Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Exceed Season 3: Street Fighter

Thank you for checking review #103 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Exceed Season 3: Street Fighter

Exceed Fighting System is a board game designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr. that is published by Level 99 Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 15-25 minutes.

EXCEED brings the speed, tactics, and variety of high-stakes fighting action to life. Choose your fighter and enter the arena. There are no packs to open or rares to chase get everything you need to play right here. Bring your best to the battlefield with four new fighters (per box) from STREET FIGHTER.

My Thoughts

 I’ll be among the first to admit that I don’t exactly get excited by Street Fighter as a theme – I played it in my younger years but I am by no means a fan of the series or IP. However, I do have enough character recognition to be able to appreciate how Level 99 Games made these characters retain aspects of those characters and integrate those into the unique cards in each deck and in the player powers. Sure, some aren’t going to scream “This is _____” when you see them, but they did a great job overall of trying to put some consideration into each character and what went into the decks.

 The gameplay is the same outstanding system that has been built upon in the previous seasons of Exceed. It should come as no surprise that it is just as great in these boxes, making this a solid entry into the Exceed line of games and a worthwhile addition to any Exceed collection. The IP makes it a great starting point for new players, while there is enough here to merit picking up even for those who might already have a solid roster of fighters.

 The new Critical mechanic is interesting, as you are forced to spend some of your Gauge to use it – and you must make the decision on using Critical as you set an attack, not when it resolves. This is the same Gauge that you can use to Exceed, or to play your strongest cards in your deck. Which means you need to decide to try and boost your current attack – which may miss or not resolve if you get stunned – or save those resources for something different later. This adds an excellent decision point to the game with one drawback: if one player pulls ahead early, they could spam the Critical on their attacks, because they have the Gauge to spend and could end to a lose-more situation for the other player.

 The characters feel unique. In a beat-em-up game you would expect mostly similar ways to use characters. Maybe one hits hard from a distance while another hits hard up close, right? And there are characters who are basic enough to fit into those categories nicely (making them perfect for learning the game). But then you grab a character like Dan, who is so bizarre in how he wants to be played that he makes you rethink your approach. And then you grab C. Viper next and get blown away by how much she breaks from what you expect a fighting character to operate. I love that you don’t have 12 characters in the season who all just punch and kick with slight variations. If you want to play well, you need to consider the strengths of your character, their weaknesses, and what the opponent’s character is capable of and consider all of that. Which is a lot of great depth in a 20-30 minute dueling game.

 This only gets mentioned because this is a Level 99 Games title, who notoriously use folded sheets for their rulebook – the version I played before this season had that folded sheet as the rules. But here it has a book-style rulebook which is excellent to have in the box and makes a perfect thing to reference.

 The season is spread across three boxes, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because that keeps costs down to purchase a single box – making the entry point appealing for the pricepoint. You get a TON of game for the $25-30 you’d pay for the box. The downside is that there are three of those boxes to purchase if you want the whole season – and with a popular IP like this odds are the characters you want to play as are not all found in a single box. Which means you’re probably spending the $75-90 on the entire season eventually anyway.

 There is no way to count life for the players inside the box, something that might not go over well with newer players. Yes, a pair of d10s per player, or an app on a phone, or even a stack of poker chips can be used. Many gamers have ways of accomplishing this, but it is worth noting that you need a way to track health from 30 down to 0 for each side. Even something as simple as two health cards per player, in the vein of Hero Realms where one has 10’s and the other 1‘s and players manipulate the cards to represent their health would be better than nothing in the box. There is, of course, a playmat you can purchase and it has a spot on each side to track health. But since you already have a 9-card portable “board” to play on, shouldn’t there also be an easy way for this included in the box? Toss 4 cards or 4d10’s in there and this issue is solved.

Final Thoughts

Taking into consideration the fact that I am yet to play Season 2 of Exceed, I will start by saying that this season is the best one that has hit my table. Not only are the characters more universally-recognized than the Red Horizon IP, but the characters in these boxes come alive for the Street Fighter Exceed. There were moments when I would smile at the subtle nods to some aspect of these characters in the game, something I couldn’t enjoy with Season 1 and something that would also be absent from Season 2. If this season of Exceed accomplished nothing else, those character-defining traits would have been enough to bring a popular IP into the game.

However, they also took a solid system and added an interesting new layer of tactical decisions with the Critical mechanic, and it adds so much to the game experience without making things more complicated by extension. This is a solid entry into the Exceed line-up, and is likely to be a best seller for them because of the IP recognition. Gamers who pick up a box of the Street Fighter Exceed series are getting a really solid, replayable, addictive game in the box. It comes with tuckboxes for each character deck already in the box, an added touch that will do right by the customer (and something I wish I had for my BattleCon collection for those older sets).

One of the coolest moments, if you have any base knowledge of Street Fighter, is having those moments where you see a card or ability effect keyed to that specific character and see how appropriate that would be for the character in question. For instance, Vega gets a boost when backed against the edge of the arena – something he very much uses in the video game version of Street Fighter (well, at least the older versions I played). While not every ability can feel completely thematic, they do a good job of making every character stand out as feeling unique even though they all have a foundation of basic cards that are the same.

All in all, the Exceed Fighting System remains among my favorite games to play and I intend on picking up more of this system with Season 2 being highest on my wishlist for the Seventh Cross characters. I’m a huge fan of the 2-player dueling genre of games, and this is one of the best in that category. The elements of luck and (when you want to Wild Swing) chance are balanced properly with a dynamic battling system which flows quickly and does well at keeping both parties engaged. If you haven’t played Exceed yet, this is an excellent entry point into the system. And if you’re a returning fan, there is enough new content in here with that Critical mechanic, along with the playstyle of the characters, to merit adding this to your collection of fighters.

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #60-51

#60 – Fantastiqa

An interesting twist on deckbuilding that needs more plays to determine where exactly it should fall in the rankings. I enjoy the theme and artwork and the entire world crafted by Alf Seegert for this game and look forward to many more ventures into Fantastiqa in the future.

#59 – Fields of Green

The brilliance of the construction in the game is what reeled me in from the start, and the adjacency requirements means you need to always be planning ahead. I love that the players can select which piles they pull from each year and how those cards all get mixed together and players draft from the cards after that.

#58 – Shakespeare

I was first interested because I enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and my wife enjoys Worker Placement games. What I got was a brilliant action selection game with a super-tight economy and point spread that delights me every time it hits the table.

#57 – Middle-Earth

A dead CCG that captured my heart last year but has been criminally ignored this year. As the dust settles I plan to pull these back out of the binder and finally dive into the deep hole of the solitaire mode – and convince my buddy that we need to get this back to the table for more 2-player excellence.

#56 – Biblios

The sheer brilliance in the game design here astonishes me, presenting an excellent game experience that works well at all player counts. Going through the deck twice is the first interesting twist – with the first run essentially helping you gain the cards you need to buy what you still want in the second run through…all to earn points equal to the pips on a dice in the corresponding color. This remains one of my favorite filler games.

#55 – A Feast for Odin

There is a lot going on at first glance in this game, and there appear to be as many paths to victory available. The temptation of just keeping one board to fill is usually strong, but I like the risk/reward of taking more boards with those negative spaces in order to try and maximize points and gain additional items during income. The real star here, though, is placing multiple workers at once to get a better action.

#54 – Shadowrift

There’s a lot of talk in the community about games that “fire” other games, and that usually isn’t the case for me but this one genuinely fired Aeon’s End for me. While the rules are a bit of a mess, this game thematically captures the feel of defending a town against an onslaught of enemies. Plus the economy in the game is super-tight, making every purchase matter over the course of a play.

#53 – Patchwork

Don’t let the theme fool you, this is one of the more brilliant 2-player games on the market. I love the economy of the game, the turn mechanic, and the drove of negative points looming over your head for every space on the board that isn’t filled.

#52 – Circle the Wagons

Arguably the best title in the Button Shy collection right now, and one of our most-played games as a couple since it entered our collection. Every game is slightly different due to dynamic scoring conditions, and at a 5-10 minute playtime there is always enough time and energy to get a game of this in whether in the evening or at a dinner table.

#51 – At the Gates of Loyang

This one honestly surprised me with how interesting and challenging the solitaire experience is for the game – I’m looking forward to seeing how it holds up with 2. The tension of the economy and needing to spend money to move along the point track, as well as use it to purchase what you need to build your engine…all of that screams excitement to me.

One-Player Only · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: D100 Dungeon

Thank you for checking review #102 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of D100 Dungeon

D100 Dungeon is a board game designed by Martin Knight that is self-published. The rules state it plays 1 players and has a playtime of 5-90 minutes.

Just a pencil, a few sheets of paper, 2 d10’s, a d6 and the manual are all you need to take a character on Dungeon Delving Adventure. Create a Characters and you are ready to start a new journey.

The game uses a series of tables and harks back to a cross over of a RPG and a choose your own adventure book. With quests and character development. You can pick this up and play as and when you have the free time.

Each quest is a trip to the dungeon, where you will have a specific goal. Whether you win or fail the quest your character is constantly developing and looting better equipment and more gold. AS you progress through the dungeon you map your progress and make notes so you can easily return back to a quest you have started next time you have some free time. This an ideal lunch break, train journey, flight filler that can help with any gamers withdraw.

Version 3 has updated rules and extra content, and you can find out how its changed here – and order here –

Version 1 and 2 are free to try out and can be downloaded from BGG here –

—description from the designer

My Thoughts

 There is something deeply satisfying about taking a pencil to paper and mapping out the rooms as your adventure through a quest. I’m no great artist and never will be, but the rooms are easy enough to duplicate (closely enough). Fitting the information needed onto the map might be a challenge for those with large handwriting but I never found it to be a detraction to my experience. Being able to literally see the map grow as you explore reminds me of playing a game like the original Legend of Zelda where the screen shifts with each movement to a new area.

 Three dice are all you need beyond the book and a pencil. Well, mostly. Unless you plan to erase maps and character information constantly you will probably also want extra copies of those sheets as well. But the bottom line is there is so little that goes into playing the game to make it portable, fast to pull out, and easy to put away when you are done. This could easily be played on just about any hard surface, making even an airplane tray a possibility for playing D100 Dungeon.

 Within a few rounds of the game – definitely by the end of the first training quest – how a turn works, an encounter works, and what to reference when should all fall into place. There is a ton of information in the book, but most of it applies to providing an overview of the system, explaining special instances, etc. The vast majority of what you need is found on the helpful tables and references in the back of the book. I found myself having to dig for information a lot less the more I played the game, allowing me to settle into a comfortable groove that only would slow down if an exception popped up – or when an encounter lasted too long.

 There is a TON of variety in the book because there are 50 different quests of varying difficulty. Which means even if you wanted to play everything in the book once it would take quite some time to accomplish everything. Some of the quests are the standard kill monsters or loot X item, but there is still an interesting variety to be found inside the book. The game is obviously limited to what it can do by the content in the book and, yes, some of the quests might get a little same-y after a while. But for the pricepoint on this, you’ll get plenty of fun before it hits that point.

 Combat is relatively simple and straight-forward. One roll is made to see if you hit. If successful, a second roll is made to determine the hit location and damage. I love the use of location for the hit, as some areas reward with bonus damage and others suffer reduced damage. When the monster attacks they do the same pattern, and if they hit you then you can have equipment in the hit area absorb some of the damage – often at the cost of its durability. I really enjoy combat, even if it can draw out depending on dice rolls.

 I really like the system for the equipment, how you use them, and their durability. It makes so much more sense than an overall boost to your natural defense, because if I go in wearing a helmet then it shouldn’t help me if I’m being hit on my legs, etc. And while it can be a bummer to see the enemy roll time and again on a slot where you have no armor (and thus no decision on absorbing some damage), that just means you should try and pick that area of armor upin the market…if you’re lucky.

 Character creation and progression are some of the highlights of the game. You get to allocate stats and then, based on race and class, get boosts and penalties. There are ancillary skills that get boosts as well, which can help you succeed. Rolling a 10 or lower on a skill check lets you gain experience, working to boost that skill in the future. And as you get proficient, you’ll get to shade the star which essentially doubles your gains in that area going forward. All of this is outstanding and fun to do.

 There are a lot of tables to reference in the game, and you’ll constantly be flipping to one of them as you go through the game. Moving to a new room requires a roll for the next room, which you refer to a table to draw the correct room. Depending on the type rolled, you may then either need to roll for an encounter or for a geographical event. Once in the room, you can search it to see if you find anything of interest. If you are successful at that, you may be rolling on yet another table, such as to find which weapon was present. It is all an elaborate yet simple process, but it does require a lot of flipping pages in the book.

 Depending on the quest you are on, there may be a +/- to encounter rolls. Which is great in that it helps you to get level-appropriate encounters most of the time. However, when you need to Loot 3 Weapons, for instance, and those HAVE to come from killing monsters, then rolling at a -30 to your encounter kinda sucks. Why? Because the lowest encounters, which you will get the most often with that -30 penalty, do not have any chance at giving a weapon when you kill them. All this does is greatly increase the odds of rolling into an encounter that does nothing to assist your progress on the quest.

 You get a single character sheet in the book, along with one encounters sheet and a double-sided map to draw on. Obviously the intent would be to make copies of your own from this, but it would have been nice to have a few dozen blank ones to pull out of the book for those getting started. The good news is that even if you don’t have a copier, you can print these out on BGG. Which you will need to do if you want to play this game more than once session (or erase things a LOT).

 Let’s be honest: luck is a pretty big factor in the game. Everything is done with die rolls, and you as the player are trying to make the best decisions you can based upon the situation. Boosting stats can certainly help a lot toward getting more successes, but it isn’t a foolproof method. I’ve suffered tons of damage from low-level enemies that kept rolling 5-6 on their damage while I couldn’t get above a 2. Those things can and will happen. And they’ll suck. I still enjoy the experience, but there is a chance that a session will go south just from sheer random chance. They do sell some decks to replace dice rolls, emulating more of a board game feel, and that might make things feel a little better. But know that things can and will be swingy at times.

Final Thoughts

My first impression, upon receiving the D100 books and flipping through them, was that I was in for an experience that was going to be challenging to keep track of as I went. It looked like a ton of things to remember as you go in there, not to mention tables upon tables to reference. It honestly intimidated me for far too long, being something I’d look at and say “some day I’ll try that one”. Then my printer was out of ink, and so I used that as a reason to not try it because I couldn’t print out pages to use for the character sheet and map, etc. Finally I just sucked it up and tried it during an evening where I had plenty of time to give it my full attention, and instantly regretted my hesitation.

Yes, there is a lot of information in the book, but most of it is used in small chunks and it is laid out well enough to be able to reference what you need. And the game is relatively simple in its progression of turns. In spite of the constant flipping through the book to reference various charts (something you could just print out to have loose if desired), it was really fun and had me hooked. Enough so that I stayed up far too late the first night playing it, and then had to do the next training mission on the following morning. It is easy to pull out and start playing, and functions well even if you play in 10-15 minute blocks of time. Because it has almost no table presence, it is the perfect “grab and play” style of game for when you don’t have the time (or motivation) to go through setting up and tearing down a game.

The starter quests are fun enough, and I understand the importance of taking a character through them when you first begin because they do help you learn the ropes of the game with a slow ramp in difficulty. However, the requirement to loot a specific treasure type off enemies means you not only need to find said enemies, but that they also need to be ones that drop the loot type you need. And if you are taking -30 off your roll for encounters, and everything dropping a Weapon is 30+ on the Encounter table, that means you need to roll 60+ in order to avoid an energy-sapping battle against a weakling enemy that will likely only give you something worth a handful of Gold. Sure, it progresses you along the experience track – and I’d rather kill a horde of weaklings to boost my character than to face down the tougher battles – but ultimately having 5-6 encounters in a row that are not helping you finish the quest can suck.

Ultimately, if it was mandatory to do those five quests every time you needed to roll up a new character – whether from death, retirement, or to try something new, this would be a game that would get played frequently when I had a character beyond those quests but might sit for months if I needed to churn through the intro-level quests again. However, there is a viable solution in the Player’s Handbook that you can purchase (which I will review separately at some point, when I’ve had time to explore that portion in more depth) because it has a method of creating a character who has already completed those quests. Now that I’ve been through those first five, I don’t intend to run that gauntlet unless the quest is rolled for selection. With 50 different quests out there (45 of the non-introductory type) in the base book, this game has some pretty nice replay value. The maps will generate differently each time, and even when you repeat a room you may discover something completely different in there. The game has a solid system that is easy to use and, in spite of navigating dozens of tables, it never feels overwhelming because you usually flip to 1-2 at any given time during the play. Even the encounters are done well enough, with the I-go, you-go approach to combat and the chance the monster could flee. Sometimes it is fun pushing around cardboard, but taking a pencil to the paper provides something completely different for an experience, and I never knew how much I enjoyed drawing out a map until I started exploring the D100 Dungeon…a place where I’ll be returning many times in the future because this is going to be a staple in my collection for a long time.

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #70-61

#70- Barony

Forget about Splendor, this is Marc Andre’s best game design on the market and is criminally underrated. The game plays fine with two, but really excels with 3-4 at the table because the map gets so cramped that you need to factor in what everyone is doing in order to succeed.

#69 – Trajan

One of my favorite Feld games, even though I am still waiting to get a second play of the game. There are so many clever things going on in this game, and there appear to be many paths to pursue to victory in a brain-burning game with a clever mancala player board.

#68 – Thunderstone Quest

As a fan of deckbuilders, I find myself appreciating ones that do innovative things and, while mechanically this is a standard deckbuilder, the presence of a map to move around with a town and a dungeon presents a whole new series of decisions that are not usually present in a deckbuilder.

#67 – Carthago: Merchants & Guilds

A clever combination of an action wheel and multiple use cards to bring out an interesting, mid-weight game experience. Far better with more players than with 2, but still enjoyable even with the dummy “players” to block the spaces.

#66 – Caverna: The Cave Farmers

The game that I prefer over Agricola due to the theme of being dwarves…and being able to send them out on adventures. The new expansion to add more races into the mix could help this make some movement up the list soon.

#65 – Star Wars: The Card Game

It brings back memories of my childhood when I had a small set of cards for the CCG by Decipher – I’m pretty sure I never truly played that game but I’ve done this with the solo variant and it is pretty outstanding. Because the LCG is dead, I know the span of cards available and will happily pick them up, even if I only ever play with myself (although I suspect this will be EXCELLENT with another player). Bonus: the deck construction method in this is so unique and interesting that I genuinely enjoy putting together new decks.

#64 – The Speicherstadt

This was one of the first tight economy games I played and boy did it blow my mind. The bidding mechanism in here is brilliant, and I really want to pick up the rethemed Jorvik version. This is the game that I went from scoring enough points to move off the board in one game to finishing in the negative on the next game. Cut throat and brutal and a real pleasure to play every time.

#63 – The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade

A pickup and deliver game that is really interesting by allowing you to unlock powers and parts of the map based upon where you deliver coal. The varied value of coal, combined with a random event each round, helps make this a thinky game I enjoy playing every time it gets to the table.

#62 – Unbroken

A solo-only game that took Kickstarter by storm last year and with good reason. The final production copy hasn’t hit my doorstep yet, but the game’s mechanics were impressive and will provide a ton of replay value with a relatively small footprint, fast play time, and reasonable setup.

#61 – D100 Dungeon

Perhaps the most unique game on the list, a game played with a book, pencil, and some dice but provides a fun and replayable experience. Flipping back and forth through the tables can be a bit of a chore, but it still provides enough fun that I keep itching to complete the next quest along the line – not to mention to start its campaign found in the Adventurer’s Companion book…

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #80-71

#80 – Battle Line

An outstanding two-player game that is getting a retheme to the Medieval Period from GMT – something I can’t wait to get my hands on! This is a clever struggle of vying over the various flags that, unfortunately for Battle Line, usually just makes me want to play Hanamikoji instead.

#79 – Hero Realms

Not much separates this from its sibling apart from theme, but I do enjoy the theme, the character packs, the boss packs, and the campaign mode available for this one. When the next set of campaign is out, this might have room to move up as the first three quests were pretty solid.

#78 – Castles of Mad King Ludwig

A game I traded away and instantly regretted, and one that has recently come back into the collection. This one is pure brilliance regardless of player count, and even with a small stack of rooms this feels like no two games end up the same.

#77 – Chain Mail

One of the best things to come from Button Shy, which is no small claim to make, and easily worth my $5 per month. It took one month to be a believer, two to become a fan, and the third month has me shouting from the rooftops that this is one game you don’t want to miss.

#76 – A Game of Thrones: Card Game (Second Edition)

My wife isn’t a fan of constructing her own decks and it took some time for the concept of the LCG to be something I could buy into. If the chance came to get a decent collection at a good price, I’d totally buy into this one because it has incredible mechanics combined with a series we enjoy.

#75 – Wasteland Express Delivery Service

I’m not much for pickup and delivery games, but this one impressed me from the start and never let go. I’ve been itching to play it more, and hopefully the chance for that will come back around soon because this is a beautiful game with a delightful post-apocalyptic theme and really fun gameplay.

#74 – The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena

I don’t know what I expected to get out of this game, but it wasn’t such a solid 2-player experience. Honestly, the only thing keeping this so low is the unavailability of any of the alternative teams from the Kickstarter campaign – the replay value would shoot through the roof and propel this forward by extension.

#73 – Keyper

Fun and unique worker placement game that I am laughably bad at, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying or appreciating the game. This needs to get back to the table for more humiliating defeats because the game has awesome mechanics with the colored Keeples, the lay-down mechanic, the flipping boards, and the claiming of a board every season.

#72 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

There is so much in the game I want to love more than I do, but the randomness of the dice rolls keeps this down where it resides. This game is always fun to play through, whether that is as a solo adventure or with a group of friends trying to see if we can overcome the trials of a new adventure.

#71 – Final Fantasy Trading Card Game

I came for the beloved Final Fantasy characters, and I stayed because of incredibly fun gameplay. Unfortunately, a ridiculously-aggressive release schedule bought me out of this really fun game, although I will always be glad to play a game or two using a friend’s cards.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Gloom of Kilforth

Thank you for checking review #101 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Gloom of Kilforth

Gloom of Kilforth is a board game designed by Tristan hall that is published by Hall or Nothing Productions. The rules state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 60-180 minutes.

The land of Kilforth is a perilous domain filled with nefarious monsters, mysterious Strangers and treacherous Locations, and dominated at its centre by The Sprawl, a huge city where intrepid Heroes begin their journey to fame and fortune. Throughout the land various factions vie for power over each other, such as the supposedly noble Order of the Rose or the terrifying Doom Guard. And presiding over the world outside Kilforth is the ever-present Overlord, Masklaw. Over the coming month, a deadly Gloom will descend upon Kilforth,which the Heroes must Battle through to prove their worth, defeat an Ancient evil, and save the land from darkness.
Gloom of Kilforth is a card game of high fantasy with a Gothic edge, playable in 1-3 hours, where 1-4 players, working individually or together, must take their humble adventurers on a journey through a dark world of magic and peril. They will visit strange places, stranger people and overcome powerful enemies in their mission to discover mysterious artefacts and mystical Spells. Players follow their Hero’s tale from modest beginnings through an epic story to an exciting climactic battle for the fate of the world. Gloom of Kilforth takes about 45 minutes per player to play.

My Thoughts

 A world map made out of cards is a pretty interesting idea. This not only allows you to have a different layout of locations every time you play, but it also enables something like their Gloom mechanic in this game. We’ll talk about that shortly, but I do appreciate – mostly – the board being like this. My only nitpick comes from the randomness which has, sadly, seen the “travel between” locations end up at most 2 spaces apart from each other. I’m yet to luck into being able to zoom across the board, although there are other ways which can help with movement in the game.

 The night phase is an interesting idea, because it adds some additional effect – an event, an enemy/place/stranger to add onto a location, or even weather conditions that are in effect for a certain amount of time (often until the next weather effect) – and sometimes those are things you need to react to or alter your plans around. In addition, there are Plot cards that trigger when a certain type of land falls into Gloom. And finally, those card locations flip over to “Fall into Gloom”, meaning you lose 1 HP if you end your turn on that location. This part of the game provides a good kind of randomness, in the form of something you need to deal with on future turns rather than something to wreck your chance of winning.

 I like that your successes on a test remain and you can use several actions to clear an obstacle/place/stranger as you move around. Yes, more actions mean it takes more time to pass through, but this helps offset the randomness of the die rolls. Somewhat. The catch is that if Night comes before you clear it, all those successes get wiped. Sometimes it is worth trying if you have 1-2 actions left for the day. Othertimes those become wasted actions if you fail.

 There is ample variety in the box without any need for expansions or adders for the game. With the choice of a class and race combination (and plenty of each to choose from) and eight Story cards to progress through, this has the content to keep me coming back and playing through it time and again without repeating the same adventure.

 The artwork, as expected, is incredible. The soundtrack, while entirely too short, is delightful to play while grinding through some encounters in Gloom of Kilforth. I talked about the sensory experience in 1066, Tears to Many Mothers and the same is true here. These are added bonuses to a game that don’t necessarily make a game worse if they are lacking, but they can enhance the experience to a new level when they are properly present.

 I enjoy the rewards from clearing a card, although I do wish there was some sort of XP gain for that. First comes the choice between gold or a token from the bag. I’ve had games where those tokens all seem to contain either 1 Gold or Nothing as a reward. I’lve had games where they’ve boosted the number of dice rolled when attacking, reduced damage taken in combat, regained HP, and more. But the best tokens are those which let you move to any location of a type on the map. But since you need 5 Gold to progress along the Story with each step, many times you’re taking that Gold. Then you have a choice of taking that card into your hand, which gives you keywords to discard later or to take a card from the reward deck specified. Maybe that Ally you take will have a keyword you need, too, or will boost a key stat. Sometimes either way you choose is wrong (or right). But I do like having choices.

 Those rewards you gain have specific locations you need to be at in order to put them in play. And when it seems like every reward is on the other side of the map – that really slows your progression of power to a crawl (more on this later). If movement across the board was a little faster this wouldn’t hurt so much. And sometimes there are still good things to do along the way. But it can really hinder you to cross a lot of terrain (and potentially run into a few entanglements along the way).

 Progressing in the Story requires collecting keywords. Sometimes the keywords are easy, such as Forest. Other times you might be spending 4-5 rounds just trying to find an encounter card that contains the desired Keyword. In a game with a 25-round timer where the map feels so much smaller with each passing round – thanks to the spreading of Gloom – so many of my plays thus far have seen enough stalling out on trying to progress to where I’m scrambling to make enough progress to reach the end.

 Maybe I’ve been using poor combinations, but only one play has led to me feeling enough progression of abilities to feel like I scale with the growing threat. There is a lot of ramping up from the game, but the only way you get to improve is by progressing along the Story. In an unlucky streak, you may complete 4-6 different encounters (whether quests, strangers, or enemies) before getting the desired keywords to power up. And it simply lets you gain one more max HP and a new ability. I’ve hit the highest tier only once, and it definitely was a game changer. Yet I wonder, looking back, if that was simply a really lucky play (I didn’t draw into a single enemy from any location deck, which undoubtedly is an unusual thing. Had I drawn enemies, my 2-dice attack rolls would likely have led to that being a quick losing game rather than allowing me to get leveled enough to use my Sneak for Attack on the final boss…)

 The game is brutal and punishing and feels downright impossible when combined with the other two points above. I’m all for a challenge. I’m all for trying to learn to overcome the odds and do better the next time. But when so much hinges upon randomness to where you can play perfectly and still lose horribly – that ruins the fun. Case in point, my very last play had a really lucky sequence (drawing no enemies, and the one time I needed an enemy there was one from the Night deck adjacent to me who happened to be a Demonic Enemy and I had a card to let me auto-win that encounter.) and a really bad luck sequence (facing the Archfiend at the end, his 12 health to my 8 health…but I was rolling 8 dice per attack versus his 5 per attack. I dealt 6 damage before he finished me off…) and while those might seem to balance out over the course of a game, losing to a string of poor luck is definitely worse than winning because of unusual luck.

Final Thoughts

Gloom of Kilforth is a game this ticks many boxes in the fantasy adventure genre that I generally enjoy. It has some character growth and progression. It has a sense of exploration as you move around the map. It has a limitation of the number of actions you can complete in a round. Multiple ways to approach problems. Relatively high difficulty level in a solitaire experience. All topped off by some of the most incredible artwork on the market.

So what is it about Gloom of Kilforth that hasn’t won me over to its side? I’ve given a lot of thought about this question because it has been nagging me. There is a lot about it that I should like and enjoy. And I think I’ve narrowed it down to three things that have worked together to prevent me from loving this game:

Progressing in the Story requires collecting keywords.
There are inadequate rewards for completing encounters – they don’t make you stronger unless you’re collecting the right keywords.
The game is brutal and punishing and feels downright impossible when combined with the other two points above.

This game wants to be played more, and with more plays I might discover some emergent strategies and tactics that can work to overcome those more often than not. So far I haven’t found them and, short of looking through each deck to see the distribution of keywords (so I can know where to “focus” if looking for a specific keyword), I don’t see much hope of reducing that random element. However, I can hopefully find ways to improve my play style and become effective enough to overcome that random element and the digging process when things go slowly. Learning what reward types to take, and when to choose gold or a draw from the bag, and those finer points will all help me to get better at playing. And my hope remains that, with time and more plays, some of these sticking points will fade away and allow me to love this game like it deserves. Because I can see the great fun to be had in this game – I just haven’t arrived at the point where its strengths outweigh these initial problem areas.

2019 Top 100

2019 Top 100: #90-81

A continuation of my list that began on Saturday – here are the next ten games on my Top 100 list. Once again, all of these are outstanding games in their own right and are games I’d gladly play at just about any time.

#90 – Fantastiqa: Rival Realms

One of many delightful titles from Alf Seegert, this one set in the Fantastiqa world but with a very different style of gameplay. The cleverness of this one is that the cards you use for movement go to your opponent’s discard pile, where they can then draw and use those cards for movement or making their map.

#89 – Star Realms

A portable deckbuilder that outgrew its portability, but remains an interesting game to play. Its fast gameplay and smooth mechanics makes this a welcome game any time it hits the table – and I definitely need to try some of the new content that has been released since I last played the game.

#88 – A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)

A game that is so low only because it has been ages since we’ve played the game – although it just recently reentered the collection. While not my favorite Game of Thrones game out there, it definitely is the best to play with a table full of players.

#87 – 7 Wonders Duel

While I am not as crazy for this game as the rest of BGG, and my wife likes this more than me as well, I still do enjoy this game. It is one I rarely want to pull out, but rarely regret when it hits the table because of the clever drafting for 2-players and the small engine-building opportunities it allows.

#86 – Maiden’s Quest

A unique game that can be played in the palm of your hand and has a ton of replay packed into the cards. This is the perfect game to toss in my pocket when I am on the go, although I need to find a good way to protect the cards when they are on the go with me.

#85 – Obsession

A delightful theme that pays homage to the Victorian era and a contains a thematic worker allocation mechanic. More plays with the advanced rules – which reduces the randomness involved in the game – will likely help this one climb the rankings.

#84 – Core Worlds

An interesting approach to deckbuilding where the deck cycles far fewer times than expected. I enjoy the progression through various pools of cards as the game advances, and while the first play was a little long I could see this having a stronger showing after a few more plays.

#83 – Among the Stars

An interesting game that was the predecessor to Fields of Green but with a Sci-Fi theme and leaders to provide asymmetric powers. There is a lot of fun play and planning that goes on in this game, and I have enjoyed it every time I play the game.

#82 – Penny Rails

A solid entry into the line of Button Shy games and a perfect introductory Train Game. I’ve loved this game since my first play with the designer at Gen Con, and I am itching to teach it to my wife now that the official game has entered my collection.

#81 – Maquis

Solitaire worker placement games are often beat-your-own-score action optimization exercises, so when a thematic game breaks that mold I pay attention. One of the most delightful little surprise games to hit my table this year, it was an insta-back on Kickstarter after the first play.