Monday, November 19, 2018

Board Game Review: Guild Ball

Strolling through the aisles at GenCon, my eyes were drawn in by an assembly of striking miniatures arranged in face offs on a demo table, with pools of beautiful dice and other color coordinated accessories nearby. I made my way over to the publisher’s booth to get more details on the game, which revealed itself to be Guild Ball. The good folks at Steamforged Games spent a lot of time going over the game play, explaining the ins and outs of movement, measurements, initiative, conditions, and more. It all seemed very complicated but I was sure a lot of that had to do with the background noise at the convention making it difficult to concentrate. While I don’t have any experience with minis-facing-off-on-measured-terrain games like Warhammer or similar,  I’ve played many heavy Euro board games and have no problem following the rules, so I reasoned that Guild Ball couldn’t be that difficult to master. The team provided me a generous review copy package including all components needed for a 2 player game, as well as extra dice, accessories, and a full color hardbound rulebook. They assured me that the game was a fine choice for beginners to the genre – just assemble the unpainted minis (paint if you’d like – optional), review the rules, setup the game, and you’re off and running an exciting game of Guild Ball! I admired the beautiful miniatures on the demo table one more time before I left the convention center. Would the game be as fun when playing with unpainted minis I’d assembled at home instead of the beautifully embellished pieces used at the demo table? I’m no artist; even watching YouTube videos of painstakingly detailed miniature painting sessions makes me tired and so I knew there was no way I was going to paint any of the pieces. Unpainted minis would just have to do.
A few weeks later I reached out to my local gaming community to gauge interest in the game and recruit an opponent to come over and play Guild Ball. We set a date and when the day arrived, my recruit, John, arrived and we sat down to review the rule book in prep for playing. John, who is well experienced with this style of battle on terrain game, thumbed through the rules and announced with a sigh that there was no way we could play Guild Ball that afternoon. “I am going to need time to really go through this book,” he said. “There are so many detailed rules with nuance and convolutions, there is no way I can figure this out right now in this moment.” As he was explaining this to me, I was opening the box of miniature figures and realizing that they had to be glued and not just snapped together. While John took his time reviewing the rules and watching some how-to videos on YouTube, I would need to procure some glue and get the figures assembled. We settled on a new date a couple weeks down the line to regroup and attempt to play again. So far so good.
Over the next two weeks I invested a lot of time trying to assemble the Guild Ball figures. I purchased a generalized glue that purported to be effective on metal. I carefully glued the pieces (still ended up getting plenty on my hands – working with tiny figures is hard) and as soon as the glue dried, the pieces came apart. Frustrated I tried again, using more glue, thinking I just hadn’t applied enough. Nope, same result. I went online and read glue reviews. Glue reviews! Did you even know there was such a thing? I purchased the glue most highly recommended for metal figures and when it arrived I read the directions three times to make sure I applied it correctly. I had to be much more careful not to get this glue on my hands so the work was slower going. The glue dried, and most of the pieces fell apart as soon as it did. Then I tried superglue. I managed to glue my shirt to my index finger but I still couldn’t glue the pieces effectively. Frustrated, I googled “Guild Ball figures are hard to glue” and found several hits from forums with gamers discussing the lengths they’ve needed to go to in order to glue the figures properly. The consensus for the metal figures seemed to be that sanding was necessary and perhaps soldering was the best bet. As soon as I read that I panicked. Sanding and soldering would take this from a simple game to an art project. I didn’t want to put that much time and effort into playing the game. What happened to this being a great game for beginners?
I called up John and told him our replay date was off and explained what happened. Then I put the word out in my gaming community that anyone who could give all the Guild Ball components I’d been gifted a good home could come and claim them. I made a miniature hobbyist very happy that afternoon as he was beyond excited to receive the full box of components in new condition. I’ve carried the guilt of letting down the publisher ever since. I was never able to play the game and give it the adequate review that I promised. The only comment I can leave, in fairness, is this:
Guild Ball is NOT a game for beginners to the genre. The miniature assembly is difficult and fiddly, even for advanced mini hobbyists and the rules are complicated.
And here’s an interesting update to the story – I was telling this story to a fellow reviewer this week who happens to have a moderate amount of experience with minis and they asked me if I’d remembered to wash the minis with soap and water before attempting to glue them. “Wash them?" Why?”, I asked. They explained that metal miniatures are coated with a release agent that helps them come out of their molds during manufacturing. The agent prevents anything from properly sticking to the minis, including glue or paint. I had to laugh. I had been thwarted by something so simple and somehow none of the articles I’d read on glue rankings included information on release agents. But given the numerous posts by experts on how hard Guild Ball pieces are to glue, I suspect I still would have experienced problems even if I’d known enough to wash them. I read this week that Steamforged Games is now shifting to plastic minis for Guild Ball and I can’t help but to assume that part of that is to address the difficulties in assembly (I’m sure the other part is to lower production costs).
Publisher: Steamforged Games
Players: 1-4
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): Unknown
Game type: dice rolling, action point allowance
Rating: Withheld, as I was unable to complete a play of the game.

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