Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rookie's Corner 3 - Why I chose to play Guild Ball

This article is written from the perspective of someone who has played Warmahordes for a long time and explains what I find attractive about Guild Ball from that perspective.  I understand that a lot of potential Guild Ball players are current/former Warmachine players, given the cultural, mechanical and design similarities between the two games so hope this will strike a nerve. I also understand not every Warmahordes player will have the same perspective I do, but nevertheless I think this article may help them see Guild Ball in a different light while still being useful to someone coming from a different background.

Some personal background

I started playing Warmachine late 2006 (just before Mk1 Remix), hyping the game to my small playgroup in Slovenia where we played with paper printouts taped to round bases until we could get the minis in the store (sounds familiar).

In the last year or two, I have soured a bit on the direction (or lack thereof) of Warmachine, between Colossals as a model type systematically and progressively shallowing the tactical depth of the game, the lack of much needed large-scale balance errata to stimulate the meta and ‘dead’ releases, the general staleness of said meta and the tournament format, and last but not least the increasingly sizable cost of play (exchange rates accent this, given that almost every NZ-based player buys their stuff from overseas online stores).

My reasoning for sticking with the game over the last few years has been first and foremost community, and secondly that I believed Warmachine to be the best competitive miniatures game on the market. I am not sure that is the case anymore.


Having witnessed a game of Guild Ball with full rules, I gotta admit. It's very good. At first, I thought it was a borderline plagiarism of the WM/H mechanics, but now I see it's an evolution of them. Essentially it utilizes the resource management part of WM/H really effectively. And with the alternating activations it's really juicy. I strongly urge people give a proper game a go.
- Nikola Jaksic, New Zealand Warmachine Legend and National Treasure

Guild Ball, at least at this stage, seems to address a lot of the problems I have with Warmachine as a competitive tabletop games system:
  1. Low model count - this means not having to paint units that are basically just wounds/attack markers on the table, and saves a LOT of money. You pay quite a bit more per model than Warmachine, however those models are a lot more meaningful.
  2. Emphasis on tactics over strategy - with the playbook mechanic opening up huge tactical opportunities (not to mention design space) and alternating activations resulting in a constantly shifting board state, Guild Ball most about playing vs an opponent rather than playing vs a more-or-less set puzzle each turn. I’m still adapting to this.
  3. Balance Errata - first season has already had sizable systematic balance errata - this signals an intent to keep models balanced within the greater system, which is important (one might even say vital) in an imperfect balance system, and really important in a game without points values (ie. every model is ‘equal’). New cards were available in pdf form very soon after this errata - print out, stick in sleeves on top of the old card, done. Combined with the easy access to cards online using tablets and mobile phones, you don’t have much trouble keeping up to date with the latest rules.
  4. The Season X formatting - this gives the developers a way to compartmentalize the competitive game via formats (ie. like Magic’s Limited/ Standard/ Legacy, etc.) at some point in the future. It also provides good timeline segmentation for character development, which we are already seeing a bit with forthcoming ‘veteran player’ types. Finally, it’s a way to reprint full rules every new expansion, which makes errata & clarifications even easier to incorporate.
  5. All rules for free online - it’s MUCH easier to get people to play and check out model stats. You also get nice paper proxy printouts for the Season 1 releases to use while waiting for your models to arrive, or testing the game! You don’t have to scour the internets for the latest pdf of the book that you won’t be able to get a physical copy of for weeks.
  6. Great tournament format - the Organized Play Document makes great improvements on Warmachine’s Steamroller format. The introduction of ‘haemorrhaging’ VPs after deathclocking rather than it being sudden death is especially great and makes deathclock victories much less likely while still enforcing a time limit, as well as different formats suggested (huge fan of team drafting).
    Speaking of competitive play, Steamforged have already organized a world championship event where they will pay for the flights and accommodation of winners of select national events to participate in said world final.
  7. Premeasuring - premeasuring at all times eliminates a lot of measurement jank that leads to lots of accidental drama at tournaments. While having a good eye for distances is a skill that can be developed, it’s not a particularly interesting one from a tactical perspective. Premeasuring takes away most ‘gotcha!’ moments where you are ½” in or out and puts emphasis on decisions and tactical counterplays. You can also more or less play the whole game effectively with measuring devices rather than tape measures, which once you get used to it is more accurate from both sides of the table.

There's a few other principles which the designers have made pillars of the game's design philosophy, including:
  • you always get to play a "full" game (no turn 1 assassinations or scenario shutouts),
  • there are very few "hard" denial effects (ie. effects that say "you cannot do X at all"), 
  • different teams still have very deep and identifiable playstyles (at this stage, at least).

Furthermore, it borrows some sweet mechanics from one of my favourite games from a design standpoint, DotA 2. If you’re going to steal, steal from the rich:

  1. Icy Sponge tokens - allows models to come back to the field, albeit weaker and thus at risk of feeding more VPs. Kind of like an increasingly long respawn timer - there is a definite downside to being taken out, but at the same time you’re not entirely crippled if you lose a key player early to dice spikes or a temporary lapse in judgement (these seem permanent, in my case).
  2. Momentum - a mechanic that means if you are winning, you are likely to win harder. This is awesome and represents competitive team sport environments very well. It is kept balanced in that it soft resets each turn, while still having an impact going into the next turn.
  3. All models equal - this is especially cool from a design standpoint, since it means when combined with FA:C models, there is an emphasis on choosing the WHOLE team; the combos and counters, rather than just looking at individual power and maxing out on OP stuff. The cost of a model is therefore its opportunity cost, and its value is relative & constantly shifting (in theory, at least).
  4. Drafting! - I love drafting as a competitive format in imperfect balance systems. It makes a game out of the meta-game, and allows for a greater diversity in compositions. Currently the game is young and the model pool for each team very small, but as it grows drafting will become more interesting as a team-selection mechanic in tournaments.

Aside from addressing several of the issues with competitive Warmachine, and bringing in some great games design concepts from DotA2, there are a few extra details about the game that are worth mentioning that one may find appealing:

Skirmish Scale:

  1. No big units!- this is one thing I really appreciate about skirmish-scale games. Painting the same model multiple times is, let’s face it, not really that enjoyable in itself. I’ve always done it as a sort of mechanical process to go along with another activity I enjoy more, like listening to podcasts/music. Also not having to carry around cases full of minis for local game night is ace.
  2. Each individual model matters - similar to the above point, I like it when models represent characters. I only have to buy/assemble/paint one copy, I only play one on the field, and it can’t get spammed. I can spend 10+ hours assembling and painting a single model and not want to hang myself afterwards.
  3. Cost - although the models are more individually expensive on a model-by-model basis than larger scale games, you also have to buy a lot less in total for that reason. ~120 NZD for an entire team is a pretty cheap buy-in for a miniatures game, and that buy-in point is not likely to increase too drastically over time given than you will only ever need a handful of models to play even the full size games.


  1. Models - I think the majority of the miniatures are fantastic, especially given the fact that Steamforged is a young company that kickstarted the game. To have access to that calibre of sculptors and molding processes right of the bat is both a nod to the level of technological development today and to the developers’ insistence on quality. Not to mention that I don’t think any of the models I have seen have an ‘overhang’ problem - there is clearly a design decision to make these miniatures fitting for wargaming.
  2. The artwork is also quite stellar on the whole. I mostly settled on Fishermen because I got a nerd boner from Shark as a result of his artwork (Norwegian Black Metal fisherman ftw), and then his superstar rules.
  3. The historical European aesthetic is also appealing. You have influences ranging from gritty Victorian to viking scandinavian to medieval Frankish, which is awesome.
  4. The fluff in the Season 1 book and behind the Season 1 players was surprisingly brutal, as you would expect from a violent game. No glorification, no clear protagonists - just humanity. A few characters’ deaths are strongly implied from the get go. Having mostly given up on WM fluff in Mk2, this was quite refreshing.

Finally, it’s a young game, so the online community is very friendly, enthusiastic, optimistic and generally super cool. It won’t last forever of course, but it is nice while it’s there!
Another nice effect of a young competitive game is that the majority of the players are wargaming veterans, who also happen to be sick miniature painters, so the overall quality of posts in the Display Cabinet subforum is very high!

Whether all this optimism on my part will last or not remains to be seen, but Guild Ball is something that I am currently very enthusiastic about and am aggressively shilling to my fellow nerds. I do this because I believe it may be the best overall competitive miniatures game experience currently on the market. And I hate professional football.

- JS

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rookie's Corner 2 - Mistakes will be made

Here is a short list of mistakes you will make when learning how to play this game. It is important to recognise (and I must emphasise this) that I have personally made none of these mistakes. Ever.

- The kicker nominates his kicking player before the opposing team deploys.

- On kick-off your nominated player still rolls their kick dice after placing the ball completely within their kick range. A successful roll (i.e. a single 4+ on any dice) allows a reroll of the scatter.

- The reroll of the scatter is a reroll in it's entirety. You cannot choose to only reroll the direction or distance; both must be rerolled.

- You can pre-measure any and all distances regardless of model ownership. Distances measured do not have to be model-to-model.

- Activations alternate unless dumb Masons want to screw you with Harmony or you suck and all your guys are dead.

- Don't forget to bring your Taken Out models back on in the Maintenance Phase. Make sure you mark Icy Sponges correctly.

- Forgetting to allocated INF is terrible and you should feel terrible for not thinking hard enough at the start of your turn.

- Pushes are made in 1" increments in any direction. A playbook result of >> is two 1" Pushes. You can Push 0" (zero inches). Pushes must be performed in a straight line.

- Similarly Dodges are made in 1" increments, however Dodges can 'curve' around models (they do not have to be in a straight line).

- A Momentous Dodge shall hereafter be officially known as a Momentous Doge.

- You can voluntarily kick the ball to empty space. You can voluntarily kick the ball off the table (by effectively scattering it 1" in any direction from open ground.

- A player leaving the field for any reason (exception: may not voluntarily leave the table) is Taken Out.

- Snapshot! does not require INF expenditure from the kicking model.

- A model can be healed twice in a turn - once from Take a Breather Lad! and once from Come on Mate! - using Momentum.

- Use tokens to mark effects when they are applied such as Bleed or Knock Down.

- A missed shot on goal scatters somewhat bizarrely from the middle of the goal token. Good luck figuring that out on a beautifully modelled goal. Precision fail.

- Kicks do not scatter in a line from your model to where you placed your kick to where it scatters. The ball travels in a straight line from the kicking model to the final resting point as determined by the scatter.

- You cannot intercept a ball that is Thrown In.

- You permanently gain an additional point of INF during allocation for every goal scored.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Introductions, ego-stroking, self-flattery, mirror gazing

Cheers to JS for starting a blog and under absolutely no peer pressure whatsoever too! More importantly cheers for inviting NZs self-proclaimed #1 Morticians player (suck it Hunter, in first!) to drown unwilling viewers in Spook-biased articles (while I'm on holiday / can be bothered / remain interested). Having been semi-successfully shilled into the game it is now my mission in life to convert all other players to using Morticians, spamming the meta with sexy control elements combined with hopelessly inadequate momentum building playbooks. This will result in a wave of games that are little more than old ladies slapping each other with their handbags in the supermarket parking lot while waving their dentures threateningly at metrosexual hipsters and wannabe Mason poster-boys. But I digest...

My contributions to this blog will be at once unsettlingly on fleek and almost immediately completely irrelevant. I shall fluidly shift gears rapidly, moving between boggling you with an unbelievable depth of tactical nous, and making such horrendously embarrassing mistakes that you'll move right past shouting "go back to Warmachine" and straight to "go back to 7th edition Warhammer".

Ah, the glory days...

The most relevant/only image for this entire article.

So... let's read some more about me then.


Why Morticians? Pretty easy - they're the closest thing to Cryx I could see when I looked at the models and glanced passingly (and with total ignorance) at the rules. That and a carefully concluded process of elimination (all IMO of course):

- Masons are vanilla, rely on armour (we all know how broken the armour heavy meta is, amiright?) and are far too middle-of-the-road. Masons are beer and pretzels, staple diet Guild Ball whereas I'm more of a fine wine connoisseur who likes to eat dangerously (not sure what happened to that metaphor...). Masons are Cygnar and I'm genetically pre-dispositioned to hate the hell out of Cygnar. Also my son is keen on using Masons (more on this later) so they were auto-out. Little Dave is playing Masons.

- Butchers are clearly for morons who want to hurr-durr their way up the pitch, drool loudly and crump heads. These players should have stuck with Age of Sigmar or Orks in whatever passes for 40k these days. Dan Lister (he of the Butcher2 theme list Doomreaver spam) is playing Butchers so that will give you some insight into how they like to run. Plus Trent Denison is also playing Butchers so 'nuff said.

- Fishermen remind me too much of Circle Orboros (a nightmare of constant cock-ups that I'm currently living through in Warmachine). They've got an elvish vibe which translates quickly into flower picking hippies that need the proverbial kicked out them for the good of the world. I shall cheerfully oblige. JS plays Fishermen and I haven't seen him come close to winning a game yet that isn't 3v3 (totes fair when Fish are involved in a low model count game) so that's not exactly a hard sell for how good they are either. Pundit harder man!

- Brewers are the Trolls of the game and everyone knows that Trolls are dreadfully dull. Tapper is cute I guess but the rest of the team get a solid yawn. Painting tartan looks like the worst kind of torture. Nikola is playing Brewers because a) he couldn't cheese up a busted as balls Legion equivalent, or b) a terrible terrible terrible Menoth equivalent (self-flagellation is one of his great fortes). Asian Nick is also playing Brewers (cf. aforementioned Trolls simile). Pro tip - Brewers tokens are the WORST gaming tokens in the history of anything. Ever.

- Engineers have the wooden dummy and the big spider dude so once I'd dried the tears of hysterical laughter from my eyes over how stupid that is I knew I wouldn't be able to take them seriously. Painting wood grain will also end me. And I hate maths. I don't know anyone who's playing Engineers yet.

- Alchemists were third-runners up to my pick but I didn't love the ranged game/conditions focus of their play style. They also look too soft to take a hard tackle. And slow. And lacking in dimensions of play experience. Actually maybe they were my last pick now that I think about it...? The greatest of Daves, last of the fallen ones, and the veritable hive-mind of the many bodied organism sharing one soul Dave Dawn himself is playing Alchemists.

- Union were the runners up (I've printed and laminated all the cards and am currently making up the paper models for some future play experience). Love the variety and flexibility and that as the "Merc faction" option they don't suck. In fact they seem very very good. Blackbeard is hotness incarnate. Chas is playing Union so this is a natural match. Union also looks dangerously easy to collect once you've fleshed out your Guild faction models with some Union subs. Dat sales strat!

But it's all good and there's plenty of variety. Peter Hunter is also playing Morticians but don't hold that against the guild. I hear Season Three will even see the release of a new guild so there's even some room for those who love their bandwagons to jump ship and climb aboard the newest toys and most broken rules to capitalise on the ignorant and unaware.

Between that and other new season models it will be a good test to see if the developers stuff it up early or are able to manage ongoing and unfolding dynamic game balance.


Future posts - shilling Junior, Morticians overview from my perspective (the only one that matters), battle reports with no photos or other media to break up the melancholy wall of text, rules traps when learning the game early on.

Thanks in advance to the weather in Auckland for crapping out shortly and providing you all with more rainy day reading material.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rookie's Corner 1 - Choosing a Team

Choosing a Team

One of the first things you have to do when starting Guild Ball is choosing a team. Some will stick to this one team for a while, others will buy multiple teams and switch it up. But ultimately, you have to start somewhere.
I have prepared the summaries below to help new players in making this pivotal decision, based on the game developer summaries of each Guild (Season 1).
As to advice on what to play, I would recommend reading the summaries, skimming the rulebook and the player entries, then just going with your gut feeling. Past experience has demonstrated to me that rationally over-analysing will lead to frustration rather than an actual result.


Melee damage - 3
Ranged damage - 1
Ball control - 8
Speed - 8
Toughness - 5
Special - 5
Fishermen are unapologetically aggressive football players and excel at moving around the field, passing the ball, and scoring goals with their good to great KICK stats. They want to get the ball quick and are able to take it from you and keep it away. On the flipside, they are weak in the damage department, and try to play around this by being quite hard to pin down and controlling their opponents in other ways.
Most of their players have a momentous dodge in the first or second column of their playbooks (which are quite low on damage results). Character plays usually involve movement or ball control.
Fishermen might suit you if you:
  • prefer to be the aggressive actor rather the reactor
  • prefer to win almost entirely by goals and thus don't mind having poor damage output
  • like pirates, scullywags and norwegians


Melee Damage - 3
Ranged Damage - 5
Ball Control - 7
Speed - 5
Toughness - 6
Special - 4
Engineers are the “ranged” guild of the game. In an absolute sense, they are not that amazing at ranged (see the score of 5/10 above), but relative to other guilds have a lot more options in that department. On average they are weak in combat (low TAC scores) and don’t have many amazing tricks (besides blowing things up), but have the skills to move the ball up field and score while slowly grinding down an opponent at range.  Season 2 models bring their football game up to the high score given here.Tackle and push/dodge results are dominant in their playbooks, while character plays are usually focused ranged damage and minor control. 

Engineers might suit you if you:
  • like the idea of a ranged team with control elements and good football skills
  • want to generally avoid scrapping it out in melee
  • like the steampunk aesthetic and don't mind the Collosus model :)


Melee Damage - 5
Ranged Damage - 3
Ball Control - 6
Speed - 6
Toughness - 3
Special - 7
Alchemists are ideally focused on board control via AoEs and stacking conditions and debuffs on the enemy to gain advantage and move around the board without getting wasted (see low Toughness score), or inflict multiple small chunks of damage. However this playstyle has not quite gelled in Season 1. As a result, most of the strong Alchemist teams have focused on using captain Midas as a super solo, together with striker Vitriol (both excellent football players) and a selection of Union representatives. Season 2 brings new options to conditions game, allowing existing synergies and combos to become viable and making all-Alchemist teams a lot more attractive.
Their playbooks feature a good mix of skills, with a good spread of damage, while character plays are usually condition-inflicting.

Alchemists might suit you if you:
  • like the idea of condition and AoE based gameplay
  • can live with the idea of having a relatively fragile team if you get caught out
  • love victorian-era high fashion and the periodic table


Melee Damage - 6
Ranged Damage - 1
Ball Control - 6
Speed - 5
Toughness - 6
Special – 6
Masons are the jack-of-all-trades toolbox team, being good but not great at almost everything (except the ranged game). They are flexible in play and built a bit like a swiss army knife, relying on highly specialized players for specific roles and specific synergies. If you can sufficiently support the right player at the right time, they can get the job done for you.  The one thing most of their players have in common is low DEF but high ARM scores.
Their playbooks are also quite diverse, with a good spread of abilities, and momentous results low on the playbook . Their character plays are as varied as you would expect from these jack of all trades.

Masons might suit you if you:
  • prefer tactical flexibility and a team of specialists
  • are willing to sacrifice strategic determination  (ie. being excellent at any given aspect of the game)
  • think that steel plate armour and swoon-worthy men go hand-in-hand


Melee Damage - 6
Ranged Damage - 2
Ball Control - 4
Speed - 4
Toughness - 6
Special - 8
Morticians are the control team par excellence. They aren’t particularly great at damage or playing football on the whole, but they can screw with you enough to throw you off your game enough to bring you below them and beat you where you are weak. Examples of their tricks include moving your models, stealing your resources or reducing your stats. If you love playing tempo control or messing with your opponent in a calculated fashion, Morticians are your team.
Their playbooks are generally weaker and less focused than other teams (relatively less momentous and joint results), and their character plays are mostly about screwing with the other team.

Morticians might suit you if you:
  • derive pleasure from the suffering of others
  • love tricks and sneaky tactics more than raw ability
  • are the person that always picks the 'undead army' in any game


Melee Damage - 7
Ranged Damage - 2
Ball Control - 5
Speed - 3
Toughness - 8
Special - 5
Brewers are the grinders and tanks of the game. Most of their models have large health pools and good resistance to damage, while being able to deal very solid damage themselves. The downside to this of course is that they are not particularly great at scoring fast goals outside their dedicated strikers. One thing that does stand out with Brewers is that almost all their Season 1 players have heroic plays (which cost momentum rather than influence) - as a result, once they get going in a turn and racking up momentum, they can really get some work done and pull out surprise plays.
Their playbooks are generally straight forward and shorter than other teams (much potential for wraparounds) and have a lot of momentous KD and push results, while the character plays are mostly subtle buff/debuff abilities.

Brewers might suit you if you:
  • love a good scrap and want a team that can take a beating
  • prefer to focus on takeouts and grind rather than scoring and speed
  • like alcohol, douchy cats, and copious amounts of facial hair


Melee Damage - 8
Ranged Damage - 3
Ball Control - 4
Speed - 6
Toughness - 5
Special – 4
Butchers are the archetypal fighting team, with the highest average TAC scores. They can stack damage like nobody else and roll up huge momentum in combat, and are one of the few teams that can reliably take out almost any player in 1-2 activations. The downside is that while they can deal out a lot of damage, they are not especially great at taking it back or maintaining control of the ball.
Their playbooks are chock full of momentous damage results, and most of their character plays revolve around this as well.

Butchers might suit you if you:
  • are all about that damage and stacking buffs
  • are willing to have a weak football game and give up sneaky tricks for that damage
  • Think that Jack the Ripper films, games and literature is awesome

Union numbers vary due to the flexibility of the models

Melee Damage - 4-7
Ranged Damage - 1-3
Ball Control - 3-7
Speed - 3-6
Toughness - 3-6
Special - 3-6
Union was the strongest team in the game in Season 1 - not only under Blackheart (who is arguably the best captain in the game) but also within other teams. This is clear in the number of Union models that received nerfs at the end of Season 1 in order to bring them in line with the rest of the game.
Even with this, they have access to excellent damage, resilience and ball control. The only issue really is that you cannot take everything you want! As a whole, although the Union has access to some very strong individual players, they lack strong synergies relative to Guild teams which can hold them back in certain gameplay situations.

Union might suit you if you:
  • prefer individual greatness over team strategy and have access to a wide range of playstyles
  • can't get no satisfaction
  • are inclined to like suave characters in nice outfits.

Information, reformated:

Melee Damage - the ability to deal damage in melee:
  1. Butchers – 8
  2. Brewers – 7
  3. Masons / Morticians – 6
  4. Alchemists – 5
  5. Fishermen  / Engineers – 3
Ranged Damage – ability to deal damage at range:
  1. Engineers –  5
  2. Butchers / Alchemists – 3
  3. Brewers  / Morticians –  2
  4. Fishermen / Masons –  1
Ball Control – ability to move, retrieve and protect the ball:
  1. Fishermen –  8
  2. Engineers –  7
  3. Masons –  6 / Alchemists –  6
  4. Brewers –  5
  5. Butchers / Morticians – 4
Speed – ability to move around the battlefield:
  1. Fishermen – 8
  2. Alchemists  / Butchers –  6
  3. Masons / Engineers – 5
  4. Morticians – 4
  5. Brewers –  3
Toughness – ability to soak up damage:
  1. Brewers – 8
  2. Engineers / Masons  / Morticians – 6
  3. Fishermen / Butchers – 5
  4. Alchemists – 3
Special – things that do not fit in the above ie. Denial and control mechanics, conditions, resource manipulation, etc.
  1. Morticians – 8
  2. Alchemists – 7
  3. Masons – 6
  4. Brewers / Fishermen – 5
  5. Butchers / Engineers – 4