Before I begin, I was provided a review copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would rather watch a video of this review check it out below. Learn more about the game here, and get your own copy online or at your FLGS.
“Hey Hungry! Wanna play a game? It has a fantasy theme and…oh you are already at the table and waiting.” Guilty as charged. If a game has a fantasy theme, I am pretty much always going to be interested in trying it out. So needless to say, when I was asked if I was interested in checking out Guild Master I was game.
Now to be fair, I did actually check out how the game, and I was legitimately interested in it based off the mechanics and gameplay…but mostly it was theme. Though I enjoy engine builders, I actually do not have many in my collections, nor do I have many games with a blind bidding system that I think really sing.
In Guild Master you are a, wait for it, guild master. Your goal is to become the most famous adventuring guild of them all. To do that, over the course of 9 rounds you will make improvements to your guild hall, hire new adventurers, complete jobs with said adventurers, and occasionally just send them to look for trouble.
Each round you will set a number of orders (dependent on how you have improved your guildhall), and each order will be filled by adventurers from your guild. To keep it interesting all the players will be selecting all their orders at the same time, and they will all be carried out at the same time as well.
What this means is that there will be times when both your guild and another guild will show up to do the same thing. When this happens your uber confident heroes, entitled legends, or chip on the shoulder neophytes just have a rational conversation and work it out. Not even a little. Of course they fight over it. Sometimes it is as simple as rolling skill checks based on your heroes to get priority, or other times you have to start throwing cold hard cash at the adventurers you are trying to hire, or on a rare occasion you might fight each other, while you are trying to complete a contract.
There is more to it of course. There are events that will break the rules of the game, and make your lives easier or harder. There are issues that must be dealt with based on the phase of the moon, and you just might run across a labor shortage, and not be able to build anything whatsoever.
At the end of the ninth round, whomever has the most fame points is the winner.
So what do I think?
I love, love, love the artwork in this game. The heroes all have real character to them, and the diversity on this game in just fantastic. Pretty much all of the complaints I ever have about fantasy art are non issues in this game.
Along with that the info placed on the inside of your player screens is absolutely brilliant. It is the best player aid I can remember having. Another production homerun is the way the coins are made. Rather than just putting different numbers on the coins, they are cut so it looks like each one is multiple different coins. I love it.
Now production aside I think this game is very smart. It truly has managed to realize its theme in fun ways, even down to the mundane. Every time you hire builders, if feels like you are off to hire day laborers, and the more demand the more expensive they are, every time two guilds try to do the same thing the way the conflicts are resolved are unique depending on the situation, and thematically appropriate.
However, what I like the most is that you are constantly faced with very hard choices. Do you want to try to upgrade your guild which will give you some serious bonuses down the road, but might put you in a hole now? Or do you want to just make the best with what you have and try to get some jobs done asap, relying on quantity over quality. Speaking of the choices you make, sometimes you discover that you cannot actually do what you were planning on doing, but not to fear, you can always send your adventurers out to wander, so you never have a completely wasted turn.
The game can feel pretty aggressive at times, and could lead to some bad feelings depending on your temperament. Many of the contracts have rewards that directly attack other guilds. While I would not call this a mean game, there are moments where it can feel that way. Just something to watch for.
Also while I really like the art overall, I am left wanting more when it comes to the action cards, and contract cards. Though they are very clear, I wish they were even close to as exciting to look at as the rest of the game.
There is bonkers potential for analysis paralysis in this game. As I mentioned above the choices are all hard, but then you get to mix into it a healthy dose of supposition, as you try to guess what it is that your opponents are trying to do, this makes the options seem endless.
I am also terribly sad that there is not solo AI for this game. The ability to play solo would be great, but even moreso to have the ability to add an AI opponent to a 2-3 player game to have a larger game would just be so fantastic.
Bringing it all together
Guild Master is a delightful engine building, resource management, blind bidding game. All of these elements seamlessly integrate with each other to create a wonderfully thematically realized game. You really do start to feel like you are the admin in charge of this guild trying to wrangle all the egos, and budgets to keep things running smoothly, and hoping that your dumb adventurers do not start brawling in the streets. Mechanically the game does just about everything right, though I do desperately wish there was an AI available for the game. The production is good, and the artwork is absolutely fantastic, particularly its representation of women, and its diversity. The game does occasionally feel a bit mean, and has good potential for analysis paralysis to be an issue, if your groups are prone to that. I enjoy this game enough that it just might wind up on my top games of the year list, it is that fun.
While we are reading that hot garbage, other guilds are completing jobs!
* Great art, and good production
* Incredible diversity, and representation of women
* Theme really comes through in the game
* Mechanically very tight game, which makes every round filled with tough choices
* Game can feel mean at times
* How I wish there was an AI available
* Game can suffer from analysis paralysis