Sometimes I find it hard to write these reviews, because the game is either middling, or smart but has some crushing flaw, or I really liked it and other people didn’t, so I have to find a balance between expressing my opinion and the Circus Freaks’ opinions proportionally, so that you, my dear readers, understand that this is not just one guy’s opinion, but the collective opinion of a disparate group of people. This is not one of those times. Guildhall Fantasy is an absolute masterpiece, and it even passed the wife’s smell test, and she’s the kind of girl who rage quit Takenoko because it’s bullshit that the panda has to move to eat. Despite it being a card game, and despite it being a sort of portmanteau of deck building and tableau building with a heaping dose of Ameritrash, straight to the veins, it has ceaselessly wowed all of the Circus Freaks who have played it.
I didn’t ask for this game; it was shipped to me by AEG for review purposes with Octo Dice and Mystic Vale. I really didn’t want to overburden myself with reviews, since I have the Miniature Market thing going and work is crazy for me lately, but rules are rules, so I resigned myself to review this, and man, am I glad I did. While I had played the original Guildhall many years ago and thought it was pretty good, this iteration of the game is so much more fun, so much more flexible, and so tightly designed that this game is on my Forever Shelf.
The premise of the game, thin as it is, is that players act as a sort of fantasy union boss who is attempting to assemble six fantasy professions into little guilds so that, once a guild is complete, they can trade them in for victory points. Basically, you can discard and draw cards, play cards to your tableau and activate their power, or buy a victory point card. The first person to twenty victory points wins. It’s a very, very simple game, as far as the turn flow goes. What isn’t simple is what happens when you play a card to your tableau, because each profession does something, and as a profession gains more cards in the tableau, they become better at doing it. What they do varies wildly, but it mostly amounts to gaining new cards, gaining extra turns, or screwing over your opponents in exquisitely dastardly ways. What makes the game awesome is that last bit, because I can absolutely see a player getting so pissed about being targeted that they flip a table and start wrecking the place.
Now, while I and everyone I played with loved the game, I want to point something out about the setting, because while it’s cohesive, it’s not existentially bound to the gameplay in any meaningful way. It’s not abstract, but rather, the setting doesn’t really matter. In fact, this game easily could’ve been about construction professions, such as framers, roofers, plumbers or other trades, with the scoring cards representing contracts won by your union. That would’ve made way more sense, been more tied to the setting, and might’ve captured my attention more. The Circus Freaks and I had a long conversation about this, and at the end of the day, we all agreed that it didn’t matter because the gameplay is so exquisite that the game would have rocked no matter what the setting was.
Guildhall Fantasy is sold in three boxes currently: Alliance, Coalition, and Fellowship, and inside each box is a token sheet, a rule sheet, six decks of twenty cards each, a deck of scoring cards, and seven reference cards. There’s not a whole lot of stuff in the box, and at $18.00 per box, it’s easy to see why. The art is pretty good, but at the end of the day, its mostly irrelevant. What isn’t irrelevant was the effort put into the graphic design and layout, and how well the icons present the information to players. It works so damned well that we found ourselves glancing at the back of the rulebook occasionally to remind ourselves what each profession’s abilities were, but only occasionally because the icons made complete sense. It’s a rare treat that I get to spout on about graphic designers, the hidden purveyors of information, because without them, no game would work.
Each box contains a good mix of professions, and each box is well balanced, but we found that it would be best to mix the professions and create three, new boxes with their own sort of theme: Gary Johnson, SCOTUS, and Donald J Trump. The Gary deck is the nice one, where everyone gets along, doesn’t screw each other up, and focuses on just helping your own cause while leaving other players alone. The SCOTUS deck is balanced, with a mix of professions that help your cause and hurt others to some degree. The Trump deck is the nastiest, where all of the professions create havoc and chaos, and at the end of the game, everyone hates one another a little bit more after the game’s over.
Some examples of the professions would be helpful, so allow me to elaborate: The Shaman allows you to peek at X cards in the draw deck, keep X, and return the rest to the top. The Wizard allows you to dig cards from the discard pile and keep them. Those are the Gary Johnsons. The SCOTUS example is the Spellblade, who allows you to take cards from opponents’ guilds and put them in your hand, but you need to give them cards back in their guildhall. The Trump example is the Fighter, who can just kill other players’ cards from their guilds. There’s a ton of variance, and one of the slicker ones is that there are new victory point tokens which some professions can give you, which are generally the first ones targeted for theft and outright murder. It’s a small part of the game, but it’s little things like this which give more impetus to want to screw with other players, and act as sort of control points to manage, in miniatures game parlance.
The long and short is that there’s nothing that any of us didn’t like about the game, except the initial learning curve for the icons. Granted, they’re clear and once you know what they are, they become second nature, but the first game had a lot of “what the hell does this mean” moments. It’s worth enduring the small inconvenience of that, though, because the game is outstanding on every level, and this from a guy who isn’t big on card games. I love it, all of my friends and family love it, and I think you’ll love it if you like games with a ton of player interaction, small footprint, short playtime, and a shitload of tension.
Why Jimmy Hoffa’s Fantasy Came True:
– Quick to learn, quick to play, but lots of strategy and nastiness
– The unique gameplay will blow you away
– The 3-box sales method means you’re only investing $18 to try it
Why The Teamsters Would Strike At The Guildhall:
– The art is rather bland, although not bad
– There may be a small learning curve at first while you learn icons
– The setting is thinner than Teflon coating
We all adore this game, and the only complaints we had are that the art isn’t great, although not bad at all, the setting is essentially painted on and doesn’t really have any bearing on the game, and the icons really run the game, so until you’re comfortable with them, you’re going to be referring to the back-page reference. Beyond those complaints, which really don’t have any bearing on gameplay after the first game, you will very likely enjoy the hell out of this, assuming you like card games and like games with strong doses of “Screw You”.
Learn more at AEG’s site: https://www.alderac.com/guildhall-fantasy/