Kicks Revalued

With any Kickstarter project, there’s a fair amount of waiting.

Maybe communication is good on the project, maybe it’s bad. Maybe they deliver quickly, or maybe they take a long time. Whichever way, there’s probably a fair amount of time where you’re thinking about the project, but aren’t in a position to actually be playing the game.

It’s at times like this, sat with my spreadsheets, that I start to question the value of the project, something which, I think,  is a fair bit more complex than with a game bought off a shelf (or website).

Spent

GreenHorde
This is the big one…

“Money spent” is relatively simple to track: ideally an old Credit Card statement, otherwise the pledge information on Kickstarter + a historic exchange rate calculator. On top of that, I tend to add on a bit more in the way of “interest” based on how long it takes from when they take my money to when I get my stuff, and I have a notional figure for what I’ve spent.

By that reckoning, the 8 Kickstarter projects that have been “live” (any stage from campaign launch to delivery) at some point this year add up to over £700. That’s a moderately terrifying figure, although it is alleviated somewhat by the knowledge that they were paid for over two and a half years.

Retail

If a Kickstarted game makes it to retail, then I can compare directly what I paid for the game, versus what people buying it now will have to fork out. Was Kickstarting this project a money-saver? Or a money-sink?

For Massive Darkness, the first game to arrive, this was an equation that seemed to work out really well. As this finally sees a retail release, my total pledge including shipping and interest is only £14 more than the RRP of the base game: even assuming a 10% pre-order discount, I’m looking at having made a £30 saving, compared to base game + the first 2 expansions, and there’s another expansion, a set of tiles/scenarios, and the extra dice all yet to come.

Apocrypholder
I don’t remember why I ordered the binder. The sheets are useful, but they tend to get stored in the game box

Apocrypha looks less impressive – You can see my Kickstarter review for the details, but basically it looks like I’ll be very slightly up by the time all is said and done, but not much.

Aeon’s End I spent around £70 on. The starting pledge was $65, which covered the base and a selection of stretch goals (included for me, probably collected later as a retail expansion), and I paid a further $15 for an expansion. Availability is still very limited, but it looks like the base game will be £45ish, £15-18 per expansion, so this seems to come out about even.

For other games, retail prices are trickier: Gloomhaven is currently only listed for silly money, due to the game being out-of-print, and prices will clearly drop once the second wave hits retail. Zombicide will presumably have an RRP around £90, but be available a fair bit cheaper from the online retailers. For 9th World and Legends Untold, it wouldn’t surprise me if even the companies involved aren’t sure yet. The latest thing I jumped on, a mini-expansion for Gloom of Kilforth, cost me £21 – I don’t know whether this will even get a retail release, and I certainly don’t expect it be cheaper if it does. For now, all the games with no RRP go on the spreadsheet with a value of “minus whatever I paid for it.” That leaves me with a figure of just over £400 of ‘lost value,’ but that will inevitably level out a lot over time, and probably end up in the black overall.

 

Exclusivity

Although I’ve looked at the Financial Value of the retail pledge, there’s also the question of exclusives.

Lightbringer Aside from a few bits with retail packaging, the Massive Darkness pledge also came with a “Lightbringer” box – duplicates of monsters from the base game and, crucially, 18 Wandering monsters, 3 hero miniatures, and 1 class sheet, which will not be available separately. It’s hard to put a value on these, especially as I don’t want to sell mine, but I reckon you could easily get (at least) £50 for it. Right now though, I haven’t added anything to the spreadsheet for these. I also spent $8 on some exclusive cards to use Zombicide figures in Black Plague, and vice-versa, and these are currently going for around £20 on Ebay.

For Aeon’s End, I spent $10 to get the cards and mats for the original game replaced with upgraded card-stock, and layout to match the new game. As this won’t be offered at retail, it’s hard to measure that $10 price – on the one hand it offers nothing new mechanically, but it does make the two elements of the game feel like they belong together. Having not paid for the original game (it was a review), I was pretty happy with about 2 games’ worth of cards for not much more than the cost of 1 game.

Apocrypha came with 3 or 4 promo cards. You might be able to get a fiver or so for them online. For the games yet to arrive, I know that Green Horde will have a similar pile of goodies to Massive Darkness, and Gloom of Kilforth has some bonus new Classes and Races. I don’t think Gloomhaven came with anything exclusive, and can’t remember what I’m expecting for the others.

 

Play

In an ideal world, one day a Kickstarted game will actually arrive at your house, and get played. I’ve talked before about how I measure game-value, and that doesn’t change for KS (1 hour of play = £5 value). On that basis, all-but-one of the KS games are currently still in the red, but that’s hardly surprising, given that 6 out of the 7 hadn’t arrived at the beginning of October!

To get into specifics, “value” is currently over £450 in the red – it works out at just over 90 hours of play needed to balance things out!

Now, Zombicide Black Plague managed that by itself last year, so if Green Horde is a similar success, it could knock that down fairly quickly, but it won’t be doing it until 2018.

1Man Much Loot Massive Darkness is already in the black, having clocked up the 25-or-so hours of table-time it needed in less than 2 months.  Overall, the game is currently contributing a respectable £75.98 to the “value of Kickstarter” column, and that figure is only going to grow as the game gets played more and more. I could easily imagine myself getting another 5-10 plays without touching the expansion content, and then we’ve got a Massive set of options for variety, in terms of more heroes, mobs and wandering monsters, a whole extra set of tiles and quests, and all the Zombicide crossover content – it was the first game played in November, and isn’t going anywhere.

MassiveGloom
“Massive” is a relative term…

It’s well documented just how much there is in Gloomhaven: both in terms of physical content and the hours of table-time that are in there. I doubled-down on this purchase by paying for the removable stickers to “de-legacy” the legacy aspect of the game. I personally won’t be getting into a second or subsequent play-through any time soon (if ever), but hopefully it’ll leave me with a near-mint game to move on if I decide that it isn’t justifying its place on the shelf.

For Apocrypha, 20 hours to break even feels like a lot: I lost a lot of enthusiasm for it in the 17 months between when it was due and when it actually arrived. I clocked up 10 hours pretty quickly, mostly because my editor wanted a review by Essen, but some of those sessions were a real grind, and this is back on the shelf, where I can see it staying until the expansions land.

9thI think 9th World must exist behind some kind of perception filter- it’s like my brain is singularly unable to remember that it exists without repeated prompting. This is a game which was backed by virtue of piggy-backing on the goodwill generated by the Apocrypha campaign (a resource which has long-since been depleted).

Lastly is Legends Untold, a proper old-school Kickstarter project from a new designer/company. I played a turn or so of the prototype at UKGE 2016, and followed it from there. I ended up backing this at a higher level than I wanted to (they raised so much money that they doubled the range of stuff they were offering), and have watched the game change significantly over the course of the campaign to where it’s scarcely recognisable. Right now, I don’t have a clear enough sense of what it will be like to get excited, although I’m still optimistic that it will be good. The latest KS update has got this pushed back to January (hopefully!) so it’s going to be semi-ignored for a while.

Old or New?

AeonsThere is some complexity around the fact that 2 of the games I’ve Kick-started this year (Aeon’s End: War Eternal, and Zombicide: Green Horde) are stand-alone expansions. If I lump them in with the existing game, then I’m already covered time-wise, but that’s clearly misleading (as none of the game-play logged pre-arrival was using any of the KS content).

When Green Horde does land, my first step will be to play through the Core Box once, using core box content only (this will require less discipline than with Massive Darkness, as it’s shipping several months ahead of the add-ons). What I’m not quite sure of is how clear the distinction between Black Plague and Green Horde will remain after that, or how I’ll want to go about logging it.

Aeon’s End is currently my 5th most-played game of the year, still 1 of only 6 to make it past 25 sessions. It had been a bit quiet over the summer, but the arrival in early October of better-quality components, mixed with a range of extra cards and options, has given it a fresh lease of life. Again, the question is how to measure plays of old and new? After some reflection, I decided that, in all likelihood, future plays will either be all new stuff, or a mixture, so I’ll just base it on any plays of Aeon’s End after the new stuff landed. Right now, that’s still in the red by some distance (£40-odd), but I’m confident of it catching up in due course. Where a Kickstarter is for a pure expansion (not playable stand-alone) – like Gloom of Kilforth, it’s much more straightforward to just mix it in and measure plays in the same way as AE.

 

Numbers?

Taking pledge vs retail cost (with the caveat of not having retail prices for over half the games), and Cost vs Value (where half the games haven’t arrived), I arrived at a grand, grand, overall total figure, which is devastatingly large. At least it’s still a 3-figure sum!

Now, OBVIOUSLY that figure isn’t final. I know with absolute certainty that a big chunk of that will disappear simply with components reaching retail, and obviously I intend to play these games too. Still, it does give me pause.

 

Regrets?

Of course, one thing that you can never really calculate is the value of making a decision so far ahead of release.

2015
I backed Apocrypha way back in 2015…

If Apocrypha were released tomorrow and I hadn’t backed it, I doubt very much that I’d buy it. I’d probably put my name down for a review copy, but I couldn’t imagine sinking my hand £60 deep into my pocket, let alone £100 for the expansions (which seem to be where the value is). 9th World likewise.

Massive Darkness was a big success, and I’m glad I backed it – I remember thinking many times last year that I wished I could go back in time and back Black Plague: obviously I couldn’t, but I could back Green Horde, and I did.

I’m glad I backed Legends Untold, because it’s the sort of project that I feel Kickstarter should really be for – small, independent, first-time publisher: It’s good to feel like I’ve been part of something that couldn’t have been produced without Kickstarter. As noted above, I’ve kind of lost sight of where we are gameplay wise, so will be interested to see what eventually lands.

 

All of it?

Hellephant
Hellephant!

Even within games that I would buy, there’s the question of whether I’d buy all the stuff I got through the KS campaign – as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve (very deliberately) only used the base-set stuff for Massive Darkness so far, and whilst I fully intend to get the rest of the stuff I have onto the table at some point, I think it’s probable that I’d have done things differently if I were picking the game up at retail – definitely a Hellephant before Lord Tusk or the Cocatrix, probably some Ratlings or Lizardmen before the Troglodytes. As a CMON Kickstarter, this has enough value in it that I’m not too bothered about little quibbles like this, although it would definitely be nice to be able to pick-and-choose more freely. I’d imagine that Green Horde will feel much the same.

Aeon’s End, I expect I would have planned to get it all, although possibly not all at once, and once there’s delay, there’s always the potential to have my mind changed. Gloomhaven I didn’t pledge for any expansions (aside from buying the stickers from a third-party so that I don’t damage the game in playing it). Legends Untold I would definitely have gone for 1 box rather than 2 if I had been confident of the second one being available later, but see notes above on “proper” Kickstarters.

Apocrypha is in a strange place – part of me thinks that the core box experience isn’t gripping enough to want to shell out for the expansions, part of me thinks that it’s only with the expansions that the game will really come to life. 9th World I can’t remember how it breaks down with add-ons (I’m sure it’ll change again before delivery).

 

Closing Thoughts

This article is a bit of a snap-shot, and it’s a snapshot taken at a very unflattering point in time for Kickstarter – money gone out on 8 projects, game in hand for more than a month on only 1. Still it’s a useful reminder for myself, especially as other Kickstarters appear in the future.

I was going to talk here about future projects I’m looking at, but this has got very long already, so I’ll section that off to be its own article another time.

I’m certainly not swearing off Kickstarter in the way that some people have. That said, I was never that deeply ensnared in the first place – over the time it’s taken me to get this printed, I’ve passed on 2 or 3 moderately-interesting-looking Kickstarters – an expansion for a fairly enjoyable game we play occasionally, a highly rated game that’s always priced itself out of my range in the past, and an opportunity for a mega-saving on a game that I’m not sure I really need – I expect I’ll end up talking more about them elsewhere, but for the most part, it won’t be as a backer.

I’ll keep following projects. Keep backing them occasionally. Keep complaining when they don’t arrive in a timely fashion, and keep blogging when there’s finally a game to blog about.

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Kickback: Apocrypha

As part of my ongoing series of Kickstarter retrospectives, I want to talk today about Apocrypha.

Runelords If the decision to back Massive Darkness sprang from 2016’s love-affair with Zombicide Black Plague, then Apocrypha owes its success to our game of choice in 2015 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I’d picked up PACG in April/May of 2014, and we were instantly hooked – a fun fantasy setting with loads of depth to it, transformed into a simple card game.

Apocrypha was a sort of long-lost sibling to the PACG – the theme was Modern Horror/ Urban Fantasy rather than High Fantasy, which didn’t massively interest me, but I’d liked enough of what I’d seen of the designers’ work up to that point to still be interested. Where Pathfinder has a very linear structure, Apocrypha promised powers matched with flaws, and a far more open approach overall to playing the game. Structurally, dice-rolls seemed to work very differently and all-in-all, it seemed like it had plenty to offer.

Apocrypha KS.pngIn May 2015, I shelled out $99 for the game plus all its expansions, and $17 for a folder (I forget what the point of the folder was), add in shipping and all-told, it was just under £100.

The game was due in April/May 2016, but there was plenty of Pathfinder to keep us occupied in the mean-time.

Wrath of the Righteous (3rd PACG set) released as the Apocrypha Kickstarter finished. Sadly, it was by far the least enjoyable of the APs, culminating in the soul-destroying Adventure 6, which saw us put the box away and never play a Wrath scenario again.

The Long Wait

2016 came, and with it no sign of Apocrypha – the April 2016 update came with a note saying

“Since the campaign ended, we said over and over that the increased size of the game would mean that April 2016 was not going to happen.”

– This was news to me, but I’m not always the most observant, so I checked.

looking back, I found a few comments on likely delivery dates:

September 2015

“we’re not sure whether we will quite get this out in April like we hoped, but we are definitely on the right track for a sometime-in-Q2 release” (KS update 22)

December 2015

“Because the game got real big during the campaign, we’re probably gonna miss April, but assuming all our art and graphics stay on the same schedule, we’re on track for a spring release to Kickstarter backers, and a summer retail release.” (KS Update 25).

That didn’t feel as definitive as they were making out that they had been, but a few months delay wasn’t going to be the end of the world – the doomsayers were predicting we wouldn’t have this game in hand until Christmas 2016, but the creators reassured us

“We very much hope to beat that expectation by a lot.”

It dragged on through the autumn: “production beginning in September” turned into “Files sent to the printer at Christmas.” When more understandable delays came up (proofs and tests bouncing back and forth between designers and printers), they were a lot harder to swallow than they would have been a year or so earlier.

Flesh By this time, we’d been told that the game had been split into 3 – a base box, followed by 2 expansions. Release was predicted as core box for backers in August, going to retail around the same time. Both expansions coming to backers in the Autumn, with the first one getting a retail release around November, and the other early in 2018.

I started writing the first draft of this article on 18th August, one day after the game’s street date in North America. Not only were there a stack of copies at GenCon, but any American FLGS that wanted it, could have copies aplenty, long before it made it to backers in Blighty.

The September update told us that EU fulfilment was about to begin, and should be all wrapped up within 2 weeks. My copy eventually arrived on 4/10/2017 – from what I can glean from forum activity, I was one of the lucky ones, with many people still waiting 3 or 4 weeks later.

A Backer’s Regrets

Overall, this campaign has left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s been fairly clear throughout that the designers have been working on lots of other projects: At times this has been blamed on distributors wanting multiple product ranges, each of multiple products. At other times we got a thinly veiled admission that they have real contracts with other publishers so have a legal obligation to actually deliver work by the time they promised, whereas KS backers can be more-or-less ignored. There were some vague claims that certain things (like art) just couldn’t be done any quicker, but in the context of everything else going on, that never really rang true.

Pathfinder Hours
How much of my gaming (by hours) is Pathfinder

My gaming habits have changed a lot in the past couple of years: I played 265 games of Pathfinder in 2015, 81 in 2016, and 22 (so far) this year: A Pathfinder-like game is just less exciting than it would have been in April 2016.

Admittedly that’s about me, not the game, but I think the length of the delay makes it much more likely that I’d be looking for something else. If this had arrived (somewhere close to) on-time, I’d have been more excited by it. I’d also like to think that if they’d originally pitched a game with a 24-month instead of a 12-month delivery estimate, then I might have thought differently about backing.

 

Development

For all my irritation, I wouldn’t want to suggest that the designers haven’t put a lot of time and effort into this game. Clearly they have done a lot.

AppThat said, I wasn’t convinced by the big changes, most notably when the designers decided to get clever with “set in the present day.”

Apocrypha now has an app, and every day you can sign in and find a unique twist added to playing the game today. This felt particularly bad, as it brought a real game-play disadvantage for non-US backers, who didn’t have their game whilst the US retail customers did.

 

Reputation

I think that a lot of people who backed Apocrypha did so because of Pathfinder: either because they liked the game, or simply because they’d heard of the designers – these were people with industry experience, who knew how to put together a card game on this scale.

As a Kickstarter backer, I know that there are risks – that’s why I pay attention to who is manufacturing the game when I decide to back. Clearly, in this case, I was wrong to assume that Pathfinder ACG was any kind of guarantee where this game was concerned: that these people with great game ideas actually knew what they were doing from an industry/production perspective. We assumed that they would actually be able to deliver the game they’d presented in the campaign and do it (somewhere near to) on time.

 

When it actually arrives

Most of the stuff written above was drafted before I had the game in hand. I thought I was just tired and didn’t care about this game anymore. When I sat down to write this, I suddenly realised just how annoyed I was by everything that had happened over the two and a bit years of this Kickstarter, culminating in the August release for the USA and a half-hearted drift into Europe a month or two later.

What I needed was for this game to arrive and blow me away with the experience it provided.

 

4/10/2017 Apocrypha finally arrived.

First impressions weren’t great.

Apocrypha Tutorial The first set of cards were fairly warped, and the rulebook was dense and keyword-heavy. The “Tutorial Video” was in fact just watching other people play the game for a few rounds. After a few minutes they say “we’re off, but why don’t you guys play out the rest of the game yourself” – which might make sense if it came before half a dozen shuffles and dice-rolls.

Still, plenty of good games have lousy rulebooks and poor (or absent) tutorials, so I kept going.

Apocrypha-Card-Game-Contents The box organiser has a lot of space (it should comfortably hold both expansions) and some nice dividers. I built a couple of suggested decks, and took another run at the intro scenario. I rolled badly, which is always a risk in a dice game, but my options felt really constrained- there just weren’t many ways to mitigate bad luck.

Surprisingly, given where I’d started, the theme seemed to be the best thing about the game – the story book did a good job of luring me in to the narrative, and teased the possibility of more cool stuff to come.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and this has made a remarkably fast charge up to ten plays. However, that’s primarily because my editor from Games Quest remembered me mentioning that I’d backed this, and asking me to do a rush-job review of it, ahead of Essen. I promised to avoid the “it would have been fine 2 years ago” comments and I tried to make sure I reviewed the game, not the Kickstarter campaign – if anything, I probably went to the other extreme, not wanting to let my review be coloured by personal irritation, although it was still hardly a glowing review – you can see the results over at the GQ Blog if you’re interested.

 

Speaking with the greater freedom that comes from writing on my own blog, and not a semi-professional job for someone else, I want to talk a bit more about some of the issues I had with the game

Do what now?

Apocrypha-Card-Game-StructuresThe Byzantine structuring of rules and set-up meant that there were lots of occasions where we simply didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing – or worse, thought we knew what we were supposed to be doing, but it was stupid, random, and un-fun (the worst of these turned out to be a missed rule, which wasn’t featured on any of the 4 cards on table that were supposed to be telling us how to play the game, and was only buried in the story-book).

Having played at least 400 games of Pathfinder in the last few years, done game demonstration as a side-job, play-tested a major card-game, and reviewed a lot of other games, I’d like to think that I’ve got as good a chance as most people of being able to pick up Apocrypha and get the hang of it fairly quickly. I’d give Apocrypha about 2/10 for being intuitive and accessible.

 

Losing Theme

Pathfinder Check On top of that, the theme and the mechanics feel pretty disconnected. It’s fairly obvious in Pathfinder what’s going on: My fighter rolls a D10 for his strength. As he’s fighting a Goblin, he plays a short sword to add a D6, and adds his Melee skill for +3. He rolls a 4 and a 2 which equals 9 with the bonus. He exceeds the Goblin’s “Combat 8” and the Goblin is defeated.

Apocrypha CheckCompare that to “My policeman rolls 3 dice to use his body skill against this werewolf. He discards a set of lockpicks to add another dice, and a cup of coffee to add a further dice. Finally, because he has “Sense” he adds a 6th and final dice. He then rolls the 6 dice and gets 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6. The best total from these dice is 13, which is less than the Werewolf’s difficulty of 14. As the cop doesn’t have any “Body” gifts in hand, he discards a memory stick…

Now admittedly, that might be a bit contrived, picking a very straightforward example from one game and a convoluted one from another, but I definitely got a sense of not being particularly invested in the story, just of rolling dice, and hoping cards went away.

Saints and Gators I noticed fair few people on BGG forums drawing comparisons between Apocrypha and the Arkham LCG. I think it’s a logical parallel to draw, and I think Arkham is a clear winner. Arkham is my most-played game of 2017 (by sessions, Zombicide is ahead by hours), and it does a brilliant job of blending theme and mechanic, of making your story decisions have a meaningful impact on the effects that you see and the events that unfold.

Maybe the real reason that this game would have seemed so much better in the spring of 2016 wasn’t about being annoyed with the delay at all – maybe it was simply because we hadn’t yet been spoiled by the wonderful Arkham LCG.

 

Time for the Numbers

I spent about £95 on Apocrypha, and with over 2.5 years taken to deliver, my imaginary “interest” charge takes me over £100 for the investment.

Apocrypha Value
I’ll probably come out ahead once the expansions land

The base game has an RRP of £74.99, but seems to be available at £59.99. In the short term, that leaves me down by about £40, although that should improve with boxes 2 and 3. The expansions I have only seen a $$ RRP for, but assuming that $40 turns into about £35, and the same 20% discounts are to be had online, that’s about £28 each – that’s an end point about £20 up on buying them at retail.

£100 needs 20 hours of table-time to count as “value” on my scale, and with an average game-time of an hour, this has notched up 10 hours in getting my review to press. I can’t say that I feel any particular compulsion to finish off out current campaign though, and this will probably sit idle for a little while.

So, right now, £40 down vs RRP, £50 down on game-time. That looks like £90 worth of poorly-spent money. That will certainly improve when the expansions appear, but even £50 down isn’t great, so this will need to get more table-time to justify its place.

Mummys-Mask-Card-Game-Box
In a lot of ways, I think this box is better than Rise of the Runelords or Skull & Shackles – it’s just that other games have got better-er in the meantime

The general level of buzz being created by Pathfinder ACG is well down on where it was 2 years ago. Nearly 10,000 people rated Rise of the Runelords, the first Adventure Path for the game, compared to fewer than 200 for Mummy’s Mask.

I’d seriously hope that, even with the hefty shipping I’d need, I could still sell this on for (more than) £50 all in, so it’s not yet a dead loss, but I don’t think this game will be flying off the shelves, and from a financial perspective, I’m certainly not smiling like I was with Massive Darkness.

Final Reflections

I don’t want to say that Apocrypha is a bad game. I think it’s definitely a game with a lot of issues, and it’s far from being the best I own, but it’s not without its merits.

Realistically, as a Kickstarter backer, you can’t really judge a new game without putting it in the context of the overall campaign. I think that the only solution to that is time. For now, I’ll put this on the shelf and enjoy some other games, and re-visiting this in a few weeks/months, either when the mood takes me, or when the expansions arrive.

Overall, the experience of the Apocrypha campaign is one I’d rather not have had. The game itself I’m still on the fence about: it’s definitely not as clever as it thinks it is, but it might be fine once my frustration at the process has dwindled.

Kickback: Massive Darkness

 

MassiveAs I’ve mentioned a fair few times on here now, I’ve had a number of big Kickstarter projects that I’ve been waiting on – some of them for a very long time now.

August was when the first of them finally arrived, and having had a bit of time to play it and reflect on it, I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about it today. This has ended up being a fairly big one, so my plan is to gradually extract sections and replace with links to more in-depth discussions as I get the time. If you’re subscribed to the blog you won’t miss anything, but anyone coming to this article late might find it a bit shorter than when it was first published!

Massive DarkNed
The two largest and most expensive things ordered in 2016 and received in 2017…

I backed Massive Darkness in April 2016 – it was the last of the big KS projects that I backed without the knowledge that there would be a baby in the house by the time things arrived. Whether I would still have backed if the KS had come along a couple of months later is a question I’ll never really be able to answer.

2017 was the year of Zombicide: Black Plague in our house – Massive Darkness came from the same designers and publishers and promised the same dice-chucking, monster-killing action, but with more complex combat, and skills that stayed with you from one game to the next.

The campaign was launched to a lot of noise, and smashed its funding targets in a matter of minutes, but there were concerns. The gameplay video on Kickstarter was a bit bland, and the “campaign mode” looked like it had a lot of holes in it. A hasty fix was offered, more and more stretch-goals were unlocked, and in the end, like a lot of people, I backed it.

Massive Darkness offered a “basic” pledge (still over $100), plus any number of add-ons: I only added an extra set of the custom dice, and the $8 “crossover kit” which made Zombicide Survivors and Zombies playable in Massive Darkness, and Massive Darkness Heroes playable in Zombicide – if worst came to worst, I could call this a really expensive expansion for Zombicide!

Hellephant
Hellephant. Because Hellephant

Everything else I passed on. Some things – like a box of 4 extra Roaming Monsters (for context, the base game has 6, and KS backers were already getting an extra 20) for $40, or a duplicate set of board tiles were easy to pass up, others – were rather more tempting (mostly the Hellephant), but I wasn’t prepared to spend more until I’d had the chance to actually play the game.

Once the campaign was over, things went relatively quiet –the pledge manager opened in the autumn, and there were updates every month or two – inevitably the project got delayed, but this seemed normal by now, and barely registered – in July there was a sudden flurry of activity as CMON provided the details of the container ships bringing the games from China, and one kind gamer on BGG started posting regular updates of where in the world everything was. Finally, on the first Saturday in August, the game arrived.

Crunching the Numbers

Massive Darkness was bought with birthday money, so in a sense, the numbers don’t matter – it was cash I had at the time, and that was how I chose to spend it. That said, I love to number-crunch, and where would the fun be if I stopped now?

MassiveBoxesI paid CMON a grand total of $168 for the whole package, including the add-ons and shipping. By the time I run that through various historic exchange-rates, and add on some notional interest for having paid a year or more in advance, that looks like somewhere around £130 all-told.

The game was originally due around April 2017, but arrived in August, 4 months late. In the world of Kickstarter, and the shadow of a game currently 15 months late and counting, that really doesn’t look like much.

Using my standard “£5 per hour,” I’d need to play about 25-26 hours of Massive Darkness for it to count as ‘value for money’ – with a session averaging 1.5 hours that’s 17 sessions to break even. I’ve managed 15 so far, and am barely half-way through the base game content, essentially having not touched the expansions or KS exclusives.

The KS also looks like good value vs retail. Most UK shops aren’t showing prices for this yet, but based on a US retailer, I’d be looking at roughly £150 for the base game along with the 2 Hero-and-Monster boxes, 1 enemies box and Tile Set that were included as stretch goals – that puts me about £20 up even without accounting for the dice set, and literally dozens of KS-exclusive miniatures and cards. As I learned with Zombicide Black Plague, trying to pick up even a limited selection of KS exclusives after-market can get expensive, so these are significant, even if hard to quantify.

If I wanted to sell-up en masse, I’ve seen pledges going for £160-170 – even allowing for it being a big box to ship, I’m confident that I could cover my costs if I wanted to.

 

Well-Costed – Well-Made?

Dashboard The component quality in Massive Darkness is good – the dashboard isn’t as nice as Black Plague, but it’s ok: you have places for equipment in each hand, along with a body/armour slot, and trackers for health and XP. Skills are tracked on paper sheets which sit nicely next to the dashboard, and with only minimal trimming, can be sleeved, then re-used with a wipe-off marker. Handling equipment felt less smooth than in Black Plague: rather than a defined backpack area, players in Massive Darkness can carry as much extra stuff as they can find – charms which do not need to be equipped to a hand slot, or unwanted weapons that are waiting to be traded or transmuted – there is no marked area for them, you just arrange them near the dashboard in a vague pile, which was quite disappointing for us.

Pointy Hats
All very pointy

For me, the miniatures in Massive Darkness are a step down compared with Black Plague – the enemies are often quite hard to distinguish, and have a lot of excessively pointy hats. The over-jagged aesthetic continues to the Heroes, although the Wandering Monsters were generally fine, and the detail/plastic quality was good. I don’t want to over-state the case though: I’m down to my last 10 Zombicide: Black Plague figures to paint, and once Massive Darkness follows, I still think the look will be good.

Overprint
I already have my replacements – I literally only need these for this photograph.

The board tiles and dice were good quality and nice looking too. There were some issues with mis-printed card-symbols, but CMON have sent replacement cards to backers, and the retail game will be fixed before going on sale. Overall, I’m satisfied with the components.

 

The Play’s the Thing!

Whilst it’s comforting to know that I could cover my costs if I needed to, and reassuring that the components don’t look like they’ll break if I glare at them too hard, ultimately I buy board games to play, not as an investment. Whilst I don’t want to buy games at a bad price, I don’t care how good the price is if the game is rubbish.

Descent
Massive Darkness is not Descent. Some people seem to have a problem with that.

The early reports from the internet on Massive Darkness as a gameplay experience were mixed, with lots of people criticising the game for being big on miniatures, small on game balance.

Massive Darkness was only ever going to be a medium-to-light-weight dice-chucking dungeon crawler – people expecting lots of in-depth strategy probably needed to look elsewhere (Sword & Sorcery, Gloomhaven, Descent etc) rather than criticising Massive Darkness.

Personally, I think that Massive Darkness is plenty of fun. I won’t do a full “review” here, but I do want to give a brief overview and highlight a few stand-out features.

The rulebook for Massive Darkness is fairly hefty, but the rules can be broken down fairly simply: your hero does 3 actions, then any monsters you attacked will try to hit you back (unless they’re all dead). Once all heroes have had their turn, the enemies get a phase of their own, followed by a random event (which could be good or bad), and the start of the next round.

DoorsMD has some nice innovative features compared with Zombicide – opening a new room draws a Door Card – spawning both enemies and loot in linked ratios.

Another feature of the game is the Levels – you start on level 1 with rubbish weapons against fairly weak enemies and as you progress through the dungeon, each new tile brings stronger enemies and access to better gear – this prevents the Z:BP situation where if you stumble upon the powerful weapons in the first few turns, you never need to search again.

Enemies in Massive Darkness can also use weapons against you! – this makes for quite a nice thematic reward when you kill them (take their weapon), but can also make for some very swingy situations – one enemy gets a weapon with no stat synergy, whilst another doubles their defence.

ClassSheets Lastly, the straightforward character levelling of Zombicide (fixed skill, fixed skill, pick 1 of 2, pick 1 of 3) is replaced by a tech-tree of class skills. These come on a roughly A5 sheet of paper, and you can pick and choose particular strands to develop – rather than simply accruing XP, you spend it in a targeted way, paying to unlock individual skills, with more options available as the game-level increases.

Last, but not least is the Darkness. Each space on the game board is either dark or light, and characters get bonuses for being in “Shadow Mode” (i.e. in a dark space) this was a lot more complex when the campaign launched, but the final version is nice and simple, whilst still adding some strategy to map positioning.

 

Problems

All of these features are broadly positive – improvements or fun variations on the Zombicide model. That said, there are definitely issues – here are a few headlines

Loot

There is A LOT of loot: so much loot in fact, that I decided to give it an article all to itself.

When you start a game of Massive Darkness life can be very difficult, as you battle with starter equipment, but as soon as you’ve cleared the first room, and got yourself a bit more kitted out, things get better – so much better in fact that players lamented a lack of challenge as they blitzed their way through the dungeon with powerful gear.

Unpredictability

DiceBamsDiamondsIn a lot of ways, Massive Darkness can be very swingy – some people criticise some aspects as too easy, others point to things that are too hard. A lot of it is the luck of the draw. The dice can also be a major factor: they have an extremely high degree of variance, which can lead to some attacks which do nothing, whilst another wipes a character out in a single blow.

The more dice you get, the more powerful you feel, and the more you will roll Bams and Dimaonds – the symbols you need to trigger even more powerful effects.

Most skills costing 5 or 10 XP, and each time the party takes down a monster there’s some XP on offer for everyone. As a result, it’s quite possible that by the time you reach tile 3, you’ll have ticked off nearly all of your level 1-3 skills, especially if you take your time clearing every room. Combine that with some good armour and a few level 4 weapons thanks to transmuting, and a lot of people felt that this game quickly ended up being too easy –essentially, by the time you made it to level 3, you’d more-or-less won. Even then though, a bad roll can still 1-shot you, so it’s never completely a formality.

 

Scaling

Massive Darkness also has issues around scaling. Taking the above Loot example, in a small party, you’ll very soon have more equipment than you can use, and be able to regularly transmute into weapons that are a tile or 2 ahead of the game’s current level – usually meaning that you can deal with any monsters quite comfortably. We’ve already talked about how scaling affects loot, but it also has an impact on how you deal with enemies.

Guard OverviewSmall parties are also well-positioned in terms of enemies – “Mobs” (enemy groups) are generally made up of a boss and some minions, typically 1x or 2x as many as there are Heroes.

In a 2-player game, the odds of a single hero killing both minions and the boss in a single turn are pretty good – meaning that he doesn’t have to face a counter-attack. In a 4-player game, those extra minions will probably still be dealt with before the end of the round, but it’s quite likely that they’ll get a shot away at one or two heroes first.

Whilst going true solo might cause difficulties with a lack of options or adaptability (or anyone else to tank damage), it seems quite clear that a 2-player game is going to find a lot of things a lot easier than a 4-6 player game. Overall, I think that 4 is probably the sweet spot for this game.

Campaign Play

“Story Mode” is something that was added to Massive Darkness midway through the Kickstarter campaign. It’s attracted a lot of criticism on the BGG forums, and it’s something I’m going to want to talk about separately later, once I’ve had more of a chance to play. For now I want to say that I can see why people have issues, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as the forums might suggest.

 

Ready to Play

Overall, that probably sounds a lot worse than it is – for all its faults (and I think that there are plenty), Massive Darkness isn’t a bad game, and I wouldn’t want people to think that it was simply an over-complicated, unscalable luck-fest.

I think that when we play this with groups of friends, then “as is” will fit the bill – standalone scenarios for groups of around 4 are probably the optimum way to play this game anyway.

VariantsRight now, the forums on Board Game Geek are drowning in suggested variants: tougher mobs, less loot, and a million and one other things that range from the simple and sensible to the bizarre and arcane. Overall, it feels a bit premature – especially as a lot of the ideas came from people who hadn’t actually received the game yet.

I intend to play all through the core scenarios using only base-game content (aside from extra dice), in standalone mode, and have a good run at campaign mode, before I make changes. Beyond that point, I might make 1 or 2 minor tweaks for when we’re playing at home, but not much. Overall though, I come back to the starting-point: Massive Darkness is meant to be a simple Dungeon Crawl – kill lots of monsters, get loads of stuff. However I end up playing it ought to retain that.

 

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say how I would feel if I’d decided to wait until Massive Darkness hit retail – it’s still showing an average rating of 7.8 from nearly 1000 reviews, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t too many “I’m so excited I’ll give it a 10 before it arrives” ratings in there. I don’t think I’d have been scared off on that count. Obviously, we don’t yet have it available in the UK, so it’s hard to know exactly what it will cost, but I’d imagine it’ll be in a similar bracket to other large CMON games – not something to pick up on a whim, but plausible for Christmas etc.

As you can probably gather, I’m fairly happy with this Kickstarter project overall. It’s not the best game ever made, and this is far from being the “only” way to get it, or being a retail product that’s “incomplete,” but it’s given me some fun gaming at good value, with some added engagement from tracking the campaign thrown in.

Old and New: Where the money goes

 

A new month, a new question to ask myself, and a new spreadsheet (did I mention that I’m a geek?)

BigZ LittleZI’ve talked on here a fair amount about making sure that I’m getting value for money for my games (i.e. do the ££s shelled out reflect the hours of gaming being logged?) and about moving to measure things more in time (hours spent gaming) than simply sessions (of course I spent more on 5 sessions of Zombicide than on 5 sessions of Zombie Dice!)

 

The thing I decided to look at specifically this month was how the games I play broke down based on spending – were they old games that I kept playing in their existing form, games I was adding to on an ongoing basis, new things, Or something else entirely? Well, with a bit of time spent poking and prodding a spreadsheet into shape, I was able to find out.

 

The Old

The biggest category by far, was existing games that I was still adding to – as someone who follows a couple of LCGs, that probably isn’t a great shock, but it was interesting to see it quantified: 47% of 2017’s gaming time (so far) has been games that I owned prior to the start of the year, but which have had at least something spent on them.

NewNotNew
That’s a pretty big boost for games which haven’t had anything new bought for them…

The next biggest category was the old – games that have been around since at least last year, and haven’t had anything spent on them, 23% of overall play. This stat is potentially a little misleading, as it includes Legendary (4.26% of the year’s gaming) for which I’ve received 2 new expansions to review this year) and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (2.13% of 2017’s gaming) for which I also picked up a new box to review. That said, there are still a lot of games which have been played a handful of times, clocking up a few hours each, which make this category a big one.

BathNed
No babies were harmed during the making of this article, although one got slightly cleaner

Over 2/3rd then, of the year’s gaming was on titles already owned, which suggests a fair amount of continuity, but also a significant amount of change. Obviously it’s subjective, but I feel like this suggests a good mixture of trying new things, and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater (you should never do this, particularly once you have an actual baby to bath).

The New

One reason that the various “new” categories are lower is the simple fact that I’ve had them for less time. Obviously, some of the new games came quite early in the year, but others only arrived in August, with a lot of catching up to do.

Cheap
Even with that box damage on Robinson Crusoe, it’s a good haul for less than £12!

With that caveat in mind the not-quite-a-third of time spent on “New” games broke down into 10% on things I’d spent money on this year, 10% on free new things (i.e. review games), and 8% on Kickstarters.

RunewarsExpansionsOf the things I’d spent money on, a lot of this is just expanding review games (Runewars Miniatures is the chief culprit here), or postage costs for trading review games for something that caught my eye (this is how I picked up Descent and Robinson Crusoe for the unlikely-looking prices of £3.90 and £7.79 respectively). Only Runebound and Rune Age involved a straightforward, old-fashioned, “give a stranger some money and they give you a game” transaction, and those were done via Facebook and EBay rather than the FLGS.

NewHitsIt’s still relatively rare for a review game to be a big hit, be kept long-term, and not prompt further spending – so far, Gloom of Kilforth, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, and Arcadia Quest are the winners here, although Arcadia Quest doesn’t get a LOT of play, and may end up moving on eventually, whilst Gloom of Kilforth will probably one day find itself in the “had money spent” category once the inevitable expansion gets Kick-started.

Kickstarter

I wanted to make Kickstarters their own category, simply because the time-lag between spending the money and receiving the game tends to be so big, that it skews other categories. Right now I’ve got 6 Kickstarters I’m waiting on, plus 1 received a few weeks ago – only 2 of those are even aiming to deliver in the same year they were funded. Hopefully though, lumping together the money spent on this year’s Kickstarters and the time spent playing last year’s (and 2015s, if they ever arrive…) will go some way towards providing a sense of how much value these are.

AeonsBox
The new version comes with the promise of a more sensible box where the boards don’t have to balance on top…

Of the games I’ve categorised as “Kickstarters,” one arguably belongs more in the “expanding reviews” category – War Eternal, the second wave of content for Aeon’s End. However, this didn’t feel quite right overall: the extra money I’ve spent on Aeon’s End is all on stuff I haven’t played (because it hasn’t arrived), which made a lot more sense under the kick-starter heading. Admittedly, all the time I’ve spent playing Aeon’s End is just using content I’d already received, but once the new stuff arrives, I can’t imagine keeping everything separate, so it will ultimately need logging together- having it all go under Kickstarter seemed the simplest, as well as the way to leave the overall numbers least skewed.

Looking Forward

MassiveRight now it’s interesting to try to think how this new categorisation will evolve over the rest of the year. I definitely expect the Kickstarter category to grow (it’s already grown a fair bit whilst I’ve been re-drafting this article): I’m really enjoying Massive Darkness, and whilst I’m a lot less enthused about Apocrypha than I was when I backed it, I still plan on playing it a fair bit, to try to get a sense of whether what I’ve been waiting for all this time has been worth it. Assuming War Eternal and Gloomhaven show up with a decent chunk of 2017 left they should be making their mark too.

As already mentioned, some new games simply weren’t around early in the year (at the start of April, I didn’t own Runewars, Runebound, Gloom of Kilforth, Descent or Massive Darkness, but they’ve clocked up over 55 hours of table time since), so it will be interesting to see whether they form a larger part of play-time as the year goes on.

Efficient Spending?

If I look only at games which have had money spent on them (i.e. ignoring altogether anything owned by someone else, or in the same state it was at the end of last year), then spending on old games is massively more efficient than on any other category- 43% of the money, 70% of the time. Spending on new things is more-or-less even – 16% of the money and 15% of the time. KS is a way down with 42% of the money and only 13% of the time [despite what my rounding might suggest, this is a zero-sum situation, so any improvement for KS will have to come at the expense of one of the others].

Kickstarter is a tricky beast to evaluate. Looking at the game that’s arrived, and the one that’s (probably) due next then, even totalling together all the money I actually spent on my pledge with and a notional amount of interest on top of it, I’ve still spent less that it would cost to pre-order the bits that are available at retail, (never mind any KS exclusives), but that won’t be the case for all projects, and it completely ignores the question of whether or not I would have bought anything beyond the base game if buying at retail (by and large the benefit seems to be fairly marginal on base games, but with expansions bundled together at a knock-down rate). As the next instalment in my intermittent Kickstarter series, I’m planning on taking a more in-depth look at Massive Darkness (probably in about a month or so), and other games will probably get similar treatment in due course, so I won’t say too much more right now on specific games.

Final Thoughts

There’s a danger with every new spreadsheet I concoct that it becomes something over formalised that takes the fun out of the gaming, but this has been an interesting exercise. I probably won’t write on this topic again at length, but may revisit it in future monthly round-ups.

Pecunia populi vox dei

(based on very rusty GCSE Latin, “The Money of the People is the Voice of God”)

Monopoly is a rubbish game. It often makes me sad that a lot of people think that’s what Board Gaming is.

Rising SunLots of other games aren’t rubbish, but they’re not for me. Rising Sun, a recent CMON Kickstarter, is a Diplomacy-style game of shifting alliances and careful negotiation for 3-5. Not playable with 2 (or 1), not cooperative, it was never going to be something for us.

That’s a shame – the Samurai + fantastical elements theme really caught my attention, and I monitored this one for a while, in the hope that they would announce some kind of variant / option that would bring it into scope. But they didn’t and I moved on.

l5r(I will rely instead on a brief obsession with Legend of the Five Rings this summer autumn, poring over gorgeous artwork and lamenting the fact that I will never be able to afford to visit rural Japan, before that too gets abandoned like every other competitive LCG because I can’t get to down to the FLGS reliably enough to play regularly…) [/tangent]

 

Increasingly though, it seems like my approach to the campaign – watching hopefully, then resigning and moving on – is an unusual thing to do. More-and-more, the approach is to request, demand, or simply berate until a designer changes their mind to suit your tastes – or until you run out of energy and give up.

That process – which at best could be considered constructive feedback and collaboration, and at worst descends into entitled sulking and name-calling, is what I want to look at today. How does the creative process for a game on Kickstarter differ from any other game?

 

Finished?

The thing about making a game through Kickstarter (or any other form of crowd-funding), is that you’re not just presenting people with a finished product, you’re asking them to invest in a concept.

Now for a good Kickstarter, that concept will be very well thought-out, extensively play-tested and soforth: having good gameplay videos, or a review copy in the hands of a well-known games-blogger are both major elements in ensuring the success of a Kickstarter. Still, the fact remains that you haven’t actually made it yet, and that gives people the impression that things are still up for grabs.

NotAStoreIt’s also worth saying that (officially) people on Kickstarter aren’t just buying a game, they are investing in your idea – and that will give a lot of them the sense that they now have a right to tell you how to make your game.

Going back through the Rising Sun threads [On Board Game Geek – I lack the sanity to wade through 34k+ KS comments], I was actually surprised at how few there were clamouring for a co-op version, but there were still plenty of threads demanding 2-player options, less “racist” language and iconography (some in the game itself, but mostly in the marketing) more properly-dressed female figures, more mostly-undressed female figures and so on.

Obviously, looking at it from the outside, with a little bit of cold detachment, you can see how ridiculous it is for one person to cancel their $100 pledge as a protest at the way a $4.5 million project is being run – my personal favourite thread was this one.

I think there’s certainly a lot more chatter these days about any not-yet-released game, and how the fans think the designers should make it better, than there used to be. Still, it feels like Kickstarting a game gives people a sense that they have more of a right to tell you how to make your game to suit them.

Add-onsDone right, the interaction between designer and backer can be a good channel for market research, and have some sensible benefits. For example the Aeon’s End: War Eternal campaign offered an add-on pack with dice to use as life-counters, and it seems to have largely been down to Kickstarter comments that these will now be spin-down dice (adjacent numbers next to each other). However, when you start to believe that $100 gives you the right to tell a company that their entire business model is wrong, it may be time to stop and think for a moment.

 

Investment or Pre-order?

Notionally, Kickstarter is still about investing in an idea – Creators pitch that idea to backers, and offer them bonuses for investing now and making that project happen, rather than waiting for retail.

GreenHordeForumsIn reality, the scope of what a project is, is a lot broader than that. At one end of the scale, Cool Mini Or Not are one of the biggest Kickstarter producers, and a lot of people have commented on the fact that a CMON Kickstarter can feel a lot more like a simple pre-order than like a proper project to back an otherwise infeasible project. You expect delays, but it would be a major shock if a CMON Kickstarter failed to deliver altogether.

If I pre-order a game from the FLGS, I don’t expect to be able to influence how that game comes packaged, or how it plays and, if that’s the case, I shouldn’t have any more expectation that I can do so when pre-ordering online.

But, however much it might look, or feel like that, a Kickstarter project is still (officially) not just a pre-order, even when it’s a $4 million project with a projected delivery time-frame of only 3 months (looking at you Gloomhaven). In that context, people are always going to ask for additional things they want.

Behind the Scenes?

Most big Kickstarter projects these days will have a fairly complex marketing strategy, designed to ensure a strong start, retain interest over the course of the campaign, and hopefully generate a last-minute surge. This will lead to a broad sprinkling of updates and stretch goals, with information being held back and released at strategic moments.

One issue with this limited flow of information, is that it makes it very difficult to say with certainty what was prepared before the campaign began, and what was only added late in the day, as a response to ongoing feedback – was stretch goal #10 really a response to what people were clamouring for? Or just a happy opportunity for the creator to add a bit of spin, when announcing something that they had had planned all along.

HedgesZombicide: Green Horde had a mammoth campaign, which finished recently in dramatic fashion, breaking the $5 million barrier with 2 minutes left!! Unlike previous editions of Zombicide, Green Horde features hedges and barricades – some hedges printed on the terrain boards, and a handful more represented by cardboard tokens that can be added as a scenario requires. The offer of a hedge-and-barrier pack to make these 3D was clearly planned all along. When people then clamoured for the opportunity to buy more hedges (without extra barriers), so that they could replace all the hedges, (not just the token ones) with 3D models, I’m prepared to believe that CMON genuinely did re-think their plans, and offer more of the same components in a slightly different arrangement.

Massive By contrast, from very early on, there were lots of people who wanted a crossover pack to use their Green Horde figures in Massive Darkness – sure enough it was unveiled in the final week of the campaign, prompting a little surge in pledges. That doesn’t mean for a moment that I think CMON didn’t have it planned all along, just a lot of experience in how to manage people’s interest in a KS campaign.

The point where I start to suspect that they may actually be making things up as they go along is when they announce new figures and don’t have sculpts ready for them – the 3D renders of the Ultimate Survivors in the Green Horde campaign hint at that for me, and ”Reptisaurians” (Lizard-men) from Massive Darkness came as concept art only – now they really look like something put together at the last moment. 

 

“Your chance to get involved!”

flavour textOne area where it does seem easier to prove that the community are influencing the final product is when campaigns contain backer competitions: to take another recent example, the Aeon’s End: War Eternal campaign featured Board Game Geek competitions to name one card, and to write the flavour text for another. Now, obviously these are fairly minor (and crucially non-mechanical) tweaks to the game, but they do serve to foster a greater sense of involvement among backers.

Inviting comment is a double-edged sword though: for one thing, a lot of people were fairly disappointed with the outcome of some of these contests, especially as the creators seemed to simply pick their favourite from amongst the various suggestions, rather than allowing a public vote, or even basing their decision on the number of Likes and positive comments. At this point the cynic starts to wonder: was that a real member of the public who posted the winning suggestion? Or a fake account from the creators to ensure that they didn’t have to change anything as a result of their own competition (just to clarify, I don’t think that’s what happened here).

Backlash

Garak_(Star_Trek) Ultimately, the more Creators try to engage backers in the project, the more they open themselves up to criticism when they don’t change their game to suit the whims of the public. For every clever little fix the backers suggest, they can expect a whole handful of crackpot suggestions to re-design the game to do something completely different, to replace the components with Obsidian, or translate it into Klingon (not the same game – if they were replacing the components with Obsidian, then you would translate into Cardassian. Obviously.)

I think it’s also worth remembering that in all of these types of forums, it tends to be a vocal minority who do most of the commenting – this can lead to situations, where a dozen or so people clamour for something, and generate the impression of an irresistible tide of feeling, when 95% of people are happy with things as they are, and are just keeping quiet about it. Green Horde had over 100,000 comments by the time the campaign was over, but it wouldn’t surprise me for a moment to learn that at least half of those comments came from a dozen or so people. This is certainly my sense of what happened with Aeon’s End: the graphic design on the first edition was fine, but the people who liked it didn’t feel the need to post endless threads on BGG and the like demanding it be kept the same (why would you?) in this context, those who pressed for change would have sounded like an overwhelming majority.

Comments
Strangely, I couldn’t find the comment I was looking for amongst 105 thousand others!!

I think that listening to backers has the potential to be a great resource for Game Designers and Creators. However, mob rule is only going to get you an incoherent or perennially delayed game, and there must come a point where they know their own mind, and know when to stick with their decisions.

Like most backers, whilst I recognise that KS projects are not there to suit my every whim, I generally wish that communication was more frequent, and clearer. Even there though, Creators have better things to do than report on design and development events in minute detail, and sometimes a silence is just a silence.

 

That’s about all I wanted to touch on today, and it brings me to the end of this little mini-series on Kickstarter. I’m sure it’s an area I’ll touch on again, probably around the autumn, by which time (hopefully) I’ll actually have my hands on some of the various games I’ve backed.

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