Tristan Hall: Art in Board Games #18
This week we have Tristan Hall a designer who has developed games such as Gloom of Kilforth and is producing the forthcoming 1066, Tears to Many Mothers under his company Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd.
Hello Tristan thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a freelance creative producer - I shoot, edit, and produce videos by day, and I design board games by night. I also run a board gaming podcast called Board Chitless where we interview lots of other game designers too.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an author, and specifically to write stories. I wrote a book when I was 24 - it did not do well. So now I tell stories through board games instead. I’m obsessed with stories, and I always have been especially fantastical stories. I think 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. So as a kid I wanted to write stories, but when I was old enough to realise you could make those stories into movies I wanted to do that too. Which is how I ended up in the murky world of corporate video production!
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
I played board games and RPGs all the time growing up - my best Christmas ever was when I received HeroQuest and my tiny mind was blown by all the components and promise of adventure. I must have designed a hundred quests for that game. I took a hiatus from gaming in my late teens when I went out doing what young lads do but then rediscovered the hobby in my twenties once I was settled down with my now wife. Which I think is a similar trajectory to a lot of other gamers I’ve spoken to. I got into boardgamegeek in a big way (ninjadorg on BGG), looking for a game that recaptured my roleplaying days of yore, but I couldn’t find one so I started developing one instead. I was also contributing adventures and quests to the D&D games and the Lord of the Rings card games which earned tens of thousands of downloads - I had such positive feedback about them that when I talked about developing my own game people began asking where they could get it. After coercing play-testers worldwide to give it a go and getting great feedback I sent it to a game publishing company and they said they’d publish it. Two years later they’d done nothing with it and we parted ways. My play-testers then told me about Kickstarter, so I posted it up on there to see what would happen, after an incredible struggle we funded, and then I had to go ahead and make the game properly!
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
At first I would give lengthy and detailed descriptions of every individual image to the artists, including the pose, expression, clothing and description of every character, creature or landscape in the game, whilst also providing reference images and example art. As you work through hundreds of images together, this process becomes more and more streamlined until you develop a sort of shorthand of communication. I learned to hand over a huge amount of trust and responsibility for the outcome of the images to the artist. Nowadays, 90% of the time I make little or no changes to submitted art work.
You were involved in the creation of Gloom of Kilforth so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Well, no one had really heard of it. We had no marketing, so it came from nowhere. People didn’t know who I was, and we had this high target of £48,000 so people weren’t really sure if we could deliver. But the word of mouth was incredible and the momentum just kept going. I think it helped that I’d contributed a lot of fanmade material as I mentioned above, and people who had enjoyed those threw in their support for our campaign.
Funny thing about Kickstarter is that people are less likely to support a project if it hasn’t already funded - even though no money exchanges hands if it doesn’t reach its goal. So you see a lot of projects with artificially low funding goals so that they can quickly get over that ‘100% funded’ hump, which is okay as long as you over-fund enough to cover your costs I suppose. We didn’t have that though, so it was a 27-day slog up to that 100% mark, but once we hit it, we suddenly shot up to 150% funded in the final 48 hours when people realised it was actually going to go into production and they could start getting stretch goals unlocked. It was a real underdog story and I think the backers really connected with that, so it went a bit crazy at the end as people started doubling or tripling their pledges just to get us over the next stretch goal!
I think there was some genuine disappointment when our second campaign for 1066, Tears to Many Mothers funded so quickly...
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Gloom of Kilforth?
I wanted to play a beautiful classical RPG adventure game that recaptured the feeling of playing Dungeons and Dragons in one evening, which meant epic adventures, meeting strange people, going on quests, exploring ancient places, enlisting allies and overcoming enemies and obstacles and finding great treasures, and no game I’ve played before or since Gloom of Kilforth does that with simplistic mechanics and gorgeous art. Fantasy adventure games are all about combat and leveling up, and whilst we have elements of that, the key focus of the game is to have a great narrative adventure experience. It is interesting to witness the sea change in the industry now though, as companies like Fantasy Flight are evidently starting to release fantasy adventure games more focused on the stories rather than the fighting, and I really like what Ryan Laukat has done with Near and Far. I think this is a fantastic direction for gaming.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I’m reading a lot of history books to keep 1066, TtMM and its sequels boiling over, but also enjoying TV shows like Vikings and The Last Kingdom for a historical adventuring fix. I like to listen to movie and game soundtracks whilst I work - my wife Francesca is the daughter of a concert pianist and an incredible musician and pianist herself. Francesca composes epic musical soundtracks for my games and has created beautiful soundscapes for both Gloom of Kilforth and 1066, Tears to Many Mothers, so I often listen to her play whilst I work. I also love listening to Hans Zimmer and anything by Trent Reznor. The two other TV shows I’m working my way through that are genuinely blowing my mind right now are American Gods and the latest season of Game of Thrones.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
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. (I also love solo gaming and play tons of games by myself to get away from the world for a little bit, or to test myself mentally, or to just learn the rules for when I introduce the game to my group, depending on the kind of game I’m playing.)
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 don’t be put off by too much negativity, there are games for everyone but some people simply will not like your game for any number of reasons.
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.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
We have a small expansion for Gloom of Kilforth Kickstarting soon to coincide with the reprint of the game. 1066, TtMM is well under development and will be shipped out early next year. We are also producing the sci-fi horror masterpiece Lifeform by Mark Chaplin, which will be Kickstarting early next year. And we have a whole bunch of other projects we’d love to produce if we can continue to keep pace with the amazing support we’ve been getting from our backers.
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
Follow us on all the social channels!
(All images supplied by Tristan Hall)