An Invasion of Kicks

In April 2018 CMON unleashed another Zombicide Kickstarter. This time it was Zombicide in space or, to give it its proper name, “Zombicide Invader.”

InvaderI mentioned back in March that I wasn’t massively interested in this – although Zombicide is my most-played game, I do have quite a lot of Zombicide stuff already, and I wasn’t a big fan of the monster sculpts.

Still, I kept an eye out and when the campaign actually arrived, the rules changes caught my attention:

  • 2 Survivor types (Soldiers and Civilians) with bonuses and restrictions beyond their skill tree.
  • Changed Targeting Priority – Tanks (Fatties) are now hit first
  • Concentrate Fire (a solution to the problem of being able to do an infinite number of 1-damage hits to a 2-damage enemy without any actual impact).
  • No test to Open Doors (no more wasted turns failing to open the things),
  • Zombie splits no longer add extra zombies (no more 1-zombie-turns-into-3)
  • Running out of figures spawns/activates Abominations rather than the zombie type you ran out of
  • New ways of using equipment.

PledgesThe campaign started off looking like they’d gone back to the model used for Black Plague – 2 tiers, 1 with the expansion (and a few high-tier-only stretch goals) and a basic one. I kept watching, intrigued but not wowed, and the campaign ticked along in a slightly strange position – $1.6 million after 13 days, which is obviously still a hell of a lot of money, but it’s also less than Green Horde managed in 3 days.

Most people predicted a big add-on around the middle of the campaign, to get more money out of existing backers, and drum up more interest. I’m not sure anyone expected quite what they got.

 

Turning to the Dark Side

Sure enough, the big announcement came, for a new product: Zombicide: Dark Side. However, this wasn’t a big-box expansion, it was a whole new base game! The confusing thing about it was that, even though it was a base game, you could only buy it as an add-on – so you had to get Invader to be allowed to buy Dark Side.

DarksideI really liked the look of Dark Side, I preferred the style of monster, and it had a few extra rules that sounded interesting (enemies hide in pits). If there had been a Dark Side-only pledge tier, I would probably have gone for that.

One thing I always keep in mind when I look at buying/backing games, is the possibility of getting a review copy. Given how much Medieval Zombicide we have, would I be ok with the core box-only version of Dark Side?

Well, it didn’t seem like that would be an option either, as Dark Side was going to be a “limited print-run.” This was new terminology for a CMON campaign, but seemed to be defined as ‘only making enough to fulfil KS + retailer pre-orders.’ So probably available at a mark-up from the same webstores selling KS exclusive content for previous campaigns, but unlikely to be floating around in the general world of shops.

 

Looking out for Number 1

I backed the campaign for a dollar. This allowed some time for the dust to settle, so that I could take stock of exactly what you got for what. I think this is where it landed.

Civilian Pledge – Zombicide Invader (6 survivors, 3 zombie types, 1 Abomination, 10 missions, 2 guns/robots) + 37 extra Survivors, 1 duplicate abomination, 16 extra/alt-pose monsters, 5 unique abominations, 8 each of 3 new enemy types, and 2 robots/guns. $100

Soldier Pledge – all of the above + Black Ops large expansion (6 more survivors, 1 new abomination, 2 guns), 4 extra survivors, 2 unique abominations and the mini-monster spawned by one of those abominations $150

Dark Side – Dark Side box (6 survivors, 3 zombie types, 1 Abomination, 10 missions, 2 guns/robots), 1 duplicate abomination, 6 figures of a unique enemy type, 16 duplicate/alt-pose figures of existing zombies, 3 KS-exclusive “companions” and 10 crossover missions for Dark Side and Invader. $90 added to either of the above pledges.

 

A Mad Dash

Zombicide Black Plague contained 6 survivors and 6 player dashboards. Wolfsburg, the big-box expansion came with 4 new survivors and 4 dashboards to play extra survivors, as well as a whole new enemy type. There was a small-box expansion that contained 5 new survivors and 2 more dashboards for a total of 12 (the ‘official’ maximum number of survivors the game can be played with.

As a stand-alone box, Green Horde has 6 survivors and 6 dashboards again. However, they figured that people already had access to enough dashboards by now, so focused expansions on new survivors, an enemy type, tiles, quests, equipment etc.

For the space-age, it seems that Dashboards are back in fashion.

Invader comes with 6 dashboards (as you’d expect)

Black Ops also comes with 6 dashboards. It also comes with 6 new survivors. It doesn’t come with a new enemy type (just an abomination and a robot). This was annoying, but somewhat understandable, as this was the only way (aside from buying 2 copies of invader) to get more dashboards and the game is (notionally) playable with up to 12 characters.

Then they announced Dark Side. It’s a standalone game, so it has 6 more dashboards, and 6 more survivors.

Dash
18 Dashboards!!

Now, if you buy the whole lot, you end up with 18 dashboards! There is no possible way to use more than 12, unless you are running 2 games at once. (Personally, I’ve never gone about 8 Survivors in a game and think that even 10 would give horrendous amounts of downtime). That’s a massive amount of redundancy.

Obviously, CMON knew pre-campaign that they had Invader available. Some people have speculated that this was meant to be next year’s KS, and was only dropped now because the campaign wasn’t performing as well as anticipated, but that’s pure speculation. To my mind, they knew that the extra dashboards were coming, and it would have been really easy to cut some of the excess survivor/dashboard content in Black Ops, give us an extra zombie type.

What you actually get

With all that said, if you get all 3 big boxes, for $240 you’ve got nearly 60 survivors, 40 missions, 10 unique enemy types, 10 abominations. That’s still a lot of mileage in terms of re-play value.

$240 is around £180 right now, 36 hours of play. 40 missions at 1.5 hours is 60 hours – So even if you beat every scenario first time, and never go back to try it with a different enemy/survivor line-up, that’s still £120 to the good in terms of value. Zombicide is one of the few games I can be pretty confident about getting the required table-time to turn that theoretical content into actual hours: less than 6 months after getting Green Horde, it was already at #9 in my all-time most played stakes, comfortably the game that has had the most hours in 2018 (Black Plague is currently down in 4th, I’d expect it to end the year in about 3rd).

Part of me wanted to just get this. It would probably end up being fun, and it would probably end up being good value.

Part of me was feeling the squeeze (on wallet and on gaming time) and was tempted to skip it altogether.

If Dark Side hadn’t happened, I think I’d have been happy just waiting for retail, and trying to bag a review copy of Invader. Knowing that won’t happen (and that it’s probably now or never for Invader) left me more tempted to get stuff.

 

Zombicide: Busy Neighbours

NeighboursAs an added complication a friend, who lives just a few hundred yards away, has also backed this. Most of our Zombicide play is just me and my wife, but 4 player games with him and his wife are the next biggest category. As I own all the Medieval stuff, it seemed sensible to let him shell out for space-age.

The trouble is, my son is 17 months old, meaning my wife and I can no longer both go out in the evening without weeks of planning. His daughter is 5 months old, meaning they’re just starting to try to get a proper evening/bedtime routine for her, and options for the 4 of us to play a game of an evening have pretty-much dried up in recent times. By 2019, when Invader etc are due to arrive, it seems fairly likely that bed-times will be pretty-much locked in, and our evening game sessions will be a thing of the past. Afternoons are a theoretical possibility, but only if my lad learns to stop grabbing by the time he’s tall enough to reach more than an inch or two in from the edge of the table.

DreadOne possibility, was to try to piggy-back on his KS, maybe get a Dark Side as an add-on. Of course, at that point, I knew I’d start wanting to the exclusive aliens, and then it doesn’t take long before the saving in money vs all the extras I’m not getting starts to look like bad economic sense, and it’s better to just get the whole thing myself. Obviously, we could try to split the pledge, but that felt like it would just get messy (who wants Deckard, Starbuck, Leeloo and Judge Dread, and who gets 4 random made-up folk?)

 

Additional

KabukiBy the standards of previous campaigns, Invader didn’t go too overboard on add-ons. There was a boxed add-on for the various new enemy types, and all the usual plastic replacements for cardboard stuff. The most interesting (if strictly superfluous stuff) were the add-on survivor sets including a gang of orphans (meh), a plague doctor and his associates (mmm…) and a Kabuki Troupe (ooo!) The Kabuki troupe are completely superfluous, given the 40+ survivors I’d end up with, but they also seem much too cool to skip (if they release a Samurai version of Zombicide, I’m getting it, no matter how much it duplicates what I already have)

 

Decision?

Luckily,” I drafted, just after the campaign ended, “the way CMON run their pledge managers, I can postpone the decision” perhaps CMON are getting wise to people’s tricks, because the email for the pledge manager arrived very quickly for this, with deadline of the first of July. Remarkably soon all things considered.

I ended up backing Folklore fairly heavily, which tipped this year’s overall costs some way into the red, but decided to sell-up on L5R and Runewars (Although Runewars needed painting first). Then I found out about an opportunity to late-pledge of 7th Continent and CMON’s new game Death May Die. Both of these were pencilled in for July, after I needed to make my decision. There was also no news on Massive Darkness 2 or anything like it.

In the end, I decided not to get the game, although it was a real wrench of a decision. Knowing that Darkside basically won’t have a retail release and not getting it now means not getting it, really gets you right in the FOMOs.

Obviously, my ultimate assessment of a campaign where I spend $1, and don’t get a game, is going to be very different to my take on a massive campaign where I go more-or-less all-in. Overall though, I think I’d have to say that I’m disappointed in this one. They clearly had a lot of cool ideas, but the overall execution felt a bit of a mess – the stretch goals weren’t coherent, they missed a lot of obvious notes for the homages, and several of the ones they did hit disappeared under a (presumed) flurry of legal activity. $3 million is still a huge project, and (presumably) counts as a massive success for CMON, but it’s also a big drop compared to previous Zombicides.

I’m sure that Zombicide Inavder will still be a fun game, and I hope I get to play it at some point (with any luck I’ll get to review the Invader base-game). I hope I won’t regret not backing it (that’s a lot of negatives in that sentence). In the end though, CMON didn’t do enough to convince me that this warranted £100+ of my money

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Kicking things down the road

Delays happen with Kickstarters. Anyone who has backed more than one or two knows that.

That said, there are delays, and then there are delays.

If I look back at projects I’ve backed over the last 3-4 years, there’s a very broad spectrum.

GreenHorde At one extreme, I received the Green Horde core box 7 months earlier than the original estimate.

More commonly, I’ve received things with slight delays – Aeon’s End War Eternal and Gloomhaven were each about 2 months late, Massive Darkness was 4.

I think that mentally the cut-off point where I start getting annoyed, is about 6 months.

You can probably guess then how I’m feeling as I look at 3 of the longest outstanding projects I’m waiting on.

ApocryphaApocrypha Kickstarted in May 2015, with an estimated time of 12 months. The base game arrived in Septebmer 2017 – 17 months late. To add insult to injury, the expansions are currently sitting at 2 years late, and have (apparently) only recently been sent to the printers: who knows when we’ll actually see them.

The 9th World, another Lone Shark project is 18 months late. According to the most recent emails, these have (probably) left Shanghai not that long ago, so we might see them in the next month or two.

Far more recently, it was the end of 2016 when I Kickstarted Legends Untold – currently it’s only 10 months behind schedule, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’ll be arriving any time soon. ‘Autumn’ seems the best bet, by which time it will definitely be over a year late.

 

Legends Untold

LegendsI’m going to start by looking a bit more closely at Legends Untold because, in fairness, I can see some reasonable factors behind a lot of the delays here. As far as I can tell, these were guys who hadn’t worked in the Board Game industry before, and it was a small-scale Kickstarter that exploded, far beyond what they’d anticipated. From a £12,000 goal, they raised £129,000!!

Obviously that had an impact on how the campaign developed. The various stretch-goals (linen-finish cards, bigger cards etc) were very quickly swept aside, and they made some BIG decisions, most notably that this initial Kickstarter would be for not just 1 game but 2!!

Legends-Untold-StructureLegends Untold has always billed itself as “Deep as an RPG, Quick as a Card Game” which is quite a claim given how many people have tried (with varying levels of success) to deliver the fabled RPG-in-a-Box over recent years. Theirs was certainly not a narrow vision, and the game they promised us was to have been just the first in a vast network of games, all of which could be woven together into some grand tapestry – Novice Boxes would take you from the beginning up to “Apprentice” level, at which point you would select an “Apprentice Box” to take you up to “Journeyman” level. By the time you had completed one of these, you would not only have reached the great city of this new Fantasy World, but thoroughly explored it, and be ready to go venturing into wilds as a “Skilled” Adventurer.

Legends-BothAll very grand, but first thing’s first – this campaign was just for the first of the Novice Boxes, The Caves. Or at least it would have been, had they not raised more than 4x their original funding goal within the first 6 days of the campaign. At that point, they decided that the campaign would be for 2 mutually compatible Novice Boxes: The Caves, and The Sewers. Similar in overall structure, this second box would feature different heroes, different enemies, and different environments, but with a reassurance that the content from the various different boxes could be freely mixed-and-matched.

Personally, I felt at the time that they should have stuck to their original plan – balancing a new game is a lot of work, and balancing 2 mutually compatible games I’d wager, is more than just twice the work.

At the time, I was also a bit miffed that they seemed to be avoiding the question of whether or not these sets would be available at retail later. Personally I would have preferred to just get the one game (around £20) and see whether I liked it, rather than committing to 2 for £40ish, but they got me with some good old FOMO.

In reflection, the second was probably an unfair complaint – as already noted, Inspiring Games (the people behind Legends Untold) seem to be very new to the business, and time-and-time-again, to have been caught out by the sheer length of time it takes for stuff to get done. The most recent update talked about how they would like to go to retail with the game, but are unsure whether a distributer would be willing to work with them, given that they only have a single title to offer. When they didn’t give an answer 17 months ago, it seems a pretty safe bet that they genuinely didn’t have one.

Mor Nadar
They have already named the world, which will make this game a lot easier to track and categorise!

There have been a lot of KS updates for Legends Untold – generally the communication has been reasonable on the project, although not amazing. It certainly looks like the game has changed a lot. This sort of thing is inevitable in this type of Kickstarter project, but it does make it very difficult for me to muster any real enthusiasm about the game right now. I know that these guys have a really expansive vision for where this line of games will end up – I just hope that they haven’t tried to run before they can walk. Hopefully the game will arrive when things are quiet enough for me to give it the table-time it needs to prove its worth, and above all, I hope that the gameplay lives up to the hype.

 

Beware of Sharks!

lone-shark-gamesI have a lot less sympathy for the guys at Lone Shark games. The lead designer of their projects is Mike Selinker, the man behind the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Lords of Vegas, and the 2004 re-implementation of Axis and Allies. Also involved, aside from a whole host of Pathfinder ACG folk, were Paul Peterson (Smash Up) and Liz Spain (I’m just glad I never backed Incredible Expeditions…)

The point is that, even if it was their first (and second) self-published game, a lot of these people were industry insiders, and they really should have known better. The communication on both projects has tended to be poor, the claims disingenuous. In the various updates which have trickled out to us, they spend a lot of time blowing their own trumpet – “you’ll be glad we took our time, because this game is really worth the wait” or similar, and a lot of time talking about just how clever this or that game feature is.

These campaigns have been going on so long that memories start to fade, and details blur into legend or myth. I had a distinct recollection of reading a comment from the designers on one of the Lone Shark games about how they’d been working hard to make the game the most intricate thing they possibly could. Not the best, or the most enjoyable, the most intricate. Weirdly, when I went back to find the source/ get the exact quote, I couldn’t find it and, in the interests of fairness, I should say that the quote could well be simply the product of my own embittered imagination.

Whether they said it or not, it’s definitely a statement that fits the vibe of the campaign. It might never have been plausible to get things delivered within the original time-period they estimated, but I have to think that the delays might have been kept to a year if they hadn’t spent so much time getting distracted by pointless stuff.

Ninth-Box Based on a recent update (and this one definitely really did happen), it looks like there were several months of delays on Ninth World, which could be boiled down to “we wanted a really fancy box, but that created loads of problems with the image being printed the wrong size and/or upside down!” They sounded especially pleased with themselves when they announced that they’d finished applying the spot gloss. Don’t get me started on spot gloss…

 

 

Good game?

It’s also important to factor in how good a game actually is – our love for Zombicide means that we’re probably going to be pretty happy with any project that gives us loads more Zombicide stuff.

By contrast, Apocrypha (at least in Core Box form) was a game that (for us) wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been, or nearly as good as it thought it was. The abysmal rulebook, the convoluted set-up, the lack of driving force to the narrative which turned “non-linear” into “why bother?” I’m hoping that the expansions will help, along with the FAQs and errata that are so sorely needed (I believe there’s one “Structure” that they’ve decided to replace altogether), but realistically, I’m resigned to the likelihood of selling this, probably at a significant loss.

If The Ninth World turns out to be amazing, then I’ll probably get over the rubbish campaign (at least a bit), but if it’s another dud, then that over-elaborate box with its unnecessary spot gloss is just going to annoy me.

 

Where next?

It’s important, of course, to realise that no 2 projects on Kickstarter are the same. My Massive Darkness experience was brilliant, and my Green Horde experience has been good so far, with nothing (at present) to suggest that there will be a problem with wave 2. That said, I know that there were a lot of complaints about Black Plague (which I acquired retail/via secondary market) from backers who received their games after retailers did.

The next project always has the potential to be the next nightmare.

Even so, experience matters. And my experience tells me that, if I back a CMON game on KS, I’m going to get great value for money, a lot of cool minis, probably a decent game, and a fairly timely delivery.

InvaderBy contrast, going to a small independent, the types of people who Kickstarter feels like it should be for – well, that’s just pot luck. I might get some first-timers like the guys behind Legends Untold who underestimate the challenges and take a bit longer – I can live with that. Or I might get another project like one of the nightmares from Lone Shark – delayed beyond the stretch of plausibility, poor communication, muddled priorities.

I’ve increasingly been backing things for a single Pound or Dollar, allowing me to put off a decision until later. As I try to make the decisions to actually get the game or not, all the thoughts in this article come whirling back round.

I’ve recently upped my single-dollar pledge to something more substantial on KS projects from a couple of smaller creators – but in both instances these were re-print/expansions campaigns: a lot of the risk is reduced when you can see that they’ve already done this once, and managed it successfully.

In some respects, Zombicide Invader is (for me) the least necessary of the $1 projects – whilst the modifications made for the space version look cool, it’s still Zombicide, and I own A LOT of Zombicide. Should I avoid this in favour of more innovative independent projects, and take a gamble financially? Or do I just double-down on what I know will work out as a good deal financially, and not risk being landed with a White Elephant?

Whatever I end up doing, I’m sure you’ll be able to read about it on here…

2018: 1st Quarter Kicks

With 2018 already (somehow!?!) ¼ over, I thought it was a good time to check in on the world of Kickstarter.

Coming from Behind

Kickstarter Games
As ever, Gloomhaven just a bit too big to fit in the picture

I started the year with a hefty deficit money-wise on a large number of outstanding Kickstarter projects – lots undelivered, lots without even an RRP available. Part of that was due to ongoing delays, part simply due to where I was in the cycle of backing and receiving.

 

Since then, things have improved quite a bit – about £100 on cost value (i.e. I now know how much some more things would have cost at retail and how much I saved/lost by backing them early) and £130 or so gameplay value (i.e. just over 27 hours’ worth of play on Kickstarter games). In £/Hour terms, that’s pulled the figure down from an eye-watering £12.23 per hour to £9.96 – still a lot, but heading in the right direction.

I’ve actually only had 21 games all-told across any of the Kickstarter titles so far this year. Even allowing for it only being March, that’s still some way down on 62 last year (given that no KS game arrived before August in 2017). I’d struggle to put my finger on a single reason for this, especially as there are still plenty of KS games in my collection that I’m enthusiastic about playing and which have plenty of life left in them.

Apocrypha is still running a deficit, both in terms of play and cost. This has hit the table 1 or 2 times, so should get there eventually, and once the expansions land, that should wipe out the retail shortfall.

 

Lightbringers
Expansion heroes all nicely painted up, but I still need to get the Wandering Monsters done

Massive Darkness remains the healthiest-looking game overall, with figures comfortably in the black in all directions. We recently had this one out for the first time in a little while, making our first foray into some of the extensive expansion content – good fun, and definitely giving a sense of variety.

 

Aeon’s End continues to tick along, slowly and steadily. At the moment, this is still ever-so-slightly in the red for play value, but by less than the “vs retail” saving, meaning that it’s posting a positive total over (and only 1 session short play-wise).

Even now that things have hit retail again, Gloomhaven looks like pretty good value to a Kickstarter backer vs the retail cost. That said, play-time is looking a bit shabbier: it has been played this year, but nowhere near as much as I’d hoped/expected. This is one of the ones that really needs some serious table-time.

 

GreenHordeWave2
From the latest KS update – this picture actually includes a fair few add-ons that I’m not getting but still. Wow, that’s a lot of content!

Zombicide Green Horde arrived at the very end of January. It’s great fun, as expected, but the first few scenarios in particular are brutally hard (I’m sure it will get easier with time, as we adjust to the new style of play). At the moment, I only have the base game, and even that doesn’t have a retail release yet, meaning the numbers look especially shocking (I’m probably still a little way short of the amount of play that would justify the cost of the core box), but I’m confident that things will quickly and quite dramatically leap into the black once we get confirmed retail prices and/or wave 2 lands in the summer.

 

There is still no sign of 9th World, Legends Untold, or the Gloom of Kilforth Expansions (Kilforth wasn’t expected until the summer anyway).

 

New projects?

In terms of new projects, it was a quiet quarter – a few things caught my eye, but none sufficiently to get me to open my wallet.

AE-L Aeon’s End Legacy is the new set for Aeon’s End. It looks like another whopper, with a legacy campaign that allows you to create your own character, and a whole stack of extra marketplace cards that you can use during the campaign or in stand-alone games afterwards.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of the gameplay in Aeon’s End, but like everything else, it’s struggling for table time these days, as both my games collection and the baby keep on growing (he can now reach things on the table if they are left too near the edge!) on top of that, the whole way the Legacy campaign was handled rubbed me up the wrong way.

For one thing, lots of play-testers took to the forums to post reviews which basically all said “this is great, but I’m not going to tell you anything about how/why, because of Spoilers.” I understand (up to a point) the reluctance to give spoilers, but the end result was something that felt more like marketing than a review as it couldn’t really offer me anything more concrete than “buy it!”

On top of that, the chance to ‘create my own mage’ – which seems to be the big selling-point of the campaign – felt strange as well. Generally, the coolest characters in the game are the ones who break the standard rules – those with unique breaches being an obvious example. It seems pretty likely that in a pick-and-mix, make a character from these stickers system, options like that simply aren’t going to be available. The designers and their play-test fans were quick to assure us that there were 5000 different possible combinations, but without getting a real sense of how different they were actually going to be, I wasn’t ready to get involved.

AE-L Art
Being an Aeon’s End game, there was some dubious art involved

 

My biggest disappointment in missing out, was the stretch goal to provide dividers from the first edition game in the style of War Eternal. This was especially galling as it felt more like something missing from what I already had (AE+AE:WE) than it did a part of Legacy. I’ve put out a few feelers, and will try to pick up someone else’s un-wanted set on the secondary market for these.

As a final note, I should say that, being Aeon’s End, the art is still pretty awful, and I fully expect the card-stock to be all over the place, and at least some of it so be glossy finish.

If the opportunity to review this comes up, I’ll throw my hat into the ring, and I may even fork out eventually for the new expansion, which is just additional non-legacy market cards, but it’s not something I want to pay $80 for.

 

Folklore

FolkloreThe Pledge Manager for Folklore is still open. Everything I’ve seen suggests that this is a really good game, but I just don’t know that I have the time for it right now. If I did dive in, there’s still the question of which of the many different routes to go down – core box only because it’s cheap, or all-in, to get some of the beautiful miniatures to paint.

I backed Folklore because it looked like they couldn’t guarantee it getting a retail release. Latest forum rumblings suggest that it might get one after all, at which point picking it up from GQ is almost certainly a cheaper option (hooray for store credit!)

Oddly, I think that one of my biggest obstacles with Folklore is the fact that Rahdo never ran through it: there are other gameplay videos out there but as they’re not from vloggers I’m familiar with, it’s hard to get a real sense of the game.

 

Batman

Batman-Gotham-City-Chronicles-1
I’m pretty sure this doesn’t even include the stretch-goals. It’s a LOT of miniatures

Batman: Gotham City Chronicles was one of the big headline games of the first part of 2018. It (apparently) took the Conan engine and re-skinned it for the city of Gotham.

It’s a big game – $140 is the starting point, and it looks like it’s never going to get a non-Kickstarter release, so backing it now (or backing the inevitable reprint in a year or 2) are basically the only options aside from hoping it eventually appears on eBay.

The miniatures look really nice. Lots of iconic characters, generally really nicely sculpted.

The killer (apart from that mega price-tag) is the fact that it seems to be a purely PvP game, and I really can’t see my wife wanting to duke it out head-to-head with me. Part of me is tempted to get this one to play with Ned – assuming it delivers next year, I might even manage to get it painted over the 12 years I’d need to wait for him to reach the recommended age limit. Realistically though, that doesn’t seem sensible. Aside from anything else, I know that as a parent I need to let him make his own decisions, and it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll opt for Marvel or DC.

Harry Potter

HarryPotterHaving been pleasantly surprised by Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, my interest was definitely piqued by the idea of a Harry Potter miniatures game.

Sadly, March saw what can, at best, be described as a debacle on the part of Knight Miniatures. Having announced an upcoming Kickstarter for a Harry Potter Adventure Game, they then released a very drab video depicting a single turn of an incredibly generic-looking skirmish game, cancelled the Kickstarter, and started taking pre-orders (for the US, UK and Spain only) for something that looked suspiciously like it was just some miniatures in a tin box, with the associated “game” rather lacking.

To add to the list of red flags, KM seem to have a pretty shaky reputation in terms of Quality Assurance and Customer Services, the miniatures were resin rather than plastic (too breakable for my liking), and frankly bizarre distribution/omission of key characters (Voldemort appears to be a pre-order bonus only, not available in an actual retail purchase), and like many people I quickly decided to pass.

HarryRonHermioneBefore I stop talking about this game, I do want to take a quick moment to look at some of the miniatures themselves. For the most part, they look straight take-offs of the film characters – Crabbe (or possibly Goyle) comes complete with a cake, and various big-screen poses are re-captured – which is fine. My main complaint though, was with the Hermione miniature. If you were looking for a contemporary female character who is most clearly defined by her brain rather than her looks, and who stands out as someone whose achievements stand up to scrutiny without needing to be bolstered by feminine charms, then Hermione Grainger is surely one of the first names you come to. The sculptor however, clearly felt differently, and decided that she needed to be depicted mid-prance, standing on one leg, with her Gryffindor scarf twirling about her like a streamer from a rhythmic gymnastics display. Compared to Harry, whose pose is dramatic, but looks combat-ready and functional, and Ron, who just looks slightly bored, this felt depressingly patronising, and provided the final nail in the coffin of interest, if another one were needed.

 

Future

I’m not anticipating vast KS expenditure in the coming months, but there is at least one project that’s caught my attention…

City of Kings

City of KingsThe City of Kings (I always seem to forget the “The”) was a game I’d been only vaguely aware of, until discovering that it wouldn’t be available to review (stock issues). Amid a mad panic about stock availability, I splashed out on a copy from an online retailer, setting up a few days of anticipation about whether it would actually arrive, or be cancelled.

The game-play videos for this looked really interesting, and seemed to position it somewhere between Folklore (see above) and Spirit Island, which was the other big co-op I’d been considering (and which is now out of stock everywhere again). That said, the retail edition was definitely missing a few things compared to the original KS edition, so the announcement of an April re-print Kickstarter which should include “just the new stuff” and “bling up my retail edition” pledge levels [not actual titles] has definitely caught my eye. I’ve played the game twice so far and really enjoyed it, but hopefully, the window before the KS closes will be sufficient for get far enough into the game to make an informed decision about whether I actually need/want to get it decked out.

 

Next

Invader
For something that is essentially a re-skin of one of my all-time favourite games, it’s amazing just how much I dislike the look of this

Lots of people have been posting online about how this feels like a mega time for Kickstarter games, but it hasn’t really felt that way to me. This is probably for the best, as my wallet really doesn’t need any more Kickstarter projects.

In terms of the next quarter, I’m not sure what else is coming. There’s a new Zombicide project coming – Zombicide Invader. Whilst outer-space Zombicide is an interesting idea, early figure prototypes look like Space Marines vs demon-creatures from The Others, so unless something major changes during the campaign, I can’t see myself bothering with this one. It’ll be interesting to see whether more Zombicide means no Massive Darkness Season 2 (don’t especially need more minis, but a rules-revision could make a good game a great one).

Arydia: The Paths we Dare to Tread is an open-world Fantasy adventure that should be coming some point this year. At this stage, virtually nothing is known, and it’s probably not going to squeeze into the 2nd quarter, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

That’s about all for today. I’ll be back in 3 months or so with another update.

Kickback: Aeon’s End

KSAs regular readers will know by now, when I get a Kickstarter game, and I’ve had a chance to play it a bit, I like to do an article reflecting on the campaign, the game, and generally how it’s all worked out.

Slightly later than originally planned, today it’s the turn of Aeon’s End: War Eternal.

 

First of all, a bit of background.

Aeon’s End was a game Kickstarted in 2016, which came out early in 2017, at which point I picked up a copy to review. The game-play was great, the components… less so.

Aeons-End-Card-Game-BoxThe basic premise of the game is that players control Breach Mages, living in Gravehold, the last refuge of humanity. Each game sees Gravehold attacked by a Nemesis, a different horror intent on destroying humanity, via a deck of attack cards, delayed effects, and minions.

Each mage has a starting deck with some basic spells (Sparks), basic currency (Crystals), and their own unique starter card. They will increase the power of their decks by buying better Gems, Artefacts and Spells from a market, and try to reduce the Nemesis to zero life.

If the players get the Nemesis down to zero life, they win. If all Mages are ‘exhausted’ (reduced to zero life), or if Gravehold is reduced to zero life, the players lose.

It’s a fun game. I like marketplace deck-builders, working out card-combos and the like, and the fact that this is cooperative means that I can bring it to the table repeatedly, and therefore delve slightly deeper into the strategy than I can with something like Dominion.

 

AE-WE-KSA month or 2 after I got Aeon’s End, I read that they were Kickstarting a stand-alone expansion.

Now, to be honest, I hadn’t gotten even close to exhausting the content of the base game. As I got a Kickstarter copy to review, I had the base game, the retail expansion, and the expansion that was made up of a load of KS Promos bundled together. In numerical terms, that was 7 Nemeses (1 used per game), 12 Mages (1-4 used per game, generally 2 for us) 9 Gems (3 used per game), 10 Relics (2 used per game), and 22 Spells (4 used per game). The only real pinch point at that moment were the basic Nemesis cards – regardless of which Nemesis you were confronting, you also shuffled a random selection of generic Nemesis cards into their deck and (depending slightly on player-count), you saw 90% of them in every single game.

 

I guess that kind of begs the question of “why back this?”

There are a variety of reasons (some good, some bad) for getting involved. For one thing, I’m an expansion junkie and a completionist (I will never believe Microsoft, no matter how many times they tell me that completionist isn’t a real word).

On a more useful note, for any game like this where you buy cards from a marketplace, the re-play value increases exponentially as you add more possible cards to the marketplace – with 1/3 of the Gems getting used in every game, it doesn’t take long to start feeling like everything looks very familiar.

Basic-Nemesis
ALL the basic Nemesis cards from the first wave

As already mentioned, the prospect of additional basic Nemesis cards was very appealing, as these were something that would crop up in most games, but the principle here was the same – adding long-term value, rather than necessarily making any big changes immediately.

Putting Together the Pieces

The other, slightly complex, issue was around the components.

Dodgy-Dial
It may not look like much in profile, but it spins way too much

As I mentioned, the component quality in the original Aeon’s End wasn’t great. The card stock was suspiciously shiny, and a bit thin. The dials were loose. The cardboard breaches that your mages cast their spells from were bendy, and the large mats which represent Mages and Nemeses were often warped and buckled. Partly this last seemed to be a consequence of a very inelegant storage set-up, where the play-mats were essentially balanced on top of a narrow-ish bit of box.

All of these were things that could certainly stand to be improved upon. Oddly though, that didn’t seem to be people’s focus.

There were, I discovered, a number of complaints flying around about the art and the graphic design of the game. Apparently, people didn’t think that a post-apocalyptic fantasy should be dark in its aesthetic.  There were complaints about the overall look of the game, and the whole thing was to be re-done. There were some nonspecific mutterings about improving the component quality, but these seemed to be secondary to the cosmetic makeover.

1st-Edition-ArtI liked the old art. I liked the old aesthetic. Because I had no problems with the art, I hadn’t spent much time in art forums online, and hadn’t felt the need to post loads of threads demanding that things be kept the same. Those who didn’t like the art felt differently, and had posted a lot, giving a (false?) impression that the vast majority were unhappy.

So – it looked like there was a simple choice. Stop with the content I have, or put up with clashing art-designs whenever I played a game that combined wave 1 and wave 2 content. I wasn’t thrilled by 1, and 2 was never going to be an option.

It turned out though, that there was a third option. For $10 I could have all the cards for the sets I already owned in the new card-stock/layout. This was very specifically a one-time-only offer: if I didn’t take advantage now, my only option in the future would be to re-buy the whole game. I decided to take the plunge.

Numbers

I spent roughly £72 on this – $65 for the base game (includes stretch-goals), $15 for an expansion, $10 for the re-prints of the first edition cards.

Pledging in April, this estimated delivery in August, and arrived in October. It’s quite a big miss as a percentage, but 2 months is still not a big deal in a board game kickstarter.

The War Eternal main box was retailing at £45, although it currently seems to be out-of-stock in most places. A UK site has the expansions up for pre-order at £16 and £18 (minus a few pence). Overall then, that probably puts me about a fiver to the good, but it’s fairly marginal, and I expect that over time / when sales crop up, any financial saving will be more-or-less wiped out.

Quality?

There is a difference in component quality between the editions.

Breaches
All 16 basic breaches from (L) 1st Edition, and (R) War Eternal

The breaches, subject to great ridicule during the campaign are the most obvious point for this – thicker, flatter, sturdier, and with rounder corners.

The dials are still a bit awkward (Fantasy Flight have spoiled me with their excellent dials), but not nearly as loose as before.

CrystalsThe card-stock is mixed. Generally speaking, it’s fractionally less shiny and fractionally thicker than before, although it’s still not amazing. There’s also a discernible difference between War Eternal cards, cards from the new expansions, and cards from the update pack.

Part of the issue with card-stock is that player decks (generally) don’t get shuffled, so this is one of the few card games that I haven’t sleeved. If I were to sleeve though, these cards would probably look fine (but then I’d have to buy a load of sleeves and work out a new storage solution).

MagesThe Mage and Nemesis boards still seem a bit prone to warping, which is definitely something of a disappointment, and one of them arrived decidedly bent (it will flatten out under pressure, but the crinkles are there to stay).

All in all, I think I’d have to rate the component quality as “disappointing” – there’s nothing here that’s preventing me from playing the game and enjoying doing so, but given that this is the ‘improved components’ version, it still feels a bit half-hearted.

Sparks
I would have liked to have seen the flavour text made bigger, rather than smaller.

I’m still not convinced that they made the right call on the art – here’s a comparison between original, update, and War Eternal Sparks (the starting spell): the War Eternal version is easily my least favourite, but I’ve got enough Sparks to use the update versions (old art, new layout/design) without things standing out based on card-backs.

 

Time

I’ve played this a dozen times since it landed – at an hour (ish) per game, that’s still a little way short of breaking even, but I’m not especially worried – this has got miles and miles of play left in it. Hopefully we won’t be too far into 2018 by the time I clock up the extra 3 sessions needed. (The game overall was fine for last year, because of the amount of play it got before the KS-content arrived).

Overall, this is currently showing a slight KS deficit, due to outstanding play, but I think it won’t be very long before this joins Massive Darkness in the positive column.

The point at which I’d start to worry about how quickly we were running down that shortfall, would be if I was shelling out more money for Aeon’s End content.

War-Eternal-Box-Insert
I’m quite pleased with the custom insert I made

The next product in the Aeon’s End line is “Aeon’s End Legacy” announced for 2018 – a campaign to create your own unique Mage, who can then be used in ‘standard’ games, as can various market cards from the new wave. I’ve warmed up a bit to Legacy games in recent times, and the designers have done a good job of offering reassurance that 70% of content will be usable outside of Legacy mode. There are other reasons I’d need a fair amount of convincing to get involved in this – right now my AE collection fits into the War Eternal box (slightly smaller than the original AE box), and whilst the custom inset I’m building will make things a bit easier to sort, there’s no way a whole extra game is going in there. At this point, I feel like there’s enough variety in the cards I have that I shouldn’t get bored, at least for a few years.

 

Final thoughts

I was lucky not to have paid for the original Aeon’s End, and that probably left me able to focus on the great gameplay, rather than getting hung up on some shonky components. There are too many wheels within wheels to really say conclusively whether what I’ve ended up with and what I’ve shelled out count as “good” value, at least in the short term, but I certainly don’t have any regrets.

Kicks of Future Past

A few weeks back, I did a retrospective look at the “value” of all the Kickstarter projects that I’ve been involved in during the past year. It turned into a bit of a monster, leaving no space for me to muse on what comes next. The plan was to look next at the Kickstarters I was thinking about backing – sadly, by the time I had the article written, all of those campaigns had ended. Instead then, this is another reflection: what drew me to those campaigns, and what ultimately put me off.

 

Forbidden Fortress

First up – Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress.

Forbidden Fortress I was alerted to Shadows of Brimstone during Massive Darkness discussions. Another game that put fun ahead of precision rules-crafting, SoB was cited as a good way to do character progression and an engaging overall campaign.

I investigated the already-released Shadows of Brimstone games: 2 core sets and many expansions in a Weird West setting. I managed to get hold of one – eventually. Lots of fans online though pointed me towards the chance to late-pledge for the inter-compatible, standalone, Samurai-themed version, due in early 2018.

Even having just picked up the Western version, I was still tempted by the pseudo-Japanese option. Samurai, Monsters, options to play as a Kitsune (fox-person) or an umbrella-wielding Geisha. Have a monkey as an ally. What’s not to like?

Positive aside though, the Forbidden Fortress Kickstarter was a hard sell. For one thing, the KS options range from “very big” to “very, very, big” – and the ‘smaller’ option doesn’t include the Kistune, the Geisha or the Monkey!

MonkeyThe Kickstarter promises great value: based on the publisher’s estimates, $125 gets you $375 worth of stuff, or $350 gets you $835 worth (plus exclusives, of which there are more at the higher level, obviously).

Big savings! ($200ish and $480ish) IF you buy everything later. But it begs the question – do you need anywhere near as much stuff as the pledge includes?? Savings against a fictional total are irrelevant. If the game only needs a single core and one expansion, then over-spending on hundreds of extra figures is a bad deal, not a good one.

On top of that, even if all of the stuff does add to the gameplay experience, and you need all of it, $350 is a hell of a lot of money. It would make Shadows of Brimstone instantly one of the most expensive games I own, behind only a very select list of titles that have been played for hundreds and hundreds of hours over many years. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a game, to justify a bigger spend than Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, all in one fell swoop.

Cost aside, the Wild West Shadows of Brimstone Kickstarter has been a nightmare: long delays and poor communication seem to be taken as standard, and lots of stuff hasn’t delivered, years after the base game hit retail. Frustration I’ll get over eventually, but if the game arrives 3 years late, then we’re back into the Apocrypha scenario, where I might not want to play any more games of that ilk.

BrimstoneTown
After each scenario you have a travel event, then visit this town, with 7 different places to visit, and a range of events and items available at each one.

Having spent much of October assembling miniatures, I managed 3 sessions of Shadows in November. The between-scenario character levelling stuff really shone, but the scenarios themselves were… fine. We had some bad luck, made some rules mistakes. Some issues seem to have been generally acknowledged as lacklustre, and should be fixed by the new iteration. It seemed to really need Class Sheets printed off to keep track of things, and I hadn’t. Overall, whilst I’m still positive about the game, it didn’t grab me in the way it needed to if I was going to spend that kind of money.

Ultimately, this was always going to be a stretch: a really expensive project, from a company with a poor track-record for KS-delivery. The game needed to be something truly exceptional, and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t quite gripping enough. Technically I could still change my mind (it’s currently still open for backers), but I don’t expect that I will.

 

Bones?

Too-Many-Bones The other big Kickstarter I was looking at was Too Many Bones. This is a game that’s been frustrating me on and off for much of 2017.

My thoughts on Too Many Bones got so extensive that they spawned their own spin-off article [in a marvellous Freudian typo, I originally described those thoughts as “expensive”]. For those who don’t have the time to read the other piece, Too Many Bones is made by a company called Chip Theory Games, who make very expensive games in very small print runs, and only sell directly. There was a one-off opportunity to get this from GQ back in June, but I was slightly blindsided by it and missed my chance.

Stanza2October saw a Kickstarter for a stand-alone expansion, promising a “more cost-effective entry point.” And a guitar-wielding playable character!

Sadly, this “more cost-effective” still wasn’t cheap – £53 + shipping to try the game. That’s a lot of money for a taster. To get a ‘proper’ play experience (which the forums tell me is at least 1 more playable character than the number of players) I’d need to pay extra for add-ons, at which point I’d have been better just shelling out for the full-sized game in the first place.

Ultimately, whilst it is (apparently) a very good game, the large amount of expense, and the possibility of ending up with something that feels half-baked, and needs further investment to be enjoyably playable was too much of a deterrent. They unlocked a fair number of odds and ends during the campaign, but not enough in the directions of actually enhancing game-play options. $100 for something that might only have been a taster was too much, and this one ended up as a “no” as well.

 

In for a Pound, Dollar

I did something for the first time recently – backed a Kickstarter project for $1. A fair number of projects seem to have this option. Pay $1 for email updates and access to the Pledge Manager – an option to upgrade and get the bits you want at a later point.

The reasons for $1 pledging are simple: minimal cost, and extra time (either to save up or simply to decide whether you want it). Having stumbled on the project at the 11th hour, it gave me a chance to stay part of something I wasn’t ready to pledge for fully.

The main downside of the $1 pledge is that you’re not helping to get the game funded or unlock stretch goals. However, this particular project was for a second printing + an expansion: already well funded, and no stretch goals left.

FolkloreThe game in question was Folklore: The Affliction., yet another title promising an RPG in Board-Game form, probably sitting somewhere between Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven. The game looks very good: fantastic art, a dark, engaging theme. The Victorian-era Gothic Horror tropes seem well done, with just the faintest hint of a steam-punk twist (although the mock-Transylvanian accent on the KS video voice-over was pretty painful). The mixture between wide-angle campaign and zoomed-in miniatures combat was also appealing.

There were a couple of obstacles to backing. Firstly, the games mentioned above: Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven are both really interesting-looking games that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of. Even allowing for a 9-month wait, do I have time to play this?

The second issue was a web of complex pledge levels. The base game is obviously the starting point, but where to go with add-ons? The big box expansion adding playable characters seems like a must, but there are also lots of mini expansions that add cards to decks, and will enhance replayability. Given the narrative focus of the game, the books that allow you to create your own adventures seem very useful too.

GhostsThis 2nd printing of the game comes with Cardboard standees to keep the costs down. However, as a painter I want the miniatures (now a separate box). Lastly there are the amazing clear miniatures to represent ghost-characters (unlike many games, character death in Folklore is only a limited obstacle to ongoing participation in the campaign).

For now, I’ll mull this over, happy in the knowledge that I’ve bought myself more time to think, and quite willing to give up the single dollar I shelled out if I decide not to follow-through.

 

Expanding Gloom

Kikforth EncountersGloom of Kilforth is a fun review game that I picked up just before the summer, and which had an October Kickstarter for a second printing / some expansions. I wasn’t that fussed about extra encounters, but the prospect of new Hero Classes and Races (unlocked via stretch-goals) was much more intriguing.

I had intended to let this one pass by, but on the last day of the campaign we had a really enjoyable session with some variant rules that made the game shine, and I jumped on. It was only £21, which felt very affordable.

Pirates!

GreyportPiratesBy contrast, I did decide to pass on the new expansion for Battle for Greyport. The appeal was pretty clear: Steampunk Pirates. Because Steampunk Pirates. Another one I picked up as a review, Greyport is a fun little game (it’s since hit 10 sessions), but at the end of the day, it doesn’t get massive amounts of play, and in all honesty, there’s plenty of content in the original box that we haven’t gotten into yet. The incentive to back the Kickstarter on this was also fairly limited, as it looks like the box will be available at retail next year, by which time I’ll have a far better sense of whether the game is going to get played in the long-term, and might be able to pick it up with some store credit anyway.

 

 

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think a lack of time will be what keeps me from backing (m)any of these projects – Kickstarters tend to come and go within a window which means that, if I’m not already anticipating it, by the time I’ve made my decision, it’s too late. Add to that the sheer epic scale of many new projects and it’s a case of finding both money to back the game and time to play it.

I’m not too worried by all of this, even if I don’t end up backing anything else for a while: as I mentioned in the recent Kickstarter review, I’ve got plenty of KS projects on the go, and even more in the way of other gaming to keep me occupied.

Games for the Masses

I’ve been getting pretty irritated lately.

More so than usual, I think.

I can blame this on work, weather, tiredness, illness etc, but the aspect that’s relevant for this blog is about game prices and game components.

A Bone to Pick

Too-Many-BonesThe fact that you’re reading this probably means that, unless you know me personally and are reading out of sympathy, you probably follow the world of board gaming closely enough to have at least heard of a game called Too Many Bones.

Too Many Bones is a Cooperative Dice-building RPG.

There’s a lot going on in that description, so I’ll pause and let it sink in.

Cooperative, that’s fairly self-explanatory.

RPG – in this context, I think can be taken as a narrative adventure, broadly fantasy in theme (although in quite an unusual and interesting setting).

Dice Building is probably the oddest bit. I’m not expecting the hardware to actually build dice – rather, you start off with a few starter dice, and you gradually acquire more, and better dice.

There are (apparently) various pathways within the game that you can choose to follow, and there’s a lot of scope for character development: more general dice, focusing on specialist dice that can produce combos. Ultimately, success or failure in a given scenario seems to boil down to defeating monsters in combat (often the way of these things), but it seemed like there was plenty going on from a narrative standpoint, and enough unique features to make it worth a look.

Guess what we haven’t got in store for you…

All of the things I’ve said about the game seemed to me like good reasons to buy it.

The reasons in the “against” column are simple. It’s really expensive (and big) and you can’t buy it from a retailer.

ukge That’s right. Retailers, be they online or the good old FLGS don’t sell this game, you can only buy it direct from the manufacturer.

Maybe that’s not a big deal for most people – for me, it means that I can’t use store credit to buy it, which is a big deal, but I appreciate that not everyone has a big supply of store credit that can’t very obviously be turned into cash.

Let’s think about how the whole not-available-in-shops thing works out for normal folk.

The logic that Chip Theory Games (the people behind Too Many Bones) seem to use for only doing direct sales is that they make things cheaper by cutting out the middle man.

Now obviously that’s not an argument that’s completely without merit – distributors aren’t running a charity. Nor are retailers. Each stage you add will involve someone else taking their cut.

However, despite what the good people of the internet would have you believe, I still want to suggest that this isn’t a cut-and-dry situation, a 100% win.

Big Ship, Little Ship, Cardboard Box

ContainerFor one thing, Chip Theory, like most board games companies in the world, seems to be based in North America. Shipping a game (Especially a big, heavy one) across the Atlantic is a big deal, and it costs a lot of money.

Shipping 100 copies of a game across the Atlantic is also expensive. But I’m willing to bet that shipping 100 copies of a game, along with all the other stuff you’re already shipping anyway, doesn’t cost 100 times what it does to ship a single copy.

Small? Or Far Away?

Another reason I hear fairly often for why Chip Theory games tend to be so expensive is the small print runs that they do. Now, again, there are various reasons that this might be the case, but how’s this as a suggestion: they need to do small print-runs, because their games sell in small volumes.

One reason that their games sell in small volumes could be that their games aren’t available in shops. Nobody’s going to stumble across a copy at the FLGS, or buy it in a bookshop whilst doing some panicked Christmas shopping.

LegendaryFoils
Promos from the recent Legendary OP. Legendary and a selection of expansions available to purchase on the next shelf…

Perhaps more significantly than just boxes on shelves, given that we’re talking about a fairly hefty purchase, as a direct-from-manufacturer only product, no FLGS has any incentive to run demos of Too Many Bones, or promote it, organise a meet-up for regular games etc. The owner of my FLGS is a great guy, and one who really cares about the hobby – but he’s also got a business to run: when he does organised play, or demonstrations of a game, chances are it’s going to be a game that he’s hoping some people will then buy from him. With the CTG approach, that kind of opportunity just doesn’t exist.

As you might guess from someone who blogs on the subject, I take my gaming seriously. The sort of money that TMB would set me back is an amount I might well spend on something I was actually able to try out. (there is a digital version you can play, but after watching some fairly epic tutorial videos, I decided that it wasn’t for me)/

Ultimately, I know that I’m not going to convince a company to change their entire business model by writing a grumpy blog post, or sticking something in a web-forum that they’re probably not reading, but the situation still frustrated me.

 

Open to all?

As I was stewing on this, I had a lot of ideas going around, and the thought I eventually arrived at went somewhere along these lines:

VIPsSuppose I’d invented a new game mechanic that I thought was good

Suppose I’d then spent the time play-testing it to the point where it was a solid, balanced game. Then I’d figured out how to get it manufacturer, boxed etc.

What would I want?

I’m fairly sure that I’d want as many people as possible to play it.

Like most people who work in the games industry, I like games. If I think a game is good, I want other people to play it too: getting that great game as widely available as possible seems like the ultimate end.

That doesn’t feel like what CTG are doing.

 

Made of?

The last piece of the puzzle in why Too Many Bones is so expensive, is the components. Everything seems to be made at a very high spec, and high production quality costs money. Obviously. I’m not expecting them to just give people stuff, or upgrade the components for free.

TMB-ChipsHowever a lot of the high-cost components seemed really unnecessary. For example, the baddies you fight in TMB are represented by glossy poker chips.

When you break everything right down, an enemy is a couple of numbers and a couple of keywords. It’s the sort of thing that most other games would represent with a card, or else a miniature.

Miniatures are expensive too – enough of my gaming time and budget has gone to Cool Mini Or Not for that to be painfully clear, but to my mind, a miniature adds a lot more – it’s far more visible and representative than a card and if, like me, you like to paint your game miniatures, that’s a whole new avenue of enjoyable activity opened up.

A poker chip feels like the worst of all possible worlds – all the cost, weight and bulk of a miniature, but with far less flavour. Thick card tokens could do the exact same job for half the price, and a standard playing card would even give more room for nice art assets (now there’s another discussion on art costs, but let’s ignore that for now).

For me, the point where it drifted from annoyance to farce, was when I spotted one of the stretch goals on their new campaign – a shinier box.

BoxUpgrade
Ok, it does do “sturdy” as well, but the emphasis is on “shiny”

I had to re-read it a couple of times, just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. Not a bigger box that can holds expansions too, or a sturdier box that won’t break, or even a better box insert that can hold sleeved/expanded content more easily. Shinier.

When I posted about this on a BGG forum, I was baffled to see that not only was this not a new development, but some people actually seemed to like it. I really couldn’t begin to fathom why you would want a box to be prettier, rather than having cosmetic (or even gameplay) improvements made to the actual game you’ll be playing!?!

Somewhere else?

I don’t know enough about game design and copyright law to know how likely it is that we’ll get a mechanically similar game to Too Many Bones, but made by a different company who can bring an affordable product to market through normal distribution channels. I really hope that we get one, but sadly I suspect that we won’t. I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.

 

The Alternative

aeons-end-card-game-boxI want to talk now about another game, one I’ve actually played this time. It’s also one that I’ve mentioned on here more than once in the past.

Aeon’s End was a review game that I picked up at the start of the year. It’s a marketplace deck-builder (think Dominion), but a Co-op where the players are working together to take down a Nemesis who wants to destroy the last refuge of humanity. Great mechanics, cool post-apocalyptic fantasy theme.

In my review for Games Quest, I said that I thought that Aeon’s End might be the best game of 2017, which was a fairly bold claim for February. It’s still the most-played 2017 release by sessions, although Massive Darkness is currently edging it out by hours and Legend of the 5 Rings is catching up fast. Wherever is ends up in my 2017 top 3, Aeon’s End certainly holds up as a really enjoyable game to play.

AE-Slightly-off
Nothing unplayable, just a few bits that are slightly ‘off’

That said, the component quality in Aeon’s End wasn’t amazing. The dials for tracking the life of your home and the boss enemy were a bit loose, and the cardboard breaches that you place spells on to cast them were pretty flimsy. The characters and monsters are represented by cardboard mats, several of which were a bit bent (I think this was as much about how they were stored as the material the mats were made from), and the overall card-stock wasn’t amazing.

Obviously, none of that’s ideal – but none of it stopped me from playing the game or having a lot of fun.

AE-WE-KS A couple of months after I got the game, they kickstarted a new stand-alone expansion. Market games like this always benefit from more cards, so I was on-board.

They also decided to do a complete re-design graphically. I wasn’t thrilled by this (I preferred the old stuff), but my OCD and need for everything to match exceeds my artistic preferences, so I shelled out the extra $10 to get all the cards from the first edition replaced with new ones to match the style of the reprint (a 1-time offer, only for the Kickstarter).

There were a fair few comments raised during the campaign about component quality – the cardboard breaches became sturdy tokens, upgraded via various stretch-goals to become thicker, and have round (and rounder) corners. The rest of the card-stock was subject to some nonspecific hopeful noises about an upgrade.

Breaches
The new breaches (top) are a lot sturdier, and less prone to slipping/spinning

When the new set arrived, it was generally pretty good. The breaches were definitely a lot better, the dials were a bit tighter (although still not Fantasy Flight standard), the cards were fine, although I wasn’t that bothered by the old ones.

All-in-all though, even with the upgraded components for a fully expanded game, Aeon’s End War Eternal comes in at about £45, less than half of Too Many Bones (the costs of both go up with expansions). It’s perhaps not fair to compare Dice and Card games directly, but I think the overall point stands.

 

The Reckoning?

Taking everything together, we have 2 games:

1 game where the important thing was getting the mechanic out there so that people could play, where the components were secondary to the gameplay and, whilst it was nice to get more solid stuff later, it was never a deal-breaker.

1 game where the pretty-shiny-ness was raised to central importance, and the resulting product was priced out of the market.

On average, people have rated Aeon’s End 8.1 – a highly respectable score for a game that sits in a fairly well-established area of gaming, albeit with some good unique twists. Based on about 1900 ratings, that’s enough to get it to 277th place in the overall BGG rankings.

Too Many Bones is a far more innovative game, one which really stands out from the crowd mechanically, and it has an average rating of 8.7 on BGG – however, with only just over 1100 people rating it, barely enough to get it into the top 400.

Rankings

A lot of people think that the rankings don’t mean anything, and they might be right, but there’s a small part of me that’s glad that the game which focused on play experience and accessibility is over 100 places better off.

 

Closing Thoughts

This has turned into a fairly long ramble. I’m not sure that I’ve actually managed to make a point.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, Board Games are getting bigger, and more expensive, and that’s allowed designers to do some amazing stuff, giving us gaming experiences that are light years ahead of what we had 20 years ago. It’s also led to lots of bloated, overproduced games that gives us material for our money, but not the gameplay to match.

The reason I spend so much of my time on board-games: playing them, keeping spreadsheets about them, writing about them, keeping spreadsheets about them, is because I really like board games. That’s why I think that anything that leads to more people playing more board games is good. It’s fine to have collector’s editions and the like for those who want to splash out on something memorable, but it shouldn’t be the only option.

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.