Hall or Nothing

Over the past few weeks, Tristan Hall has joined us at our evening meetings to show us his two new games, Gloom of Kilforth, a fantasy card game that successfully Kickstarted in 2015 and which arrives in the UK this month, and his next game 1066, Tears to Many Mothers. Can you introduce yourself?

My name’s Tristan Hall (ninjadorg on boardgamegeek) and, well, I designed those two games that you mentioned! I also run a board gaming podcast called Board Chitless.


Can you introduce the two games…

Gloom of Kilforth is my version of D&D, which seats 1-4 players, plays in one sitting at about an hour per player, and can be cooperative, competitive or solo. I don’t have time to play D&D anymore but it left an indelible impression on me as a kid growing up and I wanted to condense those role-playing experiences (and not just the combat) down into a board game. I also wanted it to look super pretty and managed to bag one of the best artists working in the industry: Ania Kryczkowska.

1066, Tears to Many Mothers is a 1-2 player history battle card game that can be played in 30 minutes. It recreates the historic Battle of Hastings so people playing it might actually learn a little bit about the battle. We also got Ania again to do the artwork so it’s going to look beautiful...

Both games clearly draw on mechanics that'll be familiar to gamers (Talisman for Gloom of Kilforth, Magic for 1066) while having some nice developments of their own. Could you say something about the games behind the games, and the way that this fed into your design process (I think you said something about standing on the shoulders of giants)…


Could you say something about the games behind the games and the way that this fed into your design process?

I’m absolutely indebted to the games that I’ve played already and the designers who have gone before. I’ve taken my pick of design elements I love from other games, sprinkled in my own bits and pieces and tried to create something unique and interesting in the process. After all, good artists borrow, but great artists steal, right? So in Gloom of Kilforth, we have the tile-flipping elements from games like Forbidden Island, which is a great way to suddenly and evocatively display a significantly altered game state - in this case, the world ending. There are stats and dice for success, which draws from innumerable RPGs, but most notably the Arkham Horror board game.

1066 is a two-player card game, and whilst the mechanics, character abilities, and objectives are drawn from the history of the battle, the rules share DNA with many similar games such as the Star Wars LCG or Magic, but it’s specifically non-collectable, so you don’t have to buy a million boxes to play the game, just the one.


Both games have a very strong theme, can you say something about the relation of theme and design? 

Theme first for me every time. I tend to gravitate towards thematic games, and themes that interest me, particularly if they involve conflict, either between players or against the game. Whilst I have played and enjoyed farm-building games, give me a game where I’m building an army and attacking gigantic monsters instead any day of the week.

Once I have a theme I’m interested in, the design and mechanics draw from that. I love art in games, so I lean towards card driven mechanics myself. I also love tech trees and engine building, but for me, most of all, storytelling is key, whether that’s an incredible fantasy adventure, the re-telling of a historical battle, a village beset by unknowable horrors, or an epic journey into the far reaches of space and time. I want players of my games to come away having had a narrative experience of some sort. I stopped playing chess when I was a kid because whilst it’s an incontrovertible design, it never gave me the narrative experience that I thrive upon.


How ‘historical’ is 1066

1066 is necessarily abstracted because it’s a card game. So whilst I tried to squeeze in all of the key events and elements you can think of that occurred either during or in the lead-up to the battle (stopping the battle for a lunch break because the bodies were piled so high they couldn’t reach each other, the Normans praying and confessing whilst the Saxons were drinking and singing the night before, even the purely speculative ‘arrow in the eye’ makes an appearance), at the end of the day they are consolidated down into various card effects during the game. So historians will not be drawing upon it to accurately recreate the battle and find out how it could have gone differently! But players who enjoy the history will either recognise or learn about these events as they play the game.

Sources include my studies of the period at college, documentaries such as Dan Snow’s 1066: A Year to Conquer England, the Domesday Book itself, the Internet, and reference books such as Frank McLynn’s 1066: The Year of The Three Battles, Hastings 1066 The fall of Saxon England by Christopher Gravett, The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris, or even Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R. Owen-Crocker.


You mentioned expansions etc. Is this simply a question of pasting on a new theme? So, for example, a horror Kilforth, or a fantasy 1066?

Kilforth kind of already has mild horror elements, but I am developing a horror game called Sublime Dark which will have entirely different mechanics. Combat will be much less forgiving for example!

But Gloom of Kilforth has expansions in the pipeline, additional content to add variety to the adventures and rewards and heroes, and an entirely stand-alone expansion, Touch of Death: A Fantasy Quest Game, which will use the same game mechanics but have totally different content focussing on an undead theme. It will be possible to combine the two games together for one epic fantasy experience!

1066 expansions will be standalone too and will take the form of new theatres of conflict altogether, the first of such being 1565, St Elmo’s Pay (based on the Siege of Malta). We’re hoping to make them cross-compatible so you could pit the Normans against the Ottomans for example.



What is it like making a game? Can you give advice for other designers here?

My advice is to get as much play-testing done as you possibly can, and especially with people who you don’t know - blind-playtesting feedback from people who only have the rules to go on is the most crucial feedback of all.

Game design can be a long and difficult process, but if you enjoy it, it can be very rewarding. You have to be in it for the fun of it I think, because the margins can be quite limiting, and the marketplace is so crowded you have no guarantee of success. But if you have an original idea, persistence, research, and a little luck, you can succeed!


Why card games? Kilforth is a card RPG, why not a classic pen and paper RPG or a board game?

As I hinted above I just don’t have the time (or inclination to be honest) to commit to RPGs anymore, which is something that I really enjoyed as a teenager. I always ended up being games master by default but preferred being a player, so Gloom of Kilforth allows you to capture those RPG style experiences in smaller digestible vignettes, and you can put the completed game away at the end of an evening, instead of having to commit weeks or months to getting through an adventure.

As for cards over boards, the game did actually start out as a static board on a map, but the flexibility and variation provided by the randomised layout of cards, not to mention the abundance of extra cool art, proved out as a better experience through play-testing.


Can you tell us about the Kickstarter process?

Assuming you’re talking about Gloom of Kilforth - no one had really heard of it. We had no marketing, so it came from nowhere. People didn’t know who I was, and we had this high target of £48,000 so people weren’t really sure if we could deliver. But the word of mouth was incredible and the momentum just kept going. I think it helped that I’d contributed a lot of fan-made material to many other games over the years, so people who had played and enjoyed for example my Lord of the Rings LCG or D&D Adventure System scenarios threw in their support.

Funny thing about Kickstarter is that people are less likely to support a project if it hasn’t already funded - even though no money exchanges hands if it doesn’t reach its goal. So you see a lot of projects with artificially low funding goals so that they can quickly get over that ‘100% funded’ hump, which is okay as long as you over-fund enough to cover your costs I suppose. We didn’t have that though, so it was a 27-day slog up to that 100% mark, but once we hit it, we suddenly shot up to 150% funded in the final 48 hours when people realised it was actually going to go into production and they could start getting stretch goals unlocked. It was a real underdog story and I think the backers really connected with that, so it went a bit crazy at the end as people started doubling or tripling their pledges just to get us over the next stretch goal!

I think there was some genuine disappointment when our second campaign for 1066 funded so quickly...


What are your favourite games to play?

I have so many favourites! Eclipse, Mage Knight and Through The Ages are perfect 10s for me, but as a group, we are really enjoying Spartacus and the second edition of Mansions of Madness. But there are so many new shinies we end up playing brand new titles almost every game night.


Finally, what's next?

For Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd here's a very rough guideline:

1066, Tears to Many Mothers - production underway Gloom of Kilforth reprint + small expansion Ania Kryczkowska Art-book Mark Chaplin’s sci-fi epic Lifeform Touch of Death: A Fantasy Quest Game Sublime Dark (horror storytelling game) 1565, St Elmo’s Pay

For more information about Hall or Nothing, you can visit their website, or follow Tristan on Twitter.