I try really really hard not to play favourites when choosing games. Honestly I do. It tends to make the other games jealous otherwise (shhhh, it’s OK everybody, you can have another turn soon). Not only that, I tend to find it better to judge a game on its own merit every time I choose a new one. However, I’m sure I, like most of you have a favourite designer or publisher. For me, my favourite publisher is Tasty Minstrel Games. I don’t claim to have their whole collection of games… in fact, I have never even played Orleans (WHAT?!?!) but all of the recent games that they have published and I have played, I have really enjoyed. They tend to be really easy to pick up and really fun to play which is something that cannot be said for all games.
When I heard on the grapevine about Guilds of London I got quite excited. There’s nothing quite like a good worker placement game and when Guilds of London had its debut sale at the UK Games Expo it sold out very very quickly. Whilst a massive surge in sales tends to have a negative effect on me when purchasing a game, as there’s nothing worse than an impulse buy because of hype, (I have bought several video games on the back of the hype train and have been crushingly disappointed) but since it was TMG I was definitely willing to give it a chance.
So was it worth it? (Don’t be giving hate a chance)
The first thing which really impressed me about Guilds of London was the preparation (or lack of it) before being able to play. The game I had opened before Guilds was Dead of Winter: The Long Night and believe me, there’s a metric tonne of punchboard to pop out before you can even think about playing it. With Guilds of London however there was a heck of a lot less to do. Pop out the guild tiles (40 of them) plus the tiles for special buildings, plantation and the guildhall (a total of another 8 tiles), and 30 2nd place tokens and then you’re almost set to play. Easier than winning a game of football against a pre-school 5-a-side.
Now for a caveat: the times I have played Guilds of London I have done so with 2 players. Playing Guilds of London with 3 or more players is different as the board expands every few rounds as you play by adding tiles to the corners of the grid. But, with 2 players you start with a 5×5 tile grid and keep it throughout the game. The other difference between a 2 player game and a larger group is that in a 2 player game, the guilds are scored every other round instead of every round.
Everybody, to The Guilds!
In a 2 player game you need to put the Guildhall in the middle and lay out 4 of the 5 “special” guild tiles in a cross shape around it. Then shuffle the rest of the guild tiles and create your 5×5 grid. You all start in the middle with 4 of your own coloured “liverymen” (workers) and 2 neutral black liverymen per player. You are also handed 3 mayoral reward cards and 6 action cards.
There is an additional board which has a plantation on it (being in Virginia or Ulster. I know which one I’d prefer to swan off to for a while) which also doubles as the scoreboard, and the place mat for the mayoral reward card deck.
The action cards you use throughout the game are multi use. You can use them as a colour card, which can be used to move one of your workers to a specific coloured guild, they can be used as a special action noted on each card and they can also be flipped over and used as a coin towards paying the cost of the special action. Kudos for making the most of what you have!
The aim of the game is simply to score the most victory points at the end of the game by mastering guilds and netting bonuses through nefarious and occasionally legitimate means.
But what’s it all used for?
Each of the liverymen are used towards scoring a guild tile, and once it’s scored you then leave one of your liverymen on the board as a guild master. You can tell your masters from your liverymen as they’re laying down… Sounds like most management to me! You also turn the tile over showing which colour guild you have mastered to ensure that you don’t accidentally master the same one twice, or end up with 2 of you mastering the same guild (sadly, I am on occasion stupid enough for this to happen).
There is a small difference between masters and liverymen (apart from their reclining positions), in that some of the special uses on the cards mean that you can move the Guild Masters to other cards for free instead of using your liverymen.
The neutral liverymen can be used towards scoring guilds whilst potentially messing with the other players. They can be used to break tie-breaks and tip the odds in your favour if you’re evenly split while trying to master a guild.
Let’s talk about the Beadle
No… not that beadle.
Supplied with Guilds of London is a silver pawn which is called a beadle. The beadle “lives”, (well more migrates) to the most important of the guilds. All of the guilds are numbered in level of importance. (Generally this makes no difference whatsoever, but there is an occasional increase in the perks for the higher rated and more powerful guilds) and stays there. For all intents and purposes, the beadle is almost the same as the neutral liverymen, but looks much more awesome. To me it looks like a beefeater meeple that was dropped in silver dip. He can also be used towards scoring a guild to occasionally save your liverymen should you need to.
Nice Guys Finish Last?
All guilds have different bonuses for mastering and as per the setup, they all have 2nd place tokens on them too. This means that even if you don’t manage to master the guild yourself then you can still get something from it. This can vary from a solitary victory point, to up to 4 victory points. This can actually sometimes be higher than the bonus for mastering the guild, so some clever tactics often need to be involved, as well as some truly sneaky, dirty and underhanded ones.
Being second place is often not the best idea though, since the master also gets a bonus as well as the victory points, and these can vary from having another 3 action cards given to you, to picking 4 mayoral reward cards and keeping a couple of them.
Mayoral reward cards are exceptionally powerful things. They’re almost mini missions within the game and can reward you for doing things like mastering the most guilds of a certain colour or having no liverymen left in the guildhall at the end in exchange for victory points. They remind me a lot of the challenge cards that you receive at the beginning of ticket to ride, but don’t carry the punishment if they’re not completed.
So is it utter rubbish, or a guild – ty pleasure?
Publisher preferences aside (see, I’m not playing favourites) I have really enjoyed playing Guilds of London and am more than happy to add it to my collection. It is really easy to pick up and plays within around an hour with 2 players, but given that it’s on a round limit will likely only stretch out to around 90 minutes with more players. There is a lot of replay value that you get straight out of the box and I’m really keen to try with higher player counts to see how differently it plays when your board is forever expanding. Obviously more tiles give you more options!
Guilds of London is far from perfect though. The game relies heavily on iconography for the tiles, the special abilities of the cards, and the mayoral reward cards. And by relies heavily, I mean that without a key you would have absolutely no idea of what they did. Luckily, (or more like necessarily) they provide you with a cheat sheet that has a breakdown of all of the cards and the special abilities and what the iconography means. But, this also meant that we spent over 70% of our first game staring at it and trying to find what on earth all of the symbols meant and whether the card we had would be worth playing or not.
It’s also not the most “meaty” and complex of games to play, but I prefer lighter or middle weight games anyway so this works out really well for me.
However, the Guilds of London shows off how good it is by how the designers have managed to make such a fantastic game which doesn’t have too much depth to it. It’s not a micro game by any stretch of the imagination and if I were to try and pidgeon hole it, I’d say it’s the length and tone of a heavy filler game. And that isn’t always a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.
Also, because of the random tile setup and the random hands of cards that you get in the beginning of every game, it opens up the opportunity to vary your strategies. Obviously, everyone is vying for scoring the most victory points, but can you also try and scupper your opponent at the same time? Do I try and send some liverymen off to the plantation, and if I do will it benefit me by chipping away at points and cards unchallenged? Should I collect as many mayoral reward cards as possible and decimate the others this way? Tonnes of decisions need to be made, but you’re also forced to think on your feet when others do the unexpected.
I think that Guilds of London is a great game. It’s likely not for everyone. If you’re looking for something epic which you can sink several hours into, guilds is not it. However, if you’re looking for something light, that you can teach to the family and feel good about sinking 90 minutes into then it’s definitely one for you. Overall, I give Guilds of London a sturdy 7.5 Jeremy Beadles out of 10.
If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of Guilds of London then you can find a copy here:
If you’re interested in what else Tasty Minstrel might be up to then you can find it here:
If you also wondering “Whatever happened to Jeremy Beadle?” then you can find out here:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.