It is time for another article about the Butcher’s Guild, wherein I enthusiastically discuss all manner of exciting topics about my favourite Guild! This time rather than focusing on a single player as I’ve done in my previous articles, this time I want to talk about the strategy of actually playing a game of Guild Ball using Butchers. This article is attempting to be a “high-level” article targeted at tournament play.
The more I play Guild Ball, the more excited I get about discovering the intricacies of the game. I want to compare it to one of the other games I am familiar with, Warmachine, because I think it is important to see how different a mindset approach Guild Ball is. In Warmachine you can look through the pieces available to your faction, and analyse how those things work together in effective ways. Usually this will flow from your Warcaster or Warlock, as their direct synergies will often influence which models you choose. You can focus on a neat combination of abilities because you absolutely know, without any shadow of a doubt that you can utilise all your models in the correct order to make sure that things will happen, since during your turn, you are the one pushing the models around. There is little to no interaction with your opponent during your own turn, outside of querying their stats, or ensuring that you both agree on a distance etc. It increases the skill cap and rewards those with patience and practice and the ability to understand their own mistakes, and knowledge of their opponents models. Whilst Warmachine requires you to reassess how things are going at stages during your turn, based on the success of various dice rolls, or actions, the very best Warmachine players will always, always have a backup plan, and can basically just follow a formula and that will result in success. It is an attractive game in that regard, because it truly rewards the most studious and dedicated players.
Guild Ball is a completely different style of game, and as a result it rewards different skillsets. Looking through the Character Traits and Plays of the team, and you can immediately see lots of fantastic combinations. Here is the first one I was excited to play with: Meathook Tools up Boar, Boiler Marks Target and Boar charges 10″ and smashes the enemy model!!! AMAZING! I set out to play my first game and use this mad strategy and I got to step two in my foolproof plan, at which point my opponent walked the model backwards to 10.1″ away from Boar. It was the first “huh… well shit…” moment I had during the learning period, although it certainly wasnt the last. Guild Ball is not a game that you can go into with a structured game plan. As I’ve said elsewhere, it is an ever evolving game that requires constant reevaluation. In a way, every single activation is like a new turn in Warmachine, where you have to reset your plan and determine what is the most important thing for you to achieve. However, you cannot change your Influence allocation mid turn, which is one of the key components of the game, and therefore one of the most important learning points in becoming a good player. I will come back to that later on in the article.
The Overarching Strategy
So if you cannot start a game with a specific game plan in mind, how do you formulate an overarching strategy? It is a complex question, but we can start with the basic components and work from there. I think everyone knows that each of the Guilds has something that they specialise in, and for the Butchers it is taking out players. Despite this, do not think going into a game thinking “I am going to win because I takeout six enemy players” is what you should focus on. Remember, the game state is so fluctuating that if you do not adapt to what is actually happening, you will probably lose. This team is dedicated to delivering ALL of the pain and it is concentrated around Ox, the captain. And that is where I begin with trying to create some structure in the ebb and flow of Guild Ball.
Your game needs to revolve around Ox. Your team needs to be positioning relative to where Ox is, or where Ox will be. There is no use trying to spread across the pitch and try and prevent goals by denying board space. You will get isolated into situations where you are outnumbered and overrun, or the opposing team will simply dodge through and score a quick goal. Whilst the roster for Butchers includes some respectable defensive players, they will not stand up to any concentrated damage output if they are Knocked Down, or being Crowded. The obvious Owner aura benefit notwithstanding, keeping your team close together allows you to react when someone is engaged, and assist with Ganging Up bonuses. Sometimes I try to use decoy players, traditionally ones with good speed and maneuverability, Shank for example. By keeping them on the flanks, that can draw players off to him, at which point dodging away and getting back into the bunker will generate an overlap. When he does come back into that area, with his 2″ reach he can create more Crowding penalties and make it more difficult to engage the rest of the team. Shank can also be a floating player that opportunistically goes for the ball to steal possession, perhaps pass back to the bunker or even go for a shot on goal.
When things do begin to get up close and personal, it is important to concentrate your damage on single targets. By focusing on one model, it makes it much harder for the opponent to use momentum to clear off damage easily. It also has the advantage of giving you Ganging up Bonuses, and this translates to more dice being rolling, and more damage. At times it will be beneficial to spread your damage around, Meathook for example, any damage causing attack she makes will cause Bleed. Spreading her attacks around multiple targets, and then using her Heroic Play is one example of a time that spreading damage will garner a positive result.
So then how do you pin down a team like Fishermen who refuse to stand up and fight you? This one seems like a difficult one, especially as those teams often wont need to engage to build momentum. However the one advantage you have is once they have scored a goal, you get to kick the ball back on the table, and then have an activation. This allows you to take possession, and ideally, control the ball in the centre of the Butcher bunker you have created. If their only avenue of winning the game is possession of the ball and scoring, then you have to focus on denying them that for as long as possible. Make them come into you, and least if they manage to steal possession back, you will be in a position to punish that player for it. I have tried keeping the ball away from other players, being carried by Princess or dropped off back behind my lines, and I found that in almost all cases, my opponent was able to avoid the main thrust of the fighting and focus their attention on retrieving the ball. Distance will not keep the ball safe, unless you are fighting another team that is focused on takeouts.
The terrain rules in Guild Ball are very simple, but quite elegant in how they can impact on the game. Butchers are a team that can gain a lot of benefit from staying around an Obstruction, as even an opponent that benefiting from Cover will still have a lot of dice rolled against them, thanks to the natively high TAC of the Butchers. There are a couple of less obvious benefits to playing around Obstructions, such as the potential for failed passes to stop if they cross over them, and also being able to push players into positions where they are unable to move out. One other benefit of standing your ground and forcing opposing teams to come to you is a very important one, and it is one that can come as a surprise. If you are too aggressive against a team with decent melee capabilities (ie, everyone bar Fish), and push too deep into enemy lines, your success at taking out players will actually result in a net negative result. Every turn if you take out two players, and your opponent takes out one, due to the way Icy Sponge works both of those players will come on, and be able to attack your force immediately. Your single player who was taken out however, will need to spend a turn, or even two turns sprinting to reach the action. What will tend to happen then is things will snowball from there, as your opponent is able to use his resources in a more concentrated space, and every takeout for him is almost like a Casket Time, where you is unable to impact the game for two turns.
Finally, what I feel is the most important this aspect of the game, and specifically for Butchers: Momentum. Controlling the momentum in a game is probably the most critical aspect of being successful. For a team that is heavily reliant on its central player, Ox, being in the correct position, and relies heavily on damage, going first can be a huge advantage. Getting first strike without the opponent having the luxury of Momentum to make a Counter Attack/ Defensive Stance, and also potentially pick on targets that have been heavily loaded with Influence can be game changing. Butchers are genuinely one of the few teams that can take a player out from full health to taken out in a single activation. So when I use the expression “Controlling the Momentum”, it has a lot of different meanings. Sometimes it means considering when you need to spend Momentum to heal, or to Counter Attack, or to clear conditions. Other times you may want to take a Knocked Down playbook result, or a Push/Dodge to maneuver things around, but with no Momentous results for those playbook results, you may actually be better off simply taking the damage results and gaining Momentum. I try to keep in mind what I am projecting to end the turn on for Momentum, and also what I expect my opponent to finish on. That determines how often I choose to spend it. Somtimes, expected damage results on certain playbook columns will also dictate when I use Defensive Stance. For instance, if that will actually result in no actual loss of Momentum (IE taking a DEF5 model to DEF6, resulting in only a single hit on average, where there is no momentous results to choose from, so although I’ve lost a point by Defensive Stancing, my opponent has not gained a point due to no successes). It is, much like everything in this game, something that you constantly have to reassess and reconsider based on the game state, and adapt to what is happening.
That is a whole chunk of broad points, with very little concrete information. To summarise the strategy I take into games: Keep the team bunkered around Ox. Focus on one target at a time. Keep possession of the ball in the middle of the bunker. Cluster around an obstruction. Don’t push too deeply onto the table. Focus on winning the momentum battle each turn. The most important thing to remember when talking about strategy in Guild Ball is how often nothing goes to plan! You will constantly need to reevaluate which of these key target points is most important.
The art of allocating Influence is, much like everything in Guild Ball, not an exact science. There is no specific formula for when to give a player the full Influence allocation, and when to give them one, or even none. Here are some situations I try to keep in mind.
- When I win Initiative, the player I will be activating first will usually get as many INF as they can have. They are the only player I will activate that will have no Counter Attacks, or not have a changed board state to deal with. There is a caveat though! Ox will usually activate first in a turn, and in my experience, his actual damage output can be less than others. For example, Shank has 2 Momentous Damage on two hits. Ox’s is on four hits, yet he only rolls a single extra TAC dice. Balancing just how much to give Ox is a challenge.
- Giving a player zero INF is basically resigning them to having very limited impact on the turn. The only action they can impact is Ganging Up bonuses, and Parting Blows. Sometimes, such as Princess, this is exactly what they should be doing. In most other cases, I try to allocate at least one Influence to every player, so they can Sprint to reposition, or make a single attack early/ later in the turn to potentially get a KD or pick up a Momentum.
- Players that have returned with Icy Sponge will usually be too unhealthy to want to get straight back into the fray. Unless you have played a Plot Card that has impacted on where they will come on the board and what health they will come on with, they will usually be activating later in the turn and healing with momentum, or early in the turn to be a junk activation and allow for repositions. In both cases, either zero or 1INF is usually enough.
- If you have Boar or Rage, always give them their one Influence back. Although they have the potential to still make two attacks with no Influence, a canny player will take that free charge off them via engaging or KD, and cause them to have zero impact.
- Anytime you have a player you are looking to score with (usually Brisket, Gutter or Decimate), always allocate an extra Influence than you think you will need. There are Plot Cards that can allow for free Counter Attacks when the ball is tackled, situations can always change. Having an extra point of INF to potentially make a Dodge before taking the shot, or even generating a few extra Momentum to use on the shot can be crucial.
- Spreading the influence around evenly can work quite well, because of the stacking off buffs, and how often there will be Ganging Up bonuses. Often applying one or two Plays, like Butchery and Thousand Cuts, then engaging the target with one or two other models will allow the final player attacking them to really max out on damage. If in doubt, allocate everyone their own generated INF, plus an extra one or two from Princess and Ox.
This topic is very in-depth, and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what is possible in this game. I hope some of this has been useful!