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Gloom of Kilforth – a Fantasy Quest Review

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-boxThe land of Kilforth is falling into darkness and gloom- take on the role of a humble adventurer, completing your own personal saga, so that one day you will be ready to take on the Ancient one who menaces the land. Don’t take too long though – if the whole land is allowed to succumb to the Gloom, then it will spell death and defeat for all.

Gloom of Kilforth is a card game for 1-4 heroic adventurers, which can be played solo, cooperatively, or competitively, in about 1 hour per player. With some fantastic artwork, it’s attracted a bit of a buzz, but can it live up to the hype? Let’s find out!

Gloom of Kilforth: What’s in the box?

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Set up for a solo game

 The heart of Gloom of Kilforth are the various decks of cards which make up the locations, encounters and characters of the land of Kilforth. The card-stock is good, and the art is simply stunning, with every card having a separate image, and all the art for the game being done by the same extremely talented designer.

Aside from the cards, there are little stand-up tokens to represent your character as they move around, wooden tokens for health, actions, gold and a few miscellaneous other things, as well as a large spread of cardboard tokens representing Loot. All of the token components are pretty sturdy, and all are sufficiently different from one another to be easily identifiable.

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My Vampire War-Mage ready for a solo game

The only component in Gloom of Kilforth that I really wasn’t a fan of was the Rulebook – Gloom of Kilforth is a complex game with a lot going on, and the rulebook doesn’t do a particularly good job of making it accessible. Having watched a play-through video and read the rulebook ahead of our first game, I still spent a lot of time leafing through things, and failing to find them due to the lack of index – it was probably only once I’d re-read the rulebook after playing a full game, and then played the game a second time that I could be confident that I was playing the game more-or-less correctly.

What kind of Hero am I? Whoever you want!

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-races-combinedAt the start of each game of Gloom of Kilforth, you create your hero, by choosing a race and a class – there are 8 classes: 4 core ones, and 4 hybrids, along with 8 races – the race cards being double-sided so that you can choose art to give your hero the gender of your choice (or just your favoured artwork face-up).

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In effect there are 4 core classes giving a +2 stat boost, and 4 hybrids which give +1 to 2 different attributes.

Heroes have stats for 4 attributes – Fight, Study, Sneak and Influence, which are set by the race and modified by the class. The attributes determine how many dice you roll when you have to perform a test – every 5 or 6 is a success.

Even though variation in attributes is only nudging around 4 numbers, I was impressed how well Gloom of Kilforth managed to make characters feel different and defined by class: you can’t get much sneakier than a Dark-Elf Rogue, but the Elf-Ranger feels much more round, with some capability in combat and influence. You also get abilities derived from your class and race cards, hopefully offering you the chance to develop a distinctive play-style with each character combination.

So what do we do? There are so many options!

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A few Encounters from Mountain locations

One of the great things about Gloom of Kilforth is the amount of freedom you have – you are an adventurer in this land, with a long-term objective, but how you go about getting there is fairly flexible.

Every time you enter an empty location in Gloom of Kilforth, you draw an encounter – it might be a stranger to charm, an enemy to defeat, a place to explore, or a quest to fulfill.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-strangersWhen you defeat an encounter, you generally have the choice of taking it into your hand as a “rumour,” or of taking a card from one of the reward decks.

Encounters in hand will only ever be rumours: they can be spent, 1 per day, as “fate” (basically adding one success to a test you perform), or you can use it to advance your Saga (more on that below).

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-reward-artIf the rumour came from one of the Reward Decks though – Items, Spells, Allies or Titles, then you have the added option to turn it into an asset. Assets will provide you with extra abilities, or bonuses to your stats, and can also be used more than once towards a Saga. However, to turn a rumour into an asset you will have to go to the location listed on the card, clear any encounters that might be there, and then put it into play – the clever part of Gloom of Kilforth is learning how to balance the long-term benefit of Assets with the short-term need to advance.

We’re all going on a Saga Holiday…

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My Vampire has completed the first stage of her Saga…

Each hero in Gloom of Kilforth will have 2 long-term objectives: complete their Saga, and defeat the ancient (in that order). No cheap holidays for the over-50s here, a Saga is an epic tale of glory, detailing your mighty acts, as your hero climbs from insignificance to the status of a true champion.

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…but it’s taken a long time, and much of the land has succumbed to Gloom

There are 4 basic sagas in Gloom of Kilforth, each paired naturally with one of the game’s core classes, so that you can play easier/introductory games where the challenges play to your strengths rather than your weaknesses. However, you can also mix them up, pairing a saga with a less synergistic class, or use one of the 4 other bonus sagas that come in the box, which helps to ensure that there is absolutely bags of replay value in Gloom of Kilforth.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-ninjadorgYour saga comes in 4 chapters, plus a finale, and each stage will require you to spend one of your actions, some of your gold, and cards with a specified set of keywords – this is where the difference between Rumours and Assets comes in, as you have to discard a Rumour, but can chose to reveal an Asset (once per action) to use its keyword, leaving it available for future turns.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-encounter-peopleEach time you complete a stage of your saga you get to increase your maximum health, heal by 1 point, (giving you an extra action each turn), and learn a new skill based on your class.

This gives Gloom of Kilforth a nice sense of escalation: early in the game, even a single orc will be a major difficulty, but by the end, you’ll be able to go into a fight with confidence, hampered only by the sheer scale of the blight the Gloom has spread across the land as you prepare to tackle the ancient.

Where in the world?

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-forestEach time you set up a game of Gloom of Kilforth, you will place the card for the “Sprawl City” location in the centre, then distribute the remaining locations at random.

Sprawl City is (mostly) a safe, central, starting point, as it’s the only location which you don’t need to draw encounters for.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-mountainsEncounters come from one of Four decks, each of them matching one of the location-types in the game: Forest, Plains, Mountains, or Badlands. These types not only determine which deck you draw encounters from, but also which Ancient will take a particular interest in its demise.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-badlands-plainsAt the start of the game, your hero will have 4 actions and 4 health. However, levelling up is an important aspect of Gloom of Kilforth, and every time you level up, you increase your maximum number of hitpoints and action-points: actions are always tied to hit-points, meaning that, as well as leading ultimately to death, damage will slow you down in the short-term. You can only rest at a location which is free of encounters, so you need to be careful before stepping out into the wide world with diminished health. This can be frustrating at times, but after I’d had the chance to get used to it, I decided that I like the way that Gloom of Kilforth punishes you for losing health – a lone adventurer shouldn’t be able to just roam the land with impunity, and this makes your actions feel more consequential than in something like Runebound where only the current encounter is forfeited, and by next turn you can be back to full health.

When Night Falls…

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-alliesAll your questing and adventuring in Gloom of Kilforth is done by day, with night time definitely not being the adventurer’s friend. At the end of each day, when everyone has “Made Camp” (run out of actions or passed), you will draw a Night Card – Night Cards act as the timer deck in Gloom of Kilforth, with each card announcing that another of the land’s 25 locations has fallen into Gloom. Whilst a location under gloom can still be accessed, any hero who ends their turn there will take a point of damage, which makes travel harder and harder as the game goes on. The night deck also contains events, monsters, and weather effects which will appear in random order, making life harder for the players.

A stroke of luck

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My Vampire has completed her Saga, and is fairly powered-up now

Most encounters in Gloom of Kilforth are resolved by tests, and tests are inevitably performed with dice – roll a number of dice equal to your skill level – a 5 or 6 is a success, with anything else being a fail.

The dice in Gloom of Kilforth were one of the most frustrating aspects for me – leaving aside the fact that there aren’t enough of them (only six included), we always seemed to roll badly – right up until it came to the time to roll on behalf of a monster! Generally I like games to contain a random element, as it stops things from becoming too puzzle-like, but I would have preferred more ways to be able to mitigate bad luck.

gloom-of-kilforth-card-game-immune-enemiesThe way that everything is randomised in Gloom of Kilforth is great for giving the game a lot of re-play value, but it does mean that you can end up with some perfect storms.

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She rests in one of the last locations not fallen to Gloom,before launching her assault

Fortunately, Gloom of Kilforth is a good enough game that it’s worth playing over and over again – so you can come up with a narrative for what went wrong, then play again, probably with fewer snarl-ups.

If you play games just to win, then this will probably frustrate you, but if you’re prepared to embrace the narrative, then Gloom of Kilforth is well worth the time it takes.

Gloom of Kilforth: Final Thoughts

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Despite getting the Ancient down to 2 Health, the Vampire ultimately suffers death and defeat

Gloom of Kilforth is a game with a lot going for it: the visuals are absolutely stunning, and it’s the sort of game I could spend hours just looking at. For a Kickstarter (a proper, old-style start-up from an independent designer, not just a big-company pre-order) the high production quality is particularly remarkable, and the box feels worth every penny.

In terms of game-play, I think this sits closest to Runebound in my collection – that sense of really exploring a world, and having a lot of freedom en-route to completing a final showdown for ultimate victory. Like Runebound, I think it’s best with low player-counts: at least when you’re getting to know the game, you can expect to spend at least an hour per player on a session of Gloom of Kilforth, and by the 4th hour, I think it’s inevitable that things will start to drag.

Overall a really good game – the lack of an accessible rulebook and the fact that it would feel like a slog with 4 stops me from giving it top, top marks, but still worth 8.5/10

5 (100%) 2 votes
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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