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Time to go all in? Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Review

Guildhall Fantasy: Alliance is the second of three boxes in the comprehensive reboot of the 2012 Guildhall game by AEG.  In my earlier review I took a look at the first box of the set and how it upped the ante for this neglected game, and now it is time to unpack the second and see what goodies lie beneath its cardboard cover.  It is worth pointing out straight away that, as with the original release of the game, this second box is not a set of new mechanisms but instead a self-sufficient game that you could pick up and play straight away without needing Fellowship.  However it also combines with the first box and provides new options in terms of swapping roles in and out of the game.  Now that Alliance has been released it is clear that this should probably be considered an intermediate step for players committed to the game – either you buy Fellowship, find it totally sufficient for your gaming needs and get off the bus, or you commit to the all-in experience, in which case you will want to pick up the third box (Coalition) when it is released.

Want more Guildhall?  Look inside the box!

The rules are exactly the same as for the original box, so there is no need to relearn the game, and the division of the professions is as in the previous box, which means that there are two from Guildhall Old World Economy, two from Job Faire and two brand new additions to the set.  As an extra and unexpected bonus, the victory point cards which I had expected would be the same across the same three boxes are slightly different as well. Meaning that the customisation options spread to pretty much every aspect of the game.

Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

More Guildhall goodness lies within this box…

The box is the same size as that for Fellowship, holding all the components in place without much wasted space, which is good to see, but the bold yellow colours of Alliance will certainly stand out much more readily from your game shelf.  As before, the set contains ninety profession cards, victory point cards, and tokens to mark the victory points themselves.  There are also small reference cards, much the same as the first box, which detail the intricacies of each profession’s powers, which are especially useful during the course of the game.  There is nothing wrong with the iconography per se, in fact it is commendably intuitive once you realise what is going on, but we found ourselves referring back to the reference cards quite often for the more complicated abilities.

Professions aplenty!  Who does what in Alliance?

The six professions you will find in the Alliance box are as follows:

  • The Marshal is a reskin of the Farmer in Old World Economy, and is by far the simplest of the professions in this box.  Quite simply, playing a Marshal will earn you victory points based on how many Marshals you have already in your guildhall, and they can be very useful for gaining points here and there when you are unable to go directly for the victory point cards.

    Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

    The Marshal is a simple reskin of the Farmer from the original game. Play him for points.

  • The Assassin is a much more complicated card, however.  Her power allows you first to draw a card, then place a card from your guildhall into an opponent’s hand. Then (yes, there’s more!) discard two cards from that opponent’s hand, either chosen or at random, depending on the level of activation.  Got that?  Compared to the play-it-and-gain-points simplicity of the Marshal, this is much more involved, although it can lead to some really interesting combos. For example, you could play a high-powered Assassin and then activate another profession to draw a card that was in your opponent’s hand out of the discard pile – sneaky!  I would really advise leaving her out of any early games though, unless you want confused looks from the other players, as she is the kind of card who comes alive in expert hands.
  • The Shaman allows the player to draw cards and then to discard from hand.  It is a clean and simple play, and really needs no further explanation.
  • The Wizard lets you take cards from the discard pile and place them directly into your guildhall.  At the lowest level you can only take the top card of the pile, but the more powerful abilities allow her to look through all the discarded cards, so she can become very useful indeed.  Combine her with a profession such as the Assassin, which allows you to seed the discard pile, and you can end up with some really powerful combos.
  • The Spellblade gives a player the ability to swap cards from their hand with cards in an opponent’s guildhall.  He is one of those characters who can be activated even if you have no Spellblades already in your guildhall, but he also allows a player to take an extra action.  At the highest level you can even swipe an opponent’s entire chapter from them, playing havoc with their plans.
  • The Psion is another one of those professions that might well have players saying “Hang on, explain that to me again..!”. He allows you to take cards from an opponents guildhall and place them into your own. But, you then draw cards from the deck and add them to your opponent’s tableau, if you can.  This may sound like a bit of a mess, but the Psion becomes more powerful with each extra member in your guildhall and as the game progresses.  Because you are never allowed duplicate cards in a guildhall, in the later stages of the game it becomes much less likely that the Psion’s draw will help an opponent, as they will already have many cards in play.  He’s an interesting card whose dynamic changes markedly as the game goes on.

    Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

    The Psion becomes more powerful as the game progresses.

There’s a considered balance of simple and complex abilities in Alliance, but I feel that the more complex cards are just a little trickier to wield effectively than those in Fellowship.  As a result I would say that the professions in Alliance are better suited to people comfortable with the game, perhaps those who have a few plays of Fantasy Fellowship under their belt and have already explored the combos in that box.  As I mentioned above, the iconography is also slightly harder to decipher on first glance, and might well prove difficult to the new player, even if the logic behind it is good and players can in theory infer what is going on from the cards alone.  Even so, having the reference cards in the box to explain exactly how each role works is invaluable and, as I mentioned in my original review, a significant step up in comparison with the original 2012 release.

Storage problems in store?  Maybe..!

There is one real problem with the imminent arrival of the third box, though.  For people who will want to go all-in on the Guildhall experience I can see that storage is possibly going to be a problem.  There is currently enough space in one box to fit Alliance and Fellowship, and I have to say that it looks pretty swanky if you use the reference cards as dividers between the different professions, but unless I am going to throw my insert away I think that there are going to be problems once Coalition is released – it will be interesting to see if AEG have anything up their sleeves, and I really hope that they do.  There’s a real possibility that mixing and matching the professions and victory point cards across the various boxes (which is what AEG would like us to do) looks like becoming a real pain, and we spent a decent amount of time trying to sort all the cards out between Guildhall sessions.  Of course, you could always keep your three sets entirely separate, but it’s an inelegant solution.

Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

Fellowship and Alliance fit nicely together, but where is Coalition going to go?

What is a definite positive however, is that the game is now customisable in so many ways, and that this flexibility is only going to increase when the final box is released.  As an example, my regular gaming partner is not really a fan of direct confrontation, which is exactly what you tend to get in Guildhall if you play with only two people. So, after a few games with the new box, we simply took out the more aggressive roles and replaced them with less in-your-face options from Fellowship and it worked pretty well.  If, on the other hand, you are a death and destruction merchant, then you can simply ramp up the aggression with the professions you select for a game and run fast and loose with your opponent’s guildhall.  Each slight realignment of the roles results in a slightly different experience, making for a genuinely interesting game that has the potential to change its dynamic on every single play, and the allocation of each profession to a specific class means that any combination of professions with all six classes is going to make for a balanced game.

More of a good thing?  It’s Fellowship with extra..!

So, as you might expect, Alliance does all the good things that Fellowship does, tidying up the loose ends and minor niggles of the original edition and turning Guildhall into a genuinely polished and high-quality experience.  People who enjoy interactive and thinky card games, something along the lines of a fairly heavy filler, will find much to enjoy here.

Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

I take a card into my hand then put a card from my guildhall into my opponent’s hand, then take cards from their hand and…hang on, where was I?

Having said that, this really is not the best starting point for players new to the game.  The Assassin and Psion especially will catch some gamers by surprise and might even turn them off to what is an excellent game.  I really view those professions as “advanced” and think that they should be kept out of the first few games.  In many ways Old World Economy was an ideal starting set, although the only way to assemble it with the new edition is to buy all three boxes.  With this new edition though, I would strongly recommend starting with Fellowship.

Should you go all-in for Alliance?  Maybe..!

So Alliance is really the middle step for players who are going all-in on the Guildhall experience.  If you tried Fellowship and liked it, but expect to play it only a few times a year, then you probably have no need of the flexibility this box will offer.  On the other hand, if your game group has tried this new edition of Guildhall and cannot get enough of it then you should certainly seek out Alliance and then get Coalition as well, after which you can try the Mega variant, which sounds like a beast!

Guildhall Fantasy Alliance Card Game

The information cards act as neat dividers to keep things in order.

Alliance then, takes you further down the rabbit hole.  If you buy it, you are unlikely to feel that your collection of Guildhall is going to be complete without also buying Coalition. But, if you are getting on just fine with Fellowship on its own then there is no need to buy this just for the sake of it.  It’s a little like the middle film of the trilogy – you go to see it because you liked the first film, but in your heart you know it’s going to make you want to see the last one as well…eventually.

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.