Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Guild until Dead

With people away or otherwise engaged, it was down to just the three of us tonight: myself, Joe and Sam. Sam came late and was initially distracted by the realisation that he’d misplaced his phone. He must have left back at the Encounters Short Film festival. But after a couple of phone calls to ask people to look for it, we began gaming. This, alone, marks him out as a gamer extraordinaire. I would’ve turned right around and gone back, but not Sam. He pressed on with his need for games. Amazing.

We began with a new game, Guildhall. This card game was recommended especially to Joe by the guy who works in our regular games shop. Whether this is a good thing or not is still undecided. The illustration on box of the game does not scream “We’re gonna have a good time tonight!” according to Joe. Unless board gamers are supposed to identify with a Peter Postlethwaite lookalike holding some pigs.

There are six different types of cards, and five colours of each. Each player has to get sets of five that they can then cash in for a Victory Point Card which is sitting in the centre of the table. First to 20VP wins.

But each card (even some of the VP cards) gives extra bonus actions when it is played. Careful timing and chaining of these actions is essential for success. It’s an odd game, sometimes a little counter-intuitive (it’s possible, for example, to discard no cards as part of your go).

Maybe it’s a grower, but it didn’t shine on it’s debut. It’s also quite confrontational, which is a fine line to walk here at GNN Mansions. We like our combat to be snide and as undetectable as possible. I was first to twenty points, thanks to picking up a “9 VP” card, and having enough to get another card the next go round. Sam spent most of the game using the word “shitbox” when looking through his cards. Joe went for farmers in a big way. Each to his own, I suppose.

Andrew 20
Joe 13
Sam 12

After this, with Adam absent, we broke out the High Society! This slightly-too-random game of trumps is high on our list of greats, even if it is an acquired taste. Like caviar, or the smell of the carpets in Harrod’s Executive Suite.

The first card turned over was a “x2”, and I went for it big time. It looked like I spent too much, though, since two times nothing is still nothing, and Joe started to pick up cards of his own. Sam played it safe and steered clear of the red bordered cards. Meanwhile Joe’s investment on a “x2” card was undone when he found himself picking up a “1/2” card putting him right back where he started. As it turned out, he scored fewest points and had least money. Talk about riches to rags!

Andrew 22
Sam 18
Joe OUT! (but he had 12)

After two light-ish games, we next decided on Africana. This game is a madcap romp back and forth across a continent. Sam went for early assistants, hoping the –5 damage would pay itself back. Joe got one and I foolishly got none at all. Any mojo I once had with this game has long since vanished, since I felt myself falling further behind. Sam scored in most bonus categories, but Joe’s specialisation in trinkets got him 18 points right there, which was enough to see him past Sam.

Joe 48
Sam 45
Andrew 34

A lovely evening, complete with “burnt toffee” flavour chocolate. On the form table, Adam still sits in pole position, but I reckon I can take him! He ain’t all that! Someone hold my coat!

Adam1 3 2 2 2 10
Andrew3 1 1 3 4 12
Sam 3 2 2 3 2 12
Hannah2 1 3 3 4 13
Joe1 3 2 4 4 14
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Jonny1 5 5 5 5 21
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22


  1. Africana was tight! TOIGHT! It's a great game, and really came down to that last turn - if I hadn't remembered I could change the colour of the card using five money (I had planned that earlier in my turn but only had 3 money; having picked up an extra 2 for completing an expedition I didn't recalculate), I think it would have been a tie. And Sam, you thought you might have been able to take that expedition on your go had you remembered the same rule, no?

    If there is a criticism of the game it's the cognitive load - as the above illustrates. Last night's was the first game where we've even assimilated the rule about paying money to change the colour of a card, I believe - and I don't think we've yet played a game where someone didn't belatedly realise they should have joined or completed an expedition or adventure card when they moved. But it's a minor quibble; there's something very pleasing to me about pick-up-and-deliver games, and Africana, with it's depth of strategy, sprinkling of luck and 60 minute playing time, is one of my favourites.

    Guildhall I liked more than I thought I did at the time, when it felt it might out-stay it's welcome, only to end abruptly on the very next turn.
    I don't think the graphic design helps - despite the picture, guild icon and name the different cards felt hard to distinguish, so I never felt I instinctively knew which cards to play, or indeed what they did. Now it seems more obvious - need cards in hand, play a Dancer. Want points, play a farmer. The Assassin and Trader do similar things - both mess with the other players, but while the assassin forces an opponent to discard, the trader allows you to swap with them. The Historian lets you add to your guildhall from the discard pile, and the Weaver does similar but from your hand. It all seems so simple now. I think we should play again - perhaps I should bring it to RftS tomorrow . . .

    And High Society - I felt sure Andrew had a single £1m card in his hand at the end. But that would have been stupid, and he isn't. If I had a strategy, it was banking on the game finishing sooner than it did - before the others had a chance to catch up and certainly before the evil cards came out. But they did, and they did.

    Good times.

  2. Very good times, although my phone is still missing.

    Yeah, had I remembered that A. I could pay five money and change the colour of the card and B. twigged that going to the Sahara got me an extra card, I would probably have won. Probably - but the wrong colour pick-up at Sahara and I still would have been second, so I'm not kicking myself too hard. It's a great game. I think it needs a dead simple player aid of possible actions - Go to the Book, Pick up Cards, or Move - each with a little detail to remind you of those finer points.

    I'd like to play Guildhall again though I admit to being unenamoured of it at the time - from my personal experience I'd say it's possible to be persistently lumbered with cards that you don't want (I had a lot of duplicates) but I could definitely have played them better.

    Thanks chaps