Interview: Tristan Hall, from Hall or Nothing Productions

Hello, fellow gamers!

After a small pause during the holidays, I come with something a bit different than usual. While Rory and I were visiting the UK Games Expo back in early June we decided to do some interviews.

So let me present you Tristan Hall, from Hall or Nothing Productions. The designer of the great “Gloom of Kilforth” and the upcoming “1066, Tears To Many Mothers”, also a fellow 1 Player Guild member from BGG and a friend of mine.

After many years of development, he successfully kickstarted his first game, Gloom of Kilforth. Though I remember being part of the campaign and it came close to the end. The delivery of the games was earlier in June this year and he delivered on everything he promised. Great gameplay, immersive stories and one of the best artwork ever seen in a boardgame. A review will definitely come at some point.

No wonder his second Kickstarter, 1066, Tears To Many Mothers run much smoother and reached its goal much earlier and funded in the first days of the campaign, after such a good reception of the first game.

We thought it was a good opportunity to get some insight into the games world from a small designer point of view.

Also, if after reading this you want to know more or even get one of his games, you can still late pledge for 1066, Tears To Many Mothers and tomorrow friday 29th o November, Tristan will launch his 3rd kickstarter with a reprint and an expansion for Gloom of Kilforth. I’ll update the article with a link to the campaign 🙂

And now onto the questions, I hope you enjoy it!

Gloom of Kilforth:

  • When reading the synopsis of the game I was immediately reminded of some of my favourite fantasy films of my childhood, namely The Never Ending Story, with its intangible and abstract growing menace – and I appreciate this question is the chagrin of fantasy authors, but I’ll ask it anyway: Can you tell me about any of the direct influences (as well as Tolkien that you’ve mentioned) to this game – from both/either other art forms, books/films/music or other games?

I’m obsessed with stories, and I always have been, so influences can come from anywhere, but if I had to list authors I guess anything by Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett, Weiss and Hickman, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, even the gritty stuff from Iain Banks (or any of his sci-fi stuff as Iain M Banks) and Irvine Welsh, or the sweeping tales from Dickens or Dostoevsky, all of these have fed into my pools of influence in some way or other.

For films, a key moment in my life was watching Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings when I was 5 – I think it maybe had an even bigger impact on me than Star Wars.  All of Ray Harryhausen’s films blew me away.  Anything fantastical from the 80s like Labyrinth, Legend, Conan, Beastmaster, or any of the cheaper sword and sandals B-movies.

For other games it would be a combination of the Arkham Horror board game meets the Dungeons and Dragons RPG.

  • As an RPG style game, self-generated narrative is an important feature of the game can you tell me a little about how you devised this system, as you say there are few to no games like it.

Basically I wanted to play a fantasy RPG but didn’t have the time, and I wanted it to be solo-playable too.  All the fantasy games on the market were based on combat – fighting baddies and nicking their treasure.  Which is fine, of course, and I probably bought all of them.  But for me, actual RPGs were more about negotiating with strange people, going on amazing adventures, exploring ancient and deadly locations, saving people by going on epic quests, and THEN fighting baddies and nicking their treasure.  And there were no games that seemed to deal with all of that other cool narrative stuff, so I worked hard to include all of those elements in Gloom of Kilforth.

Interestingly, there has been a surge of fantasy games focussed on narrative experiences recently, so it’s clearly not just me who feels this way!

  • With the success of this Kickstarter and “similar” projects like The City of Kings and Gloomhaven – where the border between board and RPG is becoming thinner, and of course with the recent and sudden popularity of the Legacy format, what do you think this means for this new genre/style of game?

I think that narrative games are an excellent direction for the industry, and my usual reason for designing games is because they don’t already exist.  If we have a gamut of excellent RPG style adventure games with great storytelling then I can spend more time playing than designing them!

I love campaign games but I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Legacy format.  I know there are two schools of thought on this and that the proponents of Legacy games argue that it’s not just a marketing gimmick and that you can’t get the same tension from a game when you know you can just reset it again afterwards.  But after playing through campaigns of renewable campaign games like Kingdom Death compared to say the one-shot experience of Pandemic Legacy, I just don’t think that games where you have to destroy components deliver a better experience.  I also like to come back and play games that I’ve had for decades too.  That said, there is now a movement of ‘green legacy’ style games where you can play through a changing world campaign game but not have to destroy your game in the process.  I think these will offer the perfect balance of experience in the long run, when people realise you don’t have to buy multiple copies of a disposable game instead.

That said, if the market for disposable Legacy games continues to grow too, that’s cool as well.  There’s nothing to stop us all from having our cake and eating it!

  • As a member of the 1 Player Guild, I guess it was important for you to include a solo mode.  Were there any notable/specific challenges you faced when designing that mode of play, was it something you had in mind from the beginning?

I have been a solo game player for as long as I’ve played board games, whether it was playing both sides at Tank Battles when I was a child (never enjoyed playing both opposing sides as much though) to developing full solo/cooperative rules for HeroQuest when I was a pre-teen.  I’m a huge advocate for solo play, and though asking for solo rules for games was kind of frowned upon by some of the gaming community ten years ago, today it seems like including solo rules is par for course, which I think is fantastic.  I certainly set out to do that with Gloom of Kilforth from the outset, as I was often frustrated by games that offered solo rules but forced you to play as multiple characters for the game to work.  As an avid reader of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as I was growing up I always loved the idea of one hero against the world, so that mode of play was built in from the ground up, meaning that the challenge of achieving that was equivalent to me as the challenge of just designing the game in the first place.  If that makes sense.  Which it might not, reading that back…

  • The artwork in this game is incredible, just eye-wateringly beautiful, one of the things I love the most about it,and it is used is in the gender neutrality of the card-flipping, as you say in the Kickstarter video, which side of the card is used has no impact on the game, was the inclusion of this extra art etc important to you at an early stage?  

I’ve always thought that being able to play as male or female in a fantasy game was just common sense, and I think that games like this but which preclude one gender or another are senseless.  If it’s a historical game based on real individuals, you might well be limited to a number of characters of a specific gender, but when you’re creating a new world from scratch there’s no reason to hold back in this respect other than the costs involved for the extra art work.

  • Your wife Francesca developed a beautiful soundtrack to the game, something very different and unique, can you tell me about how and why that came about?

Francesca is an amazing pianist, and the daughter of a concert pianist so music is in her blood, literally!  She would be playing the piano whilst I was designing the game in the same room and we talked about how cool it would be if she could score the game.  We went through the themes of the game together, the descending Gloom, the heroes against the odds, strangers meeting and joining forces, epic adventures, and Francesca used the art as inspiration too, to develop piano music to go with it.  I wanted just piano for this soundtrack – like Philip Glass did for Dracula.  And what she achieved is spectacular I think.  If you listen to the music whilst playing the game it provides that extra level of immersion and world-building that really draws you in.  Maybe one day she can score the music to the Gloom of Kilforth movie too!

  • With the upcoming expansion, “Touch of Death”, will it increase the base game contents or will it add new very different mechanics to the game?  

Touch of Death is a stand-alone expansion to Gloom of Kilforth with a focus on the rising undead threat, so it’s effectively the same game system again, but with entirely new heroes, adventures, rewards, and content.  You can either play Touch of Death or Gloom of Kilforth independently, or you can shuffle them both together to create one epic world and double the content of all of your decks of cards!

  • Did you consider anything else to further the immersion into the world you created?

We are launching an artbook Kickstarter for Ania’s incredible work on Gloom of Kilforth soon.

  • With 8 years in development what was it you set out to do, and how does the end product differ from that?

I set out to deliver a sort of D&D RPG experience in a box, that could be played in one evening, either solo, cooperatively, or competitively.  In that respect I think I’ve achieved my goal.  But the help along the way from play-testers and backers regarding the rules and gameplay has dragged the concept along leaps and bounds, and with the money from the Kickstarter campaign we were able to hike up the quality of the art and components to a level I had honestly never envisioned.  There is nothing else out there like it for the amount of art and content you get in a single box, and seeing it sitting on my local shop shelves next to the highest rated games out there I could not be prouder of what we all achieved together.

  • Have your plans changed at all about attempting a retail release for Gloom of Kilforth?

GoK had a limited retail run in the UK through Esdevium, who sold out and oversold almost straight away.  The same happened with our US retailer The Game Steward.  Both retailers have asked for much bigger print runs and we now have international language retailers and distributors interested, so we will be launching a second print run soon going straight to retail.  But we’ll also be running a Kickstarter campaign to attract direct buyers – and there will be something in it for existing owners of the game too, so stay tuned!

1066 Tears to Many Mothers:

  • A great name for a game, where does it come from?

In April of 1066 Halley’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 – the monk Eilmer of Malmesbury Abbey wrote about 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.

  • How long have you been working on 1066 TtMM?

The game has been in development for about 5 years.

  • As potentially part of the Alt Wars series why start with the Battle of Hastings?

As an English kid growing up this was one of the most fascinating subjects to learn about at school.  Such a romantic notion: Harold as the tragic king fighting for the centuries-long fate of our country, and from a military point of view this idea that the battle could have gone either way at any moment, the whole thing just seemed to write itself into an asymmetrical conflict game in my head.  I loved the idea of making a two player card game like Star Wars LCG or Magic the Gathering but with historical events and characters instead.  And I knew with Ania’s art that we could make history look beautiful in a card game format, rather than a dry hex and chit type affair that lots of war games become – not that there’s anything wrong with those too of course…

  • This game so far has picked up two pretty big awards, is this successful enough for you to develop Agincourt?

Award nominations – it’s a big distinction.  But I think people are just as happy that it’s been nominated, especially considering it hasn’t actually even been released yet!  Agincourt was certainly on my list of conflicts/theatres to cover, but as has been pointed out many times, it would pit the French against the English once again.  So I’m convinced now that the second game in the series will be another prominent contender from my list – ‘1565, St Elmo’s Pay’ (Siege of Malta).  And given the success of the 1066 TtMM Kickstarter, I’m confident enough to start development on it as soon as I can.

  • Are you planning on doing a retail release for 1066 TtMM, or will you keep it as a Kickstarter exclusive like Gloom of Kilforth?

If the retailers will have it, I’ll sell it.  Gloom of Kilforth did get a limited retail run at hobby shops in the UK and US, and I believe 1066 will too.  But it will be a long time before we’re threatening the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Waterstones or Toys R Us!

  • TtMM sees quite a bit of a departure from Gloom of Kilforth, was this born from a desire to create a game mechanically very different, or was i the theme/history that lead the mechanics?  

The history bled into the mechanics of 1066 enormously, and once the main elements fell into place (two armies fighting over the three wedges of troops) it started to come together quite quickly.  Even though it’s an abstracted card game, everything about it is drawn from the history and/or stories of the time, so there are cards for almost anything you can think of that occurred at the battle – the legendary Saxon Hatchet Knight, the stopping the battle for a food break because the bodies were piled too high, the Normans confessing and praying the night before, whilst the Saxons drank and sang, we even have an ‘Arrow in the Eye’ card…

But there’s also an element of needing to prove I’m not a one-trick pony too.  The path of least resistance would have been to release a Gloom of Kilforth expansion straight away, and that will certainly happen soon, but I wanted to show I could design a totally different game altogether, and I think 1066 is, as you say, a clear enough departure.  And wait till you see what’s coming further down the line too.

  • Do you think this game will appeal to a different/wider audience then Gloom of Kilforth?  Do you see any risk in creating a game that is mechanically very different?

It was definitely a risk, because we could have got back all the people who enjoyed Gloom of Kilforth by doing an expansion, whereas there was no guarantee that anyone who wanted a 1-4 player epic fantasy adventure experience was going to want a 1-2 player head to head card game based on history.  But I was shocked by the number of backers who came back to support a combination of Ania’s artwork, Francesca’s music, my game designs, and Hall or Nothing as a company I guess.  We also actually drew in more initial backers this time (1,906 backers for 1066 Tears to Many Mothers versus 1,481 for Gloom of Kilforth), I think from the much lower price point, being an established/trusted brand now, and also from the historical element, maybe.  I definitely wasn’t sure we’d reach a wider audience, but I’m delighted that we did.

  • After your second Kickstarter for “1066 Tears to many mothers”, as a small independent company producing games, crowdfunding looks like a good system to launch a new game. What are the biggest challenges you faced the first time that you’re doing differently now? What advice would you give to a new designer who is thinking of launching a Kickstarter based on your experience?

Go for it!  It’s a great time for the industry right now, many are calling it the golden age, as people want to escape from screens and spend time with real people and real components around a real table, being sociable, having drinks and snacks and listening to music or whatever.

Make sure your game idea is fully fledged – play-test it a hundred times, and get people you don’t know to play it too.  Take on all the feedback you can, and as long as you put in the time and effort to make your game the best it can be, don’t be put off by too much negativity, because there are games for everyone.  I’ve had to learn the hard way that no matter how beautifully produced, researched or presented your game, there will always be people who will not like it for any number of reasons.  One reviewer said that the art for Gloom of Kilforth was ‘too good’ and broke the immersion for him.  And I recently had a 1066 backer pull his pledge because he found out that Saxon warriors liked to drink ale!  You have to learn to love these differences in people, and realise that for every individual who doesn’t like your game, there will five hundred more who love it.

Platforms like Kickstarter can be incredibly supportive and positive if you keep your backers updated and you are open and honest with them.  But a badly handled campaign with a quiet creator and/or an unfinished game can quickly descend into toxicity.  Stay on top of your project and ask for help when and where you need it.

  • Anna Kryczkowska provides the excellent artwork again for TtMM, why have you chosen to retain the same artist, and do you plan to continue doing so?

Have you seen her work??  Seriously though, Ania K is a consummate professional who delivers the highest quality art I’ve ever seen in board games, and in an incredibly quick time frame.  We have a great working relationship too.  Hopefully we’ll get busy enough to require multiple artists to get projects completed, but I would happily continue working with Ania for as long as I’m producing anything creative because she’s a legend

What is next for Hall or Nothing Productions?

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

  • ‘1066, Tears to Many Mothers’ – production underway
  • ‘Gloom of Kilforth’ reprint + small GoK 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’ (Siege of Malta)

 

That’s all folks!

Thanks for reading and special thanks to Tristan for taking the time to answer all our questions!

2 thoughts on “Interview: Tristan Hall, from Hall or Nothing Productions

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