Review: Guild Master, a fantasy board game where players take control of competing adventuring guilds

Welcome to a detailed look at Guild Master from Good Games Publishing, a programmed movement based fantasy themed board game where players take control of competing adventuring guilds. 

Become the most famous guild in the land by recruiting the right heroes, completing contracts and upgrading your guildhall.

Disclosure: Good Games Publishing was awesome enough to send us a copy of this fantasy board game to check out. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What you get in the box and short summary of Guild Master:

Guild Master from Good Games PublishingGuild Master was designed by Chris Antony and features artwork by Andrew BosleyAleksandar Mihajlovic, and Yamandú Daniel Orce. It plays two to four players in under two hours. It was published in 2020 by Good Games Publishing. Guild Master has an MSRP of $49.99

In Guild Master, players manage a fantasy adventuring guild competing with other guilds to become the most famous guild in the land. They do this by improving their guildhall, hiring adventurers and completing contracts. Things get interesting when two or more guilds compete, driving up the cost of building, upping the bidding for adventurers, or trying to complete the same contracts at the same time. In some cases, your guilds can agree to work together but watch out for that inevitable betrayal. 

Check out what you get in the box for this fantasy game in our Guild Master Unboxing Video on YouTube

Guild Master comes in a standard sized board game box, which fits great on the most popular board game shelves. 

Heroes ready to be hired as adventurers in Guild MasterIn this box, you will find a rather large rulebook and quick start guide. This guide walks you through the start of a four player game and slowly introduces the various systems in this game. Both this book and the core rulebook features many examples and graphics showing the components from the game. I found these rules very clear and easy to learn from.

Along with the rules you also get a main board, plus thinner individual player boards and guild upgrade boards, dice in three different colours and a number of thick pre-cut counters. No punching is required for this game.

There are also three decks of cards. One deck contains the programming cards for each of the four players, another contains the heroes broken over three levels and the final deck consists of the contracts split over three difficulty levels. 

The counters include all of the various guild hall upgrades and the in-game money, which come in different sizes based on their value. There are also some scoring counters, a cost token and tokens used when deciding if you want to cooperate or not during a contract. 

My only complaint about any of this is the fact that the box insert is a simple trough with one cardboard piece that you can add to split it into two sections. While there are some baggies included, this isn’t an insert designed for a game with this many cards. 

How do you play Guild Master from Good Games Publishing?

Playing Guild Master from Good Games PublishingThe set up for Guild Master is quite involved. You need to put the board out in the center of the table, then you place the round marker, the builder cost marker and a fame marker for each player. The Adept, Hero and Legend Adventurer Card decks will also need to be shuffled and placed face down in the appropriate spots on the board. 

As well, you have to shuffle the three decks of contract cards and place those beside the board along with all of the upgrade tokens, the dice and a bank of coins. 

Each player picks a guild they want to play and takes the guild board, guild upgrade board and screen in that colour. They also take a full set of action cards, the appropriate ribbon and a contest token. Finally, each player starts with seven gold in their vault. 

Starting teams are determined and players take the appropriate starting Skill Upgrade Token and the Novice Adventurers for the team they picked. Each Skill Upgrade Token has two sides and players pick which side they want to use. One lets them re-roll a die and the other lets them set a die to a five. 

Hidden programmed movement in Guild Master.The two starting contracts are placed on the board and then players are dealt three Common Contracts. They pick two to keep and one to place face down on the main board. 

Finally, all of the face down cards on the board are flipped face up. 

Note with less than four players there are some set up changes where some spots on the board won’t be used and some cards are removed from the game. 

A game of Guild Master lasts nine rounds (with an option to play a shorter six round game). Each round goes through a number of phases.

At the start of the round, you read off any events on face up contracts on the board. On rounds three, six, and nine, players will draw one new Private Contract from the deck of Common Contracts. 

Next is the Plot Phase, where players can use plot phase abilities on their adventurers. Before leaving the plot phase all players should announce how much money they have.

How to Play Guild Master, helpful player screen.This is followed by the Order Phase. This phase is done in secret from the other players. Players will play order cards and adventurer cards from their hands along with money and place them secretly onto their guild board behind their screen. 

Each guild board has three action spots on it. At the start of the game, players can only use the first two slots and can only assign a maximum of two adventurers per spot. Both of these numbers can be upgraded with guild hall upgrades. Any gold needed to take an action has to be placed with the Heroes onto a spot. 

Many of these auctions can require a skill check. To complete a skill check you look at the heroes assigned to the action and add up their skill numbers for the required action and roll that many six sided dice and total them. Sometimes the skill used is determined by the action, other times the players get to pick which of the six skills to use. 

The various actions are: 

Hire adventurers and send them out to complete contracts in Guild Master.Build: Spend gold to hire builders to improve your guildhall. Every builder bought increases the cost of any future builders bought, due to this being first to hire can be very important. At least one hero has to be assigned to this action and the gold to be spent has to be assigned along with the hero. You get to return any unspent gold to your vault after taking this action. 

The various guild upgrades include skill upgrades that get your re-rolls, guild upgrades that give you more actions, allow you to send more adventurers on each action or generate you more income. There are also prestige upgrades that feature end game scoring opportunities. 

If two guilds both attempt to hire builders at once, a skill check is made with the winner getting to hire builders first. 

Run an adventurers' guild in Guild Master.Hire Adventurer: Spend gold to hire an adventurer. There are three levels of Adventurers, Adept, Heroic and Legendary. You have to own an Adept before you can hire a Heroic adventurer and you need to own a Hero before hiring a Legendary Adventurer. 

Each adventurer is skilled in two or more skills with higher level adventurers featuring more skills or skills at higher levels. In addition, most of the adventurers feature game breaking abilities that can come into play in specific phases or on specific turns. 

The base cost to hire an adventurer is printed on the board and depends on what round of the game it is. Gold used to hire has to be placed when giving orders and you spend all of the money if you hire an adventurer, you don’t get change. The reason you may want to assign extra money is that if two or more guilds attempt to hire the same adventurer at the same time, the guild that offers the most money gets the adventurer. 

If two guilds are offering the same amount of money, they make a skill check to see who gets to hire the adventurer. 

Guild Master, a board game where you send heroes to complete contracts.Attempt A Contract: There are a set number of contracts on the board. When attempting a contract you must program what contract you will attempt and which adventurers are assigned to that contract. No gold is needed to attempt a contract. 

Each contract will list one or more skills with a difficulty number under them. To complete a contract a skill check must be made trying to meet or beat the difficulty number. While some contracts will have matching difficulties for the various skills others will be easier with one skill than another. 

A successful check gives an instant reward of points (aka fame). Most cards also offer a bonus that tends to give you something or take something away from the other players. Some contracts also feature a boon. These stay in play and can be discarded by the player that won them on a future turn for some specific event.  Finally, the player picks a card off any of the three contract decks to place face down where the contract they beat was. 

A failed check gets the player nothing. 

A backstabbing take-that board game, Guild Master.If two or more guilds attempt to complete the same contract a negotiation starts. Players have the option of cooperating and if they do they will split the rewards and either each attempt the skill check on their own, with either player succeeding counting for both players, or they can combine their adventurers into a new party and make one combined try at the skill check. 

Players can also choose to conflict and try to do the quest on their own. If this option is chosen, both players make the skill check but face a -1 penalty for each die they roll. The player with the highest total wins the contract.

Finally, it’s also possible for players to agree to cooperate but then chose to conflict and go on their own. This is done with the contest tokens and turns this negotiation into a prisoners dilemma. If all players cooperate, great follow the rules above. If one player Conflicts, they get to attempt the contract first with the -1 per die penalty. If more than one guild chooses Conflict they all attempt the contact individually, with the -1 per die penalty, and the one that succeeds with the greatest margin takes the rewards. If all conflicting guilds fail at the skill check, any cooperating guilds can then attempt it.

Rolling dice to try and complete a contract in Guild Master.Complete a Private Contract: Every player starts with two private contracts at the start of the game and will earn up to three more during play. Instead of attempting a contract on the board you always have the option of completing a private contract. Private contracts can also be attempted if you have a team that ends up without a valid Order (because another guild beat you to it).

Completing a private contract works the same as completing a public one. 

Wander: If you have nothing better to do with a team or if you have no private contracts to complete after your planned actions get usurped you can always wander. You pick a skill and make a skill check and get fame and/or gold based on how well you roll. 

It’s during the Action Phase that you actually take out these actions. Every player completes their first action before everyone moves on to their second programmed action. During each action phase things go off in a specific order, the order I listed the actions in above (Build happens before Recruit which happens before Contracts, etc). 

Card driven game play, secret programmed movement, so much going on in Guild Master.After everyone has completed their actions there’s a reset phase. Everyone clears their order boards and collects income based on what level of Bar they have in their guild. The builder cost track resets. Three times during the game, in what is called a Blood Moon phase, the contracts and adventurers on the board are wiped and are replaced by new ones. Finally, any face down cards are flipped face up and the next phase is started.

At the end of the reset phase in round nine, the game ends. Players score fame for any remaining money (one point for every five gold) and for their Prestige Upgrades. The player with the most Fame Wins.

This is obviously a high level overview of play. Due to this being a card driven game there are a number of exceptions to the gameplay I described here. Almost every Adventurer has an ability that breaks these rules and many contracts have bonuses that do a variety of interesting things, many of which focus on helping players behind in fame and hindering players in the lead. Finally, some of the contracts have events on them, which come into effect when the card is flipped up. These events remain in play until someone completes that contract or it wipes during a blood moon.

Guild Master is an intriguing programmed movement board game.

Planning out secret programmed movement in Guildmaster.As I mentioned most recently in my CodeMonkey: Gong Bananas review, I’m a big fan of games that feature programmed movement mechanics. This was the main draw for me in regards to Guild Master. I also thought the theme sounded really solid. 

Once I sat down to play Guild Master, I was instantly impressed by the presentation and component quality. Everything in this game exists for a reason and it’s all organized in a way that fits logically both thematically and mechanically. The minor drawback to this is the fact there are so many components that setting up the game can take longer than you would expect. 

Guild Master player screens have lots of rules info.The player screens in this game are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a board game. Not only do they look cool and are very functional for hiding what you are planning from the other players, they also feature a fantastic and complete rules summary on the back of them. These screens can effectively remove the need to look things up in the book, which is awesome.

Overall the production quality for Guild Master is excellent. The game board is clear and easy to read, the design makes the flow of actions a breeze to follow and then there are little touches, like the silk banners that you hang over your player screen to indicate when you are done programming your order, that just take things to the next level. 

Playing the tabletop board game, Guild Master.Even more impressive to me than the presentation of this game is the fact that the gameplay also stands up to as high a standard. This is an excellent programmed movement game that takes the theme of running a fantasy adventurers guild and does a great job of tying that into the mechanics. The actions you are taking are all things that a guild would do, things like improve the guild, hire new heroes or send heroes out to complete contracts. Even the way you have to assign sets of heroes to work on specific tasks and provide them with the gold they need to do those tasks just makes sense in terms of both the theme and the mechanics.

The steps taken for each individual action are also logical. You need money to hire builders and when you do the cost of builders goes up. When two people attempt to hire the same adventurer the person that offers the most money goes first. You pair up adventurers with similar skills to increase your chances of completing contracts. Even the negotiation system for when two or more guilds meet up when trying to complete the same contract fits thematically, with teams deciding to work together or not with the chance that one team may betray the others.

Guild Master, thematic strategy game.This betrayal element is the one big potential issue that this game has. This is not a cooperative game, nor is it a multi-player solitaire style game. In this game, you are competing with the other guilds and that competition can get nasty. Bribery, negotiation and backstabbing is not only an aspect of the game, it’s actually encouraged and I would say pretty much inevitable. 

The cutthroat nature of Guild Master means that there’s no way this game will be for everyone. Also, unlike other Good Games Publishing games like Unfair (read all about the dials in Unfair in my review), there’s really no way to dial down the take-that elements of this game. They are a core aspect of Guild Master and honestly, I don’t think the game would work as intended if they were removed. 

What I do appreciate about the take-that elements of this game is that they are not ever-present. While we found competition for builders to be something that happened most turns, the competition for hiring Adventurers happened less often and having more than one guild attempting the same contract was almost rare. While it did come up a few times every game, you weren’t forced to be constantly negotiating with the other players every round.

Assigning actions and gold to heroes in Guild Master.The other note I would like to make about this game is that we much preferred it at three and four players. While the game works perfectly fine with just two players, and can become quite the cutthroat game of cat and mouse with only two, almost all aspects of the game are improved with more players. At a higher player count, there are more chances for two or more guilds attempting to do the same thing, which leads to the most interesting conflicts in the game. There are also more cards out on the board with more players, giving players more options each turn. 

Overall I personally really enjoyed Guild Master and seem to enjoy it more each time I play. My wife feels the same and my sister in law considers Guild Master to be one of her favourite games of all time. That said, I do know people who didn’t enjoy the game, like my podcast co-host Sean. While our usual home group embraced the take-that nature of the game, Sean doesn’t really enjoy that form of player interaction. 

If you don’t mind take-that elements in your games, I suggest checking out Guild Master. If you are a fan of the fantasy theme and want to dive into that feeling of running an adventurers guild you can probably safely pick this one up without expecting any regrets. Guild Master does a fantastic job of integrating that theme with its mechanics. If you are a Diplomacy fan and love games where you work together with someone only to stab them in the back, this could be the perfect game for you.

Run your own adventurers guildhall in Guild Master.Now if you don’t like games featuring backstabbing or negotiations then Guild Master is probably not for you. If the theme does sound cool to you, then you may still want to try it out.

Speaking of trying out Guild Master, you can play this game, for free on Tabletopia. We’ve done this and while the interface isn’t perfect it works pretty well, better than some other games we’ve tried on that platform (cough Tapestry). Do note though that it’s not fully scripted and doesn’t teach you how to play the game. 

If you are curious about other programmed movement games that we enjoy, you should also check out our Wonder Woman Challenge of the Amazons Review

What’s your favourite programmed movement game? Let us know in the comments below.

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