A Gravedigger’s Handbook, #3: Presenting Threats and the Tug-of-War of Positioning

In any miniatures game worth its salt, good positioning is one of the most important strategic goals for achieving victory. Guild Ball, however, may have taken the requirement for good positioning to a new level, at least among the miniatures games I’ve played in the past. This is due to three major factors in my mind:

  • The ball, specifically how it both can offer you new ways to edit and refine your positioning mid-turn through passing and Teamwork plays and how your passing efficacy is based on intervening models, engagement, etc.
  • The goal because it isthe best way to score points in the game with its fixed, predictable position.
  • Momentum, which is a crucial gameplay resource that is generated through combat and ball play.


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Remember: Every starter comes with four players, not three, but the fourth is a turncoat.


The ball and the goal are immediately obvious to any new player, even if they have not yet begun to grasp the power of the Teamwork plays. But Momentum, in my opinion, changes how positioning works just as much. For example, in most miniature wargames, if you present a tanky target to your enemy, and they fail to kill it with their charge and attacks and abilities, that tanky target has done its job excellently. It has wasted enemy resources, and the enemy has gained nothing. But in Guild Ball, this is not the case at all. A traditionally-understood tanky target, somebody with low DEF, high ARM, and a bunch of HP, can actually be the last person you want to give your opponent the option of hitting, since they are likely able to generate buckets of Momentum. They may even intentionally keep that tank alive to get the most resources out of him. I do this all the time: I will never kill Boar or Stave if an opponent brings them against me, unless that take-out will win me the game; I much prefer to knock them down and generate all the momentum I’ll ever need off of them, as well as using them for easy Unmasking/Tucked/Shutout targets.

With all that in mind, I’d like to do a quick overview on the ways Morticians can get ahead by presenting smart targets, taking advantage of our great defensive stats, and overwhelming the opponent with a quick-moving force.


Presenting Smart Targets

Morticians have great defensive stats. We have the highest average defense in the game as it currently stands, and I definitely believe DEF makes a model tanky in Guild Ball, not ARM. In fact, let’s redefine “tanky” for Guild Ball as having stats and traits that prevent an opponent from getting value out of attacking that target. In an abstract game sense, that is what tanky means, and while that usually translates to a million HP and tons of damage reduction, in Guild Ball, traditional tanks are a liability because generating Momentum is just as important taking out players.

But we don’t just have high DEF—we have indirect mitigation abilities: 2” reach, Unpredictable Movement, Fear, Rising Anger, Tough Hide, Horrific Odour, and Dark Doubts. We have some of the best (maybe THE best?) counter-attacks in the game with Obulus, Ghast, Bonesaw, and Fangtooth. So long as the Morticians player can direct enemy attacks where he/she wants them to go then our mitigation-abilities and high DEF will spoil our opponents’ plans.   

This is, of course, where positioning comes in. Always be considering how your team looks to the enemy player, and attempt to divert their attacks to people you want attacked. In almost every viable Morticians lineup, there are bound to be players that will fall apart quickly if hounded by a strong combat player: Cosset, Rage, Mist, and an early-turn Bonesaw (before Offensive Defense kicks in) are all players that need to be protected. To protect these guys, offer your opponent characters that you want to be engaged.


Ghast is a good example. He does two things in my games: look for Unmaskings, and get as many enemies in melee with him as possible. Ghast has the best counter-attacks in the game, no question. All you need is 2 successes, on a TAC 6 player with 2” melee, to have a choice between KD and a 2” push. The enemy has to hit somebody, and you want that somebody to be Ghast in almost every case. To entice your opponent, position him in a way that he’s blocking charge lanes to your weaker, farther-back characters as often as possible. Also, try to engage tons of people, and hold 1” melee enemies at arm’s length by knocking them down and forcing a huge resource sink to get them moving again. Another tactics is to push people into base-to-base with Ghast. My Ghast gets taken out a lot, even when I put work into healing him over the course of a turn, but the amount of work it takes to get Ghast down would likely take 2 or even 3 of our other players down, so he’s always doing his job, even from the sidelines.


Obulus, on the other hand, is someone you do NOT want to be charged. Identify the enemies with 2” melee, and keep Obulus just outside of their charge range at all times (not counting melee range, just their max move). If you can do this then he’s practically invincible until somebody puts Marked Target on him. Obulus defends his weaker allies by getting in the way, and promising a quick, vengeful take-out on the top of next turn if they get past you. He has a 2” melee threat in the middle of the field, with a 16” Puppet Master threat and a 10” (or 14” in a pinch) threat for attacks. Play aggressively with Obulus, as he’s a deceptively slippery threat. Opponents will often find themselves committing a lot of resources just to come home empty-handed from his counter-attack with a 1” dodge on 1 success.


Dirge isn’t difficult to kill, but the resources sacrificed in taking him out often make him appear to be a bad target. Use Dirge to engage targets that likely can’t take him out in 1 turn. This depends on their allocation, and isn’t always possible to find against bashy teams like Butchers and Union, but the key with Dirge is finding somebody who really wants to charge, and deny them that opportunity with an engage.


Silence is surprisingly tanky for a guy with no weapons and a gown. 5+ DEF and 15 boxes is no joke, and while I would not recommend playing him far forward, a mid-field position where he can help reposition the ball and take the brunt of a charge away from a more fragile Mortician  character is a great use for him. Despite his “support” role, he should be taking hits occasionally, especially in place of weaker players—and because of his high DEF, he’s not likely to give the opponent too many opportunities for Momentum either.


Tanky for One Attack Only—Act Now!

Tanky for One Attack Only—Act Now!

Fangtooth, a good honorary Mortician, takes the opponent’s aggression and turns it against them. This is a tip most people who play Fangtooth probably know, but just in case, every time an enemy with 1” melee procs Gluttonous Mass, buy a counter-attack. There’s no way for them to defend themselves from that 1-success knockdown! Bash your opponents’ heads in one too many times and they’ll start to treat Gluttonous Mass the same way people treat Honour’s Responsive Play: begin to treat Fangtooth like he’s immune to 1” melee characters. This makes Fangtooth’s problem of drooling Momentum everywhere more manageable, and makes him into the proper tank he’s clearly meant to be. Play Fangtooth up and in their face, tag-teaming with Ghast (if you take both, which I love to do) to put the AoE hurt on everybody in the middle of the pitch. In a pinch, they can Unmask on each other most of the time. They have enough HP to usually make the tradeoff of hitting more enemies worth it.


Building a clear battle line between people you want the enemy to hit and the people you want to keep safe is a good way to think about positioning, because it also helps you learn what order of activation you want for a turn. Organize your tanks into their ideal positions earlier in the turn, to prevent both an ambush and a counter-strike against your wingers/strikers (basically the people who score points), who will activate later in the turn.


Mobility, the Ball, and Morticians

No matter what team you’re playing, the ball is the strongest mobility tool in your arsenal. Teamwork abilities—Give’n’Go and Pass’n’Move—are effectively 1 Influence-costed mechanics that give a player 4” bonus of movement, that is A. a dodge, B. stackable with Sprinting/Charging, and C. possibly out-of-activation. All teams benefit from this power, and the Morticians are no exception. Not only can we benefit from a disengage in order to reposition/re-charge (particularly in the case of our 2 available Furious players) but a disengage can also extend threat ranges (passing to Ghast gives him a beautiful 13” threat, which is the same as Puppet Mastering him but costs 3 INF less). We are often forced to use passing to keep up with the speedier teams, especially the scoring ones (looking at you, Fishermen). We certainly have our fast players, but our reliance on big tanky blokes (Ghast, Fangtooth, or Casket) has us often wheezing trying to keep up. The ability to pass should be considered a third movement stat and/or an important mobility play akin to Where’d They Go!


Of course, the ball’s incredible power is balanced out by the twin requirements of having control of the ball and what is essentially a “skill check” by any other game’s terminology. This last part is where Morticians falter. Our roster relies on Bonus Timing important kicks to make sure they land, and while that is a perfectly acceptable cost for a shot on goal, it’s far too costly for simply passing around the field in most cases—Obulus’s Legendary turn notwithstanding.


Though we have access to an all-star striker in Mist, his usual positioning requires him far afield from the action. Because of his positioning, he can’t be relied on to use the ball as a mobility crutch for the rest of the team, since he should be spending his activation either scoring or getting set-up to score. With no Super Shot in faction, I simply don’t trust Snap Shots in serious games—3 momentum gets the Morticians a maximum 4 dice, needing 2 successes, which is far too much Momentum for such a gamble. With that in mind, and with Ghast, Avarisse, and Fangtooth running around with pathetic 1/6” kicks, and Obulus, Cosset, Casket, and Rage at an uninspiring 2/6”, we’re left with two real choices: Bonesaw and Silence.

Possibly the most difficult Morts player to figure out?

Possibly the most difficult Morts player to figure out?

If you read my last article then you’d know that I am in the middle of a love affair with Silence. He’s wonderful! I would like to end this article by challenging Morticians players to use Silence and Bonesaw to control the ball mid-field, and to use the ball as more than a package to deliver or a prize to deny the enemy. This is something I’ve been working on in my own play: Even on turns where Silence will be unable to throttle the opponent, I’ve been forcing myself to give him one or two, and have him help reposition Ghast, Cosset, Rage, Fangtooth, whoever. This repositioning is especially useful on the two squishy Furious folks. It is actually a great investment to help them avoid being engaged, and increase Rage’s Maverick-bound static threat range. Silence is the right player for this job with 3/6” (often trivial to have Dirge take him up to 4/7”) kick and a playstyle that prefers the middle of the pitch anyway.


Bonesaw has also felt more inspiring as I’ve played him like this, helping deliver the ball to Mist and keep the battle in the parts of the pitch I’d prefer. Hopefully that playstyle is even more exciting with Scalpel, as I’m really taking to what the Steamforged Forums have termed “Fishbones,” and think it’s basically one puzzle piece away from real efficiency.


The ball token is perhaps the most important tool in a Guild Ball player’s positioning toolbox, and it rewards persistence in controlling the ball with a greater freedom of movement than any team has natively. The Morticians’ natural stats give us the unusual position of a slippery, tanky faction, and it is on us as players to use those statlines–and the game’s natural focus on creative positional play—to force bad fights and frustrating decisions on our hapless opponents.

Alex Botts

Alex Botts is a tabletop gaming enthusiast who mostly plays Guild Ball (Morticians) and Warmachine/Hordes (Protectorate). He likes miniatures, strategy games, and long campaigns on the beach. He's also Head Editor for Chicago Megagames and would love to talk to you about any of the above!

2 Responses

  1. Pickles says:

    Good stuff. I would point out that the Morticians have access to 3 players with Furious 😉

    Also Megagames I was at WTS4 at the weekend – an excellent day (except Cthulhu rising)

    • Alex Botts says:

      Ahaha yes you are right. I don’t rate Minx very highly in Morts, but that doesn’t mean I should pretend she doesn’t exist! 😛

      Also, awesome! Glad you enjoyed it. Let me know if you’re ever in Chicago and i’ll keep you posted on the latest megagame events! We’ll also be at Gencon this year if you can make it up

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