It’s one-all. My star striker Flint has been caught in a trap, surrounded by two opponents, both better fighters than him. One of them clattered him with his staff, sending Flint crashing hard down on the rocky surface. Luckily he managed a successful pass to a team-mate who is bursting down the wing, almost clean through on goal. The enemy knows she’s ready to shoot but they won’t be able to sop her in time...will they? One opponent is ready to lob an explosive barrel across the pitch at her, she’ll need to be dodge out of the way or she’ll get blasted off the pitch altogether. This is make or break time..
Something about Guild Ball had me excited before it the postman even arrived at my door. The idea of medieval football with a touch of fantasy and unique teams and players seemed to have a really exciting air about it.
When my Kick Off! box arrived, I ignored the other two games that arrived with it (they are still unopened) and got right down to business.
First impressions were excellent. The playing surface was not only colourful, it was double-sided and even better, made of hick cardboard instead of paper. Figures themselves were pre-assembled (useful for a clumsy painter and assembler like me) and kept in a specially-designed box. Dice were of good quality as were the numerous tokens and tags. The only very minor disappointment was the health wheels, which were colourful and sturdy but too lose.
Rulebooks were of similar quality. Guild Ball really show it was designed for gamers, by gamers in its rulebook layout. First there's a booklet that walks new players through their first turn and provides a brief outline of the most important rules. As a teacher myself, I know there's no substitute for practical experience and the Guild Ball designers clearly realised that playing a few turns quickly would equal several pages of instructions.
Then we have a deeper rules booklet for reference and then a tactical guide that also introduces other Guild Ball teams. I love the way each team has not only a different look but a different playing style and set of abilities.
Set up is pretty quick. The tokens can take a while to sort out, though a pill box or similar storage would make it far quicker.
Guild Ball plays as well as it looks. The turn system is fairly easy and my 11yo son picked it up as well as I did after two short games, yet there's enough tactical freedom and choice of actions to get deep and thoughtful with a little dedication. This is closer to chess than chequers.
Turns work by allocating influence from a character pool to individual players. Influence tokens allow a character to take actions like sprinting, special moves or helping a teammate. Rules are in place to limit influence for each player to force teamwork. Once a player becomes familiar with the characteristics of his team, turns can flow quite quickly, adding to the enjoyment of the game.
In Guild Ball, everything is done by measurements, luckily the box proves its value yet again by providing various rulers, though of course your ape measure from your tool box can work just as well.
Overall, I’d say Guild Ball offers excellent value for money and a long-lasting game than can be enjoyed with a little commitment to learning. I'm told other combat sports board games are easier to pick up and play over a few beers but I think this one has the ideal balance of depth, playability and simplicity. It’s probably slightly too nerdy to be a gateway game but it’s more than enough to entice anyone who is even basically familiar with board games.
It also opens up real opportunities to design a rich, vivid and eventful world of fiction and storylines. There’s little touches such as the art work and idea of mascots on each team that push this above similar types of games. I'd go as far as to say Guild Ball looks like it could become one of my favourite games of all time.