meepleonboard
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This review is available, with pictures, at http://www.gamesquest.co.uk/blog/just-fantasy-guildhall-fant...
Many thanks to Games Quest for kindly providing a review copy of Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship.


I am a great admirer of the original Guildhall game. I bought it on a whim in 2013, and have played it multiple times. I also own the Job Faire expansion, and rate it very highly. My own notes on Guildhall from back then even go so far as so say “I suspect that this will be a sleeper hit”, and it garnered a Golden Geek nomination and was a Kennerspiel des Jahres recommended game in 2014. Once the original run was sold out though, it became apparent that there were no plans for a new edition of Guildhall, and that appeared to be that. I always felt that this was a shame, and that Guildhall was a game that could have had great success if promoted and presented properly.

Well, it appears that Guildhall’s publishers AEG have had similar thoughts, because after some years of being out of print they have seen fit to reissue the game in a fantasy-themed and slightly expanded format, with three boxes being released in successive months. For those who own the original game, does the new format warrant purchase, and does it pack enough punch to draw in new players who missed Guildhall first time around?

The initial impression is definitely positive. Where the first game and its expansion sat in boxes that were a waste of space, the new design has a much sharper focus on economy of packaging, so much so that when my delivery arrived, which included another game, I thought that they had forgotten to put Guildhall Fantasy in there! The new box is a little more deep than those of the first games, but it is about half the length and width and snuggles the contents warmly in its cardboard embrace.

The components have also been improved, even if the card stock feels a little flimsy compared to the original release. Still, the tokens have been redesigned, and are now available in denominations of 1 and 5, where previously there was only a pile of singles. This makes things clearer on the table, but the tokens are not plentiful in the new box, and there is a real risk of running short if you have many players in the game, at least until you buy next month’s release.

The artwork in this new release is pretty and evocative, even if it is your standard fantasy fodder. Its great to see that AEG have kept the different symbols on the cards, meaning that the game is welcoming to everybody, including those who have difficulties with colours or words. These symbols will become more useful when players get to the stage of exploring the ideas for extended and custom games, for there is much more in this small box than one game – instead there is the promise of a system that can be customised to your own group and its preferences.

To set up Guildhall, first, five Victory Point cards are drawn and placed in the centre of the playing area, each player is dealt nine cards and, in turn, discards as many as they like and then redraws to nine, after which they “seed” their guildhall with three cards. The cards you play during your turn will gain powers according to how many of the same type you have already in your guildhall, so even this early choice is important if players are to get off the mark effectively. Once everybody is set up with three cards on the table and six in hand then the game starts, each player taking two actions (which may be the same) from the following:

Play A Card – You play a card and may trigger its ability according to how many cards of that profession you already have in your guildhall. The only requirements are that you cannot play the same profession twice in the same turn, and the played card cannot be an exact duplicate of one already in your guildhall. These cards are added to your guildhall at the end of a turn, and any completed chapters of five colours are immediately turned face down and become immune to all card effects.

Discard And Draw – Discard none, any, or all or your cards and draw until you have six in hand.

Buy A Victory Point Card – Completed chapters can only be used to buy one of the Victory Point cards. You may never have more than three completed chapters in your guildhall.

At its heart Guildhall is a set collection game. Whereas once upon a time you collected hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, here you collect professions. Because each profession has a special power which may be activated when you add a card to that set, and the powers become more potent as you add more cards, then it is in a player’s interest to build up chapters. However, as it is nigh on inevitable that you will need to trade in completed sets for victory points you will need to judge when it is worth giving up very strong abilities in order to secure some points and possibly a one-off bonus. Gaining points and edging closer to victory therefore makes you considerably weaker, at least temporarily, so games tend to be close.

The simplicity of the design means that you can be playing within five minutes (maximum!) of opening the box, but you will slowly begin to work out the depths of the design over your first plays as it dawns on you that the order in which you discard cards can be of critical importance, that leaving your incomplete chapters open to an opponent’s attack can be hugely damaging, that having the right combination of cards in hand can lead to some devastating combos…and so on. As games progress and guildhalls become more heavily populated it genuinely does feel as if you have built up your powers, and I was surprised to find myself agreeing that, after my initial scepticism, the new theme really does work surprisingly well. Yes, they are just cards after all, but your Warriors will rampage across to an opponent’s guildhall, while Rangers, tough to play effectively on their own, can be a great help when hunting as a group, giving you up to four points in exchange for giving a single card to your opponent. Hook this up with a Sorcerer, who allows you to take a card back into hand from your guildhall and then take another action, and you can get some serious points-scoring engines up and running – reach twenty points on your turn and you win the game.

This gradually emerging web of combinations is one of the great joys of Guildhall and helps its longevity, but it does mean that games can drag on with more players. With two it is directly confrontational, as you will always be attacking your opponent’s guildhall, with three it is more open, but with four it can get seriously bogged down once players have built up their chapters, and it can outstay its welcome. Two or three are the real sweet spots for this game, and each plays slightly differently.

While the original base game (which AEG call Old World Economy) and the Job Faire box were fine and dandy on their own, each one nicely balanced, it was inevitable that players would want to mix and match professions from both. Doing this randomly could, however, cause serious imbalances in the game – you could end up with an excess of attacking cards and none to defend with, or be unable to access the discard pile at all. Wise minds eventually worked out that switching between similar professions from the two boxes was the best way to randomise the Guildhall experience and ensure a satisfying play experience.

AEG have clearly taken this on board, because each of the three new boxes will contain one each of six different classes of character (the Ranger belongs to the Leader class, for example). Just as with the original, each box will play quite happily on its own, but buying all three means that players will end up with three different options for each character class, so a standard six-profession game of Guildhall could have hundreds of different combinations. There is even the option of playing a mega eighteen-profession game if you like, though I suspect that this could take all evening to get done.

AEG have also come up with ideas for shorter versions of Guildhall as well, playing with fewer character cards, and either taking out some of the VP cards or omitting them entirely and simply playing to three completed chapters. It is an intriguing idea that hints at what AEG are trying to achieve with this game, which is a flexible game system whose simple rules can be adapted to fit a number of different game states – play with four professions until somebody has three complete chapters for the short game, or throw in all eighteen and play to twenty points for the epic experience…and all stops in between.

I really think that AEG may be onto something here, and it is clear from the detailed discussions of the design and characters on their website that they have put serious thought into this retheme, so that it polishes and refines rather than simply slapping new art onto the cards. Guildhall has proven to be such an enjoyable play for me, and is so easy to learn and teach, that it has always seemed to have the potential to have widespread appeal, and I think that its publishers have done a solid job of addressing the issues that the original versions of the game highlighted. Personally, I can take or leave the whole fantasy setting, even though I found it less grating than I thought I would, but the prospect of two further boxes have me genuinely excited for the future of Guildhall, so much so that I really do think it will make the transition from sleeper to hit.

To be worth something this review needs to address two groups of players – those who already have either or both of Old World Economy and Job Faire, and those who have never played Guildhall before. It is probably easier to address newbies first and to say that this new release is well worth the low price of entry and, if you find your group enjoying it, then you can buy the next two boxes, which will be released at a similar price. It is an intriguing experience, deeper than it may feel at first, and, like many meaty games, reveals its depths with more plays as you begin to work out where the combos lie and how they can be unleashed with devastating effect.

For the other players, those who have been here before, I would have to say that Guildhall Fantasy has addressed every single one of the issues I had with the previous release, but it has not only done that, it has also added value in terms of game modes and new cards, artwork and tokens, and tucked them all up in a snug and portable box. Collect all three of the new boxes and you will be able to get many hours of play out of this new set, and you will be also able to recreate the original sets easily – the designers have even given lists and markers for those cards.

AEG have done something here that many game publishers ought to take on board. They have taken an excellent if slightly obscure game, but instead of leaving it be they have polished, honed and refined all its weaknesses and added in some new stuff for good measure. They have tapped into the thematic zeitgeist with the adoption of a fantasy world, and have ensured that Guildhall is also playable by those who have difficulties with colours or words. As I stated at the start of this review, I admired the original game very much indeed, and even though this is really the original game with a new lick of paint and a slight redesign, it feels new and fresh. The bottom line is that whereas I expected this to be nothing more than a lazy reskin, it has rekindled my enthusiasm for this game (and, I should add, that of my fellow players), and I will definitely be on board for the next two boxes as and when they are released.
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Josh Walton
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Re: Is this just fantasy? - Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship Review
I couldn't agree more. Guildhall has always been amazing and I'm so glad it's back and better than ever. I only hope it gets more exposure and love this time around!
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Scott Bordelon
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Deerfield
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Re: Is this just fantasy? - Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship Review
Great review, thanks! I have Fellowship and am looking forward to the other 2. I hope they all can fit into one of the small boxes, that would be great!
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DoM Lauzon
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Re: Is this just fantasy? - Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship Review
Great game indeed and pretty happy to have it, but they certainly dropped the ball on the QA regarding the icon box graphics were in many cases they are blending dark-on-dark icons.

They really should have cleared up the shading or added outline to make it easier to read.
 
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