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.

 

 

Zombicide Black Plague: Zombie Bosses Expansion Review

What’s that coming over the hill?

bossboxPreviously here on Fistful of Meeples, I’ve reviewed some additional assistance for the Survivors in Black Plague, through the extra Vault Weapons available via NPC box 1. Now it’s time to even things up by offering reinforcements for the forces of darkness through the Zombie Bosses box. This expansion comes with 3 new unique Abominations, and the cards and tokens needed to use them in a game of Zombicide: Black Plague.

Abominations: The Basics

Abominations are the largest and the toughest of the Zombies in the base game – whereas Walkers and Runners can be killed with any weapon, and Fatties need something that does 2 Damage, Abominations are damage 3 monsters: In the base game, there are no 3-damage weapons, meaning you have 2 possibilities.

  • Get Sampson, wielding a hammer (or some other 2-damage weapon) up to the Red Level where he can choose the “Melee: +1 Damage” skill.
  • Discard a “Dragon Bile” Equipment card and a “Torch” equipment card in the Abomination’s space, to start Dragon Fire.

The first retail expansion for Zombicide: Wulfsburg brought new options. The Vampire Crossbow, a weapon that any Survivor above Blue level can wield is a 3-damage weapon, and kills Abominations straight out. There are also various weapons (Chaos Longbow, Flaming Great-Sword, Dragon-Fire Blade) which make it easier to start a Dragon Fire, and the Earthquake Hammer, a 2-damage Weapon which goes up to 3 damage on a roll of 6.

In return for these extra ways to kill Abominations, Wulfsburg gave you the Wolfbomination. Like a normal abomination, but 3 times as fast.

Now, “Wave 2” has hit. Between the Kickstarter content (much of it available via eBay etc if you weren’t a backer), and the gradual release of retail expansions, there are now any number of ways to get to 3 damage, via character abilities, and new weapons.

That’s where the Zombie Bosses come in: with all these ways to kill their champions, the Zombies need more bosses, and more powerful ones at that. Let’s see what this box has to offer.

 

Unboxing

bosscontentsWhen you open the box, the first thing you see is the 3 Miniatures for the new bosses. Miniatures is a word I use loosely. The Ablobination is only about the height of a normal Abomination (although it does have a very long arm), but the Abominatroll and the Abominatour are both massive, towering over even the Wolfbomination.

My first impressions on the miniatures were fairly mixed: on the one hand, they are clearly good quality figures, the detail is good, the construction looks solid (it’s disappointing, but completely understandable that the Abominatroll needs a support pin), and there was slightly less in the way of excess casting/misalignment than on most of the other packs I’ve bought.

troll-blobThat said, neither the Abominatroll, nor the Ablobination particularly caught my imagination figure-wise. Abominations are supposed to be the results of crazed experiments on the part of evil Necromancers to create bigger and nastier foes, and that was something you could see easily in the standard Abomination and the Wolfbomination. Here by contrast, we’re lacking a frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ troll looks like before you abominate it, and the Ablobination is just plain weird.

minotaurNone of that particularly bothered me, because I think the third miniature in the box is just brilliant.

Whilst we don’t have a non-abomination version of a Minotaur, I think it’s an easy enough concept to imagine, that it’s easy to see what a great job they’ve done with the Abominatour. Where the Ablobination is just sort of sitting there, and the Abominatroll is lunging so wildly he needs propping up, the Abominatour is a perfect combination of a solid pose that still oozes dynamic energy. A definite winner for me.

 

Gameplay

Obviously, in a miniatures game like this, the sculpts are important, but as nice as the components may look, we wouldn’t still be getting bits for it the gameplay wasn’t fun, and the Zombie Bosses need to earn their keep in this regard too.

Abominatour

blackbook
We’re in!

As with the miniatures, so with the gameplay: the Abominatour was the one I was most excited to play. Unlike every other Zombie in the game, which needs to carefully navigate a path around buildings and through doors, the Abominatour works out where the noisiest square is, and he just goes there – destroying any walls which stand in his way (and meaning that any other zombie can now follow in his wake). The expansion comes with little cardboard tokens to mark the destruction he has wrought.

In practice, having an Abominatour on hand certainly changes the gameplay, sometimes dramatically. The fact that he can open up (and spawn) locked buildings, or smash through walls into places that would otherwise be inaccessible without specific objectives can really turn things on their heads. The most extreme example feels like it would be Welcome to Wulfsburg – where an Abominatour who spawns at the top of the map could change things very quickly (and make for a really short quest). We’ve also managed to break in to the central complex in The Black Book Without finding the required objective by using the Minotaur.

 

Troll and Blob

XuxaThe other two bosses definitely felt more like they were just more-powerful versions of the abomination: the troll gets extra activations if he can see you which makes him in to essentially a Wolfbomination will a little bit more strategy involved, whilst the Ablobination can only be destroyed with Dragon-Fire, taking you back to the core-box only days without 3-damage weapons.

The dragon-fire only restriction is particularly relevant if you’re bringing in lots of powerful survivors – In a game with Xuxa, an Abomination is just another big zombie (once she has Quicksilver Sword and +1 to dice roll combat, it’s pretty hard for her to miss), and pegging things back to a point where you need dragon fire felt like a good counterbalance.

 

Overall Thoughts

I’m definitely glad I bought this box. I’m not generally one of these people who find games “too easy” and if you chuck in all 12 spawn cards for the monsters in this box, you could quickly find yourself in trouble (we did that once. We died horribly). Used in moderation though, they have great potential to add variety to the game, and they do allow you to use some of the extra content which benefits survivors, without losing all the tension from the game.

A few months ago, I backed Cool Mini Or Not’s latest big Kickstarter project, Massive Darkness, including a Zombicide Crossover kit which includes card to use various monsters, including these 3 in the new game. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to keep them busy over the intervening 9 or so months, but it’s nice to know that there are fresh victims out there waiting to be eaten…

Painting

I’m slowly painting all my Zombicide figures. A lot of the Walkers and almost all of the Wolves are still awaiting the technicolour treatment, but something as spectacular as these guys went straight to the front of the queue.

bosseswipThat said, they were a challenge. For one thing, I’d never painted anything as big as the Abominataur or the Abominatroll (not with any level of detail, I seem to recall there was an Airfix Lancaster bomber 20 years ago…) beyond that, the colour scheme isn’t immediately obvious. There are images of all 3 of these in the rulesheet, but it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between “natural” colours and the thoroughly outlandish.

paintedIn the end I decided to keep the flesh on the Blob and the Minotaur fairly ‘natural’ – these are sufficiently weirdly shaped that there’s no need to make them lime green or shocking pink to convey their otherness. For the troll a selection of greyish green (based German Fieldgray, highlighted with “Grey Green”) seemed more fitting. I used a brighter metallic colour than normal to pick out the armour on the Minotaur, just because there’s so much otherwise uninterrupted flesh, and used a thin wash of red over all the bits that look like boils/swellings, as well as a few green tints, just to add an unhealthy look.

paintotaur

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how these turned out. As always, the flagstone effect on the bases really seems to set the miniatures off. I’m under no illusion that these are a particularly high standard, and they’re certainly not about to win any painting awards (I lack the patience/skill for the many-layered highlighting and blending) but they look great for our games, and overall these Zombie bosses are a fun addition to an already brilliant game.

Zombicide Black Plague: NPC Box 1 Review

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Notorious

I’ve talked a few times here and there about Zombicide, including the series of slightly dark photos I posted the other week, but I’ve not yet done a proper review of any of the components. As mentioned before, the base game was reviewed on the GamesQuest site, and you can read that here. I decided it was time to change that, so from now on, I’m going to be posting my thoughts on the various new expansions that I pick up.

The first of the retail expansions* (not technically at retail yet) to hit my gaming table were the NPCs – with an obvious nod to the Non-Player Characters of Fantasy RPGs, these are Notorious Plagued Characters – a slightly more glamorous brand of zombie, with some new twists to offer the game. Let’s dive in, and see what we get in the box.

Unboxing

NPC Box 1 contains 20 Zombie figures (4 each of 5 different sculpts), 3 Vault Weapons, and the spawn cards needed to get those Zombies in to play. (There are also lots of duplicate cards in other languages, which are probably of limited use.)

Cards

VaultsSlightly unusually, I’m going to start with the Vault Cards. I loved Zombicide: Black Plague when I got it, and we played it to death (25 games in the first month), but the one place where it really felt limited was with the Vault Weapons. There were 2 in the game, and many scenarios place “2 random vault weapons” in the vaults – it just meant that there was no variety, and that as soon as you picked up the first one, you knew exactly what the other one was. If you found the Crossbow, you knew to send the Wizard to the other vault to get the spell.

Heavy Crossbow
Limitations aside, the ability to kill Abominations is always a bonus

For that alone, just having 5 instead of 2 is a great addition. The new cards themselves are an interesting mix: a Longbow that works at range and in Melee, a 3-damage crossbow, and a shield that works against Abominations. All potentially very useful, although with noticeable drawbacks compared to the original weapons (the shield doesn’t kill things, the crossbow is no use at point-blank range, and the Longbow is only 1 damage). Overall though, these cards seem like a great addition to the game.

Miniatures

The Miniatures themselves are a bit of a mixed bag: there were 5 different sculpts: A dwarf(?) in armour, a dancing girl, a torturer/jailer, a nurse, and a Moor (to use the Dark Ages terminology). First up, I’ll say that my pack of NPCs had some of the worst casting problems of any Zombicide minis I’ve yet received. For most of them, I had to spend a lot of time trimming with a scalpel and file, then fill with plastic putty, undercoat, and THEN go through the whole filling and filing process again. As I was going to paint the figures anyway, this added a fair amount of work, but did at least mean that I could get them to a fairly decent state – if you weren’t going to paint your miniatures, then these are some of the first Zombicide figures I’ve had which were mis-cast badly enough to be noticeable/offputting whilst sat unpainted on the table.

Female ZombiesMoving from production (it could well have just been a suspect batch) to the sculpts themselves, the NPCs certainly offer something a bit different from the standard walkers. There are two female walkers in the base game, both wearing fairly generic full-length dresses. The NPC box has a Nurse, who is carrying a good amount of kit for a zombie, and a Dancing Girl who (as you might expect) is wearing very little indeed.

JailerOf the three male figures, the Jailer/Torturer character is the most interesting, with a slightly garish expression, it does a good job of suggesting that he may not have been entirely sane when he was alive.

The Moor and the Armoured figure round off the set – with the Lore of Zombicide: Black Plague being a little hazy, I can’t say with certainty whether the chap in armour is meant to be a dwarf, or just a bit short and stout.

Overall, these were a fun set to paint, and being character figures, a good chance to introduce a bit more colour into the Zombie populace.

Gameplay

The official way to use the NPCs is to add their spawn cards to the deck, and spawn them as their own separate kind of zombie. When spawning an NPC, you select a figure at random from the reserve and, instead of simply returning it once killed, your survivor can discard 5 different NPC zombies, to choose a Vault Weapon from the box.

Arm-MoorAside from the special rules on spawning and collecting, NPCs function like Walkers, and if you ever run out of NPCs, you simply use walkers instead (although your survivor can discard NPCs at any time, back to the supply).

Playing with NPCs as written definitely makes the game easier. For one thing, you can have 5 Vault Weapons amongst your party, rather than the maximum of 2 which you tend to get from scenarios. The addition of the extra spawn cards for what are, functionally, more walkers also reduces the frequency with which you run into the nastier beasts of the spawn deck.

Whether you regard this as a good or a bad change is, obviously, rather more subjective. With all the additional Zombies we now have access to – Wolfz, and Zombies bosses at least, Crowz and Deadeyes if you’re a Kickstarter backer [or reading this a few months in the future], I think that having something which can make the game easier is a good corrective, and brings some of the harder scenarios back to a sensible point where they are playable.

Variants

It has been commented many times on places like Board Game Geek, that Zombicide feels a lot like a sandbox game: you can add, or choose not to add, any number of different expansion elements, and if those aren’t to your liking, you can make up your own rules. The simplest thing to do with NPCs, would be to use them as standard walkers (with or without the additional spawn cards), to add more visual variety, but the scope is almost endless, and I’ve seen suggestions for arming the NPCs with the Vault Weapon you would get from killing them, triggering all manner of additional effects, and no doubt a few more possibilities that I’ve just forgotten.

Bishops
I thought all-purple might get dull, so I promoted one to Cardinal

Whilst the rules for NPCs (official ones) are fixed, the distribution of zombies is rather more variable. NPC Box 1 contains 4 figures in each of 5 different poses. Personally, I also splashed out on 3 extra poses from a Kickstarter Backer, via Ebay, and there is another box out there, NPC 2, which adds a further 20 zombies in 5 more poses, and another 3 Vault cards.

I think the way we had things set up at the start, did make it too easy to get vault cards – I’d only painted 2 figures in each of the 8 poses, so the odds of getting duplicates were greatly lowered, and our survivors rapidly acquired the full set needed to cash in for a vault weapon. Moving back to 4 figures in each pose, normalises things slightly. There are still people who think that anywhere above the 5 poses you get in a single box makes it too easy to get a set, but it depends slightly on how you do the randomising: a fear of chipping painted miniatures seems to rule out “chuck them in a bag and grab one at random” so again, the suggested different ways of selecting seem to be endless. Personally, I just assigned a number from 1-8 to the different sculpts, then rolled a D8 to see which one I needed (re-rolling if all the miniatures of that number were already in play).

Snow WhiteThe Kickstarter NPCs certainly aren’t necessary from a gameplay perspective, but I think they are the best sculpts – the guy holding his own head is entertaining, the Bishop/Cardinal is a really characterful sculpt, and the woman who looks suspiciously like Disney’s Snow White is just plain hilarious (I have plans for that sculpt, leading mobs of dwarves when Massive Darkness arrives next year).

Verdict

At the moment, the only way to get your hands on NPC Box 1 (or 2) is to have been a Kickstarter backer, or to find someone else who was, and is selling. These will be on retail release at some point in the future, and as soon as they are, I think they are an essential purchase, probably the first one I’d get. The variety from extra vault cards alone adds so much replay-ability to the base game, and the option to ease the game’s difficulty allows you to really go to town with all those monster abominations.

All the colours of the Zombie Apocalypse

I’m aware that things have been a bit dry and cerebral here for the last little while: lots of numbers and musings, without too much shiny. I wanted to redress the balance a bit today, and I couldn’t think of a better game to focus on in doing that than Zombicide, a big, bold dice-chucking miniatures game.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I picked up Zombicide: Black Plague in March, as a review copy (check out the review here on the Games Quest blog). Cool Mini Or Not were a company I hadn’t really been familiar with before, but the fast, fun gameplay of Zombicide had me hooked, and as time passed, I was inspired to dust off my paints and paintbrushes (largely unused since I gave up Table-top Wargaming a couple of years ago) and paint some of the figures.

Survivors

In the game, you control a band of survivors, fighting of swarms of Zombies. The core game gives you 6 Survivors to start with:

Core Survivors

There was also a bix-box expansion call Wulfsburg (can you guess what type of enemies got added there?) which added another 4 Survivors, to give you some fresh options:

Wolfsburg Survivors

Around the same time, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of B-Sieged (thanks again Games Quest – check out the review here), and the Ebay was able to supply me with promo cards to play the 6 B-Sieged Heroes as Zombicide Survivors as well.

B-Sieged Survivors

 

Zombies

NecroAbomHaving painted the Survivors, it seemed only fair to start adding some colour to the Zombies themselves, starting with the Necromancer (puny in and of himself, but summons extra zombies) and the Abomination (big nasty thing, very hard to kill with only Core Box survivors and equipment)

 

The Zombies themselves come in 3 basic types, Walkers (vanilla), Runners (move twice instead of once) and Fatties (need 2 damage to kill instead of 1).

Standard Zs
I decided to give the Fatties red rings, and the Runners yellow rings so I could easily idetify them at a distance

As these are basically just the peasantry of the Dark Ages, I tried to stick with a fairly plain colour pallet – lots of browns and beiges. I allowed myself a bit more colour on the fatties, as getting to that size in this (admittedly fictionalised) time period, probably suggest that they were slightly better off.

Wolfbom
He’s a Wolf (3 Actions) AND an Abomination (3 Damage)

I’ve already mentioned the Wulfsburg expansion, and it should come as no great surprise to know that this introduces Wolf zombies. I haven’t had chance to paint up the normal “Wolfz” yet, but did at least get to their leader, the Wolfbomination

One of the great things about Zombicide, is the way you can modify it so easily – there are bucket-loads of expansions out there, and they are all basically modular, meaning you can mix and match which ones you include. My next acquisition was the “NPC (Notorious Plagued Characters)” box – n gameplay terms, they are basically just special zombies which you can collect to trade in for additional rewards. Gameplay aside, it was a chance to get a bit more creative with the colour-schemes, as these are clearly drawn from other places besides the general peasant mass.

NPCs

 

Practicalities

Something you can be entirely oblivious to when playing a game with unpainted miniatures, but which becomes rapidly evident when you start painting, is the extent of the casting flaws: lines around where the two halves of the mould join are pretty-much inevitable, and bigger gaps or mis-alignments can be found on a lot of the figures.

Trimming this away with a scalpel is pretty much inescapable, and for some figures, further filing and filling is needed too: Vallejo plastic putty is probably the best for this, although I’ll admit to having cut a few corners, and just used standard DIY filler, applied with a small metal tool, or a cocktail stick.

Paint-wise, I’ve used mostly Vallejo Colours, with a few Citadel or Humbrol odds and ends I had lying around. I do the main blocks of colour, then cover the thing over with a wash of Windsor and Newton Ink, which mutes the colours, and really brings out the contrast in the figure (or makes it obvious if you’ve missed a bit when trimming away the extra flashing). Then I add highlights over the top: typically a paler version of the colour itself on exposed areas. Finally, I spray with Army Painter anti-shine matt varnish, just to stop things from looking too garish.

It’s a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way, and very reluctantly over the years, that no matter how good a job you do on painting a figure, the base has at least as much impact on how it looks when out on the board, and in play.

Bases
The figures are all finished, but only half have had their bases done

The basing approach I’ve used for Black Plague is nicked more-or-less directly from the YouTube videos of the very talented Sorastro (then modified for me own forgetfulness/lack of ability) – a neutral grey colour to represent the mortar/dirt, and generally create the outline, then a selection of pale shades for the flagstones themselves, followed by a wash or two to dirty things up and bring down the contrast. Overall, it takes a fair amount of time – almost as much as the mini itself in some cases, but it’s definitely worth it for the final effect.

Final Thoughts

It’s been good fun getting back into painting again. As you can see, I’m far from being a professional-standard painter, but so long as you prep them properly, these miniatures allow you to get a nice visual effect without too much competence being required.

As a final sneak preview, I picked up these rather terrifying folk this week: the Zombie bosses:

Zomboss

I’ve never actually painted a miniature as big as the Abominatroll or Abominatour before, so these will be an interesting challenge, and I’ll post some results in a few weeks, along with a review of that box generally. In the meantime, I’m going to need someone able to deal with all these extra Abominations. Courtesy of Ebay, I think I might have the answer with this character, who definitely isn’t Xena: Warrior Princess (honest)

Xuxa
Meet Xuxa! – I went a little bit too heavy with the spray varnish, hence the foggy effect on the hair – might need to re-touch this.

Kickstarter: Cool or Not.

KS Last time out, I gave a few thoughts on Kickstarter (and other proto-kickstarter schemes), mostly based around my own experiences. If you haven’t read that one, you might want to go back and glance at it first. I’ve also been alerted to the remarkably comprehensive Kickstarter thoughts of Jamey Stegmaier: I’d seen one or two of these before, but realised just how comprehensive they are – are interesting for anyone in the world of games, and an absolute must-read if you’re thinking of running your own project (thanks for the tip-off Tim).

Thinking about the games I talked about last week, whilst Lone Shark contain some very experienced designers, as an independent games publisher, Apocrypha was a new direction for them, and it made sense to me that they went down the Kickstarter route. Likewise, Indie Board Games, the company behind Avalon were a fairly small business, at least at the time (iirc from the update emails, the games were shipped from the designer’s garage).However, Kickstarter is not just the home of the small independent company, and this week, I want to have a bit of a look at how Kickstarter is being used by one company in particular, and some of the benefits and challenges that can bring for us as gamers.

Cmon

cmon Regular readers (or people who game with me in real life) will know that I’ve recently found myself sucked into the world of Cool Mini Or Not. CMON (to use the common abbreviation) started off as a website sharing images of Cool Miniatures (or not?) and gradually expanded into making board games that these miniatures could be used in. They run absolutely massive projects on Kickstarter, and last year’s Zombicide: Black Plague raised over $4 million, which made it the largest Board Game Kickstarter project ever (a record since smashed by Exploding Kittens).

Gets you thisWithin the world of Board Games, Cool Mini Or Not are not a small company. Whilst I can’t presume to know the state of their accounts, it seems fairly reasonable to assume that when they design a new game, they can do so with a pretty high level of confidence that it will make it to retail. When deciding whether to wait for a CMON game to appear in the FLGS, it’s “when” not “if.” This probably has a lot to do with why they push such an extensive line in Kickstarter Exclusive content, but the fact that they do leads to bigger and bigger projects, and the overall result leaves some unhappy customers on both sides.

For the person who backed Zombicide: Black Plague last year, they can expect to get a TON of extra content on top of the base game. Advertised on the campaign page as “over $500 retail value of content for $150” it includes 23 Survivors (player-controlled characters), 2 Abominations (the biggest, nastiest bosses) a dozen or so character zombies, and 2 extra Necromancers (the mastermind-type characters) who will not be available at retail.

It’s important to keep this in perspective. Whilst the base game only comes with 6 characters, and this is a very limiting number (you use 6 per game, so there’s no variety there), retail customers will still have options: there are already 4 extra Survivors available in the Wulfsburg expansion, and there are other Hero-box expansions which should make it to retail one day, so your experience isn’t going to be that limited in the long term. There will also be some other additional Necromancers (at least 1, anyway) and some unique zombies and the like.

 

No Vault of their Own?

However much non-exclusive content there is out there, it does still feel like the overall gameplay experience for those who missed out on the Black Plague Kickstarter will be curtailed in some significant respects.

For example, take a little thing like the Vault Weapons – in the game, characters can search rooms for upgraded types of equipment, but many scenarios place a Vault Weapon in a specific location, which pretty-much guarantees you can get your hands on a powerful piece of kit that might make the mission more possible. Again, the base game, comes with two of these, and most of the early scenarios use exactly 2 – for the Kickstarter backers, they will have a further 3, including a weapon that does 3 damage, allowing you to bring down an Abomination – something which is otherwise impossible without digging for the cards you need to create Dragon Fire. If these Vault weapons are not available to retail customers, that makes for a very significant and very real disadvantage in gameplay terms on account of a purchase model.

I don’t mind that people who backed this project, who gave CMON their money last summer, get some extra stuff (and it is A LOT of extra stuff), exclusive sculpts, interesting twists etc. However, the fact that in an area like this, where the new card is just straight-up more powerful, it bugs me. For a game that is so heavily about miniatures, there’s plenty of scope to reward backers with exclusive sculpts, and different combinations of existing things without doing something like this which penalises the retail customers.

Ebay the only way?

Vault Weapons It would also be naïve to ignore the fact that there will inevitably be a sizeable secondary market for these bits and pieces: if there’s a particular character you’ve got your eye on, chances are that you’ll be able to pick it up as a one-off, and whilst you’ll pay something of a premium, it should be possible to find some reasonable deals. Most backers won’t physically be able to make use of all the content they get. Again though, what do you think they’re going to sell? Will it be one of the 35 characters they have, or the three extra Vault cards?

If I could go back in time and back the Kickstarter, I would (I’ve hunted around for opportunities to jump in late, but without luck) – as I don’t think I even knew it was happening, that wasn’t a possibility. I know that I was very lucky to pick up a free review copy of the base game, and it feels daft to be getting hung up on 3 bits of cardboard, but that’s where I am.

Backers Against the Wall

Wulfsburg
I’ve got my copy, which a fair few KS backers aren’t happy about…

I don’t want to give the impression that everything is sunshine and rainbows on the side of the fence of those who did back the game. As mentioned before, delays are just one of those things which happen with Kickstarter, and Black Plague is no exception. Whilst most backers (I believe) have received their base games by now, they seem to be looking at a fairly long wait for “Wave 2” which is where they get all the add-ons, and exclusive content. This has led to a fair amount of fury from those who see people like me picking up the Wulfsburg expansion from the FLGS, and yet have to wait months longer for theirs (as far as I can tell, it’s because the expansion and the exclusives get sent together, and the exclusives weren’t ready.) Wave 2 is also when you get your base game if there was an issue with your pledge manager at the point Wave 1 was shipped – pledge manager is a tool that exists for where Kickstarter projects contain optional elements and add-ons, meaning that the amount of money you’ve agreed to have charged to your card isn’t enough to tell the company what you want. It looks like this Kickstarter had a lot of issues around pledge manager not being updated properly, so there are a fair few backers who didn’t get their game in wave 1.

The internet is also pretty rife with comments about CMON customer service. Obviously, it’s impossible for those of us on the outside to really know the details, but two things seem to be clear: 1.) there are a lot of people out there who don’t think they have received good customer service, due to problems with the Kickstarter, 2.) there are enough people out there who aren’t worried by the customer service they’ve received that they raised over $4,000,000,000 for Black Plague. Last week, CMON launched a new Kickstarter campaign for “Second Tide” the new version of Rum and Bones, their miniatures based Pirate game. It took roughly 7 minutes for them to reach their target of $80,000 dollars, and as I write, just over a week later they’ve broken the $500,000 mark.

Flamethrower
Come on, who DOESN’T want a game involving a steam-punk nun carrying a flamethrower?

One thing I respect about CMON is that their Kickstarter Exclusive ARE Kickstarter exclusives: they are completely straight with people on that, and they don’t suddenly appear later at retail – to get your hands on one, you either have to get lucky at a convention, or pay a premium price on EBay. It’s annoying when those are exclusives which I feel are significantly detrimental to the gameplay (i.e. the Vault cards), but at least it’s honest. In the recently-launched Rum and Bones: Second Tide Kickstarter, there were a few folk asking for Exclusives from the original Rum and Bones, only to be disappointed.

Cool Future?

Having discovered the world of CMON and their games has some interesting implications for the future. I was fortunate enough to acquire another couple of their games: B-Sieged and Krosmaster Quest (review copies again), and have splashed out on some Promo cards to use the Miniatures from B-sieged as Zombicide characters (again, KS exclusives, this time from the B-Sieged campaign. £20 for 8 bits of cardboard is ridiculous, but seems justifiable when you’ve avoided having to spend the £150 on the original games). B-Sieged is solid, if not on the level of Zombicide, whereas Krosmaster fell flat for us- it felt more like an MMO than a board game, and the Anime art-style wasn’t what we were looking for (if anyone is interested in trading for Rum and Bones Season 1, or Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King, let me know).

massive-darkness It also puts me in an interesting position regarding the future. Modern-day Zombicide spanned 3 or 4 “seasons” of compatible content. Those like me, who missed the Black Plague Kickstarter are hoping that something similar will happen for the medieval iteration, but it turns out the $4 million unlocks a lot of stretch goals, and CMON don’t seem in any rush to saturate the market any more than it already is, at least for a while. People are still optimistic about a season 2, just don’t expect it too soon. In the meantime, news is starting to trickle out very slowly for their next game, Massive Darkness, a game which takes the “Zombicide system as a starting point, … [and] adds all the richness of a dungeon crawl RPG.” – it certainly sounds interesting, and I have been engaging in all the pointless speculation as we wait for further announcements.

I have a choice to make: do I jump in at the Kickstarter stage? If I do, it will probably be knowing that I will get a lot more stuff for my money, but having to fork out the cash a year in advance of getting the game (a game which I won’t even have played, and may not particularly enjoy), with all the intervening months spent haunted by the ghost stories of CMON Kickstarters past.

BelleBeast
Not too bothered about having Beauty and the Beast on my Pirate Ship (nor the 3 little pigs either, but they cost extra)

One thought which I have as I watch the Rum and Bones Kickstarter is “how much of this ‘Exclusive’ stuff do I not really want? Can I back this, then sell some of the exclusives to cover my costs?” – evidently there are already people who do this, and I’m glad, as that will be where I try to patch gaps in my Black Plague collection (I certainly won’t be getting everything) but eventually, the market becomes saturated, and if everyone buys to sell, will there be anyone left to take these things off their hands? Spending money now to get something I don’t want and might be able to sell in 18 months’ time is probably foolish.

Alternatively, I could wait? Wait for Massive Darkness, or for Rum and Bones: Second Tide to get a retail release. If I wait I’ll probably have the opportunity to walk into a shop, and perform an old-fashioned transaction where I give a man some pieces of paper with pictures of the queen on, and he gives me a game, with no danger or complications involved. If I do that, I can wait until others have reviewed the game, maybe even try it for myself – it’ll probably also be a lot clearer whether there is a Black Plague season 2 coming (it’ll probably have its own Kickstarter by then), and I’ll know my options, but some exclusives will have escaped forever…