07th Nov2018

‘Guilds’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Guilds, from Christian Giove is a light to midweight game that using dual drafting mechanics to simulate players expanding the ranks of their guild by attracting the most interesting characters, whilst simultaneously building out the physical makeup of the guild headquarters. Guilds supports two to four players, but it really comes to life at three or four, thanks to the fact that bidding and counter bidding is probably the most critical element in the game. A game of Guilds usually lasts around an hour and ends after a defined number of rounds (six at three or four players and eight with two.) The player with the most prestigious guild at the end of the game, wins.

First of all, Guilds is a really impressive game to have laid out on your table. It uses a colorful hexagonal central board to track rounds and to show the value of each players bid in a visually appealing and creative way. Each side of the hexagon is used to house one or more citizen cards, which are about twice the size of an average playing card and feature really nice artwork and clear iconography. These cards are what the players will bid on, and each one offers various benefits such as end game points, silver or gold income or other, occasionally unique benefits that are described on the card in question.

In addition the cards that they obtain through rounds of bidding, each player will also have a board that represents their guild headquarters. This will show just an entrance hall at the beginning of the game, but as things progress, players will add more and more other rooms that come in the form of tiles. Some tiles score points on their own, whilst others contribute to sets or provide additional income, for example.

In order to win, the players will need to be on the lookout for high scoring citizens and make sensible investments in their guild, but there are also a number of shared objectives to go after, which might reward players for investing the most or the least, or for having the most citizens of a certain group (clerics or craftspeople, for example.) Guilds scales dynamically to different player counts, with the number of citizen cards to bid on, or building tiles to choose from being just two of four or five features that differ depending on how many players there are. As such, even at two players Guilds feels fairly competitive and tense throughout.

Structurally, Guilds is really simple. Each turn begins with players taking income based on the cards and rooms they have. The most common income is silver and that is the only currency used to bid for citizens. In player order, each player will bid (or pass) by placing a number of silver coins onto the tent of their colour, on the side of the board that relates to the citizen they want. If a round of bidding happens and you are the highest bidder on any side, then you may forfeit your chance to bid and instead, simply take a citizen from the side where your bid is highest. Bidding continues until everyone passes (either voluntarily or because they can’t afford to bid further.) All winning bids are paid and the players claim their chosen citizens. Losing bids are returned.

Next, any silver can be converted to gold, at an exchange rate of five to one. It’s important to be aware of this rate, since any excess silver is seen as “running expenses” and has to be discarded. Gold is then spent on building tiles, which are taken and paid for in player order. The good news is that gold can be held from one turn to the next, so you won’t always have to waste it by buying building tiles that you don’t want or need. Once the building phase is done and rooms are placed (in a legal way) then the board is reset for the next round and players begin again by taking their new income (which could now be higher or lower depending on what they did last round.

After six (or eight) rounds of bidding and building, the players calculate their final score based on the victory points that each card or tile give them, plus any bonus points gained through achieving public objectives. The player with the most points wins and it’s as simple as that. Turns flow fairly rapidly and because bidding is effectively a communal activity, there’s very little downtime. Choosing buildings is also very simple, since there are few to choose from and any choice that players do need to make will be quite straightforward.

As a result of the lightness of its systems and the straightforwardness of its theme, Guilds is a very easygoing game to play. It looks good and it’s easy to “sell” the concept to most groups. There’s an air of mystery and intrigue around the concept that really works well alongside some of the character art – which is also excellent. Guilds uses a fantasy setting that introduces fawn’s and necromancers alongside the usual dwarves, orcs and elves and it’s even possible for players to add cats, dogs and dragons to their guild, should there be animal lovers among your group.

Overall, my only really complaint with Guilds is that I wish the silver and gold (but especially the silver) came in various denominations like three and five, as well as one. As it stands, the game currently has a bit of unnecessary fiddliness because it forces excess silver to be dumped, only for income to be drawn again moments later. This results in almost endless management of stacks of ten or fifteen coins. It’s a minor criticism though and it is strictly component, rather than gameplay related. As always with a game like this, more rooms and more characters would be nice, but that’s not to say that the starting selection is anything less than reasonable.

Overall, I think Guilds is an excellent take on the standard bidding game, thanks to not only a decent bidding method but also because the card drafting and building elements add a lot of additional interest. I think the card drafting portion of the game is much more powerful than the actual upgrading of the headquarters and I’d like to see that latter portion of the game fleshed out, but even so it’s a lot of fun. Guilds is certainly a fun, attractive and quite unusual addition to any collection, and as such I think it’s a keeper for me.

***½  3.5/5

Guilds is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


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