Guild Ball is not an easy game to pick up and learn. There are a variety of reasons behind this, but I think one of the main issues is how much of its complexity lies in in-game decisions. In most other miniatures games, each individual model has a primary role that it fulfils on the tabletop, and the important decision is whether or not to put it in your list. List building, being an out-of-game exercise, is much easier to get (and to write) advice on. While Guild Ball also has list building and pregame preparation, a large percentage of the decisions you make are in-game ones and all the models have a large number of options available to them each activation, while only rarely is the correct decision obvious.
This means that making good decisions inside a game of Guild Ball is both relatively difficult to do, and difficult to teach short of just playing a bunch of games. In this series of articles I’m going to try and go through how games play out and what to be thinking about as the game progresses. The early turns of the game are generally about trying to get a positional advantage or set up for an engagement that favours your team, and later on things move more towards a scramble to acquire VPs faster than the opponent. In future articles I’m going to go over the important decisions to be made at each stage, but before going into more detail there are some important points to be considering across the entire match.
Counting to 12
The game ends when a player reaches 12 VPs (barring edge case scenarios). This is a pretty simple piece of information, but it is the most important single rule in Guild Ball. Most of the actions that a player takes in GB are (or should be) focused on the objective of getting to 12VP before the opponent does. Whether it’s slowing down the opponent’s VP accumulation or acquiring them for your own score, it is always useful to be considering how you plan to reach that 12th VP, and how your opponent is likely to be planning to do the same. The 12th VP is the only one that actually matters when it comes down to determining a game’s result – a 12-11 win is functionally identical to a 12-0 win. This means that if scoring VPs now makes it harder, in the long run, to get to 12 later, it can be correct to hold off on doing so. A common example would be ‘jailing’ a player – leaving it on 1HP until the start of a turn – which delays the acquisition of VPs which have already been ‘earned’ in order to deny the opponent use of an important player for a longer time period. In the opposite direction, it can be important to take opportunities to score VPs quickly where you can, if they are going to go away later. For example, if your opponent’s model has the ability to escape if it’s activated, it is a good idea to take it out beforehand if possible, since it ‘secures’ some VPs which could otherwise become unavailable. If you have a model which can score a goal, then activating too early may let your opponent score a goal back again (or kill your goal scoring model) while activating too late gives your opponent the opportunity to disrupt your goal run.
On the other side of the ’12th VP is the only one that matters’ coin is the idea that getting to 12VP ends the game. This means that all the advantages that you have built up over the course of a game – momentum, health, positioning – don’t matter once someone gets to 12. Sacrificing resources to reach 12 points is usually a good plan because if you get to 12 points, all the other resources that you fell behind on don’t matter any more. Goalscoring teams are a common example – scoring goals gets VPs quickly but tends to put you behind in other resources, whether in terms of positioning with a vulnerable striker far up the pitch or just behind in the momentum race. Spending 6 influence on your captain to pull off a 6VP activation means your team isn’t going to get much done for the rest of the turn, but that doesn’t matter if the game was ended already.
There are two primary ways of scoring VPs in Guild Ball, and then another two which come up somewhat less frequently. The primary options – and those that most teams focus on – are goal scoring and damage.
The Fast Lane
Goal scoring is the faster plan in terms of VPs generated to influence spent, which is very important because as mentioned above, getting to 12 first is the important bit. Goals have their downsides, though – there is only one source of ‘Goal VPs’ on the pitch – the ball – which makes it easier to control, since if you are aiming to score goals your opponent knows exactly where you need to be. Goals are also resource negative – they require investment of both influence and momentum and don’t generate a lot of resources back – 1MP immediately (which is often spent for Run the Length!) and 1 INF per turn. They also require giving up possession of the ball, which is an important resource for future positioning and momentum generation. Goals are also less reliable, since failing on an important roll when trying to score a goal often means you have lost everything you invested (and probably also a player) and got nothing to show for it. These aspects mean that goal scoring teams usually lean towards an aggressive playstyle. They score VPs very quickly but don’t have the ability to slowly grind games out, and giving the opponent time to position their models and control the ball reduces the team’s chances significantly. Goalscoring teams often focus on keeping the opposing team off balance, forcing them to choose which of their threats to answer and leave the others undisrupted.
Slower and Steadier
Damage based take outs contribute to a more methodical style of play. Taking other players out requires a larger commitment of influence, but pays out better in terms of momentum. It also makes future takeout VPs easier to acquire (because a numbers advantage helps to win fights) rather than requiring you to give up access to your VP source like goal scoring does. Additionally, taking players out helps to deny the enemy their own VPs, since taking out a model removes it from the pitch and prevents it from contributing to the game for a period of time, letting you disrupt the enemy’s plans. Takeouts require more prep work, since most models can’t take out an enemy model entirely on their own without some form of assistance, whether in the form of threat range extension, damage increasing effects, or ensuring the enemy can’t counter attack. This means that getting a takeout ‘out of nowhere’ is a lot more difficult / unlikely than getting a goal ‘out of nowhere’, but when it does happen, the advantage you get is larger. Unexpectedly scoring a goal can mess with the enemy plans by putting you closer to winning the game, but generally doesn’t actually impact the board state heavily other than by changing VP totals. Unexpectedly getting a takeout can mean a critical piece of the opponent’s plan is unavailable, they have less influence to spend in a turn (meaning you’re likely to win initiative for next turn as well) and generally the opponent’s route to 12 VPs gets much harder.
The Third Option
The first of the two ‘less common’ sources of VPs in Guild Ball is from pushing people off the pitch, or a ‘ring out’. This has both advantages and disadvantages compared to getting normal takeouts, though it’s equivalent in terms of the number of VPs it gains you. Pushing people off the pitch often requires positional setup comparable to a damage based take out, but is very different in terms of how the enemy answers it. If the opponent gets the opportunity to activate their model, they can remove the possibility of a ringout relatively easily by jogging away from the edge of the pitch. However, if they can’t activate their model (like if it’s already activated) then they have fewer options for rescuing them, while a damage based threat can be mitigated by healing the target with momentum. Pushing models off the pitch is also a way to bypass a lot of defensive abilities, traits and stats, since the target’s HP and effects like Tough Hide don’t matter. The downside is that you usually have to expose your VP-scoring model to the possibility of being pushed off in return, and like scoring a goal, failing to get there (by missing an attack or play) leaves you with little progress towards VPs, where a damage based plan leaves the target on only a few HP and so more vulnerable to followup. Some teams can focus heavily on pushing models off the pitch but it’s difficult to make work as a primary plan because of its unreliability – it’s more of a secondary option for teams or models which are lacking in damage, or as an opportunistic way to catch an opponent off guard if their model is in a vulnerable position.
The final source of VPs (barring specific models’ abilities) is the clock. Clock VPs are generally a lot harder to get than the other options since you can’t really proactively go and get them by taking the appropriate in-game actions. Instead, clock VPs are primarily a payoff for disrupting the opponent’s plan. This is particularly relevant for complex goal runs (which take a lot of time to resolve) and other effects and decisions which require taking many factors into account. This means that denial models tend to be the most effective options for generating VPs via the clock, as they introduce extra considerations into the game which the opponent has to deal with when planning out their turns and their activations, forcing them to measure things out and think their way around the possible choices you could make. Usually this means taking models which require little investment from your side of the field but which require the opponent to play around them instead, particularly those which can act in ways that interrupt the opponent’s plan like Rush Keeper or Protective Instinct. Because Clock VPs require the opponent to opt into giving them up, they are generally a way of forcing your opponent to make other avenues to VPs available to you, rather than a source of VPs in and of themselves.
Structure of a Game
Making it to 12 VPs is your primary objective, but your intentions affect how you play out different stages of the game in different ways. Whatever your primary win condition, you need to take that into account when deciding when to kick or receive, when deploying your models, when allocating influence, and when activating models in the actual game. Usually the actual game can be divided up into a few parts – the initial standoff before engagement is reached on turn one, the post-engagement encounter when each team has the other within their reach, and the final scramble for points when the end of the game is in sight. I’ll be looking at how your plans and intended victory conditions inform your decisions in each part of the game in future articles, starting with the pregame sequence.
Until next time,