Guildhall kind of appeared from nowhere at the end of 2012, sneaking into Essen Spiel (a day late, I might add, thanks to a customs snafu) but this little card game from AEG has swiftly gained a solid following since its release. While Alderac Entertainment Group are pushing their innovative Tempest line of games, Guildhall – a card game that seems like it would’ve been an ideal fit for the series – is powering away, growing sales and entertaining gamers. Hell, it even popped up on a few noted Game of the Year lists, and with good reason. Because it’s bloody fun.
Four sets of six different character types can be found in Guildhall, each of which has a different ability. By collecting sets of these, shown as five different colours, you complete Chapters that can be traded in for points. Each turn, you play cards from your hand that will eventually end up in your Chapters but before they shuffle over and contribute to your collection, you must check to see if their power has been triggered.
You see, in this game, the more cards of a profession you have in a Chapter, the stronger the ability will be. The simplest example is seen with the Farmers – should you play one and already have another sitting on the table, you get a victory point chip. If you have three there, the reward is even higher as you claim two chips… but then you have a decision to make. As the game progresses and you collect full sets of five, they are flipped over and the stacking ability can no longer be used. This is great, of course, as you get to trade them in for hefty points bonuses but then you’re starting again from scratch.
Also, just because Chapters happen to be in front of you, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to remain there. Guildhall is a very fluid game with lots of opportunity to steal from opponents as well as the chance to be just plain mean and kill off various professions – there are Assassins in there, after all. Cards that you thought you’d seen the back of can be resurrected from the discard pile through clever use of the Historians. Even if you seem to be lagging behind spectacularly, a decent couple of turns can see you catching up with a decent bit of engine building and the difference between winning and losing can often only be a couple of points.
Early games of Guildhall can be a little confusing because AEG have decided to go down the route of having no text on the cards (bar the names, of course). Using an entirely icon-driven approach isn’t often done in gaming and can often lead to a bit of a struggle to get used to learning how to play – look at Race for the Galaxy and its epic collection of symbols for example – but having a crib sheet at hand definitely helps for newer players. It doesn’t take too long to get used to the language of the game and if you’re sitting down with experienced players you’ll find that turns fly by.
Being an AEG product, you’d expect a certain level of quality and Guildhall doesn’t let you down. Graphically, everything is nice and clear; consideration has even been made for those who are colour blind thanks to some clever imagery down the left hand side of the cards. Though there isn’t that much in the way of artwork, what is there is very good indeed, although (again) I’m surprised they didn’t put it in the Tempest series and use the striking style that has been developed for those games.
A minor quibble; it’s a very large box considering what you get inside. One hundred and fifty cards, a rulebook and a bunch of tokens means that there is a lot of air included, but I can see why they chose to go this way. The whole idea of perceived value means that Guildhall in a larger box can be sold for that little bit more, and it’s not like you’re not getting a decent amount of game for your money. You can finish a game in under thirty minutes and it’s not unheard of that my game group fancy a second or third go; thankfully setting up for a new round takes no time at all so you’ll be good to start again in moments.
Guildhall is a cracking little game that has built up a well deserved army of fans already. Here’s hoping that the word continues to spread on this one and more people pick it up and try it out – this surprise release really does warrant the attention.
Designed by Hope S. Hwang and released by AEG in 2012, Guildhall plays in 30-45 minutes and can handle between two and four players (though I’ve found it’s best with three or four). If you want a copy for yourself – and why wouldn’t you? – you can grab one from Gameslore for £20.