Guilds from Giochi Uniti and designed by Christian Giove can be found online and at your local game store for aRound €40.00 - €50.00. There are many Euro-style games that from the outside look similar, the market scene on the front cover for instance, but that colourful illustration, by Federico Musetti, is one that will always draw board game players to it when it is on a games store shelf.
Guilds is a 90-120 minute game for 2-4 players and like most Euro games that state they are good for 2 players this is about the same as most of those Euro games; it can be played by two players but is far less satisfying than it is with three or four players.
The rules booklets - there are two booklets (Guide to the Rules and The Almanac.) and a double-sided stiff card reference sheet - in the English version are a translation from their original Italian and although you can eventually decipher what you have to do, there are several passages and 'mechanic' rules that suffer discrepancy due to the translation.
Guide to the Rules
This is a folded sheet of glossy A3 paper pages numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4. Then there is a similar folded sheet, numbered pages the same, only this is an Almanac, a detailed description of the rules in the other folded sheet/s. I first wondered why these two were seperated 'booklets' instead of being an 8 page rules book, I thought it would be easier to have a single rules book, but actually having two small booklets actually means one of the players can read the rules aloud while another player can peruse the second booklet; a third can study the reference sheets (leaving the fourth player to make the coffee and put the crisps on plates/in bowls. Very well designed! With so few pages of rules Guilds should be an easy game to get started, but with the inconsistencies in those rules it took us a while for our first game to get off the gRound. From then on it was plain sailing for once you know the rules and what some of the wording means then they don't change.
Each player has their own board onto which they will build their Guilds HeadQuarters by placing single or double sized tiles purchased during the 'Construction' Phase of the Player's Turn; the Phases being Collect Income (this being the 10 Silver from their Entrance Hall - all players begin with a double-length Entrance Hall tile) plus any Silver or Gold awarded from the Character cards owned. Then a number of Small and Large Room tiles are revealed and will be available for purchase (using only Gold) during the aforementioned Construction Phase. Now begins the most intriguing and strategic part of each Round; the Auction.
The hexagonal central board represents the Market, and depending on the number of players and pre-agreed setup, a number of Character cards are laid out one or two against the predetermined sides of the hex. Each section of the hex (there are lines drawn from the corners to the centre as if cutting a pizza pie) has market stalls in the colours of the players and it is on these stalls that the Auction takes place. This is a clever, and to me a new and novel way to conduct an Auction. Players MUST bid on TWO Characters (unless only two Characters remain in the Auction) in different segments of the 'pie'. To place a bid the players have to put Silver on their personal stalls that is larger than the current largest bid on any of the stalls in that segment. Because Silver is fairly hard to come by and you need to be able to transform your Silver into Gold (5 Silver to One Gold) so you can purchase Room Tiles, you have to be clever, liberal and conservative in your bidding.
Room tiles have small icons on them denoting what part of the Guildhall they belong to. Mouse (empty Room), 2-wheeled car (Courtyard), Knife & Fork (Dining Room), 2-Handled Cooking Pot (Kitchen), Tree (Garden) and Bed (BedRoom). There is also a beautiful blue Diamond which can be found next to the icon in any Room, it upgrades the Room from regular to elite, generally meaning it costs more and has a larger PP (Prestige Points) value. Tiles bought have to be placed onto your Guildhall card and must conform to the building regulations as far as doors and postitioning go.
Money is open on the table so you can see what each player has got (at least that's how we play it) and thus determine whether you can win a bid or perhaps drive the cost of the Characters up. If there are two Characters adjacent to a segment then the winner of the bid has the choice of which of the Characters they want.
Bidding is very cleverly handled. On your Turn you place two bids, each player having a chance to bid in their Turn. When it comes back Round to your Turn, if you are the highest bidder on any of the Characters you can spend your bidding Silver and take the Character (or choose one of the two available). If you are the highest bidder on more than one of the segments then you must choose which segment to purchase from, you may only obtain one Character a Turn. This bidding mechanic is canny and both strategic and tactical.
The Characters all belong to Factions, these being represented by coloured 'faction' seals with each colour representing a different one of the seven available: Red (Warriors), Blue (Wizards), Black (Shades), Purple (Noblemen), Green (Priests), Brown (Craftsmen) and Grey (animals); obviously animals are not in a Guild or Faction but they can become 'pets' of Characters and then they count as a member of their 'owner's' Faction in the player's Guild.
Character cards are a mite confusing at first, at least they were to us during our first game. My first Character was the Rare Objects Dealer whose special skill or ability is that his Silver income is equal to one per every Wizard in my Guild (I should clarify here that each player has their own Guild and they accept Characters from every persuasion (aka Faction) into it). I was looking for Characters with the word 'Wizard' in their name and it took me half the game to realise it meant Characters with the Blue (Wizard Faction) seal.
After Construction the final Phase of the Round is known as the End of the Week. Starting with the First Player each person has the opportunity to place a Silver coin on any one of the Rooms that didn't sell this Round. This is a deposit which is lost to the player and goes back to supply, but what it does is to prevent the Room being discarded so that it is available for the next Round. Then the next Round begins with any Character cards remaining being discarded and all Silver is reTurned to the bank, remembering to give the first player token to the person who ended the Round with the most Silver in hand.
There are a couple of points about this final Phase that need clarification. First is that there is no rule stating that any Room tiles that remained from the previous Round due to a one Silver deposit are part of the number of tiles available. For example; four small and two large tiles are available at the start of the Round. At the end of the Round there is one large and 2 small that haven't been bought. Two players place a Silver coin each on the large tile and one of the small tiles. The small tile with no Silver is discarded the other two tiles remain. At the start of the next Round do you take another 4 small and 2 large tiles, adding them to those held back, or do you only take 3 small (+1) and one large (+1) tiles using those remaining to make up the 4 and 2 tiles the rules say are taken from the two stacks to begin the Round.?
Secondly. We have found that going first is a huge advantage because you get the first opportunity to control the Auction, and this is where the game is won or lost. If you not only go first but also have the 'PickPocket' Character then you have an even better chance to control the game. The PickPocket steals one Silver from any player chosen by its owner, One Silver doesn't sound much but it canbe the difference between successful bidding or being able to exchange 5 Silver for one Gold - note, even those this next rule is illogical it is one that makes you think; you can change 5 Silver for one Gold but you cannot exchange one Gold for 5 Silver - unless you have a specific ability you can never exchange Gold for Silver.
Going last is a nightmare. To keep in the game you need to buy Characters and Rooms but as you are always playing catch-up on the Auction and are last at the Room sales the other players are getting better opportunities to build up their Guild and Guildhall and it is quite easy for them to keep you in the last position. We think that the first player should go Round in Turn order as that would make strategies a little easier to form and attempt to pull off.
Apart from the Characters and the Rooms there are objectives. A number of tiles are randomly drawn from the objective card deck and their awards are handed out at the end of the game as bonuses. The player's Guild with the most Wizards, the Guild with the most Members, the Guild with the lowest income in Silver etc etc there are 12 available but not all are in play each game so a good shuffle ensures each game has different objectives.
This brings me neatly to the abilities on the Character cards. Having played several times now, and thoroughly enjoyed the game despite the occasional frustration and irritability over the rules, we as a group believe the Characters to not be fairly balanced; there are combinations which can be deadly and over which you may not have any chance of preventing arising. There is at least one Character card whose ability is in need of clarification. The Transmuter can change Silver to Gold at the rate of 3 Silver equals one Gold and can indeed change one Gold into 3 Silver. This isn't marked as a once per Round card as many other powerful cards are and it doesn't confirm that you can only make the change once per Turn. With other players having to change 5 Silver for a Gold and Rooms only available for Gold never for Silver, this is possibly the most powerful card in the deck unless it is a 3 for 1 deal once per Round. For example the Court Treasurer's card specifically says 'During the Money Phase, you may purchase Gold coins for 4 Silver each' whereas the Transmuter says 'Pay 3 Silver to receive 1 Gold' - it's a grey area. I believed it should be 3 for 1 once a Turn whereas I was outvoted for 3 for 1 can be done whenever you want as there is no stipulation as to when the transaction can occur whereas the Court Treasurer's card is quite distinct in what you can do and when you can do it.
A couple of the Character cards actually give their owner a Gold every Round and that is hugely advantageous as Rooms can only be bought with Gold - Rooms cost between 1 and 7 Gold and can give extra bonuses as well as PPs. When counting up each Round remember that some Rooms also have Faction seals that may count as a Faction towards the ability of a Character card.
Seeing as the English Translation was by Wabbit Translations and the English Language Editing was by William Niebling (son of Will Niebling ex of Mayfair Games) I am surprised at the number of hiccups found throughout the rules and the cards. Nothing particularly serious but some, like the one above, in definite need of clarification. Like many games the scoring mechanism isn't exactly straightforward but at the end of it there is a count up of Prestige Points and the player with the most is the winner.
The lead can change with each Round, though do try to make the First Turn a little fairer - perhaps the player who gains the least Silver during the start of the Round would at least give them a chance for gaining the least Silver usually means they are player who is most likely to be going last using the 'most Silver at Round end' rule because they generally cannot afford to save any Silver.
Overall though this is a very good, interesting and fun game. There are, as I say, a few discretions in the translation that need discussion prior to playing so that all players are on the same page as to what each tile/card/rule means, but that aside with its excellent design, quality components and fast but thoughtful Turn play it is different enough from other Euro Games to ensure all players are well and truly entertained by it.