The pregame sequence has a lot of decisions to be made in it, but often gets moved through on ‘autopilot’ since there is usually a default choice for each decision which gets taken. It’s important to consider each of these choices being made, not just because the correct option may not be the usual one, but also because thinking about the decisions you’re making and the factors which influence it can make it easier to make the correct decisions in other areas later in the game. The pregame sequence has a series of clearly separated decision points, each of which influences the way the following choices play out.
The first thing you do when beginning a game of Guild Ball is to deal out and choose Game Plan cards. The default is a hand of 7 – Minor Guilds get 8 – from which you choose two to discard and keep the rest. A lot of game plan decisions depend on what team you’re playing, who you’re against and what win conditions you are aiming for, but a few cards are universally good to have.
The top choices are the cards which have effects which are always useful, reasonable initiative numbers, and no downside or chance to backfire on you. The cards I put in this category are Go For The Knees, Midfield General, and Won’t Touch the Hair. You’re never unhappy to have any of these cards in your hand, although they aren’t necessarily always the best option they’re never bad.
After this, think about what the enemy team is trying to do – this informs a lot of the utility of the other Game Plan cards. Wing Backs, Full Back, Get Back in There and Back in the Game are all excellent cards if your opponent is planning on taking your models out, but less gripping if they’re going to ignore your health bars and score goals – they don’t have bad initiative numbers, however, so it can be correct to take them even if they’re probably going for a footballing plan. Similarly on the other side, The Offside Trap and Dig Deep are very useful to have against footballing teams as they discourage goals and make the resource advantage you get when the opponent scores even larger. Keep Your Chin Up is another similar style of card against condition heavy matchups, although almost every team makes use of at least some conditions so it’s pretty close to being in the ‘universally handy’ group. Hunker Down is particularly good if your opponent is worse at the ranged game than you are, meaning they have to come into your half of the pitch to interact with you, or if you just have models which are good at actually getting to make counterattacks, such as with Sturdy or Resilience.
Next up are the cards which enable your own game plan, rather than helping to counteract the opponent’s. These tend to have powerful effects but often have downsides, which means they can backfire if used at the wrong time. Making good use of these cards can swing a game quite well. The biggest example is Grudge Match, which is particularly good for winning initiative and immediately getting an otherwise difficult takeout on a model to end the game (since the downsides of inf generation and the enemy Singled Out don’t matter in that scenario). Even footballing teams like the card because it’s a +6 initiative card, and similarly to a takeout plan, Singled Out can help with that last-ditch goal run a lot. The downsides are not negligible, but you get to choose when you play it which means you can time it for a point where the upsides are more relevant – usually, when you’re going to go first. Kick ’em While They’re Down has a similar damage buff effect but plays out quite differently – it is harder to play while winning initiative to immediately make use of it, it’s useless for a footballing team, and it doesn’t work if you’re trying to get your captain to oneround someone, because it only buffs squaddies. This means it’s nowhere near as valuable, and only really does much in a few specific teams which have Squaddies who can easily KD the opponent and follow it up with multiple swings afterwards – Brewers have several squaddies like this, along with Engineers and Blacksmiths. Even there it’s somewhat situational though, since it’s only really good if you’re already in a great position (able to play a +2 and still go first, and have an enemy in jog range of your damage dealer).
The game plan cards which benefit footballing focused teams are noticeably less impactful. Stick to the Plan is situationally useful – in teams which do lots of out of activation passing but don’t have easy access to this effect already. Mainly this means Pin Vice teams which don’t have Harriet, and otherwise it’s quite difficult to justify. -1 influence is a real cost, although sometimes you just want the +5 initiative value. Blacksmiths with Hearth get a lot of benefit out of Showboating too, but they also really hate the -1 INF. Sell It to the Crowd is effectively just a +6/-1 card which occasionaly gives you a single MP – you’re taking this for the raw numbers, not for the text. Keep the Ball Moving has no downsides and helps out those ‘pass out of activation a lot’ teams much more than Showboating does, so it’s always a fine card to have – even on a damage team, their intention is usually to end the game by scoring a goal once they’re at 8 VPs, so having the ability to make that goal really consistent is often appreciated.
Finally, we have the two +7 cards. These cards are great at letting you go first, but both have downsides. Lone Striker makes that ‘first activation’ a lot harder to make work. It’s particularly worrying for teams which have a lot of TAC5 or lower models that often want to make attacks, since going down to TAC4 makes their odds very much worse, especially against armoured teams. However, if you are against a team without much ARM, or you have high TAC models that care less about a -1 penalty, you’re very happy to take it. It’s also good if your first activation doesn’t actually require you to make many attacks, such as a goal run (with an easy / non-attack way to get momentum), or a ranged character play based denial activation to start things off. Seize the Initiative is extremely powerful, for both players. Because the person going second gets to dodge second, they can react to what the opponent is doing and it’s difficult to use Seize to reach engagement and then immediately activate and attack, unless you’re moving a model into a position where they can threaten multiple models at once. Because Seize has no INF penalty and is generally very good for whoever goes second, it’s very nice if you are behind on initiative since you either get to use the +7 to go first and retake control of the game, or you get to move to mess with the opponent’s plan and make their first activation weaker – it’s a great card if your opponent is slightly ahead at the start of turn two, in particular. Seize can also be used to dodge your model into B2B with a model and pin it in so it can’t dodge away using Seize itself, and it is a powerful threat range extender for reaching engagement with an enemy team playing defensively.
Be aware that the initiative values on the card vary a lot in importance. Some teams generate MP a lot more reliably than others – if your team makes only a few momentous attacks each turn it’s not likely to be able to contest initiative against a team like Union or Butchers. The Initiative number on a card is sometimes relevant but sometimes, useless, where the INF number on a card is always relevant (except if the game is going to end in the next two activations).
The Die Roll
The next step in the pre-game sequence is rolling off and choosing whether to kick or receive. This choice makes a pretty major difference to how the game goes, although is affects some teams more than others. Each side gets a few different benefits which even out reasonably closely on average but do so in quite different ways.
The kicking player gets choice of which table side to play from, a free jog on one player, a point of momentum and the last activation of turn one. Each of these make a reasonable impact on the game.
The table choice is probably the least impactful, although it depends on where you’re playing. You can use this to ensure that your kicker can make their kick off jog on fast ground, if there is any on the table – while this forces you into a single flank of the board, it can be worth it – I’ll get to the kickoff later on. Otherwise, side selection lets you take a side with a useful piece of cover for blunting an enemy assault, or force your opponent onto a deployment zone with an inconvenient fast ground just in front of it. It’s also sometimes a good plan to kick off towards an obstruction or barrier if there is one just over the halfway line – if the ball-path touches the barrier it stops, which gives you quite a good way to increase your odds of the ball ending up somewhere recovery is difficult.
Getting a jog on one player – and the last activation – means that most of the time a kicking team’s primary plan is relatively clear. It is unlikely that any of the receiving team will move up far enough to be threatened by members of the kicking team other than the kicking model, which means the kicker’s primary plan is often to put any available buffs on the kicker and use them as the last activation. This lets them generate momentum or work towards getting some VPs without needing to worry about an immediate retaliation from the opposition. The captain is usually the model which gets the most work done in a single activation, which makes them usually a reasonable choice of kicker. Goal threats are also a good choice for who to kick off with – partially because they tend to have good Jog and Kick distances, since they help you extend the area you could choose to put the ball in for the receiver to react to. Good goal threats can also potentially steal the ball and score after the receiver picks it up, if they don’t spend a lot of resources moving or securing it. This is usually a pretty good plan – although your kicker may be taken out in response, you’ve forced the enemy to stay far back when they do so, or they ignore your striker and leave themselves at risk of more goals in the future. Even if you don’t go for it, the possibility of doing so makes the opponent play differently and put resources into slowing you down.
The point of momentum the kicker gains lets them avoid control effects. Mainly, the risk is that if the kicking model suffers a KD, they need MP to be able to clear that effect and actually do something with their last activation of the turn. Because you don’t get the ball and you usually aren’t in range of the enemy, this point of MP is very precious unless you have one of the small number of ways of generating momentum without needing to engage the enemy. Spending it is risky – although if the opponent doesn’t have any ranged KD effects or similar ways of slowing you down it isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, and if you have other on-demand condition clears you can get around it that way. Be aware that while you can avoid one control effect your MP point, if the enemy can put both rough-ground and a KD on your kicker, or otherwise tax your momentum in two ways at once, you can only get past one of them.
The receiving team doesn’t get anywhere near as varied a selection of bonuses on their turn one. Instead, they get the first activation, and they get the ball. Incidentally, this means that if the kick off goes somewhere that the receiving team can’t get it back, they have almost no advantages at all and the kicker still has everything, which means they’re in a very bad position.
This means using the ball is very important to the receiving team. Some teams benefit from access to the ball more than others. Slower teams really like being able to receive because of the threat extension options available through Pass & Move. Teams which are particularly good at fighting also want to receive because the main way that they lose games is through goals, so getting the ball protected and under control as soon as possible helps them to take control of the game as a whole. Access to the ball also means that the receiving team has more options for generating momentum, which helps fuel the Brewers’ heroic plays and similar useful effects which depend on the resource. Pass & Move also means that a receiving team has options for proactively moving up the pitch and attacking the kicking model, whether by separating them from their teammates where they can be pinned down, or just by taking them out to make the last-activation advantage much less impactful. Possession of the ball does also mean that the burden of protecting the ball is on the receiver – trading off the kicking model for a goal is often worth it, which means it’s usually a good idea to make sure you don’t present that opportunity.
Getting the first activation means that the receiving teams gets the opportunity to try and control the ball before the kicker can threaten it, which is often important, but it also helps the receiver to be proactive. If you have a model with a long enough threat range, it’s a possibility to begin the first turn by immediately attacking the kicking model instead, or threatening to take them out if they don’t act immediately. This makes it risky for the kicking team to spend time buffing up for a last activation assault, which mitigates some of the kicker’s strengths, and it lets you force the kicker to decide between holding off on their activation and potentially getting taken out or controlled, and activating early and risking overextending or getting jailed.
In general, kicking is easier to execute well and is particularly beneficial for teams with a lot of positional control (whether moving their own models or the enemy’s). Receiving is much more valuable the slower your team is, or if your team benefits more than usual from ball possession. The receiving team needs to juggle more variables and has more opportunities for things to go horribly wrong with a missed pass or something, but is in a position of power by default if things go ahead undisrupted.
When choosing whether to kick or receive, consider not only how your team deals with each scenario but also how the opposing team handles it. Most teams can receive and still function reasonably well – some are worse at protecting a ball from a kicker than others, but having the ball and first activation means you always have at least some tools you can use to mitigate these issues. There are, however, some teams that don’t want to kick – for example, the Blacksmiths like access to the ball for mobility and to prevent the enemy from out-threatening them, and don’t have any way to generate momentum at range if they don’t have the ball. Union are in a similar boat – they are lacking in models which work well as a solo kicking threat, and they don’t have any ways to presenting multiple threats on turn one unless the opponent gifts targets to them. If both teams are better at proactive plans than defensive ones – such as those with lots of mobility or multiple excellent turn one threats – then kicking off gains in value.
Drafting is a phase of the game which sometimes involves a complex decision tree and which sometimes is entirely formulaic. Most of the time, though, it’s somewhere in between. Very few teams have an entirely locked 6 man team which doesn’t deviate, and at the same time very few teams have a roster composed entirely of flex slots. The important thing to remember when drafting is to try and avoid giving information away to the opponent until as late as possible.
Captain picking is simultaneous, so you don’t get any information on what the opponent is planning to take into account here. However, a lot of the time you can infer the likely captain pick of the opposing team from the team matchup and the kick/receive roll. Captains with higher mobility are more likely to be picked when kicking, and captains with lower speed show up more frequently when receiving. The captain’s matchup into the opposing team also matters a lot – usually, a good rule of thumb is that you want to focus slightly more on fighting / taking players out than the opponent. This means you get good odds of winning any midfield scrum that breaks out, without ending up lacking too much in the footballing department. If the opposing team is likely to win in a fight, instead you want to go as far towards footballing as possible to avoid engagement and get VPs elsewhere instead. As an example, the Fishermen would usually lean towards picking Corsair into footballing teams (since he can outfight them, and still has ball threats for snapback goals as well) and Shark into fighting teams (since you will have difficulty winning a fight, so instead you don’t fight at all and go for goals). This creates a sort of rock-paper-scissors triangle between teams that focus on football, teams that focus on control / ball killing, and teams that focus on the beatdown. Usually ball killing is strong against football, football is strong against fighting, and fighting is strong against ball control. If you know which style your opponent’s pick is likely to end up in, you can plan accordingly and choose a captain / roster which focuses on the opponent’s weaknesses.
Because the kicker has last pick in the draft, they get to make their last pick with perfect information on the enemy team, while the receiver has to make do with less when they commit to their last player. This means that if there is a specific matchup which you want to avoid at all costs (such as playing a dodgeless 1″ striker like Bonesaw when the team has an Unpredictable Movement model), the kicker is the only side of the matchup which can safely pick that model. If you have models which are ‘auto include’ or obviously good in a matchup – such as a ball control model against Fish, or just a model that’s good enough to always want to take it – you should probably be picking it first in the draft, since their selection gives away very little that your opponent didn’t already know.
There are a few other considerations to take into account when picking players. If you need to kick, models which have long threat ranges or ability to let other models threaten the opponent on turn one – like The Power of Voodoo, or ranged damaging character plays – become more valuable, and if you are receiving then ball-focused abilities gain in strength, such as Inspiring Hat or Match Experience. If you are receiving, models which can control the enemy kicker are also very useful – effects like Blind are much more useful when the opponent has exactly one model which threatens to get results on turn one, and which usually wants to wait to activate until late in the turn. It’s also often a good idea to aim for a balance between influence hungry models and influence efficient choices, and between models which actually score VPs and models which provide setup. Usually you don’t want to play a team that consists entirely of inf hungry models (since some of them will be useless), or entirely support models (since the team would be very lacking in payoff for that setup). It’s also nice to have models which work well activating early and others which work well activating late – for example, setup pieces and those capable of onerounding enemy models are good early activations, while models which apply poison/bleed or which clear those same conditions are particualrly effective as the last activation of the turn.
When picking a team to put onto the pitch in a matchup, it’s usually a good idea to think before drafting Squaddies about what your final 6 wants to be, and then slowly reveal those choices to the opponent, instead of trying to be reactive during the draft. Most teams’ game plans don’t change dramatically on a few picks – their overarching styles are likely to be consistent whichever squaddies they take – and trying to change your own plans up dramatically mid draft can result in overvaluing a niche answer over a more consistently useful option. Generally, you want to stick to the 6 you initially thought of for the matchup, and only change players out if your opponent’s team differs greatly from the lineup you were expecting to be dealing with. You should take into account the guild matchup and the game state (terrain, kick/receive, captain choices, etc) when deciding what models to take, but generally these factors are more important than the specific squaddies your opponent took, so switching gears mid-draft is not common, barring last-pick flexible choices depending on the situation after you already have the ‘core’ of the team.
Initial deployment functions very differently for the kicker and the receiver. The kicking player gets to decide what area of the pitch the ball ends up in, which puts some requirements on the receiver’s deployment. As mentioned above, if the kicker can put the ball somewhere the receiver can’t retrieve it, they are in a hugely advantaged position, which means ensuring you can collect the ball should be something the receiver heavily prioritises.
The kicker deploys first, and they have a slightly easier job deploying because they don’t need to worry as much about where the ball might end up. The non-kicking models can be grouped up closely without any problems, which means it’s often useful to do so if you have important short ranged abilities to help you reach engagement on turn one or extend your threat ranges, like Times Called, Tow, or Get Set BAKE!. Otherwise, it’s useful to think about what abilities you’re going to need to use on what models on turn one. If you want to put Tooled Up on a model with a ranged damaging character play, make sure your model with Tooled Up is within 4″ of the target at deployment – while you could always move into range before using the play anyway, being within 4″ before moving gives you a lot more versatility in your positioning at the start of turn two while not costing you anything.
For the actual kicking model, you have a few options for how you position things. If your model is relatively central, it extends the area the receiver needs to protect, especially if your kicking model has a long movement + kick distance – it also means you get more agency in determining which enemy model has to go to pick up the ball. Deploying centrally gives you more options when it comes to ball positioning – however, none of the options are quite as impactful as deploying on a flank. If you put your kicking model on a flank, you get a lot of advantages at the expense of being a lot more predictable. Kicking off to one side lets you make use of any fast ground (and as the kicker, you got to choose which table edge you’re on) to extend your kicker’s threat range. While your opponent gets to easily pick which player retrieves the ball, it’s difficult for them to do so without leaving a model neat the edge of the pitch – this means that if your kicker is one that’s good at pushing people off the edge of the pitch – like Piper or Corsair – kicking off on a flank is a valuable option, especially if there’s fast ground.
On the receiving side, it’s good to take the same things into account as kicking with regards to auras and other character plays’ ranges. In addition, protecting the ball becomes a concern – if the kicker could put the ball on either side, you should make sure someone reasonably fast is on either side, and make sure that once that player has acquired the ball they are able to get it back to someone else – leaving the ball stuck on the first player you activate makes it pretty useless and leaves you with 0MP. If you have models which want to threaten the kicker then you should usually put them directly across from their location, or wherever they look like they want to move to. If you have good payoff models you want to activate later in a turn – like a striker to score a first turn goal with, or a threat you want to use to disrupt the kicker – try to keep them more central. This is because if they are one of the models on a flank, the kicker can put the ball on that side to force you to give up on your payoff in order to secure the ball. Instead, the models securing the ball should be the ones you don’t need for any other purposes this turn, or whose other effects can be applied before they move away (like putting a buff on a payoff model before moving off to get the ball).
If you have any ball control models and are worried about a goal run from the opposing kicker, try to position them centrally enough that you can get the ball onto them as soon as possible to slow down goal runs. At the same time, if you can get the ball onto them, you usually want them to be as far away from the goal as possible once they have the ball. This makes it harder for the opponent to steal the ball and score – models can only jog once per activation, which means if the ball holder is far from the goal they’d need to move to engage the ball holder, tackle the ball, and then move again to get into goal range rather than only moving once, if they can stand somewhere that’s both in goal range and engaging the ball holder. This helps a lot for shutting down kicking goal threats without multiple long distance movement options. It’s a lot easier to get the ball into a properly safe position like this if you have a model that can move the ball a long distance, whether through an effect like Long Bomb or just through sheer high speed, since you can put your long-distance option on one flank and your ball control piece on the other flank.
The terrain is also a consideration when deploying the receiving team. Awkwardly placed patches of rough ground (or worse, forests) can mess up ball retrieval on turn one, and obstructions can block lines you’d want to sprint over. If you have any Light Footed or Flying models, or those with large dodges which don’t cost much influence, you can deploy these models in the positions which would otherwise be disrupted by the rough ground to ensure you’re still covering all the space that you can.
The Kick Off
Kicking the ball is the final step of the pregame sequence. Depending on where the kicker deployed, the final position of the ball might be relatively obvious – however, a kick scatter is not a reliable thing. If you want to make sure someone is within the kicker’s threat range immediately, it’s often correct not to use the kicker’s full kick distance and instead kick as short as possible. This increases the odds of the ball ending up very close to the kicking model – if your kicker is threatening, this sometimes means that whoever retrieves the ball is in a very risky position and likely to get taken out or get pulled into the team or jailed or something similar.
Measurement when scattering a ball is edge to edge, which means even with a ‘1’ roll on your distance die, the ball always moves a minimum of just over 2″ – this means it’s actually quite difficult to put the ball within ~3″ of the kicker, since you also need to place the ball pre-scatter without overlapping anyone’s base. If your kicker is particularly fast, and has a good kick stat, it’s not unreasonable for the ball to end up 22″ or more from the kicker – 7″ movement, 8″ kick and 7″ from the scatter. This is a huge distance – enough to put it behind the enemy goal line – and makes a fast kicker very valuable. Getting the ball to somewhere the opponent can’t retrieve is is a hugely powerful scenario and one which you should probably be aiming for if it’s at all possible – the upside of getting the ball in the right place is much better for the kicker than the risks. Having the ball scatter off the pitch or not cross the line isn’t hugely impactful – it’s not great, and you’d rather force someone in particular to activate, but it doesn’t really change your turn one very much unless you were hoping to pressure the ball retrieval model. It’s a risk I’d definitely be willing to take in most kicking scenarios.
As the receiver, if the ball does scatter off the pitch, it’s tempting to put the ball on whoever protects it from the kicker best. However, if the ball is on your ball-control model, you can’t generate any momentum or dodges from passing it without leaving it somewhere more vulnerable. Instead, put the ball on whoever you want to activate first (like a buffing model), so that if you need MP you can pass to the ball control model first activation. Alternatively, you can put the ball on a threatening model who can go for the kicker immediately – most models don’t reach a kicking model immediately, but if you can place the ball on them straight away you can pass for a dodge and then move up to engage. This is particularly strong if your model has access to pushes, since you can start turn one by jumping on the kicking model and immediately pushing it towards your team where they’re threatened by multiple models, and ensure that the opponent can’t prep for the engagement at their own pace.
Preparing for Turn One
The entire pregame sequence is a lead up to the first turn, which is where VPs start being scored and all the carefully laid plans begin to disintegrate. Turn one is probably the most important point in the game, and going into it with your models chosen and positioned to be useful and effective is very important. A lot of the decisions made in the pregame sequence are focused on ensuring that your team lines up well against the opposing team, whether that’s through model selection, positioning or any other tool at your disposal. Sometimes it’s about minimising the impact of turn one entirely, if you know your team is at a disadvantage there and you’d rather just get into the later stages of the game immediately. Whatever your plan is, pulling it off correctly is a big deal and that means that setting up to make your plan a possibility is a major advantage. Next time I’ll be talking about playing out turn one and the different options available there.
Until next time,