Guildhall was the non-Tempest game released by AEG at Essen 2012 (you may remember it as the ‘mystery game’ that Todd Rowland wouldn’t say anything about during the Strange Assembly interview with him from GenCon 2012). Guildhall is a hand management and set collection game where players take actions to play a handful of distinct cards for an effect and attempt to accumulate multi-colored sets of those cards. A full set is flipped over, and can later be cashed in for a victory point card. Guildhall retails for about $35.
The Quick Take: Excellent. I’ve played this with groups of gamers and with family members, and it has gone over very well with all. It’s easy to teach, plays fast, and has strategy without being heavy.
You get two actions a turn, and the basic one is playing a card from hand. When you play a card you put it on the table in front of you, and execute some sort of action. You cannot play more than one copy of a particular card per turn. At the end of your turn, each of the cards you played that turn goes into your guildhall, where it stacks up with other, different colored copies of the same card (you may not play a color/card combination you already have in your guildhall). Each stack is called a chapter. When you get a set of the five different colors in one of the six different cards, you flip it face-down.
The second possible action is to cash in one or two of those face-down stacks for one of the five victory point cards in a center row (it refills as soon as anyone grabs a VP card). The VP cards are worth from 2-5 for single-stack cards, and 7 or 9 for ones that require cashing in two stacks. Most of the VP cards also give you some sort of non-VP benefit when you grab them (the 5 and 9 VP cards are just raw points). First to 20 VP wins.
There are six different cards in Guildhall – Farmer (scores VP tokens), Weaver (puts cards form hand into guildhall), Trader (trades cards from your guildhall for cards in someone else’s guildhall), Historian (puts a card from the discard pile into your guildhall), Assassin (destroys cards in another players’ guildhall), and Dancer (draws cards and gives an extra action).
Each card gets better the more of them you already have in your guildhall when you play it. Most of the cards have three “levels” of ability – one for when you have no existing copies, a better version when you have two, and an even niftier version when you already have the other 4. For example, the base Historian grabs the top card of the discard pile and puts it in your guildhall, the 2 version lets you dig through the discard pile for a card of your choice, and the 4 version lets you grab any two.
The strength of the abilities on the VP card is, unsurprisingly, tied to how many VP they are worth. So, for example, there are 4VP cards that let you steal one card from another player, but also 2VP cards that let you steal an entire guild out of someone else’s guildhall.
The iconography on the cards is solid – you won’t immediately know what every card does just by looking at it, but once you generally know what a card does you’ll always be able to glance at the icons and know the details. Your hand is represented by a picture of a hand. Your guildhall is a little white house. An opponent’s guildhall is a little black house. The discard pile is a tombstone. An extra action is “+A.” A number in a card means that many cards. So, for example, when the Weaver’s ability has a picture of a hand and a “1” card, then an arrow pointing to a little white house, that means put one card from your hand into your guildhall.
The cards and VP tokens are the only components, and they’re both of good quality. I guess the wells for the cards could be a little deeper, as they’re only just barely deep enough and so the top few cards will slide around in the box (I know, I know – tragic, isn’t it?).
I’ve played this one with 2 and 3 and 4 players, and it works at all of those numbers. Playtime does get longer as you had more players. The box says half an hour, and that’s a reasonable estimate, but it should be less with 2 and more with 4.
Guildhall is just really fun. I know that’s not the most helpful adjective in this context, because you want to know why it’s fun. But, seriously, it’s fun. Easy to grasp, plays quickly, luck’s definitely in there (like any card game) but also actual strategy. It’s adversarial and has enough ‘take that’ to keep things interesting without being too combative. There’s also some amount of beat on the leader, but it’s hard for everyone to have the cards to constantly pick on whoever is in the lead, so it’s more about slowing the leader down than pinning him in place.
It’s not all that common to get to use the 4 abilities, because other players will be knocking your stacks down, and so our experience has been that you’ll most commonly hit a stack of 5 by starting your turn with a stack of 3, playing one from hand, and then grabbing the fifth some other way (resurrecting with the Historian, stealing with a VP card, etc.).
When you’re getting late in the game, make sure to pay reasonably close attention to what the available VP cards are and who has completed chapters to cash in. The game can end before you realize it if someone, say, finishes their turn with a closed chapter and only needs another 3 – you technically get another turn, but there isn’t any real way to stop someone at that point.
Downsides? Not the game itself, but you have to shuffle a loooooot between games, because all of the cards end up in their sets. And the deck is pretty big, so it’s slightly annoying. Although that’s pretty standard for a card game, and at least you don’t have to separate anything out after the game.
Guildhall was only my second-favorite of the AEG releases at Essen 2012 (first place would go to Dominare), but if I could own only one, it would be Guildhall, because it’s so much easier to get to the table than Dominare. And that’s saying a lot, because the Tempest launch line was really good. If you like relatively light card games, we’d recommend checking this one out.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.