Today is an exciting day here at Game-Mountain, we have our first exclusive interview to share with you. And for this we didn’t just pick any interview partner, we decided we want to talk to a board game designer who also lives in the UK, who developed some games we like and who has a lot to talk about. So without further ado, we are honoured to share an interview with Tristan Hall, Founder and Director of Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd., and designer of the epic fantasy card games Gloom of Kilforth and 1066, Tears to Many Mothers.
Let’s start with a quick overview of who you are and what you do. If you would summarise your life as a game developer in a few sentences, what would this be?
I am a lucky gamer geek: I’ve been designing my own games for a long time, but modding other people’s games for decades now too, like The Lord of the Rings LCG and D&D games, and my mods gathered tens of thousands of downloads. So when I Kickstarted my own game Gloom of Kilforth back in 2015 I was lucky enough to have a small but loyal following whose support and sharing of the project helped spread the word and carried me over the funding goal.
Most board game designers seem to be based in Germany and the US. How is it to live and design games in the UK? Are there any advantages or disadvantages for not being in one of the central board game ‘hubs’ or does the internet and especially Kickstarter help to globalise the industry?
Kickstarter has definitely helped fulfil that global village feeling, and without it as a crowdfunding platform my game would probably still be languishing and collecting dust on the shelf of the publisher who originally took it on years ago. I have retail partners in the US and UK, manufacturing partners in Germany and China, localisation teams in France, Germany and Spain, and fulfilment teams in the UK, Australia and the US, so being based in the UK is neither here nor there really! Going to Essen in Germany was just a short flight away, but I haven’t been to Gencon yet, which I guess is a disadvantage of not being in the US? That said, we have the UK Games Expo which is getting bigger every year, so I think I’m happy where I am for the time being.
Gloom of Kilforth and 1066, Tears to Many Mothers are great games. What was the reason to create card games rather than another super popular miniature or worker-placement game?
Thank you. And hey, I’m not writing off producing a super popular miniature or worker-placement game just yet. But I think I’m more comfortable with card games because I love them, and because the combination of art, flavour and mechanical text you can squeeze onto a card allows you to inject a huge amount of theme into a game in a very concise way that minis and meeples can’t replicate. I also tend to use a ridiculous amount of great art in my games, and cards are a great way to show off this art.
We love the gritty and dark artwork of Gloom of Kilforth and 1066. Was this always the direction you wanted to take or did it change during the game development? And if it was a key direction from the beginning, what inspired it?
Regarding Gloom of Kilforth: I love fantasy art, but most fantasy games even now have a cartoony sort of look that detracts a little from the theme, for me personally at least. And even in games where the art is impeccable, like The Lord of the Rings LCG, they still seem to shy away from that ‘gritty’ look you mentioned. Theme-wise, Kingdom Death: Monster is probably the nastiest game out there, but most of the art is still in that comic-book Anime style. So yes, it was definitely my intent from the outset that we’d have a realistic and gritty look for the art, and that the enemies would be creatures that looked upsetting enough that you would be a little afraid of going up against them, particularly our final bosses, the Ancients. The inspiration for them came from my nightmares – I wanted these creatures to look like they’d stepped out of Hellraiser or Silent Hill.
For 1066, Tears to Many Mothers I was conscious that we were delivering in effect a history game, and whilst I love medieval history, the theme might be a little dry for some. A lot of history games out there already tend to be of the hex and chit variety, which isn’t always the most visually appealing aesthetic. So I wanted a game that looked as cool as Magic The Gathering, but was based on historical facts, people and events and would be sexy enough that people on the fence might want to give it a go too. And then our funding for 1066 exceeded the first run of Gloom of Kilforth, so I think it might have worked.
Did you expect that some of the artwork was too ‘explicit’ and would need a toned-down version for some markets? (We can’t wait to get the Dark Gloom Pack to swap the cards with the original versions – at least for the late night/without kids sessions 🙂 )
I didn’t expect that the art would be too explicit as such, and I certainly didn’t ask for ‘sacrificed babies’ when submitting art briefs, but we were creating the images without limits and so at the design stage it was more a case of anything goes. Then, when I started to consider our market, and the reactions people were having to the images we’d already released, it was obvious that some of the images needed to be covered up or tweaked a little to make them more palatable. When I mentioned this in passing there was this outcry from backers who wanted to see the original images, so hopefully Dark Gloom is a way of appeasing everyone. Though we realise this is the internet and of course you can’t please everyone…
Gloom of Kilforth – Who did you develop the game for? Did you mainly have solo players in mind or was it meant to be a group adventure?
Gloom of Kilforth was always meant to be an epic group adventure because for me it was a replacement for role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, which I just don’t have the time or inclination to play any more. But I’m occasionally frustrated by games that offer solo play with the caveat that you have to play multiple heroes or manage multiple hands or alter the game in some way that makes it a different experience than when playing with a group. Having been raised on Fighting Fantasy gamebooks where you play as a single hero taking on the world it was important to me to have built in solo play that could scale down to a single hero if needed, so whilst group play was the key, single hero solo play was definitely a consideration right from the outset.
The first time we played GoK, we struggled a little with the rules and different options you have during your turn. How difficult is it to create a rule book which is short enough but covers everything you need to know as a player?
For me: impossible. I wrote so many drafts of the rules, and each one seemed to be an attempt at paring down the options to make the game more digestible. I wanted so many options for the player, and for it to be as close to an RPG as possible, but at the end of the day it is a board game, and I had to let a lot of stuff go. Once I had my own final draft I enlisted the talents of Fantasy Flight’s finest rules editor Patrick Brennan, who went through the rules with a fine toothed comb then completely scrapped and re-wrote them in a format that humans who aren’t me can understand. As far as I’m concerned, creating a game, and delivering a clear rulebook for that game are two separate talents, and I’m happy to defer to the experts on the latter.
Any chance you can reveal any new details or idea about Touch of Death, the first GoK expansion you are working on?
Touch of Death is another Fantasy Quest Game core set and will be cross compatible with Gloom of Kilforth. It is essentially the same game, with the same rules and mechanics, but with a shed-load of brand new content: new heroes, new encounters, new rewards, new sagas, new ancients, new everything. You can either play the two games separately, or combine the two to make a truly epic adventure. We aim to Kickstart Touch of Death at the end of 2018.
1066, Tears to Many Mothers – We all here at Game-Mountain have kids which are now old enough to join us when playing some more complex board and card games. When I saw 1066 I had to late pledge it for two reasons: The artwork is again stunning. And it feels like a great combination of entertainment and education at the same time. Was this the intention when you designed it?
100 percent yes. I have an 8 year old boy whose brain is like a sponge: he picks up the rules to games like Gloomhaven within minutes and absorbs the minutiae of all the different cards, abilities and enemies faster than my aging brain can ever keep up with. I’d long been carrying this idea of having a game that plays fast and loose enough for kids and adults alike to pick up, and that would still fill people’s heads with stats and figures, but also, hopefully, a little bit of history and learning at the same time too. So whilst your child might be able to recite the stats of every single Pokemon in existence, imagine how nice it would be if they could also tell you the names of every single person listed in the Domesday Book who attended the Battle of Hastings? I’ve demoed 1066, Tears to Many Mothers hundreds of times, and it being based on real history tends to be one of the key elements that really lights up people’s imaginations. It also helps to spread the total illusion that I am in some way knowledgeable about history and therefore my spending hours every day moving cards and tokens around a table is a more legitimate pursuit.
War is a nasty thing and I am wondering how detailed and ‘bloody’ do you want the 1066 artwork to be? Will it potentially be too dark for kids to play the game and if so, do you plan to offer a toned-down version like you did for GoK?
No, 1066 has been a sort of ‘PG’ rating from the outset. We’ve strived for historical accuracy where possible with the armour and weapons, and whilst there is action and dynamism in the imagery there is no explicit violence or bloodshed. Even the ‘Arrow in the Eye’ card is pretty kid-safe!
Anything else you would love to tell us and our readers?
If any of our games sound interesting to you, please follow us on social media: we have lots of cool new games in the pipeline, and we’re publishing other games from guest designers too, beginning with the upcoming Kickstarter ‘Lifeform’. Co-designed by gaming wunderkind Mark Chaplin – Invaders, Revolver – this is our paean to THE classic sci-fi horror (but without the IP). One team plays as the mining crew who have unwittingly taken an utterly hostile and invincible alien aboard their labyrinthine spaceship, whilst the other team plays as the deadly Lifeform. Whilst the beast stalks the miners and picks them off one by one, the crew must gather their supplies and race to the escape shuttle before the ship self destructs. It’s an absolute belter of a game, I haven’t played anything like it before, and I can’t wait to see how people respond to it. Kickstarting very soon!
Thanks a lot for your time and all the best for your upcoming projects!
Thanks so much for your time and for having me. 🙂
And last but not least, a few links: