cards to play into their guildhall (face up on the table).
You get two actions each turn, choosing from the following:
- Play 1 card and resolve its action.
- Discard any number of cards and draw back up to 6.
- Buy 1 VP card from the center.
You may use any combination of actions: play 2 cards, play 1 card and buy 1 VP card, discard/draw and then play 1 card, etc.
Play 1 card: You may only play a card if it does not have an exact match already in your guildhall. For instance, if you have a yellow Farmer already in the guildhall, you may not play another yellow Farmer. You also may only play one card of a profession during your turn, so you may not play a purple Historian and a red Historian in one turn.
When you play a card, you will get a bonus effect based on the number of cards of that profession already in your guildhall. Here’s a brief summary of what the six professions do (specific details are in the rulebook):
- Assassin: discard cards from another player’s guildhall
- Weaver: exchange cards between your hand and your guildhall
- Dancer: draw cards and get an extra action
- Trader: trade cards between your guildhall and another player’s
- Historian: place cards from the discard pile into your guildhall
- Farmer: earn VP tokens
The more of a profession you already have in your guildhall, the stronger the effect. For instance, if you have no Historians yet, then playing a Historian will let you place the top card of the discard pile into your guildhall. But if you have at least two Historians already, playing an additional Historian lets you select a card from the discard pile. Finally, if you have four Historians, then playing the fifth Historian will let you pick two from the discard pile.
Once you have one of each color of a particular profession, then those five cards are flipped over, forming a completed “chapter.” Chapters are no longer affected by any cards played and are safe from attacks. But you may only have 3 completed chapters at a time; any more that are completed are discarded.
Discard and draw: Just like it says. Throw away any number of cards (including none) and draw back up to 6. Note that there is no default “draw cards” action so you only get more cards through card effects and by taking this action.
Buy 1 VP card: The VP cards can be purchased by discarding completed chapters from your guildhall, and they cost either 1 or 2 chapters (as indicated by the icons at the top). The VP cards are worth varying numbers of points, and some of them also have an additional one-time effect when you purchase them, such as additional actions, stealing cards from another player’s guildhall, and so on. When you purchase a VP card, it is replaced by one from the deck.
If, at the end of your turn, you have 20 points or more, then you win the game.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Guildhall at first, but it has a little of the flavor of Dominion even though it’s not a deck-builder at all, because of the setting and the way that it’s all about card effects and how to best combine them. One of the most interesting aspects is the way that one profession gets more and more powerful as you add cards to it, but then there are fewer and fewer cards you can play of that profession. If you have four Assassins, then there is only one other color of Assassin that you can play — but that last Assassin can discard two cards from your opponents. And once you’ve completed a chapter and flipped it over, then you can play more cards of that profession again, but their bonus effects have been reset to the lowest value again. That also means that sometimes you can purposely get rid of cards in your own guildhall (trading them to another player, for instance) in order to play that same card from your hand again to get the bonus effect.
Since there are many effects that let you affect the other players, there is a bit of “take that” gameplay, particularly with the Assassin, so I wouldn’t recommend the game for people who take things personally. However, with the other professions there are other methods of completing your chapters and scoring, too.
There are even interesting decisions to be made in buying the VP cards, because of the bonus effects on them. Sometimes it’s worth buying a lower-point card because you may get a more powerful effect. Also, you don’t want to hang onto completed chapters for too long, because you can only keep three at a time anyway. One interesting strategy is to use the Trader to complete an opponent’s chapter when they already have three completed ones, thus forcing them to discard one without cashing it in for points.
With only 20 points required for victory and the possibility of a 9-point card, you rarely feel like you’re out of the running. Even if somebody gets up to 19 points and you’re trailing by a ways, there’s a possibility of catching up and taking the win. At most, you’ll have somebody complete a chapter, meaning that they can win on their next turn unless you can score first: which means that the longest you’ll have to continue playing once victory is inevitable is a single round. In one three-player game I played, however, I got beaten during that last round of play, when another player managed to score one more point with the Farmer before it came back to me.
There is, of course, a good amount of luck involved in drawing the cards you need and having the right VP cards when you want to cash in, but I think Guildhall also allows room for strategy and making the most of the cards you draw.
Guildhall isn’t a heavyweight strategy game or deeply thematic; however, if you’re looking for a quick card game that encourages player interaction, Guildhall is an excellent choice.
Wired: The ebb and flow of a profession’s strength makes for interesting choices; quick to play and nice medium-weight strategy.
Tired: Much bigger box than necessary.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.