When I was a child, (yes, sorry, this is going to be another “I remember when games were like this…” post.) it felt like the only games out there were Monopoly, Cluedo, and Scrabble. The idea of doing research on a game before you bought it was fairly alien, because the chances were you’d already played it somewhere before.
With the greater number of games out there now, research is essential. There are simply too many possibilities for you to buy all the games, and a lack of research could leave you with the wrong game. With the market become so heavily saturated, and many games being bigger and more expensive, companies are concerned with making sure that you know their game is coming: it’s now possible to know an awful lot about games that haven’t even been released yet! On the whole I like this: it gives you something to look forward to. On a more practical note, it can save you from going out and getting something kind-of-interesting for a birthday or similar, only to discover something fantastic a fortnight later and have no budget for it.
The point at which it gets weird, is when you have the chance to actually BUY a game before it comes out. I’m not just talking about placing a pre-order a week or so ahead of time, but about the strange world of Kickstarter.
In simple terms, Kickstarter is a platform which lets companies pitch new games to the paying public. They come out with a project and a price, and people can pledge their money. If pledges reach the amount set out before the campaign started, then all the people who pledged will have their cards charged, the company get their money, and they go to work on the game.
For the company making the game, the advantages of Kickstarter are obvious: it reverses the way that cash-flow works (get money now, make product later) and they cut out the retailer, which has benefits from a financial perspective.
For the buyer, the advantages and disadvantages of Kickstarter are rather more complex: at its best, Kickstarter allows games to be made that would otherwise not be made, it allows the public mood to guide what should be produced, and there are often sweeteners to being involved in a Kickstarter – extra things you get which are not found in retail copies. On the other hand, you are paying your money months before you get your game. Delays are common, and due to the nature of shipping processes, KS backers don’t always get their games before (or even at the same time as) retail outlets, which is often a source of anger.
Some key terminology:
KS Exclusives – components of the game only available to those that back the Kickstarter, either included in the standard price, or available as an add-on at extra cost.
Back – committing to a Kickstarter project. The totals for the campaign will be based on the sum you’ve indicated, but your card will only be charged at the end, and only if the campaign has reached its target.
Target – the initial amount of money set as the success point of the Kickstarter campaign. If this is reached, the project happens, if not, it doesn’t.
Stretch Goals – when a Kickstarter campaign reaches its target, you know it’s going ahead, but the people running the campaign want folk to keep backing. Many campaigns will have additional things, either for the Kickstarter only, or for the game in general, which they will agree to do if they reach certain additional landmarks for funding. The scope of these will vary drastically from one campaign to another.
Shipping: Kickstart a game, and you’ll have to pay whatever it costs them to actually post it to you. There’s also a danger that you may have to worry about customs duties, which means those of us in Europe need to look out for an EU-Friendly campaign which ships from somewhere like Germany instead.
I wanted to take a more focused look at some of the Kickstarters that I’ve had first-hand experience of, and think about how they have played out.
Before there was Kickstarter
The first experience of this type I had was with something that wasn’t actually a Kickstarter, but part of the P500 system from GMT Games. GMT are something of a specialist retailer, who make lots of Wargames, generally at the heavy, tactical end of things (expects lots of wooden blocks and cardboard chits, not miniatures and fantasy art). You can read the details of how the system works on their website, but essentially, it allows the public to vote for which games get made, and often has a pretty short turnaround from charging your card to games in your hand.
Through the P500 system I supported both the re-print of the Commands and Colors Ancients system and the original print-run of the Commands and Colors Napoleonics base-game. On both occasions I got the game, exactly as I would have at retail, but know that without people backing the game at this early stage, there probably would not have been a retail edition. The wait from pledging to charging was sometimes long (a year in 1 instance), but after they took my money, I had my game within a couple of months.
As I mentioned in March’s gaming challenge update, the C&C system has fallen out of favour in our house in recent years, but I certainly don’t think that I lost out in any way – games bought 6 or 7 years ago are all fairly likely to have had their fortunes wax and wane, whether they came from Amazon, a High Street Shop, or a pre-order system. Having played one of these games before I ordered, it was pretty low-risk, and I was happy with the experience.
The first time I used Kickstarer proper, was for The Resistance: Avalon. I’d heard a lot of good things about The Resistance, and the added Arthurian theme seemed like a bonus, so I went for it. I backed this in September 2012. The campaign ended a few weeks later, and they charged my card instantly, as is the way with all Kickstarter projects. I had the game in my hands by about December.
In the 3 or so years we’ve owned Avalon, it’s only been played a handful of times. It was just never that big a hit with our group: the starting premise of having to send people on the first mission without ANY information to go on always felt a bit vague and woolly, and nobody seemed to know where it was going – I’ve definitely heard of other groups that found it good fun, and it’s probably the sort of thing that would thrive if it could get a couple of good games and build some momentum, but for us it just didn’t hit the spot.
This wasn’t particularly a Kickstarter issue – Kickstarter delivered what it promised, and did so fairly quickly. I got some bonuses – some add-on characters, as well as some Manga alt-art cards for the original Resistance, which have never been used (as we don’t own the original game) and should probably have been sold on Ebay before now. Probably, I should have played original Resistance before backing this, and maybe I was influenced by the time-sensitive nature of Kickstarter, but I don’t think it’s a major issue.
It was a few years for me before I seriously looked at anything on Kickstarter again. When I did, it was for a truly epic project, the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game.
About 2 years ago, I started playing the Pathfinder ACG, and it got played to death in our house – over 300 times in 2015 (I don’t have info for 2014). When I heard last May that Mike Selinker and his crew were putting together a related game, I was very interested – the modern horror theme doesn’t do a lot for me (and the theme is a major bonus in Pathfinder), but it looked like it was taking a lot of the cool core mechanics, and giving them an interesting twist – the combination of character progression with non-linear play, the idea that a progressed character is not inherently better than a new one, and what looked like a real commitment to get into the narrative of the game in more depth all appealed.
It certainly wasn’t cheap: $99 dollars plus international shipping, but it looked like there was good value for money involved: it had attracted a lot of buzz online, and they were unlocking stretch goals left, right and centre: lots of additional chapters, and a few other bonus bits and pieces. It also feels like the Kickstarter momentum they got allowed them to do more than might have been the case if they’d gone straight to retail: it looks like there is going to be A LOT of really top-notch art, and for theme/flavour text, they’ve got some very well-renowned writers in, including big names like Patrick Rothfuss (much to the annoyance of my wife, who wants him to just get on and write the sequel to The Wise Man’s Fear).
I hope that this game will reach retail one day, so it’s worth looking at the Kickstarter Exclusives: for Apocrypha it was about a dozen cards – some which are dually linked to two different adventures, and some with a broader span. In a game of this size, that’s not a lot: the bonus for backing the kickstarter seems to be primarily in the form of getting the game early, in its entirety, and almost certainly at a lower price point that when it reaches retail. Let me say, I’m happy that the exclusives are not that much – it’s nice to have a little something for having put my faith in them early on, but I’d much rather that the game thrive, without an “us” and “them” sense of resentment, so that the designers continue to make more good stuff.
The biggest concern about Apocrypha, is what has happened with Pathfinder over the past six months. The 3rd Adventure path for Pathfinder came to an end just before Christmas, and it was brutal – and not a lot of fun. In 2016 so far, the game has been 37 times – still nothing to be sneezed at, but the frequency with which it makes it out of the box is dwindling.
It’s not quite clear when I can expect Apocrypha to arrive – given how many stretch goals they unlocked, the most recent release date I read was “between April and October.” The lack of clarity is a little frustrating, but we’ve been getting fairly regular updates, and I’m happy that the longer they take, the better the game will be. Hopefully Apocrypha will be interesting enough and different enough to get its day in the sun, and make it worth the money, but the year or more that will have passed between this being announced and received has certainly made a difference – if this were a new release at retail tomorrow, and we hadn’t been involved in the Kickstarter, I can’t say with any honesty that I’d definitely buy it.
Having backed Apocrypha, Lone Shark had me in their sights, and I got sucked in for their next project, The Ninth World: A Skill-Building Game for Numenera. Numenera was not somewhere I had previously heard of, but is best known to players of a table-top RPG of the same name, set a billion years into earth’s future. Characters follow a fairly simple yet novel pattern, where each starts off simply as “I am an adjective noun who verbs.”
The setting was interesting, and whilst I don’t always enjoy everything the guys at Lone Shark do with their games – the drift in recent times feels to be too much towards difficulty, and too much towards puzzle-y-ness – there’s no denying their ability to come up with innovative game mechanics, and tie them nicely to interesting themes. The skill-builder was a new concept, but it captured the “taking a character and developing then” aspect that we’d loved in pathfinder etc, and put it in a nice exploration-y context, and definitely made me keen to try it.
I followed the Kickstarter for a while with interest, and once it was confirmed that they would be including a solo / co-op mode, and that they had reached the stretch goal which opened up character customisation on a fairly broad scale, I backed. I’m not expecting this one until the autumn at the earliest, and will be interested to see what comes.
I don’t want to bore you all too much, so that’s all for next week. Next time I’m going to look in particular at one company whose games have caught my eyes recently, and offer a few thoughts on their successful, if somewhat controversial Kickstarter strategy, and where it leaves me as the customer.