Kickstarter: Now with Rounder Corners!

KSAs part of my ongoing not-all-that-regular series on Kickstarter, today I want to take a look at the wide world of Stretch Goals.

As I explained in the Kickstarter Basics article, every KS project comes with a Funding Target – The Funding Target of a pledge would generally be (more-or-less) the minimum amount that designers have worked out they need in order to actually make the game – the costs of making the bits and pieces, and getting them out to the buyers: you don’t want to pitch it too high, because if you set the bar at $100,000 and people pledge $99,999, then you don’t get a penny, the whole thing fails.

Funded On other hand, if you hit $100,000 on day 15 of 30 (or 5 minutes into day 1 for some projects…), what happens then? Whether you’re a designer who believes they have a great game that people deserve to know about, or simply a business looking to make more cash, chances are that you aren’t just going to think “job done” – you want more people to keep coming along and backing the project for the rest of the funding period. To make that happen, a lot of people turn to stretch goals.

A stretch goal is a sort of unofficial extra target for a KS project- they’ve already hit the funding target, so the project is going to happen, but this is a way to keep people engaged, and hopefully make it all bigger and better.

Making it Better

Maybe you launch a project for a game, and set a target of $20,000 – as soon as you pass $20,000 you know you can make your game. Maybe if you got $25,000 you could use a higher-quality card-stock, so you add that as a stretch goal. If you get to $30,000, the dice included could be custom dice rather than generic ones. At $40,000 maybe you have enough cash to make 20 different cards for each deck in the game, instead of 15.

In an attempt to keep driving traffic to the Kickstarter page, many projects will drip-feed the stretch-goals: announce 1 or 2 to begin with and, as the targets are met, those goals are “unlocked” and you can announce the next one – this keeps people coming back to check in on things, and generates a buzz around the game.

More cynically, it allows designers time to re-balance if funding goes a lot better (or worse) than anticipated, but however you look at it, it helps generate a sense of progression. Lots of projects will have late stretch goals that the designers always planned to include, but they announce them just before the end, in order to provoke a late surge in funding.

 

Money for nothing

(NB: All the numbers quoted in this section are hypothetical)

There are always issues with stretch goals, and one major issue is cost.

Imagine you launch a project where the game costs $40, and you have a funding target of $20,000. Assuming no optional purchases/wonky international shipping charges etc, that’s 500 backers you need to get funded. Imagine if, instead, you get 1000 backers. That’s $20,000 more than you were expecting. However, you now need to produce 1000 copies of the game, not just 500.

This is where it gets complicated. It probably doesn’t cost twice as much to produce twice as many copies of the game – you still only need the same number of pieces of art, the same number of designers, and the factory still has the same amount of set-up work to do. Equally, it doesn’t cost the same to produce 1000 copies as 500 – you need twice as many raw materials, you have twice as many boxes to ship etc.

On this basis, you probably have some money to offer extras as stretch goals. Let’s say that the original $20,000 was $10,000 of art, design, set-up costs, and $10,000 of raw materials and shipping. Your 1000 backers have increased your revenue by $20,000 dollars, but only increased your costs by $10,000 – that’s $10,000 spare.

StretchQualityBut what do you do with that $10,000? – say you decide to have extra art, or commission nicer art from your favourite artist – $5,000 more spent on art probably has no real impact on your ongoing production costs. However, if you decide to upgrade that card-stock, it’s a different matter: if you improve materials, you impact the whole of the project – instead of $20 per copy on materials, you’re now spending $25 – that’s not just $2500 on components for the first 500 copies, but $5 for every extra copy you sell. This means that for all future stretch goals, you’re working with a reduced margin, as each new pledge of $40 now only brings you $15 to play with, not $20.

A lot of this has to do with economies of scale, particularly with Miniatures games. Broadly speaking, to make a miniature for a game, you need to spend a fair amount of money paying an artist to sculpt it. Then you need to spend a fair amount more on getting a mould made to cast it in plastic. Once you’ve done that, actually squirting plastic into the mould probably costs a fairly trivial sum

SculptStretch
Aside from the sculpting cost, this is no more miniatures than you were making anyway.

Using hypothetical numbers, you might need to spend $250 to get the sculpt crafted, another $245 on a mould, but be able to produce copies of that new figure for $0.50 a time. If your campaigns raise figures somewhere in the millions of dollars, you can offer a stretch goal like “extra sculpt for miniature x” with a fairly static cost: you hit your sculpting and moulding cost as a 1-off, but then have no additional materials cost for making 3 figures each in 2 poses as you previously had for 6 figures all in the same pose.

OgreExtra
Once you hit $635k, that’s an extra Ogre – for ALL backers.

If you’re adding figures, rather than simply adding variety, the costs are still small – up until they aren’t. Even if it only costs you $0.50 for a single miniature, Rising Sun, CMON’s most recent Kickstarter received over 30,000 backers – that’s $15,000 to give each backer 1 extra miniature, using our hypothetical figures. By the time you reach a certain level, even if the per-unit cost is very low compared to the static set-up cost, you have a very limited amount of slack in the budget. That’s why most Kickstarter projects will see the stretch-goals spaced further and further apart as the pledge total gets higher.

 

Numbers?

As I mentioned above, all of the numbers I’ve used here are hypothetical. I don’t know how much it costs to commission a sculpt, or to move from sculpt to cast to mould, or to make a figure once you have all your moulds ready to go. I’m pretty confident that the start-up costs are much higher than the ongoing ones, but I don’t know the numbers. I’m not claiming to be an industry insider, nor an expert, and I hope that no-one goes away from this (or any of my other) article(s) having been mislead in any way.

– since writing this, I’ve found This Interesting Article, which isn’t really looking at the same thing, but is still interesting in terms of money, numbers and board-games. 

The problem though with the internet in general, and Kickstarter comment sections and forum discussions in particular, is that everyone’s an expert. You can confidently expect dozens of folks with no experience of miniatures casting to come along and announce to all that making X “only cost Y,” or “definitely cost at least Z” – maybe some of them are right, but a lot of them won’t be, and this can lead to a lot of bad-feeling as backers feel that the creators of the project are simply profiteering, rather than ploughing the money back into the game. This is particularly problematic, because there’s a chance it might be true – some Kickstarter creators are small, independent start-ups, desperate to get their game to market, and incredibly grateful to anyone who has helped realise that dream. Others are multi-million-dollar companies for whom the goodwill of the buying public is just a resource like any other, to be judiciously managed on the road to maximum profit – they’ll give stretch goals where it will help drive sales, but never so that it’s going to cost more than it generates.

 

Great Expectations

Big Board Game Kickstarters have been a thing for several years now, and people have expectations. They expect stretch goals, and if it’s an established company like CMON, they will have expectations for what those stretch goals should be, and how often they should come. With the sense of entitlement common to most millennials, as soon as those expectations fail to be met, you can expect them to start baying for blood.

Azrael In the Massive Darkness campaign, there was a fair amount of anger when the $675k stretch goal was the Miniature for a new player-character, Azrael the High Elf, and the 710k stretch goal was the class-sheet pad for the Noble Warrior. As Azrael is a Noble Warrior, a lot of people cried foul play at this point- this was one stretch goal, they argued, disguised as 2, to give the false impression of smaller gaps between goals.

Now, CMON are big enough that they didn’t care – they knew the project was going to break a million dollars, so both goals were happening anyway. It’s also technically true that Azrael could be played as a different class, so it was technically an extra thing, even if people didn’t like it.

Aeon’s End is a marketplace game (think Dominion), so the Stretch Goals in their KS campaigns generally take the form of new cards for the marketplace, increasing the variety. Each time a few thousand more dollars were notched up, another card was added for backers, a spell here, a gem here. Some of these cards are now simply part of the game, whereas others are either Kickstarter exclusives (backers get them, others don’t), or “Promo” (backers get them at no extra cost, others may have the chance to buy them at a later point).

With 20+ stretch goals unlocked by the time the campaign ended, having raised more than 10x the original target figure, this one would have to be classed as a success.

Right?

ThickBreach Well, unfortunately, this campaign suffered a bit of a PR fail with one of the late-ish stretch goals.

Every game of Aeon’s End requires a set of cardboard “breaches” –the holes in reality through which player-characters fire their spells. In the original game, these were fairly thin and bendy, so people were fairly happy when the 80k stretch-goal upgraded them to thicker card-stock.

Some also commented that they would prefer their breaches with rounded corners. However, they seemed a bit puzzled when the $275,000 stretch-goal appeared, “round corners for breaches” – this seemed to put noses out-of-joint for a number of reasons: firstly they’d already “used up one stretch-goal on breaches,” secondly there was a perception that making the breach corners rounded shouldn’t cost any more than having them square [as far as I can tell, most people have now come over to the idea that it would cost more, which sounds plausible to me, although I really don’t know]. Thirdly this coincided with the gap between stretch-goals going up from $10,000 to $15,000, which most people felt warranted a more exciting reward.

Rounded There was a fair amount of grumbling and mockery in the Kickstarter comments and, aside from various jokes along the lines of “next goal: even rounder corners,” one comment in particular leapt out at me

“Ok I asked for round corners a while back but i dont think its SG material. Its something than you just do because its something that you do….. I dont think round corners justifies 15k really.”

Lack of apostrophes aside, it’s fairly clear what they mean – and clear that they’re not happy

I think a lot of this ties back in to that sense of entitlement I mentioned earlier. This guy has backed the project, and he now believes that this entitles him to more free stuff at regular intervals: at the time, the project was trending toward $300k, which would have meant 3 gems, 4 spells, and 2 relics (incidentally that’s the exact ratios for a standard marketplace), as well as 2 Nemesis and a Mage, all of which others would need to buy as a separate expansion (probably around $20), and a few extra dividers and basic Nemesis cards not available elsewhere. That’s on top of a base game that will now be slightly bigger and better quality for everyone than when the campaign launched.

Assuming they thought the game was worth the $65 tag when they backed it, it’s pretty hard to see how a backer could be unhappy with what they get here – the extra content and the value for money vs RRP are all fairly clear.

 

Too small unless stretched?

But of course, it is an assumption that they thought the original project was good value – I know that there have been KS campaigns in the past which I have looked at and decided that the basic pledge wasn’t worth my money.

Also, up until a Kickstarter project finishes, you can edit or cancel your pledge, without being committed to anything, so there are people who will jump in early, with a strong expectation of cancelling later on if the project doesn’t tick enough boxes for them along the way.

Numenera Stretch Goals

That seems a bit backwards to me, but as far as I can recall (it was a long time ago), I deliberated on the 9th World for a while, and backed it late on, having been swayed by the extra stuff they’d unlocked – if it had stayed in its pre-stretch goal state, I’d probably have kept my money.

Still there definitely are people who pledge early, do so without any real thought of backing out later, but who still bring their fairly subjective feelings about stretch-goals along, and demand to be heard.

 

I think that’s about enough on Stretch Goals for today. Next time in this KS mini-series, I want to continue the theme that we’re starting to touch on – the idea that being a Kickstarter backer somehow gives you “rights” that a mere buyer doesn’t have.

 

 

Kickstarter – the Basics

A few weeks back, I took a fairly personal look at Kickstarter – the projects I’ve backed, the things I’m waiting on, and the things that have piqued my interest recently.

As I said at the time, beyond the interaction I have with Kickstarter as a means of buying board games, I also find it fascinating in terms of the social dynamics on display. Very little of it is unique to Kickstarter, but I do find certain things come more sharply into focus there. Kickstarter also involves a fair amount of number-crunching (at least behind the scenes), which regular readers will know is a topic I get somewhat over-interested in, and that was what I wanted to talk about today. However, by the time the draft of this article passed 3000 words, I decided that I needed to break things down.

BackingWhat I’ve decided to do then, is to turn this into a series of shorter articles, all of which I’m going to be lumping together under a Kickstarter sub-heading here on the blog: hopefully this will reduce the need for me to keep repeating myself in future, and allow people to dip in and out of the sections that most appeal to them.

Today then, I’m just going to provide a refresh on what Kickstarter is and (broadly) how it works. This should be a very short article, but one that lays the groundwork for some more concise thoughts in the future.

Kickstarter: The Basics

Pledge LevelsKickstarter is a platform that allows people to create projects and ask other folk to “back” them, by pledging money. Most Kickstarter projects will run for about a month, and they will have a target in terms of the money they need to raise in order for the whole thing to be “funded” and go ahead. They generally have a number of “pledge” levels, where people are encouraged to offer a set amount of money towards the project and in return they are promised a particular “reward” at the end of things.

For a Board Game Kickstarter, you could commonly expect to see a $1 “just interested” pledge level (aka “I just want to show my support” aka “I just want access to the pledge manager [more on that later…]). You’d then expect another pledge level to get you the actual game (this varies wildly depending on what game it is), and often even higher levels allowing for deluxe/limited edition versions, or special, bespoke rewards.

Funded

Once the countdown reaches zero, assuming the target has been met, all the credit cards of those who pledged will be charged. The charge at this point will be the amount you indicated when you decided to back.

All or Nothing

Because most modern Kickstarters come with optional extras, all but the simplest of Kickstarters will now follow-up with some kind of “so what were you after?” communication.

A common way of doing this is through Pledge Manager – this is popular with a lot of backers as it not only allows you to confirm which bits and bobs you want, but it also allows you to add money. This creates a group of people who will back large projects for $1 during the campaign, confident that it’s going to get funded anyway, and knowing that it will allow them to make their mind up 6 months later. If they still like the look of the project now that further information is available, they haven’t lost out, and if they don’t it’s only $1 wasted.

The downside of doing this of course, is that it lowers the total raised during the campaign and may mean fewer stretch goals unlocked. On a multi-million-dollar project, it’s easy for the individual to think that they aren’t making a real difference – but then, at the last general election more people didn’t vote at all than those who voted for any individual party: it all adds up.

SurveyOther campaigns avoid Pledge Manager. The most recent project I backed, Aeon’s End: War Eternal kept giving us large reminders that we needed to have pledged for the full cost of the stuff we wanted by the time the campaign ended, as that would be it. Instead, we got an electronic survey to indicate what the money was for.

I’ve not spoken to any Kickstarter creators personally, but I’d imagine it makes fulfilling the project longer and more complex, and probably involves additional costs for the creators. Many Kickstarter projects become victims of their own complexity, so keeping things simple and streamlined is a major positive.

Waiting?

Whilst cards are being charged and money is being taken, the designers will then huddle down to produce the content, which will hopefully reach people eventually. Delays are common, and the whole process relies a lot on good faith – or at least on reputation, as it’s possible to get badly stung by backing Kickstarters that never deliver. Assuming the project doesn’t come from a completely unknown creator, eternal non-delivery is a fairly rare worst-case scenario, as it’s something akin to career suicide for the non-delivering designer. One of the Kickstarter projects I’ve been waiting on for a while has a designer involved (in a creative, rather than logistical capacity) who previously ran her own independent project, which never quite managed to deliver some of the promised pledge-levels. Given how sick I got of seeing trolls complaining about this, I can’t imagine how painful it is for her to see.

Shipping
this is for a game that was originally due in May 2016!

That said, whilst I don’t think it’s particularly fair or helpful to go complaining about one project on the forum of another only tangentially related, I do understand the frustrations of delay. I’ve talked on here before about projects I’ve backed personally which are over a year late, and that’s far from being a record – I’ve definitely heard of games getting stuck for 2 or 3 years.

At the end of it all, the games are delivered and (hopefully) the project is over. Sometimes it’s a 1-and-done, sometimes it’s just another step in an ongoing cycle of projects with the next project already in the pipelines.

 

That’s a very simplified overview of the Kickstarter process: I’ve already written various other articles about Kickstarter in the past, and you can find them, along with anything else I write on this topic in the future, on my Kickstarter Hub

 

 

April Games

Only a few days later than planned, here’s a short update on a fairly quiet month…

 

10 of 10

MountainsApril had always seemed like it would be the month where I got to 10 of 10 – a fairly long way ahead of last year. I was on 8 of 8 at the end of March, and most of those 8 were already at 10 plays. Playing Legendary once more, managing to get in another couple of games of Eldritch Horror (new expansion for my birthday), and making it along to Destiny night for the first time in ages all had me right on the cusp.

Dice Masters was still hovering precariously on the brink, leaving me with 99 out of the 100 games played, in the end, we didn’t have enough people turn out for Rainbow Draft (Just me & the organiser), but we got a few games in, and that was the tenth one done.

 

Despite getting 100 games ticked off for the 10 of 10, April was a struggle overall. Having settled in at home, my son decided that sleep was an optional extra he largely wouldn’t bother with, only being coaxed into brief naps on me or on his mother: mildly frustrating during the day, and horrendous at night where my wife was regularly getting by on only an hour or two a night. Strangely enough, when dawn rolled around she had other priorities besides gaming.

Star-Trek-Frontiers-Board-Game-Box
Not for us in the end, but managed to swap it for a copy of Descent, which is pretty good going.

In that light, it made a lot of sense that April was a fairly quiet time on the “Unplayed” front – I finally managed to get Star Trek Frontiers played, reviewed, and traded away (much too dense a game), and also crossed off Dominion and Mapominoes, which still left 17 games left to play.

 

As I’ve said plenty of times before, 10 of 10 is just a guideline for trying to ensure a rounded approach to board-gaming, and “unplayed” is just an attempt not to waste money (or shelf space) – I’ll continue to monitor the collection, and what gets played over the coming weeks.

 

Themes

Sherlock-Jack-the-Ripper-Board-Game-Box
Jack the Ripper, not for the weak-stomached

Thematically, April was fairly heavily dominated by Fantasy, with 38% of time, and 48% of all gaming sessions occupied by this – within Fantasy, Gravehold (the setting for Aeon’s End) and Middle Earth each clocked up just under a quarter of the time, with the biggest individual setting being “generic” Fantasy (Dominion, Dungeon Time etc). Zombies were the next biggest area, followed by a healthy slice of all things Sherlock Holmes, and a sprinkling of Sci-Fi.

Mechanically things were a bit less clear – Completing Quests, Surviving Monsters, Solving Mysteries and generally saving the world were the big categories, racking up over 85% of time with their somewhat overlapping games. “Build the Best Place” was the only noticeable stand-out, at just over 10% of sessions, 7% or so of time.

 

Still brewing…

QuestionThere were a few noticeable shifts in April, games which found new games, new avenues of play, or whole areas opened up like Pandora’s Box. Most of them, however, I’m going to leave for another time – games that have only just arrived, or which warrant articles of their own. In this new, baby-filled world, I don’t want to promise anything, but I’m hoping that those articles are going to be ready sometime in May (or June, or later…)

Value for Kicks

About this time last year, I wrote a couple of articles about Kickstarter (see them here and here). Kickstarter continues to fascinate me, both as a Funding platform, and for the social dynamics which go on there. With 4 projects that I have backed and am awaiting delivery of, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the topic before deciding whether to dip my hand in my pocket once more. In part, this is just doing some thinking out loud for my own benefit, but I hope it will be interesting to others too.

 

The projects I’m currently waiting on were backed in May 2015, Jan 2016, July 2016 and December 2016. They were supposed to be deliver in April 2016, October 2016, April 2017 and Jun 2017. It doesn’t take the most observant eye to spot that 2 of these are late, one of them by nearly a year, and it seems pretty clear that the other 2 will be delayed as well – let’s look at them individually.

 

Apocrypha

ApocryphaBoxApocrypha is the disturbed long-lost sibling of the Pathfinder ACG –same design team, and some foundational common. However, it has definitely evolved in its own unique direction, along with an urban fantasy / contemporary horror theme that sets it apart from earlier adventures in Golarion. It was funded by a monster Kickstarter, which wildly exceeded its funding goal, thereby unlocking a ton of stretch-goals, meaning it was never going to hit its projected April 2015 delivery date.

The most recent update is predicting August (2017) for them to start shipping the core box, with the retail release coming a few weeks later. The various expansion bits are currently projected to be with us by November, or at least “before the end of the year” with the retail releases stretching from “in time for Christmas” through to early 2018.

Overall, the Apocrypha Kickstarter hasn’t been a great experience. For a project that was supposed to take just under a year, it’s now looking like 27 months minimum, just to get the base game, nearer to 3 years for the expansions. I don’t think that there’s any real reason to expect the worst (some of the gloomiest forum trolls are predicting bankruptcy at any moment), but it’s definitely been a grating process – I actually voted for this on BGG as one of the most anticipated games of 2016. By the time it appeared on the 2017 nominations list, my enthusiasm had faded.

The communication over the course of the Kickstarter has been mixed – it certainly hasn’t been the wall of silence that seems to plague some projects, but I do feel like they weren’t really upfront with just how long things were going to take – last spring we were being assured that it wouldn’t be as late as (that) October…

All of the mutterings coming out of the play-test suggest that this will be a good game, and that it will be a game with enough difference to make it worthwhile for those who already own multiple Pathfinder sets. Hopefully it will be able to capture our imagination, and actually find a place in our gaming schedule.

As far as I can work out (difficulties around historic exchange rates), I spent somewhere just under £100 on this. I think it may even have been my 2015 birthday present! As the most recent campaign update was keen to point out, that’s noticeably less than the cost of buying it at retail is likely to be (probably a saving of around £35 based on the dollar prices and current exchange rates). Still, if the 1-hour game time is accurate, that’s 20 sessions it will need to clock up before it meets my “value for money” formula. I’ve assigned a slightly arbitrary 3-month grace period from when KS games actually arrive to when I start adding them to the ‘not value for money’ sheet, and I’ll be interested to see whether it can make it.

Numenera

9th worldBack at the end of 2015, when I was still expecting Apocrypha to arrive on time, I got an email about Lone Shark’s next project: The Ninth World – a skill-building game for Numenera. Perhaps with a bit of wilful self-delusion, I assumed that this meant they had finished the design stage of Apocrypha, and backed this one on a bit of a whim – the setting was novel, as was the mechanic, and I’m always interested in anything new and cooperative.

Of course, hindsight is 20:20 and looking back now, a lot of disgruntled Apocrypha backers point to Numenera as a major example of Lone Shark stretching themselves too thin / not getting one product finished before making a start on the next one.

For a lot of the time, Numenera has felt like the forgotten project – whereas Apocrypha has at least been handed off to the printers where (we assume) the blame for further delays lies with someone else, Numenera hasn’t got nearly this far. In November, a month after we were originally going to be getting the game, the design was “almost done,” by February, they were doing some playing around with layout that would make things a lot more streamlined going forward. There have also been art-issues apparently.

The last official stab at a date for this came in mid-March when we were told that they are looking at a street date of “no later than the 4th quarter of this year” and that the “plan is to fulfill to Kickstarter backers first” – all positive noises to have it at some point during 2017, but still pretty vague, and not all that reassuring given the delays we’ve faced so far.

Looking back at my Kickstarter account, I was quite surprised by just how much I’d spent on this – probably somewhere around £65. Given that I probably backed it more out of misplaced goodwill for the company than anything else, this feels a lot like a write-off for me: I periodically forget that I’ve even backed it, and the only time I start hunting for information updates will be in the wake of looking into Apocrypha. With a slightly shorter play-time than a lot of the other games on the list, this will need 16 sessions to hit the value marker – I can easily see myself selling it on at a fairly early juncture in the hope of recovering (some of) my losses.

 

Massive Darkness

My biggest complaint about Zombicide, was the lack of a proper campaign mode. As such, I was VERY interested in Massive Darkness– another game from Cool Mini Or Not and Guillotine Games, with a fair number of similarities to Zombicide, but designed for campaign play, with a more developed system for levelling up and gaining loot.

massive-darkness-preview1

I gave CMON kickstarters their own article last year, and there hasn’t been that much change in my general thoughts. They are massive projects, funding is when, not if (and “when” is usually after about 4 minutes). Expect lots of stretch goals, lots of complaints about stretch goals (some legitimate, others not), plenty of pushing of optional purchases, then significant delays before your pledge actually arrives. When it does arrive, you’ll generally have something that’s cost you a bit less than the retail content would at the FLGS, plus a decent-sized pile of KS-only stuff.

The distribution of stretch goals and optional purchases in the Massive Darkness campaign felt odd, and it was irritating to pass on exciting optional purchases, (like the box that contains a Hellephant!) whilst unlocking yet another not-very-interesting Wandering Monster.

Largely because of the cost of picking up extra content on the secondary market for Zombicide, I ultimately decided to back this one. I have wondered several times since whether that was a good decision or not. The overall art-style wasn’t as nice as Zombicide (lots and lots of very pointy hats), and the character skills/classes seem a lot less interesting than originally billed. The $8, Kickstarter Exclusive add-on to use Zombicide characters and minis in this (and vice-versa) was probably the clincher, although I resisted the urge to double-up on this particular item, as a thing to sell later. This was probably a poor decision financially (confident I could flog it for double cost in the future), not sure if it was good or bad morally (I don’t want to be the person who backs KS projects just to sell on at a profit, but weirdly, if somebody doesn’t do it, a lot of people miss out on the opportunity to buy these things.) Anyway, that’s a whole different rabbit-hole.

This was the biggest outlay I’ve made on any Kickstarter project so far – nearly £110. Again, it was primarily funded by birthday money, but that’s still a hefty chunk of table time required to be “good value” – 22 sessions.

One interesting title that Massive Darkness can claim is the last game I paid out for before knowing we were going to have a baby that wouldn’t arrive until after he had appeared. Obviously that doesn’t really impact the Kickstarter process, but it does influence whether or not it will get played much. Again, I hope that this will turn out to be a good game, and worth my while – if it isn’t then I might be able to sell it (either the whole thing, or just some of the stretch-goals) to balance the books.

 

Legends Untold

Legends Untold is one of many cooperative dungeon crawlers seen in recent years. It comes from a new design team, who came to prominence at last year’s UK Games Expo. I had the chance to sit down and play a few turns with one of the game’s designers during my lunch-break, and had been monitoring it since.

This one was launched on Kickstarter right at the end of last year, and I think it’s fair to say that it surpassed everyone’s expectations with the level of response. With a funding goal of £12,000 to make the project happen, this ultimately raised over ten times that amount.

LegendsThe designers have created a whole world in which this game takes place, and clearly have grand plans for the future: higher level adventures, options to explore the world in different ways, and different sets which interact in different ways – to be honest, by the end of the campaign, I’d lost track of what exactly is coming when.

This was a much more reasonably priced project to back than the earlier ones – £24 for the original game, double that if you want the extra set which ended up being created thanks to all the stretch-goals.

I would definitely have preferred if the project had stayed at its initial size, which would have made this a far lower-risk undertaking, but in the end I opted for both boxes on the basis that i) I’m a terrible completionist, and wasn’t clear on whether I’d be able to get the second box in the future if I didn’t back now, and ii) this kind of independent start-up is the sort of project that Kickstarter ought to be for (at least in my opinion). I wanted to be part of something like this, helping to ensure that the industry doesn’t fall completely under the sway of international mega-corporations.

In the last month, the inevitable email has arrived, announcing delays to the project (the Kickstarter unlocked too many stretch goals, and it’s going to take much longer to produce everything). We’re now looking at September/October. ish. Very tiresome, but not particularly surprising: once again, we’ll see when this arrives as to whether it was worth it- at the very least, I reckon I’ll be able to play one box and (if I don’t like it that much) sell the other to claw back some money.

 

The Future

After the Massive Darkness campaign, and again after the Legends Untold project, I told myself that I was done with Kickstarter. I have plenty of games already in the house, or due sometime in the never-never, so that paying out more money for an untried game, appearing at an unspecified point in the future, looks like a bad deal. I expected to back Zombicide Black Plague Season 2 when it eventually appeared, but that was it.

Right now though, that resolve is being tested, with a couple of very interesting projects on the horizon.

Gloomhaven

I had hoped to pick up a review copy of Gloomhaven, but with all the supply issues the game has suffered (i.e. they could have printed 10x as many copies as they did and still sold out comfortably), there wasn’t one to be had.

GloomhavenFortunately for the many who missed out, there is a reprint coming, via Kickstarter, live right now. It funded in about five minutes, and hit the million dollar mark within a day. This would be another big beast of a project, not quite breaking the three-figure barrier, but getting pretty darn close. It’s not an impossible difficulty to overcome (I still haven’t spent most of my birthday money) and in a world where my gaming time wasn’t being eaten up by a baby, I’d probably back it without thinking twice. As it is, I’m torn between forking out for something I might not have the time to play, and missing another opportunity to get a game that’s been getting some fantastic buzz.

Aeon’s End

aeons-end-card-game-boxThe other project is one which launched a few weeks ago: the second wave of content for Aeon’s End. I’ve talked a bit about Aeon’s End on here, I’m really enjoying this Fantasy Co-op deck-builder, and as you know by now, I’m a bit of an expansion junkie so, at first glance, this looks like a no-brainer. That said, there are issues.

On the positive side, this Kickstarter offers new content for a game that is all about trying different combinations. It also comes with (slightly vague and non-committal) promises of improved component quality: thicker card, replacement tokens, a streamlined box, and maybe even an end to the strange glossy card-finish.

On the downside, this second wave of Aeon’s End – called War Eternal – features completely new graphic design, with everything being made bolder and brighter. As far as I can tell, this is mostly Tom Vassell’s doing – he complained in his review that he didn’t like the art of the original, and inevitably everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Of course, all the people who didn’t have any issue with the art didn’t say anything – and therefore it gives the impression that everyone hates the art.

MisMatch
Does anyone else find this as jarring as I do?

Whatever my preferences for aesthetics, I’m much more bothered about things matching (or not). I still feel a shudder of pain every time I walk past the bookcase and see the newest volume of a series of novels towering over the earlier instalments because it wasn’t available in paperback yet (seriously, why do they print novels in hardback?!) As ridiculous as some might find it, it would pain me to play a game where half the cards where done in one style, and half in another. For a good contender to be my new favourite game, it seemed like I was out almost before I had got started.

Then came the update pack (it had already been announced, I just hadn’t got the message properly). If I back the expansion, and send them a photo of the stuff I already have then – for $10 – I could get replacements for all the cards (for a game that’s mostly cards, that’s 90% of the game for only $10).

AeonsNew
This doesn’t feel especially post-apocalyptic to me

Personally I much preferred the earlier art, and thought it was a much better fit for the gritty, post-apocalyptic theme of the game, whereas the new design feels stark and jarring, the colours a bit too garish. That said, the new style is tolerable, and providing all those cards for a fairly nominal fee is a really good deal (of course, it does require you to back the second wave of stuff to get it, but they are running a business, not a charity [and if you NEVER plan on getting the later wave of content, why would you care about the cards being different?]). Ultimately, it looks like this is the only real opportunity to get everything matching unless I want to a.) never expand beyond the first wave, or b.) re-buy the whole thing at full price later on.

Green Horde

GreenHordeZombicide: Black Plague was the biggest hit of 2016, and more content for it has seemed like an obvious win. Just a few days ago, Cool Mini Or Not announced the second wave: Zombicide: Green Horde. Details are still very light, aside from the fact that it’s going to have an Orcs and Goblins theme to it but, assuming it’s mutually compatible with Black Plague, this ticks a lot of interest boxes.

Zombicide has been a bit squeezed for table time in this baby-shaped world, and I already have stuff that I haven’t really used – NPC Box 2 and the Deadeye Walkers – struggling to make it to the Painting Table. However, as the likelihood of this arriving in under a year is slim-to-none, it seems safe to assume that the landscape will have changed by then, one way or the other.

Sadly, the Kickstarter won’t be live until the End of May – after Aeon’s End and Gloomhaven have both closed, so I’ll need to decide before I get to that point- all three seems like it will probably be too much.

I’m sure I’ll end up taking the plunge on at least one or two of these (it’s like someone deliberately timed it to have two of them be live on the week of my birthday), and inevitably, that will lead to another article in 6 months’ time, complaining about how they’ve all been delayed. You can all tell me then that I should have known better, and waited until retail…

March: 8 of 8

March was when we came home. Gone were the endless armies of midwives, the constant background noise from a dozen other babies, and the strange creaks and clunks of an ageing hospital.

Instead, we were back to just our little family at home – although our little family now included a tiny baby who doesn’t seem to think a lot of board games (or of sleeping, or being put down).

Once gain then, it was a very different month of gaming – there was still a fair amount of gaming happening, and a few more milestones reached, but with a definite shift.

8 of 8

7-Of-9
When I started drafting this article, I was on 7 of 9, which is somehow more satisfying…

Having reached 6 plays of 6 games in February, I was able to cross off the next level in March, with no fewer than 10 games making it up to 7 plays. By the end of the month, I’d gone even further, to 8 of 8.

Arkham Horror the card game was the first new game to cross the threshold this month. Arkham fits (just about) on the little folding table that goes in front of our sofa when our son is engaged in one of his mammoth feeds, so this was a relatively frequent appearance this month, being one of six games to tick past the “10 plays” marker. As an LCG, Arkham takes up more money than a lot of games, so it’s good to see it getting regular play.

Mummys-Mask-Card-Game-BoxPathfinder hadn’t really made it out of the box in 2017 prior to heading into hospital in February.

Once we were out though, I had the brand new Mummy’s Mask base set, set ready for reviewing (link will be added to the reviews section soon) – a return to form after a poor ending to the third set, this one leapt all the way up to ten plays in only a week or two. Lastly, the monthly Dice Masters meet-up rounded out the 8.

Aeon’s Beginning

aeons-end-card-game-boxI was also pleased that March saw Aeon’s End getting the table time it deserves, as I introduced it to my wife to generally positive feedback. After a victory in something roughly recreating the introductory scenario, we got thoroughly battered in most of our other games, but I still love the interactions, the decisions to be made, and the overall mechanics of the game.

There’s an expansion to this bubbling away on Kickstarter, and I must admit, I’m really torn: this type of marketplace game always thrives with more cards available, so getting this would seem like an obvious choice, but there are a few things about the project that I’m not thrilled by – I’ll talk more about that in a Kickstarter article I’ve got brewing elsewhere…

Turn of the Century: Zombicide

NecroAbom
Painting Zomnbicide has hit a bit of a backlog, so here’s a few older figures…

Due to its size (table space) and length (often 2-3 hours), Zombicide had fallen out of favour in February, and it only got 1 game in March. However, that single play was enough to take it not only to 10 sessions for the year, but 100 since we got it around this time last year. I’ve talked lots about Zombicide in the past, so I won’t wax lyrical any more today, but it’s still a fun choice when the baby allows.

Overall, I fell just short of having 9 plays of 9 games this month, but we’re definitely close, and I’m pretty confident that this year’s 10 of 10 will be done and dusted long before year end, probably by the summer – we already have over a dozen games played 6 times or more, and many of those will be looking to reach double figures soon.

 

Gathering Dust

Where March did see a big slow-down, was in games getting off of the unplayed list – with about 20 left to play, I’ll need to start giving this closer attention some time soon, as there’s only 1 or 2 I’d consider selling. Still, plenty of time left

 

What, How and How Much?

Investigators Book
I also picked up one of these recently – not a game, but a great tie-in product, and highly recommended to any Arkham Horror Files fan

In terms of theme and mechanic, March was something of a return to familiar ground. The thematic spread was fairly broad, with Lovecraft and Golarion being the biggest hitters, but there were significant appearances for Marvel, Tolkien, Zombies, Sherlock Holmes and a number of more generic settings

Cooperative was definitely the order of the day, with only a single game of Munchkin in the competitive column for most of the month, along with a scattering of Dice Masters and Zombie Dice as we reached the final days.

I sold a few more games in March, so gaming as a whole remains on a negative cost for the year. There are still some games which have dipped into the red in terms of value for money, with release schedules for Lord of the Rings and Arkham LCG getting ahead of us play-wise, and a rare re-stock for Mansions of Madness making me grab an expansion at a time when this rather lengthy game is struggling for table-time. As ever, I won’t be too worried, so long as I can drag things back on course long-term, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on those figures.

 

Looking forward

For the moment, it remains hard to guess how things will go over the coming months: predictability of nap times is a major factor in whether or not we can get games like Eldritch Horror back to the table any time soon, and feeds can take 20 minutes or 5 hours, which doesn’t exactly help with planning.

I hope that by the end of April, we will be back to something approaching a pattern, even if that’s a very different pattern to January and before. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get the chance to post a few proper articles, rather than just the monthly recaps…

A Year in Reviews

Having had our gaming habits somewhat disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of a baby, it felt like a good moment for a bit of a retrospective.

I’ve been doing game reviews now for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve saved myself money on some games I wanted to get anyway, breathed life into games that had been standing idle and, above all, tried a lot of games that I would never have come close to playing without doing the reviews. Today I want to look at some of the highlights.

 

Bigger and Better: Zombicide: Black Plague

(see original review here)

Zombicide PaintedZombicide was one of the earlier games I got to review, and it was undoubtedly the game which made the biggest impact on last year – it was also my pick for “2016 Game of the Year” in the video. It’s a miniatures game, where a small band of heroes take on ever-growing armies of zombies, simple to learn, and not that difficult to master, I love how accessible this game is, and just how much fun it is. The game is scenario-based, so there’s a fair amount of variety, and the ongoing search for better weapons drives a lot of what happens. The zombies power up as your survivors do – specifically spawning in numbers determined by the most powerful survivor at that point in time, which means that you need to be careful of one person getting too far ahead of the group.

paintotaurWith a £70+ price-tag on the base game, coming from a publisher and designers I didn’t really know, this is something I would never have picked up having not played the franchise before. Having got it, it’s been such a hit that various birthdays and Christmas presents have gone on expansions. At the time of writing, it’s hovering on the brink of hitting 100 plays in under a year, which is pretty good going for a game that typically lasts more than 90 minutes, and regularly hits 2-3 hours or even more.

Cracking game, great fun, and it even inspired me to get back into miniature-painting to an extent that I hadn’t in a good while. Great stuff.

 

Gaming for the Future: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

(see original review here)

all-investigatorsAfter Zombicide, Mansions of Madness was the second most-played new game last year, but I’m including it on this list for a couple of other reasons. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this game here, and here (amongst other places), but there’s something specific I wanted to draw out today. This game completely changed my mind on the use of apps in Board Games. I use randomisers for set-up in Legendary and Dominion, but otherwise, I’ve always been pretty luke-warm on the concept. Things like X-COM, with a stress-inducing real-time element aren’t really my cup of tea, and I could never see the benefit: Boggle works fine with an egg-timer, with needing to digitise everything.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleMansions changed all of that – it gave us access to a great game that we’d always steered away from due to the 1-versus-many aspect, and it allows masses of replayability in a way that just wouldn’t be possible with physical components. The puzzles are probably the biggest aspect of this, but the whole experience is very well done – I never feel like it isn’t worth having the bits out, or that I could just be playing on the app, but the app streamlines the play so much. Eldritch Horror is another game we picked up last year, very similar in a lot of ways, but it does have a lot of bookkeeping to do (and I often miss bits), so having the app to keep track of these things just makes life so much easier. Lastly, the element of the unknown that it provides is great – the fact that you can roll a check without knowing how well you have to do to succeed gives you all the openness and surprise of an RPG, without someone actually having to take on the role of GM.

Mansions has really whet my appetite for more of these all-vs-app games. I strongly considered getting Descent, and only decided against it on the basis of time, but if the rumoured app for Imperial Assault finally appears, then I’ll be taking a very interested look at it (hopefully they’ll publish a second edition of the box, and someone will be needed to write a review…)

 

Disturbing the Dust: Elder Sign

(see original review here)

ElderElder Sign is a game we’d owned for ages, but hadn’t been played that much. In fact, in 2015, it didn’t get played at all, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the same was true of 2014. It was one of a small handful of Cthulhu-mythos games that had been bought in, but had never really taken off.

Elder sign was already on my radar as part of last year’s “unplayed” project, but it definitely helped when I saw an expansion sitting on the up-for-review list – the Alaskan-themed “Omens of Ice” box.

Omens-of-Ice-Original-Box-Card-GameI didn’t put in for it straight away, but made a point of playing a few games first, to make sure I actually had some recent context for reviewing the expansion. Then I got the expansion to review, and played it some more. And more.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Elder Sign is our most-played game of the year so far. Part of that is due to some skewed circumstance, along with catching up on expansions for Christmas, but this is definitely a game that Reviewing breathed fresh life into – Dominion also benefited last summer with the excellent Empires expansion, but this felt like the clearest example of a game brought back from extinction.

 

And now for something completely different: AYA

(see original review here)

AYA-Box-Board-GameWriting Board Game reviews can be a great opportunity to pick up games or expansions that I would be buying anyway. It also offers a chance to try something completely different.

There a few games which fit the “different” header better than AYA: a cooperative domino standing game where you work together, against the clock, to construct landscapes of dominoes in matching patterns, then attempt to knock them over with a single flick, leaving a unique pattern of animal and landscape photographs.

AYA-SetUp-Board-GameAYA is a fun little game – certainly not of the things we play most regularly, but interesting enough for a change. Without a doubt though, this is not a game I would have found and bought in a shop: it’s simply way too far off of my radar, too far removed from the sorts of things I normally play. When it comes to spending money, one of the main reasons I get so many expansions for board games, is that I feel like I have a better idea what I’m getting, a sense that I’ll be enhancing something I already know I enjoy, rather than taking a chance on something new. I still try to target games which I think might go down well at home for reviewing – it’s hard to write a review on a game no-one will play! – but overall, reviewing offers a great opportunity to push the boundaries slightly, to experiment with the new.

 

The People’s Favourite: Star Wars Carcassonne

(see original review here)

Star-Wars-Carcassonne-Game-Board-GameI feel like it wouldn’t be fair to finish this article without pausing for a moment to mention Star Wars Carcassonne, or Starcassonne as I like to call it. This takes the well-known tile-laying game, and mashes it together with the Star Wars franchise – it’s an interesting twist on the original game, with dice-based combat and planetary invasion making for a slightly more direct, if also more luck-based experience than the original Carcassonne.

The Star Wars theme is pretty thin- really this is “space” Carcassonne to a far greater extent than it is Star Wars in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its popularity – this was by far the most read of all the articles I did for them last year, and it continues to attract attention into 2017.

 

Looking forward

There have definitely been a few reviews in the last month or so that have run into baby-related reviews, and when time is at a premium, you don’t want to be unable to play your favourite game because you’ve promised to review something strange, new and not-all-that-appealing. That said, I’m optimistic that Review work will still have a place in a parenthood world, and I look forward to telling you all about them in due course.

February

 

February was always going to be a pretty important month for gaming in 2017. For one thing, this is often the time that New Year enthusiasm starts to peter out, and we get to see which games are going to have real staying power for the coming months. More importantly for us in 2017, February was going to be our last month of (relatively) undisturbed gaming, as my wife was expecting a baby in the middle of March. That made February a key time for getting games played, trying out anything that would be prevented by my being sleep-deprived, and generally making sure I didn’t have too many outstanding reviews left to do.

ned36
Not strictly a board game, but I like this picture, so I’m putting it in anyway…

It turns out that my son had different ideas. He decided that he didn’t want to wait for March 12th, and turned up on February 4th instead. That was something of surprise, to say the least. It also meant that February took place mostly in hospital, in the company of a tiny baby. Sadly, he’s been really quite ill, so had to stay in for a long while. Obviously, next to a child’s health, gaming is an incredibly trivial thing, That said, I’ve had plenty of time at home, trying to keep my mind busy, and my wife has barely been further from her bed than the hospital café in a month: in times like these, board-gaming is actually a really important distraction to stay sane.

 

With that in mind, February really hasn’t been a bad month gaming wise: by the time you factor in the month being 3 days shorter, overall numbers have barely dropped. That said, a whole new set of criteria have entered my decision-making process, including “Can I play this solo?” (already a slight consideration before), “Can I play this whilst hideously sleep-deprived?” “Can I play this on a tiny foldable hospital table?” “Can I safely take this somewhere without losing all the tiny pieces?” and “Can I play this without using my arms?” (Anything with a hand of hidden cards is out, but something like Carcassonne, where all information is public, works well).

sherlock-consulting-board-game-boxSan Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Dobble, and Star Wars Carcassonne, all scored highly in several of these categories, and made it to the table repeatedly. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and its Lovecraftian sibling Mythos Tales also get a good mark on the “play with no hands” chart, and we had a few enjoyable, if drastically unsuccessful sessions of these. Other games like Coup and Braggart got briefer revivals, but proved to be fairly lacklustre with only 2 players. Still, along with single run-outs for a handful of other games, I’m now well past the half-way mark in playing all the games I own this year.

 

6 of 6

Where February did prove a challenge, was getting games back to the table for the repeat play-throughs needed to get higher counts. I spent most of the month watching the 10 of 10 challenge languishing on 5 of 5, with Legendary and Arkham Horror failing to get that 6th game- this was particularly frustrating for Arkham, as this was the game that I’d spent the most money on this year, but there really are too many different piles of cards and little tokens to risk taking this one to the hospital. In the end, I made it to our Monthly Dice Masters meet-up on the 26th, to finally hit 6 of 6.

Elder Sign, a game which definitely pushes the limits of what’s practical for transportation, did make a couple of fiddly trips and was the first to pass the 10 plays barrier for the year. Zombicide will doubtless join it soon after we get home, and there are a host of other games which have been kicking their heels all month: Legendary – recently enhanced with the Deadpool expansion – the new Mummy’s Mask set for Pathfinder, and Mansions of Madness all still seem likely to hit the big numbers as the year goes on.

As I think about finishing this year’s 10 of 10 challenge (some months from now), I have been back to BGG and checked again – neither Peekaboo, nor Steal Your Nose has a Board Game Geek entry (to be honest, my son’s not very good at those games either, but they seemed more appropriate than Eldritch Horror.) At least we’re a few months away from grab-and-chew.

 

Something New

The unexpected baby made his impact felt on the reviews I do for Game Quest, just as much as it did on playing for domestic purposes. I managed to get a couple finished off in the early weeks of me being alone at home and mum & baby stuck in hospital, but others needed to wait a while longer: I don’t want to spoil the stories of Mansions or Pathfinder (as noted above, these were not practical for transporting to hospital) and that fat, dense rulebook is still sat there in the corner, just daring me to risk my sanity by taking on Star Trek Frontiers.

Amongst this brain fog of exhaustion there was something unusual though. It’s very early in the year to be touting a game as a potential “Game of the Year,” but I think that this might be it.

aeons-end-card-game-boxAeon’s End was a big Kickstarter last year that’s attracted a lot of hype. It’s a cooperative Science-Fantasy Deck-builder that can probably best be described as a cross between Dominion and Legendary, although it certainly has plenty of unique features of its own.

As always, go to Games Quest and read the full review there to get the big picture, but a few key highlights:

Legendary style, the players are working together to take down a big baddy, who will have his own stats and unique abilities, plus a deck from which he throws out some randomised pain at the players every turn.

Rather than a Legendary style HQ though, players are building their decks from a Dominion-style market: at the start of the game you select 9 cards (3 gems, 2 relics, 4 spells), and they’re all available to buy from the word go – until they run out.

The biggest twist in Aeon’s End is that you don’t shuffle your deck: once your deck runs out, you just flip over your discard pile to form a new deck – given the amount of time you spend shuffling in a standard deck-builder, this is a really big twist. The only shuffling that goes on is in the turn-order deck, which randomises when in the course of each round you get to act, and when the Nemesis (boss bad-guy) does.

It’s also worth noting that in Aeon’s End you play as a specific character, each with their own unique ability, and a different starting configuration of breaches – the portal used for casting spells.

I’ve not had a chance to do any more than scratch the surface of Aeon’s End yet – I got the higher-level Kickstarter edition of the game, which gives me extra gems, spells and artefacts for the market, extra Breach Mages to play as, and extra Nameless monsters to face down. From this first look though, it seems great, with loads to recommend it in terms of art, back-story, and above all game-play. The fact that it’s cooperative means that there’s a chance of getting to the level of depth in experimenting with market combinations and strategies that I could never manage with Dominion (due to a lack of opponents who wanted to play that much Dominion).

 

The Future

I have no idea what March will hold. I’m fairly optimistic that having our little boy at home won’t completely stop us from gaming (although right now, I’d prepared to give it up if that was going to get him better and home from hospital). Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be some way towards figuring out what “normal life” looks like now, and will be back to posting here a bit more frequently.