Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Takamagahara, for 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; about $40)


When we are immersed in our game time, enjoying old favorites or new offerings, we sometimes forget that games are also designed outside the borders of America and Europe. As if to remind us of this fact comes Guild, a rather unique card game from Japan by designer Kenichi Tanabe. Although the game provides a convoluted fantasy/historical background for its setting, all that players really need to know is this: in a land of Kingdoms, each player is building a “Guild” to produce valuable resources, garner supporters, survive wars and emerge with the most Victory Points by the end of the game.

Guild comes with orange bidding chips, colored wooden cubes which represent necessary “resources” in the game: four basic resources (white = stone, brown = wood, yellow = rice, black = soldier) and silk (purple). Money is also important. But the key components of this game are the cards and the cards come in several varieties.

Kingdom cards represent the powers that populate the realm. There are 8 Kingdom cards but only 1 more than the number of players are used in a game. (The rest are returned to the box.) These are two-sided cards and they are placed, either side face up randomly, in the center of the playing area.guildbox

Each player begins with 7 bidding chips, 1 pawn and a hand of four basic Guild cards. The “Guild” cards come in three levels (1, 2 and 3) and will, generally, produce the needed resources of the game. (Some non-basic cards have “one use only” or special abilities.) Each of these basic Guild cards (all level 1) will produce 1 cube of each of the four basic resources (no silk). All players choose ONE of these cards to remove from their hands. These cards are then collected, shuffled and placed on top of the Guild card deck. Now, going from right to left, one card at a time, two cards from the guild deck are placed underneath each Kingdom, ready for purchase. From the remaining three cards in hand, each player chooses ONE of them and places it face up in front of them to begin their “Guild pyramid”. A cube of that card’s resource is also placed on it. The remaining two cards comprise each player’s starting hand. The start player is randomly determined and that player receives 1 Ryo (money) with each subsequent player receiving 1 additional Ryo. At this point, the first round of play begins.

Each round of play follows the same pattern. First, ALL players receive an income of 7 Ryo. Then, players conduct an auction to determine a variety of things.

This is a closed fist auction and everyone bids as many bidding chips as they wish. Want to bid more than 7? You may use your money as additional “bidding chips”! But you have to be careful as to how much you bid for your bid serves a multiple purpose: not only does it determine turn order but it also determines how many cards you can purchase AND their individual cost! (So, for example, if you bid 4, you can buy up to 4 cards – but at a cost of 4 Ryo EACH!) On turn (with turns going in high bidder order), players may buy cards on display from ONE Kingdom. Kingdoms also bestow a bonus to the player buying there. (Bonuses range from extra resources to resource exchanges to even shifting cards on display.) Guild cards purchased (and cards held in hand) may then be placed onto the ever-expanding Guild of the player.

Guilds are built along the lines of a pyramid. The first Guild card creates the first line (foundation) of the pyramid. From that point on, cards may be placed in the pyramid with the following stipulations: Guild cards of level one, may be placed on the first line of the pyramid of higher; level two cards may only be placed on the second level or higher, level three cards only on the third level or higher. Placement of cards also requires money (1 Ryo per level) and often requires the expenditure of resources. Finally, cards placed on a higher level MUST be supported by cards at the lower level in true pyramid fashion. But as we’re building UP, we can also build UNDERNEATH!

Special cards (known as Supporters) are available (in exchange for resources) and may be bought and placed during a player’s turn. Supporter cards representing Nobles are worth 6 Victory Points, the Church 5 VPs and Merchants 4. Another set of supporters are only worth 3 VPs each but these grant special and useful privileges such as additional income, extra resources, more soldiers and a tie-breaker in the round’s auction. Once bought, these cards go BELOW the foundation of the pyramid, following the rules of support like those cards placed above AND also cost money (2 Ryo for the first line of support below, 3 Ryo below that and so on).

Gathering resources, to buy Guild cards and Supporters, is key. So how do you get those needed resources anyway? And that’s where your pawn comes in!guild2

At any point during your turn, before, during or after card placement in your pyramid, a player may place his pawn on any one of the placed Guild cards. That pawn activates the card it is standing on and also activates ALL the cards in a direct line angled downward from his right and downward from his left (think of making a triangle). Guild cards capable of producing resources generate them now. These resources are placed directly onto the card where they may be spent or stored (a card can hold TWICE the number of its level so a level 3 card can hold up to 6 generated resources for use on a future turn. Have too many resources on a card? Either spend them, place them in a warehouse – one of those special Guild cards mentioned that may be purchased – OR lose them!) Once all players complete their buying/generating/building, the Kingdom cards from which cards have been brought are FLIPPED to their other side to reveal similar but different rewards for players buying from them the next round. Guild cards are again placed underneath the Kingdoms so that all have at least two Guild cards but all get at least one new Guild card added to their display. But before the next round can begin, we check to see if war breaks out!

If all Nobles Supporters have been bought (and, on subsequent terms, all Church or Merchant Supporter cards claimed), a war is triggered. When this happens, the next two Guild cards (or three for the Church or four for the Merchant) from the deck are revealed and the number of their levels are added which gives the number of enemy forces attacking. To counter them, players must return to stock an equal number of soldiers (black cubes) from their Guild. If you are able to do this, you are rewarded with one of the drawn Guild cards. If unable to comply, however, the player loses one of his Guild cards on the top tier of his pyramid! When the Guild card deck is depleted, the final war occurs. In this case, the enemy value is 12. Each player that defeats the enemy then receives 3 VPs instead of a card. (Again, failure means removal of your highest card from your pyramid.) With the final war resolved, final scoring occurs.

Players score VPs for the cards in their Guild pyramid. All cards on the first line (foundation) are worth 1 VP. Cards on the second tier are worth 2 VPs, third tier 3 VPs and so on. To this total is added the face value of all placed Supporter cards. Each silk cube in the Guild is worth 1 VP and, as mentioned, the winner(s) of the final war gets 3 VPs. The player with the highest combined total is the winner. (Tie? The player with the most remaining soldiers – black cubes – earn the win.)

There are a lot of things to like about Guild. There is a certain arc to the gameplay as wars become more and more difficult to win, forcing players to pay attention (and develop) military power (soldiers/black cubes) to avoid some harmful VP losses while still planning to accumulate other resources to buy more cards and expand their pyramids. Kenichi Tanabe’s use of the auction to not only determine turn order but set price and number of buys is both simple and genius. This creates lots of interaction and decision making, calling for shrewd reckoning of your opponents’ needs, their tolerance for risk and determining what they (and you) need and can afford.

Tanabe has also managed to give a “boardgame” feel to Guild as players create a “virtual” board with their pyramid. Pyramid construction requires players to give careful consideration to card placements. Guild cards on higher levels are worth more VPs so you need to build your pyramid so that higher levels can be supported. (This is also true for Supporter cards although they operate in the “basement”, a “mirror image” in a sense.) Pyramid structure ties in with pawn activation as well. Because cards are activated at an angle, some cards can get caught in the middle, a “no man’s land”, with not much to show for themselves. Since resources are required to pay for the better Guild and Supporter cards, “inactive” cards can prove to be damaging to your plans. Speaking of resources, the brown and purple cubes can appear identical in certain light. Fortunately, Tanabe has avoided this potential pitfall with a very simple solution: the purple (silk) cubes are slightly larger in size so there is no problem in recognizing which is which. The game is filled with icons but, fortunately, they quickly become easy to understand since many are repeated. The English translation is serviceable but the idiomatic English that would make rules reading smoother is missing. Fortunately, this is a hurdle that can be overcome with a little patience and common sense.

Using cards in a different way is an enviable skill. We’ve seen Marcel-Andre Merkle do it in Verrater (Winter 1999 GA Report) and Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, Schnappchen Jagd etc.) has made a career out of it. Add Kenichi Tanabe and his Guild to the list as the game manages to create a world of cards that is original, challenging and fun. Because Guild comes from Japan and, as we go to press, has no US distribution as of yet, tracking down a copy can be a challenge unto itself – but a challenge – like the game – well worth taking. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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