Games of Guild Ball have a huge number of decisions in them. Even in just one turn, a player will often have to choose where to deploy their models, how to allocate their influence, which model to activate when, where to move their models and how to spend any influence they have. This makes for a large number of choices over the course of a game.
However, a lot of those decisions are relatively easy at first glance. Most teams have a model they want to use as their kicker most of the time and a few models that get the lion's share of the influence. Each model usually has a single primary plan that they're going to be spending their influence and abilities on each time they activate, and that plan usually converts influence into VP at a reasonable rate. This means games of Guild Ball often play out in a predictable "default" way unless something out of the ordinary happens (missing a high odds goal, whiffing a takeout attack, or just losing out on something through a mistake like counter charge, unpredictable movement, or an unusually good counterattack).
An example where this is particularly clear is in a matchup where both teams are heavily goal-scoring focused. If both teams score goals when they have the ball, then whoever scores first is going to get to 12 first unless someone whiffs a shot on goal. The exception is if a team is able to engineer a situation where they score and the opponent can't score back immediately or they are able to try and steal the ball back again before the opponent gets an opportunity, such as by scoring at the end of a turn and then winning initiative. The team which did not score first is required to try and set up a situation along these lines, because if they play a "fair" game and just slam goals in whenever they can, they are extremely likely to lose. The team which scored first has no obligation to try and set up these plays, but if they can do so anyway it provides them with an additional advantage and means that the opponent needs to make more risky and unorthodox plays in order to win.
Critical moments like the one above - where one player breaks out of the basic line of play and does something which causes the flow of the game to change - do not happen often. Unlike most of the decisions made in a game as described above, these plays are the ones which do not have an obvious primary plan or solution and let one player generate a major advantage over the other. These are the lines of play which often determine the winner of a game - either by putting someone ahead or by backfiring and cementing the lead of the other player - since they usually involve more risk than a "standard" activation.
Scoring a goal before winning initiative and scoring again is a simple example, but there are a lot of options. Usually, they take one of two forms - either accruing a VP advantage or a major action advantage that is difficult for the opponent to recover from. A VP advantage is relatively self-explanatory - it could be scoring a goal or takeout unexpectedly to end the game or reaching 8 VP to prevent the opponent from scoring a goal (through threat of a snapback).
Action advantage is a much more nebulous concept, but a good way to think about it is as blanking influence, or just getting to do more useful actions than the opponent. Most of the time, teams get to spend around 8 influence doing useful things on turn one, and their entire influence pool doing useful things on future turns. Those things could include going after the ball or taking people out, but either way they generally accrue VPs at a comparable rate.
Most of the time, when a model is taken out, its team might lose an activation and a point or two of influence. That model isn't a critical part of their plan, because the controlling player usually sees the takeout coming and spends the influence first or allocates it elsewhere.
Taking out models with influence on them is much more impactful and can often completely change the flow of a turn or the game. If one team gets to spend 12 influence, but the other team only gets to spend 8 because an important squaddie was taken out with a full stack of influence, that turn is probably going to go well for the first player and poorly for the second.
Your method of gaining action advantage doesn't have to be a takeout, though - other ways include killing the ball to make strikers useless, leaving targets knocked down with no momentum and nobody in their melee zone, putting pressure on a model to activate early, and leaving buffing models with nobody nearby to buff. Waiting to score a goal until the last activation of a turn prevents the opponent from using any models as a snapback goal threat. Some goal-focused models (such as Brisket) have other things they can do with their influence, but some don't.
Invalidating influence is a lot easier on models with short threat ranges, little resistance to control, and/or only one way to really be impactful with their activation. If you knock down a model and then engage it with a Sturdy Tapper, a lot of models with a 1" melee zone aren't going to be able to get anything done, but a model with ranged character plays, a free condition clearing ability, or 2" melee is much less worried. Blinding a model often makes its influence far less useful, but if that model has good character plays or can make use of its early playbook even with -2 TAC, hitting it with Blind is a lot less effective.
The models that are best at setting up and pulling off these critical moments are usually captains, because they usually have a higher influence cap or otherwise get to do more in a single activation than other models. One of the important components of these critical moments is that you do something which forces the opponent into a much worse position than beforehand and giving them the opportunity to act in the middle of this plan makes it much harder to execute. If you're trying to kill influence on a model, giving your opponent an activation beforehand lets them spend allocated influence, move the model out of threat range, or disrupt your attacking models before their model is taken out. Instead, you should aim to make sure they can't interact with you while you pull this plan off, which means doing as much as possible in a single activation.
Captains and other big-payoff activations are good for one-rounding models which might not otherwise expect it or for generating a lot of momentum to double-activate across a turn line. Raw damage output (such as on Veteran Boar) is so immediately obvious to the opponent that they most likely won't play into it, preventing you from killing a model with influence unless they have no other options. A lot of the more mobile captains, such as Fillet and Smoke, can kill someone the opponent thought was at a safe distance from the action.
There are also several captains who can generate a lot of dice intensity during their own activation and take out someone who was previously safe. Examples here include Corsair (dragging an enemy into a lot of gang-ups), Shaft (using his legendary play to put multiple gang-ups on a model to enable his attacks), Windfinder and Blackheart (who have similar legendary plays for suddenly applying gang-ups, and scale very well with those extra dice). While a lot of "unexpected takeout" opportunities rely on legendary plays, that isn't necessarily a problem since you only really need one or two critical moments to go your way to swing a game massively in your favour.
Denying your opponent's actions or options is another way to lock down a model. Though these denial tools tend to have less concrete impact on the game, they also are typically easier to set up and implement than a surprise take-out on a crucial enemy model. An easy circumstance in which to apply strategies of denial is when your opponent is on 0 momentum; Burning, Snared, and especially Knocked Down exert strong control over models with no access to momentum to clear them. Players will generally avoid being in situations where they're on 0 momentum, but some models - Obulus! - are pretty good at forcing the opponent into this situation. Otherwise, you can either stop a model from acting usefully by preventing it from reaching a target through pure distance or movement penalties, or by making it harder to make attacks once it gets there through TAC penalties like Disarm and Blind. Many 1" melee models naturally dislike anyone with a 2" disengage available early in their playbook off a counter-attack unless they can reliably KD them. If these are the only available targets, someone like Fillet is going to have a very disappointing time attempting to spend a full stack of influence.
Which models are most susceptible to denial tactics can be complicated. In general, models lacking buyable dodges or other movement (such as Acrobatics or Route One) are most vulnerable to control, as well as those that struggle against good counter-attacks as described above. Forcing a model to stand up at the start of their activation, then move, and then threatening to re-apply KD on a counter-attack is a great, if specific, way to neutralize the activation of a model that otherwise has many tools to deal with good counters. Different models are vulnerable to different forms of denial: a fast model often has the dodges to get around KD and distance-based stuff, but usually will have low TAC or HP that makes threatening a quick kill or a TAC debuff more effective.
Every guild has options for setting up and capitalising on critical moments, but each does it differently and some more than others.
Veteran Boar and Shark are both good at winning the "fair" game and forcing their opponents to make tricky counterplays. Others are instead good at denying powerful plays – it's hard to pull off a game changing play against Mourn because taking out an model before it activates doesn't actually deny her team any influence. Some teams have models, like Yukai, that aim to score back to back goals as their critical moment payoff, while others, like Veteran Rage, can get their payoffs in a fight and take out multiple models at once. The more controlling teams, like Morticians and Engineers, tend towards the denial plan of making enemy influence irrelevant, where teams like Falconers instead want to proactively take out the models that threaten them.
Almost every team has at least some models that can mess with enemy influence and prevent it being spent profitably, as well as ways of grabbing a model that hasn't activated yet and putting it in the dirt before your opponent gets to react. Doing so at an important moment is the key to victory in many games of Guild Ball.
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