New Minor Guild – Shepherds. It’s time to do some herding!

It’s been a while, but we’re finally there! A new Minor Guild is ready to jump into the fray! The Shepherds have been a long awaited new addition to the game of Guild Ball since they were spoiled at NOVA last year.

And yesterday, we had our first look at what Bryce, the lead developer in charge of this project, had to say about the Guild.

Basically, they’re working with the same general ideas as their Major Guild – there are Planters and Reapers, there are Harvest markers, playbooks all begin with 2 damage instead of 1 damage. But that’s where the comparison ends, as the Shepherds are designed to be way more goal-centric, leaning towards a 2-2 game plan to victory.

Being more focused on goals also means that they’re a tad easier to take down as well, but that’s where a new type of mechanic comes in – the punishment mechanic. Each model within the Shepherds has their own punishment mechanic, meaning that a Guild-wide buff will be given on them being Taken Out. We’ve even been given a small spoiler as to what these punishment mechanics entail, and that’s also the model that I’d like to start with in my review!

BABE

While some of you thought that the Heartless Brute! punishment mechanic belonged to Lamb, it’s actually positioned on the mascot, Babe.

Babe isn’t the fastest of the lot, and his playbook is decent enough. But my guess is that the piglet won’t be attacking much. With a 2/4″ KICK, he’ll help move the ball around somewhat, but I’d not use the little beastie as a ball retriever. At 5+/0, he has the same defensive stats as Peck, although Babe has one hit box more than the Farmer mascot.

As Bryce stated, the Shepherds like pushing models around – very much on theme with their main line of work, herding cattle. So Babe can push models as well, using the famous Sheep Password, Baa Ram Ewe! At 6″ range, it’s decent to disengage friendly models, but be sure to Bonus Time it when you want the play to hit.

Babe can also drop a Harvest marker for the price of a point of influence. In effect, this is Babe just moving a Harvest marker, as that point of influence could be generated by picking up a Harvest marker during the maintenance phase of a turn.

Lastly, the main reason for Babe to be on the pitch: to keep his friends safe. Pack Mentality gives the squad some protection against beater squads as they need to knock the Shepherds down, if they don’t want them to escape. And if people want to get rid of Pack Mentality, they’ll have to take out the piglet, which means that the whole squad will get a TAC buff from Loved Creature, and the enemy model that dealt the killing blow will also suffer the Singled Out effect, basically giving other friendly models a +3 TAC buff against the Heartless Brute. Nice!

Well, having looked at the mascot, what order shall I use to talk about the rest? Oh, I know. Shepherd-only squaddies, Farmer-play-up squaddies and lastly the captain. You’ve got to save the best for last, right?

RAM

Ram is as 40mm base model with a 2″ melee zone, and a playbook that says “I control the engagement”. While his 5″/7″ MOV is decent, he can amp it up to a 7″/9″ with Impetus, giving Ram a decent threat range around the pitch. At 3/6″ KICK, he’ll be able to efficiently move the ball around, and Ram has a Planter influence stat of 2/3. At 3+/0 and 24 boxes, he has typical Farmer defenses – easy to hit, but it takes a while to take him down.

Looking at Ram’s card, his main two uses – except for putting enemy models on their arse, obviously – are moving other models around, and protecting his friends. The first one is mostly expressed in two of his traits – Baa-ttering Ram and Flock.

Baa-ttering Ram effectively has the same rules as i.e. Iron’s Battering Ram, but the push range has been increased from 2″ to a massive 4″. That ram knows how to push! Think of what this will do against bunkers – Blacksmiths, Corker, Masons. Or you can use it as a threat extender, giving your team a Festival-like bump up the pitch. Speaking of giving your own squad some extra mobility – Flock is a great active trait with loads of uses. Adding 2″ to a striker’s threat range, disengaging a model from a sticky situation, adding an extra gang-up for a beatdown, etc. Both traits together can give someone a 6″ bump up the pitch. Now there’s some turn 1 goal threat right there.

His protective nature can be seen in his Guard the Flock character play, which gives a friendly model Protective Instinct, and his punishment mechanic, Have You Any Wool?, which hands out +2 ARM to every friendly model upon Ram being Taken Out. While it’s obvious to give a 40mm 2″ melee model with such a punishment mechanic the Protective Instinct effect, you still have the option of giving the buff to another model to protect one of your main pay-off models. He can basically also protect the ball by forcing enemy models to attack him instead of the current ball holder.

Lastly, as he’s one of the Guild’s Planter models, he has the ability to lay down a single Harvest marker with Planting Season.

HOOK & CROOK

The perceptive viewer will immediately see that the sheepdog duo have (kind of) the same rules. Hook and Crook are the Shepherd-only Reaper model(s). They work just like Avarisse and Greede – their activations are simultaneous. Whereas Avarisse and Greede both count for 2 VP upon take-out, Matched Pair shows that these bad boys are to be considered mascot amounts of VP.

At 6″/8″ MOV, and each having another mobility trick in Come Bye and Away to Me means that they can go for miles. Be sure to take into account that these plays do not have a range restriction, so these doggo’s don’t have to stay close to each other on the pitch. Also, if either of the dogs is Taken Out, the 4″ dodge play doesn’t work anymore for the other dog. You can’t dodge away from someone/something, that isn’t there.

Their playbook is mostly based around damage, pushes and triggering their character play. While there are some nice damage numbers, the dogs need a lot of TAC buffs to get to those momentous 3 and 4 damage results, so they’ll most likely just hit the momentous 2 or some pushes.

While they are Reapers, they still bring some utility in Howl as a way of working around Close Control or a ball holder model that has a very decent counter-attack. While one of the dogs gets the enemy model to drop the ball, the other one can swoop in to get the ball and pass it back to his team mates. A 2/6″ KICK isn’t all that, but it’s usually enough for ball retrieval.

At 4+/0 and only 9 HP, the dogs go down quite easily, but be sure to take them both out at the same time, or face the wrath of the Littermate. If one dog gets taken out, the other dog gets a massive +4 TAC bonus ánd gains the Furious trait for the remainder of the turn. This means a TAC 13 charge with a 5-column long playbook. That’s gonna hurt! And remember that there’s most likely 2 extra attacks at TAC 9 coming after said charge. Players that are not careful will most likely end up going for a 1 for 2 VP trade in the Shepherd’s favour.

Lastly, as they are sheepdogs, these good boys know how to herd. Herding makes them use a Harvest marker from 4″ away to give an enemy model within 4″ of them a 3″ push. This means that a model can be 8″+30mm away from a Harvest Marker and still get pushed. Also, Hook and Crook are activated simultaneously, but are separate models, which means that both of them can use this trait. With some careful marker positioning, this could possibly be a 6″ push for the cost of 2 markers. Putting these dogs on a flank is a real ring-out threat!

LAMB

And now it’s time to go to the first play-up for the Farmers – the Planter squaddie, Lamb. Another 2″ melee zone, but he only has a TAC of 4. While it seems like Lamb doesn’t want to attack, he actually does, if only to get his momentous GB token result to trigger one of his three character plays.

Lamb might just be the most efficient Harvest marker generation piece within the game. While he already is a Planting Master, a trait previously only given to Grange and Festival, he can also use Harrow’s Sow the Seeds to place down another three markers, if he so chooses. But this means that he needs to attack to be efficient, right? And at 3+/0, 20 HP, and having no decent counter-attacks, Lamb is quite the victim. Luckily, Lamb also has a punishment mechanic – Workhorse. When Lamb gets taken out, the Shepherd coach can place 5 Harvest markers anywhere on the pitch. Now THAT’s efficiency!

His other plays are Warming Oven, which can also be paid for with influence, bringing some healing to the Guilds, and a golden oldie, Weak Point, helping the Guilds deal with high ARM match-ups. Warming Oven together with Windle is just funny, as he can be healed twice, can use his own Snack Break and Lamb’s play for a total of 18 points of healing. If people don’t one-round Windle, he’s never going to die – especially in a Grange list with Constitution.

There’s actually not a lot more to say about this guy – he’s a solid support character and brings some tech to maybe open up some unexplored Farmer lists, and he might replace Ploughman within the Thresher six.

SHEARER

The second model that was shown at the NOVA Open keynote was Shearer, the striker who most likely has his name to thank from great UK soccer player, Alan Shearer.

A 6″/8″ MOV, 2″ melee zone and a momentous tackle on column one are great for a striker, and Shearer also having momentous 2 damage on column two shows that he can hold his own in a fight as well. The squad needs to protect him, though, as 4+/0 with only 16 hit boxes is quite fragile for a Farmer model.

While Shearer has excellent values to threaten the ball, alongside having access to Ball’s Gone as his character play, he only has a meager 3/6″ KICK. Luckily, Shearer’s a Football Legend, so he’s actually a 4/7″. And together with Ram’s 4″-6″ threat extension, and his own Shearing trait, which basically is Where’d They Go?! with a Harvest marker cost, Shearer can get to an amazing 25″ of goal threat.

And then I thought about what Grange and Shearer together can do… Both change into 5/9″ KICK models, which is just… gross. Add Bushel at 5/11″, Jack and Bucky at 4/11″… Sure, you have to play within a rather small aura, but I’m pretty sure that dunking a sick goal from 11″ away will feel very nice. And hey, even if Football Aura is only 4″ wide, if Shearer gets taken out after his own run, the entire team gains the aura’s buff due to his punishment mechanic, All About The Game.

So there you have it. All models except for one. The captain. Are you ready? I mean… are you ready?

HERDER

This captain obviously sprouted from the mind of Bryce, mister Thresher himself. A Reaper captain. TAC 7. 3/8″ KICK. 2″ melee zone. 4+/0. are you sure this is not Thresher?

But whereas Thresher is way more damage-oriented, Herder brings tools to help her team dunk some sick goals. Having a 6″/9″ MOV gives her a massive 11″ native threat range, even without counting the threat extensions her Guild provides, and her playbook is just… gorgeous. A momentous two damage on one, a momentous pushdodge and a non-momentous tackle on two, a non-momentous knockdown and a non-momentous push-dodge + GB token on three, and momentous three damage on four. Every single playbook result on her first four columns is just excellent.

I for one think that Jason Mountain right now is fuming. The fervent Blackheart fanatic now sees a model with On My Mark with an easy tackle, a higher threat range, higher native damage potential, who is just as slippery with her push-dodge on two, or push-dodge + On My Mark on three.

And that’s just the front of her card… The back of the card brings something that opposing scoring teams will just loathe. Herder can figuratively give her entire team Close Control at the cost of a single Harvest marker through her Protect The Ball active trait. And this is not an aura, oh no. It’s a pulse. Models keep the CC trait for the remainder of the turn, wherever they may roam. If having a team with two instances of Ball’s Gone and two instances of Howl isn’t enough…

Of course, as every Shepherd model has a punishment mechanic, Herder also has one. And hers is extra amazing. Sheep Become The Shepherds fills up every single friendly model’s influence pool, which means that the only time to take her out is at the end of a turn. Any time before that means facing an at most potential 16 influence squad.

Lastly, Herder has a legendary character play, Rest Up!, basically removing a friendly model from the pitch without the opponent gaining VP for it. While this has obvious uses in VP denial, we have to also think about the punishment mechanics. These traits are activated upon receiving the Taken Out condition, which means that Herder can also activate one of these traits at will. This legendary play will lose strength when playing more Farmer down-play models, but still has to be respected. 4+/2 Herder seems nice, or suddenly having Harvest markers placed for Hook and Crook to push someone off of the pitch, or Shearer’s 4″ dodge, or Bushel’s I’m Open, or everybody getting a +1/+1″ KICK. Sure, there are some caveats – it’s not smart to use this on a model that hasn’t activated yet, as that will suddenly put you an activation down in the turn, so Herder will most likely never use this play when activating first on a turn (except to make a winning 6 VP activation, which she can totally pull off). Finally, just think of what this legendary can do together with the Put Me Back In, Coach! game plan card…

CONCLUSION

So yeah, the Shepherds are great! They seem fun, but also sound quite strong. Miners strong? That I don’t know, but I can see them having their fun around the top end of the spectrum, especially when run by an experienced player.

How do the play-downs Bushel and Veteran Honour fit into this roster? Well, Bushel is quite easy to understand as a striker for a Guild with enough tech to get goals going. Veteran Honour is trickier, as she has the same marker generation as Ram but not as much in terms of squad protection or threat extension, and Lamb has higher marker generation, but there’s one place where Veteran Honour can shine. No one within the Shepherds Guild has condition protection or removal – no one. This means that Cocksure might become quite a handy tool to have around for certain match-ups, like i.e. Engineers with their ranged knockdowns, or Alchemists who are setting models on fire and decreasing their threat ranges, or Hunters with their endless amounts of traps. And Veteran Honour in cover with the ball under Ram’s protection and with Close Control might be quite problematic for certain Guilds to deal with. At the very least, she’s a niche tech piece.

So there we have it! The Shepherds Guild, the newest addition to the world of the Free Cities. What is your opinion on them? Are you excited to play them? Do you think Bryce has lost his mind? Are you also going to play team animals?

Be sure to pre-order the Shepherds from the Steamforged webstore or your local gaming store starting today!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this hot takes review. See you next time!