Board Game Reviews, Board Gaming, Kickstarter Previews

Guild Masters: A PSS Kickstarter (P)review

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So it’s been a bit since my last post. I’ve been pretty busy lately. About 2 months ago I got a new job, and it’s been a bit of a ride. I was with my last job for 16 years. Six. Teen. So the “reset button” impact is fairly deep. So far, it’s been a blast. I honestly love my new job, I enjoy being there, I feel good about what I do and there is a persistently positive atmosphere amongst my coworkers. I’m good at my job.  I’ve been ranking in various spots on the top 10 list across a number of sales metrics, 3 of which with me at number 1 in the company.  Today the CEO told me that he’d caught wind of me forcing a customer to play along with our Halloween puns. (I told her that the discounts she was being offered were “spooktacular” but I wasn’t going to offer her to them unless she repeated it back to me) He approved. It’s a nationwide company, I’ve been there 2 months, and the CEO knows who I am.  Dare I say this place might have a noticeably positive impact on my general well-being.

But I digress. Love the new job, very busy life, but I promise I’ll be writing more, you know the drill. Let’s smile approvingly at my lie and move on.

Being busier than normal has caused me to see my time a little differently. I don’t get to play nearly as much as I would want to, so when I play a new game and it’s mediocre, I feel the cost of opportunity more acutely. Naturally, this makes me a bit less adventurous lately when it comes to game selection; but when I’m also obligated to write a review for the game, that doubles the stakes. If the game sucks, I’m out the time for the game AND I have to invest more time writing about it in order to maintain the last remaining sliver of my professional credibility, imaginary though it may be.  So when I am contacted with the request that I scribble about a game getting ready to start its crowdfunding adventure, if I agree, I am taking a leap of faith that I will not regret the commitment. I’m glad to say that the latest leap paid off.

Game: Guild Masters
Publisher: Mirror Box Games
Players: 2-5
Ages: 14+
Time: 60-90 min.
Coming to Kickstarter October 2016

So What It’s About?

Guild Masters is a tightly designed Euro game where you are the master of a guild of adventurers. You kinda had to see that coming. You don’t go out and do any of that icky adventuring though; you leave getting the bruises and blood spatters to the brutes. You’re going to supply the goods for their forays in exchange for a share of the spoils of their conquests, by means of Gold and Treasure Cards which you will use to further enhance your guild.

Cool, cool. How’s it work?

Pretty simple, actually. Each turn you can take one action, from 3 choices.

  1. Gather – Taking the Gather action allows you to collect resources. You can take three of a single type, or one of two different types.  The resources are Cloth, Metal, Leather, Wood, Magic, and Gems. The last two you cannot collect without a special means to do so.
  2. Craft – Taking the Craft action allows you to choose a Quest from a queue of 5 and craft the necessary equipment to complete the Quest, which requires an expenditure of resources collected with the Gather action. Completing a Quest has rewards of Coins and Treasure Cards, many of which contribute towards end game scoring or provide powerful temporary bonuses. The Quest deck also acts as the game clock.
  3. Upgrade – Buy one Room and/or Buy one Worker. Rooms provide additional benefits to your Guild such as increased storage space for resources (yes, you have limitations) and a variety of ways to score more Prestige (victory points) for pursuing specific strategies. Workers are people you can hire to help you run your guild better.

Each time a Quest is completed, the person who completed it takes the card and places it next to their Guild, and a new Quest from the Quest deck is added to the queue. The Quest deck is made up of two ages and at the bottom of the deck is a card that signifies the arrival of the King, and the end of the game. When the King arrives, everyone gets one more turn and then the game is scored. There’s a really novel twist at this point in the scoring process, and in determining the winner. Ah, just fucking with you, chump. The winner is  whomever has the most Prestige when the King shows up, after scoring across a number of different criteria.

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Things What I Liked About Guild Masters

So earlier, I said that the game was tightly designed. Actually the publishers said that in their pitch to me, but I agree with their assessment completely. Here’s a few reasons why.

No AP Traps – While the choices that you’re making are definitely important to your strategy, at no point did I feel like those choices were agonizing. This leads to the next compliment I can pay to the game, namely…

Good Tempo – Once we had taken a few turns, the game became fairly intuitive, and the turns were going quickly. This means little downtime off turn, which leads to the next thing I like about Guild Masters…

Scales Well – The Rooms, Workers, amounts of Resources, and the Quests all change with the number of players, and while it doesn’t have perfect scaling like 7 Wonders where the length of the game isn’t really impacted by the number of players. The speed of turns with multiple players keeps the game flowing smoothly. That is not to say that the experiences are similar. Multiple players plays a bit differently than head to head, which reminds me…

Hits the sweet spot between Tactical and Strategic. In the short terms, you are dealing with Resource scarcity, hand management and optimizing the timing of your actions to mitigate the losses of opportunity that will inevitably occur when your opponents take their actions; all while keeping an eye on the game clock for some long game point bombs. While VP is the only way to win, there are several different ways you can focus on how to acquire them, each with their own flavor and priorities on how to execute them.

Things I Didn’t Care For As Much

The only critique I have for the game is that the two player game can feel a little too quick, which is easily enough fixed by just adding some Quests to the deck. That’s a pretty ringing endorsement when I have to try hard to find faults with the game.

Thoughts As A Designer

From a design standpoint, there is a lot to love about Guild Masters. The game communicates almost exclusively through iconography and the iconography is simple to understand. Decisions are simple without being automatic and have complex and satisfying results. It’s rife with expansion potential. It’s got asymmetrical starting points, which I am always a huge fan of. The scoring system encourages different avenues of strategy. It’s easily accessible and plays quickly, or if it doesn’t actually  play quickly, it feels like it does and that’s probably better. Nothing feels extraneous. How many games can you honestly say that about? Guild Masters is a very clean and well executed design.

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In Conclusion

In an effort to keep this relatively concise, I skipped over a lot of things I liked. It’s easy; while I wouldn’t call it a gateway game, any gamer worth their dice will be able to pick up on this quickly. A few games in, I felt like Guild Masters was the illegitimate lovechild of Lords of Waterdeep and 7 Wonders, and I mean this in the most complimentary way. Both of those games are favorites with solid reasons, and Guild Masters touches on things to like from  both pedigreed parents while not feeling derivative of either. At the end of the day, the highest praise that I can give any game is that “I enjoyed this, and I would be happy to play it again.” This doesn’t sound like very high praise, but when your time is as limited as mine is, that whole “would be happy to play again” is kind of a big deal. Besides, isn’t that really the goal of any game?

Mirror Box Games is a publisher that continues to impress me with solid offerings to the hobby. (Their first release Chaosmos is one I am still working on a special review for). Guild Masters is coming to Kickstarter, and is a game I enthusiastically endorse as being worthy of your support.

 

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The first iteration of "Pass the Pigs" was an abominably cruel game.
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