Publisher: Mirror Box Games
Game Designer: Matthew Austin
Ages: 14 and up
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
Game Mechanics: Hand Management, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers
Suggested Retail Price: $60
The Alderswamps outside of the Free City of Temmen are full of magical riches that King Dalian wants to call his own. First, the deadly Briarlights which infest the marshy wastes must be eradicated to ensure ownership of these treasures. To ensure success, he has directed that all guildhalls produce the best clothing, armor and weapons possible. These wares will arm and equip the brave warriors who are travelling from far and wide to complete quests and eliminate the threat to the City of Temmen.
You as head of one of the five guilds will test your acumen against your fellow businessmen in order to win the favor of the King. Do this and you can lay claim to the bounty that lies beyond, and prove that you are indeed the greatest Guild Master!
To be Guild Master
Guild Masters is a new eurogame from Mirror Box Games that is headed to Kickstarter on October 25th. It’s billed as a crafting strategy game, using a mix of resource gathering, item crafting, building and set collecting, with a very lite bidding mechanic added in.
The goal of the game is to prove your guild is the most powerful of the five halls. You do this by providing your wares to warriors coming to the kingdom to complete quests. Once completed, these warriors become part of your guild, bringing gold, treasure and increasing your reputation and value. A little bribery never hurts either and the King’s Herald is more than willing to bend the King’s ear, for the right price!
Gameplay in Guild Masters is very direct and easy to understand. On your turn you can do one of three actions: gather, craft/complete a quest and upgrade. One action per turn and variable scoring mechanisms from a randomized setup keep your choices meaningful and strategies fresh each time.
Resource gathering works in similar fashion to Splendor, you can take either three of one resource or opt for two of different types. These resources are used to craft items such as clothing, weapons and armor to complete quests and gain their bonuses.
Storage space and resources are both limited in Guild Masters, so you’ll have to strategize for turns ahead. Don’t get too rooted in any plan because other players may jump on something you need or want, and of course you can do the same in return. Thankfully, there are a plethora of options from which to score.
Each guild starts with just five storage slots but these can be extended through building upgrades and hiring certain workers. One of the guilds begins with an extra resource slot as part of the asymmetric powers that we’ll take a look at a bit further on.
Crafting is where you spend your resources to complete a mix of single and double item quest from the tableau. Completing quests provides you with treasure cards, gold and warriors which all gain you points. With the right room upgrades, they can be even more valuable in the end game.
Treasure cards give you resources, gold, artifacts or relics. To collect sets of artifacts and relics you’ll need to grab a mix of quests with different treasure cards. Unique artifacts and relics are spread throughout the three treasure decks and the bigger your sets, the greater the points.
Upgrading is the final option on your turn. This is where you buy rooms and workers to upgrade your guild. Workers give you bonuses including free actions and extra resources and are very important in building your engine. They really expand your capabilities and the games strategies, so don’t overlook them!
There are five guilds, each with asymmetric abilities to give different flavor and interesting choices. Two of them start with resources in hand, which is a nice boost in a game with limited resources.
Another has you starting with a quest card of your choosing from the top three of the deck. This isn’t bad but I thought it was the weakest of the bunch since quest cards aren’t hard to come by. Its benefit is that you get to choose the quest that you want before anyone else can snatch it up.
The last two were on par with the first two and were my favorites. One guild grants you four extra gold, so the deeper in the turn order you go, the more extra gold you start the game with. If you go last, you can build a room on your first turn which is a nice advantage to going last.
The final guild gives you six resource slots instead of five. As I tend to be a resource hoarder, this one appealed to me immediately. If you start with this hall, it’s wise to increase your storage further by grabbing the warehouse room for an extra three slots. Hiring a couple of warehouse workers could potentially allow you to store 12 or more resources. With scant resources, hoarding is a valid strategy to slow opponents while also maintaining the flexibility of completing any quest at will.
The quest deck is separated into two ages, the first and second ages. As quests are completed replacements are drawn from the deck. At the conclusion of the first age, the King’s Herald appears. Players secretly determine how much gold they are willing to bid to buy the King’s favor. The highest bidder gets the Herald card, worth four points in the end game and everyone else retains what they bid.
I like how the quest deck acts as both a timer and the mechanism for gaining money to purchase upgrades and set collect. You can’t afford to not complete quests as it hampers your ability to upgrade, so you have to balance quests with upgrades before it runs out. Money is worth far more invested in your guild than it is at end game scoring, so burning through the deck can be a valid strategy.
Play continues until the final card is drawn, announcing the King’s arrival. What’s good here is that this trigger’s the final round, not the end game. So everyone, including the player who drew the King’s card, gets one last chance to snatch up some points.
My initial play of Guild Masters reminded me of Lords of Waterdeep, albeit meatier. The game’s simplicity belies its deceptive but substantial depth that doesn’t reveal itself at first glance. It is a very easy game to pick up, and the shifting setup and asymmetric player powers means more time exploring than learning, and that’s a great thing!
It’s a solid introduction to mechanics such as resource gathering/management and set collection for newcomers to hobby boardgaming. While straightforward, designer Matt Austin has made sure to keep the decisions meaningful, and the variable scoring and rooms create a unique experience that feels fresh each time. Guild Masters is a bit thinky but not overwhelming, making it a very good medium weight game that euro fans will surely enjoy.
Guild Masters plays well at all player counts from 2-5, with some differences at low and higher player counts. At two players the game is a bit more relaxed since you have a 50/50 split with your opponent on what can be gathered and accomplished. With three players and above there are more rooms, quests, resources and workers in play. These all shape the strategies and dynamics of the game in interesting ways. Giving you more options to block or steal what other players want, and of course they’re doing the same to you.
The art is excellent and I love how everything sits right on the board, making you feel like you are working within the city of Temmen. The prototype board was a bit cramped but the production copy will be bigger, giving all of the components more breathing room.
The more you play the game, the more aspects of it you’ll discover that you may have overlooked on previous plays. These layers of exploration lend to high replayability and the ease at teaching it will mean much more table time. Fans of resource management games and engine builders will really enjoy this one!
Company Website: http://www.mirrorboxgames.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/MirrorBoxGames
Note: A prototype of this game was provided to me for this preview.
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