Tales from the Pitch

Superior Strategy #1 - Activations


Hello! My name is Evan Miller, and I go by akaleth on the Guild Ball Zone Discord server (and the rest of the internet). I've been playing Guild Ball for three years, and am a Pundit for the Rochester, NY area.

Superior Strategy is a series for the aspiring competitive Guild Ball player. It's for the person who wants to rise up the ranks from friendly newbie, to local hero, all the way up to World Champion. They know the rules of the game, but may be struggling to win games or tournaments against their peers. I will take that person, who only knows how to play Guild Ball, and teach them how to win. I will teach the concepts that competitive Guild Ball players take for granted — ideas such as activation order/advantage, influence allocation, momentum and the initiative race — that apply to both the micro- and macro-strategy involved in playing at a high level.

Winning in Guild Ball requires understanding matchups, analyzing board states, and thinking under pressure. It's a difficult game to teach because so much of what goes into every decision is so situational, and decision trees can drastically change after just one roll of the dice. So, while I will create some board states to demonstrate a concept, the goal of this series is not to cover every situation you could possibly encounter. Instead, my goal is to teach you how to think about Guild Ball in a competitive manner.

Whenever possible, I will provide information that is team agnostic and will apply as new errata, and even new teams, come out into the world. If substantial changes to the core rules occur, I will update any examples.

We're going to start off this series with activations. Understanding what an activation is, and how to best leverage them in your strategy, provides a strong groundwork for all future concepts.

What is an activation?

An activation is a sequence of actions performed by a player with a single model. Whether it's to spend six influence taking a wild goal run, or just to jog up the field, activations are powerful because your opponent has limited ways in which to interact with any one of your activations once it has started.

Critically, all of these points of interaction are known information, and only occur when you do something to trigger them. This means that you can have a plan for when anything happens during your activation, even when you have bad luck with dice. You can use every model with a generally high level of confidence in what the end result will be, whether you're spending zero influence or six.

Activation advantage, and the first and last activation

Getting to activate first in a turn is often a significant advantage, because it can set the stage for all activations afterwards. If you're playing a goal-oriented team, you might score a goal and pressure your opponent to protect the ball at all costs. As a takeout-oriented team, you could wipe a model off of the pitch when they've potentially just been allocated influence.

Importantly, if you take out a model before it's activated in a turn, you've denied that model's activation from your opponent. When a player has more total activations during a given turn than their opponent, they have activation advantage, and this concept is a critical aspect of how takeout teams exert control over the game. By maintaining that activation advantage, a player can guarantee the last activation of a turn, which is just as important as the first, but for different reasons.

Activations are naturally balanced by how they alternate between the players: if you leave yourself in a compromised position when you finish an activation, your opponent can take advantage of that. Takeout-oriented teams often aim to disrupt this balance. They combine their consistent momentum generation with their ability to maintain activation advantage. Thus, they can take both the last activation of the turn and threaten, if not guarantee, to win initiative and gain the first activation of the next turn. This is the all-important last-first activation.

Two consecutive activations for one team can have a huge impact on the board, regardless of the guilds in question. For example, Veteran Boar activating twice in a row can take out half of the enemy team. While goal-scoring teams are generally weaker at enabling last first activations, Shark scoring two goals back to back is game-changing if the situation arises.

Activation order and pacing

The same 12 models activated in slightly different orders can result in wildly different results. Because players alternate activations and a single activation can affect the board state significantly, the context and potential for every activation remaining in a turn are constantly changing. Understanding the optimal time to take key activations is critical.

Sometimes, your best choice is to be patient, stay outside of your opponent's threat ranges, and make progress at the end of a turn when your opponent is less able to respond. In other situations, you want to rush in and pressure your opponent's resources through calculated aggression. Both of these strategies are valid, and I'll show you how to choose your plan based on the game state.

For this example, a strong goal-scoring model starts the game by kicking off into any team. Whether the model in question is Mist, Flint, Shark, or many others, they can all get a turn 1 goal. Let's turn to this diagram…

In this example, Shark kicked off towards the right. Meathook retrieved the ball and passed it to Fillet, who is within Shark's range right now. Shark can easily attempt a goal now…

…and he gets it without a problem. The Fishermen are up 4 points to nothing, after just one activation from the Fishermen! But wait, the Butchers have barely activated yet. They have almost an entire turn of influence to spend on Shark, who has no way to escape. That means…

…Shark is a very easy kill for the Butchers. Had Shark waited until later to score, he might survive Fillet's attacks, the Butchers have less momentum from fewer total attacks, and the Fishermen have a fighting chance at a last first activation.

If that happens, then that is a point when the Fishermen's strategy should turn aggressive. Waiting with Shark's activation isn't helpful, as he's already engaged and taking damage. They should try another goal, and use Shark's legendary play to slow down the Butchers' advance and amplify the pressure of a swift 8 point deficit.

Parting thoughts

I hope that this article successfully shed light on some thought processes and ideas that you maybe hadn't considered before. If you found this helpful, feel that I've missed something, or just want to say hello, I'd be happy to take any feedback either on Discord or Twitter. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you again soon!


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