Turn one is probably the most important part of a game of Guild Ball. It’s where the choices that were made in the pregame sequence start to actually manifest into advantages or disadvantages, and it often determines the pace of the rest of the game. In previous seasons and for slower teams, it’s tempting to think of the turn primarily as a time to move up and position for the action to properly start on turn two. However a lot of teams can do a lot of work on the first turn, and taking that into account is important for avoiding falling behind. Turn one is also the last point in a game of Guild Ball where you can really have an actual plan – since it’s the first point where your opponent gets to properly interact with you and your options stop being fully under your control.
The first thing we do once the pregame sequence has finished – when the clock starts – is allocate influence. Influence allocation on turn one is very different to allocation on other turns of the game, because the turn-one useful models are very different to the ones which are useful later in the game. Threat range is by far the most important factor in allocation and planning on the first turn – because the teams start out 16″ apart (except the kicker), models which go a long way, or which can move other models a long way, are particularly valuable. Because you need to spend resources enabling your models’ threat ranges, you don’t get to spend as many resources actually interacting with the opponent. This means that usually you will be limited to somewhere between one and three models per team that are actually able to do relevant things on turn one.
The kicking team has the easier time making allocation decisions on turn one because they don’t need to be as concerned about securing the ball, which frees up influence for other plans. You also get one obvious place to look at for one of your payoff activations in the kicking model. Because you get an additional jog up the pitch, the kicker gets to threaten a goal or takeout straight away if there are targets available. This helps to discourage the receiver from moving too far up the pitch immediately, and makes them pay attention with their ball positioning. Most of the time the kicking model is going to want to have a full stack of influence with very few exceptions.
After the actual kicking model, the kicking team has less options than the receiver, since they don’t have ball access to set up dodges up the pitch. This makes any long distance movement abilities which are available more valuable – effects like The Power of Voodoo, Lure of Gold and Tow are very useful when kicking on turn one, since they let you present multiple threats with fully stacked influence pools. Usually if you have access to this sort of effect you’ll want to use it to present as many threats as possible – although if it requires you to move your enabling model up the pitch, you also need to be careful not to put them somewhere they’re exposed to enemy interaction (unless you’re fine with a fight breaking out super early on). The threats you choose to pull up should usually be the ones with the most potential output off a stack of influence, since support models can usually do their thing without needing to be right next to the enemy. Once you’ve worked out what your payoff pieces should be and what your threat extension options are, you’re on to the support model options. Because you often only get to spend 4-8 influence actually interacting with the enemy on turn one, making that influence more valuable is a good plan, so effects like Tooled Up and similar are very good. Influence efficiency tools like Get It While It’s Hot are also great on turn one, since letting your one payoff model do more things is generally a good plan. Be aware that if your setup tool costs momentum – like Times Called – it’s awkward to use on turn one as the kicker, since if they eat a KD or similar effect you’ll be left with no momentum to stand them back up with, so if you’re against a team like engineers that’s quite risky.
The other subset of models which are useful when kicking on turn one are those with ranged effects like character plays. These effects let your models disrupt the opposing team or start to wear them down to help the fight in future turns, without having to risk your models’ lives quite as much. Effects which pull in enemy models are particularly effective, since they work like a threat extension for your models but which enables every model on your team rather than just one, and often they let you force the pulled-in model to activate immediately or die, which can disrupt enemy plans. Control effects like Blind are also very effective – even though they have more mobility than the receiver, the kicking team still needs to telegraph who they’re threatening you with and spend time setting up for them, which makes disrupting those payoff models very effective. Models with ranged plays should usually be allocated enough to throw out the relevant ones, either with or without an extra 1 to sprint with depending on their ranges and what you expect the enemy to be doing.
The receiving team has more to worry about on turn one. The biggest concern is getting the ball somewhere relatively safe. This varies in difficulty depending on the enemy kicker- someone like Shark is very difficult to hide the ball from, while a kicker like vDecimate, while threatening, is less likely to grab the ball and score on the first activation. It’s often a good idea to work out your preferred ball retriever and measure how far they’ll have to move to get it before allocating influence – usually you’ll want to allocate at least 1 influence to pass the ball, but they may need more to sprint in order to collect it and be in pass range afterwards. Once you’ve retreived the ball, the second thing to be concerned about is the enemy kicker. As mentioned above some kickers have lots of goal run pressure – in addition, because they get to go last, if the receiving player doesn’t do anything on turn one the kicker gets to go in without fear of a counterstrike from remaining receiving models. There are two main ways of dealing with this problem. Firstly, you can try to minimise the damage the kicker’s last activation does, by applying control effects to them and restricting their options through distance or defensive tech like counter charge. Secondly, you can force the opponent’s threatening models to activate earlier in the turn when they’re more answerable, by threatening to kill/control them if they don’t. Either way, control effects are very powerful just like they are on the kicking team – even better on the receiving side since your opponent has limited access to momentum. Many teams can’t present more than one dangerous threat on turn one, which makes controlling that threat a good way of maintaining your advantage, so you should usually allocate enough influence to apply the available control effects to the enemy kicker before they activate, and plan to apply that control early on.
It’s usually a good idea to have at least one model which threatens the opponent on turn one as the receiver and allocate that model a full stack of influence. Usually it wants to be a high damage model or an excellent goal threat. Similar to the kicking model, this lets you threaten to get VPs back if the opponent commits to you, discouraging them from jumping into your team. It also means that if you want to immediately interact with the opponent on the first turn, you can use the ball to dodge this model up into range of the opponent’s team and do some damage with them – threatening to take out or heavily disrupt the enemy kicker before they activate is also a good way to force them to act earlier in the turn than they would like.
The pressure to reach engagement applies much more heavily to the kicking team, which means the receiver has a lot less need to get their threats up the board immediately. This is because they have the ball – if engagement doesn’t happen on the first turn, the receiver is likely to win initiative. This means the receiver can aim to either get a takeout at the start of turn two, or go second on turn two if there are no good fight starting options and end turn two with both the last activation and the ball. This is clearly a bad scenario for the kicker to allow, which means that they are obliged to force the engagement in order to prevent it. The exception is if the kicking team has better ranged damage/control options – this would allow the kicker to disrupt the receiver without engaging and wear them down, switching the obligation to engage onto whichever team has worse ranged damage options.
It’s a good idea to think about which team wins in a standoff, and about which team wins in a fight. The team that scores VPs more quickly in an engagement (whether football or takeouts) wants to reach engagement as soon as possible, while the team which has better ranged damage options instead wants to delay the fight for as long as possible so they can press their advantage there. Usually matchups aren’t advantaged to the same team on both sides at once – most team’s ability to score VPs are inversely propertional to their ability to control the opposing team. In a mirror match, the team with the ball wants to avoid engagement while the team without wants to reach engagement ASAP, since being close up helps to negate the momentum and threat range advantages the ball gives.
The First Activation
The receiving team’s first activation is usually to retrieve the ball. They start with no momentum, which means that generating a point of MP to enable counterattacks helps stop the kicker from getting VPs immediately. The other possible option for a first activation plan is if there’s the possibility of threatening the kicker straight away. If you can apply enough pressure to the kicker to make them act straight away, they have to go before they can receive buffs or setup from their teammates. An example of this would be if a model kicks off aggressively, a model with Drag or lots of pushes could bring it right into the team immediately. While you probably can’t take them out straight away, if you can get them into a couple of melee zones they can have difficulty escaping far enough to avoid getting hit, and if some teams have to activate the kicker immediately they can be stuck with no threats for the rest of the turn. It can be risky – especially if you have to leave the ball loose to do so – but it’s a big payoff when it works. Piper, vDecimate and Corsair are particularly good at this plan.
If the receiver is just securing the ball, the kicker’s first activation can be to try and grab it straight away. In some matchups (especially ones where the fight is close to even) the ball is enough of an advantage that it could be correct to sent your kicker in, tackle the ball and boot it back to your team, trading your kicker’s life for possession of the ball. Getting a goal is often worth the life of the kicker, also, and if the opponent has a ball control effect that’s difficult to bypass it’s often a good idea to go for the goal run ASAP before the ball reaches the close control model or otherwise becomes harder to get. If neither of those are an option, then the kicker probably wants to hold off until later in the turn, unless their life is immediately in danger. An early activation from the kicker is less impactful, but it’s much better than not activating at all because your model has been taken out. A lot of the time both teams will have allocated their influence expecting to apply buffs and set up for a late activation – this means that committing ASAP may be less risky than it first appears, because slow beatdown models may not have any influence allocated and models with support and ranged abilities have it instead, who are often less effective at dealing with an attacking model.
The Stand Off
If neither player ends up committing early in the turn, the game stalls a little bit, as both players wait for an opening. This usually means that both teams buff up and increase in strength as the turn goes on and want to wait until as late as possible to commit, in order to give the opponent as little time as possible to react. If you’re in a position where you can’t immediately go in and get good results, and you are okay with the opponent making the first move, you can use low impact activations to pass the time. This often means the mascots and slower models which didn’t get influence allocated, or buffing activations which don’t require committing your model. If neither team went in right at the start, they probably have one or two models with full influence that want to actually do something with their activation, so those are the ones to keep in mind when working out where to position and whether your models are in danger. If you have fewer payoff models than the opponent, you can turn this to your advantage by waiting until after some of your opponent’s payoffs have activated before going in – if you have more models than your opponent, it’s usually a good idea to try and start a fight earlier in the turn to let you take advantage of that.
The receiver has the ball, which helps increase their threat ranges. If the kicker has a similar threat range to your own payoff model, you can keep them outside that distance but with the ball, then have them pass at the start of their activation and dodge into range, letting them get the first strike for the price of 1 influence. You can dodge them up before their activation when they receive the pass, instead, but this option carries with it the risk of leaving the ball exposed to the kicker for an activation – especially since a team’s ball killing option is often a different model from their payoff pieces. This often means that the correct line is to use a pass dodge to extend threat during the payoff model’s own activation – which in turn means that your 1-inf-down model is unlikely to immediately get a takeout. While plenty of models threaten to oneround an enemy, only a small number can do so while also spending a point of influence on a kick. This also means that if the kicking team’s backswing is likely to take out your threat (which is a definite possibility) it can be correct to not engage at all as the receiver – especially if the kicking team’s long-range threat is a lot worse than its short-range threat. If you can successfully avoid the kicking team for turn one and win initiative for turn two off passes, then you can either go first and punish any kicking models which overextended, or you can choose to go second, leaving you in the same place as the previous turn only now you have both the ball and last activation.
As mentioned above this means the kicker has the burden of breaking the stand off. For some teams – such as Union – the best option here can be to simply sprint all your models up the pitch to where you apply multiple threats at the start of turn two, and accept that one of them is going to most likely get taken out before it can act. Just brute forcing the engagement along these lines is difficult because you always start out on the back foot in the ensuing fight, so you need to be able to get major advantages over the course of an engagement to pull this off well. It also means that it’s much more effective if your team is noticeably better in a brawl than the opposition, such as against teams which focus on ranged damage and control. Teams like Alchemists really don’t want the enemy reaching them and buying attacks, and even if you lose a model and a half getting there there’s still a reasonable chance the fight will end up in your favour. Against teams which are less range-focused, just charging up the pitch is less impactful but also needs to be done less. Failing to immediately reach engagement is a lot less of a problem if your opponent is also playing a team which needs engagement to be really threatening. If neither team is going to engage on turn one, your priority should be ending turn one in a position where your opponent is under enough pressure that they can’t make you take the first activation without losing something for it.
The Last Activation
The very last activation of the turn plays out differently to those beforehand. Because the kicking team no longer needs to worry about any form of attack back from the opponent this turn, they can much more freely commit to the opponent without worrying about losing their model or putting themselves at a disadvantage. Of course, if the opponent wins initiative next turn, they’re in a similar position, but that’s not guaranteed. If your last-model commit is the only model that gets to actually make attacks on either side, you have the potential to generate enough momentum to contest the initiative even if the opponent has been passing the ball around. If you can win initiative, you have the possibility of activating that model again to do more work (since they’re already right next to the enemy) and then run away before the opponent can react, or otherwise force them into a poor position.
Going last-first is a good way of getting VPs as the kicker – while the opponent might have enough ball control to avoid a single-activation goal run on the first turn, if you get to move up into position near the ball holder and generate MP, then activate again to try for the tackle/shot, you’re a lot more likely to be able to pull a goal off and only the most committed of ball killing plans will get to stop you. It also lets you buy enough time for non-passive defensive effects (like Nimble) to expire. This makes for a pretty good backup plan if your kick off pressure isn’t enough to score early in turn one – some players (Shark, in particular) are very good at this, either by disrupting the opponent’s ability to strike back on turn two, or by generating plenty of momentum to win initiative with. Note that if you have multiple turn one goal threats, you can commit with some of them earlier in turn one for a similar end result. When you take your second-to-last activation, your opponent only has one model left to activate, which means you’re safe to get two unanswered payoff activations if you can keep your model out of range of the single remaining enemy.
It’s not just goals that the last activation helps with. If you send in a model for a takeout instead, you can often put an enemy model on 1HP or otherwise in a position where you can take it out on the first activation of turn two, if you win initiative. This means winning initiative and going first lets you get an easy takeout, then run away again with your model (or go set up for the rest of the team). If you take out that low-hp model before it can activate, you also get to go first in the turn and still have the last activation to do the same thing again with. Some payoff models, like Fillet, can potentially do this to two models at once.
Because the last activation payoffs along these lines are so powerful, the receiver needs to avoid letting the opponent just commit without being disrupted – or at least ensure you’ve generated enough momentum that they kicker isn’t able to guarantee going first on turn two. This means you need to do something similarly powerful with your own turn one – such as scoring your own goal, or putting a payoff model somewhere that they can also generate a lot of momentum and get a takeout. If you aren’t able to pull something similar off – such as if you can’t risk dodging models up with the ball without getting them punished by the kicker – you need to instead weaken the strength of the kicking model’s last activation. This can be done through distance – making the kicker sprint/charge to reach someone costs them influence which makes for less actual output. There are also positional zone control effects which help here, such as Rush Keeper and Ghostly Visage, and straight up debuffs that make a model less powerful such as Blind. If you’re on a team without these options, though, you may have to try to disrupt the kicker by threatening them earlier in the turn. If you can set up to take the kicker out earlier then you can avoid the worst-case scenarios presented above, or at least have an opportunity to strike back after the kicking model commits and generates VPs. If you can mess with the kicking model’s activation enough that they can’t get a reasonable amount of momentum or VPs, the kicking team is in a pretty bad spot since the highly impactful last activation of the turn is the main advantage of being the kicker. This also means that if the kicking model is particularly threatening, but has a manageable threat range, it can be correct to just straight up run away for turn one, generate momentum, and set up to go last on turn two as mentioned above. Be aware, though, that it’s difficult to get whichever model retrieved the ball out of the enemy threat, and if you try to run away but don’t get everyone out of range, you’re probably in a worse spot than if you’d just aimed to apply pressure to the kicker instead.
Reaching the Midgame
Some teams have a lot of options for where to go on turn one and some have significantly less, but the primary plan is always the same – slow down your opponent’s ability to pull ahead while setting yourself up to get an advantage yourself. It’s unlikely that anybody is going to be ending the game on turn one, and generally you’re going to only be making a small number of impactful activations so the priority is in making those activations count, and making the opponent’s useful activations less so. The first turn is also the point in the game where the opponent’s game plan is most obvious – it’s pretty clear who’s going to be the payoff model from the point of influence allocation (or beforehand), and that makes disrupting the opponent much more doable. Some teams have noticeably more options on the first turn than others – usually because of access to high mobility, or multiple ranged character plays.
Higher mobility is mainly useful for reaching engagement quickly – most mobility tools are more effective at engaging than at disengaging. This means that the threat of a good counterswing is very useful against mobile teams, since they are often somewhat fragile. If your opponent has two or more threats on turn one, then they have to commit at least one of them before your last activation, which means you get a chance to hit them back again.
Ranged damage / character plays, including effects that drag players in, have the opposite effect. They primarily make the stand off more skewed towards the ranged team, and let them engage on their own terms. At the same time, they’re often less impactful in terms of payoff per influence spent than an attack, to compensate for the range. This means that the best answer to these effects, if the opponent has better ranged effects, is to reach engagement as quickly as possible. Generating momentum in melee is a good way of mitigating most control effects, and similarly to the mobile teams, ranged teams tend to be less durable compared to tougher ones.
The most important part of your turn one plan is recognising your role in the matchup – if you’re worse in a brawl, you should be looking to avoid one. If you’re worse at range, you should be looking to reach melee ASAP. If you’re worse at scoring goals, you should be looking to kill the ball. Some teams have turn one plays which are straight up stronger than others, so sometimes it’s okay to accept you’re likely to start the game off behind the opponent. Most teams with strong turn ones are much less able to stand up in a fight later on in the game, and teams which are weaker early thrive once a proper battle has started. If your turn one isn’t very good compared to your opponent, the best plan is often to just try and get into turn two without losing too much stuff – the Falconers are likely going to take out a player on turn one reliably, and conceding only one t1 goal to Order is just fine. Getting enough models up the pitch that you can do something on turn two is important, and trying to play defensively is usually a mistake against teams with outclass you in ranged capability – their threat ranges are likely longer than yours, which means the only good way to actually pull ahead is to close the gap. Next time I’m going to be looking at how to play the following turns, when the line of engagement has been drawn and players are within easy range of each other.
Until next time,