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

Subject: What’s so great about this game anyway? rss

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Tor Gjerde
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Fortunately, greatness or lack of it in a game is a highly subjective subject. Unfortunately, I prefer to attempt a certain degree of objectivity when explaining things. As my enjoyment of this game came as a bit of a surprise, I will this time have to resort to a so thoroughly subjective account of it that, short of the existence of the game and its authorship, you should regard anything below as personal experience not necessarily applicable to anybody else.

I first heard of “Fantasy Quest” as the unpublished early version of Gloom of Kilforth was called from a post here on BGG where Tristan detailed his design philosophy for the game. I hadn’t come across his name before, but it turned out that he already was well-known on many forums here for his highly acclaimed additional content for various published games. His enthusiasm for the solution he had developed for incorporating mechanisms and tropes from role-playing games into a card-centric board game intrigued me. I have been fascinated by games since early childhood, and have enjoyed designing my own games and tinkering with and modifying others’ for almost as long. From the beginning this included board and card games, then computer games was added to these, and since the end of the eighties role-playing have formed an important part of the mix.

Some form of board and role-playing game hybrid without the need for a game master as in for example Heroquest has been a game design grail for me for decades, but as my view of the defining features of the two has developed I have come to the conclusion that in a deeper sense, this is not possible. But Tristan seemed to aim for a more achievable goal: what I would term an “adventure game”. That is a narrative-driven board game where the players make decisions based on an objective game-state, but where these align sufficiently well with the motivation of their in-game characters that the illusion of playing as them holds up enough to enrich the experience. A pessimist by nature, I still didn’t expect it to fully work; but Tristan’s enthusiasm and clearly communicated vision for the game, with an approach that resonated with my own design ideas, made this game the first kickstarter project I ever backed.

The kickstarter campaign itself turned out to be legendary, so in terms of return on investment, I had broke even on the day I received the game, and anything beyond that would be an unexpected bonus. Getting to grips with the rules took a bit of effort, but after a solo trial game and quick and clear feedback on my own and others’ questions here on BGG, I brought the game to the weekly meeting of the local board and role-playing game club. Still not entirely convinced how well it would work, I decided to specifically approach club members whose tastes I had an inkling would align with such a game when trying to recruit players.

This was an unexpected success. Not only did I enjoy the game surprisingly well, but Chris, one of the players I had enlisted, fell thoroughly for it. He contacted the few stores who had wisely in a handful of games as stock, but alas just too late. Undeterred, he contacted Tristan directly, and was luckily able to buy one of his personal copies. His enthusiasm resulted in the game being played on the following game nights at the club, and the game rapidly grew on me as well.

Since that, Chris and I have made three fan-expansions and have three more in the pipeline, and the game is being played almost every week at the game club. But what exactly is it about this game that generates this degree of enthusiasm?

For me, I think it is the way a narrative emerges from the unique permutations of evocative microcontent rather than being fully pre-written or requiring creative input beyond the constraints of a board game. Many games that are regarded as very thematic tend to fall flat for me. These are often games where the theme is to a large degree established through flavour text, but where the mechanics that translate this into game-state consequences cannot carry the weight of this. Gloom of Kilforth has flavour text too, but here it could in principle have been omitted without taking the game or the theme away with it. The artwork on the cards helps me more with the immersion, but even here the game would have survived well even with a less extravagant quality. Both these aspects do indeed contribute strongly to establishing the setting and its characteristic mood, but the really heavy lifting is done by the game mechanics, card titles and the well-fitting way the game-mechanical properties of the cards makes the meaning of their titles become “real”.

OK. So what about the flipside? Few things are perfect, and there has to be something about the game that is at least suboptimal? Sure; but let us first dwell for a second on a merely possible weakness. From a fully reductionist viewpoint, the game consists primarily of hunting for a sequence of keywords, while simultaneously improving your capability to defeat the “end of game boss” in a variety of ways. Success in that hunt is normally contingent on a few card draws and die rolls, which has led some to write off the game as too abstract and random. I’ll explain why I don’t share this view.

The abstractness is largely a matter of taste and point of view. One might imagine that the sagas which provide you with the keywords would have felt more thematic if they instead said “befriend the Noble Goodwife and join the Order of the Wild Claw” or “Slay the Beastman roaming the mountains and learn the Rock Body spell in preparation of the final assault on the Ancient”. Mechanically, a solution along these lines would have given very little variability and hence replayability; would have required either tedious searching for specific cards, or making it easier to search for specific cards, again reducing the variation from game to game; and finally it would have massively reduced your heroes’ agency in fulfilling their own sagas, forcing them to fulfil a pre-written script. If you instead regard the keywords as ambiguous prophecies, it is up to each hero every single time to figure out for themselves how to fulfil these, and how to make use of the opportunities that arise from the selection of encounters that happen to appear.

The various forms of randomness part is precisely what drives the sense of discovery and suspense in the game, and which makes it to a large degree a game of risk management and making the most of the opportunities. Now, that may not be everybody’s favourite style of game, but it should hardly come as a surprise to anybody that a RPG-influenced board game with the subtitle “Fantasy Quest” makes use of semi-random encounters and skill checks to defeat them; these are after all core tropes of the genre. Add to this the myriad ways of preparing for and mitigating the threats one faces, the game does not feel very random to me while at the same time not being chess either. Chris’ disproportionately high win ratio in multiplayer games provides anecdotal evidence of skill markedly dominating over luck in the final outcome of the game.

Having dealt with those, we finally come to the aspects where I feel that the game falls short of perfection:

1: Of the four encounter types, “Place” and “Quest” are mechanically too undifferentiated. I can’t think of any obvious solution on how to modify at least one of them, but the right solution to this could have enriched the game further. One possibility which I haven’t tested but which could be a avenue to try is the following variant: If you roll no successes on your first attempt at confronting a Quest, you place one of your enemy tokens on it and may not confront it again on this day (the token is removed at nightfall). If you roll at least one success (but not enough to defeat it), you place the card in your own play area, and no other heroes may confront it. If it is not defeated by nightfall you lose 1 HP and must choose whether to keep the card, discard it, or return it to your current location (even if this is not where it originally came from).

2: At least in the solo and competitive modes, there are some skills that are obviously always superior choices to their alternative, making the skill progression somewhat scripted. Merely adding more skills can’t solve this, unless they are so well chosen that several different avenues are viable paths to become the ultimate Ancient-slayer. The game succeeds in this for the War Mage, who can choose to focus on the Fight path or the Study path, but it would have been brilliant if something similar was the case for all four skill-types.

3: In four-player games, we sometimes have had to reshuffle either the Plains or the Forest encounter decks. This indicates that although the paring down of the original design to publishable size otherwise does not damage the game in ways that is visible to those of us who have never tried the larger playtesting version, these two decks in particular should have had at least four more cards each. Of course, the forthcoming expansion will cover this and more, but for the base game, it is a slight weakness.

For me personally, these shortcomings are more than offset by the game’s wonderful sandboxiness, which also compels me to keep making extra content for it.
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Tristan Hall
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Great review (and title), thanks Tor!


Nighteyes77 wrote:
Excellent discussion points on what is quickly becoming my favorite game. I have only recently discovered it but this is exactly what I was looking for in an adventure card game. Nothing comes close as far as immersion.

Thank you for posting this. I feel like this game is sadly underrated and underappreciated.


Cheers Frankie, but don't feel too sad - GoK was awarded one of the Top Ten Games of the Year in Tabletop Gaming Magazine, plus we're about to print another 6,000 copies in multiple languages, so it's being fairly well appreciated.
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Paul Bradshaw
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ninjadorg wrote:
Great review (and title), thanks Tor!


Nighteyes77 wrote:
Excellent discussion points on what is quickly becoming my favorite game. I have only recently discovered it but this is exactly what I was looking for in an adventure card game. Nothing comes close as far as immersion.

Thank you for posting this. I feel like this game is sadly underrated and underappreciated.


Cheers Frankie, but don't feel too sad - GoK was awarded one of the Top Ten Games of the Year in Tabletop Gaming Magazine, plus we're about to print another 6,000 copies in multiple languages, so it's being fairly well appreciated.


And I will be one of those 6000 beneficiaries. Can't wait!
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Hirsty9Owls wrote:


And I will be one of those 6000 beneficiaries. Can't wait!


Thanks for your support Paul - much appreciated.
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Justin Boehm
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A well thought out post and I would agree that GoK is worthy of any praise it has received and for anyone who likes adventure games, it belong it their collection. I've spoken several times to others about how they should definitely play this game and about how well it conveys it's themes by your character's actions alone, which is really an amazing thing, and one of my favorite things about the game (along with the art, I mean come on, there isn't better art in any game ever produced).

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Lestat Lioncourt
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Thank you and YES !

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Thank you for your positive comments and support guys, it's a real boost! Reading this, coupled with the success of our latest Kickstarter game, has led to me having an absolutely fantastic Easter so far.
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gjerde wrote:


Since that, Chris and I have made three fan-expansions and have three more in the pipeline, and the game is being played almost every week at the game club.


Can you tell more about these expansions?
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deaddrone wrote:
gjerde wrote:


Since that, Chris and I have made three fan-expansions and have three more in the pipeline, and the game is being played almost every week at the game club.


Can you tell more about these expansions?


Sure; the three finished ones are detailed here:
Undead Ancients
Twilit Sagas
Risk & Reward

The three expansions under development are additional skills, more encounters and an alternate night deck. When they are finished they will be posted here like the first three; for an updated overview of all my expansions and other accessories for the game, see https://old.no/glook/.

The cards can be ordered professionally printed from printerstudio.com. This will soon become even easier to do, as I have now submitted each deck as designs for purchase (at no markup on top of their price), and am waiting for their approval process. I have also provided PDF files for print and play for those who prefer that.
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gjerde wrote:
deaddrone wrote:
gjerde wrote:


Since that, Chris and I have made three fan-expansions and have three more in the pipeline, and the game is being played almost every week at the game club.


Can you tell more about these expansions?


Sure; the three finished ones are detailed here:
Undead Ancients
Twilit Sagas
Risk & Reward

The three expansions under development are additional skills, more encounters and an alternate night deck. When they are finished they will be posted here like the first three; for an updated overview of all my expansions and other accessories for the game, see https://old.no/glook/.

The cards can be ordered professionally printed from printerstudio.com. This will soon become even easier to do, as I have now submitted each deck as designs for purchase (at no markup on top of their price), and am waiting for their approval process. I have also provided PDF files for print and play for those who prefer that.


Amazing and outstanding work Tor! This is great! Can't wait for upcoming ones.
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Tor Gjerde
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deaddrone wrote:
gjerde wrote:
deaddrone wrote:
gjerde wrote:


Since that, Chris and I have made three fan-expansions and have three more in the pipeline, and the game is being played almost every week at the game club.


Can you tell more about these expansions?


Sure; the three finished ones are detailed here:
Undead Ancients
Twilit Sagas
Risk & Reward

The three expansions under development are additional skills, more encounters and an alternate night deck. When they are finished they will be posted here like the first three; for an updated overview of all my expansions and other accessories for the game, see https://old.no/glook/.

The cards can be ordered professionally printed from printerstudio.com. This will soon become even easier to do, as I have now submitted each deck as designs for purchase (at no markup on top of their price), and am waiting for their approval process. I have also provided PDF files for print and play for those who prefer that.


Amazing and outstanding work Tor! This is great! Can't wait for upcoming ones.

Fourth fan-expansion: Grave Encounters is now available.
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