I am a big fan of Tasty Minstrel Games. I have Orleans and Eminent Domain and love them both. When I saw a run through of Guilds of London, I had to have it. I have not always been in favor of area control games due to most of them needing a random dice roll in order to win. Since dice and I have a love/hate relationship, I have always steered away from area control games. I have found a new love for area control games since joining the hobby, due to new mechanisms that are more based on strategy than random rolling. Tony Boydell did some interesting things with the design of Guilds of London that had me hooked from the first time I saw it. Did it live up to my expectations?
Guilds of London
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Designer: Tony Boydell
Time: 45 min
During the late medieval and early modern periods of time, London has been the most influential and richest city in England. The city was dominated by Guilds. These Guilds controlled many aspects of every day Londoners lives. They influenced trade, the manufacturing of goods and businesses due to their wealth and power. In Guilds of London, you play as a new wealthy investor trying to persuade these guilds to work for you so that you can become the most influential nobleman in the city of London. The game is played over a certain number of rounds based on player count and the person with the most points at the end of the game will be the winner.
At the beginning of the game you set up the city of London differently each time. A three or four player game is set up the exact same way while the 2 player game is different. In all three instances you have to set up the city of London using tiles. The Guildhall and London are always in the middle and then you randomly place other areas, shops, and buildings around the Guildhall. These tiles will be the areas that you want to control throughout the game. Each tile has a certain amount of Guilds associated with it. There are a total of five guilds in the game. You know the guilds that associate with the tile based on the flags that are printed on the tiles. Some have only one guild while others have four guilds on them. Each tile has the chance to be scored at the end of each round. A tile will score if there are enough liverymen on the tile. The number is also different from location to location. Each player starts with 4 liverymen in the Guildhall, seven action cards and 1 mayor card. The mayor cards are used for bonus scoring at the end of the game.
The meat of the game consists of multi-use cards…..an immediate bonus for me! I love me some multi-use cards! On your turn you will play as many cards from your hand as you want. With these cards you can do one of 3 actions. The first action you can do is to add a liveryman to the guildhall. You can discard any card to take this action. The second action you can do is move a liveryman. Each card has a guild that they represent. To move a liveryman you simply play a card with a specific color and move a liveryman to a location that has the same color of guild on it. You have to use liverymen who are in the guildhall or at another location. The last action you can do with your cards is play the action on a given card. Along with a guild, each card also has a special ability on it. In order to play an ability you have to pay the cost, this is usually done by discarding other cards in your hand. These abilities can be pretty powerful so the cost is greater than normal actions.
There is a special area that you can only get to by using special abilities on cards. The plantation tile on the main scoring board can only be reached in this way. You can also not take liverymen off of this tile without a special action. This tile can be very powerful and worth a lot of points. At the end of your turn you draw cards. Two cards if you played any cards this round and four cards if you passed and played no cards. This is not a horrible thing! There are times when it only makes sense to pass.
At the end of every round you look to see if any tiles need to be resolved. You go in order from left to right top to bottom of each row. For every tile that meets or exceeds the amount of liverymen needed, they will be resolved. It is pretty simple, who ever has the most liverymen on the tile wins the first place prize. Who ever has the second most gets the second place prize. Oh did I mention that there are neutral liverymen? During the game you might get to hire neutral liverymen, the black ones. Before every resolution tile, you take turns on whether you want to exchange a player liveryman for a neutral liveryman. So, even though you think you have the majority on a tile, if someone else has a neutral liveryman, they can take yours off and then have the majority. But then you might have neutrals and take his off, once again gaining the majority. It is a really nice battle within a battle system that works quite well, when the opportunity arises! If players are tied then the tie breaker is adjacent Masters. It it is still tied, the tile is unresolved and kept for the next round. After a tile is resolved, each player gets the associated prizes for the tile and the tile is flipped over. The winning player places one of his liverymen, that he used, on the tile to signal that he won that tile. These are good for end game bonuses that you might get from the Mayor cards.
The end game points come from adjacent Master pawns that you have give you one point and the Mayor cards. After that the player with the most points wins!
The components are great. I like the size of the liverymen. The tiles are nice and thick. Everything is big! The one tick it did get reduced was the iconography. There is a lot!! It takes you a good half of the game or more to start understanding what everything means and how to use the abilities on the cards. There are player sheets that explaine what each card does but only 2 of them. So, throughout the game you are looking at the sheet if there is even one available. It would have been nice if there were more player sheets. Once you understand the language of the icons, that no longer is an issue.
In my opinion this is where the game shines for me. There are tons of mechanisms in this game that appeal to me. First, the multi-use cards. There is some really tough decisions that you need to make with these cards. Some times you will get cards that don’t always match what you would like to do, but that’s okay, there are tons of rounds that you have to use them. But to think about and discover the extra tactic in the cards that you have is a major part of the fun of the game. I love how the city grows throughout the game. Every three rounds you will add new tiles to the city for people to fight over. Such a cool way to add more variety with each play, not knowing which tiles will come up or not. I love that the second place points on a tile might be higher than the first place. First place will get an extra ability but second will get more points. I also love the neutral liverymen that you can exchange for other liverymen. This adds another layer to the strategy of when to use them and for what tile. They can be hard to come by, as there are only 2 neutral liveryman per player that are available, but when you get them they make a big difference.
Okay, this is the disappointing part of the game for me. The multi-use cards saved this category. The actual game play was much less strategic than I thought it was going to be. Many of the mechanisms that make this game great are also what hinder this area in my rating. Let’s start with the growing city each round. As the rules state, in a 3 player game you add 5 new tiles, and in a 4 player game you add 6 new tiles. This is way too many! If you knew someone was going to win a tile, why challenge him if there are so many other tiles you could go too. Every one that I have played this with has mentioned that there are too many tiles to use. Especially in a 2 player game where you start the city in a 5 by 5 grid and add no new tiles. There is hardly any player interaction. Some tiles are far better than others so you might see some fighting for those but chances are there is another one that is just as good. The mayor cards also hinder player interaction. I might have the card that means I want yellow guilds at the end of the game while someone else might have the card that has the blue guilds. On to neutral liverymen……when someone has neutral liverymen and you don’t…..why even bother going on a space that he is on? If you have as many liverymen on it as his, you know he is going to just bump one of your guys off. If you just put one on there then he can be a total douche and kick your one guy off not giving you anything. So, what we have found is once someone gets neutral liverymen, they tend to keep them until the very end, meaning they never use them so chances of other people getting them are slim. This was so disappointing! If there were more neutral liverymen available it would not be such a big deal, but since there are so few and once players have them, chances of them losing them are very slim, they just don’t seem to encourage player interaction. Due to these two huge issues the strategy was disappointing. After writing this it should actually be a 2 but I will keep it at a three for now. Changing the number of tiles that come out each growth phase would be simple to do.
There is still enough difference in each game that makes you want to play more. There are always new tiles that come out and things look different. This is also a pretty quick area control game that you hammer out in about 45 minutes if everyone knows what they are doing. I can see us playing this game often if some of the rules are changed to make it have more player interaction.
Final Thoughts: 16/20
I like Guilds of London. I like the fact that it has many unique mechanisms to make it different from other area control games. I like that it is a quick game for the most part, if you play with others that have played before. It really is a solid game! Another bonus is that all the games we have played the scores have been very close. There are some issues I have with it. I wish it was more strategic in what tiles people fight for. There just seems to be too many things fighting against player interaction, including mayor cards, neutral liverymen and too many tiles throughout the game. For now, I will keep it for what it is, a laid back area control game with a quick play time. This game had a chance to be great but in the end it is just a solid game.