Monday, February 29, 2016

February - Rulings

Another month, another set of rules changes.

1. With the re-release of Season 1 cards with the Season 2 design (playbook and character plays on the front), Steamforged took the opportunity to issue a mini-errata addressing some of the leftover outliers from Season 1, namely Blind and Gutter:
  • Blind has been changed from RNG 6, AoE 3, -4TAC/MOV to RNG 8, AoE -, -2 TAC/KICK/MOV 
  • Gutter's Chain Grab has been changed to 4" RNG, down from 6".
There was also the clarification to Captain Rage's Heroic/Legendary (both work as intuitively expected), as well as a couple of clarified wordings (some with gameplay consequences, see below) and some terminology changes around tokens and posts.
2. Technically a December ruling that resurfaces recently: Tower's "Defend the Ground" and Stoker's "Burn the Floor" rendered VERY situational/ borderline useless by the clarification that models within 1" of a terrain piece ie. obstruction+ obstacles are not within that terrain piece despite getting the cover bonus, and the clarification that rough ground and fast ground are ground, and not terrain (see p.63)

3. Along with a few rewording/clarifications of abilities with the card reprints, Ghast's Fear ability has been reworded to increase the cost of the ability by [1] influence (as opposed to previously, where you basically threw away 1 influence to do anything to him).
A result of this is that character plays which trigger Fear have their dice pool increased by one, effectively a Bonus Time! with influence rather than momentum.

4. And a stealth buff for Casket - Ghostly Visage is no longer once per turn.

5. Clarification re: takeouts as a result of pushing an enemy off the field. It works as you'd expect re: momentum, Loved Creature, Vengeance plot, etc.

6. Minor change to Lure (Siren, Cosset) that makes it a straight Jog (like Puppet Master) instead of a non-typed reposition at base move. This means you can Parting Blow the lured model, if you wished,  it gets affected by terrain, etc.

There are also a couple of things in limbo, mostly about interactions between Ratchet and Pin Vice abilities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Veteran's Playbook (3) - Working the Bench

Todays episode of "Veteran's Playbook" turns our focus toward tournament play. Just in case you somehow thought that Steamforged had accidentally created a super-legit casual game, they chose to rather wisely follow it up by creating an equally interesting, deep and balanced Organised Play document to accompany it. Cheers.

I'll be drawing particular attention to what I see as (and what I hope will be) the leading format for tournament play, but will also generally brief you all on some of the highlights of the document and indeed how this can be used to further inform casual games as you develop your skills on the pitch, smashing hapless Fishermen with soul-crushing intent.



Equipment and Play Conventions

Fairly standard stuff here but a few things worth noting:

"It is a player’s responsibility to mark in game effects with the appropriate token or template; if a token or template is not present then the effect is not present."
- The classic "no token, no effect".

"In Guild Ball Tournaments all tokens, including Influence, must be placed on the pitch, next to the relevant model and clearly marked."
- Further reinforcement of the classic "no token, no effect".

What this does not specify is whether or not you need to be using official Steamforged tokens or can wrangle up your own (or indeed use tokens from other certain gaming systems). At the moment (because I am a cheap bastard but also because a colour/shape system works very well for me personally - these tokens stand out from the table and are highly visible) I'm using a variety of diamante shapes from Spotlight - blood drops for Bleed, orange rectangles for Fire, green ovals for Poison, and bright blue stars for Knocked Down.

Knock Down. Obviously?

To me these tokens more than adequately represent their effects but they don't have "Fire" or "Knocked Down" written on them. So they could be problematic in a tournament environment. Curiously, the official Guild Ball tokens don't actually have these words on them either. It will be interesting to hear about rulings on this, whether it's a real problem, or if I'm fussing over nothing.

In the end while clarity is key, one man's clarity is another man's objective obscurity. I prefer to mark my own guys with my own tokens anyway. Character Play effects are marked using tokens with words written on them. Using feature letters to represent entire words and effects is a whole other debate.

Modelling and Painting

A few things here that you really want to have considered well before you turn up for your first tournament!

"All models must be completely painted and based. This means that every model, including its base, must be painted with an acceptable variety of colour and shading."
- Completely painted with additional qualifiers beyond blocked out based colours (i.e. shading). And based. I have absolutely no problem with this requirement and love that they are aiming for a standard of representative quality whenever their game system appears in public (albeit this only applies to Steamforged endorsed and supported tournaments).

"No proxy miniatures are allowed in Guild Ball tournaments."
- No proxying your Eyriss model as Mist. No using your Brute Thrall conversion as Casket. Seems fine as long as you can stand the range for your Guild (lol, Brewers) or can reconcile yourself to certain heinous models and mis-sculpts of miniature art horror (cf. the aforementioned Casket).

A final note here that your goal may be represented by nothing more than a 50mm token so there's no pressure to black-belt convert something up from scratch and be judged for your inability to create dioramic drama worthy of a Renaissance artist.

Perfectly acceptable but not actually required.


Standard "don't be a dick, bro" type stuff. Always good to see this addressed. I had more sports issues in Warhammer (where it was soft-scored) than I ever did in Warmachine (where, like Guild Ball, it is not incorporated into the wider tournament scoring system) so this already sounds perfectly natural to me.

Tournament Organiser responsibilities - terrain!

Joe Average would ordinarily skip this section as it appears relevant only to the Pundits/suckers giving up their free time to run an event. Hang on though - there's a bunch of extremely relevant rulings for terrain usage here that you need to pay attention to. Especially if you're a Fishermen player who's been throwing a bigger than 3" in each dimension piece of Fast Ground in the middle of the table.

I'm pleased to say that the specifications for terrain use are very clear and implemented with an eye for balanced and consistent tables.

A minimum of 50% or more (rounding up) of the terrain pieces per pitch must be ‘Obstructions’. 
• There must be no more than 1 ‘Forest’ and 1 Barrier per pitch. 
• ‘Obstructions’ must be no larger than 2” in each dimension. 
• ‘Barriers’ must be no larger than 3” in each dimension. 
• ‘Rough Ground’ and ‘Forests’ must be no larger than 6” in each dimension. 
• ‘Fast Ground’ must be no larger than 3” in each dimension. 
• In addition ‘Fast Ground’ must be placed wholly within 6” of a board edge. 
• No terrain feature can be placed within 6” of another terrain feature or the goal token.

If you're playing casual games and not using terrain, I'd immediately suggest you start incorporating it. If you're watching a bunch of games online and modelling your play experiences on that, I suggest immediately reconsidering. This game for example appears to contradict the terrain dimensions specification above (dat building, yo).

Small pieces are good. Four to seven pieces is fine. A mix of terrain clearly favouring Obstructions is what you're after. Only one forest and one barrier is great! Fast Ground having to be completely within 6" of a board edge makes it advantageous for Wingers and flanking players but also inherently risky (mind getting Pushed off the table edge and into an angry crowd! - Release the Kraken!...).


Page 8 (eight) of the Organised Play document moves into combining a series of established variables to create a tournament format. In my mind the optimum (standard?) event looks like this:

  • 'Play to the final whistle' - the win condition is 12VPs
  • 'Team Tactics' - 45 minutes of chess/deathclock per player
  • 'Strength in Depth' - Captain + Mascot and further team of 6 models
  • 'Hide the team sheet!' - decide your final team composition in secret

These variables have in fact already been combined in the document into an acknowledged format: the "Regional Cup".

You're a football player, Harry!

I'll discuss the dreaded and thrice-damned clock (and management/mismanagement therein) in a future Veteran's Player article, but for now let's move to what I actually wanted to talk about - the concept of the 8-man roster.


Back in the days when people played Warmachine, the developers of the Steamroller (not to be confused with Steamforged) document toyed for a bit with the concept of Specialists. And Reinforcements. Which then became ADR (or Vanguard... I've never bothered to figure out the difference). And stuff. Anyway, the idea was/is that if you meet certain criteria you have the opportunity to tweak your army list by swapping in/out things that could advantage (or offset the disadvantage) of the matchup. 

Unfortunately, despite ongoing (and intermittent) efforts, it's difficult to overcome the increasingly rock/paper/scissors game that Warmachine has become. Combined with the Vanguard rules of the current Steamroller pack this has led to either a) crippling yourself by taking less than respectable/"uncompetitive" Warcasters or Warlocks, b) taking an already nails list (a rock to your opponent's scissors) and forcing the mismatch even harder, c) skewing your build even more like a complete boss, or d) being so far on the back foot that you could dig yourself out of a wet paper bag.

All in my opinion, of course.

Enter Guild Ball and the 8-man (woman/person/animal) roster. You meet your opponent and go through most of the normal pre-game events (finding your table, identifying terrain features, incanting curses by waving disembowelled chickens etc) but significantly, after scouting the pool of players that your opponent has brought along for an old fashioned whuppin', you may then switch in or out the make up of your own players to make your final team. You may not switch players out during the game (heads up for Season 2 or 3 rulesets that allow this with an active reserve bench - calling it now!). You also may not roster in multiple Captains although I've heard whisper that when all Guilds have a second Captain this variation will become a 9-man roster (2 x Captains, Mascot, 6 other players).

It must be said. This. Is. Massive.

It might not appear so at first glance but even just considering the basic math, changing two members of your fielded team represents a 33% change in team make-up. This opens up enormous opportunities to adjust playstyle and specialisation, accommodate your opponents Guild and likely preferential playstyle, and even draft in models that might be more advantageous on a particular table (i.e. accounting for terrain). Let me use my current 8-man Morticians roster as an example:

- Mist
- Rage
- Ghast
- Casket
- Cosset
- Silence

This gives me the following (among a multitude of other, more subtle) options:

- Building a kicking team. I should probably write that as "kicking team" because Morticians aren't especially flash in this area, but by going Obulus/Dirge + Mist/Cosset/Silence/Rage I get a team that's quite fast, has some decent Kick potential, and can position well to leverage their natural abilities and synergies. Seems fine at worst. Won't put the frighteners on Fishermans but could serve up a speedy goal-lashing to the less wary and obnoxious ball handlers out there.

- Building a punchy team. Obulus/Dirge + Rage/Cosset/Ghast/Casket (debatable - maybe Silence to bump up the INF?). They aren't likely to be give Butchers a run for their money but they can hand out a decent amount clout. Enough to punish the likes of some Alchemist and Engineer builds.

- Building a control team. I tried this tonight against Brewers and ran Obulus/Dirge + Mist/Silence/Ghast/Casket. The game probably deserves a write-up at some point but suffice to say the combination of Ghast/Casket worked out surprisingly well, Foul Odour and Embalming Fluid broke up the coherency of the Brewers team nicely, and I was able to organise enough Crowding Out (at one point Obulus was getting the maximum Crowded Out bonus of +5 TAC on Tapper - glorious!) that it could take down hard targets even without fully loading Ghast every turn, and minus the beatings from Rage and Cosset. Aside from lining up Brewers this looked handy into Butchers and Union.

- Building for your local meta. Let's say for example that your local scene is rife with Masons. You'd be interested in having some Anatomical Precision action in there somewhere to negate some ARM. Single-dice Character Plays become more live on low-DEF models. How do you manage Flint? What happens if they don't field Brick? How can you force the issue to make them leave Harmony the team, securing your goal from multiple consecutive scoring due to her absence?

- Some players individually make for outstanding contributors to the win, or poor contributors to a steady loss. Flicking them in or out depending on the opposition is hugely advantageous.

Variously you might build fast or bricky or shooty. You might draft in a player against a particular matchup. Or just as significantly draft them OUT against a particular matchup - in the game example above Cosset was benched quicker than you can say "socio-psychopathic crow-hating emo-obsessed teenager" so as not to accidentally sidle her to close to Hooper or Tapper and get her fragile frame squashed for easy VPs.

Of course while you're hard at work playing this fantastic meta-game against your opponent, they are secretly conniving to scupper your plans by working up their own list and combinations. It's a marvellous concept and I've begun practising it in casual play by dropping down 8 players and refining selections based on what I'm seeing on the other side of the pitch. It's encouraged me to try new combinations that I had otherwise written off as silly theory-ball thinking and adds an exciting layer to an already superbly designed game, and broke me out of a "these 6 players forever and nothing will sway me from this decision" mentality (except for Bonesaw - Bonesaw is dead to me).


I highly recommend implementing the 8-man roster concept in your casual play and encouraging your opponents to do the same. Select in secret, drop your team down, gasp in horror and amazement (or smirk arrogantly having pre-determined the build they would opt for). And talk about it afterwards. Tonights post-game debrief swirled between an Esters-centric line of discussion (the so-called "Kicking Brewers" concept) and alternative Tapper-led builds designed to make a misery of the game specifically for Morticians (lots of free ball behind the lines to avoid Puppet Master Kicks, focus on bashing, questions about removing Conditions, leaving Friday on the bench, yes or no to Stave and where should he be positioned in the context of that particular build). Riveting stuff and I'm sure my opponent will be back next time more alert and aware of the evils that lie in wait and how best to build and counter.

And of course as Seasons pass and new models are introduced the depth of the game (and roster mini-game) continues to expand and deepen. Most excellent.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Diversity in Guild Ball

Reading Robert's post about his first impression of the game made me think (I do that sometimes) about the ethnic and gender diversity in Guild Ball.

Wargaming has traditionally been a "boy's club" in most senses of the word - the player base is overwhelmingly male, and the representation of genders in older fantasy wargames has often fit in with the high fantasy/swords and sorcery stereotypes - large overly muscular men with oversized weapons shouting on about honour and death and blood and glory, contrasted with slender, overly curvaceous, usually half-naked, seductive women attributed either with the malicious, deceitful machinations of a sorceress or simply sexually objectified. Pretty much the kind of jank you'd expect to see on a Manowar cover:

Ethnic Diversity in the Empire of the Free Cities

In terms of ethnic diversity, I will keep it short - the Guild Ball setting is based on a late medieval/ early industrial-era Western Europe, with a dash of Game of Thrones-style pseudo magic.
You have the Scandinavian influences in the Fishermen and Brewers, the urban Jack the Ripper-style gore of the Butchers, the fashionable dress stylings of the Alchemists and Union, the gothic stylings of the Morticians, the steampunk of the Engineers and the Frankish influences of the Masons.

The setting and its influences are squarely European, which I must admit is one thing that drew me in, as I love European history and cultures. Europe in the "Guild Ball" era was overwhelmingly populated by white caucasian Europeans. To my knowledge, the only non-caucasian characters currently (or soon to be) in the game are Greyscales, Hammer and Scalpel (all black), although you could probably argue a few non-European eastern influences on characters like Corsair or Blackheart, not to mention masked players like Snakeskin, Mist or Minx.

All in all, given the context it is working in and the youth of the game, I feel Guild Ball's ethnic diversity is quite good and there is probably more ethnic diversity than the setting would dictate.

You could of course critique the setting on that which it isn't, namely an accurate representation of our increasingly ethnically mixed and diverse modern day society, or why they chose to go with the setting they did rather than an alternate setting more representational of our modern day cosmopolitanism, but that would take the discussion to another plane of critique well above the purview of this short article.

Gender diversity in the game of Guild Ball

In terms of gender diversity, let's take a look at the numbers, including Season 2 releases known so far. I remember Matt Hart mentioned in an interview (likely the CanCon Q&A) that the current female:male ratio in Guild Ball is around one third:

Alchemists - 3/8
Male: Midas, Mercury, Katalyst, Venin, Compound
Female: Smoke, Calculus, Vitriol

Brewers  - 2/8
Male: Tapper, Hooper, Spigot, Stave, Stoker, Mash
Female: Friday, Esters

Butchers - 3/8
Male: Ox, Boiler, Boar, Shank, Tenderizer
Female: Brisket, Fillet, Meathook

Engineers - 2/8
Male: Ballista, Salvo, Colossus, Ratchet, [Hoist], Compound
Female: [Velocity], Pin Vice

Fishermen - 2/8
Male: Shark, Corsair, Kraken, Greyscales, Jac, Sakana
Female: Angel, Siren

Masons - 3/8
Male: Hammer, Mallet, Brick, Flint, Tower
Female: Honour, Chisel, Harmony

Morticians - 2/8
Male: Obulus, Graves, Casket, Ghast, Silence, Bonesaw
Female: Scalpel, Cosset

Union - 5/12
Male: Blackheart, Rage, Avarisse, Greed, Fangtooth, Mist, Harry the Hat
Female: Gutter, Decimate, Hemlocke, Minx, Snakeskin

Total: 22/68 = 32% (33% if you include Compound only once)

Conclusion - Matt was correct. Freakishly so.

Compared to the majority of fantasy wargames out there, and compared to the world of peak-level professional sports (overwhelmingly male dominated), having a one third female proportion of players is not bad at all.

Let's go a bit further and look at individual female models and see how many fit the traditional fantasy archetype of the female physique and temperament. In order to broaden the depth of this overview, I have even consulted with NZ Guild Ball's foremost feminism theory expert, Dave D, M. Health Science (Psych.), for a critique of the representation of women within the game. I offer his cold critical perspective sporadically in red:

DD - This gender ratio is not necessarily a marker for whether this is good or bad, but rather will raise the question, why not 1:1? Sure, this shows a trend towards a more equitable ratio compared to other games, but the critical question still remains; why is it still disproportionate to the actually make up of our population? This is a fantasy setting, where we do not have to rely on "real-world" social discourses to explain why things are "the way they are", yet I will propose that it is the strength of these discourses that lead designers, most probably unconsciously yet still deliberate, to make design decisions where men are represented more, and this is assumed as the "natural" state of affairs.


Calculus - fully clothed, throws chemical bombs (that she concocted herself as a scientist) to melt and blind people.
Vitriol - slender and fast, as you would expect of a superstar striker on a sports team. Face half-burned off following a chemical accident (again, female scientist), fights dirty with smoke bombs.
Smoke - the Alchemist's Season 2 captain embodies androgyny to a degree that would make most gender critics jump with joy, at least in the only art of her we've seen. I don't think there is much else to say there, at least until the rules come out.


Esters - large, very bulky and supremely tough viking lady, straight out of a Wagnerian opera. Fits a female stereotype (the fat lady that sings), but not the high fantasy one.
Friday - fits in the same box as Vitriol - star striker who likes to fight scrappy and dirty, despite having a very sleek feminine model. Young orphan who grew up in a rough environment and is generally opportunistic.


 Brisket - the first female character that fits our stereotypical model. Revealing clothing with all the curves, toned stomach, and the Charmed [Male] rule to boot. If you have a look at her back story as a legacy player that plays heavily to the crowd, it makes a bit more contextual sense.

Perhaps it's telling that she is in the same team as the musclebound macho moustachioed behemoth that is Boar?
Meathook - it's like they took all the refinement away from Hannibal Lecter and put it in a female body. Terrifying. Nothing subtle or seductive about this one. Damage and blood everywhere.

Fillet - Agile, sleek and very feminine in appearance but utterly not subtle in doing what she wants to do, which is making opponents bleed all over the place and cutting them up in small pieces. 'Seductive' might be the last word attributed to this one.


Velocity - Technically neither male nor female by the rules of the game, we only know this is a female model by a) her fluff entry and b) has breasts on her chassis.

A goal scoring robot, basically.

DD- Here we have a very clear and present example of objectification of the female form. And this also presents an example of how much gender is a social construction, where we apply meaning and language to identify something by its gender not because of what genes it was born with; This robot doesn't even have chromosomes to identify it as being of the male or female sex. Yet giving it boobs assigns it with a female set of characteristics. Now, I don't want to assume the design intent of the modelers here, but the potential conclusion that could be drawn is that a female on the Engineer's team is equitable to a robot who becomes programmed and controlled by someone else. An object that is devoid of human agency and feelings.

The issue of power is present here because this robot has none.

Pin Vice - Holy crap does she look terrifying. I don't even know what her fluff entry is but she looks like a mix between a homicidal ghost and a mecha robot. Also stabbing gloves, nice touch.


Finally we move to a team that has the high fantasy female stereotype. However, it's been split across two characters:

Angel - the first half of our stereotype, we have the sultry young Angel. High revealing appearance with short skirt, fishnets and low-cut top which in no way matches her playstyle as a no nonsense goal scorer. Angel has no sneaky tricks or seductive wiles in her rules - only raw goal scoring potential.
Siren - the other side of the coin is Siren. While her model is almost entirely covered up, with ragged flowing robes granting her an ethereal quality, her character plays are entirely based around deception, manipulation, seduction and luring the enemy to do things they don't want to do (not just males, although she does have Charmed [Male]).

Almost entirely like the sirens of old Greek legend :)


Honour - the first female captain in the game defies our stereotype with her heavily armoured model and rugged fighting style. Unless you compare her to Joan of Arc, which I guess you could argue is a certain stereotype.
Harmony - despite being described in the fluff as a show-off and crowd pleaser similar to Brisket, Harmony's rules and model are decidedly less sexualized than Brisket's. She dodges around the place (if anything, she would fit the acrobatic female stereotype) and relies heavily on her sister Honour to do what she needs to do.
Chisel - she's a tiny innocent looking psychopathic murder machine covered in tough leather and plate.


 Scalpel - I don't quite know what to say about this one, other than to say I find her very scary on all levels.
Cosset - she is one that might fit in with the fantasy female stereotype. Slender, seductive, fragile and wearing the flowing robes of a witch but also with the propensity to go crazy and tear things to shreds with her bare hands in a sadistic spree.


Decimate - likely a male for most of the early design process (the art has a legit goatee), Decimate is an agile swordmaster. If mastery of physical tools is one of the determinate aspects of masculinity, where does that put this martial artist in regards to the female fantasy stereotype?
Gutter - considered the strongest, most overpowered model in the game for Season 1, having received several nerfs. Loves to fight and takeout multiple players at a time. Her background story implies that she had been taken as a slave and developped Stockholm Syndrome as the result of an unfortunate chain of events.
Hemlocke - probably also considered one of the most overpowered models in the game and having received almost as many nerfs as Gutter, Hemlocke and her druidic ways are not seductive or honourable at all. But she is very helpful to have in a scrap :)
Snakeskin - the only model in the Union to have Charmed [Male], Snakeskin might fit into the femme fatale stereotype with her tight black leather outfit, love of poisons, Shadow Like, Clone, Nimble... the lot. I would think that she should probably Charmed [Female] as well given that her charm is through deception rather than feminine wiles.
Minx - Minx is a bit of the savage amazon warrior woman type. She is really good at charging at great speed while yelling and cutting things up. She fits a certain feminine character type that has a place in traditional fantasy.

In conclusion, I think the representation of women in this game is good, perhaps even industry leading, with a lot of variation and I would be hard pressed to pin it down as the game being "a real boys' club with a few token women".

There are a handful of female characters who fit quite squarely into female stereotypes and probably could not be 'converted' to male models: Brisket, Siren, Cosset, Snakeskin, and arguably Esters, Minx and at a stretch, Harmony. The rest you could probably convincingly turn into male models with only a background change and another sculpt (there is of course the critique regarding the 'necessity' of breasts to be sculpted on a female model or an overly slender physique in order to be identified as female). The same argument could probably be made for a good percentage of the male models (Mist, for sure) in the game, thought probably not to the same extent.

It feels to me like the designers and developers of Guild Ball have taken George RR Martin's stance on female fictional characters to heart:

Dave's closing thoughts on the matter:

Overall, it becomes hard to address gender issues without also comparing the female models to the male ones. Because while on the surface there seems to be a range of tropes that GB references in their character design, much of what identifies gendered markers includes what that gender is NOT. If you want to talk diversity, looks at the range of poses and body types the males have, from big burly brawlers to more slight and athletic men. Compared to the males, the females follow one body shape, with the notable exception of Esters, who even then requires great massive breasts so that she is still identified as 'feminine'. 

Now I write all this having to disclose that I have not read the fluff. I am purely making these observations based off the design of the models, and what scraps of background information I do have. But ultimately I don't think my opinion would change after reading the fluff. Which is that I disagree that Steamforged have broken any molds. This is a criticism leveled at various media, movies, music, books, etc. that the females either follow standard accepted tropes of female character types, or require characterisation based on masculine standards to make them as vicious as the men in this game. The males are still used as the norm, a measuring stick, around which the various female abilities are compared. And even then, there is a reluctance to move away from a feminine body archetype. This is a critique I also level at GRR Martin, where his depiction of sexual violence and the characterisations he uses, still rely on gendered norms; men are in the position of overwhelming power and set the standard for all others to follow. You either be as viciously cut throat as the men are, or you become a subject of abuse and objectification.

The one thing I can conclude that Steamforged have done is up the gender-representation. The actual cultural impact this has, I'm very skeptical of.

Swimming with Sharks: The UK Guild ball scene

I’ll drink to that: A Brewer’s Blog

As some of you may know I’ve been across the ocean in Ol’ Blighty recently and I’ve taken the opportunity to dip my toe into this new Guild ball malarkey with the Brewers. Having played a total of two games (with two losses) versus Adam Oakson’s Alchemists, I was confident that I had all the experience I needed to dive headlong into it. In doing so I had an awesome time and I even think I’ve picked up one or two things tips for our legions of Brewers players back in NZ.

It just so happens that I live a short hop from the North West Gaming Centre, home to Steamforged Games and Guildball itself. They’re very welcoming and in no time at all I’d organised a game versus James from “Hot Gates Gaming” (I’d recommend his Youtube Channel, especially if you play Butchers as he’s working through playing some of the locals, including the current UK no.1). After getting trounced by him (see my later note on Boiler and Princess) I took on a Masons player and pulled out a win! With such breadth of experience I was now obviously thoroughly prepared for my first tournament.

I heard about a (very) last minute dropout at VAPNARTAK, a pretty big gaming convention in York so the obvious plan was to jump on a train at 23:30 and arrive at 03:00. This wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea had I not been out drinking when I got the call. Four hours sleep later in a nearby hotel I was ready for the day. What could go wrong?

VAPNARTAK is an annual gaming convention in the North of the UK. Traders covering everything from historicals to small Kickstarters come and ply their wares and there were a number of tournaments running on the upper floors. Warmachine (16 players) got edged out by Guildball this year (32 players). Five rounds with prizes for 1st-3rd, best painted team, goal and mini and spot prizes that differed from round to round. It seemed to attract people from all over, and given that it was the UK these are the people who have been playing Guildball since its inception.

Lesson One: Protect Tapper
“Uh-oh” says one of old gaming friends as a group of players enter the hall that we’re playing in. That’s Jack – a good kid but an exceptionally gifted Guildball player. Avoid him. No worries I thought, what are the chances of me being drawn against….

So my first round was a loss, but I did learn a valuable lesson. Protect Tapper with a vengeance. Some Guilds can lose their Captains and keep on playing pretty effectively. Shark is fast enough to get back into the game if he’s taken out (especially if he’s already scored so you’re 4 points up). Obulus is also in the same camp and Midas just seems impossible to catch but Tapper can be vulnerable and he’s a big loss if taken out. Luckily with Tough Hide and a 2” reach for counter attacks he can be a little tough to take down but I have certainly been guilty of over-extending him to get a juicy kill. In this case I did just that and Blackheart jumped at the chance to take him down. Tapper can be a killing machine when he gets in the thick of things but this has to be tempered against the possibility of retaliation.

Lesson Two: The pace of the game can really turn against you, and be difficult to recover from.
Round two I was drawn against Morticians. You might notice that both Guilds are based the same as I’d borrowed this guy’s models. It turns out that official, sanctioned Guildball tournaments have a fully-painted policy. Who knew? Everyone except me apparently.

I started this game by managing to tag Fangtooth. Then Ghast. With even just a couple of key players gone, the momentum really started to move against my opponent. Missing two heavy hitters hit him hard and allowed me to pick off the others. The game finished with me taking down Fangtooth for a second time for a 12-4 win.

Lesson three: The Boiler and Princess duo can do one.
My third game was versus an awesome Butchers player. His goal (which won best painted) was a butchered swine and for some reason people found it hilarious that “David Cameron” would be aiming to score with a pig. If you don’t know why British people would find that funny then Google it. On second thoughts, don’t.
Of course Guildball is a game of buffs and teamwork but I’ve yet to come across a pair as deadly as Boiler and Princess. A boy and his psychotic dog. With Assist from Princess, Boiler will easily reach TAC 7 and with Anatomical Precision armour won’t much help unless you’re a Mason. With a momentous 2 damage available on the second column (boosted to 3 for Assist) he will wreck your day. If he happens to be within 4” of Ox that goes up to usually at least 4 momentous damage per attack, and I’ve not even factored Ox’s Legendary play. Plus you’ll be bleeding.

Even for a “tanky” team such as Brewers, this little boy is bloody deadly. Literally, bloody. This game ended 4-12 giving me a pretty poor record against Butchers, whom Brewers apparently aren’t meant to struggle against. This clearly requires further investigation, by which I mean more playing with toy soldiers.

Lesson four: When you get a chance to take out Obulus, TAKE OUT OBULUS.
Fourth game, second time playing Morticians! Obulus can be a truly terrifying beast, being able to receive 8 influence he can do almost anything he wants and with Puppet Master and a (relatively) easy access to tackle when he needs it the ball is not overly safe anywhere within his threat range.
Taking him down isn’t a piece of cake either. Unpredictable movement is good, and gets exponentially better on a model with a 2” melee range compared to a 1” melee range (say, Midas). To have a chance of putting him in the dirt you need to either hem him in completely or get base-to-base with him with a model with a 2” melee range. When I had a chance to do that early in the game, I took it straight away. A “tooled up” Tapper managed to reach out to an Obulus who had strayed too far forward. In fact this kill won me the spot prize for first kill of the round: a shiny new Compound! I guess it’s time to buy into Alchemists. Or Engineers. No, definitely Alchemists. This game also went to a 12-4 victory and yes that is Obulus behind my lines after having been taken down so early. That boy is fast.

Lesson five: Pay attention to the clock just as much as in WMH.
Game five and I’m again drawn against Morticians. It’s getting late now and the sleep deprivation is kicking in hard. I was, however, playing on Table 1 (ok, tables were random). This guy was a lot more conservative than the other Morticians players I’d faced and so I wasn’t able to bag Obulus as early as I’d like. I had to surround him with Brewers before he succumbed. The score stood at 10-10 for a long time, enough for my clock to be eaten down to 00:00. Unlike WMH however this doesn’t mean an auto-loss. It just means that you get 1 minute activations and give up 1 point at the end of each activation. That forced me into a less than optimal shot on goal which connected! A 12-11 finish is as close as it gets.

And that was the end of the day. I was pretty happy with a 3-2 finish and I came away with much more knowledge of the game than I went in with. There was the chance to ogle the studio models and chat to Steamforged crew and people who’ve been playing since the beginning.

First place (and a new shiny “Veteran” Rage model) went deservedly to Steve Newton from the Who Cares WhoWins podcast. Unfortunately it went straight in his bag without a chance to peruse it but the rules should be available by the time you read this. It was brilliant to meet and mingle with the UK Guildball meta, and meet some of the people that I’ve been watching via Youtube from half the world away to learn this game. They seemed to find this less creepy than I felt saying it out loud.
Next stop back to New Zealand where I’ll be keen to see if I’ve improved enough to take on the Alchemists again.

Probably not.

Guild Ball and me

This is a cross-post from my blog at the Hutt Miniature Wargames Club member blog.

So I swore I was going to stick to only playing two games seriously: DBMM and Malifaux. What I didn't account for was most of the local competitive Warmachine players jumping on board the Guild Ball train and it taking over my Wednesday night gaming club. Months ago I heard a lot about it from podcasts and it had intrigued me, however I figured I'd give it a miss due to the lack of a local scene. So much for that plan.


A character from the Brewer's Guild.
While umpiring the Malifaux tournament at ValleyCon 2016 I got a demo game from the local pusher and long-time friend of mine, Mike Thorn. From what I had heard it was a slick system that was fast and easy to follow, yet allowed a lot of per-character variation. This is totally accurate! The combat is great and allows each character and team to have a lot of individual flavour, not to mention possible synergies once you get further into it. Like most sports games (and by "most sports games", I mean Blood Bowl) it has to balance bash vs. skill. From my three games so far it seems to balance this out fairly well: skilled teams have to race off to an early lead as they find their options reduced the longer the game goes. One thing it has over Blood Bowl is that it feels much easier to actually play the sport - kicking the ball around is pretty simple when you're not threatened and you can set up some great plays.

However there are a few bits that aren't quite as smooth as I'd hoped: different kinds of plays are triggered completely differently (character plays by spending influence or specific combat results, heroic by spending momentum, legendary are free but only once per game), penalties and bonuses for kicks, combat and character plays are all slightly different, that sort of thing. Little sharp edges on an otherwise super-smooth system that I'm sure also bug the designers and, fingers crossed, will be ironed out in an eventual second edition.

Choosing a team

Now to the tricky bit: picking which one of the eight teams I'm going to get. With sports-based miniatures games I prefer to play the teams that focus on the game itself rather than just the bashing aspect of it. I just find it more interesting. So that narrowed it down a bit: one of the Fishermen, Alchemists, or Masons.

What, um, what happened to your leg?
The next step was looking at the minis. Miniatures are my favourite part of miniatures games - the clue is in the title! So this was a lot of time poring over the website and checking out other peoples' painted miniatures. Alchemists were struck off the list due to the odd pose for Vitriol.

The last step is a new one in my selection process: representation. It's not something I really gave a lot of thought to until recently, but now it's quite important to me that the miniatures I buy and paint (and the companies I support) not wallow in the grand tradition of geek marketing efforts everywhere and pander exclusively to the straight white male. I want to see a greater diversity of genders and races in my miniatures, just like I would love to see the same change in who they appeal to and might get into the hobby.

A rare sight.
This really showed me how much Malifaux is ahead of the pack on this front: Guild Ball is a real boys' club with a few token women. Only one team, the Masons, has a female captain and more than two female players in total. (nb: I realised after I wrote that this the Brewers have a new female captain. Fantastic!) Most of the female players have their appearance be a key part of their character, and a lot of them have in-game abilities to go along with it ("Seduced", "Charmed (Male)", etc). As for non-European characters, the Fisherman are the only ones to have any: their second captain, is styled on Arab pirate, and the art for Greyscales show him with dark skin (though the studio paint job is a lot paler)

This left Fishermen and Masons tied - the Fisherman won out when I saw that the Masons range has some scale issues, and there were already five Masons players in the local group and just one Fishermen player.


I'll preface this section by saying that I really don't like miniatures game fiction. I view reading it as homework. Guild Ball did nothing to dissuade me from this attitude: opening up the rulebook and you get hit over the head with dense prose, pages and pages of text in a tiny font. Then a map! Which means a painstaking description of the world and all the cities and races, oh my.

The good bit is that it's surprisingly well-written and easy to read. The last major story simply takes us through a game and it flows really nicely - everything that happens (except the first trick shot) you could see happening on the tabletop.

What I don't like is the tone. It's just so serious! This is something that Blood Bowl did wonderfully - its goofiness and art took the sting out of the brutality of the game. Guild Ball takes the opposite approach: it is Tarantino to Blood Bowl's Wile E Coyote. Some of the fiction is downright nasty: we are told in grisly detail how in one match Brisket is stalked by a player on the opposite team intent on murder, how she panics and is eventually tacked, stabbed multiple times and is left to bleed out. One of the union leaders is captured by another guild and we hear in detail how he is tortured and mentally and physically broken. The term "bitch" is thrown around a lot and I got the sense the author would have preferred to use stronger terms if they knew they could get away with it.

Blood for the blood god!
Also the more brutal stories don't quite match up to the actual game they're meant to be describing. Some of the games seem to take place in this strange foggy battlefield in which the players stumble on to one another and then engage in one-on-one fights with lethal weapons. It reads more like a world war one comic than a five-on-five football match. What makes this weird is that the game itself manages to capture a fluid brawl like no other game I've played - people charging in, throwing a few punches, tackling the ball and pushing off again to make a pass - and most of the stories ignore this and pretend it's just Warhammer.

Getting started

One of the things that Steamforged Games does superbly however is getting you into the game. All the rules, cards, and even print-out cardboard standees are all available free on their website. I have no idea why other games companies don't do this! I suppose giving out your rules for free seems a little counter to most business practices, but getting into a miniatures games is a serious commitment and being able to try it out without spending a couple of hundred dollars will certainly increase the reach of Guild Ball. And no-one's going to be happy playing with paper minis, everyone who's keen will be splashing out on the real things.

So right now I've got my cardboard Fishermen's Guild team and a few games under my belt. I seem to be losing by less each time which is certainly movement in the right direction. I'm not ordering any figures yet as I want to make sure they're the team for me (so far so good) and also don't want any more minis while I still have unpainted figures for Malifaux, Infinity and Blood Bowl left. 17 to go!