Game Design

Gloom of Kilforth – A Walk Through Game Design with Tristan Hall

Hey everyone,

Today we have one of my personal favorite designers, Tristan Hall, who is responsible for Gloom of Kilforth, 1066. Tears to Many Mothers, and has a number of epic games in development. He took the time to take us on a deep-dive into his design process. Take notes!

How did you work to foster increased interaction in your game design and how important was interaction in your game development?

Whilst the solo mode for Gloom of Kilforth really didn’t need it, interaction was crucial to the design for the cooperative mode of Gloom of Kilforth, so players have to work together to achieve their objectives and defeat their sagas.  The game difficulty can be quite high, especially for newer players, so having the players coordinating to share resources, rumours and assets, team up for battles, assist one another with encounters, or even just working out which locations to explore next, all whilst fighting back against the gloom – this needed to be high on the agenda.  For the competitive mode we trialled having heroes be able to fight each other, but it really just slowed the game down without adding ‘fun’ to the proceedings.  It also kinda went against the flavour of the game, which is essentially fantasy heroes fighting back the tides of darkness.  Squabbling, spite and in-fighting didn’t fit too well, so the main interaction in the competitive game is denial of resources – getting to an encounter and completing it before your opponent can to either advance your Saga, or slow theirs down.  At one stage we had a series of Take That cards that could be played on other heroes in competitive mode too, but it risked bloating the already semi-complex game rules and we ended up paring them out.  Sometimes just adding moar is not the answer!

How did you consider replay value in the design process? What ways did you work to increase replay value?

I think replayability is key to a lasting and satisfying board game experience.  So all of the encounters and cards in Gloom of Kilforth are completely unique, with nearly 300 individual and gorgeous images too.  You won’t see all of them from one game to the next, so each time you explore the world you will have a different experience.  We also have 8 hero races (each has images of both genders), which can be combined with 8 hero classes with their own skill trees, which can be combined with 8 different hero sagas each with 5 ‘chapters’, and due to the way the sagas play out via our keyword collecting mechanic, even if you played the same combination of hero+class+saga ten times in a row, the game would still play very differently each time.

What was the most substantial change that happened during playtesting?

Players taking turns to play actions.  In the first iteration you would have to wait whilst the other players went through their entire Day’s activities, which meant increased downtime, and sometimes a huge change in the state of the game whilst you sat and watched.  In making this slight adjustment it meant competitive heroes could race each other for encounters, cooperative heroes could coordinate to help each other out, and in either play mode the world became much more dynamic and interesting, whilst keeping players more engaged because their turns would come around much more quickly.

What are the major dynamics that make your game unique? How did you brainstorm or come up with the original concepts behind those?

The storytelling narrative of the Sagas and the way each Saga plays out differently each time is one of the elements I’m most proud of.  Also, the sheer amount of original art is unheard of in a core set board game, with every card being unique.  The Night deck means that the world is alive, so even if the heroes just sat and did nothing for an entire game as a sort of thought experiment, the world of Kilforth would still play out in front of them, with characters and events happening and interacting with each other.  But most of my brainstorming comes from playing other games.  I’ve said this before but in this golden age of board gaming we’re standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us, so there are so many cool ideas in existing games that we can learn from and expand upon already.

How did you think about barrier of entry when you designed your game?

I just had to accept that I was making a gamer’s game, and that it would not be challenging Monopoly for a place in everyone’s Christmas stocking.  I designed the game that I wanted to play, and I knew that it would need to be complex and interesting to hold my attention and that of my fellow gamers.  I didn’t kowtow to what would make the game more accessible for non-gamers, so there is a learning curve, which rewards repeated playing to explore the game’s strategies and tactics and hopefully keeps you coming back for more.

What is one piece of advice you would give to new game designers trying to get into this space?

Play-test your game until the point of insanity and then play-test it some more.  Then blind play-test it: give it to gamers you don’t know who aren’t your friends/family and have them learn and play your game from your rulebook without you being there.  Take their full honest feedback and digest it fully, however brutal it might be, and get used to that process because it will be so useful in the long run.  But most of all – do not be disheartened.  As long as you are passionate and articulate, you can succeed, and you have the most amazing community of lovely people on the internet to support you on your journey: board game geeks.