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INTERVIEW WITH DESIGNER & GAMES PRODUCER TRISTAN HALL   Our designer in creative mood ... or has he just spotted the tarantu...





Our designer in creative mood
... or has he just spotted the tarantula on the ceiling?

[A few months ago I was unfortunately away on holiday when Tristan Hall came to my local games store (Wargames, Southport) on its club night to demo his latest game design, Tears For Many Mothers.  More recently his own family commitments meant that the hoped for opportunity to meet and game with him at a local twice yearly gaming event went out the window.  So, thankfully there is at least the good "old" internet which gave me this opportunity at least to pose some of the questions that I'd hoped to ask face to face.]

The obvious and easy starter is - what was your path into the gaming world?

I always played board games as a kid, even when the rest of the family wasn't interested, I'd find ways to change the rules and play games solo if I had to.  But the first game that really blew my tiny mind was HeroQuest, which arrived one Christmas in my childhood.  The miniatures, furniture, dungeons, adventures and everything that game promised was everything I'd dreamed of at the time.  Of course, it's a little dated now.  I went on a hiatus from gaming in my teens and early twenties, but after I got married and settled down I rediscovered the hobby after finding the Arkham Horror board game in some murky corner of the internet a decade ago.  Since then I've collected hundreds of board and card games and never looked back -  a gamer for life!

Do you consider yourself more of a wargamer or more of a Eurogamer and why?

I love both, but I think that the most compelling thing for me in any game is the theme - that's what keeps me coming back.  Agricola is a beautifully designed game and I enjoy playing it, but if I have to choose between medieval farming and wiping the world clear of the freefolk with my armies of orcs, I'm generally going to lean towards the latter.  [I'll take that to be a nod towards being more of a wargamer!] That said, there is an elegance that deeply appeals to me and my favourite games tend to be those that merge elegant mechanics with a cool theme, like Eclipse and Archipelago.

Which games stand out for you on the way to deciding to design and produce your first game, Gloom of Kilforth?

I hold Vlaada Chvati [Through The Ages and Mage Knight - two of my all time favourite games] in high esteem and Richard Hamblen's Magic Realm breaks my brain just thinking about it and the ideas that these guys have developed into fully fledged beautiful games are an inspiration.  But generally I start with the theme and then try to imagine what mechanics best help deliver that narrative experience.

What were some of the other influences and reasons that led you to design and produce your first game, Gloom of Kilforth?

I wanted the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons, but didn't have the time or the inclination to pour through all the books, nor a regular group who would commit to an epic campaign.  So I tried to distil my favourite game elements and narrative vignettes from my favourite D&D campaigns and tunnel it down into one evening's play time.  At the time there was nothing else on the market that offered this because every fantasy adventure game was about killing monsters and stealing their treasure.  I wanted to experience the joy of exploration, meeting strange characters along the road and turning them into friends [or nemeses], going on cool quests, discovering ancient shrines and hidden temples, and then, yes, a little bit of monster-killin' an' treasure huntin' too.  To that end, I'm really satisfied with how Gloom of Kilforth turned out.

Tell us something of the trials and tribulations of being both a game's designer and its producer.

The buck stops with you, so you are responsible for every decision and not every single decision will please every single person, especially when you're supported by thousands of individual backers worldwide. [Gloom of Kilforth, like so many games today, was a Kickstarter project, as is its coming 2nd edition.] If someone else lets you down, it's also on you to take the lumps.  And crowdfunding is a very public platform so every decision you make is scrutinised for everyone to see, which can be hugely daunting.  But it's also hugely liberating and rewarding at the same time - whilst the backers have to trust you and what you're working to achieve, you're not beholden to the whims of external producers or publishing companies who have lots of other games to consume their attention alongside yours.  So you get to devote yourself entirely to your own creative projects and do everything you can to make them the best they can be for yourself and for the gaming community.  If you nurture your community so that they support you too, you develop this incredible symbiotic relationship where you can create beautiful things together. [If you've seen anything of the art work for Gloom of Kilforth, I think you will know what Tristan means and how top-notch it is in this field.*] 

Among your many decisions as the designer, why fantasy for your theme and why purely a card-based game?

I love card games, because you can put beautiful art [see above*] on the cards and build fantastic narratives through the images and through the gameplay... and while I love many different genres, fantasy has always been my favourite since I first saw Ralph Bakshi's Lord of The Rings [the first - animated - attempt to put Tolkien's epic on the movie screen in 1978] when I was a kid.  There followed a series of pivotal childhood moments - picking up the Fighting Fantasy book Island of The Lizard King from a charity shop because of the front cover, finding the D&D red box at a school sale and finally joining an RPG club at the local YMCA - that sealed the deal on my being a geek forever!

Is there a particular group of gamers or games club that have helped you with playtesting?

The gaming community on boardgamegeek has been immensely helpful over the years.  For example,  I tinkered with some scenarios for the D&D Adventure System games and built some adventures for the Lord of The Rings: The Card Game LCG that had tens of thousands of downloads and loads of positive feedback, which really helped me believe I could create something of my own from the ground up.  When I mentioned that that's what I was doing gamers from all over the world  started asking if they could play-test it and their feedback and support has helped shape Gloom of Kilforth into what it is today. [Yes, I think this benefit of comment from so many outside sources comes out clearly, as sometimes in-house products can suffer from the fact that a group of play-testers are so familiar with the product en route.]  The same thing happened with my current, second game, 1066, Tears to Many Mothers, which went down really well with the community and has started to pick up award nominations even before it has even been published.  Also, the Playtest UK guys at UK games Expo were very helpful too.

Personally, I discovered and was drawn to seek out Gloom of Kilforth after being hooked by the Kickstarter for your current design, Tears to Many Mothers.  Here you've turned directly to history and the almost legendary, but little gamed, Battle of Hastings.  What took you in this direction for your second design and why the title you chose for it?

Whilst a sequel to Gloom of Kilforth would have been the path of least resistance, I was determined to prove that I'm not a one-trick pony, so I wanted to make a completely different design and a 1-2 player head to head card game seemed like a great fit for an historical battle game.  The Battle of Hastings has always fascinated me- and no doubt thousands of other British school kids - since we were taught about it at school.  The events leading up to the battle were momentous and the outcome obviously had its impact on English history  for hundreds of years afterwards.  Both sides were so perfectly matched on the battlefield that it could have gone either way at any given moment.  The tragic story of King Harold, one of England's potentially most powerful kings, living out one of the shortest reigns and falling in brutal battle is utterly compelling too.  Capturing that narrative via the medium of a card game was too tempting an opportunity to resist. 

I also considered how cool it would be if, instead of memorising the statistics of a Pikachu or a Shivan Dragon when playing card games, what if they took away a little bit of history with them after playing too?  So, every single card represented in the game is based on a person, story or event from the time of the Battle of Hastings, even down to pulling character names from the Domesday Book.

And that very unusual title.  What's the story behind that?

Ah well, the title comes from a strange quotation I came across. In April of 1066 Hailey's comet was in its perihelion orbit and writers at the time said it was four times the size of Venus and shining with a light equal to a quarter of that of the Moon. Many thought it was an evil omen - including the aged monk, Eilmer, of Malmesbury Abbey, who wrote of the event:
"You've come, have you? - You've come, you source of tears to many mothers.  It is long since I saw you, but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country."

Which is where we get the title of the game.

In giving us some details of this game, other than the change from fantasy to history, what would you say are the major differences in your two designs?

They are very different - but, in a nutshell:  Gloom of Kilforth is an epic, sprawling, fantasy adventure game for 1-4 players with dice and hundreds of cards and tokens that can be played solo, competitively or cooperatively and takes about 50 minutes per player.  It delivers an immersive role-playing experience, whereas 1066, Tears to Many Mothers is a 1-2 player competitive card game that dynamically re-imagines the historical Battle of Hastings and can be played on your lunch break.

And, inevitably, my final question has to be what next when once we have 1066, Tears to Many Mothers in our hands?

  • Lifeform - alien terror in space with superstar designer Mark Chaplin
  • Sublime Dark - horror card game with campaign play
  • Touch of Death: A Fantasy Quest Game - the stand-alone expansion-sequel to Gloom of Kilforth
  • 1565, St. Elmo's Pay - the stand-alone expansion-sequel to 1066, TtMM

And the list goes on - we have such sights to show you...

Thanks, Tristan, for taking the time to answer all my questions in such depth and detail.  AWNT obviously wishes you continued success with all your projects and I hope that it won't be too long before I have the chance to meet up for some real ftf gaming.

To whet you're appetite further, I shall be reviewing Gloom of Kilforth in the coming weeks and showing you something of the superb art work mentioned here.

1 comment :

  1. Great interview. He’s a really nice guy. I was lucky to have a demo of both Gloom of Kilforth and Too Many Tears at the Wargames store in Southport UK (which is well worth a visit if you are in the locality) One of which is in now in my collection and I’ve Kickstartered the other. Also as I write this Gloom of Kilforth 2nd edition and expansion are on Kickstarter. Hope to see some more interviews by the new “Parkinson”