Come on in for this week's Next of Ken, where it's a double-dip of Guildhall and its expansion, Guildhall: Guild Harder. Wait, I mean Guilhall: Job Faire. There hasn't been this much talk of "chapters" and "professions" since Jimmy Hoffa went missing. Join us, won't you?
AEG's Guildhall arrived to me for review prior to my hiatus, and we put it through several games though I never got a chance to review it. It's a pure card game where players attempt to collect sets of the various characters in the game. There are six different professions and five colors for each of those professions A completed set of a profession with all six colors is called a "chapter", and these are flipped face down and can be exchanged for point cards from a face-up display.
On your turn, you have two actions to spend. You can play a card from your hand so long as it doesn't match a profession/color that you already have--so no playing a Yellow Farmer if you already have one in play. Each card does something when you play it, and what it does gets stronger the more of them you already have in your play area, or "Guildhall" as the game calls it. Some cards let you steal cards from others, some let you draw cards, some let you fish through the discard pile to find missing cards you need for your sets.
Another thing you can do is trade in your completed sets or "chapters" for point cards in the middle of the table. These are a random set of cards from the victory point deck. Some are simple, they just award you X amount of victory points. Others will award fewer victory points but grant you an instant benefit, such as drawing more cards, swapping cards with opponents, and other assorted fun things. You have to choose what's more important, as the benefits of the lower VP cards are nice but it's ultimately VP that will win you the game.
The last thing you can do is use an action to draw back up to 6. Not particularly sexy, but often necessary as you deplete your hand. This does mean that if you're willing to spend an action, you will get a fistful of new cards, so that's nice and prevents the game from degenerating into a "draw/go" endgame where everyone is just topdecking and hoping to hit the card they need.
First one to a predetermined number of victory points wins. And that is essentially the game.
What did I think of it? Well, for one thing if it sounds a little dry and procedural, it kinda is. The theme here is very much pasted on. Sure, you get a very light frosting of theme, like the Assassin "killing" cards from your opponent's Guildhall. But that's about as far as it goes. It is a very generic medieval theme with the usual 'profession' tropes, accentuated by some artwork that is solid but tends on the sillier side without overdoing it.
It really surprises me that they did not theme this in their Tempest setting. This came out after that series had started and seems like a natural fit, as many of the other games in that series are about intrigue, backstabbing and in-fighting. The point of both Courtier and Dominare is to acquire power and favors while denying influence to your opponents...that's a theme that could easily be slathered right over the top of this one like a fine Euro gravy. Plus the art in either of those games would be more appealing, and they would've saved a little cash re-using that stuff. Seems win-win.
I enjoy playing the game. It tickles the same card combinatoric portion of my brain that other games of this ilk do. There's a nice balance toward abusing the powers of your cards in play and waiting for the right moment to convert them to completed chapters and victory points. It's light and fun enough, and there are plenty of ways to interfere with your opponents plans, either through taking stuff from them, destroying what they have in play, or subtle things like fishing out cards they need from the discard pile before they're able to retrieve them. There is no direct combat but plenty of ways to stop what your opponent is trying to do. So this is not a "you build your tableau, I'll build mine" kind of game.
To me, it's solid but not spectacular. I've enjoyed it the several times we've played it, but it's not one that cries out from me on the shelf. It's vaguely in the same zone as something like Gosu, and unless I'm playing with a gaming newbie I would definitely rather be killing goblins than juggling farmers and dancers. Guildhall has some issues with iconography that might make teaching casual gamers trickier, but it's definitely manageable.
So I guess that's a thumb in the middle, leaning upward. I do like it but am not wowed by it. I think there is a solid niche for a game like this where it will be a perfect lightweight superstar in certain folks' collection, so give it a look if you're into card games like this one.
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!
Since receiving and playing through the original we also received the standalone expansion, Guildhall: Job Faire. (For the uninitiated, the "e" is silent.) For all intents and purposes, it is exactly the same game I just described to you above, but with six new professions including Robbers and Tax Collectors (Irwin R. Schyster would be proud.)
When playing with this set of cards, there was definitely more of a challenge getting the things you wanted to come together. Several of the abilities involve giving or trading cards with your opponent, and it often feels like you're battling your own cards to get them to do what you want. The Peddler in particular was problematic as you needed to have:
1. A card in hand you wanted to give up
2. That card was not a profession/color combo in your opponent's Guildhall already
3. Your opponent had a card in his Guildhall you actually wanted
Then that card goes to your hand and you get a bonus action to play it. Describing it like this isn't doing justice to how difficult the card is to use effectively, especially when both players have pretty active and full Guildhalls. I'm not certain I've completed a set of Peddlers yet.
One other thing is that these professions are even more interactive than the base game's. There is more card passing in general and players' Guildhalls definitely feel more fluid. The Assasin role is certainly missed, I'll say that. Other than the new professions though, there are no new gameplay tweaks. This set is standalone so you get all the victory point tokens and the VP deck from the other game.
Here's the rub--you can mix and match the professions from the two games to craft your own play experience. Want more card advantage? Make sure the Scholar and the Dancer are in there. Want a hateful set of cards that do nothing but let you Roshambo each other for half an hour? Get the Assassin and Robber in there doing some work. I believe you can also just pile all 12 professions into one central deck, but I honestly would not recommend that as it would make completing chapers even more difficult than before.
And there's another comparison to Asmodee's Gosu. Gosu's expansion was handled almost the same way, with the same options to mix and match the factions. Like a lot of games like this though that idea sounds much more appealing than it actually is in reality. The whole act of taking a large deck of cards and carefully putting into different piles is a pain in the ass (whether it be from game to game or even session to session.) The only game I've been willing to do this for is Omen: A Reign of War, because the draft environment is so worth it. I'm definitely not feeling that level of involvement for Guildhall. I like Gosu a lot more, and even that I was only willing to do the mix and match draft for a few times to get a feel for it.
It's possible I'll figure out a good mix to make two Guildhall decks out of, and leave them at that. It feels like Job Faire needs...something to help grease the wheels a bit. It's possible the Dancer needs to change over, but I'm not sure what I'd replace it for.
I will give monster credit for the new box. Guildhall's base game box had two card wells and...that was it. Guildhall: Job Faire's box has room for both base game and expansion and probably room for one more expansion too. I've already pitched the other box.
So that's the skinny on Guildhall and Guildhall: Job Faire. I like 'em but am not crazy about 'em. I think there's some neat stuff going on, and I like chaining card plays together. It's just in my nature. But I think the game could have had a better connection to its theme, and not setting it in Tempest seems like a real missed opportunity. If this were a video game or movie, the verdict would be, "worth a rental."
"No, I do not knoweth Alanis Morrissette. Ironic, is it not?"
And that's going to do it for this week. So until that grinning guy on the cover gets some "alone" time with those little piggies, I'll see ya in a fortnight.