Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(AEG, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 30 minutes; $29.95)

guildhallboxDuring the so-called Dark Ages, unless of noble birth or mired in serfdom, much of the population worked in groups known as guilds. In the game created by designer Hope S. Hwang, the society of this time is shaped by six professions. Using the members of these professions to your best advantage is the key to winning in this new card game: Guildhall.

The core of the game is its 120 Profession cards consisting of 4 sets of 5 different colors (red, green, blue, yellow and purple) in each of the 6 professions found here: Assassin, Dancer, Farmer, Historian, Trader and Weaver. There are also 30 Victory Point cards, a sheet of Victory Point tokens and instructions in both English and German.

Set up is simple. All Profession cards are shuffled to make a single deck with each player dealt a hand of 9. Players may keep them or discard as many as they like and replenish back to 9. Once done, however, three of those cards must be played face up in front of him (into their “guildhalls”). Cards of the same type are grouped together in what the game calls “chapters”. (If you manage to acquire a set of five in the different colors, that is a “completed chapter”.) The Victory Point cards are shuffled with five of them laid out in a row, available to all.

Each turn, a player may do two actions (repeating an action if so desired) from a menu of three possibilities:

1. Play a card.

2. Discard any (or all) of the cards you hold and draw back up to six.

3. Buy an available Victory Point card.

Players will spend most of their time doing action 1 which will trigger the special abilities of the cards played which give the game its character as each profession has specialized powers.

guildhall3Basically, the Assassin removes card(s) from another player’s guildhall. The Farmer can generate Victory Points (tracked by using VP tokens). The Historian allows you to snatch discards and add them to your own guildhall while the Weaver helps your guildhall grow by permitting you to place card(s) from your hand into it. The Dancer will allow you to draw cards without costing you an action while the Trader forces trades to your advantage from an unlucky opponent. But the degree of power each card can exert depends on just how many of those same type of card already populates your guildhall. Let’s take a few examples:

When played, some cards (the Assassin, Historian, Trader and Weaver) will make an impact even if no other cards of their type reside in the hall. But if one or more of these cards are present, their effects increase.

By playing an Assassin, I can force another player’s guildhall member to be discarded. But with two Assassins already residing in my guildhall, I can eliminate TWO cards from my opponent (one from two different chapters). Four Assassins in my guildhall? Then I can remove TWO cards from the SAME enemy chapter! Similarly, a played Historian will allow me to claim the top card on the discard pile. With two already in my guildhall, I can go through the discard deck and choose one to add my hall. Four Historians already in play? Then I can claim TWO cards from the discard pile. My Trader allows me to give away one of my cards for one you have that I really want. Have 2 Traders already in play, then I can force a 2 card trade. Have 4? Then I can swap one of my incomplete chapters for one of your incomplete chapters – a great way to exchange my 1 card chapter for your nearly completed 4 card set. Weavers allow players to place more cards from their hands into their guilds without taking another action. (With more Weavers in the guildhall, more cards can be placed and, in some cases, you have to take back a card in the hall and return it to you hand. But that can be good too as this gives you another potentially powerful card to play a second time.) But Farmers and Dancers require cards already in the guildhall for maximum effect.

If I already have a Farmer in my hall, a second Farmer played will earn me 1 Victory Point. Have 3 of them? Then I get 2 VPs by playing another. Dancers allow me to draw as many cards as I have Dancers in my guild without costing an action. It should be noted that even if you have the chance to use a more powerful ability, you may opt to use a lesser one if that better suits your immediate needs. But all of this card play does come with a few restrictions.

First of all, you can NOT play a card of the same type and color that is already in your guildhall. Second, you cannot play two of the same type of card for your two actions on a turn. Third, if forcing a trade, you cannot give an opponent a card he already has (no duplication allowed).

Once your maneuvering leaves you with a set of five different colored cards in one profession, those cards (that chapter) are immediately turned over. Once turned, that stack is immune to any trades or assassinations. You can have up to three turned chapters in your guildhall and save them for later use. Or you may use one or more to purchase Victory Point cards.

guildhall2Only one Victory Point card may be purchased per action. Most Victory Point cards cost 1 chapter to buy. Higher valued VP cards cost 2 chapters. (Used chapters are placed in the discard pile where they are recycled once the draw deck is depleted.) VP cards range from 2 to 9 points but these point values are neatly balanced by special powers the lesser valued cards trigger upon purchase. For example, a 2 VP card may only be worth 2 VPs but can allow you to steal an entire unflipped chapter from an opponent. This can be a powerful way to become poised to complete yet another chapter and buy another VP card. Other VP cards will allow you to draw more cards into your hand (no hand limit), force trades or take more actions.

When one player reaches (or surpasses) 20 Victory Points through a combination of VP cards and/or VP tokens, the game end immediately and that player is victorious!

As in many card games, timing is critical. In Guildhall, timing combined with powers makes for some intricate and challenging card combinations. Playing Assassins to prevent your opponents from getting finished chapters to buy VP cards is a strategy that is powerful but invites retaliation. Drawing a handful of cards through your Dancers and then playing them into your guild via Weavers can grow your hall rapidly. Historians that allow you to plunge into the discard pile to pluck your needed fifth card to complete a chapter can be a game changer. Farmers can turn into a VP generating machine if left unchecked. And, of course, forcing trades through the Trader can boost your prospects and sharply curtail those of your targeted opponent. But remember: your opponents can do all this to you!

Guildhall relies on icons on all its cards. Fortunately, only a limited number of these icons are used and they are easily understandable (even for casual gamers). What is also helpful is that colors chosen for the cards are easily distinguishable and the type is large and readable. The card quality is good as well and the artwork is excellent. (The only thing is that everyone looks so clean and glowing, not something you would normally associate with the health and hygiene of the Dark Ages.)

Guildhall is a card game with enough “take that” to it to keep you engaged in a very balanced design that keeps all players within reach of victory. It has the added benefit of being able to be played in a light frame of mind even though there is enough depth to challenge astute players to maximize the potential of cards held in their hands – all the qualities of a classic game. Recommended.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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