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Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game» Forums » Reviews

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Charlie Theel
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Adventure is a wonderful word. It's a sensation we're constantly chasing and thus a concept that is prevalent in gaming. It's about mystery and conquest. It's about that little three letter word "fun".

Gloom of Kilforth enters the fray drawing from a long lineage of predecessors. It's not an altogether new or innovative endeavor, rather it seeks to tweak and improve on the pathfinders. You can draw immediate similarities to genre greats Talisman and Arkham Horror. There's even direct overlap in personality with some of the lesser known entries such as the excellent Shadows of Malice. All of this is to say that Kilforth is a muddled pool of DNA whose primordial evolution springs from a comfortable and familiar set of traits.

Yet not all things are equal. The enormous challenge of conveying a narrative adventure with a minimal amount of moving parts requires shortcuts. You need a small amount of flavor text to lay the foundation and provide context. You need simple and direct mechanisms to elevate drama. You need conquerable turf to display your world beating prowess. And you need artwork. Tons and tons of gorgeous artwork. Gloom of Kilforth addresses each of these principles with a certain degree of success.

This design's personality will punch you in the ocular cavity as soon as you catch a glimpse of its beautiful appearance. "It's what's on the inside that counts" is a lie your mom cozied up with because she didn't want to hurt your feelings and she didn't know about Gloom of Kilforth. Don't get me wrong, the nuts and bolts of the design are solid and thoroughly tested, but the illustrations on these cards are second to none. This is the Jon Hamm of cardboard.



It's easy to gloss over representative images and cut straight to text when playing a thematic game. With Gloom of Kilforth you'll constantly find your eye drawn to the imagery. Each encounter paints a story. The harrowed wraith is invading as a vanguard to the encroaching darkness. The formidable knight illuminated by the sun is enacting repentance for being a dead beat dad. That seedy villager with a twisted grin is hiding a child in their brick oven. You know, powerful crunchy stuff.

Paired with this exceptional visual treat is the stellar character generation system. Continuing that trend of accomplishing a great deal with very little, you simply pair a random race with a random class. You're given plot and direction by another group of cards titled Sagas. This hones focus and provides short and long term goals. When you smash these elements of character and story together you get the fuel for player agency. The surprises kick in early as you're dealt a dwarf priest who is intent on saving refugees on the outskirts of the region. Or perhaps fate decides you're a half-demon warrior sent to assassinate a twisted lord. A few riffle shuffles and you've catapulted past rolling for Constitution and Willpower and straight to bashing in the evil goat-dude's face.

These Sagas are the meat of the game. You'll be travelling across a grid of those attractive landscape cards finding adventure and seeking keywords. Each of these personal quests requires you gather treasure, allies, and rumors containing a set of thematically appropriate descriptors. So maybe you need a Stranger and Martial keyword to accomplish your goal of defending a village of innocents from marauding Orcs. This requires you move to different types of terrain cards and engage in encounters drawn from paired decks. You'll be looking to defeat challenges possessing those same keywords in order to advance your arc. That quality of piecing together narrative with fragmented attributes is the heart of the game and a major qualifier of enjoyment.



It's a scavenger hunt of italicized adjectives at its root. If you can take "Stranger" and "Quest" and connect the dots to fill out the flavor text on the Sagas, then you will harness the large amount of enjoyment at the bottom of the well. If you get frustrated in your search and feel as though you're wandering aimless on an abstract set of errands, well, then the Gloom will fully set in. This utilization of keywords has its cost, but it's absolutely a clever way to provide story flexibility. It requires narrative contortion but it allows for a very lean approach to player direction as you're given editorial control.

One thorn certain to prod virgins of Kilforth is the segregation of those keywords. A degree of meta-knowledge is required to know that strangers are more likely to pop up in the plains and enemies in the badlands. If you don't look through the encounter decks prior to play you will need to do a lot of learning on the job. This can be frustrating and it can also stretch the game into an uncomfortable time commitment. The fact that this game will regularly clock in around 3+ hours with a full complement of four players makes the learning process especially harsh.

This process does give the game a longer arc of discovery. That's a quality many will appreciate as you need to familiarize yourself with the region of Kilforth by living in it for a day. Or the 25 the game can stretch to before the arrival of impending catastrophe.

Sailing becomes smooth once you've hit the school of hard knocks and gained some fantasy street cred. You'll hit the appropriate encounters and gobble up those rumors like an Ethiopian hungry hungry hippo. Eventually you will complete all the stages of your Saga and you will take on an Ancient. These curmudgeonly hellions function as terrifying bosses, spitting out anguish and decay throughout the game. Getting there though is the challenge. The length is never quite reigned in even with repeated play. That's somewhat prohibitive and relegates this title to primarily a solo or two player affair.

While this is a simple design of flipping an encounter and rolling some dice to beat it, there are a lot of small embellishments. When you find those strangers you can choose to roll your influence stat or you can accost them with violence--the true language of the genre. Then there's an important rule for hiding, spending your limited action points to better prepare for an ambush. There are special effects such as traps and a detailed combat process despite a straightforward resolution mechanic. Rounds are broken down into night and day. Locations can get flipped to a more muddled side as that sheet of haze blankets the land. There is simply a lot of minutiae that will take a few plays to internalize.

The trade-off here is that the additional overhead provides a framework for more nuanced decisions. The game has an airy feel due to the multitude of options. This interacts well with the stakes of the adventure as the clock provides pressure. Pressure which pushes an array of tiny daggers into the warm flesh of your side while your mental gears gyrate.



Gloom of Kilforth at times feels like a sandbox, one occasionally full of crooked broken glass as well as glimmering nuggets of gold. The proportion of each is primarily determined by the participant and how they engage and leverage its narrative assets; more often than not you'll hit the playground with a shovel and leave with your pockets crammed full of the good stuff.


This review was originally written for Ding & Dent. I also write for Ars Technica, Geek & Sundry, and The Review Corner. To view a collection of all of my reviews, head to this geeklist.
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Hilla Powell Bajwa
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Hey ...somehow I have the feeling ...you understand this game, you are able
to feel yourself into the game ... so thank you for this review.

hmmm.. you wrote ... those three letters "fun" and adventure, just spoke to
me. Everybody who had real live adventures knows, they are not really fun but
a challenge to develope. It seems to me that a lot of gamers look for the
perfect game like a girl for prince charming.

Perfect is absolute boring... we all should marry robots in the future,
then there is nothing to complain.

You really made a good point ... which gives me hope ...

sandbox: at times full of crooked broken glas, as well as glimmering
nuggets of gold. Well I choose to dig for the glimmering nuggets of
gold, even when the broken glas will cut me. (I own this game)

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Ryan
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I think you and I appreciate many of the same things about this game.

I find my reward in the journey and have cared very little about whether I win or not. Don't get me wrong, I certainly strive to win, but I ultimately feel the real win in Gloom of Kilforth is in the playing. My appreciation, I think, is increased by accidentally deciding to adopt the Bloodbath variant without knowing of its existence. I suspect the game may "drag" a bit when you are defeated by an enemy and continue on. I find that by knowing my character is dead if they should ever lose all HP for any reason the tension is ratcheted up, a slow grind is potentially averted, and my appreciation for narrative is enhanced by a dramatic, futile, heroic death.

I also play GoK without scouting any of the decks. Everything I've learned about the composition of the decks has been through the trial and error of adventuring. Data mining the decks before playing seems distasteful and against the spirit of the game. I think this has enhanced the adventuring feel for me.

charlest wrote:
Gloom of Kilforth at times feels like a sandbox, one occasionally full of crooked broken glass as well as glimmering nuggets of gold. The proportion of each is primarily determined by the participant and how they engage and leverage its narrative assets; more often than not you'll hit the playground with a shovel and leave with your pockets crammed full of the good stuff. ]

I agree completely and think this statement may be the most concise and accurate description of the game.
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Charlie Theel
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Thanks Hilla!


Ryanmobile wrote:
I think you and I appreciate many of the same things about this game.

I find my reward in the journey and have cared very little about whether I win or not. Don't get me wrong, I certainly strive to win, but I ultimately feel the real win in Gloom of Kilforth is in the playing. My appreciation, I think, is increased by accidentally deciding to adopt the Bloodbath variant without knowing of its existence. I suspect the game may "drag" a bit when you are defeated by an enemy and continue on. I find that by knowing my character is dead if they should ever lose all HP for any reason the tension is ratcheted up, a slow grind is potentially averted, and my appreciation for narrative is enhanced by a dramatic, futile, heroic death.

I also play GoK without scouting any of the decks. Everything I've learned about the composition of the decks has been through the trial and error of adventuring. Data mining the decks before playing seems distasteful and against the spirit of the game. I think this has enhanced the adventuring feel for me.

charlest wrote:
Gloom of Kilforth at times feels like a sandbox, one occasionally full of crooked broken glass as well as glimmering nuggets of gold. The proportion of each is primarily determined by the participant and how they engage and leverage its narrative assets; more often than not you'll hit the playground with a shovel and leave with your pockets crammed full of the good stuff. ]

I agree completely and think this statement may be the most concise and accurate description of the game.


Thanks Ryan. If I recall correctly we have pretty similar taste/experiences when it comes to DVG games as well (not that GoK is directly comparable to those types of designs).
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Dan Conley
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Charlie...I'm really curious about this one. The art is so darned good that it's hard to walk away from it! But I'm somewhat concerned about gameplay. Seems to be a number of comparisons of this to Runebound, a game that just never clicked with me for whatever reason.

I also see that you can play solo, co-op or competitively. Is this right? How did you play it? Just trying to get some perspective.

Thanks for the review.
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Charlie Theel
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yosemite wrote:
Charlie...I'm really curious about this one. The art is so darned good that it's hard to walk away from it! But I'm somewhat concerned about gameplay. Seems to be a number of comparisons of this to Runebound, a game that just never clicked with me for whatever reason.

I also see that you can play solo, co-op or competitively. Is this right? How did you play it? Just trying to get some perspective.

Thanks for the review.


I played it all three ways, but only once Competitive and Co-operative. Three times solo. I much prefer it solo just because of time constraints. I would play it Co-op again though if someone really wanted to, but Competitive didn't do much for me.

If Runebound didn't click, you may have the same problem here. That's tough to say. I think this game is most similar to Shadows of Malice in its story-telling. It shifts much of the burden of connecting the dots to the individual(s) playing the game.

Sorry for not expounding on these details in the review. I've gotten used to strict word counts in my writing due to requirements at Geek & Sundry, Ars Technica, and the Review Corner (all have limits of around 1,000 words) and have to make tough choices about what I focus on in my writing, sometimes glossing over things such as this.

I think this is an odd game, in that it pushes you one way or another and there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. You can see this in the negative reviews, all of which I think are fair and I understand where the authors are coming from, even if the game didn't land the same for me.
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Dan Conley
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Thanks, Charlie. No apology needed for the omission of details. Word counts are important! After all, you can't cover everything...
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Dan Conley
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Hey, Charlie! Thought I'd update you to say that I scored a copy of this one through a BGG auction. I thought my last bid was still pretty light, so I assumed I'd get sniped near the end. Honestly, I would have been okay with that outcome as I was still pretty ambivalent about the game. But I'm okay with owning it, too! Artwork is just fantastic. Now to see how gameplay holds up...

Your review certainly is appreciated as always.

Has there been any progress on a microbadge? I'd offer, but I know nothing about that stuff. shake
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Charlie Theel
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Excellent, hoping you enjoy it Dan!

yosemite wrote:

Has there been any progress on a microbadge? I'd offer, but I know nothing about that stuff. shake


Nope, I may create one eventually. Need to slow down and stop being so damn busy!
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Dan Conley
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charlest wrote:
Excellent, hoping you enjoy it Dan!

yosemite wrote:

Has there been any progress on a microbadge? I'd offer, but I know nothing about that stuff. shake


Nope, I may create one eventually. Need to slow down and stop being so damn busy!


Gotta take a break from writing all these terrific reviews! (Sure hope its a short break...)
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