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.

 

 

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Value for Kicks

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

 

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

 

Apocrypha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numenera

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

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

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

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

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

 

Massive Darkness

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

massive-darkness-preview1

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

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

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

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

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

 

Legends Untold

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Future

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

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

Gloomhaven

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

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

Aeon’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Horde

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

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

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

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

2016: The End

2016 is done, and overall, it was a pretty successful year for gaming. I played 793 games – 90 different games, for a total of around 554 hours of gaming in the year as a whole.

As regular readers will know, I also set myself a few challenges in the gaming department, and this seemed like the obvious moment to look back at how that went:

Un-Played

hobbitIn 2015, I counted 26 games that I owned and had not played – I set myself the challenge of either playing or getting rid of all them. In the end, I played 15 of them, and sold 11 – contrary to what Maths might lead to expect, that left 1 still un-played (I sold one game after playing it). The Hobbit Card Game.

The game that I had left un-played, The Hobbit, has been listed for sale or trade so many times that I’ve lost count. It isn’t even a bad game per se, it’s just fairly underwhelming, and the theme to mechanic link is fairly tenuous (it’s essentially just Hearts, pretending to be thematic.) Unless something changes soon, this might be bound for the charity shop.

coupAside from the previous year’s “un-played” games, I was also keeping an eye on the games which had been played last year, but not since – again, I had a good amount of success with this – several were moved on: sold or traded, but most were played and again, at year end it’s a very small pile that haven’t been played: just Coup (and a game I won in a competition, which only arrived in December).

Coup is a fun enough game fairly short and light, so I couldn’t really put my finger on why it didn’t make it to the table. It’s not at its best with 2, which is probably a factor. I’ll hang on to this for now, and see how it fares over the next little while.

trivialTrivial Pursuit was the last game to make it off the un-played list: it isn’t a game that we’re ever likely to break out at home just the two of us, but it’s stayed around because it’s a sufficiently non-threatening, familiar brand that you can wheel it out with people who aren’t really in to games. That said, this year’s game was seriously painful. We have a version that allegedly divides questions by difficulty, but the levels felt arbitrary, if not just wrong. At 9 years old, some of the questions are also getting really dated. For the most part, it was just a game of trying to land on the right space. Articulate and Balderdash (both owned, both of which I’d somehow forgotten I owned, both got played over Christmas, so doesn’t really matter) both feel like better options, and I’m seriously tempted to move it on.

 

There are still a few games in my collection that may have outlived their usefulness; games that got played once to take them off of the “un-played” list, and will probably sit idle until next time I’m doing a similar check – realistically, there’s always room to be more brutal with the pruning. If I’m going to continue with the game reviewing (I have no particular plan not to), I’ll have new games coming in, so I’ll need to keep making space – also with a few personal changes on the horizon, it’s definitely worth being mindful of which games I have and which are still relevant.

Perfect 10s

unknowns
A year ago, I’d never heard of most of these, and didn’t own any

My other challenge, one I picked up from Board Game Geek, was “10 of 10” – to play 10 different games 10 times.

As I was doing this challenge for the first time, and as I could see that I hadn’t done it the year before, I went for the “easy” version of the challenge, where I could just play the games, rather than having to decide in advance which 10 I was aiming for – it’s a good job I did this: 5 of the games which got played 10+ times I hadn’t heard of back in January (Zombicide being the most obvious example): others were names I heard that hadn’t been released (like Pandemic Cthulhu), or simply games I’ve rediscovered this year after long fallow periods (Elder Sign was a big winner in this respect).

The other reason it’s a good job I didn’t write my list of ten before I started is the age-old question of availability. This time last year, I was convinced that Apocrypha would be one of the most-played games of 2016, and that Numenera had a good shout of getting played 10 times. As it stands, neither of them has yet been released.

At year-end, the most-played games looked like this:

  1. Zombicide: Black Plague (90)
  2. Pathfinder ACG (81)
  3. Lord of the Rings LCG (81)
  4. Dice Masters (61)
  5. Marvel Legendary (55)
  6. Game of Thrones LCG (44)
  7. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (21)
  8. Arkham Horror LCG (20)
  9. Elder Sign (16)
  10. = Legendary Encounters Firefly, Zombie Dice (14)

Others to pass the milestone were Beyond Baker Street and Dominion, (13), Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Bananagrams (12), and Pandemic, Mapominoes, and Curse of the Black Dice (10).

Of those 18 games, 2 have already been and gone: Curse of the Black Dice was one of the first review games I got, and I sold it shortly after – the 10 plays reflect the fact that it was short, solo-able, and a first burst of enthusiasm for all things new, but ultimately it didn’t have enough to keep our interest.

Valar
All games must die

Game of Thrones LCG by contrast, was a bit different. I played the first edition, but sold up because there weren’t really any other people playing locally. I bought into 2nd Edition when it came out, and played for nearly a year, including a few months where I was getting a lot of games in, and actually doing quite well: the peak of my success was a Store Championships in January, where I was one mis-play away from making the top-4 cut (and the shiny play-mat that would have come with it…) As the year wore on though, I was finding it harder and harder to make it along regularly to the shop to play. I still think that this is a great game, but it’s also one with a very high skill-cap. If you turn up at a tournament, even a small, local one, with a deck you’ve not play-tested, and not having played at all in several weeks, then the games you have are likely to be so one-sided that it’s not going to be worth playing.

In the end, I decided to sell up: an LCG is an ongoing financial commitment and, particularly with the competitive ones, you can’t hope to keep playing if everyone else is buying all the new packs, and you’re not. With the Arkham Horror LCG about to release, I knew I couldn’t justify keeping up with 3 LCGs, so this was the one which had to give way – I didn’t get back all that I’d spent on the cards, but certainly a fair chunk of it, so it felt like good value for the amount I’d played.

A few honourable mentions for games that came close: Machi Koro, B-Sieged, and Yggdrasil are all games which have a lot going for them, but in a hectic year, they never made it past 8. Star Wars Destiny was a late arrival, great mechanics, rubbish randomised distribution- I’m still trying to make up my mind on what I’m going to do with this game long-term, but it was a fun inclusion for December, when it was played 8 times.

Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned before, the 10 of 10 challenge was never about numbers for numbers sake – it was about broadening the range of games that I properly got to grips with. In 2015 3 games accounted for 76% of all the games I played – 595 sessions out of a total 788. The next 4 accounted for a further 11.5% (91 sessions), and no other game made it into double figures, or as high as 1% of all the year’s gaming.

By contrast the top 3 games in 2016 accounted for only 31% – just over a third, instead of more than three quarters, or 252 plays out of 793: to get to 76 % you need to take in the whole of the top 20 most-played games – it actually feels like I have a proper collection of games that I play, rather than just 3 games and a lot of pointless boxes.

The Future

Looking forward into 2017, I have no real idea what the future holds game-wise. I expect it to be a very different year game-wise (for reasons that people who know me in real life are probably aware of) and I strongly suspect that I won’t be looking at numbers in the 700s when it comes to next year’s re-cap.

I’m not going to do an “un-played” challenge – it would only consist of 1 or 2 games, so there hardly seems much point, but I will be continuing to keep an eye on what does and doesn’t get played, to work out which games are the dead-weight, and need to be moved on.

I am going to set myself the 10 of 10 challenge again. With (hopefully) 3 or 4 games arriving from Kickstarter in 2017, and (again, hopefully) several as-yet-unknown games arriving to review, I’m not going to upgrade to the hardcore version, and will stick with counting as I go along – as I say the aim is to know a good handful of games well, not to grind out plays of things I’ve lost interest in.

I hope that those who have been reading will stay with me in 2017 – aside from the challenge updates, I’ll do my best to keep producing other articles – looking at themes, reviewing things that are new to me, and showcasing any game-miniature painting I get chance to do. I wish you all a happy new year, and may bad dice be the worst problem you have to deal with!

 

Giving things a bit of a Kick-Start

Old GamesWhen I was a child, (yes, sorry, this is going to be another “I remember when games were like this…” post.) it felt like the only games out there were Monopoly, Cluedo, and Scrabble.  The idea of doing research on a game before you bought it was fairly alien, because the chances were you’d already played it somewhere before.

With the greater number of games out there now, research is essential. There are simply too many possibilities for you to buy all the games, and a lack of research could leave you with the wrong game. With the market become so heavily saturated, and many games being bigger and more expensive, companies are concerned with making sure that you know their game is coming: it’s now possible to know an awful lot about games that haven’t even been released yet! On the whole I like this: it gives you something to look forward to. On a more practical note, it can save you from going out and getting something kind-of-interesting for a birthday or similar, only to discover something fantastic a fortnight later and have no budget for it.

KSThe point at which it gets weird, is when you have the chance to actually BUY a game before it comes out. I’m not just talking about placing a pre-order a week or so ahead of time, but about the strange world of Kickstarter.

In simple terms, Kickstarter is a platform which lets companies pitch new games to the paying public. They come out with a project and a price, and people can pledge their money. If pledges reach the amount set out before the campaign started, then all the people who pledged will have their cards charged, the company get their money, and they go to work on the game.

For the company making the game, the advantages of Kickstarter are obvious: it reverses the way that cash-flow works (get money now, make product later) and they cut out the retailer, which has benefits from a financial perspective.

For the buyer, the advantages and disadvantages of Kickstarter are rather more complex: at its best, Kickstarter allows games to be made that would otherwise not be made, it allows the public mood to guide what should be produced, and there are often sweeteners to being involved in a Kickstarter – extra things you get which are not found in retail copies. On the other hand, you are paying your money months before you get your game. Delays are common, and due to the nature of shipping processes, KS backers don’t always get their games before (or even at the same time as) retail outlets, which is often a source of anger.

Some key terminology:

KS Exclusives – components of the game only available to those that back the Kickstarter, either included in the standard price, or available as an add-on at extra cost.

Back – committing to a Kickstarter project. The totals for the campaign will be based on the sum you’ve indicated, but your card will only be charged at the end, and only if the campaign has reached its target.

Target – the initial amount of money set as the success point of the Kickstarter campaign. If this is reached, the project happens, if not, it doesn’t.

Stretch Goals – when a Kickstarter campaign reaches its target, you know it’s going ahead, but the people running the campaign want folk to keep backing. Many campaigns will have additional things, either for the Kickstarter only, or for the game in general, which they will agree to do if they reach certain additional landmarks for funding. The scope of these will vary drastically from one campaign to another.

Shipping: Kickstart a game, and you’ll have to pay whatever it costs them to actually post it to you. There’s also a danger that you may have to worry about customs duties, which means those of us in Europe need to look out for an EU-Friendly campaign which ships from somewhere like Germany instead.

 

I wanted to take a more focused look at some of the Kickstarters that I’ve had first-hand experience of, and think about how they have played out.

Before there was Kickstarter

P500The first experience of this type I had was with something that wasn’t actually a Kickstarter, but part of the P500 system from GMT Games. GMT are something of a specialist retailer, who make lots of Wargames, generally at the heavy, tactical end of things (expects lots of wooden blocks and cardboard chits, not miniatures and fantasy art). You can read the details of how the system works on their website, but essentially, it allows the public to vote for which games get made, and often has a pretty short turnaround from charging your card to games in your hand.

Through the P500 system I supported both the re-print of the Commands and Colors Ancients system and the original print-run of the Commands and Colors Napoleonics base-game. On both occasions I got the game, exactly as I would have at retail, but know that without people backing the game at this early stage, there probably would not have been a retail edition. The wait from pledging to charging was sometimes long (a year in 1 instance), but after they took my money, I had my game within a couple of months.

As I mentioned in March’s gaming challenge update, the C&C system has fallen out of favour in our house in recent years, but I certainly don’t think that I lost out in any way – games bought 6 or 7 years ago are all fairly likely to have had their fortunes wax and wane, whether they came from Amazon, a High Street Shop, or a pre-order system. Having played one of these games before I ordered, it was pretty low-risk, and I was happy with the experience.

 

Avalon

AvalonThe first time I used Kickstarer proper, was for The Resistance: Avalon. I’d heard a lot of good things about The Resistance, and the added Arthurian theme seemed like a bonus, so I went for it. I backed this in September 2012. The campaign ended a few weeks later, and they charged my card instantly, as is the way with all Kickstarter projects. I had the game in my hands by about December.

In the 3 or so years we’ve owned Avalon, it’s only been played a handful of times. It was just never that big a hit with our group: the starting premise of having to send people on the first mission without ANY information to go on always felt a bit vague and woolly, and nobody seemed to know where it was going – I’ve definitely heard of other groups that found it good fun, and it’s probably the sort of thing that would thrive if it could get a couple of good games and build some momentum, but for us it just didn’t hit the spot.

This wasn’t particularly a Kickstarter issue – Kickstarter delivered what it promised, and did so fairly quickly. I got some bonuses – some add-on characters, as well as some Manga alt-art cards for the original Resistance, which have never been used (as we don’t own the original game) and should probably have been sold on Ebay before now. Probably, I should have played original Resistance before backing this, and maybe I was influenced by the time-sensitive nature of Kickstarter, but I don’t think it’s a major issue.

Apocrypha

ApocryphaBoxIt was a few years for me before I seriously looked at anything on Kickstarter again. When I did, it was for a truly epic project, the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game.

About 2 years ago, I started playing the Pathfinder ACG, and it got played to death in our house – over 300 times in 2015 (I don’t have info for 2014). When I heard last May that Mike Selinker and his crew were putting together a related game, I was very interested – the modern horror theme doesn’t do a lot for me (and the theme is a major bonus in Pathfinder), but it looked like it was taking a lot of the cool core mechanics, and giving them an interesting twist – the combination of character progression with non-linear play, the idea that a progressed character is not inherently better than a new one, and what looked like a real commitment to get into the narrative of the game in more depth all appealed.

It certainly wasn’t cheap: $99 dollars plus international shipping, but it looked like there was good value for money involved: it had attracted a lot of buzz online, and they were unlocking stretch goals left, right and centre: lots of additional chapters, and a few other bonus bits and pieces. It also feels like the Kickstarter momentum they got allowed them to do more than might have been the case if they’d gone straight to retail: it looks like there is going to be A LOT of really top-notch art, and for theme/flavour text, they’ve got some very well-renowned writers in, including big names like Patrick Rothfuss (much to the annoyance of my wife, who wants him to just get on and write the sequel to The Wise Man’s Fear).

Farm
This slightly sinister-looking chap came from one of the most recent project update emails.

I hope that this game will reach retail one day, so it’s worth looking at the Kickstarter Exclusives: for Apocrypha it was about a dozen cards – some which are dually linked to two different adventures, and some with a broader span. In a game of this size, that’s not a lot: the bonus for backing the kickstarter seems to be primarily in the form of getting the game early, in its entirety, and almost certainly at a lower price point that when it reaches retail. Let me say, I’m happy that the exclusives are not that much – it’s nice to have a little something for having put my faith in them early on, but I’d much rather that the game thrive, without an “us” and “them” sense of resentment, so that the designers continue to make more good stuff.

The biggest concern about Apocrypha, is what has happened with Pathfinder over the past six months. The 3rd Adventure path for Pathfinder came to an end just before Christmas, and it was brutal – and not a lot of fun. In 2016 so far, the game has been 37 times – still nothing to be sneezed at, but the frequency with which it makes it out of the box is dwindling.

It’s not quite clear when I can expect Apocrypha to arrive – given how many stretch goals they unlocked, the most recent release date I read was “between April and October.” The lack of clarity is a little frustrating, but we’ve been getting fairly regular updates, and I’m happy that the longer they take, the better the game will be. Hopefully Apocrypha will be interesting enough and different enough to get its day in the sun, and make it worth the money, but the year or more that will have passed between this being announced and received has certainly made a difference – if this were a new release at retail tomorrow, and we hadn’t been involved in the Kickstarter, I can’t say with any honesty that I’d definitely buy it.

Numenera

9th worldHaving backed Apocrypha, Lone Shark had me in their sights, and I got sucked in for their next project, The Ninth World: A Skill-Building Game for Numenera. Numenera was not somewhere I had previously heard of, but is best known to players of a table-top RPG of the same name, set a billion years into earth’s future. Characters follow a fairly simple yet novel pattern, where each starts off simply as “I am an adjective noun who verbs.”

The setting was interesting, and whilst I don’t always enjoy everything the guys at Lone Shark do with their games – the drift in recent times feels to be too much towards difficulty, and too much towards puzzle-y-ness – there’s no denying their ability to come up with innovative game mechanics, and tie them nicely to interesting themes. The skill-builder was a new concept, but it captured the “taking a character and developing then” aspect that we’d loved in pathfinder etc, and put it in a nice exploration-y context, and definitely made me keen to try it.

I followed the Kickstarter for a while with interest, and once it was confirmed that they would be including a solo / co-op mode, and that they had reached the stretch goal which opened up character customisation on a fairly broad scale, I backed. I’m not expecting this one until the autumn at the earliest, and will be interested to see what comes.

 

Next time

I don’t want to bore you all too much, so that’s all for next week. Next time I’m going to look in particular at one company whose games have caught my eyes recently, and offer a few thoughts on their successful, if somewhat controversial Kickstarter strategy, and where it leaves me as the customer.