Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The "No Union Challenge"

Let me start with a few proposals to define absolutes.

1). Guild Ball isn't shit. There - I said it. It's actually pretty ok and I'm finding myself quite reasonably if not significantly distracted from other games. At least until June at which point the real test begins (that test being mostly "will the attraction of only having to pack 6 models outweigh a deeper models/rules/interaction bench provided by MkIII").

2). The game's designers and testers (Steamforged et al) are not idiots. Saying this forces you to up the stakes of your faith in humanity a little, but I reckon we could agree and say with reasonable confidence that this is the case. They've made early mistakes but also released relatively quick errata and clarifications and toned down many of the more obnoxious rules and abilities. Some of the Season Two rulebook still confounds me but by and large the rules and game balance is fine.

3). If 1). and 2). are accurate, then the models in your Guild must be functionally playable (and play-tested) or they wouldn't exist.

4). The players available to any given Guild are immediately comparable to each other (whether they are apples, oranges, or indeed rhubarb) because they are all competing for a place on the team and must be weighed relative in merit, applicability, and playstyle/value directly against each other. You're only taking the players you are because you've decided they are superior to the alternatives (obviously now speaking in strictly competitive terms).

If we can agree on these absolutes (and let's face it - it's my article and this is a very one-sided conversation so I'm going to proceed assuming you have!) then while you can argue that one available player is "better" than another, you must also realise that each player at least offers something to the discerning coach that they are at least up for consideration before facing disqualification (for whatever reason).

What Stave sees before being rejected by the team. Every time.

Right, now that we've cleared that up. Here's where I'm actually headed - let me announce a challenge to everyone (caveat: who doesn't play Union as a Guild):


Why I'm focusing on Union models specifically is that they are often seen as a crutch of sorts to help your Guild out due to the perception that in-Guild options are worse. Classic examples are Gutter, Rage, Mist and Avarisse/Greede (although the last model(s) also open up tremendous tactical opportunity). Less common examples are likely Snakeskin and Hemlocke. Force yourself to let these players go, and dig into the bench of unused models sitting on the shelf (or still in their blister!).


Hear me out. This came about because around a week after picking up Guild Ball/Morticians and seeing the cards for the first time, I was chatting on Facebook with Will Wheaton (#secondbestmorticiansplayerinthecountry #FishOP) and we agreed that the best Morticians build was:

Obulus, Dirge, Ghast, Silence, Rage, Mist

I will cheerfully admit that this is open (hopefully) to debate but looking at teams being played internationally (YouTube batreps, forum batreps, teams winning events etc) it certainly aligned to our thinking. You might have included Casket or Cosset on the bench, but the undeniable majority of Morticians games being played (that I could find) were continually using the same 6 players.

And this my friends... well, this made me very sad. Because that means that Steamforged have either designed a horribly shallow and dead-end Guild, or (worse) designed a horribly shallow and dead-end game (bearing in mind that I cannot speak much for other factions - although I have heard rumours that Alchemists is/was actually Midas/Vitriol plus a bunch of imports, that Gutter is an honorary Butcher, and that Decimate is Honour's other sister). And that means the game is going to get boring very quickly because you keep dropping the same team and/or you keep playing the same team. And we all know what that feels like (#Lich2 #Vayl2 #Mk2dieinafire). And that means I might as well chuck Guild Ball in right now.

So that got me thinking. And when I looked at "competitive" Morticians and what they weren't taking (and when I saw all the cool new Season Two releases coming out) that's when I decided:

No more Union models for me.


Now what I can't promise you is that this will be an easy road. In all honesty it's made every single one of my games extraordinarily challenging (and I wasn't great at this to begin with). But after months of slogging away (and yes I did fall off the wagon a few times) here's what I found...

1). I'm getting more value out of the game. A close game is a good game. In my opinion a close game is a better game than dishing out a thrashing. With the exceptions of last night's 12-4 pounding of Fishermen (where I just deadset served up champagne Guild Ball with every other activation and legitimately realised how far I've come with the game) and that one time I lost 12-0 to Shark on all Take Outs, the most incredible games of Guild Ball I've had have seen the score settle to around at least a 12-8 finish. The hair is literally raising on the back of your neck right up to the final whistle. These are the games you recount to your grandchildren or (slightly more likely) report on Facebook. Or wish you'd streamed on Twitch (#crotchshot).

Another quality shot from Handsome Dave's Handsome Plays.

2). You become better as a player. I can say with (some small amount of) humility that I have definitely improved as a player since I stopped using Union models in my team. I feel like I'm thinking harder but at the same time (on the clock) more economically. I'm trying different things and expanding my personal playbook. I'm looking less online for inspiration and digging deeper into my own game.

3). You appreciate the true depth of your team and nuance of player design BEFORE you write them off as unplayable trash. The challenge requires at least 6 games. One game is no test at all. Two games barely has you understanding that Bonesaw isn't Mist. Three games you actually count out the right number of starting INF. 4+ games you're online. 6+ games... that's money printing territory. Give it time. Take your time. Open your mind.

4). You surprise the heck out of people. When the accepted line is "player X is rubbish" people tend to sit up and take notice when they are blindsided with sharper positioning, models utilising unique attributes without hanging themselves out to dry and be traded pointlessly in return, and the Unexpected Arrival (he shoots!... he scores!) of super sweet tech that they didn't know was coming because "you never see that model on the pitch".

But mostly, point number one. It broadens the scope of the game. I'm realising now just how much a game can change when you switch out one player for another - the synergies (or lack of) that become apparent over the course of the experience. Discovering new combinations is one of the great joys of the game and you're doing yourself a great injustice (and taking yourself far too seriously) if you forgo even giving it a chance.


It's a personal revelation and I can't move people forward or backward to align with my experience and opinion. I can however very much vouch for how exciting it makes every game and how much life it will inject if you're in a rut running the same tired old team.

What am I running at the moment and how different is it to "competitive Morticians"?

Scalpel, Dirge, Casket, Bonesaw, Graves2, Silence

And it's awesome. It doesn't win every game but every game is amazing. I'm terrible with Bonesaw but genuinely excited to persevere. Graves2 was a major disappointment until my last game when he went nuts on a charge and then scored a goal. Casket's Foul Odour is forever tripping me up as much as it is distressing my opponent but with every game my positioning and foresight improves (and last night he took out two players - the first one Casket Timed - before tackling the ball and kicking into space to set up the winning goal). And Scalpel isn't Obulus. And it's glorious. And it's very different.

And that gives me hope that we'll still be playing Guild Ball this time next year.



  1. What if the designers decide that union players will not be allowed to any team, anytime soon? Or, at least puts a limit (let's say one union player at the roster). Wouldn't that be better?

    1. We were talking about this in Dojo last night with the theory that (eventually) Steamforged will just rotate players and teams out of the game. It could conceivably reach a point in 3-4 years where you simply cannot use models released in Season One anymore (in competitive events). That sort of system might work for Union across the various Guilds too.

      My issue isn't with the inclusion of Union players per se, but that in some cases so they obviously supersede and/or are superior to their Guild 'equivalents' that the decision is almost reduced to an obvious "well, duh!" outcome. Why wouldn't you include Rage (for example) in your Morticians 8-9 team? If your in-Guild options become less valid (invalid?) and the "best list" syndrome is more apparent, the game just ends up in a locked-lists situation even quicker. And there's less switching in of other toys due to the overall limited options available anyway.

      I'm not a massive fluff-bunny, but the concept of killing players in the story and simultaneously removing them from the game was also moderately interesting. Maybe Season Three rolls around and Ghast, Blackheart, Coin et al may no longer be included in competitive ream rosters?

    2. One Union player per roster could be a thing but in many cases it's one Union player that's pasting over an area of lack or weakness (you could argue in some cases, pasting over something that defines the Guild playstyle itself) anyway. But yeah, at least in some cases that would force closer consideration of the Guild players and harder choices.