Hey, you're touching my face...
I'm going to talk about this game. I'm 5 or 6 turns in and quite enjoying it. Only one rules issue so far and it was a small one that made sense once I realized a simple strike of the 'enter' key in the rulebook would have helped.
But first, a shout out to the first time I got the happy gamer feels (I'm not a fan of that word, but it fits... so tough) with this game. This is of course besides looking at the art in person for the first time. That's a given.
Reading through the rulebook was already a pleasurable experience. Not a thing about it is phoned in (read: no Arial font to be seen!). But when I flipped the page and saw the night phase rules in white text on black background...
Update 7-10-17: Finished my first game as a human warrior (randomly drawn, but it was nice to have a simple chracterter for the first game). I lost to the Abscess of Penance on the last day. At first, I thought I had squeeked out a victory using my 3(!) unused fate tokens (forgot about them during most of the game), but then I took a second look at the ancient abilities and the quests left on the board and realized that I got smote hard.
I'm sure I missed some things here and there, but for a first play (after one reset), I feel like I actually had most of the game right. It took me a bit to figure out how strangers worked and I'm still not sure I understand exactly when sneaking just helps you avoid an encounter vs. defeat it. Otherwise, though, the rules are pretty straightforward. I've read a few gripes here and there about odd organization and a few missing bits (is the word 'destroy' anywhere in the rules?), but I found the rules to be very clear as far as actually playing the game is concerned.
And overall? I had a great time. I'd echo a lot of the positives put forth by others. The variability in the game ought to be fantastic given just how many combos of heroes, ancients, rewards, and encounters there are in the game. The ONLY thing I could see getting repetitive is the Night deck, but maybe that's a nice constant to have amongst the other random elements. There are a couple of thematic oddities that I'll have to get used to such as the delayed gratification of most rewards, but I really like how that system works so it's forgiven.
I've set it up for another human/warrior run at the AofP with a different map so we'll see how round 2 goes.
Update 2: Just had a very short 3-day game in which I drew a a few encounters that I had no chance of defeating and then lost to a relatively strong enemy that I just felt like I had to fight to get something going. Quick reset and we'll go again!
Update 3: And another short game... heh. This time, an Hobgoblin just got a really lucky swing on me.
I set up again and decided to play a little more conservatively. As luck (skill?) would have it, I actually completed the first 2 chapters of my sage within just the first 4 or 5 days. Figuring out that an asset satisfies the keyword requirement without having to give up the asset was a breakthrough... missed that early on. The game is still more rules than narrative at this point, but I'm already feeling that starting to shift. I might do some more comparisons later, but I'm already seeing ways that this is scratching my fantasy questing itch in ways that Runebound never could. Combat, for example, is way more streamlined while still feeling like more than just a dice roll. Staying in the fight almost always means you're risking taking that killing blow yourself which brings a good amount of tension to most battles.
And I couldn't even dream of explaining the greatness of the reward system better than Chris did, but suffice to say he was right. The rewards aren't just set up to be an arbitrary boon after a successful encounter. There's actually a narrative to how you gain them and much of the time, you're actually only being informed of the reward and you have to go get it. You still get a little something immediately, though, otherwise it might be too cumbersome. Then you can use your potential rewards to complete chapters in your saga. Narratively, it'd be like satisfying the requirements based on your knowledge of what's needed rather than actually having it. It's just really cool.
So yeah... on we go.
7-11-17 Midnight Update: Just finished my second "full" game. The first 3 saga chapters all came very easy thanks to a fortunate run of quests. There is one thing I did that might be interpreted as wrong. I had a helm that protects you from 2 hits. Once the two hits are gone, it serves no purpose. In other games, you'd probably discard the helm at that point, but I kept it. I figured thematically, it was now a beat up trophy of past battles that I could show off to people. I used it's "item" keyword to complete a couple chapters of the saga and replaced it as soon as I could with another piece of armor.
Anyway, I plugged along, only running into some trouble when I went the wrong direction looking to complete my saga. I'd made such good progress, though, that the time loss was no big deal. I just didn't want too many badlands territories to fall to the Gloom because that strengthens the final boss (Ancient). I made it though, and felt like I had a pretty good arsenal of tools and skills to take it on. Sadly, I didn't realize I was going to have to sacrifice my fireball spell so that meant I was losing 4 points off my fight statistic. Still had 10, so let's go.
Not all the steps are pictured, but that combo made it to where I could take the Ancient out in one fell swoop. Boom. That felt good.
So that's two full plays and a couple of shorties in just a couple days. Been awhile since I did that with a "big" game and I couldn't be happier. There is so much to explore here. My human warrior moved through the story just like you'd expect him to... bashing enemies at will, tripping on words and making enemies of most strangers, clumsily trying to sneak through dungeons, etc. Sure, a few encounters didn't "come alive" in the narrative, but so many more did. There are little touches in the design that show a great care in both creating a story, but allowing for the player to imagine things for themselves. There are a lot of words to take in initially, but once you realize that most of the words are there to interact with their match in a simple, explicit way, it ceases to be overwhelming.
I don't know what else to say. It's getting late and my eyes are starting to droop. Between Lost Expedition and Gloom of Kilforth, it's been quite the satisfying week for gaming. My brother in law is coming over tomorrow and I think we're going to be able to sneak a couple things in so that will be fun. And Marty, Robert, and me have one more summer meetup planned. Can't wait for that. I'm going to enjoy this while I can. In October, my game room, time, and energy will all by flying out the window.
Okay, let's do this: Runebound comparisons.
Kilforth - Check a handful of modifiers and roll dice. The modifiers (found mostly on your 'assets' like gear and allies) simply make you stronger. There isn't much in the way of circumstantial modifiers to deal with (think Sentinels of the Multiverse). Back and forth with your foe until you either run away or die. An interesting wrinkle is that most of the time, you're rolling the attacks simultaneously. Thus, that killing blow could come right back your way. It's a risk. You also typically HAVE to do at least one attack as that happens earlier in the sequence than escape so "hiding" before you approach a potential fight gives you a chance to evade. Anyway, I don't want this to become a rules breakdown. Back to comparisons.
Runebound - The counter toss... quite a polarizing mechanic. I'm okay with it for the most part, though custom dice would have been a little easier. It's cumbersome trying to shake and throw those counters without them going everywhere. A dice tray is fine, but even then, they're prone to landing on the edges or stacked or whatever. It's rarely just a simple throw. That said, the way the counters are used is pretty cool. Manipulating the combinations back and forth between you and the enemy is a bit of a puzzle and it works well. The problem is that you have to do this little puzzle for EVERY toss and sometimes, you're doing several of those in one fight. It gets a smidge tedious, especially if you have a few pieces of gear and are thus throwing more counters.
Verdict - Gotta go Kilforth. The overall fights play out the same in both as you trade blows until one side is defeated, but Kilforth is way more streamlined.
2. The Map
Kilforth - A 5x5 grid of cards. The settings are beautifully illustrated, but the geography of the map is arbitrary. Essentially, you're leaving out any "paths" of travel and just moving destination to destination. It works just fine and it's nice knowing that there will always be something to do at a location. The layout can also affect how you approach questing so that's good.
Runebound - Gorgeous map. It's static, but there's enough going on with it that it doesn't feel repetitive. I think of it a bit like an Elder Scrolls game. The places are all the same, but there is a lot of potential adventuring at each place. The only problem is you have to roll and move WHICH IS FINE, but you'll occasionally find yourself with nothing meaningful to do on a turn other than move. This isn't necessarily an issue, but it can make the game feel a little slow at times.
Verdict - Runebound by a hair. Even if Kilforth's locations are great to look at, the Runebound map still looks better on the table and has the geographical element that helps the world feel a little more "real". That said, I wouldn't change a thing about either.
3. The Loot
Kilforth - Can't say enough good about the loot system here. Defeating an encounter gives you an immediate reward of gold or a loot bag draw (usually good, but a few bad mixed in... "crap, that bandits bag was full of snakes!") and a delayed reward of a "rumor". The rumor can either be the card you just defeated which can give you keywords needed to complete quests (think of this like knowledge gained about how to proceed) or one of four different types of reward cards (armor, item, ally, spell). You have to go to a place to "discover" that reward (think of this as a bandit telling you of their stash back in the mountains). It's just so well done. My favorite encounter card for this system so far is the "Fugitives" encounter. I won't spoil it, and it's a small thing, but it brought a small grin to my face.
As far as the rewards go, they do a handful of different things. Some modify your stats, some give you one-off or each-turn uses, some just give you a keyword you might need or a small recurring reward for doing something. I could probably say more, but I'll stop there.
Runebound - A lot of similarities with GoK as far as the loot itself is concerned. Modifiers, rewards, etc. How you get the loot is a little more straightforward. Complete a quest, defeat an enemy, go to the market, you get a piece of loot. This isn't a bad thing at all of course, but GoK has suddenly made me THINK about what loot I want and how I can get it. It takes the game past the one-step dice+success=prize formula.
What IS cool about loot in Runebound is that weapons, armor, and spells add counters to your counter pool in combat and there are subtle ways they make it cool. Example (that I'm making up as the game isn't in front of me): You might get a nice big broadsword. On one side of the counter is a hit for big damage, but on the other is a complete miss. The way you mitigate this 50/50 chance to hit is through your other tiles that might have the ability to flip another after you "cast" them. Puzzling this out is the cool part of combat that I mentioned above. Adding counters to your pool is satisfying and gives a nice sense of progress, HOWEVER, a small tedious part of the game is having to fish through the 15-20 weapon counters to find your exact one you just earned (every counter matches to a card).
Verdict - Kilforth just edges Runebound for me here. Both have great loot, but the variability in Kilforth on the different types of rewards and how you acquire them is so cool. Having a weapon add a counter in Runebound is a cool divergence from the generic stat modifier, but otherwise, it's pretty standard fare.
Kilforth - Quests and encounters in this game have all the ingredients that you'd expect in a fantasy adventure game, but the way they're mixed is a little different. Instead of encounter decks being divided by "type" (combat, exploration, etc.), they're divided by location type (plains, badlands, etc.) and then within those decks you'll find a distribution of enemies, places, strangers, and quests. All four of these types of encounters play out a little differently. Strangers especially are interesting because you have an opportunity to test your influence on them and if you fail, they become an enemy. This is a really cool twist on resolving an encounter because you can decide whether or not you want to try to influence them, fight them, or just leave them alone and come back later. Example: a stranger might be some brutal warlord you meet on the plains. You could try and talk to them, but they would probably need a strong influence roll to convince them you're friendly. Fighting them would also be risky if it's early game and you're not that strong. This is a fantastic little decision space in the game and something I don't recall seeing in other games (though I'm sure it exists).
Runebound - Quests here (if I'm remembering right... don't have it in front of me) are divided up by "type" as mentioned above and the icons for each type are spread across different locations on the map. This works okay, but it takes a bit of the mystery out encounters. If you're drawing the little green torch, you're probably going on a quest. If you're drawing the little orange sword, you're probably going to fight. There is some variance to the encounters within the deck and they're still fun to play out usually, but for me, they just don't have the personality of the encounters in Kilforth.
Verdict Kilforth by a good stretch. Runebound encounters are fine, but the lack of mystery given how they're sorted and the lack of artwork (every Kilforth encounter has unique artwork... awesome) just makes questing a little more vanilla experience. Combining the way encounters work with the loot system in Kilforth makes it incredibly satisfying to traverse the land trying to accomplish your mission.
One last note on game progression. Both games have you working toward an ultimate encounter with a big bad (expansions for both games may switch this up, but I'm just talking base box). Without breaking down how both work, I would say that this is a slight weakness in both games. The exact way Runebound works is escaping me at the moment. I think it's basically a timer and you're trying to get strong enough before time runs out. In Kilforth, you're trying to collect "keywords" from encounters and rewards. Once you get what you need, you pay a little gold and move to the next chapter. It works, but the narrative is a little more vague compared to what you get in the other parts of the game. Not sure what you'd do differently, though.
So there we go. I guess this turned into a bit of a comparative review, but that's fine. In conclusion, Gloom of Kilforth is really really really good. I daresay great. And it could even be more highly esteemed if it has longevity for me (I think it will). Good work, Tristan!
Shadows of Kilforth - March 2019 Kickstarter
Shadows of Kilforth - March 2019 Kickstarter
Excellent session report too.